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, December 6, 2008

Clugston’s Question – Essay Three

(essay one, essay two, essay four)

We know, more or less, the basic form of the conditions under which the human species would need to exist for the present global ecology to return to something like its “natural” state and from which it could continue processes and rates of change typical of earthly biophysical and evolutionary process (required to avoid catastrophic environmental collapse): a few hundred million people, perhaps up to a billion, with a per capita total energy use of a few thousand calories (Kcals) per day.  With care, humans could become again part of a balanced ecosystem. 

This says nothing about the economic or political design, but these too would need to be sustainable, adapted to the biological and physical realities of the species and environment, but whether such designs would satisfy our current prejudices is pure conjecture. 

Working from the proposed result to how that result might be obtained, I and many others have concluded that “you can’t get there from here,” while at the same time realizing that some form of this future is inevitable.  A major difficulty is the apparent need for a high percentage of the world’s people to recognize the present danger and to begin to act in long-term rather than in short-term interest.  This apparent requirement flies in the face of the fact that animals cannot act individually in long-term interest – that would be like steering a car for the curve that is coming a mile ahead.  Long-term interest is a property of evolutionary change and it does this by the counter-intuitive device of killing off short-term failures (perhaps with long-term potential) and sustaining short-term successes (utterly without regard for future possibilities).  Sometimes it works to apparently “create” a particular group; look at birds. But it is not a design that retains particular species; sustaining the meandering DNA linage is the long-term project of the Living System of Order.

There is no question but that humans will make great changes in their behavior in response to the coming pressures.  We feel them first as economic and social, but the pressures are really ecological.  And so we respond economically, socially and personally when it is only the unperceived ecological consequences that ultimately matter.  

Unlike other animals the vast changes that have taken place in the behavior and physical structure (the bodily extensions of machines) of our species have not come from the Living Order, but from a new and powerful adaptation – a system of order new to the universe (or at least to our region of the universe).  Its actions are behavioral rather than changes in cellular designs, and its information selection, storage and implementation is through a complex, largely language based, system that I call Story.  It is in this Consciousness System of Order that the designs of our behaviors are formed and so it is an understanding of this system of order that is required to clearly see our predicament. In the simplest rendering, when the DNA is changed the organism is changed; for humans, when the Story is changed the behavior, in the broadest sense, is changed. 

We have obviously known this for a very long time and are pretty well practiced with the frontal assault form of Story changing: advertising, propaganda, social psychology of attitudinal change and expression.  These are, for the most part, of “competing interests” design; ‘he said, she said’ on a grand scale.  No matter what we do to ‘educate’ the multitude as to the long-term species and biospheric interests there will be competing interests presenting opposing and tangential views with just as much presence and production value as our message.

As was hinted at the end of the second essay in this set, there would be great advantages to finding and bringing into our tool box aspects of the Consciousness System of Order that could substantially aid in recovering a balanced relationship with the ecology and not doing so with the horrors that await the fullest expression of the present Madness under stress. 

I can imagine only one way to accomplish this; it is to live the Story that can be successful as well as to tell it.  The power of the Consciousness Order is to imagine events and processes that do not exist and to then seek out, from the opportunities of reality, the means to assemble the imagined.  We have in our present world built impressive epistemological tools from formal logic to scientific behaviors.  With these tools guiding imagination and, vitally, a devotion to recovering a personal relationship with the biology of our bodies and behaviors, some significant amount of our imaginings could be workable. 

Living these imaginings would not only test them and give authority to their presentation as needful, but would enhance and fulfill individual lives.  Every person reading these words is a biological entity – more than any other quality – and yet we ignore and deny this reality to a remarkable degree (why is the subject of other essays).  We will never recover our relationship with the biophysical environment without first recovering our specieshood; humans would remain physically alive and in the perpetual Madness characteristic of our time.  It is disheartening the distance we have to cover and heartening that almost everyone I have ever talked to about this, conservative, liberal, nihilist, Pollyanna have recognized the sense of “unrightness” in their lives and its deep connection to their lack of connection to a real physical/biological gratification.  This assertion requires a fully developed argument, but not here. 

I believe that a real movement to live the Story can spread sufficiently far and fast that the generational changes in human behavior required for our sustaining existence, while not driving the biosphere to collapse, are possible.  There are many practical considerations as well as the forming design of the Story to be lived; and I see that this series of essays that I envisioned as three will become four. 

There are an increasing number of models.  Twenty years ago I went through the card catalog at the local library under ‘wealth.’ There were many feet of books on the shelves delivering, unquestioningly, advice on how to get it, and one lone little volume questioning its value as a human motive for life (Wealth Addiction by Philip Slater, 1983; the gist of it).  While questions about the virtue of wealth and the dangers of greed have long been a part of human thought, they have not been a part of the present operative Story in our dominate society. 

But today, on the Internet especially, the Story of the simple life, the sustaining life and its fulfillments are more and more commonplace.  Statements and arguments that laud such sentiments are more and more commonly made without the need for comment (John Ross, for example).  In the sixties some people moved by a recognition of universal biological motive tried living the life without the Story.  Result being that the attempts usually ended quickly.  Perhaps we have a better chance this time.  

There is one more major consideration and that is the actual need for action and the increasing clarity of the danger, but that too is for next time.


Michael Dawson said...

I'm going to obtain that Slater book!

I think it's accurate to say that not only does power corrupt, but that the corrupt are the ones who seek power. We have a world run by addicts, and they have converted The Story/CSO to their own use.


James Keye said...

That is an aspect of the CSO: its informational nexus is not protected the way the LSO nexus is. But we are trying to break into the DNA/protein nexus as fast as we can. Story has been the central source of the Madness ever since its primary origin was self-referenced data, so this is not new. We are just at the end of environmental flexibility -- the earth can take no more of our bullshit.