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

Monday, December 29, 2008

What Would a No-growth Economy Look Like - 1

and when would we need to function in one? – Essay One

The earth’s living space has been a no-growth economy for most of its existence – or very very slow growth1 (by which I mean increase in total energy use).  By economy I mean the essence of eco-nomics: the acquisition, distribution/transfer and use of energy.  The absence of growth does not mean the absence of change, but it does mean that change is a function of other forces than growth.  The earth’s living economy stores the energy that it acquires from the sun in animated packages. This process begins with a kind of animation that directly captures radiant energy as chemical energy contained in molecular bonds. The energy is transferred by the behaviors of other animated packages: one consuming another. 

The total mass of living things is dependent on the amount of sunlight converted into the chemical bonds of glucose sugar and the stability of conditions that allow these processes.  And everything else can only exist in amounts and with behaviors supportable by that amount of sugar2.  This is, in essence, the commons within which biological evolution takes place.  A tenth of a percentage point advantage in acquiring and converting energy into efficient behavior means that in a thousand years, ten thousand years or a million years one species, one animated package type, will spread in domain and increase in number as others, approaching life in a very similar way, retreat and reduce.  

A day’s production of sugar is converted at an energy cost into protein, fats, DNA/RNA, complex carbohydrates and many other molecules essential for life.  Movement uses up the stored energy as well as the growth of bodies.  But what is vital to understand is that the same amount of energy production is needed for the next day and next; not less, but also not more.  It is absolutely essential to the integrity of the Living Order that life is pay as you go. 

Every organism stores up energy and material in the form of their own bodies, a highly decentralized design.  Bears store fat, bees store honey, some animals cache food, but they do this short term and get back only what they put in, minus small transaction costs. It is easy to see the problem for those that store up “too much.”  Honey bees, for example, create nodes with high concentrations of energy and can lose it all in one moment to some other organism.  

An essential key to the no-growth ecological economy is compensation.  Every organism compensates for its every taking and it compensates the whole ecology.  The ways that this works are manifold and ultimately determined by the design of the DNA/protein information nexus – the common evolutionary “device.”  If an organism fails to effectively compensate, then the ecological order would destabilize only to reestablish a compensating regime with a different arrangement of organisms and behaviors, and would thus continue on.  

An ecosystem functions on the same essential principle as a complex organism: all the thousands of functions have to be integrated within certain tolerances maintained by a myriad of homeostatic designs.  The heart moves the blood to carry materials to remote sites; the remote sites produce materials and actions required by other organs that ultimately maintain the health and functioning of the heart. Challenge the Islet cells of the pancreas with an unmetabolized substance normally dealt with by the liver and watch the cascade of consequences and the death of the system.  Cells that act on their own may increase in number for a short time, but finally kill the very body in which they live. 

An organism that finds a way to defeat the Living System of Order and its information nexus will only do so for a short time.  It will destabilize its ecosystem, damaging the designs that allowed the organism in the first place.  Ecological stability will either be reestablished with the organism and everything else having developed mutual compensations or with new arrangements of ecological actors. 

A human no-growth economy, the only kind that can be for any length of time, would set a limit for total energy use.  I would hope that we could do this with judicious use of our Consciousness System of Order capacities, otherwise the LSO could supply us with our proper allotment through the tried and true method of killing off the appropriate numbers with disease, starvation and whatever else we humans might throw in for good luck.  We could try letting the amounts of energy vary widely by classes and societies, but an organismic model would suggest designs that come to a “native” stability.  The nervous system uses more energy than fat cells, but one doesn’t steal from the other except in conditions in extremis. 

The body and ecosystems are primarily communistic in the most essential way: from each according to ability, to each according to need.  The cells of a body and the organisms in an ecosystem are adapted to this design; humans not so much, but this is not to say that Story can’t be adapted to improve our functioning in such a design and adaptations to the biological nature of human motivation included that meet the substantive objections to simple minded political and economic communism. 

The argument that humans are not animals, but the children of God, and therefore are not subject to the physical and living orders is a madness akin to believing that one is Abraham Lincoln or that the tree in your yard was put there by ‘aliens’ to spy on you and communicate with the mother ship.  That we have made a world of “things” and that pompous people wear cloth coverings that required a lot of energy to produce are only measures of how much trouble we are in, not how much “progress” we have made. 

