My thoughts about culture and our present conditions. As Dianne Moore says in Learning to Love a Wounded World, "This requires a willingness to feel everything…. the horror and the beauty of what is here…. the fear and the Love.”

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Catch 22

I’ve been “training” the people in my small local group of associations to accept my help without the measure and objectification of immediate pay. I say things like, if I need help sometime and you can, it goes around, comes around… It’s been taking awhile but they are getting into it. They offer me things now, food, special foods they grow in their gardens. Yesterday I got three really nice shirts I accepted to replace some fifteen year old aging and tattered ones in my closet. It felt like a sincere gesture.

In my review of history, both the fossil record and recorded civilized history, I’m not at all convinced in any measure of certainty that complex society can exist in any form long term. The period of human experiments with civilized order has been estimated to be about 10,000 years. That’s not long term when put up against the geologic time of the earth and its life sharing biosphere. So when I say long term I’m thinking that.

Since we humans began experimenting with civilized hierarchical orders, those all seem to necessarily include attempts to preserve those order with rules we elevate above our immediate human capacity to make sense of our environment in what were once flexible, adaptive and process-oriented ways. Tribal societies may have been more adaptive in that direction. Hunter gatherers were probably the most adaptive groups since they seem to have lasted as a strategy the longest. That is, I mean adaptive immediately with the group’s innate sense of what needs to be done to survive the ever changing environment we are part of…

Anyway, since we began our ten thousand year experiment with complex hierarchy, those various orders have all followed a pattern of growth to inevitable collapse. If the growth of that order were to take down the biosphere and most of the species in a sixth mass extinction, that pattern may end on its own. This could be the last attempt at such an adaptive strategy. Or as one person astutely notices, repeating the same behavior that doesn’t work in hopes it will is the definition of insanity. Mercifully the insanity eventually ends itself.

My own assessment is that we create with these orders an insurmountable paradox. Or as Joseph Heller termed it, a Catch 22 (Merriam Webster defines it).

The biosphere of the planet is in a constant state of change, and we are part of that change. Civilization itself is an attempt to codify the laws of the human world and make them stable in order to keep the human invented institutions ordered and stable. In the process we seem to lose sight of the original intentions of creating the institutions, that is, the underlying intention to create a means of adapting to the biosphere. We shift our adaptive capacities to our institutions while losing sight of the maladaptiveness those institutions tend to involve as they mechanically continue their designed purposes.

As the orders become less sensitive to change, and the people’s discontent inevitably rises, the orders need to be managed so that the humans will continue to follow the rules and keep everything functioning like a giant machine. In that process, society rigidifies and becomes unable to adapt to the ever changing environment. The logic of our species genius to create adaptive technologies now is called upon to serve the forces of conserving the system. The system then becomes its own maladaptive hubristic order. It becomes a malady. Some humans have become so addicted to the malady they will fight to the death to keep that order and impose it on anyone who disagrees. Expressions of that might be the very institutions of policing becoming aberrations of their own purpose, contradicting what’s considered the human-oriented spirit of the laws.

The emergence of anarchism, then, would be a sign of sorts from the whole group that change is needed… not just wanted for selfish reasons but needed for survival. Maybe anarchistic impulses are a deep expression of our collectively suppressed capacity for mutual aid rising from the subconscious of various minds in a desperate effort to help the group as a whole find ways to survive. Anarchistic thought in that sense emerges in hierarchical orderings in various guises as a kind of existential throwback impulse because a number of us realize we are stuck in a system that is not adaptive, at least for us, on an immediate level.

Peter Kropotkin

I’ve lost myself in the rhizome-rooted brambles of anarchist thought a number of times through the years. I often set out with one goal in mind and end up lured down tangled, twisting thoughts to find myself somewhere quite different than my imagined goal. But oddly and synergistically I find I’ve connected in some way that I find fascinating to contemplate in one of those “how did I get here” moments.

Like, I set off down this searched list of peter kropotkin influenced and dropped into a Mises Institute nest circa 2011 where I read The Anarchism of Peter Kropotkin. In it I found oddly striking suggestive correlations to the title of Craig Chalquist’s slide show mentioned in a previous post (outliving our ruling institutions). These are really core anarchistic thoughts that connect so many of those who like to identify as anarchists (and amusingly, in an ever contrarian way, contradict the image of anarchism as an instrument of chaos that propaganda has embedded in our social unconscious) even while they may differ in many specifics.

