17 December 2010

Notes on the Industrial Era

The following is from an open letter that I wrote to Humberto Maturana a couple of years ago. Some of my views have developed and changed since that time, but the letter still captures a lot of the basic things I am thinking about.
Heinrich Kley

Excerpted from an open letter to Humberto Maturana:

Several years ago he (Adi Da) wrote a couple of ‘public’ books about this moment in human history and happening (“Not-Two Is Peace” and “Reality-Humanity”). In these essays he suggests several things about living together on the planet in this emergent moment. He defines the ‘anthroposphere’ as the right domain of human responsibility. He suggests that all systems are self-balancing and self rightening and that the current institutions of humanity are preventing this self-balancing nature of systems. This seems to imply, as you have also said, a particular relationship between the anthroposphere and biosphere. One of the things I conclude from this is that the natural systems of the biosphere will continue to work to self-balance and that this activity will even escalate in a way commensurate with the degree of institutionalized prevention from human institution and activity. We are likely to experience this as increased volatility and escalating crisis, with decreasing delay loops. This seems to me good news and bad news. On the one had it means escalating series of crises, even to the extent of tearing the social fabrics of the anthroposphere. On the other hand the decrease in delay loops and increased ‘self-evident’ quality of the crises as such, may make evident to a critical mass of the human population the systemic nature of all this.

I no longer work with corporations much because the heart of the conversation and action in my own life has to do with considering the implications of the industrial era and the anthropocenic era, and I have found that this is increasingly difficult to do in organizations that are themselves self-identifying with the industrial era. (This difficulty is no doubt intimately linked to my own lack of mastery and particular approach to such questions as I am sure will be amply demonstrated by this writing.) I feel that the industrial era is over and that the institutions and epistemologies of this era are collapsing rapidly. My understanding of the anthropocenic is that humanity as a whole is acting (unconsciously) at the same scale as the systems of the biosphere and indeed, at the same scale as the biosphere itself. This brings up the question of systemic resilience. I have been talking with major corporations about this for about ten years and the conversation has gotten very explicit in the past several years. Recently I have been discussing several things with organizations and individuals willing to talk together:

The industrial era is over.
The industrial era can be understood as:
  • A particular distortion of the ‘western canon’ enacted over the past several centuries (exploration of Aristotle’s causality and the erosion of telos, etc.)
As a paradigm it can be considered to have several basic qualities:
  • A fundamental separative activity and enactment of objectification (reflected in teachings of the shared ‘human wisdom tradition, the teachings of Adi Da and such critical theorists as Habermaas)
    • Objectification of the planet (resources standing ready at reserve; e.g. Heidegger)
    • Objectification of one another (e.g., Paulo Friere)
    • Objectification of the self
  • Extraction of the then apparent resources and value (delineated in “The Question Concerning Technology” by Heidegger; discussed and modeled by Peak Oil theorists, Holmgren, etc.)
    [edit] Primarily from the practice of breaking bonds through processes such as fire, in the general sense including all combustion or particle collision.
  • For the sake of consumption where consumption has become conflated with the notion of happiness or reduction of suffering (explored in the esoteric teachings above as well as in the proponents of energy descent, deep ecology, etc.)
  • In order to maximize and consolidate profit in a reinforcing dynamic with the above (A development of the insight of Dr. Yunnus)
There are some other components and historical considerations, but this is the meat of it with some idea of sources.

All of this would be consistent and make sense in a scarcity based world of competition. The increased ability to manipulate objects, and indeed one another as objects, makes perfect sense as a useful survival advantage in that sort of world. Indeed our modern economics are based on these assumptions (as well as being abstracted from a relationship to the biosphere).

I really enjoyed what you were saying on our first day together to distinguish the assumption of selection as a variable and the arising of competition as a necessary element of that. I confess that having any sort of conversation with either of you about evolution (and many other things) is arrogant on my part and I apologize for that. Along my way as a dilettante I studied and practiced in some Gurdjieffian communities. The understanding of evolution and the forces of conservation and mutation in those communities (and in Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Bennet) is very similar to what you were distinguishing about the dynamics of selection, leading to a necessary and interwoven dynamic that does not imply or rely upon assumptions of scarcity and competition. The first day we had together I was trying to ask about some of these things, though I feel we had an insufficiently shared lexicon or background of relatedness to make much headway. I would still like to understand more about how this dynamic of selection occurs for you and my guess is that reading some of your published material that I have not read may handle that.