If we are to survive, and the question is still open, it will be by limiting the amount of energy that we take from the global pie, and limiting it in a way that compensates the existence of everything else.  I am afraid it is a number orders of magnitude less than our current use.  

An organismic model suggests that each cell and organism be self-sustaining in primary ways, but functionally interdependent in larger relationships.  Just as individuals don’t overtly control 99.9% of metabolic functioning, but depend on the evolved homeostatic mechanisms, Humans must adjust their ecological relationships to depend on the biophysical mechanisms that maintain the living space of the biosphere.  The essential mantra: “leave it alone.”  The next essay will further consider these matters.

1Growth in this circumstance occurs when energy efficiencies evolve in species and species expand into families, etc., increasing the biomass practicing the adaptation.  Energy conversion and exchange efficiencies have only marginally increased the capacity of living things to use the available resources.  It is likely that in the whole of existence a fully populated earth – the last 350 million years – there has not been a order of magnitude change in the earth’s biomass as a result of ‘growth’ and adaptation.

2There is at least one other energy source of importance that fuels living chemistry on the earth.  Other chemical bonds have been exploited for their energy, especially at undersea vents.  But, as important as these systems probably are in the evolution of life, they are extremely tiny contributions to the biomass.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Rose is a Nose is a Hose

Education by any other name… 

If we cut through the bullshit, education is about a quality of life being prepared for.  It is about forming the conditions that allow for personal choices.  It is about those informed personal choices aggregating into sound social choices.  And it is about the summary social choices forming the basis of a sustainable and biologically complete relationship with the ecology in which we live.  Education that does not meet fully all of these primary human requirements is something else no matter what we call it: a cactus called a cushion is still a cactus. 

Much of what is done in the name of "education" today militates against the above assertions.  As a demographic in the USA, young humans do not learn to read with proficiency.  They do not learn to do numbers with proficiency.  They do not learn to think and problem solve with reason and logic. They don't internalize feelings of success and accomplishment with the process of learning new things.  A selected (both societally selected and self-selected) group do acquire these skills and behaviors, but not enough for the comfort of the nation or the safety of the species.[1] 

A few great and orderly minds, and thousands of confused ones, have bent their efforts to this system of wheels.  And rather than discovering solutions, the confusions and inefficiencies have increased.  This is a data point. 

The young people – almost every one – both accept as vital for their future the need of schooling and reject, at varying levels, the doing of schooling.  We, the society, have come to see this abominable consequence as natural: kids will be kids will be lids. This is a data point. 

The herding together of great numbers of children, organizing them into adult led groups of 20 to 30 and variously entertaining and alarming them for 5 to 7 hours most weekdays in the non-summer months has become one of the largest businesses in the world.  The primary activity consumes nearly half of state budgets and some small percentage of the federal budget.  There are, in the USA, a little over 50 million children in public school and nearly 10 million in private school. At about $11,000 per child that is a yearly cost of almost 700 billion dollars (2007 numbers).  And this does not consider all suppliers of educational services or other related activities from personal school supplies, band instruments to cheerleader movies. This is a data point. 

It is universally accepted that young humans need to be skilled in a variety of arts to get along successfully in the world.  It is also generally agreed that the complexities of day's behaviors and employments require specialists to hold on to, advance and impart to others these skills. This is a data point. 

No one knows for sure what people actually need to know now or will need to know as the world changes more and more rapidly, other than that people will need to make better and better informed decisions and be able to learn new things quickly as the slack in our world is taken up by our numbers, the environmental damage we have caused and the dramatic changes that are going to be forced on how we do economies.  At a time when we, collectively, need to be more and more biophysically correct in our actions, our capacity to communicate those needs seem more and more limited by the acquired skills of the people. This is a data point.

There are two decisions that we, as a society, must make immediately: 1) Is the economy and politics in the service of the people or are the people in service of the economy (and subservient to a tiny minority of economically and politically powerful humans)?  And, 2) are young humans to learn to be fully effective human beings or are they to be animate tools of production and consumption?  I am not offering these questions rhetorically.  There are great forces gathered and prepared to fight for their answers.  There are other questions, but they are largely created arguments designed to hide agendas, for example, the religion vs. science flap is cover for the dumbing down of the multitude as well as a pretext for cutting funding. 

