Saturday, April 30, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
The unitizing of the individual or the family, not only as the genetic unit, but also as the economic unit has been a major force in driving our economic dysfunction. The natural economic unit is really the mixed community in which demi-specialists perform various community functions along with the basic activities of supplying basic needs. This is not only a structural design, but is, as importantly, a subjective and perceptual meta-space from which the world is viewed.
If the community is viewed as the primary source of identification, then the condition of the members of the community take on an importance and a claim to empathy not recognized in a ‘society’ of isolated individual and family economic units. When individual and family units must fend for themselves, all activities are forced into a “monetized” form , and safety is attained by accumulating as much raw economic power as possible. This can only be done by living in relationships that ultimately challenge all others for gain and the opportunities for gain.
While there are emotional and social costs, there are also high economic costs – losses from failing to benefit from the savings based in sharing of resources and economies of scale; and huge losses from the costs of protecting individual wealth (think military budget). Unlike individuals, a community can adjust its material consumption to a ‘most efficient use model.’ Three hundred people in a community of trust and relationship don’t require 250 cars and trucks (about the ratio in America today). The actual conditions of need can be decided and adapted to. It might be that no cars are needed at all, or 20 cars and 10 trucks; it would all depend on circumstance that the community itself would evaluate.
Of course, the car dealer, assuming that he or she comes to the situation from our present model of individualism, would be hell-bend to get everyone to want, or think that they needed, a car. It would be useful to the car dealer (and other unitized economic agents) if people didn’t get along, if they began to be uncomfortable in the carpool or began to feel injustice from the car sharing arrangements. But the ‘car dealer’ who was part of the community would be performing a part-time service of arranging the acquisition of cars for the community needs. His or her income would be only in part from commercial activity, the rest in significant part from primary productive and community activities: gardening and husbandry, building and maintaining, communicating and sharing management. The most basic experiences of life would support the concepts of community as the economic unit.
It is true that such concepts are inherently limiting; individuals and families must function within community expectations and values, and it can be put even more bluntly: actions must finally be limited by Reality. Individuals function in groups, groups function in communities, communities function (are supposed to function) in ecosystems. The force of Reality must find its way to individuals through these connections. The failure of environmental reality to filter down to individual action and the refusal of individuals to respond to such information are serious disorders of process.
It is often stated in what has come to be called libertarian philosophy that individual humans should only be limited by the intrusions that they might make on the space of other humans; free of that limitation nothing should be denied. This view of the individual is pure pathology at both the individual and community level. The most singular measure of “growing up” is the wise inclusion of others (including the surrounding ecosystems) into the sphere of one’s own actions. Grasping selfishness was once the sign of an infant or an unacceptably infantilized adult; today it is often the basis of what is called success.
That communities are the basis for human organization is suggested by a number of different lines of evidence and reasoning: all higher primates – monkeys and more – live in community social and economic units. In fact, many animals live in community economic units of one form or another and have evolved behaviors that control resource depletion and distribution of resources. Not even dogs are ‘dog eat dog;’ that is purely a human occupation. There is a no more community unit structure than a wolf pack! Not that the detailed behaviors that have evolved as functional for wolves should be the model for humans, we have many more options for how to arrange our conserving and distributing.
It is obvious that individual human beings do not have much of a (if any) chance of survival if, by individual, one means operating without the support of other human beings. If we are generous and a person is allowed to be taught by others a language, other primary skills and given minimum tools like clothing, still such a person would need several thousand calories a day of food and energy, protection from dangers and some guiding designs to give direction to actions. Only a community can supply these needs. No one is ‘self-made;’ we are all “hecho en comunidad.” The claim of individual accomplishment untempered by the practical and functional compensation for deep and essential community origins is nothing more than ignorance and infantilized selfishness.
This is even more true today than it was in the past when people seemed to understand it better. The social, knowledge, technological, physical, economic and political infrastructure required for all action from the ordinary to the seeming exceptional is very often ignored. The “I owe no one for my success and therefore all that I have arranged to gather to me is mine without exception and the use of it by any others is theft plain and simple” idea is delusional, and if actually believed, rather than just cynically argued, is quite mad. Such a view is impossible in a community where the source of accomplishment is clearly from the structure and support of the members.
