Those who are mindful are beginning to realize that only an entirely
new operating system can prevent the collapse of civilization. However,
to date, no one has presented such a system. This presentation outlines
a system that has the potential to serve as a viable replacement for
the current paradigm.
B.S. in Nursing, B.S. in Public Admin, B.S. in Business, M.S. in Nursing, B.S. in Human Services, Master of Info Systems, Master of Counseling, M.A. in Education, B.S. in IT, B.S. in Management, Certificates, MBA, B.S. in Health Admin, B.S. in Criminal Justice.
So reads the advertisement for an on-line university at the head of a piece on our oil dependency. Joseph Tainter's theory is that complexity was the cause of the collapse of past civilizations. The complexity of our civilization -- as reflected by the specialized and bureaucratized careers that pay for our gas -- prevent us from nimbly reversing the death spiral so ably outlined in the article. A Pulitzer Prize winner in my opinion.
What to do? We need to provide a way for people to learn in a meaningful way. To happen fast enough, it must be in a conventional fashion with unconventional results. A Real Estate Investment Trust that directs capital to projects that combine unique, well-designed living spaces with a gourmet kitchen/restaurant. As ecological as practical. One-half open to the public. One-half private. Designed, built, and operated by independent contractors that teach and learn while on site. Rather than sitting on our hands and predicting doom and gloom, let's put our hands to work.
In a comment to an earlier post, I linked to an essay that I believe provides some good counsel for our times. The abstract of that essay follows:
An Abstract of "A General Statement of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons"
Although "The Tragedy of the Commons" is widely acclaimed, activists in environmental causes as well as professionals in ethics continue to act as if the essay had never been written. They ignore the central thesis that traditional, a priori thinking in ethics is mistaken and must be discarded. Hence the need remains to give the tragedy of the commons a more general statement--one which can convince a wide public of the correctness of its method and principles. In essence Hardin's essay is a thought experiment. Its purpose is not to make a historical statement but rather to demonstrate that tragic consequences can follow from practicing mistaken moral theories. Then it proposes a system-sensitive ethics that can prevent tragedy. The general statement of the tragedy of the commons demonstrates that an a priori ethics constructed on human-centered, moral principles and a definition of equal justice cannot prevent and indeed always supports growth in population and consumption. Such growth, though not inevitable, is a constant threat. If continual growth should ever occur, it eventually causes the breakdown of the ecosystems which support civilization. Henceforth, any viable ethics must satisfy these related requirements: (1) An acceptable system of ethics is contingent on its ability to preserve the ecosystems which sustain it. (2) Biological necessity has a veto over the behavior which any set of moral beliefs can allow or require. (3) Biological success is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for any acceptable ethical theory. In summary, no ethics can be grounded in biological impossibility; no ethics can be incoherent in that it requires ethical behavior that ends all further ethical behavior. Clearly any ethics which tries to do so is mistaken; it is wrong.
February 26, 1997 Herschel Elliott Emeritus Philosophy University of Florida Gainesville, FL 32611
Intuitively, many people know this to be true. Most have not thought about how to live their lives under this new system of ethics. Over the years, I have given it a great deal of thought and the result is the "club" that has been described at this blog.
Young people in particular have a strong incentive to see society move towards this new system. The old one screws them big time. The following excerpt from Beyond Growth is relevant:
In standard economics ["mainstream" economics that does not acknowledge the Second Law of Thermodynamics] the balancing of future against present costs and benefits is done by discounting. A time discount rate is a numerical way of expressing the value judgment that beyond a certain point the future is not worth anything to presently living people. The higher the discount rate, the sooner that point is reached. The value of the future to future people does not count in the standard approach. [p.36]
This is in some ways related to the immorality of usury that I have discussed in earlier posts. Although I think that most people will find it difficult to move away from the current, materialistic paradigm, interestingly enough, unmanageable levels of debt may force people to another paradigm -- one in which there is not any monetary income for the creditors to come after. Although debt is an individual responsibility, it is also a societal problem. Debt is embedded in almost all costs of goods and services.
