A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: We Are What We Perceive
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
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 400 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 .
* * *
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.
 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 God. The elites will fight such changes with the dedication of a madman.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The big picture:
It has never been a good idea to begin the consideration of an issue from either irrational fear and hostility or eye-glazed devotion and longing. With that in mind, I begin looking at guns from the history of the forces from which they arose.
Human inventions have been and are most often about doing more, faster, with mechanical advantage and at greater distances than arm’s length. And we almost always end up having complex and mixed feelings about our inventions. I can, with two hands, scoop up a couple of pounds of dirt, if the ground isn’t too hard. The big mechanical shovels can reach out a hundred feet and scoop up 25,000 pounds of dirt and rock in one dip (the very biggest excavators pick up 150,000 pounds in a single scoop).
“Biting” or hitting something from 10 or more feet away has been a project of our genus (and genius) for millions of years: rocks, pointed sticks, spears, atlatl darts, bows with arrows, tubes with soft metal ‘rocks’ and explosive powder. This last has, of course, become the gun.
A man can throw a rock by hand with about 80 foot-pounds of energy (the amount of energy required to lift 80 pounds one foot, but concentrated into the striking surface of the rock and transferred to the object struck over a very brief amount of time). A powerful handgun can throw a chunk of lead with an initial 700 foot-pounds of energy and, the most powerful commonly accessible shoulder arm, with 5000 foot-pounds of energy.
A rock, with natural skill and practice, can be fairly accurately thrown over a distance of no more than about 50 feet (15 meters). A handgun can be pinpoint accurate with average skill at 60 feet (18 meters) and much more with fully developed skill. A shoulder arm can be pinpoint accurate at a quarter of a mile (400 meters). These are the kinds of, and rates of, development that would be expected from something that hominids have been working at for a million years.
There are three points here: guns are one present technological product of a process that humans have been at for a very long time; the sophistication and power of the result is typical of many of our other technological pursuits – and, as with many of them, overwhelming and beyond our biological capacities to either understand or control; and guns are the present device in support of behaviors, specific to killing other animals and other humans, that have long been a part of the species.
But, before we get to the critical element of lethality we need to understand there are many things we have invented that may very well be doing too much more, moving too fast and pushing our actions out beyond the reach of our foresight, things that we have lost control of to our peril. In this sense an AR-15 with a 100 round drum is similar to the mechanical shovel in its relationship to the non-mechanical power of the basic human. Each bullet leaves the gun barrel with about 1100 foot-pounds of energy; that times 100 equals 110,000 foot-pounds of energy per magazine. The two responses, “Wow, I gotta get me one o’them,” and “That is completely fucked up,” pretty much sum up the range of argument.
The primary difference between guns and almost all of our other inventions, that have come to dominate our lives rather than us controlling them, is that lethality is their intended purpose. All the projectile tossing implements are to prevent a living thing from either running away, or from running at us, by killing it. The origin and function of a firearm is not target or skeet shooting; these are devices with the intended function of creating incapacitating injury to another living thing from a distance. This is the primary reality that must be factored into our response to them, not their other “utilities.”
The most basic question we must ask is: Does a community have the responsibility to control the products of human invention, and specifically to guns, the sources and methods of lethality available to its members? A related question is: Who in a society should have access to devices with lethal capacities, should that access be regulated and, if so, how? It would be a very hard case, indeed, who would claim that there should be no limitation on any invention or source of lethality.
(Let us dispense with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; it really is a red herring. Any honest reading of the amendments to the Constitution and the arguments surrounding their creation make quite clear that the intention of the Second Amendment was other than the freedom to have firearms in the hands of private citizens with no limitations. Those who claim Second Amendment justifications for uncontrolled gun availability are seeking official justification for personal, and commercial, desires and fears by selective and dishonest reading.
Full text, Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Ignoring the opening conditional clause of the Second Amendment distorts its meaning and intention just as much as ignoring the conditional clauses in the Third Amendment which then might be read to mean that no soldier can ever be quartered in a private home, which is clearly neither the meaning or intention of that amendment.)
It is only sensible that a thing that can (be made to) kill with only the slightest of physical effort must be treated differently than other more difficult to use potentially lethal instruments, even those made specifically for that purpose. Knives and swords, spears and lances, bows with arrows, combat hatchets and clubs(and like instruments), garrotes, various poisons, and all those hundreds of kinds of large war making machines are all moderated in their availability and use by either social custom or law. Let’s just say that humans must come to realize that the whole pantheon of our inventions, all manner of weapons among them, need to be brought into ecological balance – as every species and living behavior has been in obligatory ecological balance for billions of years.