Individualism is a pathology. This is evident in the distrust, hostility, secretiveness, isolation of both person and impulse, delusion and rejection of others that manifest in its various forms. This pathological ideology ruins the lives of both the true believer and all those significantly impacted by it. Perverting the communal nature of the human species with this ideology is like trying to make a tiger eat broccoli – it will fail to create the conditions of health and just make the tiger sick.
As an additional cost, the individualism pathology also costs too much in all the ways: too much stuff, too much demand on the environment, too much misinformation and disinformation, too much conflict and just plain too much of too much. It has only one value and that is the accumulation of excess in the control of madmen and madwomen. And this is enough to cause all the trouble that we see arise from it.
 I am using monetized in a very broad sense. There is a great pressure on individualized people to collect to themselves non-perishable forms of wealth against times of want; a fully individualized society doesn’t offer support to others and so the ‘individuals’ must look out for themselves. Communities most often function on mutual support through mutual obligation relationships mediated by societal expectations; individuals look out for the other and in the process are looked out for by others which allows wealth to be social wealth that is constantly being gathered, created, used and spread and need not have a monetized form except for special purposes. The most important wealth is in the community’s readiness and capacity to act collectively for its own benefit.
Friday, April 8, 2011
The perception of how the economy, and the country in general, is doing is made up of the experiences of the people – if we are lucky – and not just the uncritically accepted jabbering of the media. There are also the statistics, the actual (hopefully) numbers of unemployed, time out of work, shift in the kinds of available jobs, possible amounts and distribution of income and the larger patterns of change that the country is going through (the forces driving the changes are another matter). I present here the perspectives of one man, who doesn’t agree with much of what he is hearing from media and government, on the assumption that he represents a variety of others with similar points of view.
I am not endorsing my witness’ views, nor am I using them to support an agenda – this is not the mainstream news! I am reporting them because they are interesting and because a man without guile or purpose other than talking to another human being that he took to be more or less “on his side” and who was willing to listen and interested.
A brief preamble to set the stage: An old man on a motorcycle packed for traveling, to most normally functioning human beings, is almost irresistible; something has to be said. And that is all I need to be invited into the space of the other person.
I was camping in a state park that was clearly a retreat for the more adventurous and leisured from the nearby city. The large camper trailer next to me was surrounded by vehicles: a ‘momma van’, large pickup and at least 4 bicycles. The kids yelled their various delights and peeves in the local accent. The Man of the family (capitalized to recognize his alpha male status) spoke a neighborly and non-committal greeting; that duty done, went about his business.
The next morning I was up early as was he. Since I had proved an acceptable neighbor, and that I seemed to know my business – and the irresistible motorcycle – brought him across the few yards separating my little tent camp from his rolling palace. We began with the bike, but soon moved on to other matters.
I don’t know if is it just me – political and economic matters dominate my thinking and so my choice of words and comments may move the direction of conversation – but many conversations I’ve had seamlessly and quickly turned to the issues of jobs, economy and “what is happening in America.” This one was no different. However, it may be that these matters are just what are on most people’s mind.
After the various sparrings typical of two men completely unknown to each other beyond their observable stuff, we settled on me as retired old man on a motorcycle with good camping gear and my correspondent as country boy made-good in the oil fields.
In a nutshell: my camping neighbor believed that there was plenty of work in America; that the unemployed were unwilling to do what was necessary to find and keep a job. He saw natural gas as the singular and sufficient salvation of the energy ‘crisis’ and the political establishment as criminally unaware or complicit with ‘green energy’ people in failing to appreciate it.
I cannot attest to his familiarity with major media or his political awareness other than that his time was almost completely consumed by work and family. I had the strong impression that he was not studied in the subtleties of political, economic and scientific intrigue, but had formed a comprehensive and complex worldview from his life experience and was not going to be easily swayed by anything less powerful than his grandfather’s wisdom and the observable consequences of his own life product. I don’t know what he listened to on the truck radio as he drove around, and to and from, the various job sites. His assertive comments to me were supported by his own experience and the ‘professional’ advice and opinion from the contractors, engineers and such that he worked with, supplemented by bits of family wisdom. I heard none of the buzzwords and phrases from the likes of Limbaugh .
My interlocutor was in his late middle thirties; by all outward appearances, economically prosperous; a high school graduate who had had several unproductive jobs and various setbacks until he finally settled into the oil fields. There he prospered with working hard, what he would call common sense, intelligence and his grandfather’s and father’s code of ‘getting it done.’ He rose quickly to a supervisory position.
