In hopes of dispelling some of the futilty and fatalism in the current social mileu, we pause to consider the psychological shifts that need to happen both to embrace the future and to abandon it.

the pyramidal structure of life, energy politics, hysterical ridigity amongst our favorite political whipping boys ( that’s right, them again ) dieoff, dieback, retrenchment and the positive value of catastrophe.

And ultimately, how to walk the fine line between order and chaos and learn to love it. kind of like how i can be a buddhist in my mind, a taoist in my heart, and a thelemic heretic in the rest of it.

I got your ‘inevitablity’ right here….

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16 thoughts on “The Mosaic Effect 23: having come to the end, change

  1. Too tired to say anything intelligent, but I enjoyed this segment a great deal. I wonder what people imagined I was listening to as I walked along the streets with constant smirk on my face.

  2. The fact is that we always made it at the last minute. Impeding doom seems to generate innovation, but not in a ‘let’s all sit down and look for a solution’ way, as you pointed (the power structure is often incapable of that). Rather it looks like a strange, popping out of thin air, new shinny thing that solve the current problem.

    Curiously, after the first peak oil thing you made, I started looking into free energy, and lo! This Steorn thing suddenly broke out. This is rather strange. If you start to look closely and examine what their claim and specially their background and everything, you can only conclude that it’s either one the most well funded joke of the century, involving massive amounts of money, and which took some years of preparation (and at the end you’ll probably see the head of Sean McCarthy on a spike if this turns out to be some sort of social experiment).

    A few links to look into:

    http://pesn.com/2006/08/21/9500298_Steorn_free_energy_gauntlet/

    Nw, I need your take on this. If this turns out to be true (namely, free, clean, unlimited, decentralized energy), what would be the outcome? I don’t see this a generating stasis. on the contrary, the social changes would be tremendous, IMHO.

  3. (Posted in a hurry, and this is horrendous, especially from someone which has proposed his services as re-reader. Sorry, will take more time to polish things next time).

  4. Response from a primitivist
    This response is meant in the most civil tone (even if it does make you want to start swearing); as you pointed out, there are few people who are even thinking about how to build the future that we are heading into. There should be collaborative discussion among those who do recognize this need, even if our specific ideas differ.

    A central issue in your argument that I want to focus on is your idea that progressed is marked by increasing control. We should question what kind of control we really have. Definitely humanity now exersizes greater power over the world than ever before, but at the same time we see – and this is a central problem – that we have very little control over the effects that we are creating. Our raw power has exceeded our ability to understand and manage the long term effects of what we are doing.

    So I ask, generally: what progress? People arent any wiser than our ancestors. To some extent the spiral dynamics theory shows some of the variations of worldview that western thought and praxis has gone through (note the suspicous prevalence of philosophies which have developed in the last 200 years), but its also a weak attempt to project the developmental process of an individual human life onto societies and history. In another way, all these memes have always been part of human life. Read Black Elk and you can find red and you can find turquoise.

    More importantly, or more philosophically, how would we know whether a change is “progress” or just variation?
    As I see it, the main thing that the course of western history has brought us is a higher energy way of life and a concommitant increase in the complexity of society. Now that we will being moving into a lower energy life, societies will be of decreased complexity, but this does not need to be seen as regression. These other ways of life present their own opportunities for spiritual discovery and fulfillment. In fact, they will be better for that aspect of our lives. I dont have to depend on questionable anthropology to draw that conclusion. I have lived in different parts of the world (although never with any preagricultural people), and I can say without a doubt that those with simpler lives are plainly more aware.

    Finally, let me say: We’re not going to find anything to continue our current trajectory. If we did find something, it _would_ be worse for all of us. Instead of polluting the world with petroleum based fertalizers, we’ll be sewing plutonium into the soil, or something like that. If we were to find an ecologically suitable way to maintain current population levels, I would seriously reconsider my views, but until then I will dare say that it is conceptually impossible to find such a solution because we are so far over the carrying capacity. Meeting the demands of so many people is innevitably a destructive process.
    What is your plan? Ive been following your blog but I dont see it.