A Personal Reflection:
But here the argument gets awkward and spins into regions where, in general, humans have difficulty: probabilities. We like certainties better and do our damnedest to build sophistries that convert ‘maybe’ into ‘for sure.’ “No one needs a gun” and “everyone needs a gun:” the results of either certainty are both foolish. Admittedly, the “no one needs a gun” argument, in most present societies, has more merit, but there are times and certain human activities when the capacity to deliver lethality is a desirable option to have at hand; our question is what are those times and activities. And then, how are we to control and enforce our choices?
What are the unquestioned justifiable reasons for having (and therefore using) a gun, not generalities like “self-protection,” but the actual occasions when the legal standard, “most reasonable people,” would agree? While in some larger context there can be strong counter-arguments, guns can be considered appropriate in the hands of soldiers, police, forest rangers, subsistence hunters and others who potentially (that tricky probability thing again) face lethal force from either anti-society elements or natural sources of lethality.
There are a few people in the world who have so slipped the bonds of the social order that they are a danger to people in general, very few, but they are none-the-less real. There are also, still, a few animals that, if confronted in the wild, can threaten life and limb.
Whether it is the best solution or not, I feel better carrying a powerful sidearm when I am walking alone in mountain lion country, miles from any sanctuary. And yes, I have been followed – stalked – before: it was marvelously invigorating, but it was also dangerous (which, of course, is why it was invigorating). Given the only choice between not going at all and going without a sidearm, I would go in the wild country anyway, but finding fresh tracks or scat, or surprising a lion up-close as I did one day, is a more pleasant and desirable experience with even the illusion of the capacity to stop the very small chance of attack.
So, there it is! The argument: When there is a danger for which a gun ‘might’ be the appropriate palliative, then its availability should not be denied (you will note that is not the language of the second amendment). On the other hand, when the gun is the danger, then a clear case can be make for it to be denied. You can easily see that this quickly becomes unwieldy: if the gun is the danger for which we need a gun… and so on.
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Almost true; though true enough to ask the question: “What people should be allowed to kill people?” (This is really the correct form of the question of who should have access to guns.) If the answer is that no one should be allowed to kill people, then, at least, those guns clearly designed for the killing of humans should be outlawed, no longer made and confiscated. However, as much as we might like that simple and non-probabilistic answer, some people must be empowered to kill.
I should be able to kill a person intent on doing me serious bodily harm. That sounds reasonable, but in my 70 years, lived in a great variety of circumstances, I have never been attacked in such a way (even by a wild animal). The probability curve of my being seriously harmed or dieing has been pushed into the large positive standard deviations by automobiles, mountains, weather, water, my own hubris and occasional human general foolishness. I suspect that this is the case for more than 99% of people in the developed world. In fact, were I “attacked” by a gang of gun-toting blood-thirsty drug-addled criminals (like Charles Bronson in “Death Wish 3”) my odds would not be good even armed with what society currently accepts as reasonable for a private citizen.
It would make much more sense for me to always wear a crash helmet and body pads, than to carry a gun, if I am concerned about dangers with substantial probability – even in wild country.
1) Guns as a hedge against “the government:”
Thom Hartmann’s consistent argument that an Apache helicopter or f16 (or Randi Rhodes’ Bradley fighting vehicle) vs. a few guys with AR-15s or Kalashnikovs would be so uneven a confrontation as to be hopeless misses the point entirely. First and most obviously the confrontation described is the one at present in Afghanistan, but even that misses the point; which is, that the mistrust and fear of coercive institutions (seen as government even if really corporately inspired) is creating a variety of both impotent and semi-potent responses. Aaron Swartz represents one response and Alex Jones represents another – but to essentially the same stimulus. The same can be said for a wide variety of unlikely combinations: Julian Assange and Sean Hanity (government secrecy), Michael Savage and Mike Malloy (need for overturning common perceptions),
They each may draw lines around different regions of specific content, but like a Venn diagram, they also share an important origin; that is, the outsized concentration of power in the corporate-government hegemony over almost every aspect of life. ‘Back to the land’ hippies, secessionist militias, crime-watch groups in minority neighborhoods, “sovereign” citizen movements, while having different levels of connection to Reality, all share the common motive force that something is terribly wrong with how power is allocated and relegated (limited) in our daily and personal lives.
