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 28, 2009

A Gentle Manifesto

When I read the many, and growing numbers of, essays exampled by the argument in an essay from The Toronto Star a couple of years ago, “Don’t Fix The Economy, Change It”, I come away with the sense that something rather serious is missing from the formulations. As a bit of an amateur logician, I have come to realize that there is an implied premise in all of these arguments; it is: For the salutary changes posited to take place, the reins of economic power would have to be pried from the cold, dead and still grasping fingers of those presently in charge – they will give them up in no other way and they will make no changes of any consequence that would weaken their hold on power or on wealth without the direct and creditable threat of forces sufficient to deliver on the threat. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

I have argued for years in my writings that one basic way to understand economics is to look for the patterns and methods of the protecting and unprotecting of ‘wealth’: ‘wealth’ as the accumulation of raw material (even as in the most simple storing of body fat) and products of the imagination made manifest. Through the normal distribution of acquisitiveness, amplified by our large populations, there are small, but significant, numbers of people who, for multifarious reasons, need to accumulate surplus over their immediate needs; some are driven to do this to great excess. This creates a real and immediate need for others to collect surplus so to better protect themselves from those who are driven more by pathology than reality.

And so the race is on: we spend about half our time protecting our own and about half the time figuring ways of unprotecting the ‘wealth’ of the other fellow. We protect with weapons, locks and laws and we unprotect with weapons, lock-picks and laws. Obviously those who make the weapons and control the laws are in the best place to unprotect the wealth of others. And so again the race is on!

Our economic systems become ‘religions’ in the service of the protecting and unprotecting. Capitalism is hated rationally by those whose wealth is unprotected by it and loved irrationally by those for whom its designs allow them to unprotect the wealth of others. Socialism (meaning a socially responsible pattern of human relations) would limit the ability of capitalists to unprotect the wealth of the Great Many. But ultimately these economic designs are adaptations responding to technology, power, numbers and opportunity; they have never been determined by reason or by understanding of long-term sustaining.

The terrible meaning of this reality is that in the long history of natural economies before humans, economic adaptation was in the service of ecosystem integration and stability by virtue of the beneficence and violence of evolutionary process; human economies are also adaptive, but have disconnected from environmental realities in such a way that not only do they ignore the value of the lives of humans, they ignore the value of life on earth altogether. And in an even more terrible irony, the greater the disconnection from reality, the greater is the power to do harm in reality: a man living in a cave with only stone tools saw clearly his dependence on the world around him and was careful not to do it harm, and yet he had no real power to damage it. The man in a top-floor corner office with billions of Joules of power at his fingertips believes in his own ascendancy, the world not at all and, yet can in a stroke, bring down a species, a hundred species, an ecosystem.

The meanings here are dark, the actions called for difficult and dangerous. I tire of the mealy-mouthed lies from the political heights. I tire of the silly affectations of the simply angry – angry that they have been stolen from, but who would, in a heartbeat, steal from others.

A critical mass of people must come to understand and act with some reasonable and general comprehension of our situation: more the American revolution than the French revolution. The Great Frustration will come of a sudden and sweep unevenly through populations as it always has. This will happen, and is being prepared for by those who will want only to crush it. But it will not come easily; there is so much to lose.  Almost everything that most people believe will be challenged and changed.  Some will be economically and emotionally crushed, and some will die.  It would be best for the world if our capacity to imagine, our Consciousness Order powers, could be organized in such a way that we began to reflect on and anticipate the adaptive changes that will reconnect us to the environmental reality we have for so long ignored, but the cost will be dear.

First the ideas, from as many sources as possible, as loud as possible, as constant as possible; and then the forming of action. There is a promised land; not promised by any God, but promised by a new (evolutionarily new), incredibly powerful adaptation, the Consciousness System of Order. The human species is its present repository. We can imagine and then tangibly create that imaging; an entirely new way of being in the universe.

Let loose on the world and unguided, this adaptation has been running its course.  Since the limit of imagining is hugely wider and faster than other forms of change, this adaptation has disconnected humanity from Reality as one of its possibilities.  But it is within the possibilities of the Consciousness Order to reconnect to Reality in new and as yet unimagined ways.

We are entering the desert and it is uncertain in what form we will emerge. We can continue to allow the most insane and afflicted among us to determine our fate and future or we can imagine another way and make it happen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Taking Without Compensation

This essay has appeared various places over the last several years. I am reprising it in response to Copenhagen climate conference.

