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, April 30, 2011

The Day I Didn’t Kick John Ehrlichman

John Ehrlichman was a criminal.  He was convicted of conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice for his role in the Watergate/Nixon conspiracy, but his real crime was contributing to the destruction of constitutional governance, destruction of the patterns of belief that gave a little power to the common man, woman and child.  I am not sure there is a worse social crime.  So he and his co-conspirators must have received serious jail time with maybe torture and other really bad stuff…

Then what the hell was he doing standing in front of me in line at the post office looking prosperous and happy!  I so wanted to kick him and yell out his crimes.  But I was a coward, too socialized, too frightened for my little business that depended on the most important segment of the community… and he was out of jail after only 18 months for one of the nation’s worst crimes; so maybe a simple ordinary citizen could get into serious trouble kicking him.

This was all many years ago.  (Ehrlichman is dead and I am still alive – I win. I know, really petty, but I have regretted not kicking him for 30 years).  The next year he and I were coaches in the same Lamaze class, and my attitude relaxed a bit, but only as I thought of him going “fuu, fuu, fuu, fuu” in the almost completely useless support of the birth of a new human being – maybe the kid would kick him.

But he did go to jail, even if for only for a year and a half in a country club prison.  The high crimes of the Bush administration, the continuing crimes of the Obama administration, the failures to enforce financial sector laws and the failures to bring the appropriate pressure on almost untouchable Supreme Court members who publicly flaunt conflicts of interest, these crimes and more – even more insidious than Ehrlichman’s crimes – will not even be admitted as having happened, much less be prosecuted, no matter how weakly.

Laws have two basic functions; one is to inform as to the rules of the society and the other is to indicate the seriousness with which those rules are regarded.  If a law is claimed to be essential and yet is not enforced by using popular and state power to demonstrate the seriousness with which society holds the law, then it is no law and only a suggestion.  Since laws tend to be created about things that people actually do, often for personal gain, things that destabilize or disrupt social functioning, the failure to enforce laws is certain to increase the incidence of and danger from the prohibited action.
The essay that began this blog opens with: “Is it possible in today’s political climate to apply the rule of law to the powerful?  If it is not, then this nation is only a structure of power-relationships that adapts to the exigencies of subterfuge and force.” 
I think it a pretty simple proposition: if the economically and politically powerful are not subject to the rule of law it is only a short matter of time before there will be nothing left of democratic design and rule of law that gave hope and security to our daily lives. 
It was clear from before the 2000 election, and abundantly clear after, that the Bush administration was a criminal enterprise flaunting law and assuming royal prerogative, literally in the manner of a despotism: Cheney’s energy task-force, which we now have very good reason to believe was dividing up Iraqi and other Middle Eastern oil properties, refused legal oversight; the many violations of law in the run up to the Iraq war and questionable dealings even in the funding and movements in Afghanistan.  It is a long list, available at various sites on the Web. 
It is my belief that the promise of the United States of America, as compromised as that promise has been, will be irrevocably lost if Bush, Cheney, Rove, Addington and others are not prosecuted for their crimes in office, and if the continuing violations of the Obama administration are not prosecuted.  I, frankly, see no way that the nation will recover without clearly reestablishing the rule of law in the public mind. The U.S. Constitution cannot function as a series of suggestions.
In the very most generous interpretation, that laws are broken to protect US citizens and business, there is still no defense.  Lawlessness at this political level can tolerate no assertions of ignorance of the intent of the law. There are many options for gaining full legal authority if some change in the application of law is actually needed.  These people willingly violated the letter and spirit of not only statutory law, but also the Constitution and its established interpretations.  They can have no defense other than innocence – there are no mitigating circumstances.  This is not a matter of being unsure of what the law was.  They clearly knew, demonstrated by their active efforts to cover up, hide and obscure rather than to openly explain their concerns and find lawful means to deal with those concerns.  Their criminality was against us all; against the very fabric of our society.

