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.
First of all, an article that cuts to the chase with respect to population.
A recent comment of mine at chrismartenson.com:
I'd like to recommend a book entitled The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch. It is a comprehensive review of Liberalism that makes one realize that Stephen Moore (Club for Growth) and anyone else who believes in unlimited growth are liberals. Stephen Moore wants to promote growth without big government and those such as Barack Obama and his "team" are willing to use big government to keep growth going. Both, however, are pro-growth. There are very few people who have contemplated what it would mean to have a steady state economy.
It is important that we understand why we are where we are today. This book changed my perspective on liberals and caused me to realize that our entire system is based on an idea of progress that is not sustainable. Ironically, the problems with progress were foreseen over two hundred years ago by individuals who are best defined as republicans (small r, almost all Republicans today are liberals as defined by Lasch).
There are ways that we can avoid growing ourselves into oblivion and enhancing our quality of life at the same time. Most of us these days seem to have a bunker mentality. How can I keep my assets? Gold? Silver? More ammunition? Investing in foreign currencies and companies? We should focus instead on how to transition our society to a steady state. (Please note that I believe that the changes have to be far more comprehensive than the transition town plans that are making the rounds. I believe that the foundation of our society has to be a new type of university that is present throughout our lives much like religion and the nuclear family is today.)
I just read a report that compared the collapse projections by the team that wrote Limits to Growth with what has actually occurred since 1972. In almost every category, their projections were dead on. (Pun intended.)
For those who don't have the time to read The True and Only Heaven, I can recommend The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul as an alternative way to understand why we are in the mess we are in today.
We have to get away from these online back and forth discussions and delve deeper into the cause of our predicament.
Finally, this presentation on organic agriculture is worth viewing. Organic food will be the cornerstone of any society that is centered around quality of life.
I need to say a few words about the work of Bernadette Roberts here, which I have mentioned only in passing. Roberts is someone who slowly moved through the unitive experience of the sacred -- what I have called counter-tradition (1) -- to the state of mind I am talking about. In CT no. 1, we discover a new self, which functions as a divine center. But, eventually, there is a movement to a life without a self, divine or otherwise, in which we can recognize the "experience of God" as a useful stepping-stone, but finally empty. This movement Roberts calls a "quiet explosion." "I quit wandering around looking for life," she writes; "--obviously it's everywhere, we're in it; it's all there is." The Jungian cultivation of a Higher Self finally reveals itself as a defense against having to live a life without God. This is the "false expectation that some ultimate reality lies hidden somewhere behind, beneath, or beyond what is." Hence the error of the transcendent or transpersonal search for "the ground of Being," when we cannot grasp that Being requires no ground. "How many," she writes,
can honestly appreciate the triumph of being common and ordinary? Who can understand what it means to learn that the ultimate reality is not a passing moment of bliss, not a fleeting vision or transfiguration, not some ineffable, extraordinary experience or phenomenon, but instead...as simple as a smile?
Clinging to God, she says, "may be a great mistrust and the ultimate expression of disbelief."
Some of this may sound like Buddhism, in particular the satori experience of Zen practice; but in fact, satori is the falling away of ego or ego perspective, not the falling away of a divine, mythic, transpersonal center. According to Roberts, however, there is one reference in the Buddhist literature (in the Dhammapada) to the perception she is talking about, a brief commentary made by Buddha on his own experience. In this discussion, Buddha compares the self to a house and says that the ridgepole collapsed, taking the house with it. Roberts takes "ridgepole" to be a metaphor for the divine center, not the ego center, for Buddha says:
House-builder! I behold thee now, Again a house thou shalt not build.
"Again" implies that the house had fallen down before and been re-built around a new center, the divine one. This is the shift from the dominant tradition I spoke of to CT no. 1, from ego/intellect to "cosmic consciousness," or Gnostic/mythic insight. But when this latter collapses, she says, there is nothing left with which to rebuild the house. This is CT no. 3, the experience of paradox (at least for moderns): what we know as Truth falls away, and we make no attempt to reconstruct the temple.
Some time ago I received a letter from a friend describing what the experience was like for her. "Passion," she wrote,
perhaps, is a prelude to something els, some "new life," some otherwise, not yet experienced kind of existence. passion is so easy to understand, to be involved in, to feel alive with. It is so acceptable as proof of right living. Feeling, being passionate, says "I am alive" (as we know it), a kind of pat on the back, the best evidence that we exist. However, I'm beginning to perceive that at some point passion gives way to something akin to a tremendous letting go, a "going nowhere" ...I see passion as a "self" involvement ...[Absence of it] is no longer to me an indication of lack, quite the contrary, it indicates something very mysterious.
