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, February 28, 2009

My Old Chevy Pickup

Many years ago I had an acquaintance who drove a Citroen, the big sedan.  There was no Citroen dealership, no Citroen certified mechanic, in the town.  Her solution was to fly in, periodically, a factory mechanic from France , put him up at her (palatial) house and have him do the special “Citroen stuff” to the car in her full shop.  I drove an old Chevy pickup that had hundreds of cousins in mechanic’s lots and, it seemed, every other side yard.  Little boys had inherited in their ‘jeans’ a knowledge of its funky drum brakes and straight six engine.  When something broke I could leave it where it fell and random movement would replace the bad part and tune the engine to boot (I exaggerate slightly!). 

While the analogy is seriously strained, I want a car and a government that is fully supported with knowledge of its functioning and has access to the resources that keep it working.  We humans are not able to fly in the political God to fix the natural wear and tear or the stupid mistreatment of our governing (although it seems some believe that is how it is to work). 

The last 50 years, government in this nation as been in a process of deterioration; I think it actually began in 1789 at the moment we had one of our own.  You know how you pick at a scab!  It’s like that.   As soon as the newness began to wear off, segments of our population began to pick at the structure of order looking for loose threads to pull, for chinks to look through and stick their fingers in to pry.  But the last 50 years have been speeding up with the technologies of communication and power: doubling everything, except our ability to deal with the doubling, every few years. 

As I look back to the analogy, it was the community knowledge of the old Chevy pickup that contributed to its functional reliability – not its individual capacity.  In fact, it broke often enough, but there was always a torque tube around and someone who could “slap it right on in.” 

We are missing that community knowledge, and there are even people who reject the whole idea of a politically aware community in favor of the ideological certainty of the Citroen (they are at present called Republicans and Democrats).  There is something desirable, in a stupid short-term sort of way, to those who define themselves as in charge, about keeping the people out of the deliberations that will ultimately control the major aspects of all our lives.  You know; it’s the best way to screw them over! 

I recommend, first driving an old Chevy straight six pickup (the 1954 three rear window model is especially sweet), and then talk politics, religion, economics, fear, future and certainty with all who will listen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Final Choice

(essay four) 

It is an outrageous proposal: that the materially wealthy and the politically powerful – those who dominate the processes and events of the human presence on the planet – would and could organize and implement the killing off of billions of “ordinary” humans rather than accept dramatic reductions in their privileged use of the earth’s capacity.  Or, it would be an outrageous proposal if it were not so common place an observation in less universal contexts.  

I was fortunate, near the beginning of my journeys, to be instructed on this distinction: Do not ask if this person or that group might do an action; rather, ask if the action is done at all and how commonly, then take that as the basis for your answers to the particular.   I think that we would have to agree that humans have regularly killed off other humans, both indirectly and directly, who stood in the way of attaining or maintaining a preferred life style.

Of course, that something can, or is even likely to, happen does not make it a certainty – especially when there are many other options.  I would only point out that the horror of an action has seldom been an inhibition for very long.  Other factors, such as efficacy and possibility, tend to dominate our choices. 

My intention in making the argument is to excite an increased and refocused observation of events.  If the tools for such a mass murder are made available, then the condition of possibility is met.  If the totality of our situation is hopeless, then so is the condition of efficacy.  

As a species, with the capacity to project events into the unknown future and thus change the future from the grubby confines of the present, we are not fixed in our trajectory; this is one of the great lessons of the Consciousness System of Order.  It is a bit like the silly rhyme: ‘I shot an arrow into the air. It fell to earth, I know not where.’ But, if we have some knowledge of the lay of the land, we can have, at least, some idea about where our arrows might land and their possible consequences. 

One of the paths into the mid-century and beyond would have all humans living with a primary concession to the biophysical reality of personal biological need: every person would supply, by their own hand, some significant part of their personal needs.  Such a standard could, with the ‘invisible hand’ determine population goals, energy use levels and, to some extent, environmental impact levels. The intellectual support for this possibility is largely lacking in our present moment.  There are bits in the kinder parts of major religions.  Various philosophers have for thousands of years spoken to the value of living in close contact with the land – this is such a common part of human thought that it has become cliché.  It is cliché because it is so simply and completely true. 