I suggest that these institutions of the industrial era have several choices in this moment of collapse. They can:
  • Go out of existence (probably in relation to events related to crises of some sort or another)
  • They can monetize their assets (Interestingly Blackstone Equity, a company that had a very successful track record of buying businesses at the bottom of cycle, improving them and selling them at the top of cycle for the industry in question monetized themselves as an asset a couple of years ago. I interpret this as them believing that industrial activity as a whole on the planet was at peak and it was time to take their profits. This happened just prior to the ‘economic crisis’.)
  • They can squeeze. (This means that they can continue in and even amplify the dynamics of the industrial era described above.)
  • They can consciously and actively participate in a conscious and benevolent transition.

We, all of us, in so far as we are in any way associated or self-identifying with and participating in this system of objectification and separative activity, have some form of these choices available to us. This last case of transition is difficult. Because there is increased volatility in the system it is likely to look like ‘economic stimulus’ is working, when in fact it is only contributing to the volatility and creating ‘recovery bubbles.’ If one is looking at those bubbles there is no reason to change anything. In fact it will seem like it is necessary to do more of what we are already doing since it will appear to be working. Hence, you get the sort of insane thinking that has us attempt to stimulate consumption in order to address the current condition. Of course, these “bubbles” also provide a very real opportunity if we can remain awake. The case of transition is also difficult because these institutions, which represent not only a ‘moral’ obligation to maximize and consolidate profit, but power as well, are deeply identified with the historic paradigm of the industrial era, its precedent and underlying structure. This is true not only for the entire system, but for its components and the individuals and communities enacting it on a moment to moment basis. This means at least two things.
  • The dynamics, ‘theories’ and habits of change itself are a product of the same system that generated and is expressed by the industrial era. Of course this means that efforts to change are likely to reinforce the system. This is the kind of thing that leads people considering climate change to consider carpeting the poles with insulation or surrounding the earth with reflective mirrors, but has many much more immediate expressions in the moment as well.
  • To the extent we ourselves are identified with this system we are identified with a system of objectification. The product of objectification is enslavement - of the planet, each other and ourselves. Indeed much of the public dialogue bears a striking resemblance to that of the slave owners in the US before and during the US Civil War.

One of the ways of considering this is to understand it as a kind of identity crisis or even death and dying process. If we imagine for a moment that we could apply Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s work we would have the following:
  • Shock/Denial
    This case is pretty clear. In both the US and China there are many people who believe that climate change is a media hoax. (It is important to understand that climate is only the surface of what is occurring. It is a fragile system with relatively short delay loops, so we can see it.)
  • Anger
    Once you feel something about it, it then of course becomes a question of whose fault it is. Who is the “other” in this particular case, the objectification of whom, as “other,” gives a readily available and plausible explanation for what is happening. Blame, in other words.
  • Bargaining
    This currently seems to take several forms. One form is the actual public and policy debate. This is no longer really a debate about whether something is happening or not. It is actually more of a negotiation about the implications: who will bear the cost; who will reap the benefits of the solutions, etc. Another form is the belief that their will be a free market solution or technological miracle. Either or both of these may be necessary in different ways, but they are not sufficient to this moment. The underlying construction is a ‘solution’ in the face of problematized phenomena that is consistent with the system of objectification itself, such that I get to maintain my ‘way of life’. “Way of life” is the current propaganda rhetoric in the US to justify the objectification of others and participation in the enslavement of the planet. All the institutions of the industrial era have some form of this.
  • Despair/Depression
    This is clear as well. It might take the form of not feeling as if any personal or individual efforts could make any sort of difference. This can even express itself as ‘fiddling while Rome burns’. ‘I may as well fully indulge myself while I can.’
  • Acceptance
    Of course this means many things and is at the same time that it is self-evident and simple, also opaque and difficult. Moreover, though we are talking about a profound state of individual acceptance, we are also talking about a planetary state of acceptance at the scale of a conscious anthroposphere. Many people who talk about acceptance talk about accepting the ‘in-sustainability’ of our ‘way of life’ or accepting an ‘energy descent’ future. Both of these seem true to me, but seem to fall short of a state of acceptance that fully understands the nature of our participation or the underlying structural elements of our current condition.
    End Excerpt

1 comment:

  1. This entry is a bit more difficult. I read it and feel both hopeful - the self-correcting nature of systems - and desperate - can we ever be free of the objectification?