Each group has, in the past, seen their way as the way forward and have taken the word of the corporate-government sophists that it is the “other guy” holding them back. But that misdirection is growing old. The Shultz’s and the Limbaugh’s are sounding more and more alike as are the Frum’s and the Hartmann’s. But it is the callers-in to talk radio that are telling the story. Even when screened, as some admit “to make the host look good,” the depth of the more general angst comes through.
Guns are one of the few sources of a sense of power in the face of such confusing, mind-boggling domination – no matter how futile they might be. Even a grizzly bear is loath to attack a badger for fear of that one lucky bite. An organized body public with weapons, even greatly inferior weapons, will be treated with more caution than a body public that is disorganized and individually powerless. While the actions of such a public may be incredible dangerous and ultimately wrong-headed, the fact remains that an armed public is more powerful in absolute terms than an unarmed public.
2) Gun “loving:”
The ‘little dick’ theory of gun affection is as juvenile a notion as the gun loving itself, and is certain to prevent either the proclaimer or the one proclaimed from discovering or sharing a more honest and accurate set of motives for their behaviors and beliefs. This is equally true of the opposite number, the “wimp, coward and ignorant” theory of gun rejection. Just as most male gun owners have normal genital endowments, gun refusers are just as likely to be tough minded, brave and well-informed as anyone else (though perhaps not about trivial gun detail).
Something else, and more, is working to attach some people to weapons and to cause some people to reject lethal instruments. This is one dynamic that needs our understanding and attention.
That guns of different designs and capacities have different consequences is another dynamic, just as people are not simple, so guns, even though they share many common elements including lethality, have differences that need attention.
3) Guns as sport and survival tool:
This comes in two forms: hunting and the various kinds of target shooting. Neither are the benign activities posited by advocates or as ruthlessly blood-thirsty as presented by detractors. But that doesn’t mean that there is a complete or easy symmetry between the two views. Hunting by humans has changed the ecology of a majority of the planet’s surface – including the oceans. Many species have been driven to extremis or extinction. These are not good things. Hunting was once an essential part of human survival and so is still a motive in our actions as well as a cultural relic. But our vast numbers and the incredible power that present weapons bring to the “game” have removed sport and most commercial hunting from almost any usefulness (beyond that tiny few who still live close to the land) and have made hunting a seriously non-adaptive activity.
Target shooting may be practice for hunting and killing, but “plinking’ is also just fun: knocking things down from a distance to the accompaniment of a loud noise. Getting good at something is pleasurable. There is a language and a mystique around the whole process. People can be together, “play” together, in the company of a powerful object.
But if we are doing these things so that we can survive when ‘the shit hits the fan’ we are kidding ourselves. We should rather be working on organizing communities and learning to garden with both heritage seeds and native plants. The earth’s billions would kill and eat every animal (as well as each other) much faster than most animals could reproduce – until the commercial ammunition ran out, until the handloaders used up the last of their powder and primers.
The symbolic, psychological and commercial uses of guns:
Guns are a source of power: It is a reality; it is also a reality that the power of guns has been mythologized and taken on a psychological, as opposed to a purely practical, quality.
A person with a gun is a decidedly different thing than a person without a gun. The small and weak can be the apparent equal of the large and strong if they have equivalent “fire power” and expertise. This is really not in question and is, also, not the question! Which is: why would one need the “fire power” and the expertise?
A person surrounded by a community of trusted others might want to have weapons available against some form of outside threat, but would not feel the need of them when in the protection of community. But, in a world in which individual power is held up as the ultimate currency, being in possession of guns seems to be an inexpensive buy-in to power. It is completely understandable that a person who feels threatened as a generalized condition will desire a remedy. Creating the ill-ease and then selling the remedy would lead to big money.
The fact is that millions of people go about their lives everyday without the felt need for the power of a serious weapon immediately at hand; and moreover, the general safety of their day-in and day-out existence supports their feeling. There are others who have the felt need for the most powerful weapon that they can comfortably carry with them; there can be no argument that the existence of such weapons in the community increase a certain kind of danger to everyone.
All of which returns us to the opening arguments. Humans have created objects of great power, power to dig, to lift, to transport, to communicate, to coerce, to store perishables, many more, and to kill living things in massive numbers – it is one of our greatest achievements!
• As long as our societies present us with the design that we are isolated individuals fending for ourselves there will be an increased felt need for the most powerful weapons of protection possible… until the people are more afraid of the weapon’s misuse than they are of each other.