The diametrically opposed possibility is something with which humanity has more recent experience, an elite parasitizing a slave-based economy (wage-slave based serves the same function and only modifies some of the technicalities of economic design).  We have the “intellectual” arguments around this possibility, from Locke, Hume, Marx, Rand, Hayek, Galbraith and many others, and only arguments of this form are allowed to be considered for our present troubles.   The organization and manipulation of power in a Mad world structure, where all things increase at increasing rates and Reality is denied as a founding principle, cannot sustain, but can produce a great amount of bizarre, conflicting opinion. 

Ultimately, it is a question of whether the great depth of our Madness will carry us into a final conflict with biophysical reality – a madman flaying at imaginary demons while being tormented by a disinterested reality to which he is blind – or will we come again into the wind and the rain, into the seasons, cycles and other realities of earthly existence? 

My sensible reason answers that the Madness will dominate the final days of this iteration of my species, that over the next 30 to 80 years we will cling to the most misguided and defeating self-referenced notions of reality until an enraged environment indiscriminately smites the living world – and we will still behave badly even in the ruins of our world. 

But my capacity of imagination and wonder believes, in the way that the consciousness order designs impossible ‘possibilities,’ that we can come to see the madness and demand its retreat; the way that smokers now have to hide next to the dumpster in the back of the building.  We will no longer hear that we respect wealth and see its virtues, but that we respect the real “self-sufficiency” of community life, and not the pathological individualism of the sociopath.  We will no longer praise as progress the life denying objects that separate us from the work of directly sustaining, and therefore participating in and truly understanding, our lives.  We will no longer raise to adulation those who are willing to do the most harm to all things, but condemn their actions and require that they be part of the sanity of sustaining their own existence with their own efforts.  We will no longer accept a machinery of societal, economic and political control that claims superiority of idea, power and personal omniscience, but see such claims as self-servingly insane. 

Just as it is “impossible’ to comprehend how billions of people could be intentionally killed to sustain the present Madness, it is impossible to see how we might come to see the Madness with increasing clarity; and in seeing it find and act on ways to reject it.  But ultimately we will end up doing one or the other.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Apocalypse Planned – Beyond Choice

(essay three)

Preamble: It is typical of human cognitive process to attempt to find patterns in events that are seen as significant. This behavior has led to the greatest discoveries as well as the most bizarre, often frighteningly common, beliefs. What follows is one of the unbidden patterns that has formed from following closely present events:

During the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s I wrote, as an exercise to better understand the forces operating at the global level, a “business plan” for a hypothetical one tenth of one percenter. As I went through the various sources of wealth, forces and influences on retaining and increasing wealth, sources of competition and impediments to success certain very basic values and questions kept coming up. The first was an absolute underlying principle: wealth had to increase; there really was no other goal. Small business people have goals like increasing the market share of a particular product, or even the betterment of a community through development and job creation; at the highest reaches of wealth, it seems to be the wealth that has taken on the foundational sense of reality. Wealth comes from transactions; dirt must be dug, ore must be smelted, things must be made, moved and consumed; but it is the control of financial transaction that grows wealth. The greatest dangers to wealth come not from “competition” with others who are wealthy, but from “below,” those who see the accumulation as obscene and immoral; and from disruptions of the economic system of fantasies that allow and maintain a general belief in “ownership,” property rights and the efficacy of the abstract tools of wealth.

Another source of danger forming on the horizon is the environmental crisis creating disruptions in supply of materials and loss of life sustaining free services (water, clean air, climate stability, absorption of wastes). The wealthy are as sensitive to and influenced by science and the rational intelligentsia as others – even more so since they must often act quickly and forcefully to retain their place and grow their wealth.

When I reached this point in the “business plan” my hypothetical tenth of one percenter appeared to be faced with this dilemma: disburse much of his wealth to help stave off the coming dangers, with no clear prospect of financial return, or conspire with others in his position to kill off billions of the multitude and position himself to consolidate and control the tiny bits of “wealth” associated with the human units removed.

Perhaps there was to be a “New Frontier;” the wholesale restructuring of major parts of the planet! While not believing with any certainty that such plans were forming, I did decide to keep my eyes open.


