A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: We Are What We Perceive
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Some examples of responses to the release of NSA data collection on the US population:
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist. The Frankendata Monster in Counterpunch: details the many iterations that the data collection apparatus has gone through to hide its activities while still being funded by the tax payer. Makes the point that this is old news in a way, but made ignorable by the (slightly) tricky shifting of names and personnel. He tends to focus on the immediate gain to existing operators.
Norman Solomon, on Common Dreams in Clarity from Edward Snowden and Murky Response from Progressive Leaders in Congress, presents the “legal” argument as it ping-pongs around congress: the argument ranges from Snowden as the traitor to hero, NSA spying as essential to criminal, with huge amounts of CYA as the stock for the stew.
Ray McGovern, in Secrecy’s Tangled Web of Deceit (also at Common Dreams) points out the lying as it grades from nonsense through bull-shit to damned lies to criminal lying; all out of the mouths and pens of the leaders of the surveillance programs. He details the lies being told (with appropriate Shakespearean references) and powers of obfuscation available to government and corporate insiders.
Jonathan Taylor is a Professor in the Geography Department at California State University, Fullerton. Apathy and Our Totalitarian Future in Counterpunch: essentially a correct understanding – not devoted to Snowden, terrorism or other tangential concerns. The point is surveillance and the eventual uses the data is put to.
Eric Draitser states, in The NSA and the Infrastructure of the Surveillance State (also Counterpunch), that the surveillance state acts “against the interests of the ordinary Americans.” But, we are told by the people managing the surveillance that it is not against our interests: it is to track and target terrorists and others dangerous to the people (realistically, a few hundred and at most a few thousand people). So why billions of dollars being taken from salutary domestic uses to create both a surveillance and analysis system that can handle the total electronic communication product of the whole world?
The summary response in the “progressive” press (the reactionary press is quite another matter and requires a stronger stomach and mental construction than I possess) focuses on wasteful spending, the corrupt misuse of the secrecy system so that groups and individuals can hide behind a screen of secrecy, devices to extract money from the taxpayer, use of fear to gain control of both power and money, lack of concern because “everyone” knows that they are innocent of dangerous actions and ideas; and accepted beliefs that this has something, if not everything, to do with the attack on US commercial and military infrastructure by 15 Saudi young men plus 5 others in 2001; and/or Iranian intransigence; and/or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and/or an international movement of Muslim extremists who “hate us for our way of life.”
* * *
But, it cannot be the targeting of individuals and groups that is the ultimate goal – the difficulties there are not improved by massive data collection – it must be rather the use of analysis programs like climate modeling programs to model population behavior. The great concern for the future is how the population will respond to the increasing restrictions and limitations imposed by global “balancing” of economies, the end of economic growth and ecological perturbations, all as interpreted by the ruling elites (in their own interests). Patterns of activity would arise out of the massed data just as thunderstorms, tornados and hurricanes are presaged from meteorological data. It would then be possible to focus on nodes of activity and then to groups and individuals for controlling responses – a sort of pre-crime model.
This is driven by non-integrated, but compatible motives: immediate personal gain and the promise of population measurement and control. Immediate added benefits include commercial uses and the fact that large sums of money can be extracted from the fearful taxpayer as long as he and she are frightened of the bloodthirsty “other.”
Frankly, I see no way to stop this from happening; the potential gains in power and control are so great and the technology is rapidly increasing to levels that make such data collection and analysis functionally possible. Our human actions will become like the humidity of the air, the barometric pressure or the direction of the wind, to which the surveillance/police state will respond. Isolated individual communications will be of little interest, that is not the concern, but the discernment of patterns of social dissatisfaction and the forms taken will be.
Events like the Boston Bombing or even 9/11 are ultimately of little interest, it is the large movements of population attitude and potential action that frighten the elites. They know that they are parasites on the body-public and dependent on them, even as they constantly present themselves as the superior human form. The ruling elites could not exist without the masses; to know the mind of the masses has always been an elite goal and now they are only a few years from possessing a major tool toward accomplishing it.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
In the last essay, ‘The Ranting of a Lunatic’, I wrote these words referring to the human future: “There is only one option left; the options with which we are most familiar and therefore to which we most expect and wish to turn are gone: we must change the way that we think and we must change the things that we believe; we must make radical and rapid changes in how we live. We will either do this with some design and planning or the changes will be forced on us by the environmental realities of a world that can no longer support our insolence.”
I have, in many earlier essays, suggested answers to how we need to think and what we need to believe, in fact, the suggestion of such changes have been a consistent theme , but I have been a bit cowardly in offering detail about how it is that we need to live. The essay, ‘The Strongest Force In The World: for good or ill’, details some of the mandatory changes in our relationship with the earth, its productive capacities and biophysical systems; briefly recapped they are: take much less from the earth’s productive capacity and do much less to the earth’s sustaining systems. There are great consequences for daily life in this simple paradigm shift.
