Respecting Facts

We humans have a funny way of dismissing that which we do not like. We decide that it is not real, or does not apply to us, or perhaps, whatever it is that is troubling us is transformed through the magic of language into a battle of wits and words, leaving the real world issue far, far behind. Some facts from the real world, just to remind us:

World population has tripled since 1950
40% depletion in ozone above the Arctic in 2011
Waste is created at the rate of 13.3 million tons a day
1/3 of all land is at risk of turning into desert

These are taken from a colorful DK publication now available in the states, What’s Really Happening to our Planet: The Facts Simply Explained by Tony Juniper. The book hosts page after page of infographic descriptions of the numerous pressures coming to bear on us as we reach the end of the fossil fueled industrialized age. It is a very handy source for those who might be looking for a single book to provide a summary of ecological data and trends. There are a number of criticisms I could make, such as leaving out the concept of tipping points and including a bit too much of the green gee-whiz factor, but they are mostly minor. There is plenty of material here to provide the seed facts for ecological contemplations, particularly if supplemented with additional study.

This book is a good example of the type of information that lead me to think about what a mindful ecology might mean. After reading a book like this – then what? Am I supposed to just go back to business as usual? That was not an option for me, so I asked, what is an individual to do? For people like me, changing a few light bulbs and hoping ‘they’ will think of something, when the last few decades show ‘they’ most certainly will not, is just not enough of a response. Mindful Ecology tries to be proportionate to the crisis. It is a serious and big change to alter one’s life around a contemplative practice. Undertaken with the intention of healing the fractured relationship between our lives and our planet, we learn to embrace the limitations of our own lives – as they really are – and do what we can.

The art of contemplating a fact consists of turning it over and turning it around, giving it a slow and respectful examination in one’s mind. We look at the fact from many points of view, trying to sus out its relationships with other things we already understand in a search for the fact’s implications. This introduces us to the larger interdependent features which are often easily missed unless we are very careful in how we think about things. Facts never exist in isolation, nor do we ever bring an empty mind to our contemplations. System science insists that when we query our facts we ask ‘and then what?’ Have we accounted for all the inputs and outputs? For the side effects? Have we clearly separated the one way path of whatever energy is involved from the recycling of materials? Have we accounted for thermodynamics along the way, what we often encounter as the phenomenon of diminishing returns? These are means by which seemingly isolated ecological factoids, such as one finds scattered throughout works like this one from DK, are knitted into the larger understanding of the real world one’s mind has constructed.

It is important to recognize this model of the real world each of us has constructed within our psyches, it is part of recognizing that the psyche is real. The meaning of the world that we experience is a product of the unique understanding each of us has developed over a lifetime of experience. In the Bayesian model of inference this is captured in the prior. Parts of that understanding will have been constructed with right thinking about real things and other parts will not. We can all be quite sure that much of what we are quite sure about, is not so. There will be cases of right thinking being applied to unreal things or wrong thinking applied to real things, or even wrong thinking applied to unreal things. One role of the ego, among many, is to guide this gathering of information by which our understanding increases. Through an interplay of the gift of curiosity and the curse of needing to find an answer to relieve oneself of confusion and pain, we are each lead to learn more about that which our soul’s need, what our psyche’s need to fully integrate their experiences. Contemplation increases understanding but not if one spends all one’s careful thinking time thinking about BS. The horns of a rabbit visualized in exquisite detail, or documented in libraries full of scholarly volumes, or even delivered by the special effects department to every television in the land, do not gain one whit of real existence thereby.

Shadows remain shadows of that which is casting them, fantasy remains fantasy and confusion sews more confusion unless these things are transmuted in the alchemical vessel of imagination. In our fantasy enthralled culture the role of imagination is very poorly understood. The image making ability of the human mind is in service to the real human life one is able to lead out here in the environment of the earth’s molecular world, out under the blue sky and stars. The imagination concerns the heart’s deepest dreams – and wounds. It takes a strong imagination to perceive the possibility of happiness in the future, not as an abstract goal but as something you can actually strive for in your own life. We prefer fantasies about how our lives might be because our real ones are defined by limitations. Your actual life, the one that is really even now unfolding its precious few moments, is defined by the limitations your character will encounter along its path of fate and fortune. This real life you have can only be seen as valuable when it is clearly understood that you are living the life of a finite mortal who will one day die having had only a very, very small taste of all that human life has to offer. To take our seat as adults and claim our equality with other sentient beings requires seeing this clearly, recognizing it is the same for everyone else, and saying to these very limitations ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’

Limits chafe the fevered dreams of ego’s ignorant beginnings. When we first set out on the long road of psychological development we are on our hero quest. We learn to build our ego to be strong enough to serve as a vessel for the raging winds of the life force animating our bodies. This is how the mind first grounds consciousness and gives us our sense of being our own point of view, our own self. The heroic ego dreams of becoming a god; it is foolish enough to believe it wants to be a god instead of love a god. This is what the hero learns in the Grail Castle, when the quest is completed and the happily ever after takes over. Not everyone has made it to the castle yet. Many still dream of being god-like instead of human. Many of those who dream of becoming gods cloak their hubris in a type of twisted faith; they claim simply to be serving gods of limitless power. They are but the humble true believers. The give away is in how, inevitably, a human voice somewhere along the line of authority assumes the mantle of that limitless power that rightly only belongs to god alone. Doing so, for a human being, is a suicidal act of self denial.