To read the following, it helps to have in mind where Thomas Hobbes fits into modern thought, and how Hobbes 17th century formulations of the human condition, in what we now think of as an Age of Reason tradition, fits into the creation of the modern state that’s evolved with the rise of industrial civilization:

From The Anarchism of Peter Kropotkin:

Like all good students of that era (and later eras as well), Kropotkin knew his Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes had written, 200 years before, in the middle of the 17th century, about the conditions that had existed when human beings lived in what he called the “state of nature,” before coercive governments were established. Hobbes described the principal feature of this period as a “war of all against all” and the life of the average human during this time as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

This conception of things seemed to be echoed in the language of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, when Kropotkin was 16 years old, with its talk of how (as George Woodcock summarizes it)

in nature there is never enough for all, and … it is not desirable that it should be, since the most potent force in the evolution of the animal world and of human societies is the struggle for existence within the species which procures the survival of the fittest and thus ensures the progress of the race.

The problem Kropotkin confronted with respect to all this, not long after his appointment to a post in Siberia, is described simply and succinctly in the opening pages of his most famous work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, first published in 1902, when he was nearly 60 years old. “I failed to find,” he wrote, “although I was eagerly looking for it — that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life and the main factor of evolution.” What he saw instead was “Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.”

He concluded that

life in societies enables the feeblest animals, the feeblest birds, and the feeblest mammals to resist, or to protect themselves from the most terrible birds and beasts of prey; it permits longevity; it enables the species to rear its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its numbers albeit a very slow birth-rate; it enables the gregarious animals to migrate in search of new abodes. Therefore, while fully admitting that force, swiftness, protective colors, cunningness, and endurance to hunger and cold, which are mentioned by Darwin and Wallace, are so many qualities making the individual or the species the fittest under certain circumstances, we maintain that under any circumstances sociability is the greatest advantage in the struggle for life. Those species which willingly abandon it are doomed to decay; while those animals which know best how to combine have the greatest chance of survival and of further evolution, although they may be inferior to others in each of the faculties enumerated by Darwin and Wallace, except the intellectual faculty.

As George Woodcock notes, this argument is potentially important to anyone who wants to allege that human society, with all its manifest advantages, can be carried on without the “protection” offered by the state. The argument was designed, Woodcock writes, “to show that anarchist proposals could work because they were based on the constants of social relations among beings of all kinds, human and animal.” It was also designed, of course, to put the quits to Thomas Hobbes’s assertion that life in the state of nature was a war of all against all. Perhaps, if life in the state of nature included mutual aid, then there could indeed be a free society, one in which force and the threat of force played no part.

And then the article tangents off in a not altogether surprisingly confused way into some Ayn Rand free market related cult thinking that justifies embedded versions of survival of the fittest with statements like:

In the 1960s, Barbara Branden famously responded, when asked what would happen to the poor and disabled in a libertarian society, that, “if you want to help [those people], no one will stop you.” Kropotkin envisioned a human society in which more than a few would want to help those who were poor and disabled.

Somehow, I suppose, in a tangled array of thought I care not negotiate ever again, that explains the humanistic outcomes of The Virtue of Selfishness. One of which I am convinced is the modern, privately held, for-the-virtue-of-selfish-profit, transnational corporation.

Should anyone want a break from the constant inundation of media images and a chance to retreat into a contemplative word environment, download your favorite free ebook version of Kropotkin’s most famous work: Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution here, at the Project Gutenberg site.

Good Luck Fellow Consciousness Seekers!

In his grand lament for the United States,  Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges warns that the U.S. Is in a death spiral. After a savagely moralistic revelation of the dominant propagandized images that fill the majority of American’s media image-blunted minds, he argues that the institutions that rule us profit from the functional illiteracy that feeds a spectacular array of mass media popularized illusions that now pass for what was once a laudable goal: a literate and participatory democracy. He argues that those who still prefer books, and quiet contemplation, combined with thoughtful perception of the world around us over the mass production of techno images, are a minority. While that literate minority can still cope with complexity and separate illusion from truth, the majority retreats from a reality based world into one of false certainty (“there ain’t no anthropogenic sixth mass extinction and there ain’t no anthropogenic climate change taking place”) and magic.

If Hedges’ assessment is true, then that truth may also imply that those who outlive “our” ruling institutions, as Craig Chalquist identifies them in Conscious Apocalypse: Outliving Our Ruling Institutions

will have to rely on something other than luck if they yearn to do so deliberately and consciously. That implies to me that those who become conscious will have to do so by metaphorically “stepping” outside a cocoon of mind numbing mass media images so that they can see the illusions those images create rather than be ruled by them unconsciously. That conscious act, I imagine, will take some individual perspicacity, and, well, courage.

