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

Friday, May 20, 2011

There Just Isn’t Enough Productive Capacity

Where do we begin to understand the cacophony of events occurring in the world around us?   There is a grand theme, not just hundreds of unrelated accidents.  Most major events have to do with land space, energy, material, food and water resources; who has access to them, who can claim them and who can control them.  Those events that don’t seem to be related to resource issues are very often smoke-screens to hide actions that involve resources [1]. Ultimately there just isn’t enough productive capacity left on the earth for everyone, including the rest of life in the biosphere.  That is the key.  Who would know that better than smart economic forecasters working for major corporations (corporate managers would view this as private propriety information)!  And who would be in a better position to act on that knowledge than corporate managers and others in the economic elite? 

It is important to learn how to think like someone with little concern for other human beings or ecological reality, and whose primary interests are increasing personal wealth and power.  From that perspective there are two ways to view the matter: first, over the long-run, per capita consumption of energy, material and productive capacity will have to drop.  It doesn’t matter that some sectors, energy for example, might be further from a bottom than others; it will be the weakest link, the most nearly used up, that will set the standard.  The distribution of capacity is what will matter, and setting one’s self up with, at least, some control over distribution would be a major goal. 

There are only two routes to such control: knowledge and wealth; both can be translated into power.  And since capacity is a zero sum game, knowledge and wealth must either be spread in nearly equal proportion or be highly concentrated; there is no middle ground: differences in power, beyond a certain point, motivate the drive to greater and greater power.  Only near equality or nearly absolute power over nearly absolute servitude can be stable, and only near equality can be sane in the sense of comporting with Reality; Lord Acton was right about absolute power, though it not only corrupts behavior, it also corrupts and twists the mind into insanity.  The present values and beliefs about how the world works distort our living relationship with life almost beyond recognition or remediation. 

Secondly, over the short-run one must also remain competitive, even actions that contradict long-run goals have to be taken, if required, to stay in the game. To use a sports metaphor: American football, fourth down, seconds remaining, 7 points to tie and send the game to overtime and another chance.  The best player is hurt; is he to be saved for the possible overtime action or is he used, probably used up, in the last plays that can tie the game?

It is that decision that corporations make everyday: use up pollution-sink capacity of rivers, lakes, oceans and atmosphere to stay in the game.  Destroy human lives to stay in the game.  Court a new population of consumers, discarding the old, to stay in the game.  Reduce overhead, increase profits at any cost to the living world, since if you don’t, someone will and you will come out a dollar short and a day late.  Cut the throat and move on; if you don’t, someone else will.

If these kinds of decisions have to be made on occasion, they can be integrated into a more general adaptive process that comports with the larger realities of a sustaining biosphere.  But, if decisions of desperation are daily fare, the “normal” form of business, then failure is a certainty.  All margins of error, all capacity, will be soon exhausted – unless new sources of capacity are constantly discovered and added; clearly an impossibility on a finite planet.

This is where our business and political behaviors have brought us.  These are the values of the economic and political elite; these are the “values” of madmen.

The first step out of this predicament is to recognize and name the madness.  The initial response to insanity doesn’t require that it be explained or repaired, but it is required to see with clarity its actions and influences if one is to avoid being trapped in its excesses.  But be prepared; this is a lonely pursuit. 

The great movements of history have all been driven by madness, to be caught up in them is to be a part of the madness.  All great movements have violated conditions of reality.  A whisper, an inkling, teases my thought that there is another way, that I am, and others are, the measures of possibility.  I am an ordinary man, country raised, tossed by the fates into the full range of human experience.  There are millions like me; if I can see the world with some clarity, if I am willing, even desirous, to discover how to live within the limitations of biophysical reality, then why not a movement driven by sanity.  It is just a thought, an imagining.  But this too, even if apparently embedded in biophysical reality, requires a hubris beyond reality.  Well so be it; on with the show.
[1] Abortion, homosexuality and drug issues are used to reduce social-services spending, to distract from power grabs and other actions that reduce the financial and organizational power of the Great Many in favor of the economic elite.

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