Limitless righteousness brings nightmares of cleansing fires and sacrificial lambs slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. ‘Great alpha male in the sky, god of thunder and war, have we not become equal? Was there ever a priest more holy than I, more important than I who push the red button?’ Some such bewitchment awaits anyone who ventures so far from home. It is one thing to be on a hero’s quest, quite another to be way-laid by Dracula.

Limitless money, limitless shopping, limitless sex, limitless knowledge, limitless war and conquest, limitless fame, limitless power, limitless holiness, limitless depravity, limitless ecstasy, limitless fresh water, limitless fresh air, limitless crop land, limitless time to address our problems, limitless oil, limitless ego – drinking saltwater, the hungry ghosts trying to slake their insatiable thirsts never find the satisfactions they so desperately seek. Ungrounded, they are torn apart by the star gods, becoming little more than limitlessness twinkling darkly in shells of human beings devoid of compassion, little more than mouths shouting ‘more.’ Why are the hungry ghosts taught to be ghosts? Because they have not become real by recognizing they have been given, in fact, what they need. And that that is enough. Are you breathing? That is the evidence. These false infinites are the dangers that haunt the mind untrained in the disciplines of yes and thank you which arise from the heart. These are what tempt and tease our minds, attempting to strong arm their way into how we perceive the world, draining it of all human sense. Soon the simple pleasures of sex, romance, love and children, shared food and drink, the songs we sing together while dancing in our colorful costumes, somehow all this and more is just not enough. The Buddha’s graveyard vision of the young maidens as disgusting as corpses and the world but one of sorrow, this is what haunts the minds of those traumatized by the modern world. These minds have yet to ride the rafts and visit the isle of non-duality, the nirvana of our nature. They are stuck in the Buddha’s ascetic extreme. They have yet to soften in acceptance of a grain of rice from the hand of a maiden, in acceptance of loving kindness from others.

The husks of understanding these mind parasites leave their victims to feed on make it seem that the best way out of our current ecological predicament is through an all out nuclear holy war. Out in these extremes, where exponential curves never encounter limits, are the howling winds of hell on earth. They can trap us in a prison of madness if we let them.

Your life, what is it in fact? Whatever you are actually able to experience, achieve, accomplish, perceive, absorb, understand, partake of, participate in, share with others, receive from others, and generally the way you carry your body, speech and mind throughout your life span. That is your life. Something larger than our day to day selves makes its appearance across the span of a life considered as a whole. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he talked about the archetype of the, capital S, Self. The Self is a way of approaching discussion about a psychological fact, namely, that the unconscious mind or larger psyche contains an imago dei, an image of god. This archetype is a psychological feature of the inner world the ego must learn to relate to. As an image of how an individual encounters god, Jung found it played a central role in the healing or disintegration of the psyche which he observed in his patients. He taught that the Self is related to wholeness and integration, individuation and meaning or, when inverted, shows its flip side as dark authoritarianism, a possessing spirit, a numinous complex capable of over powering and bewitching the ego. This inversion is the psychological reality of the demonic as it is projected into totalitarian social movements and the mass sacrifices of life, dignity, and compassion involved in the brutalities of indiscriminant war. But if it was the image of god in man’s psyche that Jung wanted to draw our attention to, why did he name this archetype the Self?

Things that might seem the right things to do or think or feel today, may not seem to have been so wise from the perspective of tomorrow. We learn this as we age. In learning it we are to gain a more critical appreciation of the understanding we have at any given moment. We learn that our conscience, that still small voice, that it too grows wiser. In every moment of our lives we have been operating from the best understanding of ourselves and our world of which we have been capable of. Yet not one of us knows where the inevitable confusions still lurk. If we knew that, we would not still be confused. This teaches us to appreciate the real nature of the prior understanding of the world and our place in it which we bring to any new study we might undertake. Honest humility is the result. Ours is a limited understanding, one shot through with mistakes but not without worth because of that. The mistakes are, more often than not, motivated and not simply random errors. Psychological factors are at play when we deliberately or ignorantly misunderstand that which is real and allow fantasy to usurp imagination. Those threads of confusion lead our understanding further. This is hopeful but errors remain errors none-the-less, sins in western parlance. Knowing even our best understanding is bound to have errors, we would be wise to bring our very best to bear on our problems of critical importance. It does not help matters to deliberately introduce falsehoods, obscurations, distractions and stubborn denial of facts, all backed up by violence, when the real state of our prior understanding of ourselves and the world we live in does not jive with what we want it to be. Isn’t that, more or less, what we are doing today in our public discourse about ecological matters?

This is not academic. This is what is keeping our society from starting a sane discussion about our un-sustainability and what we might choose to do differently. Our understanding has changed, our prior in the Bayesian equation, yet we are not able to bring it to bear when we are called on to interpret the ongoing data stream of evidence from the ecological sciences.

Our understanding of the earth’s climate has evolved over the last century into one of the most impressive scientific studies ever undertaken by mankind. Today we know so much more about its defining characteristics then we did when we first started burning fossil fuels that it is a cognitive lie to pretend our understanding, because it necessarily includes mistakes, is insufficiently developed to support the alarming and terrifying conclusions of the ecologists studying these matters. The same could be said for so many other areas of our crisis from over fishing to drawing down aquifers and all the rest.