The most obvious and likely outcomes of humanity confronting these mandatory changes are the typical human responses of regional, economic, ethnic and religious polarization, conflict and war. These are also the least interesting (though the most personally traumatic): the end result would very likely be the devastation of the earth’s surface and the pollution of the atmosphere and ocean with such materials and to such levels that much of complex life would go extinct. One can draw a number of plausible scenarios where this would be the result in whole or in part.
What follows is based on the more interesting notion that people, generally, come to some level of realization that “winning” the economic or regional battles for possession of a planet being killed off by those very battles is the greatest insanity. After a period of adjustment to such an idea and its associated understandings, humans would be in a position to begin to fulfill two basic conditions: the biological nature of the human species and the ecological role of humans in the global ecology. Since the most of humanity has no intention of living in grass huts and herding goats, how to do this while maintaining technological preeminence will be the greatest “entrepreneurial” challenge in human history requiring a large revision in the goals of human action.
Let me ease into this by describing first how humans will not be living. There will not be endless shelves of consumer goods and food supplied by an international transportation infrastructure. All high-energy consuming activities will be reduced at least 10 fold with solar capture being the primary energy source and that source moderated by the limitations on the industries that produce solar capture hardware. Photosynthetic solar capture (including food production, but also for a variety of other uses) will become more important, but with severe limitations on it being developed to industrial levels.
Many if not most of the buffers between environmental conditions and the daily experience of life will be gone unless they are supplied by low intensity designs or direct human effort, i.e., we will get wet when it rains, cold when it is cold, hot when it is hot and dusty when it is dusty. Gone will be effortless travel, limitless healthcare or hours spent on entertainment options.
It should be noted that billions of people presently live like this; what would be different for them is that they would not be misguided into thinking that the impunities of wealth were an option for them.
The great question is what would replace the consumer society and its organizing expectations; because that is exactly what would have to be done. The flippant, but necessary answer is an appreciation for life – life as the most remarkable and diverse organization of matter and energy in the universe that we know of. The destruction of that appreciation has been the most incredible loss to the human species imaginable. It will only be recovered by changing the details of how we live .
* * *
Are you ready to bale the bathwater into the toilet as the flushing water? Would you be ready if by doing so you saved 60 gallons of water a month for drinking and cooking? Would you be ready if that was what you had to do to get the 60 potable gallons?
Are you prepared, with knowledge and physical and emotional capacity, to supply 50% or more of your nutritional needs by gardening and gathering? How about clothing needs, housing and protection from the “elements”?
Can you work with your neighbors? Do you have the emotional maturity and political (real negotiating and compromising) skills to organize community action for the benefit of the whole community and not just attempted self-aggrandizement? This is the opposite of impunity; it is responsibility to the community and therefore to the ecology as a whole.
Could you raise insects for food, insects that eat, and therefore convert, compost into high-quality protein? And more importantly, would you give your time and effort to such “insect ranching” as a community service.
Are you prepared to walk 5 miles as a normal expectation, to bicycle 10 to 25 miles to public transportation or to work? Are you ready for that work to be community based, supplying – in whatever form – much of your needs for exchange transactions, but only 50% or less of your total needs.
Are you ready to learn the world around you so that you could both use it for your benefit, but also not abuse it so that it loses its capacity to benefit? This is the natural relationship of every species of life to the ecology in which they live. It is the relationship that humans must form with the world. All other living things acquire this relationship on the uncompromising anvil of evolution, humans evolved a new form of information handling that now requires that they make this relationship explicit through acts of scientific investigation, learning and behavioral changes to fit biophysical Reality.
Are you ready to die when you are injured or diseased, when an organ fails, when you have worn out your body or when the mind is gone? Death is still, after all these years, the unsolvable mystery, but it loses its terror after a thoughtful, fulfilled and purposeful life, especially when the values and products of that life are absorbed into the community in which that life has been lived.
Are you ready to make learning about the world (the universe), other people and life’s processes a central value? Something must replace consumerism: consuming information/experience, then applying it to more fully manifest the pleasures of living, would be a low impact replacement. Physical activity, especially for its own pleasures, would be another; walking, running, climbing, swimming can be done without a tracksuit from AF or snorkel gear made in China. The focus is shifted to the activity and away from the accoutrements in all things as a general process.
Are you ready to live in a 200 to 400 square foot space and the whole of the out-of-doors? Could you share that space with others?
* * *
There would, of course, be many more changes in how we might live, but this offers a beginning view of a chance to adapt a realistic relationship with biophysical Reality. The goal of the economic elites is that 90% of humanity live in these ways while they continue on with impunity, but that is a sure prescription for conflict, war and the destruction of ecological stability, even as it is the most likely future.