• Guns have come to represent to people more than the sum of their actual uses, be those uses positive, benign or negative: some people only feel whole and right with the world when they possess them and others become some degree of physically sick when they see them; they are an irrational source of both power and dread.
• Much of the anti-gun rhetoric is demeaning of those who have guns and is based in the fear of the anti-social use of guns; much of the pro-gun rhetoric is deeply illogical and based in the fear of others who might wish to harm them and the fear that guns will be taken away.
• Guns are not just “guns.” A well-made .22 revolver is a very different thing than a poorly made .22 semi-auto, a .44 magnum, a 30-06 hunting rifle, a 10 gauge goose gun, a semi-auto military look-alike .223 or a .50 caliber machine gun. They all share lethality, but that alone does not make them the same. They are made for, or intended for, different uses and for different markets. Treating them all the same only distorts and confuses the arguments.
• Present humans are not the blood-drained castrati of our deepest “civilized” fears, and neither are we the Hobbesian brute hiding our bestiality in a 3 piece suit. But, we are an animal with great power, magnified immensely by our technological productions. The community (or society) has the obligation to maintain an order of rules and expectations that give the social structure predictability, opportunity and community standards of protection and safety.
• There can be no “magic bullet” for the gun issue. Much of what is said about guns is true: in the hands of good, well-trained people guns have positive utility; the more guns, the more gun crimes and gun accidents; in the tension between the people and government, an armed population must be treated with more caution than an unarmed population, even if official forces are overwhelmingly more powerful; guns distort social relationships and magnify the affects of those distortions.
As is so often the case today the underlying conditions of education, honest presentation of data and honest discussion that would give a chance to deal effectively with the issues are denied us by the misuse of several other of our massively powerful inventions. As with so much at this critical point in the history of the species the massive concentrations of wealth and political power will dominate the outcome for what the economic elite see as beneficial to themselves. Quite frankly, the rest is sideshow.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
If you spend any time reading, listening or watching the modern “intelligentsia,” that is, the range of media from broadcast news, through talk-radio to internet postings of all stripes, an impression of the world of human troubles can begin to form: the revolving commercial/political door, global warming, financial pirates, vacuums of ‘leadership’ and the laundry list of lies, thefts, genocides, murders, wars without accountability, waste of money and other resources – it just goes on and on.
From the progressive camps we hear that we must sign petitions (I get a couple a day from Move On), join and take over the Democratic Party, stop the XL pipeline, return to full employment and economic growth and so on. The social forces of reaction, preach that humans need not consider the actions that they take on the planet’s biophysical systems because our efforts are too puny to affect such an infinite place as the earth, and when that argument fails as in cases where it is completely clear we have changed some place beyond habitability, we are told that God has made the earth for us and that ‘He’ will see to our needs. These are the arguments of madness regardless of the numbers who believe and support them.
The reality is that we must seriously consider the full picture of how we are to approach a future in which our actions are so destabilizing that many of the planet’s biological passengers, as they have evolved over the last many millennia, will be gone forever in an ecological paroxysm. What are the conditions that must be meet over the next several years – economic, ecologic and personal – to accomplish the restabilization of major environmental processes – biophysical cycles, climate, biodiversity and ecosystem integration? There are essentially two levels of consideration: the unalterable general requirements and the debatable specific actions (I know that I have left out important considerations and so I encourage the reader to add to or modify these lists for themselves).
• Reduction in human use of planetary resources to a level roughly half, or somewhat less, of what is being used now, to make the summed total human ecological footprint equal to about ½ of the earth’s productive capacity (humans are currently using about 1.5 times that capacity).
• Complete (or nearly complete) secession of the use of fossil fuels, with the use of non-carbon sources for energy production as the only viable form of replacement, and ultimately a return to the capture of the solar flux as our primary energy source.
• Reduction in human population to about one quarter of the present population over the next several generations, with a goal of global human population approaching 1 billion by 2100.
• Reduction in the use of biocides and ‘chemical’ fertilizers toward zero levels – or to levels demonstrated scientifically to pose no threat to biophysical systems.
• Reduction in extractive and bio-extractive industries, chemical manufacture and general industrialization activities, including transportation, to levels at which the physical changes and pollutants created can be absorbed and processed by biophysical systems.
Specific actions (set one options – the “we are all in this together” model):
• Reorganization of agriculture to sustain soils, greatly reduce the use of biocides, increase the variety of food crops along with more widely distributed food production so that total diet can be derived as much as possible from the local region.