If we imagine these forces pulling on the daily practice of education like on the center marker on the tug-of-war rope over what has become a mud pit, you get a bit of the feel of what is like to be a teacher.  Those who teach have almost uniformly agreed on several of the above issues (young humans as individually valuable; the usefulness of high levels of language, mathematical and historical literacy; the value of rational logical problem solving skills and the goal of personal power and independence of thought).  It is these very agreements that put much of the education community at odds with other powerful societal forces that, while they seldom are so blunt, see the multitude as economic fodder and a waste of money to educate beyond a certain level of mechanical functionality; even see general education as a danger to their privilege.

It is this tug-of-war that is a major source of education's troubles – along with other issues.  How to do education to meet teacher's goals is reasonably clear in the research, and has been since the beginning of public schools: small classes in small schools staffed with enthusiastic knowledgeable teachers who have genuine respect for life and caring for the young of our species.  This pretty much describes the situation in the best private schools.  There is no tug-of-war here.  Everyone values the students and respects their need for all forms of literacy and capacity growth. 

The money side of public education could be solved with another 100 billion dollars.  That amount of money could add about a million teachers (about a 20% increase) and increase the salaries of most of the rest to levels that would attract people who would like to teach but simply cannot afford to (and certainly there should be serious restructuring to make education less of a cash cow for the unscrupulous).  The new teachers would reduce class size and increase variety.  The educational environment would be immediately better and could begin incremental improvement toward meeting the teacher's goals. 

When I was in business, and I suspect this is true for every CATO Institute libertarian who would shut down public education, if offered the choice between a tool that cost 7 thousand dollars that only half meet my needs and one that cost 8 thousand dollars that met my needs, I bought the more expensive tool.  I was never wrong in such a choice and several times wrong when I made the other.  

We cannot do America as originally envisioned and as a continuing experiment in popular democracy without an educated population.  Private education for all, like private health care, is a sophistry from an economic minority that has become insane in their privilege and whose vision of America is as a fascist oligarchy.  They would seemingly deny the very thing that has allowed them to become wealthy in the first place – the capacity of the multitude to act responsibly and economically in the world. 

If the class war that is being waged against education were to end, then education could and would have to clean its own house.  Pinned down and sniped at from many directions, teachers, as do others in this situation, tend to turn on each other.  A thousand plans, projects, paradigms and plagues compete with the attacks of right wingers and left wingers and non-wingers for the educator's time, attention and courage.  I will give but one example that occurred a few days ago. [2] 

A well-meaning "professional development" person took our beyond valuable time to train us on how "star" teachers teach.  This a doubly maddening and demeaning for professionals who are working 60 or more hours a week with lesson plans, lesson research, classroom maintenance, grading, individual student consultation, grading some more, reporting grades in various required formats, contacting parents – and classroom contact time – and who have only 3 hours a week in which to meet together as a group to plan, support, commiserate and attempt to create a functioning school community. 

Leaping off the page of "my reading" were these words embedded in a soup of educationese: "They think in words of ordinary language."  They being "star" teachers!  I wondered aloud: why, if it is ordinary language that we are to use, is it that we don't simply and ordinarily refer to 'good' teachers.  But this has become a world where the word 'problem' is replaced with a 'delta' (used in science expressions to indicate change) and the word 'should' shouldn't be used.  The rest of the readings were of the rhetorical sort: this is bad, don't do it; this is good, do it.  (We were supposed to make a drawing to illustrate our reading.) But even there a self-protective ideological purity was foisted off as didactic perfection.  Behavioral psychology bad; Vygotsky good.  This sort of wisdom followed by an anti-intellectualism that was supposed to pass for knowledge of psychological processes.

Teachers should be more than casually informed of the best understandings of psychological research and they should use that understanding in their work, but not in isolation.  We have become so afraid of criticism that we can't even criticize ourselves and have to hide our discomfort in silly games called professional development.  I would never have tried these kinds of things with employees.  The expectations were that the work was done and the truth was told.  If I messed up, I needed to know right then.  There were clients and there were deadlines; there were working machines and broken machines; there were no deltas.