 list of some essays that detail beliefs needing to be changed or the new beliefs needed:
List of some essays arguing that growth must end:
 The key element in all of our options is how work and its value-creation are arranged. Frederick Engels summarized Marx's theory of historical change: “The materialist conception of history starts from the principle that production, and with production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order; that in every society that has appeared in history the distribution of the products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged.” C. Wright Mills gave a compact paraphrase to Marx’s theory of history writing in The Marxists (1962): “Political, religious and legal institutions as well as the ideas, the images, the ideologies by means of which men understand the world in which they live, their place within it, and themselves--all these are reflections of the economic basis of society.” And As Upton Sinclair said in even shorter form, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” The work that people do is the nexus of social order and expectation.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
It is a simple understanding: the central issue facing life on earth is the accumulation of wealth by humans and especially wealth accumulated in “private hands.” Such wealth concentration leads to impunity of action, which leads to distortions of relationships among humans and between humans and the rest of life on the earth. It must be an axiom for humans, just as it is and has been, for every species for nearly 4 billion years, that every action comport with and be measured by the fullest application and implication of biophysical Reality (whether recognized by some consciousness agency or not!); humans have been straying from this axiom for at least 15,000 years – 800 generations. The consequences had to come. And they have come to our time on the earth; the present and the next few generations will either correctly identify the root causes of our dilemmas or the human species will bring a ruination to the earth not seen for 250 million years, if ever before.
I realize that this sounds like the hyperbolic ranting of a lunatic – an end-of-the-world fanatic marching on the street with sandwich board and spittle-laced oratory. It cannot be helped.
The smug modernist can point to a long list of doomsayers throughout history claiming an eminent end to the world. It is certainly true that the end has been over predicted; the capacity for innovation and discovery underestimated. But, the intuition of the rational doomsayers has been right all along: our species has been out of sync with the world of life and their warnings have been about that misalignment, from the first moments that thoughts could be recorded with the written word. And their syllogisms would have proved true except for the world’s vast options, unrealized and untapped by the technology and ideations of their time.
So what is different now? Actually nothing except that human options have nearly been used up. It had to happen. The rational doomsayers of this time no longer sleep in doorways or attempt to gather crowds in city parks. They are, in the greatest numbers, respected scientists, economists, futurists and philosophers. And the message is uniquely common: stop polluting, stop the consumption that drives economic growth and reduce population – or incite a cascading ecological collapse that exacerbates and is exacerbated by economic collapse.
The options? First and foremost, humans are using the earth’s productivity beyond its sustainable capacity with the consequences of habitat and biodiversity loss, destruction of essential biophysical cycles, loss of soils and fresh water, rapid changes in atmosphere and ocean chemistry and the perturbation of climate and solar energy capture. Secondly, our economic systems are dependent on fossil fuels and minerals that are either at or near depletion levels so that in the present models their costs will increase exponentially. Thirdly, humanity is armed to the teeth with weapons of types and in amounts that could render the earth’s surface uninhabitable by anything larger than a bacterium. These are simple facts and beyond dispute (except by crazy people deep in ignorance/denial).
So, what have people done in the past when faced with plausible ‘end of the world’ scenarios? They have discovered a new land with new resources. They have invented a new tool or process. They have adapted a fuel source to new, more efficient uses. And these are many of the efforts now being made, but the engineers, geologists, ecologists, industrialists, politicians, social scientists and economists are increasingly realizing that total human activity on the earth has reached the point of only marginal gain, if any, accompanied by substantial loss of environmental services.
Another approach is to sequester the marginal “gains” within the control of only a small group of humanity. We see this being played out with the new “economic devices” that game the economy to concentrate wealth even more than it has been in the past. But, except for the incredible suffering that is being caused in the third world and will increasingly be visited on the first world poor, this is a trivial last ditch flailing of human processes that have run their course.
There is only one option left; the options with which we are most familiar and therefore to which we most expect and wish to turn are gone: we must change the way that we think and we must change the things that we believe; we must make radical and rapid changes in how we live. We will either do this with some design and planning or the changes will be forced on us by the environmental realities of a world that can no longer support our insolence .
* * *
This rant is getting far too reasonable. No, this is not about reasoned argument; that is a trick. This is about the end of life as we know it or about the end of present life altogether (to become the sixth great extinction event in the history of abundant life on the earth – with the utter uncertainty as to what will eventually, in a few millions of years, repopulate the living order). First, what is real must be told, told and told again. Arguments can be made, but most sane people will eventually recognize the real when it is given a place in their hearing and seeing – the arguments only confuse and offer the insane handles with which to grasp the real and throw it out the window.
The one-in-a-million miracle of a planet attaining the conditions of energy stability, the narrow temperature range of liquid water and the appropriate compliment of elements – and that planet evolving even the simplest forms of life… and the one-in-a-trillion miracle of that planet staying relatively stable for billions of years, gradually increasing the complexity of life until some organism makes the fateful step of organizing information in a completely new way, organizing information in such a way that options can be formed in a nervous system rather than having to play out in actual events, so that events can be picked from and sought out that never even happened before; and after all of those billions of years and trillions-to-one possibilities that “impossible” power of imagination and creation is turned to cannibalizing the very essence of what allowed life in the first place.
The concentration of radioactive substances and their distribution around the surface of the planet is the ultimate poison; add to that the creation of chemical ‘species’ that could never exist in any measurable amounts without industrial production; add to that the raw physical destruction of plains, rivers and streams, swamps, jungles, deserts, forests, mountains, tundra, the littoral zone; and add to that the chemical destruction of the biophysical systems of atmosphere and ocean. All of this and more to serve the function of concentrating wealth so that some very few completely insane people can live with utter impunity – with no consequences and no responsibility to the very forces and conditions that allow life to exist. Do you hear me? That allow life to exist; that allowed life to evolve here, that allowed a complex organism like the human species to evolve!