In a June 28, 2015 article in Truthdig, Hedges revives yet another round of those themes of illusion and propagandistic institutional triumph.

Chris Hedges, The Lonely American:

Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.

The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas. The fascination with the image swallows the time and energy required to attend and maintain communal organizations. If no one reads, why censor books? Let Noam Chomsky publish as much as he wants. Just keep his voice off the airwaves. If no one attends community meetings, group events or organizations, why prohibit them? Let them be held in near-empty rooms and left uncovered by the press until they are shuttered.

The object of a totalitarian state is to keep its citizens locked within the parameters of official propaganda and permanently isolated. Propaganda and isolation make it difficult for an individual to express or carry out dissent. Official opinions, little more than digestible slogans and clichés, are crafted and disseminated by public relations specialists on behalf of the power elite. They are repeated endlessly over the airwaves until the public unconsciously ingests them. And the isolated public in a totalitarian society is unable to connect its personal experience of despair, anxiety, fear, frustration and economic insecurity to the structures that create these conditions. The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality.

Totalitarian propaganda, accompanied by isolation, or what Arendt called “atomization,” makes it possible for a population not to “believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent in itself.” This propaganda, Arendt went on, “gave the masses of atomized, undefinable, unstable and futile individuals a means of self-definition and identification.”Corporate propaganda saturates the public, especially a generation wedded to new technology, with these lies. Its power, however, comes from the meticulous study of the moods, prejudices, whims and desires of the public, to manipulate the masses in their own language and emotions. Konrad Heiden made this point when he examined fascist propaganda in Nazi Germany, noting that propaganda must detect the murmur of the public “and translate it into intelligible utterance and convincing action.”

“The true aim of political propaganda is not to influence, but to study, the masses,” Heiden wrote. “The speaker is in constant communication with the masses; he hears an echo, and senses the inner vibration.” Heiden, forced to flee Nazi Germany, went on: “When a resonance issues from the depths of the substance, the masses have given him the pitch; he knows in what terms he must finally address them. Rather than a means of directing the mass mind, propaganda is a technique for riding with the masses. It is not a machine to make wind but a sail to catch the wind.”

Dissent will only be possible when we break the dark spell of corporate propaganda and the isolation that accompanies it. We must free ourselves from corporate tyranny, which means refusing to invest our emotional and intellectual energy in electronic images. We must build what the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin called “voluntary associations for study and teaching, for industry, commerce, science, art, literature, exploitation, resistance to exploitation, amusement, serious work, gratification and self-denial.”

Good luck fellow consciousness seekers!

Freedom to be powerless and frustrated

Erich Fromm wrote:

Doubt is the starting point of modern philosophy; the need to silence it had a most powerful stimulus on the development of modern philosophy and science. But although many rational doubts have been solved by rational answers, the irrational doubt has not disappeared and cannot disappear as long as man has not progressed from negative freedom to positive freedom. The modern attempts to silence it, whether they consist in a compulsive striving for success, in the belief that unlimited knowledge of facts can answer the quest for certainty, or in the submission to a leader who assumes the responsibility for “certainty”— all these solutions can only eliminate the awareness of doubt. The doubt itself will not disappear as long as man does not overcome his isolation and as long as his place in the world has not become a meaningful one in terms of his human needs.

Fromm, Erich (2013-03-26). Escape from Freedom (pp. 78-79). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Doubt inhibits action. Does anyone disagree with that?

I raise Erich Fromm yet another question in this poker game of doubt. Can doubt ever truly disappear from the conscious or subconscious mind of a rational, independent thinking human being? I have my doubts :).

The problem that goes with the topic of this thread is formulating some sort of sane policy in complex societies in the face of this psychological human problem of doubt.

When I say we need more peer reviewed studies, on one level I’m talking to that psychological need in humans, and thus human populations, to answer rational doubt where we need to address that rational doubt to come to rational decisions. In the case of complex ecosystems of the planet, both marine and land based, we are talking about answering that need with institutionally-based policies.

Those policies have their own rational systemic features, generally based in institutional rule and enforcement structures, and some of those related to global commons involve relationships between sovereign nation states.

What are some of the ways those relationships are being addressed so that some sort of mitigative action can occur in the case of nation states with policies that allow plundering of the world’s commons that goes on at the expense of us all, while individuals and private entities profit from environmental destruction?