I think every important public discussion should start within the full acknowledgement that the facts are facts. That the ecological facts are, at least roughly, as laid out in summary form in works like What’s Really Happening to the Planet? As it states on the back of the book, “Now is the time to understand this heart-stopping subject.” Our way of life needs adjusting, it is un-sustainable and this is what that means. It seems the only question is whether or not the public is going to have any chance to weigh in on this at all, or not. So far the real discussion we need to be having has not even begun. Families throughout the earth’s many nations and our interests, when they conflict with those of corporations about what we should be doing right here and right now, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

We have got to grow the economy. Really? We need to shrink the economy, nothing less will begin to reduce the oversized ecological footprint that is our un-sustainability. We need to drive our cars less, worse, we need fewer cars on the road. The average car is contributing 5 tons to global warming gases annually. 5 Tons! We should start talking about how to pay people to stay home and how to stop making any more of these things. We need to decentralize our power generation, reduce the peak requirements it needs to meet and thoroughly re-create the daily life of those living in the overdeveloped world to use less electricity and transportation fuels in the process of acquiring what they need to sustain their daily life. These are just a few of the obvious conclusions ecological study suggests. That they are impossible to talk about seriously in the public square is a measure of our collective psychopathology.

Drawing logical inferences from limited data sets, reasoning, is not a free for all. To reason is to update what we believe in light of new evidence. The book we have been discussing summarizes, in about 200 pages, a boat load of serious evidence demanding our collective attention. Today we live in denial of the true implications of that evidence. We fear drawing the correct inferences. If we continue to refuse to use our reason in planning for the future, what will we use in its place when the shocks of ecological and societal collapse continue to grow in strength and frequency and things become, shall we say, more desperate? Blood and soil?

Blame Ecology or Ecologists?

“A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is going on?” he asked.
Pope Francis angered by America’s ‘mother of all bombs’ name, BBC News

“What is the basis for intolerance? This book addresses that question by developing a universal theory about what causes intolerance of difference in general, which includes racism, political intolerance (e.g. restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g. homophobia, supporting censorship, opposing abortion) and punitiveness. It demonstrates that all these seemingly disparate attitudes are principally caused by just two factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (‘authoritarianism’) interacting with changing conditions of societal threat. The threatening conditions, resonant particularly in the present political climate, that exacerbate authoritarian attitudes include national economic downturn, rapidly rising crime rates, civil dissent and unrest, loss of confidence in social institutions, presidential unpopularity, divisive presidential campaigns, and internal or external crises that undermine national pride or confidence.”
The Authoritarian Dynamic, Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology

 

I believe that if we learn to use our words, we can avoid using our fists. Is ecology the problem or is it the ecologists? That pretty much sums up what is lurking in the background of most public conversation and policy making in America these days.

Shred the EPA, bully on through protests around pipelines, discard rules around dealing with corruption in dictatorships to allow the last big oil deals, and seal it all with a Judas kiss to the people who worked and protested for decades to bring ecology to the attention of policy makers. Give corporations a huge tax break, strengthen prisons and arrest protestors; it is rather clear which side of the authoritarian divide is calling the shots these days. It will be interesting to see how the seeds sown over the last few months look come harvest time.

I, personally, am wondering how long it will be before we start seeing the roll out of the new patriotism propaganda. That is the worst. I love my country enough to want to see it deal realistically with its actual problems. The propaganda version of patriotism though, well that is little more than using the flag the way a magician uses a handkerchief to misdirect where you are watching, so they can pick your pockets dry and spill the blood of your loved ones on their fields of profits..

Pretending there is a future for our hyper-consumerism is becoming more difficult of late. The justifications are wearing thin and the blowback is becoming embarrassingly difficult to hide. Though the misdirection of the mass spectacle has been perfected, here and there some folks still look away from the screen and out the window. Those folks see a world very much unlike the one being peddled in the public square.

The petroleum industry assures us we can power past impossible. Their latest marketing campaign, unveiled during the 2017 superbowl, gives away the whole show. The engineers working for the oil companies know more than anyone how the investments in new discovery have not kept up with the needs of projected demand. They know more than anyone that the reserves remaining are not large enough to keep international trade and industrial infrastructure powered as we are accustomed to for much longer. They also know better than anyone that the carbon that remains in those oil reserves should not be burned anyway, if there is going to be a crying chance for our children to have a climate conductive to regular crop harvests. I think it was the engineering side of the house that told the marketing side of the house, “impossible.” It is impossible, from an engineering point to view, to continue powering Homo Colossus with oil. Marketing, as marketing will do, called the engineers sad sacks and immediately came up with their own solutions. The guys over on the sales side of the house knew they could sell the last drops to fools if they could only get enough momentum to jump over the facts, and viola, the new marketing phrase for the petroleum industry was born: Power Past Impossible (.org).

Would you like some twinkle dust with that?

We are doubling down on religious wars and faith in the magic of capitalism. That magic, borrowing money from tomorrow to fund productivity today, has long ago lost its luster. Financial shenanigans are more common than production for bringing investors their required returns, and when production is occurring it is likely to be of poorly made yet overpriced gizmos that serve no human need, but do supply their owner with some token status they are denied in every other aspect of their lives under the big dogs of petro-dollar capitalism.

It turns out big oil and big capitalism were not the kind social guides their spokesmen had made them out to be. It is hard to imagine any course of events that could have shown the world their true colors more clearly than those of the last few years. The ecological evidence in that time has become solid enough to be damning to the faux innocence and naivety by which our overdeveloped countries are conducting their business – the business of big oil and big capitalism.