Another way -- perhaps -- of describing Bernadette Roberts' journey and the evolution to paradox is something like this: for many years of one's life, especially in youth, one is identified with ego and that ego has a particular goal: I will do this or that," which is the process of going from A to B. "A" here is not good enough; "B" is "arrival." One does this for many years and may or may not arrive at B, or perhaps get there some of the time. But there comes a point when the whole structure of going from A to B finally seems like a drag. It is tedious; it is not worth it, one doesn't want to live like that any more.
Then begins a process, perhaps, of spiritual work, often identified with counter-tradition (1) [it should be noted that the majority of the population never begin this work; they simple stay with the tradition that came with birth into a Protestant, Catholic, etc. family], when one's consciousness has changed and one seems to be on a larger path, a path of great energy. One does this for years, and there are various results, many of them positive; but one finally sees that the structure is the same as before: I am at A (which is unworthy), but with enough effort, I shall arrive at B (which will be worthy). This too now seems to be tedious, predictable.
Slowly, one begins to float; one has not direction because one has stopped believing in "direction." The ego now seems largely irrelevant; it feels like a lump of yolk in an omelette, as it were. You don't really know where you are going, but you do have the feeling that the "omelette" will take care of that; it will take you wherever you are supposed to go -- or nowhere, as he case may be. And then one day you realize that regardless of where it takes you, the state of mind that is letting the "omelette" do the work is paradoxically the place at which you were trying to arrive all along. So at the same time that you don't know where you are going -- you're there.
... For what this [Hunter Gatherer] legacy enables us to do, if we wish to do it, is to see through religion and leave it behind; not on the basis of a simple return to atheism (for those that had left it), but on the basis of an understanding that religion, "God." and vertical spirituality are the "fall from grace," grace being "nothing more" than the experience of paradox. What a different type of world that would be! [p.232-234]
I found the following excerpts from an online Henry George book to be of interest:
Increase in the amount of bonds, mortgages, notes, or bank bills cannot increase the wealth of the community, since this comprises both those who are entitled to receive and those who promise to pay. Similarly, the wealth of a people would not be increased by the enslavement of some of them, for what the enslavers gained the enslaved would lose.
Increase in land values does not represent increase in the common wealth, for what landowners gain by higher prices the tenants or purchasers who must pay them will lose. And all this relative wealth, which, in common thought and speech, in legislation and law, is undistinguished from actual wealth, could, without the destruction or consumption of anything more than a few drops of ink and a piece of paper, be utterly annihilated.
Therefore, not all things which have an exchange value are wealth, in the only sense in which the term can be used in Political Economy. Only such things can be wealth the production of which increases and the destruction of which decreases the aggregate of wealth. If we consider what these things are, and what their nature is, we shall have no difficulty in defining wealth.
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.
I just completed two books by Morris Berman: The Twilight of American Culture (2000) and Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (2006). As Berman states in the Introduction to the first book: "This is, then, a book for oddballs, for men and women who experience themselves as expatriates within their own country." Remarkably few people seem to understand the consequences of Americanism -- and an even smaller group appears willing to act (and by act I mean not just in a marginal way) -- on that knowledge.
According to the jacket of the first book, Berman believes that
[t]he possibility for long-term cultural renewal lies in the emergence of a "new monastic individual," not unlike the movement that developed during the early Middle Ages, and that managed to preserve a few precious treasures in anticipation of a new cultural dawn.
In Berman's words:
When I speak of a new, contemporary class of monks (see Chapter 4), I do not, of course, mean that literally. I am not talking about asceticism or religious practice, and certainly no organization into monastic orders. But I am talking about renunciation. Today's "monk" is determined to resist the spin and hype of the global world order; he or she knows the difference between reality and theme parks, integrity and commercial promotion. He regards Starbucks as a sad plastic replica of the gritty (or Bohemian) cafe of bygone days. She has no truck with the trendy "wisdom" of the New Age, and instead seeks guidance about the human condition from Flaubert or Virginia Woolf, rather than from the latest guru tossed up by the media or counterculture. Computers and the Internet are, for such a person, useful tools, not a way of life, and she understands that both the Republican and Democratic parties represent corporate interests, rather than genuine democracy. [p.9&10, The Twilight of American Culture]
Although not optimistic for America's prospects in the first book, Berman is decidedly less optimistic in the second book. Anyone who read the first book prior to 9/11 would have been less surprised than the average bear by what has transpired in the last several years -- although the extent of cultural decline is still remarkable.