Perhaps if I had kicked Erhlichman and others had joined in, yelling their condemnations, if it became common knowledge that people would rise up against those who commit crimes destructive of the common good when they go to the post office, then, sometimes I wonder, might future generations of evil men and women have been chastened.  I think not, but still I will never know.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Idea of Property, Further Studies

(Proem: These are the most mind twisting ideas.  Not only are the ideas themselves unsupported by our language and habits of thought, they conflict with the seemingly most essential principles of our social and economic order – and yet as I hack my way into them, they seem the undeniable key to our most pressing dilemmas.  I am going to continue these explorations in future essays as I grow the courage and succumb to the foolishness.)

Processes and relationships that are real, that have basis in reality, and can accrue to one person must, to be real, also accrue to others.  In a similar way relationships that accrue to one species must accrue to other species and to other forms of existence.  This has been part of the general learning process throughout the human history of discovery: Who we were in our groups were what humans were – our name for ourselves was, very often, the name for humans.  The land that we lived on was the center of the world.  The earth was the center of the universe.  Our beliefs were the central true and correct beliefs; so on and so forth.

But we have discovered that relationships and ‘properties’ we thought (believed) unique to our group, our country, our species, living things or our planet are not unique at all.  We are fully part of and continuous with the cosmos.

The certainty with which humans once held the notion that they were specially designed to reside in the center of creation is the same sort of confidence with which our present time-ghost holds the belief that we can own the living and physical world.

Property is an idea.  It is a special form of idea of the magical thinking sort.  This does not mean that the magical idea of property is complete illusion: there are consequences of this idea that are quite concrete.  We have come to it in reasonable and understandable steps, but this does not make it any less a fallacy that has taken on more and more dangerous proportions and consequences.  First the nature of the idea [1]:

All relationships are established between things by some exchange of energies.  This is a basic physical principle.  It is becoming more and more important that we humans recognize the preeminence of these principles and stop giving ourselves magical powers, but, of course, we continue on in the old ways.  The rules and laws of the Physical System of Order (PSO) underlie and underwrite the special principles of the Living System of Order (LSO) and the Consciousness System of Order (CSO) – we need always to look to the physical laws and biophysical principles for guidance and metaphor.

Claims of property attempt to relate some object [2] to a person, a group of persons or, today, a ‘legally’ defined entity through the wholly magical device of “ownership.”  This happens when a group of humans agrees to abide by the common belief that the relationship exists – there is no other basis in Reality.  For such a belief to take on importance, it must be attributed magical powers vested in other illusions.  Humanity has created religions, economies, political structures, all in part formed out of the magical thinking around “property.”

This idea has been deeply and powerfully embedded in our language, habits and beliefs.  Its development has been gradual and insidious; many, even most, of the habits and rules by which we organize our daily actions and our societies have been formed directly from or in relationship to property concepts, concepts that on clear analysis exist only in our ideas, but more importantly lead us into conflicts with the biophysical principles that are essential for life to exist on the earth.

To put it simply, we do not “own” the earth or any of its products, yet we believe that we do and act on that belief by dominating the earth with our numbers, with our capacity to adapt far more quickly than evolutionary process and the willingness, fueled by our belief, to change the earth in any way that we wish.  The disconnect is beyond comprehension and seemingly beyond repair.

As with all organisms, each person and each group of persons must gather to itself sufficient physical space and material to maintain life and the enjoyment of life.  This is one of the essential meanings of “property” that we must rediscover [3].

The functional implementing of “property” behavior creates an organizing principle which allows an organism to navigate the complexities of using objects and spaces.  As an organizing principle, it must exist in the information form and structure of the system of order in which it is functioning: in the Living Order “property” has evolved as the highly structured systems of use of space and material encoded in DNA as instinct and, in the more complex creatures, supplemented by learning, both classical and instrumental.

In the LSO, the use of land-space and material is a cost and therefore is kept to the minimum required to meet the organism’s needs.  No predator has a territory of 2 sq. miles when 1 sq. mile will do.  Animals of the same species in the same region vie of the smallest possible home range, not the largest: a large territory results from the space only marginally meeting needs.  Such a range is more difficult to learn, harder to defend and less likely to sustain life in hard times.

The CSO, with its great powers of information selection, storage and transmission across space and time in the form of story, has reworked the use relation of property into a hugely expanded and modified form.  If one square mile is good, then 2 square miles is better.  Our capacity to dominate with our tools and social designs has grown progressively for many tens of thousands of years, at first slowly and then with exponential ferocity.  And along with that domination has grown the magical notion that that which we could, for the most part, keep to ourselves and away from others was actually attached to our being in some way.