  5. well solxyz, let’s take it from the top. i won’t even swear, i promise.

    for starters i agree that externalised control is not the way to go. what i’m talking about is self control and self discipline. I’m well aware that our self discipline hasn’t totally kept up with our ability to cause damage, but that’s how systems work; postive and negative feedback loops are always struggling for dominance.

    and i suppose you need to make a distinction between wisdom and knowledge. as a whole i think we are somewhat wiser, but that tends to be more of individual thing again. i think there are undoubtedly more wise people alive today than there have ever been though, strictly from the law of averages.

    when it comes to knowledge i doubt there’s any question we’re smarter than ever. those two, wisdom and knowledge, again, have always struggled and probably always will.

    and vis a vis spiral dynamics, I am carefull not to put all my eggs in that basket, but even that model allows for the occasional individual to show development well ahead of the current average. there have always been shaman and yogis and saints and sages to show the way. the developmental waves deal more with the general center of gravity in a society or civilisation.

    and finally i suppose the crux of your argument is this kind of naive certainty that you have all the facts, and a fatalistic belief that nature doesn’t know how to navigate blind corners when it’s been shown time and again that it does. you don’t put your faith in fishy anthropology but you’ll happily trust even more spurious geology and blatantly cooked books? who came up with this arbitrary number about ‘carrying capacity’? are you so eager to sign away the future of the human race based on thier say so?

    time and again when we ‘should’ have hit a dead end we have not. as i’ve said ‘just in time, every time’.

    how is it that you can be so sure we won’t find something? or that we already haven’t? i understand the need to make decisions based on what you think you know but it ought to be clear to everyone that human beings tend not to know squat about squat, least of all ourselves.

    when this planet was a dead ball of rock, could anyone have predicted organic chemistry would arise? and from that could anyone have predicted prokaryotes and eukaryotes? bacteria and simple multicellular animals? plants and ecologies? mammals? thought and language? science? philosophy, yoga and spirituality? spaceflight and computation?
    one miracle after another. and we don’t even need a miracle. just an idea. one that works. and i’ve little doubt someone out there already has it.

    My plan? it always suprises me when people ask me this. as if i haven’t made it plain as day all along…

    you’re clearly a smart person. set aside the pessimism for a little while and look again. you can always pick it up again later if you still want it.

    seriously dude…’conceptually impossible’ ? whoever taught you that phrase owes you some money back.

  6. “This response is meant in the most civil tone (even if it does make you want to start swearing)

    I like how often people point out that their tone is remaining “civil” (which is a funny word coming from somebody who is anti-civilization) during online arguments. Even though its supposed to dispell uncertainty, it always makes me wonder if they are being serious or sarcastic – and thus it tends to exacerbate the problem of communicating online!

  7. We’re clearly coming from different frameworks, and no one point of fact is going to convert either of us. Im not sure how useful it is to continue this disagreement over the limited medium of the internet. Nevertheless, I have a few points I still want to make.

    “self discipline”
    I see self discipline as internalized repression. I basically trust my instincts; I think they are there for a reason and they are a good guide to what I need to be healthy. I also believe there is a world in which these drives are appropriate and where there is room for them: this is the way of life in which they were formed. Even when we exersize self discipline, the drives dont go away, we just become neurotic and unhappy.

    “positive and negative feedback loops”
    Thats not what we see, if we look at the environmental effects of civilization. Its just negative, negative, negative.
    Farming: bad, creates deserts where its goes.
    Coal: worse, poisons the air.
    Oil: even worse (although it is cleaner than coal per unit energy is has unleashed a destructiveness that coal never would have).

    “sign away the future of the human race”
    Not at all. I hope humanity continues, but I dont think that there needs to be 10 trillion of us. Death doesnt scare me; its just part of things. Beyond the human race, Im also interested in the future of all the other living things, and since its a finite world if there are too many of us, there is just not enough room for them.