He judges himself to be ‘every man’ and therefore sees no reason that others couldn’t do what he has done. Here is some of what he told me:
His company (I don’t know which one) is looking for workers, can’t get enough good people for the available work. By workers he means men to do hard physical and dirty work. They live in a bunkhouse situation for a week (“7 on and 7 off” is the routine) out at the drill sites. Some come from as much as 500 miles away.
High school kids, I could hear the distain, would come out, work a couple of weeks and suddenly remember dentist appointments, sick parents, the plethora of ‘dog ate my homework’ excuses and then they were gone. A few months later, they might try to get back on, but they had used up their chance.
For the work, on-site living and the ‘7 on and 7 off’ schedule the workers receive about $18.00/hr for regular time, overtime pay beyond that, per diem and safety bonuses. He claimed that a man could get $80 to $100 thousand a year; that would have to be an experienced worker making well above the base pay. I would guess that he is making a good bit more than that. (I calculated, using the numbers he gave me that a base pay worker could make about $36,500 for a 25 week work-year; that is 1400 hrs/year. 40 hrs/week for 50 weeks is 2000 hrs/year.)
Wind farms were to him a great scam; although it wasn’t clear who was doing the scamming. The wind of the High Plains being sent to the West Coast as electricity was unfathomably silly and wasteful. I don’t know from my own information that the great wind farms of western Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico are dedicated to the West Coast, but that was what my communicant had been told by an electrical contractor and he believed it to be so.
With a practiced hint of snarl – the way that it is required to say the name in some circles – he said that Obama had not been saying anything about the benefits of natural gas. He told me that a simple addition to some of their diesels allowed ‘straight from the well’ gas to be injected into the diesel fuel flow increasing fuel mileage sufficiently to warrant the conversions. No one was pushing natural gas properly; it was the energy of the future. I suggested T. Boone Pickens as someone who was the public face of ‘the cause.’ “Yes, he is talking about it.” And a minute later as though to finish up with Mr. Pickens: “T. Boone wants everyone to know that he’s rich.”
Progressives and progressive politics ignore this man to our peril. He is honest and comes by his worldview honestly. He is not a fool and he is not ignorant. He is misinformed and under-informed and deserves the effort required to meet him on his own ground with the courage and effort equal to his own to live his life well by his lights. He is someone that I would want on my side when the shit hits the fan.
Failing to become aware enough, educated enough and thoughtful enough to communicate with the people who are the Salt of the Earth of this nation is an even greater failing than the one often attributed to them of being ignorant of forces driving the country’s economics and politics. No one can learn what they are not taught. The great effort to teach the people has, up to now, been left to and made by those who intentionally mislead and lie to them. The wonder is that the lessons have been so often rejected given our failures to counter them with reason and the truth.
 I dwell on this because I think that in this way he represents a large percentage of “middle America.” I don’t mean middle class in the economic sense, but the great swath of people who work and play in some coordinated experience with friends and family, whose attention is on the daily movement of their lives and not the events that are over the horizon. The kind of life, I maintain, we are best equipped to live.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Once it is clear that the way humans organize experience, store organized and summarized experience and then create actual objects and processes that could not exist without the human process, then it should also be clear that how we do these things might have compatibility issues with the way that living things have, for billions of years, used the information arising from the consequences of actions.
Before humans, living things applied their bodies directly to make whatever changes they made on the world around them. Trees pressed roots into the ground and spread a canopy of shade. Earthworms consumed dirt and bacteria at the front end and deposited digested and fertilized dirt out the other end. Rodents dug holes that they lived and died in. The greatest changers, until humans, were reef-building corals and beavers; and they have had dramatic effects on the ecosystems of which they were and are a part.
But what they never did was come into conflict with the processes of life itself. Each and every organism functioned within the limits of evolutionary time and ecological space. They survived and gradually “shape-shifted” genetically as the environment pressed on their form and function or they got boxed in by that same flow of time and space in such a way that their numbers dwindled beyond the point of survival. They were the stuff of the living world, not in competition with it.