All of this in the service of concentrating the power of impunity – the most unnatural form of existence there can be. The concentration of wealth must come to be reviled. This most destructive of human behaviors must be brought again under the control of the human community. If it is not, wealth concentration will destroy us all. Realize this fact. Sure, fine, support this simple reality with numbers: 1% control 40%, 7% gained 28% and 93% lost 4%, but don’t let the detail of the argument erode the passion: it is wealth concentration itself that is the crime, a crime against life itself.
It is not about limiting the wealth of the few so that the many can be wealthy, that is just as crazy. As long as there is sufficient concentration of wealth that humans can act without the direct consideration of the consequences on living systems, there will always be the pressure to enter the spiraling ascendancy of wealth concentration.
The changes that will be required are greater than any ever asked of the human species, but not greater than we are capable of. The life affirming ways of living that are required, many millions of us have lived before – it is only the distance from our present distortion that makes a realistic future seem so impossible to imagine. It all depends on getting a few simple understandings right.
Wealth is like mass, it is also the force of impunity, a force like gravity. Mass does not create gravity, gravity is just another of its forms, it is the same with wealth, impunity is just another of wealth’s forms and cannot be made separate from it. Humans have long understood this and tried to control the impunity of wealth by limiting both wealth and the displays of impunity with systems of belief. But as wealth increases so does its power.
Think of our little planet; if a little planet is good, then a bigger one would be better, yes? And so we grow one with such a force of gravity that we cannot move. No, there is an amount of mass with its corresponding gravity that meets the needs of life; just as there is an amount of wealth concentration that supports our safety while not overwhelming our living nature. As I say, we have long understood this.
Religions have been tried as the social means to limit and guide wealth and its impunity. But they have, by the growth of wealth, been turned into the tools of the slaver, the torturer and into the special madness of those who become blind to the majesty of life, driven blind by the terrible impunity of wealth.
If you make a list of the most pressing human ills, they almost all come down to the impunity of wealth. Think of a gravitational body drawing in and concentrating the detritus surrounding it; only by reducing its size and therefore its gravitational pull can it slow the erosive effects of the accumulated collisions.
And it will only be by making this radical change of mind that the human species will avoid destroying the earth upon which we sit.
 These changes must come from the people, must develop in the people and spread among the many. The elites will never lead such changes. The irony is that a narrow and specialized form of human thought has led us away from our humanity – our species’ nature. This way of thinking, once useful as a small contribution in the diverse human community, has become both increasingly deluded and powerful; we have allowed and accepted leadership from the increasingly insane (those who consistently fail to act in comportment with Reality). The elites have come to live in a “reality” that is as mad as the schizophrenic who believes that he is a god. The elites will fight such changes with the dedication of a madman.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The big picture:
It has never been a good idea to begin the consideration of an issue from either irrational fear and hostility or eye-glazed devotion and longing. With that in mind, I begin looking at guns from the history of the forces from which they arose.
Human inventions have been and are most often about doing more, faster, with mechanical advantage and at greater distances than arm’s length. And we almost always end up having complex and mixed feelings about our inventions. I can, with two hands, scoop up a couple of pounds of dirt, if the ground isn’t too hard. The big mechanical shovels can reach out a hundred feet and scoop up 25,000 pounds of dirt and rock in one dip (the very biggest excavators pick up 150,000 pounds in a single scoop).
“Biting” or hitting something from 10 or more feet away has been a project of our genus (and genius) for millions of years: rocks, pointed sticks, spears, atlatl darts, bows with arrows, tubes with soft metal ‘rocks’ and explosive powder. This last has, of course, become the gun.
A man can throw a rock by hand with about 80 foot-pounds of energy (the amount of energy required to lift 80 pounds one foot, but concentrated into the striking surface of the rock and transferred to the object struck over a very brief amount of time). A powerful handgun can throw a chunk of lead with an initial 700 foot-pounds of energy and, the most powerful commonly accessible shoulder arm, with 5000 foot-pounds of energy.
A rock, with natural skill and practice, can be fairly accurately thrown over a distance of no more than about 50 feet (15 meters). A handgun can be pinpoint accurate with average skill at 60 feet (18 meters) and much more with fully developed skill. A shoulder arm can be pinpoint accurate at a quarter of a mile (400 meters). These are the kinds of, and rates of, development that would be expected from something that hominids have been working at for a million years.
There are three points here: guns are one present technological product of a process that humans have been at for a very long time; the sophistication and power of the result is typical of many of our other technological pursuits – and, as with many of them, overwhelming and beyond our biological capacities to either understand or control; and guns are the present device in support of behaviors, specific to killing other animals and other humans, that have long been a part of the species.