Humans face a number of increasing challenges, some concerning the “inside baseball” details of economics, politics and social expectations, and some about whether we will, as a species behaving in the biosphere, damage ecological balances to a point that there are major collapses of environmental services. The consequences of such events could, in the worse possible case, ruin the earth’s surface as a place for complex living things; in the best case the earth would enter an extinction event including the destruction of most human social, economic and political systems[1].

The two general options that could ameliorate these outcomes are: one, rapidly formed great changes in the behaviors and social/legal expectations of billions of people so that they supply directly many of their primary needs, restoring some degree of personal power and responsibility over individual action; this would have to be associated with a great reduction in total energy, material use and “life style” measures. The other option is to rapidly and greatly reduce population as a way of reducing total consumption without having to reduce per-capita use or seemingly change lifestyle[2]. From the point of view of the world’s multitudes, an attempt by political and economic elites to reduce population as a means to retain their preeminence is an immediate danger that would trump any other attempts to address our dilemmas.

Is there a plan being constructed for the forced reduction of worldwide population? It is not a crazy question. If it occurs to me, a mild mannered ordinary sort of fellow, then it is likely that those who would actually benefit directly from such planning would be way ahead of the rest of us. If there were such a plan, what would it look like as pieces of it come out in the light?

We know that there are plans being made to “control” widespread and populous dissent. Truly powerful “Crowd” control weapons are among the most aggressively pursued military tools today (examples 1, 2, 3). Operational plans have “leaked” for the use of military force for dealing with an unruly population within the US[3]. While touted as ‘humane’ these weapons are actually most useful, only partly because they avoid messy, bloody death, because they can cover large areas driving back or disabling every sensate being in their range while not damaging ‘infrastructure.’

Other industrial nations are acting in similar ways. London, especially, and British Isles, in general, are becoming privacy free zones. Almost everywhere in the world requires “papers” that define at some level whether a person is in the right place and doing the right thing. The assumptions of natural rights, strongest in the US in many ways, has eroded here to a mere numbering of rights no longer felt or believed sufficiently for them to have a true social power. If a cop wants to search a car and if the subject is poor or a minority, then the cop just laughs at a protestation about the 4th amendment; and the public applauds! It is possible that a young man was killed by a policeman on the San Francisco BART for “mouthing off,” under most circumstances a 1st amendment right, and the crowd just watched (and photographed).

A model for reducing world population can be found in the greatest single population removal in history; the depopulating of the North and South American continents after 1492 (if the extermination of between 10 to 100 million people doesn’t immediately pop into you mind, you are not alone). There was a policy, come to independently and in slightly different forms by all the invading powers, to remove the indigenous peoples from control of the land by any means necessary. The removal was accomplished with a combination of war, famine, disease and economic domination. Many obligingly killed themselves in the torment of their loss. By the late 1800s indigenous numbers were in the tens of thousands, not the tens of millions. Many groups, along with their cultures and languages had ceased to exist.

But that was a slower time. The expansion of Europeans, and their capacity to control, was inhibited by limited technology, and the vastness of the ‘space to be filled.’ Today one person with one machine can dominate thousands of hectares. A billion or so “wage slaves” with the right technology could easily supply the needs of a few million elite humans. Humanity’s ecological footprint could be greatly reduced, biodiversity preserved, anthropogenic biospheric influences reduced back to environmental “free service” levels. And all this in only a few years with sufficient planning and implementation.

The 2003 pentagon report on climate change, “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security,” projects a possible future driven by unlikely climate events, but many of the same possibilities could and would occur in an environmental and economic collapse. The report is almost certainly the tip of an iceberg of preparation for controlling populations in crisis; not the crisis of a Hollywood disaster film, but the real crises that will attend the population disruptions of disease, famine, economic domination and war.

In fact the whole ‘war on terror’ looks like preparation for popular uprising. It is madness to invade countries with multi-billion dollar mechanized armies when the people that are said to be being hunted are a few loosely organized groups with rifles and homemade bombs; and while I have great respect for the power of Madness, there is some chance of ulterior motives. The laws enacted and redefined, the changing organization and population management mission of military and paramilitary forces, the containment facilities, the strategies practiced all seem clearly, to me, to be easily adaptable to unruly, and potentially ‘unnecessary’ civilian populations[4].

I am running long yet again. The essay needs to shift focus and so will be continued.