While we warm up the nukes and double count the ammo, this might be a good time to take a moment or two to reflect on just what it is that is happening to us. We have lost the ability to see a bright future at the end of the consumer rainbow. Those of us who have studied ecology seriously have also lost any easy transitions to an alternative tech future, it is far too late. So we keep smiling and faking it, as if we did not know our way of life has become a disaster for the planet. Meanwhile the anger grows day by day. It is being driven by our survival imperative: you cannot take the species’ future away from it.

Who is in charge here? Certainly not the puppets of history, they are just dangling on the ends of strings more powerful then they could begin to comprehend. Certainly not the ideologues and demagogues who claim to know what these nightmare-level social breakdowns are really about but prove themselves time and again to be clueless. Certainly not some invisible supernatural fallen angels, demons, ghosts or ghouls. No, what ails us is all too visible since oil is in, or involved in, just about every object we touch. The only invisible factors are those of our human psychology.

This is not about preaching to the choir, this is about sketching a picture accurate enough to be of some use. Courage uncovers phobias and airs out the claustrophobic fears by daring to talk about them. Traumatization makes absolutes out of relative facts, so talk is able to puncture their false infinities. Besides, knowing where our temptations are, perhaps we can steel ourselves against their seductions. One of our greatest temptations just now seems to be a willingness to entertain ourselves to death, literally. We want our world leaders and world events to be big and flashy, we want our world to be as exciting as a summer blockbuster.

Goodness lacks the flash of evil. It’s appeal is closer to intimate sex than to violent rape. The quite of contentment and contemplation may seem to lack the drama we have become addicted to. There are no sub-machine guns to mow down a classroom full of children with kindness. There are no love knives we can use to slit the throats of pregnant woman. There are no electrodes to hook up to vulnerable body parts to shock people into caring about what happens to their fellow man. There is just the power of kindness in the honest love between people. Is it going to be enough?

That is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

You should know that there are some who have decided, evidently, that it is not going to be enough. Love is not as sweet as power for these folks. They are itching for a fight, itching to take back what they feel they are entitled to but have lost. Learning to get by with less holds no appeal for them, at all.

Welcome to the war between two world views. Times are getting hard and people are looking for the cause. One world view recognizes the role ecology plays. This view understands that the expansion of giant industrialization is running into the limits of what is possible. Ecological limits to growth is what is ultimately behind the hard times and what we should be adapting to. The other world view denies that and finds the cause of the hard times to be the ecologists – it is an over regulation of business that has driven manufacturing offshore and placed unfair burdens on corporations competing in a global market.

Times are hard and getting harder. Loss is in the air. How will you react? That too is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

I would like to suggest that as you decide between these conflicting world views, that you make your decision using the most careful reasoning and critical thinking you are capable of. Then you will understand why you take the position you do. You will be able to articulate it when necessary, and not be easily persuaded this way or that as the crowd sways first one direction and then the other. That transparency of reason, built carefully using both logic and values, will serve you well – whatever the fates may have in store.

Over the Edge

“To account for the orderly behavior of living beings Descartes introduced the concept of the machine which, more than an conceivable organism, is the product of design from start to finish. Even more than Newton’s divine organizer, the machine model introduced teleology or finalism in its classic form: a purposeful organization for a strictly pre-determined end. This corresponds to nothing whatever in organic evolution.

The transposition of the specific characteristics of organisms and machines actually elevated the mechanical creature above his creator. That error has brought catastrophic potentialities in our day, in the willingness, on the part of military and political strategists, to give to agents of extermination they have created – nuclear weapons, rockets, lethal poisons and bacteria – the authority to exterminate the human race.”
Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power

Something precious about Western civilization was lost last week. We pulled up anchor on scientific fact and are now adrift on a sea of myth and fantasy, rudderless. To see those protesting in the streets, insisting that facts matter, was to have a front row seat as science, the cultural current of Western civilization for the last five centuries, became just one more special interest. Facts, evidence, reasoned argument, objective measurement, honest use of probability mathematics – all this is now on equal footing with every other minority view trying to get a just hearing in the halls of power.

Caesar will decide if those representing these things deserve any air time with the rich and powerful guiding our military, economic, ecological and cultural future.

It was not a good thing that scientists and their supporters had to take to the streets to ask people to listen to facts. Sure, the courage the protesters displayed showed everything we are rightly proud of about our commitment to truth. Those marching and protesting had all the right intentions, and as we have discussed intention is very important in determining the ethical value of actions. Still it is astonishing, really, that citizens of our oil driven, nuclear weapon threatened, ecologically omnicidal modernity needed to take to the streets to insist that facts matter. Somewhere along the road between the engineers in the factory, who are constrained on every side by the limitations of matter and energy, and the image makers packaging their products for mass consumption, who paint freely with the brush of unconstrained imagination, our culture seems to have been persuaded that reality is optional.

Our astonishing lack of historical knowledge is not serving us well here. The rise of the scientific method was greeted across Europe as a way forward. Religious wars had ravished the continent for decades. Catholics fought Protestants, Protestants fought each other, and no one could agree on what the “real god” wanted of people, so the people spilt blood right and left to show the sincerity of their devotion. It was a time of true believers. Ransacked villages, burnt Cathedrals, buried loved ones – the river of bloody destruction seemed to erupt anytime educated people tried to have a conversation with one another. One party would site this scripture, chapter and verse, and provide lengthy detailed arguments for why what they insisted on being true was the only true that could be true. In response the listener would site a different scripture, a different chapter and verse, and soon the ire between them overcame them and the final missionary tool, the sword, was brought to bear.

