A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clugston’s Question

(essay two, essay three, essay four)

In a brief email correspondence with Chris Clugston, a thinker and analyst doing important work in summarizing our current state, He presented this question: “One final issue to ponder--and I ponder it a lot--assuming that the mainstream possesses the capacity to grasp the significance and gravity associated with our predicament, what are the chances that we will willingly give up the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed, and to which we feel entitled, and voluntarily agree to the drastic reductions in population level and living standards required to get us to sustainable levels?”

That is the question: Even if we know within reasonable levels of certainty what is happening and the high probability outcomes, is the human species, as presently organized, capable of responding with the goals of sustaining itself and at the same time acting to strengthen the damaged ecologies upon which all life in this planet depends (primarily by leaving them alone)? 

We will certainly respond to the changing conditions: we are doing so in spades right now with wars and economic manipulations, with attempted elite hording of what seem like essential materials; with all the “normal” responses of an animal being stressed in its environment.  If this is how it is to go, then Mr. Clugston’s concern is clearly answered with a resounding, ‘NO,’ followed shortly by a planetary wailing. 

For me the question resolves into: Is the Consciousness System of Order capable of organizing human action? How has this worked in the past? And what are the conditions available today to function this possibility? 

A bit of prolog: All organisms and, to a very large extent, the human organism function in the Living System of Order.  That is, the DNA/protein nexus “judges,” stores and implements the information flow that we associate with evolution, behavior and change.  A few species, primarily of mammals and birds, very imperfectly spread some ‘change’ from nervous system to nervous system by observation, thus bypassing genetic judgment and process.  This process is still very much under the control of the Living Order.  Humans on the other hand have evolved an adaptation that completely sidesteps the DNA/protein nexus.  We “judge,” store and implement information flow in a system of order of completely different design, but just as powerful (more powerful in many ways) as the Living Order.  I call it the Consciousness System of Order and its information nexus Story.  

The Living Order is embedded in reality the way a jellyfish is embedded in the sea – it is continuous with it.  The Consciousness Order, however, began embedded in reality, but had the capacity to become self-referencing and thus able to design actions that looped away from intimate contact with the real – what we call imagining – and return again.  It is possible to imagine what “cannot happen” in the Living Order or the Physical Order, but then to actively pursue a means to make the imagined real (a human “cannot touch” a rabbit 20 feet away from him, for example).  The power that this conferred to the human species is almost unimaginable, especially since the “DNA” of this system of order was Story that could be passed from individual to individual and down generations mediated only by the rules of Story (what makes the study of linguists so interesting and important). 

The greatest “power” of the Consciousness Order, however, is not that it can give the human species great speed of action and control of reality, but that it can “overcome” reality.  By referencing its own imaginings as the basis for the next imagining, as though the previous imagining were reality itself, a consciousness constructed “reality” bubble can be formed in which communities can form complex relationships with their environment based almost entirely on illusions held by the communities as “reality.”  This design of action bypasses inhibitory (homeostatic) mechanisms and functions on positive feedback systems.  Such a community can become very powerful for several generations until “the Real reality catches up with them;” until the soil is salinated, until the wells run dry, until the slaves revolt, until the economy bubble bursts, until, until… 

Organizing idea and acting outside of reality is how we define insanity for individuals.  In this case we primarily mean community reality and so the idea is a bit compromised, but the concept is clear: consistently acting in reality is sane, consistently acting outside of reality is crazy.  But our whole human existence today (our cultures, our technology, our beliefs, our economics, our politics) is all pretty much free of The Real.  We treat reality as a negotiable item in our imaginings.  I simply call this the Madness: shorthand for the fully self-referenced cultural reality maintained in Story several degrees removed from biophysical reality.  There is no way for the individual human whose experience is only the self-referenced “reality” to know the difference, except for the fact that we, each and everyone, are also based deeply in the Living System of Order and feel its tugs every instant.  This can also drive us personally crazy. 

There.  That is my starting point for how to understand our possibilities.  The next installment will take this argument further, but for the moment my answer to the question is: I think that odds are very long that, as a species, there is a “we” that can stop or even slow down the exponential pattern of our changes and the ecological devastation that will result.  But that said, I can ‘imagine’ a dramatic reconnection with reality though the agency of our own body’s Living Order connections if a design of Story can be formed and spread.  The powers of the CSO have brought us to this pass and the powers of the CSO can reconnect us to the biophysical reality.  It is worth a try; I didn’t have anything more important to do today anyway.

More of Chris Clugston's work can be found here:


Michael Dawson said...

The odds are long, but not zero. Gandhi, MLK, the defeat of fascism's first wave -- all show unlikely big changes are possible.

It calls to mind Antonio Gramsci's maxim: "Optimism of the will; pessimism of the intellect."

There's nothing left but to try, right?

I look forward to the next installment!

James Keye said...

I have a friend who owned a discotheque just a couple of blocks from the Berlin wall. He said that there was an undefined energy in the air in the days before the wall was literally breached, picked apart and to some extend carried away. All the people in his disco, clients, staff, everyone, spontaneously moved to the wall and joined in. And the world was changed, at least a little. We have a metaphor, and element of Story, for the next time.