(Preamble: This is perhaps the most important moment in the history of the human species since Toba erupted 75,000 years ago and nearly removed our species from the earth – there would very likely have been an ascendant species of the genus, it just would not have been us. The present economic crisis presents us with what seems a simple goal: to return to the economic stability and direction we were going in. We are deep in the details of how to do exactly that. Mike Whitney, Paul Craig Roberts, Chalmers Johnson, Paul Krugman and others are un-spinning these details for us; but, this is a time to begin to recognize the most basic and underlying cause of the present perturbations. It is vital to use such moments, not to return to the conditions that brought us to this pass in the first place, but to begin to understand how we need to live for the long run. It seems that only in times of trouble are we willing to see other possibilities. Now is just such an opportunity. Of course, we must pay attention to the details, but not to the exclusion of the larger goal of sustaining survival of all life on the planet.)

There is a very basic question that we do not often ask, but that is essential to our relationship to each other and to the flow of life on this earth – big picture stuff, with personal consequences. Where does what you use and accumulate come from? That you buy ‘stuff’ with the money that you earn is not enough of an answer!

If your child came home today with a pocket full of candy, you might ask where it came from. If he came home with a new very expensive bike, the question would certainly arise. In these situations we have a reasonably clear view. The child has an understandable "personal worth" of charm, persuasion, group affiliation and some money. Friends share candy wealth. New bicycles are sometimes loaned, but if the child consistently accumulates more stuff than you can account for, you will attempt to discover the source. That is the goal here. You and I "possess" accumulations of things; where does it all come from?

Let's examine something simple: the wooden stool next to my desk. I exchanged money for it years ago (the larger meaning of money can’t be considered here). The furniture store exchanged money for it from a shop where people were given money to cut, shape and assemble the wood pieces. The wood was bought from a sawmill. The trees came from a forest.

But, the forest was not compensated for the tree. The people driven out by the cutting, who once lived in the forest, were not compensated. The animals and the plants killed or driven out by the cutting were not compensated. Neither was the soil or the animals, plants and bacteria of the soil.

In other words, if honestly examined, the layers of compensated transactions cannot disguise the fact that at base we take what we have. Humans exert the energy, possess the ability and operate the behaviors to take the material, inorganic and organic, from the earth's surface, water and atmosphere. This taking is not compensated, i.e., we do not systematically give back something useful in reasonable corresponding amounts to the soil, to the river, to the forest, to the ocean, or to the atmosphere as compensation for what we take.

We only compensate when the material is held in some protected condition, and we compensate not so much on the basis of value of the material, but on the force of the protection. We only compensate with a full recognition of value when the force of protection is equal to our power to acquire.

If your child answered, "Oh, there was this little crippled girl with a whole lot of candy, so I just took what I wanted. Its OK though, she couldn't chase me and didn't have any weapon to stop me.” how would you respond? 99.99% of parents would be extremely troubled and many would immediately and directly condemn such behavior as absolutely wrong.

But these same parents will eat bananas or drink coffee grown on land that just a few years ago was taken by guns and fire from the people who lived there. These same parents will accumulate twice, ten times, a hundred or a thousand times as much material wealth as is needed to allow them to be safe and comfortable (considering such accumulation a duty, a right and point of pride), letting the fact of several steps of exchange disguise that all that they have was taken from somewhere without compensation.

We all in essence hire (worse than hire--demand, often on penalty of death, that they perform this work) a ‘goon squad’ to do the taking. And we then are satisfied and righteous because the last transaction up the chain of transactions is civil, orderly and compensated. Ultimately we despise those who are driven to be close to the taking, the miner, the farm laborer, the lumberjack, the mercenary solder, as tainted and unfit for association with those who have purified the theft with multiple compensated transactions of the increasingly powerful.

How would you feel if you child answered, "I gave this kid $50.00 for the bike ($2000.00 full suspension model). He took it from in front of a store where he found it unlocked.” If he said, "I paid $150.00 for the bike at a second hand store. They bought it for $50.00 from a kid who took it from in front of a store.” Would you feel better? Would you feel better still as more distance of transaction is lain on and as each layer of power (knowledge of the "true" value) is compensated? "I gave $100.00 to a friend for a quarter share in whatever he bought. He paid $400.00 for the bike to someone who paid $150.00 for it at a second hand store. They bought it for $50.00 from a kid who stole it." Would you recognize that you were supporting the uncompensated taking no matter where you were in the string of transactions? Would you speculate on a relationship between a market for the bike and forces that push someone to take the bike in the first place?

While talking about these things with a ten year-old child, she said, "But you can't pay a tree." This was the distortion inculcated. She imagined a dollar bill left on the stump and correctly recognized the silliness. But, payment is based on satisfaction of need. You will not do for me if I do not give to you what you recognize as meeting a need, and I must comply because you hold either your action or material in a protected condition. The tree's wood, the ore in the ground, a chemical or the power in water are not protected, there is only a degree of difficulty involved in taking them. Overcoming the difficulty is not compensation. If it were, then those who have to travel far to buy food would get it for less!