Those centuries of religious and political arguments weighed heavily on those who first turned their hope towards the scientific method. That method seemed to provide a real possibility of extending the area of mutual agreement among people, which in fact it has. Reasoned argument based on evidence was seen as a means of rationally guiding the beliefs of human beings towards something more solid than individual opinion. It was the so-called objectivity of the method that provided the hope. Demonstrable facts became the currency of educated thought. We do well to remember that though there were always a few philosophers here and there, for the most part before physical facts took center stage it was the power of the speaker’s wealth or inherited family name or the size of the institution they represented that determined, in practice, what was to be considered real and true.

The people eventually grew tired of sacrificing their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends and lovers, for ideas that no one could provide the slightest bit of solid evidence for. When the first inklings of science started making their way through the educated circles it was seen as a breath of fresh air. A type of humility turned away from the unanswerable why questions of religious philosophy for the limited, but reliable, answers about how things worked right here on earth. This has proven to be an outstandingly fruitful pursuit of knowledge. Open an upper graduate textbook for any of the hard sciences and you will immediately confront the density of our modern comprehension. This detailed knowledge is available for the student and scholar regardless of which part of existence they choose to focus on; from geology to astronomy, biology to quantum mechanics, from neuroscience to atmospheric studies, the list goes on and on.

It is sad that we have turned our back on what our ancestors worked so hard to provide for us through this pursuit of scientific knowledge. It revealed the full extent of deep time and deep space, showed forth the mysterious molecular means of evolutionary life’s long trail, and opened the heavens to a vision unimaginably vast. Reality trumped the theological and mystical imagination of our ancestors at every turn. If religion is actually coming to know the reality of that-which-is, these secular centuries have been quite courageous in their faith.

It takes a courageous, adult faith to face the reality of our situation. Childhood faith is able to exist as a pure comfort: god is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Adult faith has confronted the cold, godless universe revealed by the heart broken in suffering, typically suffering for another. It is an interesting psychological fact that it is the door of compassion that causes one to question the childish image of a good god always watching over us. It is when we need to confront the reality of evil killing and damaging innocent lives that the too easy childish faith is shattered. The problem of evil: how could a good god allow this to happen? It is Dracula’s taunt, ‘I am about to drink the blood of the living, good god if you exist strike me down and save the innocent from the loss of their souls.’ As we have learned, painfully, from Dachau, Dresden, and Nagasaki, the stars remain silent. The atheist’s honesty about these matters cannot be dismissed.

It is wrong to think this step in intellectual integrity destroys. It uncovers delusion, reveals a truth that can be revealed no other way. The dark night of the soul is orthodoxy; it was not play acting when the Christ of our myth cried out from the cross, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ Only by being willing to pass through this threshold might a person come to find a more adult faith, the resurrection of hope on the other side of immaturity.

As a culture we are going through the same process. In the secular space we have been learning to stand strong with the honesty of our intellectual integrity. It is as if we said, ‘Ok, maybe the universe was made by monsters and cares not a whit for us, we are going to be brave enough to discover the truth regardless.’ I applaud our courage. We admitted to ourselves that whatever power humanity’s long cultural evolution might achieve in our efforts to protect and nurture that which we love, it will of necessity be based upon that which is real. The first image to guide science towards just what that real might actually consist of was the machine. And in this, there is a tale.

Science, of course, deserves part of the blame for its having become just one more special interest in our day. Its fascination with the machine and easy subservience to the needs of empire are well known. This and so much more can be laid at the foot of science. It does not change the tragedy of what has happened.

As Lewis Mumford taught us in The Myth of the Machine, mathematics and machines were thought to uncover a realm more real and fundamental than the messy organic complexity of subjective experience. That celestial and terrestrial mechanics were wholly tractable through gravitation’s terms of mass and momentum captured our imagination. Physics became the standard bearer for what a mature science should look like. Though we set out with an image of the machine as the scientific model of the really real, it was too removed from the organic substrate from which it came. The machine inhabits a dead universe, one in which life is a secondary, chance, ultimately meaningless occurrence. Galileo banished the qualia as secondary qualities, silencing subjectivity. This is our dark night.

The myth of the machine’s dead universe is a delusional one.

It is the result of banishing subjectivity from considerations of reality. This is what allowed scientific thinking to avoid the religious and political fights all around it. The non-subjective yet active automaton became the model of life that fascinated the kings and princes seeking to bring their unruly empires under the control of law and order. A mass of people understood to be little more than valves, levers and winds could be played by pharaohs’ fingers, made to sing his song – and build his pyramid.

The problem with the scientific enterprise centered around the view espoused by Descartes that living things were no more than machines (man excepted in his opinion due to we alone having rational souls). This is to put the matter backwards. Organisms are not made of collections of simple machines, our simple machines are made from abstracting a single functional aspect of an organism into a simple form. The machine, unlike the organism, is no longer able to adapt to changes but requires a very exact input if it is to produce its output. Machines only function within a small range of tolerance; change the fuel, the chemical makeup of the input materials, or any number of other details and nothing works. The organisms from which we draw our inspirations do not share these limitations and are characterized first and foremost by subjectivity. Still, in retrospect this fascination with the machine, which lead us to build and serve Homo Colossus, also looks to have been an effective vehicle for the intellectual and cultural development of our scientific knowledge. It was this art of seeing the essential through simplification that made it possible for our brains to get purchase on the complexity of our molecular environment.