But, before we get to the critical element of lethality we need to understand there are many things we have invented that may very well be doing too much more, moving too fast and pushing our actions out beyond the reach of our foresight, things that we have lost control of to our peril. In this sense an AR-15 with a 100 round drum is similar to the mechanical shovel in its relationship to the non-mechanical power of the basic human. Each bullet leaves the gun barrel with about 1100 foot-pounds of energy; that times 100 equals 110,000 foot-pounds of energy per magazine. The two responses, “Wow, I gotta get me one o’them,” and “That is completely fucked up,” pretty much sum up the range of argument.
The primary difference between guns and almost all of our other inventions, that have come to dominate our lives rather than us controlling them, is that lethality is their intended purpose. All the projectile tossing implements are to prevent a living thing from either running away, or from running at us, by killing it. The origin and function of a firearm is not target or skeet shooting; these are devices with the intended function of creating incapacitating injury to another living thing from a distance. This is the primary reality that must be factored into our response to them, not their other “utilities.”
The most basic question we must ask is: Does a community have the responsibility to control the products of human invention, and specifically to guns, the sources and methods of lethality available to its members? A related question is: Who in a society should have access to devices with lethal capacities, should that access be regulated and, if so, how? It would be a very hard case, indeed, who would claim that there should be no limitation on any invention or source of lethality.
(Let us dispense with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; it really is a red herring. Any honest reading of the amendments to the Constitution and the arguments surrounding their creation make quite clear that the intention of the Second Amendment was other than the freedom to have firearms in the hands of private citizens with no limitations. Those who claim Second Amendment justifications for uncontrolled gun availability are seeking official justification for personal, and commercial, desires and fears by selective and dishonest reading.
Full text, Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Ignoring the opening conditional clause of the Second Amendment distorts its meaning and intention just as much as ignoring the conditional clauses in the Third Amendment which then might be read to mean that no soldier can ever be quartered in a private home, which is clearly neither the meaning or intention of that amendment.)
It is only sensible that a thing that can (be made to) kill with only the slightest of physical effort must be treated differently than other more difficult to use potentially lethal instruments, even those made specifically for that purpose. Knives and swords, spears and lances, bows with arrows, combat hatchets and clubs(and like instruments), garrotes, various poisons, and all those hundreds of kinds of large war making machines are all moderated in their availability and use by either social custom or law. Let’s just say that humans must come to realize that the whole pantheon of our inventions, all manner of weapons among them, need to be brought into ecological balance – as every species and living behavior has been in obligatory ecological balance for billions of years.
A Personal Reflection:
But here the argument gets awkward and spins into regions where, in general, humans have difficulty: probabilities. We like certainties better and do our damnedest to build sophistries that convert ‘maybe’ into ‘for sure.’ “No one needs a gun” and “everyone needs a gun:” the results of either certainty are both foolish. Admittedly, the “no one needs a gun” argument, in most present societies, has more merit, but there are times and certain human activities when the capacity to deliver lethality is a desirable option to have at hand; our question is what are those times and activities. And then, how are we to control and enforce our choices?
What are the unquestioned justifiable reasons for having (and therefore using) a gun, not generalities like “self-protection,” but the actual occasions when the legal standard, “most reasonable people,” would agree? While in some larger context there can be strong counter-arguments, guns can be considered appropriate in the hands of soldiers, police, forest rangers, subsistence hunters and others who potentially (that tricky probability thing again) face lethal force from either anti-society elements or natural sources of lethality.
There are a few people in the world who have so slipped the bonds of the social order that they are a danger to people in general, very few, but they are none-the-less real. There are also, still, a few animals that, if confronted in the wild, can threaten life and limb.
Whether it is the best solution or not, I feel better carrying a powerful sidearm when I am walking alone in mountain lion country, miles from any sanctuary. And yes, I have been followed – stalked – before: it was marvelously invigorating, but it was also dangerous (which, of course, is why it was invigorating). Given the only choice between not going at all and going without a sidearm, I would go in the wild country anyway, but finding fresh tracks or scat, or surprising a lion up-close as I did one day, is a more pleasant and desirable experience with even the illusion of the capacity to stop the very small chance of attack.
So, there it is! The argument: When there is a danger for which a gun ‘might’ be the appropriate palliative, then its availability should not be denied (you will note that is not the language of the second amendment). On the other hand, when the gun is the danger, then a clear case can be make for it to be denied. You can easily see that this quickly becomes unwieldy: if the gun is the danger for which we need a gun… and so on.
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Almost true; though true enough to ask the question: “What people should be allowed to kill people?” (This is really the correct form of the question of who should have access to guns.) If the answer is that no one should be allowed to kill people, then, at least, those guns clearly designed for the killing of humans should be outlawed, no longer made and confiscated. However, as much as we might like that simple and non-probabilistic answer, some people must be empowered to kill.
I should be able to kill a person intent on doing me serious bodily harm. That sounds reasonable, but in my 70 years, lived in a great variety of circumstances, I have never been attacked in such a way (even by a wild animal). The probability curve of my being seriously harmed or dieing has been pushed into the large positive standard deviations by automobiles, mountains, weather, water, my own hubris and occasional human general foolishness. I suspect that this is the case for more than 99% of people in the developed world. In fact, were I “attacked” by a gang of gun-toting blood-thirsty drug-addled criminals (like Charles Bronson in “Death Wish 3”) my odds would not be good even armed with what society currently accepts as reasonable for a private citizen.