"You can't pay a tree.” But trees have needs: water, certain qualities of soil, light, atmosphere, temperature range, wind, certain insects, birds and other animals, certain bacteria and molds in the soil, certain association with other plants, and more (to be left alone!). While less clear, ore bodies or oil pockets and the surrounding substance have the need to be undisturbed in order to remain as they are, part of the physical process of the earth's crust; and, perhaps more persuasive to a pragmatic human, remaining as they are does not release heavy metals, silts and other extraction wastes into streams or onto the surface.

The essential need of anything is to remain in a sustaining condition in its ecosystem or physical cycle. Specific needs are all adaptively structural into this overall need. Protection from harm meets needs in this paradigm just as well as supplying some metabolically vital substance.

Every successful (long lasting) organism adapts to meet its own direct needs and to function as part of the sustaining structure of its ecosystem. It does this through direct adaptations and adaptations that modulate and inhibit its own primary need meeting behaviors from upsetting the balanced sustaining structure of that ecosystem.

This last is exactly what humans have not done. Humans are at the beginning and untried stages of their very unusual--unique—adaptation; the speed of application, power and range of effectiveness of the human adaptation combined with certain of its present defects (primarily the nature and role of illusion), may limit the chances of humans surviving long enough to adapt fully to their environment by bringing the power of their adaptations under evolutionary and ecological control.

Taking without even the recognition of the need for compensation is just one of the difficulties for humans and distorts all subsequent economic relationships. A second distorting reality occurs when compensation is based on the power of the protection over holdings rather than on value. A consequence of these distortions is the drive to incredible excesses of accumulation rather than supporting the goal of using as little material as possible to have as full a life experience as possible – a manifestation of this is the confusing of the quality of life with the amounts of our accumulations.

What we do is take whatever is unprotected, invent ways to protect what we have brought into our sway, and invent ways of defeating the protections of the other chap. All of this fidgeting about for advantage vis-a-vis other humans leads to a complete disregard for any non-human source that we might take from.

The process of compensating and protecting complicates and complicates, eventually becoming economics and politics. And creating power, creating explanations and justifications for our actions and creating the systems of ordering principles like how interest rates relate to unemployment rates and the complications of the money supply. Such explanations all serve to distract attention from concrete evolutionary realities, and are used to render such arguments as these presented here as foolish when, in fact, these arguments are the essence of our continuing life on earth.

It must be understood that human biological success is not a positive function of our present definition of economic success, but rather is the opposite. Economic growth, technological development and increasing per capita wealth are the sure representations of a species out of control. Spreading and increasing taking is modeled not on the behaviors of the large carnivores (representing 500 million years of evolutionary history and millions of potential examples), or the behavior of any complex creature. It is modeled by a wild fire that burns all the available fuel until, nothing left to burn, it extinguishes. If this is to be the major result of human evolution, the fire could be the very fire of life on earth, and the fuel could be the bulk of life sustaining substance and opportunity.

No organism can base its existence on increasing rates of uncompensated taking from fixed amounts of material and energy. What humans have been successful at doing so far is forcing the consequences of their taking onto other creatures, weaker cultures, yet unborn humans, and into distorted relationships with each other and the environment. Seen with any clarity of perspective, it is clear that this can only go on for so long. We can only refine, patch and postpone the effects of this style of relationship with the environment to a point, beyond which we will quite simply be unable to keep up with the total ecosystem distortions and failures.

There is a very strong tendency to reject this sort of thinking for a variety of not especially sound reasons: “It is not positive. It is doom and gloom.” “There seems to be no way to respond effectively to this argument and still keep 3 cars and stock in tobacco, nuclear weapons and East Indies hardwoods.” “This can't be right since we would have to live differently, and if it is right, it’s too hard.” “This can't be right because there is no way out if it is right.” These all share an essential reason for rejection—'We don't like the consequences.'

Well,... As my children might say, "No duh.” If a situation presents you with only undesirable consequences, then you had better pick the options that offer the greatest chance of coming to a new position with some desirable consequences, even if the initial effort is the more difficult.

It is to the immediate benefit of those who profit from the present patterns of material excess to deny that there is any problem or that we as a species are by our excesses contributing to our own destruction and immeasurable harm to balance and order in the biosphere. No powerful media source is going to say, "Don't buy my stuff because its production harms the environment. Our workers are exploited. You don't need it for any sound reason. And finally, it does not even do what we imply it does anyway." Even though these might be the more true of all the things that could be said about a product.

When the goal is to get as much stuff as you can – the insatiable desire for goods and services talked about in economics – from a limited world of finite resources, a distortion of perception devalues all ideas but those that support the goal. If the goal is to use as little as possible in the most efficient way so to live as fulfilled a life as possible, all ideas and experiences become valuable. Experiences, understandings and feelings about and from self, others and the world become the essential ingredients of life. We understand from this perspective that whatever we have we get by taking and that we have a responsibility to find an effective means of appropriately compensating that taking. For every other organism this is solved in the evolution of their various instinctual behaviors, and it was for humans part of our development when we lived within the order of the environment. We are no longer ordered by the environment in which we evolved and so now must make such valuing and compensating a part of a cultural ethic if we are to regain our balance and leave an inhabitable world for our children and grand children.