• Much larger percentage of the population involved in primary food production, at least on a part-time basis, as response to the reduction in mechanization of farming.
• Literacy and broad, basic education as an imperative, especially health, economic, political and ecological education of women.
• Transparency of commercial and political action attained through an increased availability of full-access, unmonitored communication systems, especially distributed internet and cellular technologies, with an emphasis on high quality, accurate language translation software.
• The down-sizing of economic activity would require that individuals, small groups and immediate communities would redevelop the expertise and organization to meet a variety of the primary needs presently met by industrial production and distribution systems.
• Emphasis on direct democracy enhanced by both general education and communication capacity. The necessary, but dangerous, trend to localism would be countered by global communication systems and international education goals.
• Capping of private wealth accumulation to a small multiple of modal wealth, something like 5 to 1. Total community wealth accumulation also limited by world modal wealth levels, which would be determined by the maximum sustainable human ecological footprint.
• Modal material wealth must be reduced slightly, but arithmetic average wealth must be reduced to approximately one tenth of present levels by large reductions from the high end of the continuum (paper wealth far exceeds the capacity of the earth to deliver goods and services and yet that wealth is a demand for such delivery).
• Social expectation for small families (or extended families with shared children) supported by both the education of women and the supportive social networks associated with agricultural activities.
• As difficult as this appears in today’s zeitgeist, end of life expectation will have to change dramatically. Devoting significant medical technology and practice to extending life, devoting a third of our medical expenditures in the last year of life, is madness. The human body wears out, gets damaged and is attacked by other living things; this must become, again, a natural expectation. It will become more and more important to give our emotional and practical resources, and understanding, to living with grace and dignity rather than living long.
• An emphasis on and acceptance of the fact that the present human dilemma is the consequence of uninhibited and uncontrolled expression of our powers to create change; that, fair or not, “reasonable” or not, the next few generations will have to make the controlled and inhibition-based changes required to sustain both the species and the structure of life presently on the planet.
* * *
It can be assumed that those who benefit from the present distribution (mal-distribution) of wealth will not willing give up such sources of power, impunity and insanity. Only great social pressure, even verging on revolution, can bring such changes. But such is our Catch 22: actual revolution would violate almost all of the mandatory conditions as well as throw the whole game into the second set of options.
Specific actions (set two options – the “every man for himself” model):
• The pathological members of the political and economic elite (increasingly recognized as a large percentage) attempt to gain control of as much wealth as possible as rapidly as possible using it to wall themselves off from the rest of humanity. Private wealth would remain, essentially, unlimited; human footprint requirements would be met by reducing the number of people rather than reducing wealth concentration.
• Development of military/policing systems and technologies for the containment and control of the general population, along with the increased use of surveillance technologies.
• Domination of media and information sources, increased secrecy in both commercial and political institutions and the denial of communication frameworks and platforms for the general population.
• The expansion of a variety of totalitarian forms of governance in actuality, regardless of what they are called, but all based on oligarchy and plutocracy.
• Population reduction by “natural attrition” can be encouraged by economic isolation and the withholding of essential needs. Accompanying plans to allow great population reduction can be reinforced with various chemical and biological agents if need be.
• The incitement of internal and external conflicts that both aid in wealth concentration and serve as a distraction from the discovery of genuine self-interest among the multitudes.
• Economic models based on several different forms of forced labor increasingly put into place. The fact that in today’s economic design almost no one can, by their own hand, meet their most basic needs gives those in control of the money based production and distribution system huge leverage to extract the labor desired on any terms that allow life to continue.
The mandatory conditions could be met by either option one or option two, but is more likely to be met by option one, if it could be enacted, since option two contains violent deviations from Reality and the constant danger of internal disruption leading away from essential action.
Reaction today will only forestall any meaningful response other than supporting option two by omission. Ultimately, my only objection to the progressive approach is the focus on a specific project while remaining committed to present habits and understanding on almost everything else. This is a prescription for running around in circles.
The plutocratic oligarchs do not require a change in understanding, reorganization or new outreach. Business as usual for them is the road to option two. They don’t need to rethink the insane reality in which they reside.
The Great Many have it all to lose, either because they are enslaved by the plutocrats or because the earth’s systems convulse before corrective changes can be made in, first, our beliefs and attitudes and then in our actions.