That is the part of business (not big business, but every small struggling business) that I would bring to teaching: telling everyone the truth before it gets any age on it.  Working together and trusting the other person.  Creating a sense of ownership of both the product and the institution.  The things that every truly successful small business person knows how to do.  I could hire someone to keep the books and keep the calendar, but it was an important part of my job to make an honest image of the possible a real and worthwhile thing to the people who worked with me.

Bring on Vygotsky and bring on Skinner and learn from them both.  Say the things you mean and don't mince words.  Education in America needs to be a socialist institution supported by everyone to the extent necessary to produce powerful, independent minded people who know a lot and can use that knowledge (and it is self-serving bullshit to say that public education can't do that). If we are spending 700 billion now and it is not enough, then spending less is simple madness.  If a thousand billion is the right amount, then spend it.  This is one place where the return is always significantly greater than the investment.  But the investment is for everyone by everyone, and cannot easily be secreted away as the spoils of "royal privilege." 

What we do with and for our young is the true measure of our beliefs, and will be the true cause of our success or failure as a nation and as a species.  There are those who claim that the USA is the most advanced nation on the earth; if that is so, then we should be treating all of our young humans better than any other nation by preparing them for a human and sustaining future as a clear demonstration of our superior values. 

1) The CIA World Fact Book reports 99% literacy for the US, but that is a measure of the lowest possible level of literacy. Other compilations of data suggest 80% literacy as a more illuminating measure and that many more people are limited in their life choices by not being able to accurately decode and use information from reading and numbers.  It is very likely that half of adults are materially impacted. I have yet to find a data based speculation on the percentages that we should accept as reasonable. 

2) Since retiring from business I returned to teaching in a small public high school.  For over half the students, English is a second language.  I have seldom been in the company of such bright and charming human beings or ones so thoroughly confused as to their prospects and needs for the future.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Criminal Prosecution of the Bush Administration

Laws have two basic functions; one is to inform as to the rules of the society and the other is to indicate the seriousness with which those rules are regarded.  If a law is claimed to be essential and yet is not enforced by using state power to demonstrate the seriousness with which society holds the law, then it is no law and only a suggestion.  Since laws tend to be created about things that people actually do, often for personal gain, things that destabilize or disrupt social functioning, the failure to enforce laws is certain to increase the incidence of and danger from the prohibited action.

The essay that began this blog, A Question, opens with: ‘“Is it possible in today’s political climate to apply the rule of law to the powerful?”  If it is not, then this nation is only a structure of power-relationships that adapts to the exigencies of subterfuge and force.’ 

I think it a pretty simple proposition: if the economically and politically powerful are not subject to the rule of law it is only a short matter of time before there will be nothing left of democratic design and rule of law that gave hope and security to our daily lives. 

It has been clear from before the 2000 election, and abundantly clear after, that the Bush administration was a criminal enterprise flaunting law and assuming royal prerogative, literally in the manner of a despotism: Cheney’s energy task-force, which we now have very good reason to believe was dividing up Iraqi and other middle eastern oil properties, refused legal oversight; the many violations of law in the run up to the Iraq war and questionable dealings even in the funding and movements in Afghanistan.  It is a long listand here, available at various sites on the Web. 

It is my belief that the promise of the United States of America, as compromised as that promise has been, will be irrevocably lost if Bush, Cheney, Rove, Addington and others are not prosecuted for their crimes in office.  I, frankly, see no way that the nation will recover. The U.S. constitution cannot function as a series of suggestions.

In the very most generous interpretation, that laws were broken to protect US citizens and business, there is still no defense.  Lawlessness at this political level can tolerate no assertions of ignorance of either the intent of the law or options for gaining full legal authority if some change in the application of law was actually needed.  These people willingly violated the letter and spirit of not only statutory law, but also the Constitution and its established interpretations.  They can have no defense other than innocence – there are no mitigating circumstances.  This is not a matter of being unsure of what the law was.  They clearly knew demonstrated by their active efforts to cover up, hide and obscure rather than openly explain their concerns and find lawful means to deal with those concerns.  Their criminality was against us all; against the very fabric of our society.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Clugston’s Question – Essay Four

(essay one, essay two, essay three)

If we begin with the assumption that there is no leadership that can take us to where we need to go, if we further assume the high improbability of getting a significant number of the world’s people to respond to the arguments of presentations like Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and other educational attempts, if we assume that the great consolidated forces of action on the earth, governments, corporations, armies, institutional religions, service organizations and sports fans have such competing interests that these will not support adapting to biophysical reality until the very last second when that is the only option left, then we clearly need to figure out some other way.  As Mr. J. K. Galbraith cynically put it: “Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

But then in dueling quotes there is M. Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  In the way of a Zen Koan, removing the paradox of these two observations leads us to the supremely counter-intuitive conclusion that another Zen (Taoist) notion is an important part of the way (Tao): action in non-action.