[1] We have been in an anthropogenic extinction event for some time now. How major it is or will become is yet to be seen. Given the history of the earth, it is essentially certain that life on earth would continue on and evolve in response to the reality of environmental stabilities. What would happen in any detail is completely unknowable.

[2] It is possible that humans could produce a plan to reduce population in humane ways, conscientiously distribute real wealth in such ways that suffering is reduced, education is greatly supported, environmental stabilities are sustained and human life is refocused away from material accumulation and toward relationship and spiritual connection to ecological order and beauty. There is an increasing understanding of the value of such a possibility.

[3] It is just as likely that the potential use of the army to act in an enforcing function inside our borders was intentionally put out into the press. This would serve 3 functions: 1) to prepare the population’s expectations, 2) to weaken the negative response when this happens on a military scale and 3) to test the waters so as to gauge the sorts of reactions to expect when there is military action against a civilian population.

[4] I am a statistical thinker. The world is not a matter of what will or will not happen. It is an interplay of probabilities. There is, to me, about a 95% chance that most of these observations are related to some centralized plans for dominating and controlling the world’s multitudes in the coming disruptions (oil, water, food shortages, other economic and physical dislocations), and about a 60% chance that there is an actionable plan or plans to “restructure” regions by killing off the people and re-allocating “ownership” and use. These possibilities would, of course, change with new data. What matters most, however, is the probability threshold for action; certainty cannot always be an absolute requirement.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sophie’s Choice

(essay two)

In William Styron’s book, in a moment in which the reader is completely aware of what is to come, but is unwilling to recognize, filled with foreknowledge and desirous to escape, but drawn against the will to follow the detail of the moment, Sophie Zawistowski is told to choose between her two young children, which will live and which will be killed.  It was a choice that could not be avoided; the consequence of refusing to choose was “worse.”  It came as surprise, but from a situation that fully contained its possibility.  Our world is today presenting us with “Sophie’s choice.”

We are faced with a “choice” between radically changing almost everything about how we live, both our behaviors and our beliefs, or the very rapid destabilization of the biological and physical systems that sustain the present ecological relationships that we call ‘life on earth.’ [1]  Not all “ways of life” can continue on. 

In the broadest strokes, the multitudes will need to reduce in numbers and in per capita consumption beginning now, but in general ‘slowly,’ so that the human species is reducing its footprint on the earth by something like 10% every generation for a time after an initial drop of about 30 % over the space of 10 to 20 years.  The wealthy elites will have to quickly become a part of these changes, in part by contributing much of their actual negotiable wealth (not paper wealth which will largely be “lost”) to the biosphere survival project and in part by joining the multitude as contributing members.  This reduction must be measured in consumption rates since the earth doesn’t care whether it is 7 billion consuming 2000 calories per capita a day or 1 billion consuming 14,000 calories per capita a day.  There is only so much energy and material that our species can take (and especially when not compensating for what is being taken) without dangerously unbalancing our ecology.  If it is more that 14,000 billion calories per day of total energy use, then reductions are non-negotiable. (The details of the numbers need to be empirically established, but these seem reasonable values for thinking.) 

But “Sophie’s choice” is not between living or not living at all (not living at all was Sophie’s final, and empty, choice), but the choice of whose way of life will continue and whose will not; it is the choice before us.  And it has been before us for, now, thousands of years: material accumulation vs. the “spiritual” state of ecological relationship.  Are we a consumer of nature or are we an integral part of nature?

Of course, here the metaphor finally unravels. Our infatuation with wealth and material progress is not one child and our capacity to love and experience life’s intangibles another.  And our choice is not strictly between them.  But, will we finally kill off our biological connection with the biophysical world in favor of material consumption? We have for all these years been misled by the apostles of wealth and greed, because, my friends, wealth is like fairies, it only exists if you belief in it.  Or will we give attention and significant value to that connection, reduce our material demands on the earth’s capacities and live more in the experience of life and less in the accumulation of objects.  

Sophie was doomed the moment she was forced to choose between her children, but she was powerless in her situation.  We are not.  We can negotiate with our captors, since our captors are us (homage to Pogo).  The question of us is: how do we avoid being doomed by our choice? 