How to accomplish these things (in option one) is unclear, but the first step could not be more clear: these ideas must be spread widely, argued, understood and made part of a great many people’s acceptance and expectation for their future. Only then will the synergy for action, sufficiently effective and powerful to oppose option two, be possible. The strongest force in the human world is an idea that the masses of people understand, accept and expect to be made real.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
My genes were born into a world in which the limits of their possibility were to be decided by the height of the sky, the width of the rivers, the rain in its season. Certainly, the experience, habits and tools of the people with whom I found myself would likewise be impacting on a whole range of possibilities, but within them it was my most gene-felt goal to express myself as fully, wholly and broadly as my hand-in-glove fit with the natural world would allow. It was not long coming that I began to realize, at a very basic biological level, that my genes had been betrayed.
We lived for the first few months of my postpartum life with my paternal grandparents. The grand (sic) mother instructed my foolishly naïve mother that I was not to be held, that breast feeding was dangerous for both mother and child, that children were not to be coddled (which, of course, included being cuddled) – my poor father! Millions of years of perfectly good, first class evolution down the drain.
It took me nearly fifty years to figure out what was going on: nature had died as a guiding force in human life; with supreme hubris, supported by monumental incompetence, humanity took on the task of guiding its own fate. This responsibility was taken on without one single capacity necessary for its actual accomplishment; the devices used to hide our incapacities invented the gods,… and invented pocket knifes, refrigerators and financial derivatives.
But religions and religious practice were only a sideshow – the real game was the ballooning of social dominance far beyond the first to eat, sexual priority and the power to decide where it was most pleasant to sit. Combining social dominance biology with the newly acquired ideas of gods and the capacity to concentrate wealth produced a monster: the class of humans who told others what to do, and used mystical origin as justification. This has always been done out of a pathological mix of insular belief and hubristic cynicism; no one human being can tell another human being what to do without some measure of that pathology.
The world today is awash with “being told;” there is almost nothing left of… Not even enough left to know what exactly to call the design of human life that was once how we lived. Don’t get me wrong; this is not nostalgia for some mythical perfection. It is, however, a recognition that, as a biological being, humans have biological qualities needing certain environments and actions to manifest. It is, moreover, an argument that ways of living that offer some reasonable degree of expression of these qualities are preferable to the rejection and denial of those qualities – especially when done for the convenience of a dominating class.
Chimpanzees and gorillas, wolves and the big cats, make terrible ‘pets’ as adults. The reason is very simple: they don’t take well to being told what to do. They wish to fully express their adult nature as competent proactive entities in the world. Since there are very few such animals living among us, we have created very few controlling structures related to them, other than cages and some laws limiting who can “own” them. But there are billions of equally recalcitrant animals with even greater potential for demanding self-expression, and for these animals the dominating classes have spent their major energies to create vast interlocking systems of power for their control – the controlling of humans is the greatest of all human projects.
There are, of course, some very good reasons for having systems for control of humans. The little buggers can get into, or out of, anything. Hide a tasty food and someone will find it. Secret away the most desirable females and they will escape with or without the help of some non-dominant male. A small group of the individually not-so-powerful can, by banding together, become powerful. Subordinate humans can think up all manner of mischief and challenges to being controlled. The dominating classes have always had their work cut out for them, but, as expected for humans, they have been diligent.
Which leads us to the world of today. Not only are people told what to do, they are told what to do so as to be told with evermore efficiency. The subordinate classes have been trained to keep their own members compliant in the greatest bait and switch of all time: if you help keep your neighbors in line, you can get to be a junior member of the dominating class, even a framable certificate for the den as clear evidence that you have done as instructed.
* * *
The most advanced form of domination is capitalism. It is the design of capitalist systems that devices to channel the value added by productive action (usually worker’s labor) into capital-capture are created at every opportunity. Such opportunities occur with every transaction of exchange and with every change in the relationship of labor to capital (technological changes, staffing patterns, educational level changes, capital organization, labor organization, laws of all sorts – all change is an opportunity!). When we realize that every single opportunity is zealously exploited, no matter how small or apparently tangential, we can begin to develop some intuitive sense of an economy that lets the capitalist pattern of motives run wild without the significant controls and “training” that might allow this “beast” to exist within the world of life affirming values and needs.
What is so insidious about this economic design is that those who are being “told what to do” do so with minor objection or are replaced by the more willing. Falling into the personal behaviors of advantage seeking is natural to any biological entity, and a major source of innately inhibited behaviors in all “higher” animals other than humans.
