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, May 1, 2013

The Ranting of a Lunatic

It is a simple understanding: the central issue facing life on earth is the accumulation of wealth by humans and especially wealth accumulated in “private hands.”  Such wealth concentration leads to impunity of action, which leads to distortions of relationships among humans and between humans and the rest of life on the earth.  It must be an axiom for humans, just as it is and has been, for every species for nearly 4 billion years, that every action comport with and be measured by the fullest application and implication of biophysical Reality (whether recognized by some consciousness agency or not!); humans have been straying from this axiom for at least 15,000 years – 800 generations.  The consequences had to come. And they have come to our time on the earth; the present and the next few generations will either correctly identify the root causes of our dilemmas or the human species will bring a ruination to the earth not seen for 250 million years, if ever before.

I realize that this sounds like the hyperbolic ranting of a lunatic – an end-of-the-world fanatic marching on the street with sandwich board and spittle-laced oratory.  It cannot be helped. 

The smug modernist can point to a long list of doomsayers throughout history claiming an eminent end to the world.  It is certainly true that the end has been over predicted; the capacity for innovation and discovery underestimated.  But, the intuition of the rational doomsayers has been right all along: our species has been out of sync with the world of life and their warnings have been about that misalignment, from the first moments that thoughts could be recorded with the written word.  And their syllogisms would have proved true except for the world’s vast options, unrealized and untapped by the technology and ideations of their time.

So what is different now? Actually nothing except that human options have nearly been used up.  It had to happen.  The rational doomsayers of this time no longer sleep in doorways or attempt to gather crowds in city parks.  They are, in the greatest numbers, respected scientists, economists, futurists and philosophers.  And the message is uniquely common: stop polluting, stop the consumption that drives economic growth and reduce population – or incite a cascading ecological collapse that exacerbates and is exacerbated by economic collapse.

The options? First and foremost, humans are using the earth’s productivity beyond its sustainable capacity with the consequences of habitat and biodiversity loss, destruction of essential biophysical cycles, loss of soils and fresh water, rapid changes in atmosphere and ocean chemistry and the perturbation of climate and solar energy capture.  Secondly, our economic systems are dependent on fossil fuels and minerals that are either at or near depletion levels so that in the present models their costs will increase exponentially.  Thirdly, humanity is armed to the teeth with weapons of types and in amounts that could render the earth’s surface uninhabitable by anything larger than a bacterium.  These are simple facts and beyond dispute (except by crazy people deep in ignorance/denial).

So, what have people done in the past when faced with plausible ‘end of the world’ scenarios?  They have discovered a new land with new resources.  They have invented a new tool or process.  They have adapted a fuel source to new, more efficient uses.  And these are many of the efforts now being made, but the engineers, geologists, ecologists, industrialists, politicians, social scientists and economists are increasingly realizing that total human activity on the earth has reached the point of only marginal gain, if any, accompanied by substantial loss of environmental services.  

Another approach is to sequester the marginal “gains” within the control of only a small group of humanity.  We see this being played out with the new “economic devices” that game the economy to concentrate wealth even more than it has been in the past.  But, except for the incredible suffering that is being caused in the third world and will increasingly be visited on the first world poor, this is a trivial last ditch flailing of human processes that have run their course.

There is only one option left; the options with which we are most familiar and therefore to which we most expect and wish to turn are gone: we must change the way that we think and we must change the things that we believe; we must make radical and rapid changes in how we live.  We will either do this with some design and planning or the changes will be forced on us by the environmental realities of a world that can no longer support our insolence [1].

There are great dangers in throwing off our present cloak of beliefs.  It is the habit of both evolutionary process and human adaptation to make such changes gradually from the accumulation of actionable evidence in forms undeniable and unavoidable.  It is in this forum that we must make our next great discoveries.  By this I mean that we must discover ways to replicate the evolutionary/adaptive processes of evidence collection that works more quickly, while not being easily compromised by the impunity of wealth.

Our actions have driven the biophysical processes that support complex life and our economic systems to the breaking point – and when they break the starkest of realities will be before us.  And they will break badly unless we act with uncharacteristic swiftness in uncharacteristic ways.  We have done this in the past, but always by adding new devices and processes championed by those who recognized the possibilities for wealth concentration. 

