23 May 2011

Letter to a friend.

This is the major portion of a letter to a dear friend of mine over the past 25 years.

Thanks for talking yesterday. I was thinking about your expressed point of view. If I understand it it is something like:

An acknowledgment that change is necessary at the planetary level of human action.

Feeling that this change could come about through:

  • crisis, possibly resulting in a vast reduction of the human population.
  • technological (and free market) breakthroughs within the next two decades
  • social transformation

Crisis is not an acceptable outcome to you. You believe that social transformation takes too long and that there is no historical precedent for such a global transformation. You therefore feel your time and energy are best spent supporting the possible success of the current system and through that the level of technological innovation required.

Additionally one of your presuppositions is that the largest social challenge is the the 'tsunami' of raised expectations around the world, wherein people have or will come to have expectations of what you called 'a first world life style' and what I would call participation in an artificial and delusional consumer based system of economy and production. You believe that the only way to deal with our current chalenges is by technological breakthroughs that allow at least some of those expectations to be dealt with in some way. In particular you feel that the current system is our only real hope of creating an abundant source of energy that does not have all the unsustainable, negative consequences of the current system.

Am I more or less understanding your view? I am quite sure I have not got it all and know I have smoothed over some of the nuance of your view. Please forgive me for that if it feels offensive to you any way. I enjoyed our conversation and respond below, consistent with some of the things I was suggesting yesterday.

I, for my part, believe that collapse is already happening and immediately felt by a majority of people on the planet. Even your 'tsunami' represents a minority. Many people in the global majority are more concerned with the historical responsibility of the US and Europe, than with replicating that failed model. Many more people are much more concerned with immediate and literal (rather than metaphorical) issues of survival that are a direct result of that failed system functioning perfectly. One billion people now live in an immediate state of institutionalized, chronic hunger and famine, even as industrialized agri-business and Goldman-Sachs are explicitly employing profit based food systems, that are divorced from this condition; even as they use rhetoric to justify the necessity of such a system. 66.5 million hectares of proprietary GMO foods are currently under cultivation in the US alone. India and South America are increasing their own acreage and will soon match this. China is not, presumably because they do not want the US, or more accurately the stateless globalized system of profit, to own their food. The current social revolutions are not taking place because people want to live a 'middle-class' life in a consumer economy. They are taking place because people cannot get food, and there is now a transparency about wealth and resource distribution at the local level contributing to, if not creating that condition. Food and transparency are the two major dynamics that will play out over the next several years, even as access to utility scaled energy, and therefore water in the artificial water subsidies of many of the US cities, is decreasing. All of this is happening even as agri-business interests argue for investing in and increasing the model creating these conditions, as a proposed solution to the conditions.

Additionally this system is now failing even in the social contracts enacting it, except for an extremely small portion of those populations, who are directly prospering from this condition. The polarized and growing extremism we see in the US is based on fear and rage. People now fear the state, even as they participate in patriotic rhetoric. The state and media propagate this fear and seek to channel it to other objects consistent with protecting its 'interests,' which are primarily corporate interests, and have been for some time. Many people, including the Tea Party and such, feel betrayed and enraged at the failed promise of the state. Somehow it turned out that a rising tide did not in fact raise all boats, and people who are swamped feel betrayed and angered. Often their response is to more or less do away with government altogether. This is confusing since such movements also include all sorts of other extremist ideologies and fundamentalism.

Personally, I feel that technological breakthroughs are necessary, but wholly insufficient. In the current system, efficiency results in a greater use of energy. This is not to say that efficiency should not be pursued, but the system as a whole is based on the maximization and consolidation of profit, and so such efficiencies typically contribute to that, which translates to more energy used, since the real economy is an economy of energy, though this is not transparently institutionalized. Furthermore, the means for technological breakthrough itself are for the most part an embedded component of the system, the consequences of which, those very breakthroughs are trying to address. As such, the most likely outcome is that many such 'breakthroughs' will contribute to the acceleration of current collapse, even while trying to address that collapse. This seems pretty basic stuff to me, though I understand from our conversation that you would not agree.