I am not saying that those who understand the issues, consequences and required behaviors should put on the robes and find a nice cave – though it is appealing – but that we should not engage the struggle solely with methods that create the very problems we are trying to address.  Movies, educational bureaucracies, massive material movement, technology dependence, specialists flying hither and yon while all necessary, in some amounts for some occasions, cannot be the whole or even the major part of the effort: a corporate/government designed process with all of the beliefs and habits of growth economics, political structures and ecological domination will, regardless of small victories, be co-opted by the present global economic process. This is not because the present design is evil – though it is – it is just its design.  If we, all of life on earth in its present natural order, are to survive, the force for the necessary changes will have to come from another source that is so foreign to the present economic order that it cannot be absorbed and commercialized. 

The vast majority of the world’s people are inherently sane, even as the ideas and behaviors through which they express themselves are thoroughly mad.  A small percentage of the people of every culture recognize at some level their essential specieshood and try with varying success to incorporate their feeling of it into their lives.  These are a nascent “priesthood” for specieshood.  

I believe the number is potentially large.  In my own random conversations I find that people understand the essential notions: live within our means, seek pleasure in community, live in honor and personal power not fear and subservience; and an essential notion of specieshood, that humans have a way to be as a species just as do other animals, that what we are at present is not it and that we would be benefited by its rediscovery.  But the materialistic social order is powerfully compelling; it is relentless.  Most people, even as they understand the inanity, can’t defeat its glitter and narcotic pressure. It is necessary to make a committed effort to find employment that both doesn’t compromise values and also allows time to live some part of each day with experiences that support being human.  Not everyone with the potential can do it; many who could recover their specieshood will be lost.  It is the nature of the time we are in.

More and more people are both realizing the approaching dangers and of these more and more are springboarding that realization into a recognition of their need for a relationship with the natural world. It is from these ranks that some will attempt to live in a way that models both the coming need and ways that more fully allow the expression of specieshood.  I believe that it is this number that will decide the fate of the human species and much of life on the earth.

Our present economic and political system is completely unsuited to make any of the changes needed other than to exterminate 5/6ths of the earth’s people. Unfortunately, that may be the only option that the economic elite (I have called them elsewhere the mad minority) will understand how to implement.  One of our responsibilities will be to stay vigilant for national and corporate preparations for such a possibility.  But short of that it is most likely that we will simply drive off the cliff – do nothing until the biophysical damage is so great that the environmental response is massive and cascading.

As such a time approaches and the situation nears being lost, if there are communities of people modeling the way to live in such times, and if they have been actively preparing the zeitgeist to accept the modeling, then it is possible that the most dramatic ecological collapses might be avoided.  Some of the present ecological structure and genetic history would be maintained, much of human history preserved.  At this point I would see this as a win. 

Another side of the possibility that people trying to rediscover their specieshood might offer the greatest chance for reducing the damage and danger for the future is that these people will also be living the most fulfilling and complete lives possible in these times, and thus will have an increasingly powerful effect on those immediately around them.  There is the possibility that their example would expand their numbers and perhaps bring about a fuller recognition of the danger and meaningful responses to it that much sooner.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

IRAQ (first published 9/21/02)

(Reprised as a reminder of the criminal dishonesty of the Bush administration)

Our present circumstance is a welter of detail: When did Iraq do what?  What is the character of Saddam Hussein?  What will Iraq do if they acquire certain weapons?  On and on for dozens of questions. 

Each question seems to have dozens of answers depending on the wishes of the questioner.  This is very disturbing considering the consequence that some significant part of a million young man might be sent to war and many more other innocents put in the way of the most destructive weapons the uninhibited cleverness of humans can devise.  It is especially disturbing when the answers of one's own government seem consistently biased in favor of immediate and warlike action. 