Another argument against these views is to say that it is fine to take without compensation what is not owned. This opens the thorny issue of what it is to own a thing. In the view presented here it only means that the thing is in a protected condition (by force or threat of harm; finally based on the willingness to inflict greater harm than a potential taker is willing to endure in the attempt to take).

The view here is that nothing is owned. No one has some abstract right to the control of anything. Humans have expanded the "right of place" -- an organism brings under its protection a certain amount of space around its own body or around its group -- to include anything definable as property. In doing this we usually get it exactly backwards claiming we have the right to protect something because it is owned by us, when in fact it is "owned" by us only as a function of our holding it in a protected condition (with threat of teeth and claw, knife or gun, moral condemnation or law). But strangely, what we “own” is not “protected” from abuse, damage, misuse or destruction by its "owner"; only protected from being assumed and consumed by another creature.

This is clearly the truth of things. It is only necessary to see what happens to desirable material when the actual protections are weakened or removed in social disruptions; the facts of ownership go in direct proportion to the failures and rearrangements of the power to protect.

Material or land that is not protected from taking or is in a condition of protection that is very weak compared to the power that is brought to taking is taken without thought of compensation because "it is not owned". It is then "owned" by the taker and may be used in any way that the "owner" wishes, again without compensation.

We have seen this function from human slavery, to animal ownership, to land ownership, to portable personal property. An "owner" could sell or kill a slave, beat an animal, monoculture farm crops, burn rather than give away clothing, all as full and "protected rights" of ownership, and with complete disregard for compensating the "thing owned", and complete disregard for any other that might have an interest in the "thing owned" (that is, be in some ecological relationship with the "thing"; soil systems and strip mines, indigenous peoples and rain forest removal, or broadcast pesticide/herbicide effects).

Ownership is then one of those illusions that distorts and misguides human relationships with other humans, objects, creatures and territories in their ecosystem. Humans have finally assumed that they own the whole biosphere and can do with it as they please, when in fact humans are but a part of the biosphere and depend for survival along with every thing else on its unmolested continuance.

The failure to have instincts that guide behaviors toward a symbiosis with the ecosystems in which we live, and the failure to develop thoughtful behaviors to the same purpose upon recognition of the inborn deficiency, may will be the ultimate failure of our adaptation. We might simply take without compensation or respect until the sources work their final and greatest power, to be used up and gone from the earth forever (or even gone or unusable for a few days or months, if immediately vital for life, would be equally devastating).

So the answer to the original question: We take what we have, because we can, from the finite supplies of the biosphere as does every other organism alive today or that has ever been in the nearly 4 billion years that life has existed on this earth. However, every organism on earth other than present humans compensate for their taking by returning to the biosphere, in appropriate amounts and forms, what is required to maintain the balance of life sustaining physical and organic processes. If this were not the case, life would not presently exist on earth.

That humans take without compensation is not a clever or "slick" move, i.e., the way that humans function in their economic exchanges is a serious distortion of the systems of compensation that have evolved as ecosystems – interwoven symbiotic exchanges of material and energy through interpenetrating physical and organic cycles.

The evolutionary rule is to take what is needed and to give back what is needed. Every organism must take (space, minerals, water, organic materials from the dead or the living, energy). Every organism changes the space in which it lives by its presence. But every organism must take and modify place in such a way that there will be material to take tomorrow and all tomorrows to come; the processes that replenish must be supported and not overwhelmed.

I don't know how to make this point with the authority that is needed; it is the most important understanding in the world for humans: no species can take without compensating. The evolution of organisms within ecosystems is the structuring of mutual interpenetrating balanced exchanges.

If humans continue to apply their adaptive powers, without major modifications toward truly compensated taking of material and energy, they will do such terrible damage to the physical and biological cycles supporting life in the biosphere that there will be a cascade of extinctions of millions of species.

This could mean that Humans in the present subspecies form (the scientific name is an appellation I cannot in good conscience apply. We are many powerful things, but wise is not one of them) lasted a little over 100,000 years, not even a good wink in geological time. If the last 3 billion years, from the beginning of simple but reasonably abundant life on earth, were condensed in time and played as a two hour movie, humans like us would occupy about 1/4 of a second of film time (7 frames) and then we would, along with millions of other species, disappear.

My best guess, however, is that humans will not become extinct. Such an event would require an almost unimaginable set of devastating conditions--the very fabric of the biosphere would have to be seriously torn to kill the cockroaches, rats, humans and other broadly adapted and adaptable creatures. For the most tenacious species to be extinguished, the very atmosphere would have to be unusable for some extended period of time, all the water poisoned or some other primary conditions of life totally disrupted.