More importantly, I feel you are potentially mistaken about (non-violent) social transformation. Where examples exist within geographical context, these transformations take place very rapidly. Yes there is no global precedent for this. We are at a distinctive moment in human history. The tribalized political and economic map of reality that has been developing for 10,000 years and has been dramatically accelerated and empowered in the past several hundred years is no longer in any way congruent with the planetary conditions. We no longer live in a geographically separate condition. We no longer live in an informationally separate condition. We are globalized, but the economic 'globalization' is not based on this. That 'globalization' is based on the assumption that we are separate and that some tribalized ideology will prove victorious in a global, zero-sum end-game of winners and losers, haves and have nots.

This is what I mean when I contend that the current 'map' of reality being aggressively enacted by these end-game institutions is delusional. That mapping, and the values, success criteria, growth models, etc. of such a mapping are no longer structurally congruent with planetary condition socially, politically, geologically or economically. They are also delusional with regard to the life systems (including human life systems) and planetary environment as a whole. The entire social contract is based on the assumption of a hostile environment, with respect to other human beings and with respect to the planet as a whole. This may have been appropriate several millennia ago, but is now delusional. The corporate system, which is the major expression of this globalized activity, is itself delusional. It was originally based on the increased risk of trading in a geographically separate world. It was originally based on the increased duration and risk of long sea voyages as the Europeans and Americans engaged in the pursuit of global domination and colonization. This activity included enslaving entire populations and a 400:1 kill ratio between these colonial, increasingly industrialized powers and the peoples they were subjugating for the resources to maintain that domination.

Coincident with the development of the corporation as a more or less stateless individual under the rule of law, this global endeavor included not only an increasingly aggressive military policy, but also an economic policy of systematically creating debtor states, or vassal states. This has been institutionalized through such organizations as the World Bank and IMF. It is my own feeling that much of the anger about the failed promise in the US has to do with this. Our aggressive pursuit of that policy and empowerment of the corporate institutions to enact it has resulted in the US now being a debtor state to China. This is well known, but not really understood as such. We now have the same status. in this particular regard, that all the vassal debtor-states created by colonial powers had, and have, with respect to the industrialized powers. The corporations, who transcend nation-state powers, do not actually care about this. Indeed, they are among the largest investors in China, for instance.

Most importantly for me though, while it is true that there is no precedent for a global social transformation, it will certainly not come about through continued participation in the existing system, unless we consider the contribution to various forms of collapse as a contribution to such a transformation. Such a transformation can only come about through a localized participation in its emergence and an active, peaceful non-cooperation in the historical and now delusional world view. Additionally, that participation does not provide prescriptive answers, but rather is the basis for the shift in world view and self-identification required to generate such answers. As such it is a much better ground for the degree and quality of innovation that might be of use. That shift of self-identification is the basis for such social transformation and involves a fair degree of ordeal. On the other hand life for many people in the culture of self gratification and consumption as a proxy for happiness is devoid of real meaning and value. That is not some big news or radical observation. This simple observation means that the transition itself need not be entail some onerous degree of sacrifice, but rather can be understood as revitalizing our lives together. We can in the process improve and learn to improve the quality of life we experience. We currently substitute the acquisition of things and the participation in entertainment, etc. for the void such a consumer life style creates, which only amplifies the conditions leading to that void. This is to say nothing of the institutionalized suffering for the majority of people on the planet created by this globalized system of consumption and excess.

I do not take it as a given that there is some right or necessity for 20% of the population of the planet to own, consume and profit from the utilization of 80% of the resources. I do not take it as a given that being an American means that I have some right to individually consume five times the resources available given the carrying capacity of the planet. These things are insane and based on an insane view of the world and of ourselves. They are based on a delusional view of the world. It is the nature of such delusion to delete the information and perceptions that would inform the holder of such a delusional world view about the incongruence between the espoused world view and what is being lived on the planet. It is the nature of such a delusion that the holders and proponents will create increasingly complex systems of rationalization and explanation for their delusional activities, as we are even seeing now. We then end up in a specious debate within the system of such rationalizations, arguing about whether Ptolemy's Equant works, rather than considering the possibility that the universe does not revolve around us. The investment in such argumentation is itself part of the delusional system, regardless of the position maintained in such an argument. Again this is not a very complex or radical idea, though it can feel complex and radical to address the condition, since we are self-identifying as that position. We therefore feel voices pointing to the delusional nature of this worldview as a threat. This is itself consistent with a world view in which we live in a constant state of fear and threat. The real threat is that we fail to 'update' our mapping of reality to bring it into line with our actual and planetary conditions.