    “more knowledge”
    yes and no. Certainly there are more books in the library, but most of this is terribly boring stuff. Each individual person has less grasp on what the world is and what all this knowledge means, since this knowlege is produced through a process of splitting. Humans, being intelligent, will generally have knowledge, although this can take a lot of different forms. It is not always the objective knowledge we specialize in.

    Also, I want to point to the wordless fullness of consciousness that comes from being in the woods, and that results from the intense complexity of natural systems (much greater complexity than humans can ever build), and the variations that nature is continually revealing, as it shifts moods with the weather, as it dies back into the Source and re-emerges from there. This is the basis of much of my primitivism: I have spent a lot of time in nature and it is so much more fulfilling, inspiring, awakening, and wisdom-giving than life in the manmade world. As I type this, I think again of your comment about self discipline, and I wonder if your vision doesnt imply that the ego should be in control. The ego should not be in control because it is too small and limited. It is better for the natural ways to do their thing, and by accepting these we can be filled with their wisdom. Even if this is not what you believe, this is what civilization has done: we have built a human world all around ourselves, isolating us from many fundamental truths that our egos exclude.

    “just in time, every time”
    Not true. Civilizations have crashed before. In your own podcast you mentioned several crashes in chinese history.

    I believe the central issue is that none of this civilization stuff looks like “progress” to me.
    Ill try putting down the “pessismism” for a while, if you try putting down the assumption that all this new stuff represents “progress.” Also try to put down your anthropocentrism, although this will be hard to do if you dont have experiences with nature and its mindblowing wisdom.

  8. largely intractable perspectives, i suppose. but some semantics.

    you probably ought not to be so eager to suppose i know nothing about nature, or the experiences it can inspire. one of the flaws i see in much of this primitivist romanticism is the wish to see the infinite spirit as contained soley in wild nature. spirit existed before the earth and it will exist after it’s gone. spirit transcends the biosphere.

    what if i know just as much about nature as you do? what if I’ve had experiences as deep as yours in and out of ‘nature’. there’s no way of ever knowing that, but what it were true and i still can come to the same conclusions? why not just take responsbility for your opinions instead of hiding them inside what is ultimately just your interpretation? our opinions are what they are because of who we are, not the experiences we’ve had neccisarily.

    utlimately i simply don’t accept this manichean split between human constructions and everything else. it’s delusional. everything arises from the source and goes back there. we are as much a product of the earth as anything else that’s ever been here. you’ll trust your ‘instincts’ but not the earth that put all of us here the way we are?

    as I’ve said, largely intractable, at least from this place in time. peace.

  9. Man, the primitivists are out in force these days, I think Tim stuck a stick in a hornets nest, and now their flying all over the internets…

    I’ve mentioned before that I don’t care much for end-of-the-world scenarios, and I include primitivism in there. Of course i went through a pretty strong phase, but, for me at least, it was mostly a rejection of my own life at the time. Once I began resolving much of my own internal issues, the desire to tuck tail and run (which I think covers most primitive and eschatological thought) also began to resolve. My experience, though, not everyone’s, I’m sure.

    I definitely have an issue with one thing (among others) solxyz wrote:

    “I see self discipline as internalized repression”

    WTF? Talk about setting up a false choice (internal discipline vs. “natural” instincts). Self-discipline is the same thing as internal training, and training is simply the development and maximization of potential. Its not “civilization vs. nature”, its “civilization is a development OF nature.” Self-discipline is the enhancement of your instincts, not the destruction or repression of them. Sometimes that enhancement requires checking impulses, sometimes it requires running with them. The point is to develop your Will, your ability to DO. The point is to develelop Awareness, and the ability to Know. It is NOT a sado-masochistic denial of internal drives. I don’t know where you learned your concept of self-discipline, but if anyone tried to use it they would only succeed in hurting themselves. And you definietly NEED it, especially if you want a life of value. Nobody has ever accomplished anything of value without self-discipline.