But should we, and it is likely that we will, continue on in our present fashion, changes will be precipitated beyond which it makes no sense to try and see, other than to suggest that, at least for a time, taking will again be compensated and humans will have "returned" all that they have taken in a great convulsive act of repossession.

All this together puts people who recognize and understand it in a very difficult position. The natural evolutionary goal of any species is to function in a sustaining relationship with its environment. In personal terms for humans this means using as little material and energy as possible to attain as vital, dynamic and spiritually full life as possible. The consequences of this goal are balanced environmental relationships—the natural flow of life and death, speciation and extinction, adaptation and innovation in physiology, anatomy and behavior for 10's, 100's, 1000's, 1000000's and even billions of years.

However the social, political and economic dynamic of our time supports, encourages and demands that people use as much material and energy as they can and accumulate in a protected form as much (of everything) as possible (this is a basic tenet of economic theory). These behaviors are what society approves of and values. Not accepting and performing these behaviors is considered subversive, lazy and stupid (if you're so smart why aren't you rich!).

Both are realities. To be "successful" and accepted in the society, a person must consume excessively. To be true to our humanness and to meet the goal of being part of a sustaining ecosystem we must consume only what we need and must actively find ways to compensate all takings. The excessive consumption and its collection of supporting values has a clear end consequence for those who will see; no less than the damage of life sustaining processes of the biosphere and the violent readjustment of life to the dramatic physical changes (not just human life, but all life: virus to mammals). We would leave a legacy not of wealth and power for our children, but a legacy of contamination, disease and the violent convulsions of population reduction, economic disruption and political failure – if they were lucky.

The consequence of using only what we need – consuming very much less of everything – would have immediate consequences nearly as economically devastating as an economic collapse (it would be an economic collapse, but could be in part controlled), but if thoughtfully engaged, disease and contamination could be minimized, and the convulsions of population reduction and political failures also minimized.

It is, however, unlikely that humans will consume less so long as they can consume more. It is unlikely that humans will see the consequences of their actions and mitigate against them when they can take now and leave the full price of compensation for their children to pay later. So the dilemma is how to live in an excessively consuming society seemingly insulated from recognition of its most likely future?

The question is: Do you consume to excess and contribute a tiny fraction to the problem that will not be solved anyway, appear "normal" and live with the recognition of the potential to be more fully human, yet not make the effort to be so? Or do you consume at the level of needs, reduce the tiny fraction of your personal contribution to the overwhelming assault on ecosystems, live to increase your humanness, but in the process be undervalued and even condemned by significant parts of your society; be judged crazy, lazy and irresponsible (such a terrible thing to be called irresponsible when acting in the only possible responsible way).

This is the simple reality of the choice. All that depends on it is everything. It is impossible to act in a benign way.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A New Commandment

(Photo by Dorothea Lange)

There are some actions that only give us a squeamish feeling and there are actions that we believe are so wrong that the community must collectively prevent or reduce their occurrence. And yet these are not universally accepted. We have lists, arrived at by various forms of consensus, that we both agree to and teach to others as the accepted standards for behavior. It is characteristic of all such “standards” that they first adapt to changing circumstances in application and then in actual content.

There was a time when it was acceptable to kill, assuming it was done in a “proper” way, someone who offended you; this in violation of a listed commandment. In many places today a person can be socially sanctioned for even harming an unwelcome intruder into a home; requiring that details of the intruder's intention and capacity be divined by the persons intruded upon. This is not a judgment, just description: both are adaptations to a whole complex of social realities and madnesses.

There was also a time when members of a community where disallowed by social sanction from eating well while others starved. It was assumed that those who were doing well were especially lucky, even if that “luck” derived from talent and that the poorest peoples (possibly the unluckiest and least talented) contributed in their own small part to the overall stability, safety and general welfare of the community. There was a fabric of obligation and responsibility holding the community together. If the poorest one died of starvation, then the most wealthy went to bed hungry. ‘Thou shalt not eat whilst thy neighbor starves,’ has not been on the list for some time now.

We are at the end of the old rules. The modern burst of self-interest theories are only an attempt to use the old ways so fully that they recreate reality (to strictly apply them as a means of overcoming the gathering forces that will eventually overwhelm them). Capitalism cannot replace community. Community is in our cells, in our molecules. We drive it out only with insanity. The biology of our bodies can only be overcome by the constructs of our minds becoming mad. Our consciousness order evolved to support our whole and complete integration into the ecosystems in which we lived, not to destroy them.