In the realm of scientific peer reviewed efforts to deal with the details of rational doubts, we have macro efforts like the United Nations and their international scientists involved in merely the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change is one aspect of a global systemic ecological meltdown (pun). Much more ecological damage is occurring based on other human causes. Too many to even begin to list them here. The conclusions of the UN’s IPCC macro studies on just climate change are made available on a voluntary basis to United Nations member nations. There is no international regulatory agency nor any means of enforcement to maintain a healthy biosphere for the good of all at this time.

On a policy-making level we have international bodies like the WTO, the World Bank, and we have various trade agreements arising all the time. The latest are discussed elsewhere on this board, often with some alarm on the part of many of us. From my own experience in trying to deal with NAFTA’s formation back in the 90’s, I am aware that trade agreements often work against the individual nation states that attempt to enact regulations to inhibit the plundering and destruction of their commons. The agreements can be used by private corporate profit-making interests to negate a nation’s specific regulation of some kind if it has some effect on an effort to compete profitably with other international profit-making interests. Thus international private interest can legally trump national common interests. As I noted before, there is no international regulatory enforcement system to deal with this problem.

On another level I’m talking about doubts that can impede a concerted need to act before we bring all this complexity down on our heads — if that is even possible. Given the history of complex societies as reviewed by such scholars as Joseph Tainter and others who have developed a field of management study being called complexity theory, we should harbor some doubts about our abilities as modern, complex societies in that direction.

More peer reviewed studies are part of the modern day effort to attack doubt, and mostly the rational doubt that Erich Fromm identified in that prescient piece published in the early years of WWII.

The macro studies that look at the whole of what is taking place by attempting to combine all the bits and pieces addressed by the many micro studies performed by university educated science people in nearly all the modern states keep coming to the same macro conclusions. We are breaking the complex web of life on this planet. I keep looking for studies that don’t, and they aren’t easy to find.

And the problem is, peer reviewed studies that will eliminate doubt take time. Meanwhile we appear to be looking at a potential global, ecological collapse scenario that may require immediate action if what’s left at this point is sufficient to come back without all the feedback loops triggering a thorough ecological collapse that includes the demise of most of the species on the planet, including our own.

Raising subconscious, or irrational doubt, is the grist of modern day propaganda programs. Immobilize the populations and those who can manage the system for their own ends are freer to make decisions of whatever kind. Simply put, remove the democracy factor in the big chess power game. Immobilized populations tend to look to an authority or an authoritarian leadership rather than to their own abilities to come together to address their circumstances and doubts. There is no guarantee that those leadership decisions will be made for the good of all. The history of the collapse of complex societies shows they seldom have been. And that’s especially so in systems designed to achieve power monopolized for the few. Systems like monopoly capitalist systems. Systems like ours.

This is sort of a side discussion to the larger problem, which is: what can we as individuals do about broken oceans and ecosystems around the globe within these larger social systems? We are supposedly gifted with all this freedom from confining systems of authority, but what can we actually do in a positive sense? The issue of doubt comes into that question in various complex ways and at different levels, as does the sense of positivist science, which unfortunately for those who still seek the security of knowing with positive certainty has been pretty much debunked as a possibility now after a century of deep philosophical questioning. For a good overview and summary of the arguments I recommend The Philosophy of Science.

Fromm attempts to describe the social and historical process of how in the past millenium European humans became aware of their individuality during the Renaissance and Reformation periods. With that he sees the rise two distinct types of freedom: awareness of freedom from (passive freedom) many social control factors, and with that goes awareness of how that impinges on a freedom to (active freedom) act for oneself in the newly emerging social system. The deep psychological effect of these freedoms gives way to a realization of individual helplessness and insignificance, and he then goes into describing the intricacies of how people have attempted to escape from these psychological conditions grounded in these two freedoms.

These were new social problems that did not even concern the Anglo and Germanic ancestors during Medieval Times of many who now live the U.S. Fromm connects these two individual concerns with the emerging economic system (capitalism), the class structure, and two of the emerging protestant religions led by Luther and Calvin. I am sure, from the way he introduces the problem, that he did not intend to provide a comprehensive view of everything that was going on. But what he does offer as a kind of explanatory theory, combined with historical processes, is interesting enough as a kind of working paradigm that sets the story line on stage for making sense of social movements preceding his analysis that led to what was taking place around him on the European continent while he was writing in 1941, especially so if we are interested in understanding movements alive today that worry us about the possibilities for the rise of yet another fascist stranglehold on our freedoms that we can be fairly certain will handcuff any efforts to fix what our sciences are telling us are broken ecosystems around the planet.

