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, August 1, 2009

We Have Lost!

We have lost the struggle for democracy – of, by and for the people -- and equity. We have lost the struggle for social justice. We have even lost not only almost all of the battles, but the war for the future of ecological integrity on our little planet. But that is no reason to quit! It will, however, be much better for us personally to proceed with more reasonable expectations.

We have lost not so much because, in an alignment of opposing forces, some groups and ideas succeeded while others have not. This is more a matter of everyone losing – all ‘sides’ – because the real terms of the struggle were never recognized. As trite as it may seem Pogo pegged it: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” But with that the trivial appearance ends and the truly difficult begins.

All of life depends on physiological homeostatic systems to mediate and regulate the volumes and speeds of chemical reactions so that the right amount of a substance exists at each step of any process: too much acts as a poison and too little starves the process [1]. This same principle applies to ecological relationships and structures. Organisms and biophysical conditions feedback through exchanges of materials and energies resulting in ecological stabilities; environments that, when unperturbed by uncommon dramatic events, change at the typical rates of evolution, i.e., more slowly than generational turnover of constituent organisms.

Humans have been on a 50 to 70 thousand year rampage through the ecologically stabilities. Our nearest hominid relatives began to develop not just tools, but a new way of bringing order to the collecting/selecting of information, to the storing of that information and to the implementing of both directly stored and, even more interestingly, modified information. Homo sapiens has carried this process to the level of a completely new system of ordering information, new to the universe.

I am calling this the Consciousness System of Order (CSO). It creates a new probability structure for what might exist in the world; and thus creates a new world. But the new world of the CSO is still dependent on the Living System of Order and the Physical System of Order. It is just that it is ‘possible’ for the CSO to create the idea that it is not. And so Pogo’s prescience.

Genetic evidence and geological inference suggests that our species has gone from only a few thousand members following the devastation of the Toba volcano in Indonesia about 70,000 years ago to our present world population of 7 billion, about a millionfold increase. We have gone from a negligible impact on the ecology to using about half of the earth’s total photosynthetic production. The consequences of our actions, intended and unintended, are changing many long-standing, primary and stabilizing biophysical cycles and extinguishing species faster than any time other than major extinction events, of which there have only been 5 in the last 640 million years.

Our “problem” is not global climate change; it is global human impact. While the insanity of excess can be blamed in proportion to the excess, still our impact ultimately comes down to the human organism needing 1500 calories (Kcals) everyday to sit around and 3000, up to 5000, calories to do physical work; plus anywhere from a few thousand calories to several hundred thousand calories of energy per day for our tools and comforts. Simply and devastatingly put: it cannot be sustained.

Part of our political trouble today may come from the denial of these realities: “We will get to these ‘long-term’ issues later, but right now Gov. Sanford is screwing an Argentine reporter.” I do the same thing – not the Argentine part. Facing a difficult situation, I will clean corners that I had forgotten existed; amazing how important getting those dust bunnies from under the fridge becomes when I have to go through 5 years of tax records. Amazing how important (and comforting) those tax records become when I have to truly consider changing my whole way of life.

And yet that is where we are. All of humanity, every last one of us will have to change how we live if we are to adapt through the next few decades. The option is to take down the biophysical structures of the biosphere in a convulsive collapse of unprecedented horror. It must have been awful to be a dinosaur in the marshes of New Mexico when the shock wave blew across the mid-latitudes. And it must have been worse to be in the fires in China or part of the starvations that followed, but these were not creatures that had destroyed themselves by their own aware actions.

The arguments that fill our media and our minds are finally distractions from these larger concerns: dust bunnies under the fridge. Of course, we must deal with health care, torture, economic and justice equity, bribery in government, spread of weapons, racism and the thousands of other issues that form our actions everyday. But, and this is a prodigious but, every one of those deliberations must begin to put the maintenance of environmental stability and biodiversity at the front end of consideration. We are quite literally doing the laundry while the muddy floodwaters are rising up fill the washer.

I have wondered out loud if the economic elite might be considering a way to kill off about 5 or 6 billion people as a solution. But, I think that even a well-planned and powerful biological attack on the Great Many would so devastate both the ecological and economic order that such an attempt would prematurely precipitate the kind of convulsive biophysical collapse that is inevitable without great change in how we live. So, we really are ‘all in this together’ to whatever end it is that we either attempt or allow.

I must admit to occasionally being discouraged. In this moment our world is being run by gangs of criminals and madmen (generic term – madwomen happily included). Just listen to the leaders of corporations, churches, government, think (sic) tanks, media and universities! They are like looters trying to grab up ‘everything’, but before the disaster happens. The sophistry is as thick as the shit on an industrial hog farm.

But the Great Many are beginning to understand even as they are being propagandized by multimillion dollar disinformation campaigns. A recent NY Times poll, as much as they tried to spin the public as confused, gave these results:

-92% favor "requiring car manufacturers to produce cars that are more energy efficient"

-75% are "willing ... to pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources like solar or wind energy"

-64% would "pay higher taxes on gasoline and other fuels if the money was used for research into renewable sources like solar and wind energy"

-69% approve of more coal-power plants "if the plants used a new method of burning coal, which would cost more but produce less air pollution." (Otherwise, support for coal was at 41%.)