Almost the whole rest of the earth answers differently, counseling caution.  While not as dramatic, there are options offering many of the same assurances without the massive killing that war would bring.  It appears that my government desires war for its own reasons of conquest rather than to reduce the dangers of death and suffering for those most endangered. 

(This is the place where commentators are supposed to speak in reverential tones about how bad Hussein is and how he should be removed -- how the Bush administration is right about that, etc.  But Hussein is ordinary among his despotic peers and has done little compared to the death and suffering gone unnoticed by writers of the history of the winners in the story of Empire.)

In a very real sense there is no enemy.  Rather a straw man is being constructed by my own government with the help of media -- the media whose function it is to report truth and to question official positions (history shows that official positions are very often self-serving and shortsighted when allowed).  Saddam Hussein, in the general opinion of most of the world, is no worse than many despotic leaders and Iraq is no more dangerous than similarly situated countries.  And certainly Iraq has only the capacity to defend itself and no real capacity to be even a regional aggressor.  If this view is wrong, nothing has been presented beyond rhetoric to deny it. 

There are perhaps 30 countries in the world today that have very unsettling leadership regardless of the political label that might otherwise be appended.  The failings range from incompetence, through negligence to despotism and practical insanity -- all the problems found in other forms of employment.  If my country is to be a good world citizen, then we should be working to increase the standards of leadership by supporting world bodies that can exert those kinds of healthy influences. 

But this is not the focus of this government.  The significant actors (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, the Bush family) apparently see a window of opportunity to drive the U.S. to a position of total world domination: military, economic, social/cultural and religious.  Their worldview is one of opportunities and enemies, both mediated by force.  The great irony is that they are not wrong when they are in charge; when a powerful force sees the world so narrowly, the conditions of the debate are defined in their terms. 

Iraq is chosen as a strategic first step.  The coercive apparatus of propaganda is working out the kinks in the manipulation and control of media.  Military organization and re-equipping is being done with absolute control of all physical space and all communications and information as the goal.  

Only in America are there a significant number of people supporting an invasion of Iraq.  I suggest it is largely because they have only seen information that both supports that action and presents it as a near certainty.  There has been a virtual blackout of meaningful debate.  With the exception, to date, of Phil Donahue no one has been allowed to offer a view opposing the administration's without having their patriotism and honesty directly questioned.  Scott Ritter has been slandered and administration actors organized to weaken and neutralize his voice.  Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and other thoughtful representatives of their views have received almost no media attention.  

Broadcast and cable media have presented almost exclusively the administration voice and still the real support for the actual conditions of war is less than 50% or so.  Millions of people across the country are expressing reservations.  Millions of people are talking to their friends and neighbors and hearing that they too have reservations, concerns about lack of evidence, doubts about the real need to go to war.  Yet we hear from Ari Fleisher that "the President has 70% support," a number that is given no specific basis and not in line with other reports of polling data.  The statement is not challenged by the press corps. 

To put the situation in simple terms, all of the evidence seems to point to the Bush administration trying to operate an agenda of conquest.  It has all the military power, most of the economic power and is only marginally concerned with moral authority.  Iraq is too weak to fight back beyond home defense and so will collect few friends, but strong enough, and unwise enough, to look threatening.  It is an hors d'oeuvre.  

Many thousands of Iraqis will be killed, citizen and soldier.  Very few American soldiers will die in the first phase -- many more in the second phase.  As in Columbia the military will protect commercial interests and as with both Columbia and Afghanistan the country will be left to its own devices.  The disruptions of order will offer opportunities for further conquests and power projections in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Far East. 

It has been since before the 2000 election, and stated again in the most recent position paper, the explicit policy of this administration that no country shall ever again be allowed to gain military strength approaching that of the United States.  This fact, in combination with dominance of all matters economic and material, will deliver another trifecta: military, economic and resource hegemony.

The unasked question arises, why does the U.S. need such a massive military in this case (5 percent of GDP).  The implied answer is that there are lots of bad people in the world who hate the U.S. and it may need to fight especially theater wars; two, three or more at a time.  This again would end up being true if the U.S. presses its advantage on to all societies and nations -- acting its will on others because it has the power to do so.  They will fight back.  The rest of the world is very nervous because they see these things clearly.  The Bush administration has said the total control of the world is its goal.  It commissioned a report related to the feasibility of such control before the 2000 election and the most recent position paper to Congress again states this goal.