Fromm does address faith in his examination of the psychological factors involved in what he saw as escape from the uncertainties and ultimately the anxieties of freedom. I don’t know if his various discussions of faith relate to your modern epistemological views. He was examining the twin movements headed by Luther and Calvin and the details of how those helped form the character of what might be called a work ethic that emerged with the rise of capitalism and the release from the somewhat secure structure of belonging that he saw as the Medieval period where people could count on a place, both a social place and a place to be physically throughout their lives without the daily trauma of being responsible for determining that for themselves. Here is a passage where he links love and faith within Luther’s epistemology:

Eric Fromm wrote:

The analysis of ideas has mainly to do with two tasks: one is to determine the weight that a certain idea has in the whole of an ideological system; the second is to determine whether we deal with a rationalization that differs from the real meaning of the thoughts. An example of the first point is the following: In Hitler’s ideology, the emphasis on the injustice of the Versailles treaty plays a tremendous role, and it is true that he was genuinely indignant at the peace treaty. However, if we analyze his whole political ideology we see that its foundations are an intense wish for power and conquest, and although he consciously gives much weight to the injustice done to Germany, actually this thought has little weight in the whole of his thinking. An example of the difference between the consciously intended meaning of a thought and its real psychological meaning can be taken from the analysis of Luther’s doctrines with which we are dealing in this chapter.

We say that his relation to God is one of submission on the basis of man’s powerlessness. He himself speaks of this submission as a voluntary one, resulting not from fear but from love. Logically then, one might argue, this is not submission. Psychologically, however, it follows from the whole structure of Luther’s thoughts that his kind of love or faith actually is submission; that although he consciously thinks in terms of the voluntary and loving character of his “submission” to God, he is pervaded by a feeling of powerlessness and wickedness that makes the nature of his relationship to God one of submission. (Exactly as masochistic dependence of one person on another consciously is frequently conceived as “love.”) From the viewpoint of a psychological analysis, therefore, the objection that Luther says something different from what we believe he means (although unconsciously) has little weight. We believe that certain contradictions in his system can be understood only by the analysis of the psychological meaning of his concepts.

Fromm, Erich (2013-03-26). Escape from Freedom (pp. 67-68). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

One kind of faith that we need at the existential level of our daily lives is a kind of attitudinal trust and faith that we will accomplish what we are trying to accomplish, that our physical self will somehow do what it needs to do without the detail of thinking out each movement required. That’s a kind of letting go, a trust, I could call it faith in myself that takes place while mastering a skill. But how does that relate to this other problem of seeing a broken ocean and finding ourselves within complex social structures that bring about a different sort of action problem: the problem of being unable to take part in essentially individually willing large institutional systems to act for what we individually ascertain (I use that word intentionally) to be our best interest? Where does faith enter that scenario, and how?

Bio Diversity and the Sixth Mass Extinction

Human Population Growth And Extinction

We’re in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction crisis. Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson estimates that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) are being driven to extinction. Compare this to the natural background rate of one extinction per million species per year, and you can see why scientists refer to it as a crisis unparalleled in human history.

The current mass extinction differs from all others in being driven by a single species rather than a planetary or galactic physical process. When the human race — Homo sapiens sapiens — migrated out of Africa to the Middle East 90,000 years ago, to Europe and Australia 40,000 years ago, to North America 12,500 years ago, and to the Caribbean 8,000 years ago, waves of extinction soon followed. The colonization-followed-by-extinction pattern can be seen as recently as 2,000 years ago, when humans colonized Madagascar and quickly drove elephant birds, hippos, and large lemurs extinct. [1].

The Extinction Crisis (From The Center for Biological Diversity)

Sometimes just a picture can show more than words:

Species Extinction and Human Population Growth

The authors of Human Domination of Earth’s Ecosystems, including the current director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, concluded:

“[A]ll of these seemingly disparate phenomena trace to a single cause: the growing scale of the human enterprise. The rates, scales, kinds, and combinations of changes occurring now are fundamentally different from those at any other time in history. . . . We live on a human-dominated planet and the momentum of human population growth, together with the imperative for further economic development in most
of the world, ensures that our dominance will increase.”

For the deniers of the value of a nature unfucked by human hubris and self centeredness, here is a lesson in our industrial civilization’s monocultural attack on bio-diversity, and a glimpse into a possible future we are leaving our children and grandchildren — if any survive — a future for which they will understandably curse us:

They’re Taking Over! by Tim Flanery

Most jellyfish are little more than gelatinous bags containing digestive organs and gonads, drifting at the whim of the current. But box jellyfish are different. They are active hunters of medium-sized fish and crustaceans, and can move at up to twenty-one feet per minute. They are also the only jellyfish with eyes that are quite sophisticated, containing retinas, corneas, and lenses. And they have brains, which are capable of learning, memory, and guiding complex behaviors.

