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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What We Must Do, Part Two

Essays on these matters commonly speak of “our actions” and “we experience”, as I often do here, but this represents an expectation and an understanding requiring definite structures of power, information flow, common understanding and common purpose.

‘We’ forms in various ways, but always on the basis of some common experience and purpose. The authorities and inmates of a prison become ‘we’ only under the most horrific of circumstances, as when about to be struck by a large meteor – not even an earthquake or an all-consuming fire can turn a prison, uniformly, into ‘we’ – and even then not everyone would join the common cause.

This is a major dilemma: ecological and economic catastrophes, almost certain to occur without large and rapid changes in human action, have to actually happen before there can be a natural constituency of experience sufficient to prevent them.

Humans have been very good at responding to impending threats when a natural constituency of ‘we’ already exists and not so good when the disparate ‘we’s’ have not yet formed into some common collective of experience [1].

The purpose of this little digression is to prepare for this statement: I don’t think that we can count on a ‘we’ forming on these major ecological and economic concerns. And, in the absence of a powerful constituency of ‘we’, there can be no meaningful (globally effective) response until the nearest edge of catastrophe passes unambiguously through our lives. That parts of Africa and Southeast Asia are being buffeted by the coming storm is not enough warning; no, the timing will have to be just right: calamity without devastation might be all that can be realistically hoped for. This is, of course, no reason not to keep trying to inform and build an enlightened constituency; it simply clarifies the difficulty.

Failing popular movements leading the way to reduced consumption and all the other adjustments needed, the obvious option is some authoritarian control operating with persuasion and force. Of course, right now power resides in the forces that are driving the biosphere toward ecological and economic collapse.

Given the timelines that are reasonably speculated – 10 to 30 years within which to produce meaningful change, beginning right now would be very good – it is unlikely that global corporate enthusiasm will shift from hell-bent accumulation to ecological sensitivity quickly enough. But this is not to say that some authoritarian force will not form, from governments or other coalitions, around ideas broadly enough and well enough presented. It is doubtful, should it happen this way, that it will be pretty.

So from this base let us look back (to the previous essay) at the list of changes that the biophysical space requires in order to regain sufficient health to continue sustaining present ecologies, and what we can reasonably expect. The fact is that we cannot expect any sort of general response to any one of these needs. The history is that while individual humans make individual efforts at integration into their environments, the whole collective enterprise bulldozes on growing bigger and more disrupting.

But, we can, each of us, do all of these things in our own lives, and we can inform others. There is no other way to prepare for using calamity, for mitigating devastation. It is not that I consider humanity so very important in the ultimate scheme of things – though the Consciousness System of Order is an incredible addition to the universe – but we hold the present assemblage of life on this planet in our technological hands: if we fail big-time, the rest of the present arrangement of life on earth will go down with us as a sixth great extinction event [2]. In this way I am a consummate conservative; the way life sustains and adapts is by fighting with its fullest force to stay the same.

The first rule has to be, do what is necessary yourself. The second, inform and educate those around you. The third, demand of collective entities that they behave responsibly. Unless you are actively reducing your ecological footprint, learning about the chemistry of pollution, discovering effective solutions to your own consumption and making an active effort to model a way of life that respects and allows all life a place on this planet, then you have no moral authority, on the one hand, and you will not offer a source of expertise when it is needed, on the other.

Read through the list; it is not long. This is what ‘we’ must do to return the earth’s surface to sufficient health to avoid a major disruption of biophysical process. If there is no ‘we’, then one must be created. The changes in our lives and in the social and economic order will, of necessity, be huge; we have been so destructive for so long. Reintegration into biophysical reality will be one more monumental change (adaptation) in the human history of monumental and painful changes.


[1] Conservative experience, by its very nature, tends to have more common elements than liberal experience and thus is easier to form together into collectives of common experience and expectation.

[2] The number depends on how you count them; 540 mya, 450 mya, 250 mya, 200 mya, 65 mya. It could be the seventh or the eighth (ninth or tenth) if we knew more about preCambrian times. There was certainly a major extinction event about 700 million years ago when the earth was completely ice covered from equator to poles, and others as oxygen reached toxic levels in an early anaerobic world.

Part three of this essay can be found at Dissident Voice.

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