Similar findings have been made for single-payer health care: when people know what it is, majorities prefer it. For war and peace: people reject gratuitous war. For personal freedom, safety and privacy: people reject institutional spying and support the protections of the Bill of Rights.

So, as an acquaintance maddeningly used to begin almost every thought, ‘Here is the deal:’ We have lost. Just look at the situation. Seven billion. Insane criminals running things. If we can’t work together we are screwed. Asking people to do things that they have historically not done well. The apparent need for vast resources. The opposition of the most powerful forces in society. It does not look good – that is why we have lost.

But if we have lost, then there is no reason not to kick butt. It is becoming more and more clear that the truly crazy people, who for example are letting the insurance companies deny the whole population the only functional design that can deliver the knowledge and practice of medicine to the people in a cost effective way, are willing to let thousands and millions suffer terribly so that they can have a seat in a big wood-paneled room. It is becoming clear that, since we have lost, in not all that many years those who are left will be digging roots to chew on and straining water through their t-shirts.

This country is just about ready to turn the devastation of losing into the desperation of losing. We are the numbers. It is time for the millions upon millions of the losers to speak up forcefully. I suggest the battle cry: “Remember Missionary Ridge!” But any that you like will do [2].

Does this mean that we still might win? Not a chance [3]. But we can be an active part of the adaptation process to whatever it is we will be after and not some stupid lump of protoplasm ground to a pulp by crazy people. We can at least fight to be members of the honorable human species to the very end.

[1] There are many thousands of enzymes. Each one controls the rate of chemical reactions, speeding those that would go too slow in the environment of the living thing and slowing those that would go too fast – by just the amounts needed.

[2] The Union forces were in a valley below Missionary Ridge. The Confederate forces were on the ridge top pouring fire, rifle and cannon, into the valley. The Union troops were in an impossible position with no retreat and only withering fire coming from the ridgeline that they could not possibly assault. No order came from the leaders. In almost spontaneous movement the Union soldiers ran up the ridge. Since they had lost the battle, they did this with no strategic purpose other than to stop the rain of ball and canister on their heads. The character of the war in the south was shifted to the Union advantage.

[3] Creating the belief that you can win is what the crazy people use to take the effectiveness out of your action. If you know that you can’t win, then you can. But if you think that you can, then you are screwed because you get suckered into playing the crazy game.


Anonymous said...

No, as individuals we cannot win but can go down fighting against the forces of normalcy and status quo expectation.

What's that saying? Better to die on your feet than live on your knees?

That aside, I'm intrigued with a statement mid article about "convulsive biophysical collapse that is inevitable" that I read means, irrespective of possible conscious corrective actions, these actions are our demise? ie.. our actions to correct in fact cause the collapse - sorta human quantum mechanics stuff?

Hhhmmmm ... Perhaps I'm reading my philosophy into your words and not passively taking yours in to absorb as written ... is this in fact "the human problem"?

James Keye said...

It is clear that the earth is in the beginning stages of a number of dramatic changes. The speed of these biophysical changes are between one hundred and a thousand times faster than typical for climate changes and species changes. The wide and deep integration of all of these processes can bend only so far before they break. All of these changes are either directly caused by or exacerbated by our human billions and the incredible rates of consumption.

The human adaptation is working out its possibilities. This is very complex in that our mindless domination of the earth's capacities is part of our power and our ability to understand the details of these actions is part of our power. Our individual willingness to act will be a deciding factor in the continuing process of adapting and the consequences.

There are only one or two paths of action that do not lead to a collapse and thus far they seem very unlikely; to continue the American Civil War connection: it would be like getting the south and the north together and solving their differences in a meeting. This kind of solution is not impossible, but not in the mainstream of our political human experience when the concerns are at such a volatile level.

My argument is that the Great Many will only have the power to force the issues when we realize that we have already lost and are freed to act outside of the rules of present power.

Michael Dawson said...

We have been defeated. I'd rather say it that way, though the result is the same. Defeated by our sycophancy. But also defeated by a quite conscious overclass. They probably are thinking about extermination. But their conclusion is also probably to maintain deniability by letting the "free market" do it for them.

The left is at least as moribund today as it was in 1984. That, right there, speaks volumes.

James Keye said...


The thoughtful left and the thought right have lost to thoughtless press of the numbers. We 'work' in groups of 300, not in so well in groups of 3000 and we spiral out of control in groups of 3 million -- regardless of our politics. We 'work' when we are in daily relationship with the living order, not so much when we only deal with each other. My thought is that if we recognize that we have lost, really and truly lost, as a species, we have the capacity in the CSO to imagine options. And imagined options for specieshood can be sought in practice just as options for destroying it have been made active.

Michael Dawson said...

Alas, I fear the odds of admitting defeat are low, particularly in triumphalist, fantasist "America." I often wear my t-shirt showing a supine skeleton with little automobiles swarming out if its eye sockets. People never get the point.