Reductionism gives us models we can work with. It’s effectiveness should not be confused with an ontological objectivity it cannot justifiably claim given the epistemology of scientific inference. Creating maps and menus are necessary but no substitutes for the land and the meal to which they refer. Our species relationship with our planetary home is the referent for all the equations, all the scriptures, all the models of our minds and hearts. Science was mistaken when it dismissed subjectivity as unreal, instead of real but too complex to be captured in our models. Culture, however, was mistaken when it dismissed the factual basis of science’s molecular world in favor of fights over maps and menus.

Taking Stock

Last week we crossed the threshold. That post discussed the out of body experience as one that is associated with early childhood trauma. In these cases the emotional reactions within the physiology of the victim are so extreme that the evolutionary survival imperative takes over. The result is that the conscious point of view is taken to a safer place, an altered state, where some form of ego continuity can occur. Once the “spirit” leaves the “body” there is nothing more. That’s it. That is as far as we can go, there is nothing further in this direction that human beings can know with certainty.

This does not stop authoritarian true believers from insisting that their particular brand of fanaticism has pierced the veil, mastered the threshold and now offer their followers immortality. There is no end to the cults willing to anchor phobias in people’s bodies to enslave the hearts and minds of the gullible. Though it is hard to even comprehend for many people, the truth of the matter seems to be that these institutional “spirits” just do not care about the individual. What they need is another number to grow their ranks, another replaceable cog to provide them a little more profit be it through tithing, taxes or consumer purchases. Indeed, as so many of our social critics have pointed out, in the age of mass man the most endangered species is the honest, compassionate individual. There is just no edge in that. There is no way to twist that into something that will always put you out on top.

Compassion understands it is not all about me; that I do not always need to be first and come out on top. It has eyes large enough to notice that what is seen out there, beyond my skin, is also real. Further, in looking beyond one’s own needs and desires, we encounter a whole world full of hurt.

There are any number of ways a person might organize their thinking about the hurt that they encounter. I have been suggesting, for a little over two and half years now, that ecology will prove to be the umbrella under which all the lesser abuses can be gathered. And now we have crossed the threshold. The next post is going to talk about things that many readers may not be psychologically prepared for. It is going to talk about nuclear war and what it means when one dares to bring feeling and subjectivity to the subject.

Before going there though, I thought it best to take a moment to take stock of where we are, where we have come from, and a bit about where we are going with this whole mindful ecology project. Since its inception I have had a broad outline of what it was I hoped to share. For a number of my readers who have been with me since the early days it probably did not escape notice that this project was being structured along the lines of a three act play, or an initiation if you prefer. Initiation; now there is a word with all kinds of associations and no clear definition. I use it to refer to any structured teaching modality designed to cause lifestyle changes in those who undertake it. Which is, of course, exactly what mindful ecology is all about. First let’s get right in our hearts, then what we should do as individuals in our own lives about the insanity of our un-sustainability will take care of itself.

The first act, or first degree if you will, was the preparatory material covered in the first year of posts. They covered the basics of the ecological view which is summarized in the concepts of Homo Colossus and die off. The basics of a Buddhist point of view, reasoning, compassion and a contemplative practice were shared as a means for integrating what the mind knows about our ecological predicament into our hearts. In this way we become aware of how our bodies and emotions are also involved. Just as in any good story the main characters were introduced in the first act and the conflict introduced. We had a graduation on the one year anniversary.

Without conflict there can be no good story. The second year took us into an exploration of the forces in play in our society, and in our individual psychologies, which have allowed the manufacture of Homo Colossus to proceed. This was a year of posts dealing with some of the darker aspects of our lives in the over-developed nations. If the first year could be characterized as intellectually information rich, the second was about the emotional richness of our biological being. Understanding the evolutionary role of emotions became the foundation for wide ranging discussions of violence. It started with physical violence as it is studied in killology. It used the news, particularly of school shootings and attacks, to try and remain real to the effect these things are having on people’s lives; particularly on the lives of our children. The discussion of violence then expanded to include not just physical abuse but also mental, emotional, psychological and “spiritual” abuse as well. This of necessity included a whistle stop tour of some of the myths and motifs of western religion, again, with an emphasis on the role the child plays in all this.

Part of that year’s discussion included an introduction to Jungian analysis of symbolism. His conception of the archetypes give us a way to talk about items found in the basement of the mind. It proves useful for individuals but also for a type of psycho-historical analysis. What haunts the modern mind? The apocalyptic end of the world we seem powerless to prevent. Melting ice caps and mushroom clouds haunt our dreams. I suggested we in the over-developed world were writing ourselves into the apocalyptic script as the villain of the story. The idea of Babylonian Capitalism was meant to capture that idea. I wrote:

“Ecologically oriented as I am I cannot help but point out a few details I think are telling. It is my opinion that in general we human beings are not nearly as unconscious as we let on. We understand a lot more about our existential situation than we dare to admit within the very limited confines of our everyday waking consciousness. One of the ways I see this manifesting is in the care with which we have crafted the neoliberal globalization message to fit so well with the apocalyptic symbolism. Here in the basement of the mind… We have turned to the dark side to receive our revelation.”

The image of Babylon trading with all the nations captures the economics of hyper-globalization in our time rather well, don’t you think? Babylon falls in the story. If we learn from our myths we can avoid meeting on the fields of Armageddon, the western cremation ground:

“Here is my two cents about what the story in the Book of Revelation means; it’s like an inside view of the resurrected life, life beyond robots. It is a rather simple message really, involving the mystery of ever-present time: The war is over – the good guys won. The Apocalypse has been cancelled.”