But as I cruise the interstates, state and country roads picking my way around the country it is clear that we have done much more than build a beaver dam or grow a water covered table just below the surface of the sea. And I wonder at the fit of our way of acting in the world with the essential designs of the world’s biology and chemistry.
Certainly I am, in my travels, dependent on these human made changes; I could not make these explorations without the roads, bridges, water systems, farms and factories, stores, transportation and communication networks, refineries, pipelines, copper and iron mines, limestone quarries, smelters; the list is almost endless. But none of these things have been tested in evolution’s smoldering fires; the time as been too short, the rate of creation decoupled so completely from evolution’s pace .
These things are just as real when I am home, but the daily routine blinds the eye to such observations; it is all so ordinary and accepted. On the road, juxtapositions are fresh and shocking. The embers of ideas are blown to flame.
So to the question: Is the Consciousness System of Order’s essential design as an information system incompatible with the Living System of Order’s essential designs? My answer has to be that as it is presently manifesting, it is incompatible. They are fire and ice. The most essential principle of the Living Order is homeostasis at all levels of organization from organism to ecosystem. The most essential principle of the Consciousness Order is limitless change manifesting at this time as growth of population, material accumulation, energy use and use of the earth’s productive capacity.
As long as the human population was small, an aberrant way of functioning only influenced local conditions, but today the nuclear fires of Fukushima are rapidly filling the whole inhabitable space with radioactive poisons; just as we have slowly (in human terms) spread our concrete, asphalt, leaded gasoline, industrial products and waste, land clearing and so much more over the living surface. These actions do not only influence human lives, but the living space itself and every living thing there in.
The earth cannot be turned into a giant farm of planted industrial seeds supplying human needs. Only the multiplicity of life in sustaining ecological arrangements allows life to exist on the earth. And here is the great rift of incompatibility; the Consciousness Order has failed to comprehend this in its essence and has been trying to make the living space over in its own image, an image that thousands of years ago lost its basis in reality.
Religious order, political order, economic order, social order: these are seen as the basis for designing action. It is so obvious; we must make electricity to power our appliances; build nuclear power plants (there are economic and political advantages also); mine the uranium; concentrate it; set it to criticality; and every now and then have it go wrong and damage the very biological basis of life, potentially, for the whole earth: that is the essence of incompatibility.
In our origins as a species, religious order, political order, economic order, social order supplemented the Living Order; were formed from it. These ways of forming experience and action received information from the Living Order and the Physical Order; they did not deny them and attempt to supplant them. It is in our history and species experience to have the Consciousness Order in harmony (another word for homeostasis) with the Living Order. This was the way and remains a possibility.
But for that possibility to reach actuality some rather serious changes in how we think and live will be necessary. The essential element is daily experience; we must connect with significant aspects of the Living Order and the Physical Order as a fundamental source of the information that gives order to our lives. This doesn’t mean that we must live in mud huts or teepees, though it does mean that some important percentage of our time and actions need to be spent doing things like walking, gardening (for food), husbanding the animals that we use for service and for food.
I have concluded, and argued in these pages several times, that the gaining of wealth will have to disappear as human motive – as it was for most of the 150 thousand plus years of our species’ history. Community will have to be reinvigorated and community goals substituted for many of the individual goals that we now pursue .
I see, at the moment, no clear route to these changes, but I see the potential for them in almost every conversation I have with a stranger – and the great resistance to be overcome. Just remember: when fire and ice are mixed, neither one is left.
 I am inured to the absurd. However, this rest stop in the Texas panhandle both excites humor and depression every time I see it. It is the ‘poster child’ of incompatibility between human arrogance and the living space; the interstate sets the stage and this rest stop ups the ante. Of course, the motorcycle is pretty damned arrogant too!
 Neither could I make these trips without the more fundamental optically clear oxygen atmosphere, UV absorbing ozone layer, productive soils, hydrological cycle, nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle (and much more) all of which depend on the complex living biosphere. Oh yes, and the evolutionary history that produced my species and me. As isolated individuals and families there is a great burden to gain sufficient resources for safety as well as the need to collect material wealth for private use. Communities reduce these needs significantly through sharing arrangements. “Watching your neighbor’s back” is a community tradition. The Grange, as I watched it function in my youth, organized the planting and the harvest for a community of farmers without everyone being required to buy and maintain the whole collection of expensive farming equipment – I saw no evidence there of “The Tragedy of the Commons”!