The new ideation must be a climbing down from our present place, not a new discovery for how to climb higher.  This choice has always been in front of us, but now it is immediately in front of us; it is now clear that we can only put off the inevitable for a few more generations, perhaps no more than two.  Never has such a choice point existed in the universe that we know.
* * *
This rant is getting far too reasonable.  No, this is not about reasoned argument; that is a trick.  This is about the end of life as we know it or about the end of present life altogether (to become the sixth great extinction event in the history of abundant life on the earth – with the utter uncertainty as to what will eventually, in a few millions of years, repopulate the living order).  First, what is real must be told, told and told again.  Arguments can be made, but most sane people will eventually recognize the real when it is given a place in their hearing and seeing – the arguments only confuse and offer the insane handles with which to grasp the real and throw it out the window.

The one-in-a-million miracle of a planet attaining the conditions of energy stability, the narrow temperature range of liquid water and the appropriate compliment of elements – and that planet evolving even the simplest forms of life… and the one-in-a-trillion miracle of that planet staying relatively stable for billions of years, gradually increasing the complexity of life until some organism makes the fateful step of organizing information in a completely new way, organizing information in such a way that options can be formed in a nervous system rather than having to play out in actual events, so that events can be picked from and sought out that never even happened before; and after all of those billions of years and trillions-to-one possibilities that “impossible” power of imagination and creation is turned to cannibalizing the very essence of what allowed life in the first place.

The concentration of radioactive substances and their distribution around the surface of the planet is the ultimate poison; add to that the creation of chemical ‘species’ that could never exist in any measurable amounts without industrial production; add to that the raw physical destruction of plains, rivers and streams, swamps, jungles, deserts, forests, mountains, tundra, the littoral zone; and add to that the chemical destruction of the biophysical systems of atmosphere and ocean.  All of this and more to serve the function of concentrating wealth so that some very few completely insane people can live with utter impunity – with no consequences and no responsibility to the very forces and conditions that allow life to exist.  Do you hear me? That allow life to exist; that allowed life to evolve here, that allowed a complex organism like the human species to evolve!

All of this in the service of concentrating the power of impunity – the most unnatural form of existence there can be.  The concentration of wealth must come to be reviled.  This most destructive of human behaviors must be brought again under the control of the human community.  If it is not, wealth concentration will destroy us all.  Realize this fact.  Sure, fine, support this simple reality with numbers: 1% control 40%, 7% gained 28% and 93% lost 4%, but don’t let the detail of the argument erode the passion: it is wealth concentration itself that is the crime, a crime against life itself.

It is not about limiting the wealth of the few so that the many can be wealthy, that is just as crazy.  As long as there is sufficient concentration of wealth that humans can act without the direct consideration of the consequences on living systems, there will always be the pressure to enter the spiraling ascendancy of wealth concentration.

The changes that will be required are greater than any ever asked of the human species, but not greater than we are capable of.  The life affirming ways of living that are required, many millions of us have lived before – it is only the distance from our present distortion that makes a realistic future seem so impossible to imagine.  It all depends on getting a few simple understandings right.

Wealth is like mass, it is also the force of impunity, a force like gravity.  Mass does not create gravity, gravity is just another of its forms, it is the same with wealth, impunity is just another of wealth’s forms and cannot be made separate from it.  Humans have long understood this and tried to control the impunity of wealth by limiting both wealth and the displays of impunity with systems of belief.  But as wealth increases so does its power.

Think of our little planet; if a little planet is good, then a bigger one would be better, yes?  And so we grow one with such a force of gravity that we cannot move.  No, there is an amount of mass with its corresponding gravity that meets the needs of life; just as there is an amount of wealth concentration that supports our safety while not overwhelming our living nature.  As I say, we have long understood this.

Religions have been tried as the social means to limit and guide wealth and its impunity.  But they have, by the growth of wealth, been turned into the tools of the slaver, the torturer and into the special madness of those who become blind to the majesty of life, driven blind by the terrible impunity of wealth.

If you make a list of the most pressing human ills, they almost all come down to the impunity of wealth.  Think of a gravitational body drawing in and concentrating the detritus surrounding it; only by reducing its size and therefore its gravitational pull can it slow the erosive effects of the accumulated collisions.

And it will only be by making this radical change of mind that the human species will avoid destroying the earth upon which we sit.

[1] These changes must come from the people, must develop in the people and spread among the many.  The elites will never lead such changes.  The irony is that a narrow and specialized form of human thought has led us away from our humanity – our species’ nature.  This way of thinking, once useful as a small contribution in the diverse human community, has become both increasingly deluded and powerful; we have allowed and accepted leadership from the increasingly insane (those who consistently fail to act in comportment with Reality).   The elites have come to live in a “reality” that is as mad as the schizophrenic who believes that he is a god.  The elites will fight such changes with the dedication of a madman.