It is possible to see ones life neither as self-made nor as the product of human society alone but as a gift of the total evolutionary process. If I view myself primarily in this way, then it is appropriate for my response to be one of gratitude. The fitting ethical action then is service of that to which I find myself so comprehensively indebted. To serve the evolutionary process can be understood to mean furthering its inclusive work. One would then strive in general to contribute to the progress or growth of life in all its diversity of forms, beginning with human life but by no means limiting oneself to it. [From an essay titled Ecology, Ethics, and Theology by John Cobb, Included in Toward A Steady-State Economy]
There are so many reasons to live differently. Over the past few days I have come to realize that what I am proposing is a liberal arts club -- something that we can get involved with at an early age and have throughout our lives. Most people never get a liberal arts education and most of those that do inevitably enter the world of materialism.
In fact some people, who reason correctly, reason from different premises. They may choose to live simply so as to meet the needs of life with the least effort and with the least damaging impact on the environment. For such persons, simplicity and frugality can afford a better life because they allow more opportunity for leisure, for cultural and social activity, and for intellectual development.
Please note that I start with "A" in the Title of this post. I often think about how Christopher Alexander got his book at the head of the list on the left of this page by using "A" rather than "The". This distinction between "a" and "the" happens to be critical to my philosophy on life and living.
..."Thinking, reading, and art require a cultural space," writes Russell Jacoby in Dogmatic Wisdom, "a zone free from the angst of moneymaking and practicality. Without a certain repose or leisure, a liberal education shrivels." [p.122 of The Twilight of American Culture]
The university may look like an institution for the advancement of higher culture, in other words, but its content and organization are corporate, and the result is that the coinage of education is severely debased. ("Another bad effect of commerce," wrote Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations, "is that the minds of men are contracted, and rendered incapable of elevation. Education is despised, or at least neglected....") [p.123 of The Twilight of American Culture]
The key to life and living is to have the time to learn in a liberal arts -- and sciences -- sort of way. However, this learning must continue throughout our lives and indeed this learning -- in my opinion -- is the meaning of our lives. Any time we think we know "the" way, we stop learning and transition from an active mind to a closed mind. As indicated in the excerpt above, the corporate nature of our learning -- and living -- contracts our minds. The expectation is for us to be clever rather than wise.
The Jesuits were [are?] fond of saying, "Give us the child for the first seven years; after that, nothing much matters." [p.241 of Dark Ages America]
This is true of our culture in general. We indoctrinate our young through required pledges in our public schools. The result is a nationalistic and close-minded perspective that thoroughly inhibits our ability to be humble. The mind closes down early and stays shut down for the remainder of most people's lives. Most end up believing in a Supreme Being rather than experiencing the joy of being -- and the joy of not setting any boundaries to our learning.
A Related Note on the movie An Inconvenient Truth:
The suggestions for reducing your carbon footprint at the end of the movie are not enough to make a difference. Our only hope for getting closer to a sustainable world is to dramatically change the way we live. Rather than buying a hybrid car, for example, we must do without a car or share one with dozens of other people. I've found that one of the consequences of the on-going learning that is described above is that the more you learn the less you need. In other words, there is a practical reason to initiate a philosophy of expanding your learning boundaries.
In an interview than can be found at karavans.com, Catherine Austin Fitts reveals the paradox of our current society -- our economic structure has made it difficult to do the right thing:
In summer 2000 I was at the Spiritual Frontiers Foundation International, giving a speech entitled "How the Money Works in Organized Crime" about narcotics trafficking, etc. etc. The Department of Justice says that we -- Americans -- launder $500 billion to a trillion dollars a year. I asked the audience, "What would happen if America stopped being the world wide leader in global money laundering?" A hundred people (who go into the woods for three days once a year to help work on evolving our society spiritually) said that the stock market would go down & we would have trouble financing the government deficit & so our taxes would have to go up or our government checks might stop, because the $500 billion to a trillion would go to Switzerland and Singapore instead of here.
"Okay," I said, "imagine a big red button up here on the lectern. If you push this button, you can stop all hard narcotics trafficking in your neighborhood, your city, town, county, state & your country tomorrow. Who'll push the button?" Out of 100 people dedicated to evolving our society spiritually, guess how many would push the button? One!
I asked the other 99, "Why would you not push the button?"
They said, "We don't want our mutual funds to go down, & we don't want our government checks to stop, & we don't want our taxes to go up." Right then the CIA & Department of Justice had full "democratic" authority & popular support to facilitate narcotics trafficking.