Making choices is what the CSO is all about.  In the Living System of Order, “choice” is a very different function than in the Consciousness System of Order.  99.9999999999…% of all the organisms that have ever lived could only act on the energies immediately present at their sense organs and the consequences of those actions were only selected, stored and implemented by the DNA/protein relationship housed deep in the genitive tissue.  It is the function of the CSO to imagine occasions that do not and have not ever existed, and to seek out practical designs of action to make the imaginings happen in “reality.” 

We have come to the moment when the Officer (the biophysical reality) is demanding that we choose between our present values and beliefs and others with which we are less familiar or comfortable, but which offer the possibility of sustaining the present designs of our living planet.  Much of what we know and love (in my view, pathologically) will have to go.  Much that is new and difficult will have to be confronted.  Making a choice that does not doom us will be the trick.

[1] Life will not end on earth, but the millions of organisms in concert with consistent biozones will change dramatically to simpler arrangements of greatly reduced numbers.  Systems that require complex stabilities, like human economies and other high order ecologies, will disappear.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Middleman Choice

(essay one) 

Within one and one half arms reach from me is my cup of tea.  I can, by leaning forward, make up the 1/2 (plus a little for balance) and bring the cup to my ready lips for a sip of the warm, healthy and comforting beverage.  Or I could trade someone something to move the cup of tea closer when required and then back to the coaster on the (misnamed in my house) coffee table.  I could also draw-up plans and construct a machine that, with only the smallest motion for activation on my part, would move and raise the cup to the proper position for the consummation of my pleasure.  This would potentially involve many more people and processes.  Here is the essence of human economics – the middle”man.” 

There is always a middleman.  No organism is self-contained (and those self-made “men” conservatives who did it all “on their own” are self-servingly ignorant of reality).  The native ecology of environmental services is the classic middleman.  And the middleman in human economics is modeled on the ecology, but is not at all a perfect analogy.  The ecology is a complete system of integrated relationships, functional from the least action to the greatest action, unknown and unknowable except in the broadest strokes.  The human economy is a system of integrated relationships containing great gaps of function; complex, changeable and often random motivations; rules of function that change at the whim of the most powerful effective units of the moment: it is an ad hoc collection of middlemen vying for position to control some elements of the flow of influence.  The driving behavior is to find in the fabric of the moment a place that can be rent and one’s own cloth of connection sown in. 

This process, of our several historical years, has produced what we accept as the natural way of action on the world, and the economic design that will run its course with its own destruction in essentially the same way a mold consumes the nutrients on a plate of agar and dies when the nutrients are gone.

The process of “middlemanship” has been going on for a very long time and for most of that time was benign: for longer than the present species, hominids have shared and traded food, materials and services.  No human (or hominid) has ‘done it’ on their own for more than a delimited episode or disparate action.  The effective ecological unit was the group and it was the group that responded to the environment with habits, mores, and sanctions that integrated the group’s behavior into the natural economics of the ecology. 

The sharing of responsibilities within a group, i.e., no one member did “everything” for itself, has expanded into a world in which we all directly depend on literally millions of others.  As I glance around this room there are hundreds of things: cameras from Japan, China, Germany; bikes from LA and Portland, books from everywhere; plants native to India, South America and who-knows-where;  ink; knives; video tapes and DVDs; computers; microphones; briefcases, cases, bags; filing cabinets and desks, chairs, couches.  This could go on for a very long time and would only be the “stuff.”  The ideas in my head came from others.  The pipes and wires that heat my teapot, fill my bath, spin the fan, charge the batteries. And all of this made by people, transported by people, thought up by people, designed by people, dug from the ground by people, cut down by people, grown by people, stolen by people, people killed by people, millions and millions of people each one doing a little isolated thing all coming together in this room of things and energies and beliefs.  Without them I would be a different man and live a different life.

Everyone of these people must be compensated with food, water, space, associations (from safety to satisfaction to sex) and spiritual connection.  And since not 1 in 10 worldwide (or 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000) can meet their primary physical needs with their own actions, since there are almost no group structures remaining that are devoted to meeting all the needs of members, our dependence on the middleman structure of our world is, in our present understanding, absolute. 

Yet, this is an artificial dependence. For 99% of our existence as a species, groups of people in intimate collaboration have met their needs.  Our new adaptation has led us to this moment; and if, as it appears, we are coming to the end of this experiment in how to do a Consciousness System of Order organism, then new paradigms will be required.  The next essay is titled: “Sophie’s Choice.”