Empathy, the ability to recognize and include in one’s deliberations the sensations experienced by others, is a universal human property, even found in its beginnings in the great apes. Empathy has forever been a powerful tool in the formation and maintenance of community (meaning, as long as there has been community as distinguished from the herd); the attempt of certain segments of our society to trivialize empathy and therefore all of its consequences for community order, to emphasize the importance of individual ‘selfishness’ as the organizing and ameliorating force in society, betrays one direction that today’s earthly collections of humans can go. This is both an intellectual construct, an adaptation to our time, and a product of personal disorder; it involves believing that you are either, in one form, a special creation in the universe or, in another form, ‘obligated by existing’ to take from the world all that you can. Ultimately both are insane. That our society doesn’t call them insane is just a measure of how mad the society is.

This is all very difficult for humans. Biologically a community is about a hundred people functioning as a primary ‘organism.’ Individuals as we currently think of them didn’t exist. Only a crazy person acted as though they were independent of the group. Everyone had a place in the social order. All manner of difference had to be accommodated since there could be no ‘critical mass’ of difference to hide within, the community needed every hand and eye and it was adaptively advantageous to have many different perspectives to apply to the life and death decisions that were a daily occurrence.

This is who we are. Hominids have been evolving our behavioral/intellectual/emotional biology in and to this community design for millions of years. The depth of the madness required to dismiss the whole of our biological heritage and construction is staggering; and the consequences will be devastating.

But few people really wish to return to a tribal way of life. The individualization process of our historical time has produced great joy along with the disbenefits. And, of course, we are not really in charge of the trajectory of our evolution and adaptation, but are rather along for the ride. That said, however, the newly evolved capacity of the Consciousness Order has been only weakly tested for its potential to organize material and process. We have been “using” it with little wisdom, primarily to attempt to defeat its benefits. The possibilities contained in the ability to imagine a future and to make that future happen have barely been explored. We have almost no practical experience with how to manage this process beyond letting it run wild in the land like Frankenstein’s monster.

The political detail with which we are so enamored is just the daily expression of our more general disorders. That there are solutions to our dilemmas to be found in those details is the purest of fantasy. It should be more than obvious to an even passingly thoughtful observer that every ‘solution’ creates as many new problems as it solves. We are like someone whose poor diet has led to multiple systemic conditions for which he is multiply medicated and all the medications have complicated and unforeseen interactions; and so rather than stop the medication and return to a proper diet (he is supporting whole industries!), the medication regime is mythologized into reality – and the patient suffers. Returning to reality is not an option; and yet we must.

Since we have always lived by lists of allowed and sanctioned behaviors (even from our tribal beginnings) I suggest that we put the aforementioned to the test: “Thou shalt not eat whilst thy neighbor starves.” Returning to a proper and healthy behavioral diet will, of course, not happen by the addition of one commandment, but it might help.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Understanding Our Dominating Issues

We are deluged with stories of events from the larger world around us, and much of what comes as news is more intended to persuade or confuse than to inform. Wars and suicide bombings, soldiers and civilians killed, money spent, changes in laws, elections in other countries, natural disasters, social and economic dangers, international economic actions and much more. Our personal lives seem to be lived in a reign of terror if we pay even the minimum attention to what seems the essential news of the day.

Our frustration with the news and with actually much more: the way the world is going; so much seems to be either falling apart or slipping beyond our understanding or control; our frustration comes from not knowing how to make sense of it all. Of course, some people know exactly; they’ve locked up a set of beliefs, including what fits and rejecting the rest. But the rest of us need a better model, something broader that includes as much of what is real as possible.

We all want essentially the same things: we want sufficient material goods to not be in want; we want sufficient freedom of action and freedom from interference to feel that we are in control of our days; we want the opportunity to associate with people of complementary values and the opportunity to be with other humans in the closest forms of human communion. We want most of our hours, days and years to be protected from the world's greatest dangers, medical and criminal.

And after we have these things, or sufficient imitations of them or substitutes for them, many people often want more. Some feel the need to have everyone else believe just as they do. Some people want more and more things, much more than they could ever use. Some people want to have power over others and need to be able to tell others what to do. Given the power of uninhibited human imagination there is almost no limit to the variety of potential needs, to what people might require to feel finished, to feel okay.

While it is not especially useful to call what we do today ‘Madness’ -- finer understanding is clearly needed -- the above description sounds both pretty accurate and pretty mad to me. It is useful to understand that Sanity is based on ways of life that are defined by a full representation of species (human) qualities functioning in reality. The absence of human normalcy within reality is what we understand Madness to be. There is basically no limit to Madness; it is only Sanity that is limited.

Madness is characterized by various forms of excess, various forms of unrestrained options of action and attitude. Sanity is clearly dependent on reasonable restraint. Societies or cultures come to have restraint as part of their traditions over several (or many) generations of essentially stable cultural life. From daily experiences come mores, taboos and proclamations: adaptions that limit specific actions as a way of organizing species behavior, and these behaviors are adaptive because they occur within reasonably consistent environmental contexts. Since these intimate and long-term environmental relationships have been replaced with rapidly changing social relationships, this ability to be deeply integrated into the environment finds expression in increasingly trivial and obscure ways, and restraint as an adaptive environmental tool largely ceases to exist.