If it were only humans warring with each other -- trying to take over the world, yet again -- then it would be terrible and a prelude to terrible suffering delivered by greedy megalomaniacs and religious zealots -- yet again.  But given the ecologically fragile nature of our present world and the power of the thousands of weapons we have forsworn the use of, yet may be unable to avoid using, we could, in the service of fools, trigger a great convulsive act of biological, biophysical rejection of large amounts of the life of this planet. 

It would be, in a way, perversely poetic to have much of life on earth damaged by the actions of George W. Bush -- by all accounts an ordinary man who thinks especially well of himself -- and humanity diminished; an ordinary species that developed the ability to think and so thought, unwisely (unsapiens), especially well of itself when to think well of everything else would have been its salvation.


Glasgow Sunday Herald, "Bush planned Iraq 'regime change' before becoming President" by Neil Mackay, 15 September 2002 

"Rebuilding America's Defenses" A report of The Project for the New American Century,  September 2000 

‘Bush Shifts Strategy From Deterrence to Dominance’

By Karen DeYoung and Mike Allen

Washington Post Staff Writers

Saturday, September 21, 2002; Page A01

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Goal of Life

A person can have many different goals, but ultimately only one basic life goal, and that will necessarily be a choice between trying to find ways of giving one's biology expression and freedom or finding ways of restraining, controlling, even denying one's biology.

Living for and within one's biology requires sensitivity, awareness and an inquisitive nature.  Living with the restraint and denial of biology requires that something be created to stand in its place as a substitute for it and protection against its uninvited expression. 

Being alive is a consequence of the design order of biology; only biology has the property of life.  All of the energy of the solar nuclear furnace, the powerful and complex activities of volcanoes or the intricate slow "muscularity" of ocean currents totally fail to be alive; it is not raw power, but design that gives biology its special place.

To be alive and to express one's biology seems like a simple and obvious equation: life = biology = expression of both.  However, in a paradoxical twist, like a Zen koan, much of the human species have adopted the life goal of rejecting their biology in one way or another.

There must be good reasons for this.  The basic physical and behavioral biology of humans evolved as a continuous process from the primates, great apes and hominids.  We are a hairless ape with an outsized brain that evolved an adaptation to life new to the earth and possibly new to the universe; and we are a great contradiction: a primate with primate biology thrust with terrible speed into an adaptation of incomprehensible scope and power -- consciousness/culture.  Our primate behaviors became quickly uncomfortable in our cultural clothing.  Our anger, our sexual antics, our habits of rest and work all speak of a primate living as a hunter/opportunist in moderate sized family groups sparsely populating the landscape. 

We immediately understand a baboon troupe or a band of chimps.  We understand their relationships and can easily pick out those who are like us in their various social roles.  And yet in a cultural society, one of size and history, one with an endless memory and "impossibly" rapid adaptations to a ponderously slow environment, our “basic primate” is as lost as a forest chimp coming to live with the Cleavers.  

This is not to say that our biology is the same as that of the living great apes, it's certainly is not, but is to say that the full and unfettered expression of our biology would be seriously out of place in our conscious/culture space and that that creates a great dilemma which has been primarily solved by repressing, denying and “overcoming” nature.  

It is quite possible that more pain and suffering has come from this process than in the whole world of life before us. All other species are integrated into an ecosystem; their place in life is a given and if they could question it, which they cannot, the sense of purpose and belonging would be complete and palpable.  Other organisms die in seconds, minutes or at most a few hours when under tooth and claw or from injury or the last ravages of disease.  But humans live long and often die long, many live long in physical suffering and many live long in the madness of questions about their place in the world. 

When Buddhists say ‘life is suffering,’ they mean conscious life and especially life in conflict: to be sensate is the first requirement of suffering, the second is that there be a world of conflicting sensation -- we meet both conditions. 

And so it is here that our choice is before us; the biology of our bodies and species, millions of years of evolution and billions of years of genetic continuity vs. the ad hoc conscious/cultural product with its manifest power in the moment. 