That was not quite the whole truth as I perceive it. There is an element of postponing that day of reckoning by whole heartedly devoting oneself to the cause of life in the fight against all that would enslave it and destroy it. We will be getting to that soon now.

That second year ended with an examination of that which we moderns fear more than anything else in the world; the vulnerability involved in human kindness. Instead of a graduation, its end was marked by the only Wednesday post to go missing. I played hooky but asked my readers to consider the David Bowie song Five Years.

The third year introduced the idea that as a society we have known we were on an un-sustainable trajectory since, at least, the release of MIT’s Limit’s to Growth study in the 1970s. Proceeding then on this assumption, the posts of the last six months or so have been exploring the ramifications. Each essay was written both to process the times through my own body-mind, and to hopefully share some insight into what is happening to us politically and socially so that others might act with a bit more understanding when their own times get tough.

In Vajriana Buddhism there are said to be mother tantras and father tantras. In Western psychotherapy early childhood relationships with one’s parents are said to be the source of our neurosis and psychosis. The role of parents, and specifically parental unkindness, provided our entry way into this third year’s discussions. Child abuse was teased out of the cob-web filled shadowy corner it normally hides in within our cultural conversations. A number of posts have discussed how such abuse affects human beings, and how those human beings in turn carry that abuse forward. By my way of thinking, the most important development in the psychological sciences is the new appreciation of the role trauma plays in our lives. Freud could not believe it when most all the patients coming to him were talking about their sex abuse as children. In his Victorian mindset that just was unthinkable and so his brave explorations of the unconscious were soon couched in terms of Oedipus complexes and a whole host of alternative explanations for what was going on in his patients. Jung, Alder, Fromm, Maslow, and many others, while providing important insights into the psyche, all failed to place the act of traumatizing abuse front and center in their theorizing. It is only in the last decade or two that those who seek to heal the mind have called a spade a spade.

But now, with last week’s post, that avenue of mindful ecological contemplations came to its final point. As mentioned, what more is there to rationally say once someone has been so terrified and hurt that their own “spirit” leaves their “body”? Now we are going to turn our attention to the needs outside of our own. We are going to begin a whole new level of engagement with our times. Not all people should go with us there right now. If you are very new to this site and this work you might want to consider going through the whole process first. All along I have spoke about how we should be training to become skilled at triage. This image is meant to viscerally convey the steely-will coupled with courage lead by the heart which I think we need to deal with the darkness of our times. The image is one of a bloody battlefield in which emergency medical procedures, of both body and mind, are being offered to the wounded. It is triage because not all the wounded are going to be people, or animals, we can save. Hard as that is.

If you are new to this site and this work, now that you see its structure, consider giving yourself a few months, if not years, to just live with your ecological knowledge. Remaining mindful of ecology is the path; it is meant to be the gentle touch of compassion for our frightened hearts. Once that pathway of deep self-acceptance and self-comfort has been established, a person becomes more capable of handling larger fears and terrors; living with ambiguity and the unknown become much more life supporting than life threatening. This gives us the courage to admit to ourselves what we do know clearly, what is not unknown to us. All along we are to be strengthening ourselves by the application of wise compassion. When it comes to this kind of work, going too slow is just right. On the other hand, going is necessary. Going is key. Going On is what we each need to do. We should not be satisfied with anything less than taking our seat, becoming unshakably grounded in our own truth, our own understanding of what is real.

That means we do not permanently run from any irrational fear which our psychological or biological inheritances have left us prone to suffer from. Life should be lived with gusto, with a joy at the preciousness of the opportunity. It does not last forever you know. Never forget that the business of living is living. If self-destructive elements are getting the upper hand in your life STOP. Stop the additional work or self-therapy, stop the ecological studies, stop meditating and contemplating, stop until your feet are on the ground and you are again as clear as you can be that your first and foremost obligation is to your own long term well-being. Care for your most intimate connection with the earth – your own being. So much of this work is doing by not doing. That is, in fact, the hardest lesson of all. It is where the ego meets the Self.

Maturity recognizes that there is nothing I can do today that will solve all my problems or the world’s. What we are dealing with individually are issues which nothing short of a whole lifetime will ever fully address. We need to give ourselves a break about being just exactly where we are today, with our limited ability to do just a little better than yesterday. The path to happiness might seem long but placing ourselves firmly on it requires no more than that today, we are just a touch less ignorant and cruel than we were yesterday. With each choice we learn to build our characters with actions taken in which we can respect ourselves.

We need to learn to welcome tomorrow. It brings us another opportunity to both work and celebrate. Tomorrow, of course, is just what all people alive on earth right now are not sure of. The bomb has been in the basement of our mind for a long time now. The ecological crisis spelling the end of our un-sustainable ways has been there too, not as long perhaps, but all the more devastating when we consider one detail. When Robert Lifton interviewed survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a common thread was how much it hurt knowing that the suffering that had been inflicted on them was man made. They were not suffering an ‘act of god’ as we say, but the deliberate, planned cruelty of other human beings. Today our ecological science has collected sufficient evidence that victims of horrifying circumstances are no longer able to make this ancient distinction. For us, already the ‘act of nature’ and the acts of Exxon are not so clearly distinguishable. What happens to our species when the violent acts of nature might also be violent acts of man against man?

For those who are ready to proceed with the rest of this third year of mindful ecology I have another contemplative exercise to suggest in preparation. Not that it bears directly on the subject of nuclear war, but it bears directly on some of the context I think we need if we are to understand our times and our peers without losing our sense of compassion.