Those of us who have a long term view of planetary health sometimes lull ourselves into believing that the average citizen is compelled to do the right thing. A simple Google search -- and some critical thought -- reveals millions of interesting tidbits on topics that are critical to the health of the planet. What we fail to realize is that there are only a limited number of citizens who have the inclination to pay attention. It does not take much observation to realize that those who are concerned frequent all of the networks, blogs, etc. that discuss and disseminate information on issues such as global warming, overpopulation, and other topics that we should all be discussing. Our primary task in shaping a more sustainable and sane society is not disseminating information, it is trying to identify why there is a lack of inclination amongst the general population to seek information.
We are all products of our age and, in turn, act in ways that re-create that age. As an old joke goes, it is difficult to know what fish talk about, but you can be sure is is not water. It is difficult for any of us in "advanced" societies to overestimate the effects of the industrial age on how we see the world. This "water" -- our culturally embedded assumptions and habitual ways of operating -- comes back to haunt us when we try to fundamentally rethink and reinvent the industrial age institution we call school.
-- Schools That Learn, page 27 [I'll post more excerpts from this book at the end of the post]
In order to "escape" from the current paradigm, we have to move to a system that is about learning our entire lives -- lifelong education. We're going to need alot of "horsepower" for this move. And, if we are not attracting capital to a new paradigm, all we are doing is supporting the old one.
I've designed an integral institution [see all posts from the last couple of months] that will enable us to live engaging, healthy lives with far fewer natural resources than are currently consumed. In order to comprehend the nature of the institution, one must acknowledge that not only do we need to restructure our "non-negotiable" lifestyle, we must do it to an extent even greater than most of us have contemplated thus far.
Most of us developed our survival skills for industrial age institutions in the first and second grade. We learned how to please the teacher, as we would later try to please our boss. We learned how to avoid wrong answers and raise our hand when we knew the right answer....
Coming to recognize how much the industrial-age school lives in each of us can be sobering. But it is also enabling. Just as school has been the generative institution for machine-age thinking, so too could it be a pivot for creating more learning-oriented societies. In truth, the time to inculcate systems thinking is when innate intuitions about interdependency are still alive and before fragmented academic subjects transform us into master reductionists. [p.34]
While the authors go on to say that inquiry and reflection skills should be developed when we are young, I think that given our current predicament, we must develop this at all ages.
Life's interdependencies tend to remain invisible to the fragmented academic theory of knowledge. Given this theory of knowledge, it comes as no surprise that the further an individual progresses in the formal system of education the narrower and narrower his or her knowledge becomes.
This fragmented theory of knowledge is antithetical to a systems view of reality, that reality is composed fundamentally of relationships, not things. The systems view recognizes the interrelatedness of subject matter. Industrial-age schools find it very difficult to recognize those interrelationships; instead, they implicitly tell students that what matters most is the size of their narrow pile of knowledge. [p.46]
Sometimes, I think that this industrial-age education makes it difficult for some readers to understand the content of this blog. I also think that this fragmented education and application contributes to our tendency to come home at the end of the work day and plop ourselves down in front of that most passive of mediums -- television.
Our system of education is based on an implicit theory that philosophers call "naive realism." Naive realist are people who think that "what they see is."...We then tend to treat our perceptions as absolute fact. [p.46]
What would happen if school was organized around appreciation of living systems rather than machines? [p. 54]
Learning is nature's expression of the search for development. It can be diverted or blocked, but it can't be prevented from occurring. The core educational task in our time is to evolve the institutions and practices that assist, not replace, that natural learning process.
Over the past few years, I have come to realize that it will take an extremely comprehensive institution to reverse the destructive course that dominates today. Systems learning will play a key role in the design and operation of that comprehensive institution.
What are some modern day preoccupations that keep our minds closed? I'm proposing that it is ists and isms. Someone like the Buddha would have been appalled at having an ist tacked on to their name. An ist implies a boundary as in I'm a Buddhist and you're not. Capitalist is another favorite of mine. What the hell is a Capitalist? A Socialist? A Communist? Once the ists and isms are applied, the learning stops for both those on the inside and the outside of the artificially imposed boundary.