The Irukandjis are diminutive relatives of the box jellies. First described in 1967, most of the dozen known species are peanut- to thumb-sized. The name comes from a North Queensland Aboriginal language, the speakers of which have known for millennia how deadly these minuscule beings can be. Europeans first learned of them in 1964 when Dr. Jack Barnes, who was trying to track down the origin of symptoms suffered by swimmers in Queensland, allowed himself to be stung by one. With nobody attending but a lifeguard and his fourteen-year-old son, he was lucky to survive.

It’s now known that the brush of a single tentacle is enough to induce “Irukandji syndrome.” It sets in twenty to thirty minutes after a sting so minor it leaves no mark, and is often not even felt. Pain is initially focused in the lower back. Soon the entire lumbar region is gripped by debilitating cramps and pounding pain—as if someone is taking a baseball bat to your kidneys. Then comes the nausea and vomiting, which continues every minute or so for around twelve hours. Shooting spasms grip the arms and legs, blood pressure escalates, breathing becomes difficult, and the skin begins to creep, as if worms are burrowing through it. Victims are often gripped with a sense of “impending doom” and in their despair beg their doctors to put them out of their misery.

It’s difficult to know how many victims the Irukandji have claimed. The extreme high blood pressure that often kills is hardly diagnostic. Many deaths have doubtless been put down to stroke, heart attack, or drowning. There is some evidence that the problem is growing: Irukandji have recently been detected in coastal waters from Cape Town to Florida.

The box jellies and Irukandjis are merely the most exotic of a group of organisms that have existed for as long as complex life itself. In Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin argues that after half a billion years of quiescence, they’re on the move:

If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica—not someday, but now, today—what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world’s fisheries, outcompete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me?

Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-ann Gershwin, with a foreword by Sylvia Earle University of Chicago Press, 424 pp

Our oceans are becoming increasingly inhospitable to life—growing toxicity and rising temperatures coupled with overfishing have led many marine species to the brink of collapse. And yet there is one creature that is thriving in this seasick environment: the beautiful, dangerous, and now incredibly numerous jellyfish. As foremost jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin describes in Stung!, the jellyfish population bloom is highly indicative of the tragic state of the world’s ocean waters, while also revealing the incredible tenacity of these remarkable creatures

Recent documentaries about swarms of giant jellyfish invading Japanese fishing grounds and summertime headlines about armadas of stinging jellyfish in the Mediterranean and Chesapeake are only the beginning—jellyfish are truly taking over the oceans. Despite their often dazzling appearance, jellyfish are simple creatures with simple needs: namely, fewer predators and competitors, warmer waters to encourage rapid growth, and more places for their larvae to settle and grow. In general, oceans that are less favorable to fish are more favorable to jellyfish, and these are the very conditions that we are creating through mechanized trawling, habitat degradation, coastal construction, pollution, and climate change.

Despite their role as harbingers of marine destruction, jellyfish are truly enthralling creatures in their own right, and in Stung!, Gershwin tells stories of jellyfish both attractive and deadly while illuminating many interesting and unusual facts about their behaviors and environmental adaptations. She takes readers back to the Proterozoic era, when jellyfish were the top predator in the marine ecosystem—at a time when there were no fish, no mammals, and no turtles; and she explores the role jellies have as middlemen of destruction, moving swiftly into vulnerable ecosystems. The story of the jellyfish, as Gershwin makes clear, is also the story of the world’s oceans, and Stung! provides a unique and urgent look at their inseparable histories—and future.

Thoughts about a species’s social pathologies

This, from 1996, co written by well known and much respected Richard Leakey, with a deeply seated understanding of the fossil record of our past including past mass extinctions, and a prize winning science writer, Roger Lewin.  Together they turned their eye to the future:

The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind

It is known that  nothing upon Earth is forever; geography, climate, and  plant and animal life are all subject to radical  change. On five occasions in the past, catastrophic  natural events have caused mass extinctions on  Earth. But today humans stand alone, in dubious  distinction, among Earth’s species: Homo  Sapiens possesses the ability to destroy  entire species at will, to trigger the sixth  extinction in the history of life. In The Sixth  Extinction, Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin  consider how the grand sprawl of human life is  inexorably wreaking havoc around the world. The  authors of Origins and  Origins Reconsidered, unimpeachable  authorities on the human fossil record, turn their  attention to the most uncharted anthropological territory  of all: the future, and man’s role in defining it.  According to Leakey and Lewin, man and his  surrounding species are end products of history and  chance. Now, however, humans have the unique  opportunity to recognize their influence on the global  ecosystem, and consciously steer the outcome in order  to avoid triggering an unimaginable upheaval.