I recognize that the voice in which I write these things itself occurs as crazy when heard in the context of the current worldview within the industrialized economies and social contracts. I feel the globalized corporate system is based on a set of thoroughly delusional assumptions, and implemented in psychopathic manner. Such notions are offensive in many quarters, when not just dismissed outright as extremism or sedition. If corporations were actually individuals, they would be considered psychopathic in the context of a human system. I feel nation-states, as they currently exist, while dynamically linked with corporations in a mutually influential way, are now primarily, if not solely, purposed to serve an ideology of corporate interest. The World Bank also thinks and acts on this. The idea of the social contract in which the prosperous are rewarded and the dream of such prosperity, based maximization and consolidation of profit, would extend to even some majority of such a contract at the expense of the global population, is now literally bankrupt. The majority of the population of these social contracts has refinanced and re-leveraged the debt based system that is benefitting the tiny minority of its members at the expense of the majority of people, life systems and environmental integrity of the planet as a whole. Lincoln saw the condition we are now in as a greater threat to the US than the Civil War. He did not write about the globalization of such a condition. The answers to this are not apparent, and even systematically deleted, from within the active participation in such a system. The institutions of such a system as they are now, are literally not capable of generating meaningful answers, decisions or action.

I am not speaking 'against' some particular nation-state, or corporation, particular people, religious ideology or political movement. I am saying that the basis for those is now incommensurate with our reality, though many counter examples are emerging or being rediscovered (for the most part these are not sense-able from within the world view and sensing and 'feedback' systems of the industrialized world). There is room for all of these things in a world based on a globally enacted assumption of prior unity and interconnectedness, rather than one on assumptions of separation, fear, fragmentation, scarcity, and a fundamentally hostile world environment, etc. This seems abstract until you consider the very real enactment and institutionalization of the delusional world view in which we are living. Such world views have both a structural and dynamic relationship to what is enacted and institutionalized. In absence of the assumptions of that now delusional world view, taken as self evident truth, there is no reason why we could not come to understand commerce, governance, conflict resolution, economy, and environmental responsibility as a natural correlate of a world view that is meaningfully and appropriately coupled with planetary conditions. First we would have to inhabit such a world view. Most people in industrialized economies already have access to such a world view. It takes very little exploration to determine this in most cases. Many, many people all over the world have held such a world view for centuries. In some cases this has been displaced by the aggressive exposure to the now delusional world view of the industrialized, consumer economies. Many, many people of young, emerging generations very naturally hold world views that are more matched to what is happening on the planet.

Again, such a 'transformational' shift happens very rapidly, on a large scale, once it happens. These dynamics are in great part why they are often so successful. They cannot be readily seen from within the existing power structure, for the reasons I detailed above. So even though they may take years if understood developmentally, they 'happen' almost overnight. We see Tian An Men. What we do not see is the five years of increasing protest, marches, dialog and debate preceding that. That this sort of transformation takes place as an emergent phenomenon is in great part because it is relatively easy for people to recognize some form of interconnectedness and even prior unity in their lives. It is easy for people to see how that works in an immediate and local sense. It is now becoming more and more apparent and socialized at a global level. Such recognition makes it very clear that the current social contract is not contributing to health, well-being, safety, life enjoyment, etc. and even preventing that in most cases, to the extent of starvation within the social contract, rather than at the expense of some other assumed far away. It is increasingly recognized as the case that there is no one 'far away.' The nature of our very real, immediate interconnectedness is increasingly obvious. Such recognition becomes easier when the existing social contract is not doing anything meaningful to support the possibility of health, well-being, safety, or simple life enjoyment, etc. for the majority of participants. In industrialized nations most people have these things, or poor proxies, in spite of the social contract, rather than as a result of it. This is now not only our global condition, but the condition within most nation states, even down to the local level.

Based on this view, you can imagine some of the things to do and not do, as a member of an industrialized social contract, if interested in peaceful transition or transformation. I have written about them in other posts. Mostly they have to do with creating a basis for contemplation and action, consistent with a view of the world as an interconnected expression of reality as prior unity, rather than prescriptive answers, which themselves arising from within the context of an industrialized economy, would tend to contribute to and reinforce the delusions upon which that is based.

your friend,

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