I would like to suggest you watch, or re-watch, a movie from the 1970s; that decade which has proven to be so pivotal in retrospect. I am not saying I approve of everything in this movie. Indeed some part of it should offend the sensibilities of just about anyone watching. Yet adults are meant to visit Disneyland, not to try to live there. We live in an R rated world. Some of the people who want power over us seek to keep us infantilized, insisting we only consume G rated fare. Others seek to become powerful at our expense, and make a buck, by sewing addictions to the X rated, as if that made someone a real adult. I suggest here, as in so many other areas, the wisest course is to seek the middle way. Adult life is R rated.

The movie Network was the winner of four Academy Awards in 1976. It’s a movie about a prophet and a prophetic movie. It has a couple of speeches I think all people should listen to, particularly Americans just now.

Subjectivity

Subjectivity is the Achilles’ Heel of modern science.

The discovery of quantum mechanics can be instructive. At the dawn of the twentieth century physicists were rather confident their discipline had captured the most essential aspects of how the physical world works. There were just a few experiments and observations that did not fit the prevailing theories, but for the most part the work of physics in the twentieth century would be one of, as Albert Michelson quipped (and lived to regret!), filling in the sixth decimal place. By 1927 the whole apple cart of our physical understanding would be overturned.

The items that did not fit the standard models of the physics of the day seemed to be rather small discrepancies. Three experimental results in particular were troubling. The first was what was known as the ultraviolet catastrophe associated with black body radiation, the solution of which would lead to Plank’s quantum of energy replacing the previous conception of energy as continuous. The second experiment was the photoelectric effect, which Einstein’s explained provided evidence that light could act as particles as well as waves. The third was bright line optical spectra, which would lead to the Bohr atom as the first atomic model to account for the discrete energy states being observed.

It is important to understand just how successful Newton’s gravitational theory had been in classical physics. Objects in motion were subject to rigorous analysis with the tool of the calculus and the conceptual abstractions of force and momentum with such accuracy we still use the same techniques in our age of satellites. It is also important to understand just how successful Maxwell’s wave theory of electromagnetism had been in classical physics to appreciate just how radical the coming of quantum mechanics really was. It was not just that the universe once thought to be continuous became discontinuous and radically momentary. A deterministic universe gave way to one ruled by probability.

Philosophy was there before science. Kant had identified space and time as absolute categories of thought, presenting us with the picture of the mindless, clockwork universe as the scaffolding on which the very ability to think at all depended. When relativity removed the absolute nature from time and space, the way was open for Schopenhauer to explain the world as will and representation. The subjectivity, the will, of what had been discovered in our hunt for objectivity was laid bare. The mechanical universe of classical physics, the one made in the image of our machines, gave way to, well, no one is quite sure just yet what the new picture of reality is trying to teach us. There are, however, clues.

The difference between determinism and probability is a very big deal. To glance for a moment at the headlines: the fundamentalist fanaticism of the true believer is built brick by brick from their certainties. Those who hold their truths more humbly, recognizing the limitations of human understanding, are less likely to forget logical inferences are founded on probability.

Classical science was understood to be dedicated to seeking a type of truth that was completely objective. The revolutionary scientific method insisted that opinions no longer be taken as facts. We learned to insist that if you make a claim about what is actually real and what is not, there needed to be evidence to back it up. The mathematical methods the sciences use are all designed to provide the type of knowledge that relies on measurable evidence. It was a revolution in where the ultimate authority, the final court of appeal, was to be found. No longer could the king, saint or pope declare what was and what was not, simply by virtue of their position. Facts took on a new importance. When the scientific revolution began this was indeed a very revolutionary position to take. It was also democratic. These scientific measurements could be taken by anyone anywhere and each person could prove for themselves the experiment properly performed lead to consistent results. The acceleration of gravity, as we learned in school, is 9.8 meters per second per second at sea level. It is so as much for a Chinaman as it is for an Englishman.

For those who really understood what this was all about the authority did not move from the kings, saints, and popes to the scientific experts. The authority moved into each person’s own eyes and hands by which they could handle the evidence for themselves and, most importantly, the authority of each person’s reason became recognized as the final court of appeal. Power can torture a man and make him recant his beliefs but only what is undeniably true for his reason carries the real power to persuade. (Mindful Ecology has suggested since its inception that every home that can should have mind tools at the ready; a telescope, microscope and access to encyclopedias. It is not what you read or watch that teaches best, it is what you do.)

Science insists its investigations remain grounded in the realms of evidence, which works to keep it deeply embodied in reality. This was a powerful blow against superstition. It was a liberation from our inherent gullibility and the conmen that have ever been at the ready to exploit it. On the other hand, the pursuit of scientific theory involves finding the right abstraction, the one that will capture the essence of what the embodied evidence is indicating. We do not do good science when we have one law of gravity for apples and another for planets. Those mathematical abstractions exist in a realm where the body of the thinker no longer seems to be playing any vital role at all. In the Platonic realm of pure mathematics where is blood and flesh? Over time the abstract was given more respect than the particular, standing things on their head. Our societies became even more committed to Descartes Error: reason defined as thought wholly uninfluenced by emotion came to be considered the summit of humanity’s capacity for understanding.

With the coming of quantum mechanics and relativity the role of the observer could no longer be ignored. Subjectivity is the blackbody radiation of our times, an indication that something fundamental is missing from our view of what is really going on: we do not know what the role of consciousness is in the universe.