There are many more parts to this story: status, intertwining of social relationships and “property” relations, empowering of the sociopathic, misappropriation of religious process, response to “property” concentrations and more.  Since I can’t find a source that has spelled it all out for me, I will have to keep trying it for myself.  If any reader knows of some source or sources that will save me the trouble, I’d be grateful (other than being directed to Karl Marx – important, but not the final word).

A summary position so far: Using the idea of property (especially ‘private property’) as a magical justification to collect excess under one human’s (or group’s) control rather than as a basic organizing principle for the materials and spaces that are used to meet human needs in relation to the needs of all of the rest of the biophysical world must come to be adjudged unacceptable in human society.  This will require, not the removing of the property concept, but its major reworking.  Unfortunately, this thought is almost an infinity away from the way today’s economic and political elites are thinking and acting.

[1] The word “property” is also used to describe qualities appended to an object, process or form of energy.  There is something to be learned about its magical use for this use. Mass is a property of matter.  Gravity is property of mass.  These are indissoluble relationships; not even relationships, but really different measures of what are in reality the same thing.  Gravity is an extension of the presence of a center of mass. This way of using the word and concept ties together mental constructions of apparent differences that in biophysical fact are not differences at all, but different ‘faces’ of the same process or event.  A property of the hemoglobin super-molecule is the reflection of light with wavelengths around 650 nanometers (nm = one billionth of a meter = one millionth of a millimeter).  Many different materials might reflect light in that same range – hemoglobin does not ‘own’ 650 nm light!  And, of course, 650 nm light doesn’t ‘own’ hemoglobin.  Humans (if they have the appropriate words) call 650 nm the color red (or an equivalent translation of the experience).  A property of that wavelength, in the human experience, is the color red.  But this is a purely manufactured property; ‘red’ has no substantial existence.  Blood, certain minerals, concentrations of carotene and a variety of other materials or structures all reflect or transmit light that is called red in human experience.

It is the property of a prism to separate light into its array of wavelengths rather than have them all mixed together as an indistinguishable mishmash. This is a unique property of prisms and prism-like structures.  But even in this unique relationship, the prism and the light are related only by a process, not in anyway by the way “property” is used in human concepts of attachment through the concept of ‘ownership.’  Though the actual human relationships are more like those of the physical world than the human magical idea.

[2] ‘Object’ is used here to refer to physical space, items natural and created, certain behaviors and definable ideas that can take some actionable form.

[3] Living things take up space – this is obvious, but they tend to do this in ways that are different from non-living things, though these are indefinite boundaries. 

A boulder, for example, takes up the space it occupies.  A river, on the other hand, flows in its channel and in varying volumes requiring different amounts of space, and is also the controlling agency for the shape of the land for large areas around the river.  Where or what exactly a river is is not bounded either physically or conceptually in the same way as a boulder.

We do not think of a river ‘owning’ its valley – and the thought of the river ‘needing’ its valley would be considered silly, in that the river is not a thing like the boulder; we cannot move a river to some other place.  The river is the water flowing in the valley.  At some later moment that same water might be a lake or ocean.  It might make more sense to speak of the valley ‘owning’ the river.

Living things take up space, but are characterized by more complex changes of location than a river, the most common differences are the spread of the ‘identical’ living units, growth in size and ‘self-powered’ movement.  Another point of difference is the idea of need or requirement.  This becomes sensible for living things in ways quite different from non-living things.  Crystals require concentrations of particular substances to go through a particular series of changes in order to exist, but once they exist they only require to avoid the most dramatic forces of change to continue to exist.  Living things, however, require constant and specific infusions of materials, a situation for which we have a great deal of vocabulary and which generates a good bit of the form and content of our communication – of all kinds from chemical signals to language.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Push’em Back. Push’em Back. Waaaay Back.”

From the general public perspective there is nothing that resembles politics so much as small town high school sports.  Creepybriarville vs. Downhome Town is not just a football or basketball game; it is food for the soul, it is the breath of life.  The star player in your town can do no wrong while the players from the other school are criminals.  These are not rhetorical arguments, but deeply held beliefs with punches thrown, windows broken and lies told in defense of these certainties.