The primary argument for this grand scenario of human-caused global ecological disruption and the ongoing scientific recording of species extinction, and against any possibility humans should be concerned that this will lead to a Sixth Mass Extinction, centers, at this juncture, on one factor: global climate change and its possible anthropogenic source in the consumption of one major, modern complex society-fueling resource, fossil (or abiotic, if you are of that belief) condensed energy and its release of CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

This is a subset argument in a much larger and far more complex issue, but its like a hand held up to block the sun.  It works to block the sun from one’s eyes, but the sun still shines around the hand, everywhere. Joseph Tainter was one of the first to bring out the more difficult levels of comprehending the problem for humans with his 1988 book: The Collapse of Complex Societies.

Slowly a movement towards understanding complexity at the management level has arisen as members of society recognize the inherent contradictions of our institutions. (The Reality of Complexity, Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos)

As a result ideas have begun to be introduced in an effort to help adjust management thinking to this new paradigm.  Among the management tools they have been developing are these new features in risk assessment evaluation called computer modeling.  Computer modeling takes the age old linear process and moves it into an entirely new realm.  A realm that is both human and organic in its fundamental reality, but at the same time alien to the predominant human logical thinking processes that have evolved during the Age of Reason to make sense of that reality as humans have developed societies as if they were ecological niches within the complex natural ecologies of the planet. But these ecological niches are beginning to look more like disease pathologies for the living ecologies of the planet as they have sprouted and expanded around the globe. For the most part this logical process has evolved into a vastly applied technique throughout modern societies that can be safely called institutionalism. 

Institutions have been evolving with complex societies for pretty much the last ten or so millenniums of human species colonization of the planet. Institutions provide an organizational structure within which participating individual humans conform to logical processes that have a concerted purpose, and in doing so, the individuals often give up their long evolved gifts of applying their other genetically endowed characteristics to their own actions involved in their survival for the purpose of a managed hierarchy which they often do not understand, nor need to understand.  Those understandings are left to managers.  And of course, the question might be raised: do the managers understand what they are managing?  Does Barak Obama and the Presidency team truly understand what it is managing?
 
The result has been the rise of vast and powerful societies with amazing technological capabilities that involve individual development of unique skill sets, usually from systemically created institutions designed to teach those skill sets, that end up being directed within a hierarchical structure by a set of experts trained in scientific management. 
But at the same time scientific management is struggling to come to grips with complexity.  Many complexity theories arise, not all of them are compatible.  Thus nothing guarantees that management can overcome impending chaos and continue to keep the modern institutions functional.  Potentially, then, a sixth mass extinction looms. Some of the first experts to grapple with this challenge include Gregory Bateson who wrote about it as Steps to an Ecology of Mind, and Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and Human Sciences).

In the process Bateson left us with these cracks in the wall that open a possible view into a universe of wisdom:

The problem of how to transmit our ecological reasoning to those whom we wish to influence in what seems to us to be an ecologically good direction is (thus) itself an ecological problem.
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To want control is the pathology! Not that the person can get control, because of course you never do… Man is only a part of larger systems, and the part can never control the whole…
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The whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured. This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in.
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The myth of power, is of course, a very powerful myth; and probably most people in this world more or less believe in it… But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably to all sorts of disaster… If we continue to operate in terms of a Cartesian dualism of mind versus matter, we shall probably also come to see the world in terms of God versus man;  chosen race versus others; nation versus nation and man versus environment. It is doubtful whether a species having both an advanced technology and this strange way of looking at the world can endure…

Combine modern contradictions in problem solving processes that takes place in the actual minds of managers of interacting institutional systems, and logical and linear processes within the hierarchy of the institutions that have developed in order to achieve minimum costs in achieving goals and the profit of goals for continuing and endless growth, alongside the rise of a surplus capital-based, deeply alluring and immensely powerful technologies of the industrial revolution, and we come to the crux of this modern day, human-oriented crisis.

Studies in human species pathology anyone?

50th Year Memorial Tribute to John F. Kennedy’s Assassination

50th Year Memorial Tribute to Kennedy’s Assassination Song, Childhood’s End, and video production by Rick Ryan and others whose names are unknown (to me):

I was skipping school that day. We had a 17 inch black and white Admiral television and I watched as the media began to shape our national reaction to this crime. I was transfixed, of course, not really aware of all that’s behind what I was watching.