There is a bit of a similarity between Berman's "new monastic individual" and the concept that I have been developing -- although my thinking at this time is that a new order is in order and that the individual will want to be networked in some informal or more formal way.
I recommend both books. They serve as a reminder that we got the type of "leadership" that a majority of the population sought. I found the books to be oddly uplifting. Berman draws extensively from a number of writers who realize that our culture needs a good whack on the head. Just knowing that a few have not eaten the poisoned grain lifts my spirits.
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner sole of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folk of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
--H.L. Mencken, "Bayard vs. Lionheart," Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 1920 [Epigraph on p. 281 of Dark Ages America]
But I regard the freeing of the human mind from its severe physical limitations of scope and duration as the necessary next step in evolution. Evolution, in my view, represents the purpose of life....
What does it mean to evolve? Evolution moves toward greater complexity, greater elegance, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and more of other abstract and subtle attributes such as love. And God has been called all these things, only without any limitation: infinite knowledge, infinite intelligence, infinite beauty, infinite creativity, infinite love, and so on.
The article containing the above excerpts was only two or three links from this website. Can we build an institution that is able to accommodate the concerns of the anarchist and the dreams of the technologist -- all in an ethical way? We can. We can do so by integrating the best of our current institutions.
While I am aware that polls reveal that there is a rise in fundamental religion, it really hit home this weekend during a Sunday morning run. First of all, I ran by a building that I knew had been used as a church on Sundays. This time, however, I noticed that the temporary sign indicated that it was a Pentecostal service. A couple of miles later, I became aware of a large number of cars on what would normally be a low-traffic stretch of road. As I ran on, I realized that most of the cars were turning in at a new church that I believe to be Foursquare -- also Pentecostal. Traffic was so heavy in the parking lot that two or three attendants were directing traffic for what was probably the second service of the day.
Those of us who like to think that we base our lives on reason are complacent about the growth of fundamentalism because we think that reason will prevail. This is not a reasonable assumption as it never has to date. A future dominated by the righteous is a fairly easy one to project for those who are aware of our past. Octavia Butler projected this future in her book Parable of the Talents. Those who are complacent about the growth of fundamentalism in this country should read this book.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not fare well in a society that is controlled by the righteous. No Doubt. No Awakening.
There is a dictum that goes something to the effect that certainty divides us and doubt unites us. While the certainty divides part has proven itself to be true time and time again, we need to work on the doubt unites part of the equation -- especially in these times of growing righteousness.
Several years ago, I was struck by an observation in the book The Working Life. In essence, the author said that we can only develop in our leisure time. I have come to understand that although we can learn at our jobs, it is primarily in order to advance our specialized knowledge -- and in the process, our careers. This type of learning/knowledge does not contribute to the personal development described by developmental psychologists. My favorite depiction of this sort of development can be found in Spiral Dynamics. This is the type of development that will lead to a better world.
Given our limited resources, there must be meaningful integration not only in our minds, but also in our institutions. Indeed, I think that integration of our institutions is necessary in order to give us the leisure time necessary to develop. Most practitioners of a personal development system such as Spiral Dynamics work with only one institution at a time -- say a corporation or a state. However, we can supercharge the process by integrating work, play, and learning. The physical separation is not only inefficient, it is ineffective in creating a sustainable, quality living environment.
In the last two decades or so, some researchers and educators have been writing about something described as the learning organization. Although it originally was geared towards corporations, this concept has been more recently applied to schools. (This is good as early intervention is important. Many individuals become indoctrinated -- set boundaries on learning -- at a very early age as the result of various influences such as family, religion, and culture.) Learning organization techniques can also be applied at a societal level. Top down as well as bottom up.
So, in order to have a better world -- and less waste -- we need to work towards eliminating institutional boundaries and creating the conditions for a learning society. While my thoughts on how to accomplish this have evolved over time and will continue to evolve, I believe that now is the time to launch the learning society. Likely candidates for involvement are established organizations that have recognized the difficulty of solving our current problems in the existing and fragmented paradigm.
There's a new "bank" in town. By design, it will integrate a world class restaurant, spa, and university.