It is a sad, occasionally recognized truth that high school was the best time in many people’s lives.  I find this difficult to imagine and try not to dwell long on the implication…the real explanation has to be that the rest of their life is worse than high school.  I was there as a kid and I have been a watcher, a parent and a teacher; if that is the best that one can hope for in life, then we in public high school America are getting royally screwed (seriously; screwed by the new royalty).

A large number of people seem to have reached the peak of their social and emotional development in their teenage years and therefore apply the pleasing and rewarded habits of that time to many of the events of their supposedly adult lives [1].  I remember how almost everyone was co-dependently attached to some school based activity – usually, though not always, sports.  It was a certainty, in my experience, that a person would be shunned or hurt if they bad-mouthed the school or ‘the team.’

The team, the cheerleaders, the band, 4-H, school clubs, these were high school.  But no activity was complete without the contest with neighboring schools.  I thought, back then, that the competition was to see who was better, but no.  It was to excite the sense of community, it was to make us into a tribe that emotionally fed of off each other in ways not available in any other way then or since.  And it was magnificent.  Everyone with the same bright, yet glazed eyes, shouting the same words, supporting the same cause; the common purpose, the physical freedom and closeness, all so real and exciting compared to the insecurities and anxieties of everyday life.

If the fulfilling habits and events of high school attachments are mixed with a slow boil of anger at the vicissitudes of a disappointed life following high school, a good bit of the political behavior of the general populace begins to make sense: try to recreate the feelings of excitement and belonging while at the same time using the implied freedoms to explode away some of the anger accumulated around bosses, spouses, children, failures, dashed hopes. 

The majority of America’s titular adults ended their most deeply engaged community experience when they graduated high school.  Some continued that experience with the only somewhat modified experience of the military.  And some others went to college largely transferring those experiences to the new tribe.  Seen in this way, it is not the presentation of idea that matters as a way to influence people, but rather it is the creation of the tribal organization with secret handshakes, special language and exciting meetings that remind of pep-rallies and football games.  Right-wing astroturf groups follow this pattern.

I am confident that we, as a people, have the capacity to become more grown up – I don’t believe that the present levels of social and emotional immaturity are native to the species – but I can’t see how to accomplish it in our present paradigm.  Maturity is attained by being in the company of mature people with the realization that you are an unfinished learner.  That is how it has always been done. 

We know better than to take a human raised orangutan and return it to the forest without retraining.  There is a protocol for the training based on the skills and habits needed to survive.  We have no such protocol for ourselves.  And if anything, our present political, economic, media and educational systems are strongly counterproductive of the forms that would support an increasing national maturity.

I think that we are faced with rather stark possibilities for the future: a totalitarian plutocracy allowed by a socially and politically incompetent polity or conditions that dramatically increase the national maturity sufficiently for a popular social democracy to function [2].

[1] Where are the ‘adult’ organizations with grown up expectations, organizations that have the view of high school antics, even college social groupings, as childlike practice for the real thing?  Our emotional and social development seems to be artificially terminated at about 18 to 20 years of age.  I have been part of agricultural and industrial work gangs, field biology study groups, college faculties, independent professional service provider groups, school governing councils and various ad hoc advisory and action groups; other than each group having their own cultures and codes, there was not a great deal of difference among them as regards the maturity of their functioning.

I think it has to do with the point in time when people are led to believe that they are effective agents in life.  There has been, through out my whole life the presentation that ‘teenagers’ are a special grouping with unrequited capacities of authority – many ‘teenagers’ come to believe this commercially driven storyline.

There is another part to this; the point at which support is withdrawn also signals the beginning of ‘adult’ responsibilities.  This point ends a certain kind of learning – puts new learning in a different box if you will.

[2] I have left out the ecological considerations that will be (are) enforcing an utterly unforgiving timeline on these changes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The High Cost Of Going It Alone

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 [1], 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.

[1] 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

A Man From The Oil Fields

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 [1].

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.

[1] 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

Thoughts From The Road 2

Photo [1]

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 [2].

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 [3].

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.

[1] 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!

[2] 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.

[3] 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”!