It would make much more sense for me to always wear a crash helmet and body pads, than to carry a gun, if I am concerned about dangers with substantial probability – even in wild country.
1) Guns as a hedge against “the government:”
Thom Hartmann’s consistent argument that an Apache helicopter or f16 (or Randi Rhodes’ Bradley fighting vehicle) vs. a few guys with AR-15s or Kalashnikovs would be so uneven a confrontation as to be hopeless misses the point entirely. First and most obviously the confrontation described is the one at present in Afghanistan, but even that misses the point; which is, that the mistrust and fear of coercive institutions (seen as government even if really corporately inspired) is creating a variety of both impotent and semi-potent responses. Aaron Swartz represents one response and Alex Jones represents another – but to essentially the same stimulus. The same can be said for a wide variety of unlikely combinations: Julian Assange and Sean Hanity (government secrecy), Michael Savage and Mike Malloy (need for overturning common perceptions),
They each may draw lines around different regions of specific content, but like a Venn diagram, they also share an important origin; that is, the outsized concentration of power in the corporate-government hegemony over almost every aspect of life. ‘Back to the land’ hippies, secessionist militias, crime-watch groups in minority neighborhoods, “sovereign” citizen movements, while having different levels of connection to Reality, all share the common motive force that something is terribly wrong with how power is allocated and relegated (limited) in our daily and personal lives.
Each group has, in the past, seen their way as the way forward and have taken the word of the corporate-government sophists that it is the “other guy” holding them back. But that misdirection is growing old. The Shultz’s and the Limbaugh’s are sounding more and more alike as are the Frum’s and the Hartmann’s. But it is the callers-in to talk radio that are telling the story. Even when screened, as some admit “to make the host look good,” the depth of the more general angst comes through.
Guns are one of the few sources of a sense of power in the face of such confusing, mind-boggling domination – no matter how futile they might be. Even a grizzly bear is loath to attack a badger for fear of that one lucky bite. An organized body public with weapons, even greatly inferior weapons, will be treated with more caution than a body public that is disorganized and individually powerless. While the actions of such a public may be incredible dangerous and ultimately wrong-headed, the fact remains that an armed public is more powerful in absolute terms than an unarmed public.
2) Gun “loving:”
The ‘little dick’ theory of gun affection is as juvenile a notion as the gun loving itself, and is certain to prevent either the proclaimer or the one proclaimed from discovering or sharing a more honest and accurate set of motives for their behaviors and beliefs. This is equally true of the opposite number, the “wimp, coward and ignorant” theory of gun rejection. Just as most male gun owners have normal genital endowments, gun refusers are just as likely to be tough minded, brave and well-informed as anyone else (though perhaps not about trivial gun detail).
Something else, and more, is working to attach some people to weapons and to cause some people to reject lethal instruments. This is one dynamic that needs our understanding and attention.
That guns of different designs and capacities have different consequences is another dynamic, just as people are not simple, so guns, even though they share many common elements including lethality, have differences that need attention.
3) Guns as sport and survival tool:
This comes in two forms: hunting and the various kinds of target shooting. Neither are the benign activities posited by advocates or as ruthlessly blood-thirsty as presented by detractors. But that doesn’t mean that there is a complete or easy symmetry between the two views. Hunting by humans has changed the ecology of a majority of the planet’s surface – including the oceans. Many species have been driven to extremis or extinction. These are not good things. Hunting was once an essential part of human survival and so is still a motive in our actions as well as a cultural relic. But our vast numbers and the incredible power that present weapons bring to the “game” have removed sport and most commercial hunting from almost any usefulness (beyond that tiny few who still live close to the land) and have made hunting a seriously non-adaptive activity.
Target shooting may be practice for hunting and killing, but “plinking’ is also just fun: knocking things down from a distance to the accompaniment of a loud noise. Getting good at something is pleasurable. There is a language and a mystique around the whole process. People can be together, “play” together, in the company of a powerful object.
But if we are doing these things so that we can survive when ‘the shit hits the fan’ we are kidding ourselves. We should rather be working on organizing communities and learning to garden with both heritage seeds and native plants. The earth’s billions would kill and eat every animal (as well as each other) much faster than most animals could reproduce – until the commercial ammunition ran out, until the handloaders used up the last of their powder and primers.
The symbolic, psychological and commercial uses of guns:
Guns are a source of power: It is a reality; it is also a reality that the power of guns has been mythologized and taken on a psychological, as opposed to a purely practical, quality.
A person with a gun is a decidedly different thing than a person without a gun. The small and weak can be the apparent equal of the large and strong if they have equivalent “fire power” and expertise. This is really not in question and is, also, not the question! Which is: why would one need the “fire power” and the expertise?