This is expressed in two social/economic conclusions which seem to underlie our conception of our present selves, our business expectations and our economic science: a) We say that our individual human desire for things is insatiable, and b) that we have to exponentially increase resource use in direct proportion to exponential population and technical/application changes. In both of these propositions, if we truly believe them, can be seen a clinical description of Madness. To blandly accept them as true is also Madness and to live them and to take advantage of them for short-term gain is savagely mad. That said, all of the above seems to be exactly what we are doing.

It is from this place that we confront a handful of dominating issues in our world -- issues which we can recognize, but which are so bound in a complexity of interests, imagined interests, delusional realities, habits of action and habits of thought that seeing them clearly is very difficult.

It is not just that the dominating issues are shrouded in complexity that we might unravel with enough effort, but we are required to eat the ‘hallucinogenic mushrooms’ to get to the essential nutrients; Madness has become a greater reality than Sanity.

So, what are these dominating issues that are really the basis of our news, our daily experience and ourselves, and how are they perceived by Madness and how are they perceived by Sanity?

1) No animal has ever been in the relationship to its supporting environment that is the current reality for humans. We have come to a place where we can change biophysical cycles, where we are using more energy than all other species of life combined, all in a social, political and economic design that absolutely requires that we continue as we are. This means, in fact, that we must increasingly do and use more. And we have absolutely no method to change direction that is not catastrophic.

The very survival of "life as we know it" -- an expression which also intends to say "life as it should be" -- depends on the exponentially increasing use of the earth's resources. If we were to stop, then reverse, "economic growth" the economic and political structure of the world's nations would collapse into anarchy -- at least so the tale is told. Certainly no one has produced a method that would allow the human train to stop for a moment to consider our situation. It is all go, go, go and none of where, where, where!

The relationship that the species has struck with this planet of our origin, originally one of exceptionally detailed and rapid adaptation to changes in environment, has steamrolled into a domination by human numbers and activities that thoughtful people realize must eventually have an end; the form of that end and when it will occur is the only question. Many signs suggest that a major perturbation of our present order is only years away -- one or two generations.

2) Billions of people are becoming increasingly unnecessary to the global money (and biological) economy. When pondering questions of why we are so passionately doing business or religion or science etc., the statements of purpose almost always leave out the poorest, the sickest, the most marginal people. Billions of dollars for war, for space exploration, for social services in rich countries; private billions for our cars and boats, second homes, travel, movies, CDs, DVDs, makeup, etc.: some poor starving wretch in sub-Saharan Africa wrapped in a rag makes nothing, consumes nothing and is nothing in the halls of power. Yet these billions of people are there living on the land, using resources and demanding as well as they can that they not be ignored to death.

Much of the human world lives today in a state of extreme stress; from regional wars and local conflicts, from disease and from economic forces over which they have no control and no escape. Only a minority are largely free of such concerns at any one time and only a very small minority can reasonably control their situations so to be rationally confident that they will remain free of the more dreadful possibilities.

3) The design of our world is ugly and getting uglier, it is becoming impossible for many millions of people to find moments of quiet, to spend even a few minutes a day in meaningful contact with the simplest aspects of the natural world -- a world in which and to which our bodies and minds are evolved. Not just our information and entertainment comes from human controlled and designed sources, but it is becoming our whole life experience.

The human capacity for action, capacity for doing anything imaginable and almost limitless capacity of imagination, tools that were evolved to the needs of a troop or tribal hunter living in immediate contact and communion with the primary forces of the world, can be turned into any purpose when set free from environmental conditions and necessities. In large measure these capacities are now used in a world in which humans are the environment.

4) The terrible distortions of power: Power attracts people who are the least restrained in its application; it is adaptive: those who are restrained, who have very high standards for the use of dangerous tools, will tend to be replaced by those who will use such tools. This is ultimately not good or evil; it is about the simple fact that the presence of a tool or opportunity will gather to it those who will attempt to use it in all possible ways. As a corollary, it should also be clear that there is no standard of truth: those who would act without restraint in the application of power would also act without restraint in the distortion of truth.

There are, of course, many more issues and many variations of these, but much of the variety comes from how we approach the issues; whether we approach them in Madness or Sanity.

Issue one: ‘Madness’ usually begins by denying either the issues themselves or their formulations. For example, the very notion that humans are animals is often denied. Then, it is rejected that humans can have an impact on the biosphere, either followed or preceded by the argument that humans have the right to do with the world whatever we wish since we can (that it was a gift from God or some other nonsense). Since Madness is not required to stay within the bounds of logic and reason -- it is Madness, remember -- none of the rejections, denials and distortions need be coherent or need there be response to the pointing out of inconsistency.