Our occupations themselves keep our minds closed. We are all specialists. It used to be that some of us had a room in our homes that was labeled a study. A place where our minds could range freely over a diverse set of subjects. No time for that anymore. We have replaced the study with home offices and media rooms. Neither format encourages the sort of learning that advances society. It is all about advancing our careers. Its seems to me that we did -- and/or we can -- make the time to advance society. But we have to be something other than a specialist to do so.
Rather than turning -- churning might be a better description -- out individuals who are trained to sit behind a desk and be clever, our institutions of higher learning should be producing individuals who have a liberal arts foundation -- I know some will call me a liberalist -- and have mastered a craft, a trade, and/or an art. Let's do something meaningful with our lives. By doing so we may be able to cast aside the ists and isms that divide us.
Entirely new ways of living are necessary, and if we don't adopt them voluntarily, we or our children will eventually adopt them involuntarily, and probably with great pain and difficulty in the process.
- Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight
We have a long way to go before we adopt these new ways of living. In some ways we are going backwards. Listen to this NPR piece on ethanol and bio-diesel. Who are you going to trust? The professor who will probably keep his job regardless of the results of his research and is paying his own way to share the results of his research? The professional, glib CEOs who will have to look for a new job if we are rational about the professor's research? The silly Seattle driver who apparently cannot imagine life without her car? Maybe we just like pain.
If Harvard...is what it claims to be and its graduates are to be found everywhere, then why are they showing no signs of being able to deal with their society's terrifying problems.
- John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards
I woke up on Monday morning to the sound of NPR. Coming up would be commentary by Cokie Roberts and stories about Ben Bernanke (Fed Chairman) and Ken Lay. I never heard the stories because I turned the radio off. These and most stories reflect the level of distraction and delusion that dominates our lives in this era. Cokie is part of one of the biggest distractions of all -- the two party system and the pundits it has wrought. Neither party has shown that they have the moxie to change the system enough to even begin to address the problems that exist. In an effective -- and just -- society, there would not be room for any usury whatsoever, let alone the bureaucracy of the Federal Reserve System. And Ken Lay was part of a "market" system that works well for the top 1% or so of the population, but will likely fail for the rest of the population. All are part of the problem and not part of the solution. Without the distraction that these institutions provide, the average citizen might wake up and start to gather/notice evidence of the tremendous problems that we face. (For a good list of the problems, one can read Chapter 2 of Human Scale. And this was written 20 plus years ago.)
It's time for a new society. One that encourages an awareness of many stories. One that allows us to live a low impact lifestyle -- not just because we have to, but also because it is engaging and provides community. One that encourages life-long learning. No inflation. No usury. Compassion. Maybe most of all, one that encourages independent thinkers, rather than the zombies that are produced by the steady stream of distractions and delusions that define almost all media outlets today -- including NPR, with apologies to Daniel Schorr.
Those who think that society can continue along its present course for the remainder of their lives are in for a big shock. We have got to create a system/institution that will enable us to learn and live lightly and master the art of living.
[Thomas] Jefferson, founder and patron of the University of Virginia, never allowed his university to give degrees. He considered them pretentious, irrelevent to learning and unconnected to the preparation for responsibility. This wasn't idealism. It was the opinion of the most successful practitioner of reason. The purpose of universities has now been inverted. Learning has become a goal-oriented process aimed at winning a degree.
John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastard
Effectively, what I am proposing would encourage participants to explore and discover -- and become aware of all the distractions and delusions that have paralyzed society. In an environment that takes you away from the pollution of society. The structure of the system makes it cost effective and provides a way for patrons to store wealth. The below diagram outlines the general nature of the system:
The design and rules of the university/spa will attract those who are committed to life-long learning. All participants have the potential to be involved throughout their lives in the capacity of a student, a patron/student, and/or as a teacher. The goal would be for participants to master some art or science during their residency.
February 3rd addition:
In order to attempt to create a quality living environment for inhabitants of this planet, it is necessary to transcend the contemporary paradigm/system. It is extremely difficult to explain how to do this because the current paradigm is so engrained. Most of what is written about the state of our planet and plans to improve it is well-intentioned, but does not do enough to address the fact that we will have to live completely differently. Not just how we work and where we work. And how we gain consciousness and recycle and drive more efficient cars and live in walkable neighborhoods. All good, but not enough to overcome the overshoot situation we are in. Everything has to change radically. It will require a hyper-learning environment -- hence the reason for a new university.