Only a fool would build a monster or monster-machine that could destroy him and all around him without designing-in serious controls and a secure off-switch. But that is exactly what we have done. Not that there has been no warning: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Henry George and many others of equal intellectual power and authority have pointed out the principle dangers, but not drawn sufficient attention to the most insidious one – that it is the nature of a smallish percentage of the human animal to ferret-out every possible advantage in a situation, both in the moment and with some consideration of future opportunities; that hundreds and thousands and millions of people will be looking for such advantages, many taking a very generous, for themselves, view of what society might judge to be criminal; that these millions of advantage seeking moments would become, not an aberration recognized and frowned on by the community, but a central tenet of society – and so release the monster from any human jurisdiction.
In our present distorted perspective, the long-standing intuitive understanding of the dangers to the community of wealth concentration has morphed into the rejection of community rather than the rejection of wealth.
Many, if not most, of the present plans for “changing the economy” or for “building a sustainable economy” do not even begin to address the most important issues driving the destructive nature of the present system. New currency models, co-op ownership, economic growth models based in quality rather than quantity, socializing capitalism and other similar approaches, while valuable beginnings, will only be gobbled up by the processes described above without recognition of and action on the most basic issues. The three principle issues are:
The acceptance of concentrations of wealth outside of community control as appropriate and “natural.” And, quite possibly, the concentration of wealth in general! Concentrations of wealth require great amounts of that wealth, distributed as coercions, to be used for wealth’s protection. Otherwise, such concentrations would collect a crowd and would be distributed and used by “organic” processes. The prevention of this “organic redistribution” has become the major force in our societies, exceeding the valuing of life and the conditions sustaining life; not the least, ignoring the special capacities and qualities of the consciousness life that are part of every member of the human species.
That the present pathological relationship with environmental processes requires, absolutely, a return to a non-pathological condition. Regardless of every other issue, this one is non-negotiable and the ultimate consequence of the next issue.
The social biology or evolutionary psychology of the human animal must reset or replace much of the anachronistic, mythical beliefs that inform our Consciousness System processes. The Conscious System of Order has no design or device for directing adaptation toward veridicality, nothing equivalent to evolutionary process in the Living Order, other than the total failure of a belief system as it confronts the biophysical Reality (philosophical logic and science, up to now, have been largely impotent beyond the creation of technological products). Yet, we have the capacity to put off such failures for a time in small and immediate increments. The result is the cycling of societies through a great range of ascendance and collapse – kaleidoscopically in geologic time. The resulting cumulative suffering of humanity is to the apocryphal lemming’s march into the sea as multiple forest fires are to a paper match.
* * *
We are all born into the world to be proactive members of a human community, a community that we support, that supports us and within which we have the opportunity to express our genetic and consciousness endowments. That elements of this description have been co-opted by the capitalist system as a means to dominate the masses is no accident; it is the biggest lie of all.
Rather than being supported in the great varieties of expression of human happiness and fulfillment, we are being told what to do at every turn, to the point that self-reflection and true self-interest are considered both dangerous and, by controlled definition, un-American (or un-British or un-Muslim, etc.). But, this should not be a new thought for anyone; everyone feels it in one form or another. We accept it every day and in every way: cameras to the left of me, scanners to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
The daily grind has been described ad nauseam and need not be repeated here. To the slavery of work without purpose other than money has been added a whole list of complex coercions: credit scores, credit itself, due dates for all the different payments, onerous hoops to jump through for healthcare and other insurance related “services,” the idea of insurance, all the various “rents” that must be paid for the use of land space, the water we drink and the very air we breathe. It is not difficult to understand the Libertarian impulse as a kind of knee-jerk response to this constant amorphous blanketing of life’s daily experience – especially so for an animal that is biologically designed to take charge of itself; a gorilla would not put up with this!
It is a fool’s errand to try to remake society without first remaking your own life. The fault of Libertarians is that they accept society’s values, yet want to reject its restrictions; they want to have everything without doing what they are told. Refusing to be told what to do requires that one give up significant portions of society’s productions as well as protections, both of which are ultimately stifling.
Striking the balance between human self-determination and community stability will require a return to environmental sovereignty; humans are not suited to be King.
Friday, March 8, 2013
The counter-terrorism programs being developed around the world, especially in the developed (meaning rich) countries, are simply preparation for the social unrest that will come with the full implementation of elite plans for domination of the majority of the human population. Nothing else will work.
Either the economic elite dominates and controls the consumption and general behavior of the masses or the great wealth and impunity of the elite must be forfeit and a broad socialism with severe limits on individual wealth and power created (the possible means for this being unclear). However, the elite have no intention of becoming part of an egalitarian society.