The arguments are monstrous: cultures claim to be eternal when, in fact, they change so fast that we have such stories as Rip Van Winkle falling asleep for a few years and awakening completely out of place; and in claiming to be eternal, they justify forcing adherents to their designs with draconian means: laws, economic sanctions and ostracism. 

But it is our biology that gives the cultural order such power.  We grow up imprinting, not on a mother goose in the first few hours of life, but on a whole world of variety over several years, i.e., our biological designs wrap themselves around the details of the world we're born into -- no other organism does that.  And yet no matter how well we do it there is still the "world" that our genes have prepared us for -- a world that our biology expects to be there. 

We live in groups, go mad without them, and will adapt to and adopt their ways: lost sailors become good islanders, captured West Indians became good Europeans, Islamists become Christians, Buddhists become Hindus and Christians become pagans.  Biology says to belong to a group, and the group says to deny biology (at least some significant parts of it). 

Biology is just as monstrous: trillions of cells in your body, each one with a complete copy of your genes -- and these are not just any set of instructions.  These are copies of copies that go back in an unbroken process for over 3 billion years to the very first living things, and they contain the efficacious evolutionary history of all life, your kingdom, Phylum, etc., all the way to your species and to you individually.  The genes function by expressing themselves as the physical structure of your body and the physiology that is the basis for your life and behavior. 

It would just make sense that the fullest expression of that biology would be a desirable thing.  On what basis would you be willing to say that 3 billion plus years of efficaciousness proven by an unbroken sequence of trillions upon trillions of DNA replications was wrong?  Replaced by something thought up a few geological seconds ago by a limited human mind?  Not likely! 

For me it is biology first; that is where the reverence is.  Respect for my own biology, and therefore for my psychology and spirituality.  In fact, spirituality (not religion) is the key.  What we call spirituality is the practices and subjective conditions that attach one particular expression of the genes to the universe as a whole.  Every organism other than humans do this in the normal process of their lives; every thing other than humans exists naturally in the spiritual.  Humans did also for a very long time, but then began to imagine themselves outside of that relationship and so went out of it.  And so now with appropriate practice and a reverence for biology we have to imagine ourselves back into such a relationship once again. 

This is by far the best personal choice.  Since, while it is possible to live with a reverence for biology and to practice a fulfilling spirituality and still live in effective contact with a basically mad society, it is not possible to be reverential of such a society and live in sufficient contact with your biology and spirit to be of any use.  But ultimately the choice has to be between a dedication to the principles of the society or the principles of your own species biology -- your specieshood. 

You know what society requires -- you must accept its values whatever they may be (human sacrifices for the Aztecs, lots of travel for the Mongols, believing political lies for the 21st century Americans) -- but what do you do to live in specieshood? 

First, you give your body good food and exercise, keep clean and as free from contaminants as possible -- you create the conditions for your body to express its biology without injuries from pollutants or stimulants.  Second, you give your consciousness the opportunity to develop itself and express itself, also by what you "feed it" and avoid allowing it to consume.  This is a much more difficult matter.  Just as your body needs a daily regimen for its health, so do your mental faculties (these are not separate from your body, but do require special “grooming”).  Relaxation, meditation, exploration and stimulation are words that tend to suggest the activities. 

Avoid the prepackaged mental products the way you avoid fast food or MSG contaminated food.  Commercial messages are everywhere -- this is a world for sale, but life is not about a world for sale.  It is about an incredibly improbable process and living out its possibilities. 

At one time what was real was what was experienced and such experience was tested by survival.  We might today, with our science, reject a particular explanation for a proven action, though not the action itself.  But now we are dependent on science and the scientific method to get at the truth of things -- and on the writings of those thinkers who have risked their persons to dig into the heart of our dilemmas. 

Study widely, learn science, develop your own critical sense, avoid "media" and other coercive communications beyond what is needed for a basic recognition of events.  After awhile what is most likely true will began to stand out in relief: history, science and philosophy and your own body sense will create the background environment in which you live.  Deceptions will become transparent and lies foolish diversions. 

Such a way will often stand at odds with the society of which you necessarily are a part and put you in conflict with people who give society their reverence, but this will be clear to you and you will be free to deal with it as you feel you must.