Allow me to expand on the concept that I attempt to explain above and in the posts leading up to the present.
Maybe the most important concept to grasp is that in a resource-short -- and resourceful -- environment/system, the most revered people will be those who use daily only what they need for a quality life. These are the working scholarship students and the teachers depicted on the above diagram. However, it is understood that some people would like to have a bit of a reserve -- something for a rainy day. These savers and/or those who have benefitted by the rules of the contemporary paradigm (the your money can "work" for you paradigm, the investment paradigm) need a place to store their wealth. Hence, the patrons/students/guests/capital participants in the new paradigm. (See diagram above) So, we create an environment that is more sustainable than the current sprawl/consumption model. One that is extremely attractive. Scholarship students and teachers get room and board in exchange for working 2-4 hours per day. As has been noted elsewhere, this is the amount of time committed for work in "older cultures" and it is the amount of work time that futurists, as little as four decades ago, thought would be a reality today as the result of productivity gains.
The spa lifestyle is extremely attractive and the new university is necessary. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. A match made in Consciousness.
We are desperately seeking something. Witness the increased number of people who are attending evangelical and/or fundamentalist churches. While one can understand the desire for community, we may be regressing in our psychological development as we choose to toss aside critical thinking in this quest for community. Another disturbing element -- likely correlated -- is the decline of critical thought in our institutions of higher learning. Stanley Aronowitz makes a compelling case for creating "true higher learning" in The Knowledge Factory. Maybe, it's time to establish a community of critical thought and develop an institution of higher learning at the same time.
In some respects it could resemble the life of Trappist monks -- makers of Chimay beer and other products. A recent article in Ascent Magazine discusses their commitment to "elevating their work to the level of prayer -- a concept some of us may know as Seva, or Karma Yoga." Most of us admire their dedication to a spiritual life and a quality product, but we can't see ourselves in the lifestyle.
Instead of making beer, a new order of critical thinkers could provide education -- and design, build and operate ecologically-sensitive spas that permit guests/members to escape the pollution of society. It would be a wonderful way to live. As stated in prior posts, one-half of the available space at each spa would be dedicated to students/teachers and one-half would be dedicated to those who are guests/members. While those in the new order would not have to take a vow of poverty, they would be living lightly -- and fully -- on the land while in residence.
To me, it is this fullness/richness of life that is sought by those who may be gaining community at the cost of critical thought.
Rick Potts, the director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, believes that the rapid growth of the hominid brain that culminated in the evolution of Homo sapiens was a direct result of the intense pressure for survival caused by profound shifts of climate in this Rift Valley region, compounded by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Potts argues in his book Humanity's Descent: The Consequences of Ecological Instability that the evolutionary winners during these tumultuous times, which reached their zenith some seven or eight hundred thousand years ago, were not the specialists -- such as the robust Australopithecus whose massive teeth were equipped to chew tough savanna roots and tree bark -- but rather the lighter-boned, versatile, and more intelligent generalists of the hominid line. It is from these versatile generalists that our own species has descended. [p.60]
By all accounts, we are becoming creatures of specialization -- can you say Australopithecus. Survival of our species likely will require the return of the generalist.
Exploration involves risk, but it also increases the acquisition of knowledge, and the brain's dopamine superhighway system is essential to both. [p.64]
Anybody who experiences panic can now receive a prescription for an SSRI (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) that quiets the bells and potentially offers a fresh platform for performance. Daily function may improve but questions remain: In our helter-skelter pursuit are we creating our own market for psychotropic drugs? In the absence of taking steps to buffer the stress and strain of the Fast New World, is merely resetting the threshold of our ancient alarms a sensible long-term strategy? [p.180-1]
Today, regardless of one's views -- creationist or otherwise -- that we overlap in our biology with other creatures and are yoked in our physiology to the experience of our forebears on this planet is irrefutable. We may choose to ignore evidence of melting polar caps, diminishing supplies of clean water, and holes in the ozone layer, deeming them the preoccupation of cranks or harmless environmental shifts within a larger planetary cycle. But it is difficult to deny the accumulating data indicating that America's manic pursuit, and the frenzied life we lead every day, are damaging to individual and civic health. [p.186-7]
Adam Smith considered conceit and self-deception the "fatal weakness of mankind." [p.284 Notes]