A person surrounded by a community of trusted others might want to have weapons available against some form of outside threat, but would not feel the need of them when in the protection of community. But, in a world in which individual power is held up as the ultimate currency, being in possession of guns seems to be an inexpensive buy-in to power. It is completely understandable that a person who feels threatened as a generalized condition will desire a remedy. Creating the ill-ease and then selling the remedy would lead to big money.
The fact is that millions of people go about their lives everyday without the felt need for the power of a serious weapon immediately at hand; and moreover, the general safety of their day-in and day-out existence supports their feeling. There are others who have the felt need for the most powerful weapon that they can comfortably carry with them; there can be no argument that the existence of such weapons in the community increase a certain kind of danger to everyone.
All of which returns us to the opening arguments. Humans have created objects of great power, power to dig, to lift, to transport, to communicate, to coerce, to store perishables, many more, and to kill living things in massive numbers – it is one of our greatest achievements!
• As long as our societies present us with the design that we are isolated individuals fending for ourselves there will be an increased felt need for the most powerful weapons of protection possible… until the people are more afraid of the weapon’s misuse than they are of each other.
• Guns have come to represent to people more than the sum of their actual uses, be those uses positive, benign or negative: some people only feel whole and right with the world when they possess them and others become some degree of physically sick when they see them; they are an irrational source of both power and dread.
• Much of the anti-gun rhetoric is demeaning of those who have guns and is based in the fear of the anti-social use of guns; much of the pro-gun rhetoric is deeply illogical and based in the fear of others who might wish to harm them and the fear that guns will be taken away.
• Guns are not just “guns.” A well-made .22 revolver is a very different thing than a poorly made .22 semi-auto, a .44 magnum, a 30-06 hunting rifle, a 10 gauge goose gun, a semi-auto military look-alike .223 or a .50 caliber machine gun. They all share lethality, but that alone does not make them the same. They are made for, or intended for, different uses and for different markets. Treating them all the same only distorts and confuses the arguments.
• Present humans are not the blood-drained castrati of our deepest “civilized” fears, and neither are we the Hobbesian brute hiding our bestiality in a 3 piece suit. But, we are an animal with great power, magnified immensely by our technological productions. The community (or society) has the obligation to maintain an order of rules and expectations that give the social structure predictability, opportunity and community standards of protection and safety.
• There can be no “magic bullet” for the gun issue. Much of what is said about guns is true: in the hands of good, well-trained people guns have positive utility; the more guns, the more gun crimes and gun accidents; in the tension between the people and government, an armed population must be treated with more caution than an unarmed population, even if official forces are overwhelmingly more powerful; guns distort social relationships and magnify the affects of those distortions.
As is so often the case today the underlying conditions of education, honest presentation of data and honest discussion that would give a chance to deal effectively with the issues are denied us by the misuse of several other of our massively powerful inventions. As with so much at this critical point in the history of the species the massive concentrations of wealth and political power will dominate the outcome for what the economic elite see as beneficial to themselves. Quite frankly, the rest is sideshow.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
If you spend any time reading, listening or watching the modern “intelligentsia,” that is, the range of media from broadcast news, through talk-radio to internet postings of all stripes, an impression of the world of human troubles can begin to form: the revolving commercial/political door, global warming, financial pirates, vacuums of ‘leadership’ and the laundry list of lies, thefts, genocides, murders, wars without accountability, waste of money and other resources – it just goes on and on.
From the progressive camps we hear that we must sign petitions (I get a couple a day from Move On), join and take over the Democratic Party, stop the XL pipeline, return to full employment and economic growth and so on. The social forces of reaction, preach that humans need not consider the actions that they take on the planet’s biophysical systems because our efforts are too puny to affect such an infinite place as the earth, and when that argument fails, as in cases where it is completely clear we have changed some place beyond habitability, we are told that God has made the earth for us and that ‘He’ will see to our needs. These are the arguments of madness regardless of the numbers who believe and support them.
The reality is that we must seriously consider the full picture of how we are to approach a future in which our actions are so destabilizing that many of the planet’s biological passengers, as they have evolved over the last many millennia, will be gone forever in an ecological paroxysm. What are the conditions that must be meet over the next several years – economic, ecologic and personal – to accomplish the restabilization of major environmental processes – biophysical cycles, climate, biodiversity and ecosystem integration? There are essentially two levels of consideration: the unalterable general requirements and the debatable specific actions (I know that I have left out important considerations from what follows and so I encourage the reader to add to or modify these lists for themselves).
• Reduction in human use of planetary resources to a level roughly half, or somewhat less, of what is being used now, to make the summed total human ecological footprint equal to about ½ of the earth’s productive capacity (humans are currently using about 1.5 times that capacity).
• Complete (or nearly complete) secession of the use of fossil fuels, with the use of non-carbon sources for energy production as the only viable form of replacement, and ultimately a return to the capture of the solar flux as our primary energy source.
• Reduction in human population to about one quarter of the present population over the next several generations, with a goal of global human population approaching 1 billion by 2100.
• Reduction in the use of biocides and ‘chemical’ fertilizers toward zero levels – or to levels demonstrated scientifically to pose no threat to biophysical systems.