It was a very symbolic crime. And our media works with symbolism to grab our emotions and capture our attention, shape our attitudes. I have some doubts that the course of our nation was dramatically changed on that day. But the nostalgia of the presentation in the Anniversary Video was indeed moving for me, because I was there, embedded in that atmosphere. We had mostly Republicans in my family and their emotions were not really on par with some of the media, though I don’t recall anyone being actually happy about it.

The secrecy state that was in the shadows as it grew behind and deep within the facade of the presidential institution, the icon we elect and think of, even adulate as our leadership, has come gradually out of the shadows after that iconic coup d’etat. I’m not sure that’s an expression of good or the arrogance of its hegemony within our culture. But now I know, as I did not know then, as I did not know when Johnson soon after lied us into Vietnam — and put me personally in jeopardy with that lie, destroyed the lives of several of my friends — that the secrecy state was already there, well entrenched, and working as an institution to become an industry of its own within our government, a government that is supposedly ours, but which increasingly was becoming corporate and oligarchic, beginning long before The Kennedy Assassination, which is in some ways not just the criminal act of Kennedy’s assassination at this point, but some kind of iconic event.

That secrecy state (for probably as revealingly a view of it as that security state will allow us, try: Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry) is now a full-fledged industry, and we Americans allow it to flourish, we pay for it with our taxes. How willingly do we do so if we aren’t allowed to examine it? What process in a participatory government allows evidence to be sealed for 50 years?

That we would accept anyone as being potentially so pivotal an individual– as JFK is considered pivotal by so many — speaks volumes for our collective sense of participatory democracy at this stage of moving from our Revolution in 1776. Even then, 1963, 187 years after that declaration of independence, I can still recall the adulation and the crushed hopes that followed.

We Americans have been evolving through a long process, a lot of it a discovery process. Some call it an experiment, I concur with that. We humans experiment with our cultures, our societies, as we attempt to adapt to this planet, even the universe. Not everyone understands what participatory democracy would be as we collectively experiment.

Not everyone agrees with democratic principles. Some prefer a more authoritarian atmosphere. After several thousand years of hierarchically ordered “civilization” experiments we’ve lost much of the cultural memes of self governance that probably underlie the developments of our brains and our ability to create systems of communication. Language being one of the biggest breakthroughs for any species… And we’ve pretty much wiped out the few remnants of indigenous culture that could have helped us recover self governance. The Iroquois Nation, for instance, that even inspired a few thoughts that went into our Constitution.

But what actually was the coup if JFK was in actuality an icon of something, not a powerful directive leader, not a new form of royalty (a term I heard tossed about back then) that could be of itself the change of course that only royalty can be, not just any pedestrian commoner in a community of democratic participants? In this atmosphere, what happens to a community of equals that can always come up with something iconic of itself out of its depths to replace the loss of a designated public servant manager of one of its Constitutionally defined institutions…?

If there is indeed a depth in our Americanism, if there is a quality that is only reflected in the leaders that are elected, then it doesn’t seem likely that one person can change the course of nation. On the other hand, if the public are more the followers, are of the authoritarian follower variety, then the leaders are by definition authoritarian leaders, and you have a different context to for a nation’s course to consider. I’m not trying to say those are the only options, there is surely more complexity in us than that. But I do have to wonder why any leader’s loss changes the course of a nation dramatically. After all, leaders like Hitler take followers where leader’s insanity may be inclined to take them. But isn’t that what we were trying to change after centuries of royalty, medievalist, feudalist leadership, and the chaos on our private lives of various forms of empire?

Enough Americans were at the very least naive enough to allow a secrecy state to arise within their government. Many of those who have protested this process, who’ve tried to reveal it, have faced publicly manipulative actions, like the McCarthy era witch hunts resulting in public punishment to cow the threat of anyone who might be so inclined. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of fear and war that preceded the Camelot imagery of those romantically characterized Kennedies. I could see how this could go with their monied class position and all that continues to remain of that in the New England of Old England where they reside in their elegant mansions living the really good life we all deserve (if we only were to work hard enough, or maybe be crooks but clever enough not to get caught).

In many ways they were a reflective element in an American Exceptionalist Dreamscape. It’s a dreamscape still with us that helps create illusion. Illusion that can cover a process that’s allowed the truth to be sealed accompanied by fifty years of conspiracy theories in the ever muddied waters. Now that’s symbolic, I would say.