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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We Have to Decide

We have to decide where we stand; even if we don’t even know that there is a decision to be made.  Everything we do supports our decisions so we should at least know what it is that we are deciding about.  If you wear alligator leather boots, then you support killing alligators for boots.  If you buy foods that are made from genetically modified plants or animals, you support the genetic modification of living things for commercial purposes.  If you drive a car, you support adding green house gases to the atmosphere, you support mining, oil drilling, corporate monopoly power and all the social disruption to which the automobile contributes.

Our best argument to deny this clear reality is that we have no choice.  I use it myself.  It is 6 miles from my house to a place I often go.  It may be cold, or may be raining, or I maybe don’t feel well, so I drive rather than ride my bike. But I do so in the certain knowledge that I am agreeing with and supporting a terrible and destructive force in the world.  One of my sons has used a bicycle as his only means of personal transportation for many years, riding in the rain and in the winter as well as on those beautiful “why would you go any other way” days.  He had decided not to have a car and so had no choice but to walk or ride.

It appears to me that the only way to limit many of the destructive things we do will require reversing the choice situation to having no option but to walk or bike, no option but to use unmodified foods, no option but to treat other living things with respect even as we continue to use them for food and materials.  But just how is it possible to construct a social and economic world with those incentives?

One part of the solution is belief.  We are a creature of belief; we design a set of imaginings that organize the events and processes of our world – and we usually think that that is how the world really is.  These beliefs can often be changed, sometimes into an opposite form, with little change in the appearance of our lives. But belief is both powerful on the one hand and very flexible on the other.  Beliefs must be changed, but that alone will not suffice.

The only way to stop people from driving cars is to not have cars.  The only way to have organic (truly organic) foods is to grow and raise food with great personal attention to its production.  The only way to “impose” the humane treatment of animals is to make the quality of animal life material in the quality of our own.  I began my growing up this way on a farm in central Ohio.  I am not Amish, but when I grew up the differences between that way of life and my own was not so remarkably great. 

Later in Florida, no not that Florida, but dirt farming Florida, we plowed with a mule.  It may seem strange to say it, but we got to know him.  The mule worked really hard, but so did the man.  The mule’s happiness mattered.  A successful farmer did not mistreat his animals.

But even this “return to the farm” will not get us to where we need to go in our present dilemmas. There is no question that if everyone – nearly everyone – had a little plot of soil that they had made fertile with their own efforts and from which they expected to produce some significant portion of their own food and essential materials like leather or wood for construction or heat, there is no question but that the world would be very different economically, socially, structurally and metaphysically. 

But this cannot be done and the reasons that it cannot be done should be a clear warning. First, there are just too many of us. There are places where a hectare (100 meters by 100 meters) would be enough for a couple of people.  In other places much more space would be required.  And many places where people presently live there is little arable land at all. 

Almost all the world’s most useful land is occupied with people, either directly – the land is being lived on – or is “owned” and used in some private way by people whose actual ’home range’ is somewhere else.  Much of the earth’s land has been damaged.  The mechanics of distributing equitably the world’s arable lands would be daunting.

About half the world’s people don’t have a clue about how to take care of themselves.  They couldn’t raise a carrot, make bunnies bred or find a wild spinach.  The “successful” half of the world would be useless in such a change; worse than useless, a burden. 

There is little social structure left that could support such changes.  It would all have to be learned the hard way. 

I don’t know this for a fact, but it is my guess that the best seeds and livestock for this kind of personal sustainability are either gone or in short supply.  How to increase amounts or rediscover them within the time frames required could be a problem.

The complete Madness of the present economic design would rather kill off billions of the earth’s people than give up its domination of the planet, partly from the Madness and partly from the total inability to imagine another way of doing things.

However, even though this cannot be done for the reasons listed, it will be done by hook or crook, and at great cost.  There really is no other way.  People will have to learn to and actually take care of themselves with their own personal energy. 

There will not be a return to the farm though, not in the little farmhouse in the field with chickens in the yard.  I can see keeping some communication technology and energy infrastructure. A new economic paradigm that used computers for “currency facilitated” barter could develop that didn’t require a completely abstracted wealth token.  Meaning could be retained in material and food rather than giving it up almost completely to numbers on a piece of paper. 

And perhaps the new beliefs of those who survive the transition might include a healthy skepticism of ease.  There are Amish who hang their chairs on the wall thinking it a sin to sit when there is work to be done.  This craziness seems a small and non-bitter price to pay to avoid the creeping changes that have led to our present situation in which one of our options is to kill off half the world’s people as a way of surviving.

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