• Reduction in extractive and bio-extractive industries, chemical manufacture and general industrialization activities, including transportation, to levels at which the physical changes and pollutants created can be absorbed and processed by biophysical systems.
Specific actions (set one options – the “we are all in this together” model):
• Reorganization of agriculture to sustain soils, greatly reduce the use of biocides, increase the variety of food crops along with more widely distributed food production so that total diet can be derived as much as possible from the local region.
• Much larger percentage of the population involved in primary food production, at least on a part-time basis, as response to the reduction in mechanization of farming.
• Literacy and broad, basic education as an imperative, especially communication, health, economic, political and ecological education of women.
• Transparency of commercial and political action attained through an increased availability of full-access, unmonitored communication systems, especially distributed internet and cellular technologies, with an emphasis on developing high quality, accurate language translation software.
• The down-sizing of economic activity would require that individuals, small groups and immediate communities redevelop the expertise and organization to meet a variety of the primary needs presently met by industrial production and distribution systems.
• Emphasis on direct democracy enhanced by both general education and communication capacity. The necessary, but dangerous, trend to localism would need to be countered by global communication systems and international education goals.
• Capping of private wealth accumulation to a small multiple of modal wealth, something like 5 to 1. Total community wealth accumulation also limited by world modal wealth levels, which would be determined by the maximum sustainable human ecological footprint.
• Modal material wealth must be reduced slightly, but arithmetic average wealth must be reduced to approximately one tenth of present levels by large reductions from the high end of the continuum (paper wealth far exceeds the capacity of the earth to deliver goods and services and yet that wealth is a demand for such delivery).
• Social expectation for small families (or extended families with shared children) supported by both the education of women and the supportive social networks associated with agricultural activities.
• As difficult as this appears in today’s zeitgeist, end of life expectation will have to change dramatically. Devoting significant medical technology and practice to extending life, devoting a third of our medical expenditures to the last year of life, is madness. The human body wears out, gets damaged and is attacked by other living things; this must become, again, a natural expectation. It will become more and more important to give our emotional and practical resources, and understanding, to living with grace and dignity rather than the present extraordinary attempts at living long.
• An emphasis on and acceptance of the fact that the present human dilemma is the consequence of uninhibited and uncontrolled expression of our powers to create change; that, fair or not, “reasonable” or not, the next few generations will have to make the controlled and inhibition-based changes required to sustain both the species and the structure of life presently on the planet.
* * *
It can be assumed that those who benefit from the present distribution (mal-distribution) of wealth will not willing give up such sources of power, impunity and insanity. Only great social pressure, even verging on revolution, can bring such changes. But such is our Catch 22: actual revolution would violate almost all of the mandatory conditions as well as throw the whole game into the second set of options.
Specific actions (set two options – the “every man for himself” model):
• The pathological members of the political and economic elite (increasingly recognized as a large percentage) attempt to gain control of as much wealth as possible as rapidly as possible using it to wall themselves off from the rest of humanity. Private wealth would remain, essentially, unlimited; human footprint requirements would be met by reducing the number of people rather than reducing wealth concentration.
• Development of military/policing systems and technologies for the containment and control of the general population, along with the increased use of surveillance technologies.
• Domination of media and information sources, increased secrecy in both commercial and political institutions and the denial of communication frameworks and platforms for the general population.
• The expansion of a variety of totalitarian forms of governance in actuality, regardless of what they are called, but all based on oligarchy and plutocracy.
• Population reduction by “natural attrition” can be encouraged by economic isolation and the withholding of essential needs. Accompanying plans to allow great population reduction can be reinforced with various chemical and biological agents if need be.
• The incitement of internal and external conflicts that both aid in wealth concentration and serve as a distraction from the discovery of genuine self-interest among the multitudes.
• Economic models based on several different forms of forced labor increasingly put into place. The fact that in today’s economic design almost no one can, by their own hand, meet their most basic needs gives those in control of the money based production and distribution system huge leverage to extract the labor desired on any terms that allow life to continue.
The mandatory conditions could be met by either option one or option two, but is more likely to be met by option one, if it could be enacted, since option two contains violent deviations from Reality and the constant danger of internal disruption leading away from essential action.
Reaction today will only forestall any meaningful response other than supporting option two by omission. Ultimately, my only objection to the progressive approach is the focus on specific projects while remaining committed to present habits and understanding on almost everything else. This is a prescription for running around in circles.
The plutocratic oligarchs do not require a change in understanding, reorganization or new outreach. Business as usual for them is the road to option two. They don’t need to rethink the insane reality in which they reside.
The Great Many have it all to lose, either because they are enslaved by the plutocrats or because the earth’s systems convulse before corrective changes can be made in, first, our beliefs and attitudes and then in our actions.
How to accomplish these things (in option one) is unclear, but the first step could not be more clear: these ideas must be spread widely, argued, understood and made part of a great many people’s acceptance and expectation for their future. Only then will the synergy for action, sufficiently effective and powerful to oppose option two, be possible. The strongest force in the human world is an idea that a critical mass of people understand, accept and expect to be made real.