The human world has become polarized beyond comprehension – and so is not comprehended. There are a few millions of people who have not the slightest recognition that there are fully human others with lives of value equal to their own, but living very close to the margins of biological survival. To most of the rich, not being rich is ultimately disqualifying of any worthiness. Impunity is the seedbed for this form of insanity.
For the billions of people who live close to the daily toil required to supply basic needs, the lives of the super-rich are incomprehensible, but, through a twisting path of reasoning, enviable. It seems simple: “I have just enough or nearly enough to get by, it must be great to have anything and everything whenever you want it.” And so, the Great Many feel somehow connected to the super-rich through this “understanding.”
What these billions don’t understand is that the economic elite think of them as so many tons of metal ore, as so many barrels of oil to be moved around, as so many hours of labor to be used or as so many pounds of meat to be packaged and delivered. There is nothing about “ordinary” lives that is of the slightest interest to the elite other than their actions in the economy: units of work, units of consumption and, increasingly, units of environmental degradation. Truly, the lives of the Great Many warrant no more interest than the lives of chickens or pigs on factory farms; they are to be sustained, and numbered, to create effective levels of production and consumption, period, full stop.
So, what would be the response to an insurrection of the chickens or the pigs? Impossible! They are all in cages slightly larger than their bodies, they have no capacity or means for creating a plan or organizing an action; the individual animal that is too much trouble (or non-productive) is killed. But, if the pigs could think it through?
For the Great Many to be fully and properly brought to “their role” in supporting the final stages of social development (the absolute impunity) of the economic elite, a number of problems need to be resolved:
• primarily, humans cannot be kept in any useful way in the conditions, and with the controls, of factory farms;
• they are both the productive and the consuming components of the economy from which wealth can be extracted, the engines of wealth and sycophants to superiority ;
• they are capable of independent action and therefore can act in opposition to the wishes of the elite;
• historically humans kept in economically depressed conditions periodically overthrow the political and economic forces limiting the expectations they have for how life is to be lived;
• even in depressed conditions, forceful people develop who grasp the realities of their situation, people who can communicate and organize a response to suppression and oppression;
• and the present massive human presence and action on the earth’s productive and protective systems endanger, not only all life on the earth, but the future of elite lifestyles.
You can count on it; the intellectuals among the elite have already made this list. The conclusions are obvious: the Great Many will, by the simple individual action of trying to stay alive or with the organized action of revolution, challenge the authority of the economic elites to control the earth’s wealth and to control their lives. Given the possibility that various regions might undergo rapid destabilizing climate change or that economic systems might fail to deliver goods and services to people who are unable to supply even the minimal requirements for survival, the nature and scope of the mass response is unknown.
There are broadly, only two responses: one is to use the vast resources accumulated by the economic elite to study and address the issues of human population, consumption and pollution with the intention of ameliorating dangers to the human and ecological future. This would be based in the generally held view that the earth is a community of common need and purpose.
The second response would be to develop the power to defeat, by any means necessary, both the disorganized and the organized challenges to elite control, of resources, wealth and domination, by the common human animal. This would be based on the view that the earth can only support so much consumption and that the power to take resources is sufficient justification for doing so.
It is quite clear which of these directions is coming to predominate. Even as hundreds of thousands of people are engaged in humanitarian efforts of various efficacy, millions and millions are being trained and equipped for martial action against “terrorists,” “insurgents,” “environmentalists,” “activists,” “dissidents,” “militants,” “socialists,” “Maoists,” “jihadis,” “investigative journalists.” and “communists.”
Surveillance is reaching incomprehensible levels; the possibility of collecting, storing and being able to evaluate data on almost every human movement and recorded thought is tantalizing the elite into the expenditure of many billions of dollars (representing billions of hours of labor stolen and directed away from sustaining and ecologically suitable purposes). Add to that the massive expenditures on the US military and the increasing integration with police and prison systems that cannot even name a worthy enemy – the only enemy, even on the far horizon, for which such power is suited is general insurrection.
The model is long established. The rich family in town “owns” the local sheriff; the political bosses are paid off by the wealthy who use police authority to quash union organizing. It is only being scaled up to the world level. There is simply no longer any question but that a cabal of those who control the greatest concentrations of the world’s wealth are preparing for a potential apocalyptic future by purchasing the governments of various nations and, thereby, buying the military power to defend themselves and their interests against the people.