‘Sanity’ on the other hand seeks to understand these processes in a general sense through the study of the sciences, philosophy, history, humanities, through personal reflection and to adapt a way of life that meets the species needs as well as possible in a world that doesn’t particularly support the effort. This is, in fact, what most people do even as they ‘try to be mad’ to fit in. Most people do not have insatiable desires and most people know that living within one’s means is a bedrock of Sanity. But, Issue three combined with Issue four drives the human ‘little engine that could’ on and on without regard to the consequences, and that is Madness.

Issue two is largely ignored by Madness; it is a problem that is taking care of itself by disease, starvation, local wars and genocides. The issue becomes interesting when the region in question has natural resources and the people must be moved (removed), but other than that, interest is only peaked when the people in question gain the power to be heard in military, economic or terrorist terms.

Sanity doesn’t have to be “humane” to be sane. There is the case where honest recognition of the reality of our terrible overpopulation and the literal overwhelming of the earth’s resources by billions of people can lead Sanity to awful solutions. Even if every human on the earth were to reduce their use of resources to a small but “comfortable” level (about 10 productive acres per person: there are about 2 to 4 productive acres available per person for the present population depending on how much productivity is allowed for the rest of the world’s living things) we would still be using the earth’s resources at twice to four times the sustainable rate; more that we are using now. At present the people of industrial nations are using resources at a rate of 15 to 30 acres person (The wealthy use 100 to a 1000 or more productive acres per person to feed their consumption. Wealth also “assigns” demandable unperformed productive use to the wealth holder) while in many of the poorest nations people are using 3, 2 or less productive acres per capita. This is below the level of survival. Never before have so many lived on so little.

Sanity would argue for immediate redistribution of the world’s wealth from the wealthiest nations and persons to educate the world’s billions in birth control and other vital skills and to generate changes in national economic systems and governments that would advantage smaller families. Arguments would be made for the nationalization of foreign held lands and redistribution of lands with strict conditions of use and resale.

Sanity would also argue for a Manhattan project/Marshall plan/Moon Mission level effort to comprehensively understand and design new economic and technical systems aimed at escaping the growth trap and changing direction toward a much lower population sustainable system. It would be understood that such a process would be painful for the poor and the rich.

It is clear that unless Sanity finds expression there will be continuing and increasing catastrophes involving millions and eventually billions of people. This process will also eventually overwhelm Madness. So, as is expected, Sanity would benefit Madness if Madness could only see it.

The expansion of human populations into wild lands and the expropriation of the lands of the few remaining indigenous peoples would have to cease in the clear understanding that we have lost a huge percentage of our native ecosystems and most of the peoples of the world who were adapted to the native environment, and these are losses that we need to realize are unrecoverable, wasteful, and deeply immoral if anything is immoral. The biodiversity of the earth and the ways of cultural life adapted by different human groups should be preserved; their destruction in what is really a biological explosion of unprecedented force needs to be prevented to the extent possible. To lose what we understand is one thing, but to lose what we have no conception of is another.

Issue three: Madness basically has nothing to say here. I am reminded of my children when they were about 14 or 15 years old. I would suggest that their rooms were messy to the point of being a sin against the mind (Madness!) and they would look at me like I was crazy; they saw no such thing. And then we would attempt to go somewhere -- to the river, the pool, etc. -- and they couldn’t find (whatever) and would wail their woes, toss and dig, in torment. Other times they would avoid their messy spaces preferring the neater lands of the living room or kitchen. Madness messes its messes and moves on.

Sanity attempts to clean a spot, often only in the mind, where the species spirit can meet the native world for a daily few moments of communion.

The larger image here, of course, is the human use of the earth in neglect of its exquisite designs. When humans were few they lived within the designs by necessity. Now that they are many they overpower the designs without realizing that they are necessity.

Issue four is where Madness truly shines. All events and processes are guided by the design order in which they occur. Without the design order of the environment to organize the potential of humans to imagine and to act, only limitations on the power to act are ultimately functional; options are essentially limitless and thus in the province of Madness. In this design, everything possible will be discovered and everything discovered will be applied and used. Commitments to styles of design, to Communism, Capitalism, to Democracy, liberalism, conservatism, etc. may be passionate, but they will be fleeting. Power will ultimately overpower.

Sanity in this case recedes into a very dark corner; its cornerstones, restraint and truth, are mushed like turtles on a busy highway; road kill in the fast lane. We have witnessed, over the span of recorded history and have seen in the evidence of paleoanthropology, the unrelenting application of discovered power in fuels, mechanical devices, materials and energy sources. At the same time we have seen increasing numbers of people organized in power based designs that compliment both the human numbers and the physical energies and means of control available. In this region of human action, Sanity only acts within the person since restraint and truth can only function within the person; the power world, in general, belongs to Madness.