  10. I enjoyed the post but feel that the conclusion could use some clarification, are you suggesting a Divine endorcement of civilization, as evidenced by Him saving our butts “just in time, every time?” Or are you framing our plight mythologically with civilization cast as the hero, always one step ahead of certain destruction as long as it has the courage to march boldy into an uncertain future?

  11. what I loved about this episode was how it brought a mythological examination of things to the forefront — but not from the perspective of civilization’s pilots, but of its detractors. To think that there is some mythical “garden” or “bliss” state that we can go back to (that would guarantee our survival forever) seems entirely unrealistic, as zac pointed out.

    the more i pay attention to this huge conversation, the more i think the very term “civilzation” is problematic — perhaps more so than the supposed evils and ills so quickly brought up in its name. for some, “civilization” is synonymous with unsustainability & exploitation…. for others, “civilization” means with security & comfort… and for other still, “civilization” is equated with the general progress of humankind that takes us in a forward direction from a lower state of being to a higher one.

    this podcast was extraordinarily relevant for me because of its reminder that we are, will always be, and have always been moving forward. each solution or refuge we find will have new problems we’ll eventually have to deal with. we can look back and re-discover ideas that may be worth remembering, but we can never truly go back. this “go back” attitude, when placed at the forefront, seems to trap us in some mythological quagmire where metaphors are taken too literally for their own good.

  12. well jake,

    umm… neither?
    I don’t beleive in the benevolent father interviening on our behalf ( at least no more or less than the infinite intervienes in everything all the time ) nor do i subscribe to mythology or vague definitions of ‘civilisation’.
    I don’t see any purpose in positing some manichean split between fuzzy abstractions. that’s mythology. i can see the utility in it but it’s deeply flawed.
    All I see is cosmic nature (ie; everything in the manifest world) doing what cosmic nature has always done: builidng novelty and complexity on top of novelty and complexity, some times it dies and sometimes it lives, always struggling for balance. that’s the funny thing about homeostasis, you can seek it forever but you never really get there. some perturbation is always in the system. what difference does it make how big or small the perturbation happens to be?
    I think we’re a part of system so vast and complex we can hardly begin to fathom our place in it, but we do have a place or we wouldn’t be here.
    i know that isn’t a succinct postion statement, but that’s the point. i don’t have one and i don’t want one. those things only obstruct your ability to pay attention to what’s actually happening without preconcieved prejudices or emotional distortions. you don’t understand by trying to fit the world to your ideas.

  13. I agree with you that cosmic nature is going to continue its process and that homeostasis is never found. However, this does not address the question of how we should direct our efforts.
    It appears to me that a situation in which we live in the woods with our friends, eating what we hunt and gather, would be best for us and for the wider world; i.e., this is, roughly, our place. Of course adjustments will always be necessary.
    If you prefer, you dont have to call this civilization or not civilization, eden or not eden (although I do believe that the story of eden was influenced by a collective memory of the greater levels of fulfillment experienced when living this way).
    Perhaps it appears that living in this way we are not doing our part to bring about the greater complexity to which the cosmos trends, but I think we should let these transformations of the world proceed from the great spirit. We are just too limited to be the source of the major world transformations. As we make our adjustments in response to other world adjusments, this will be our part in the cosmic process.

  14. “that’s the funny thing about homeostasis, you can seek it forever but you never really get there. some perturbation is always in the system. what difference does it make how big or small the perturbation happens to be?”

    these perturbations tend to dance around homeostasis, and averaged over history create a bell curve around the equilibrium point. The argument that the collapsists seem to be making is that we are several standard deviations from the mean and the signs point to a correction. The primitivists then point out that in the long run this is probably best for everyone.

    I understand that in order to truely perceive the world we must set aside our mythological filters and I completely agree that we should keep scanning the horizon for a new homeostasis now that we are so far from the one we left in the stone age.

    In my opinion what primitivism offers that is invaluable is perspective on this human project that we are all working on. You say that we have a place in this vast infathomable system, but what that position doesn’t offer (though almost all of the Mosaic Effect podcasts address) is acknowlegement both that we can direct that system (or parts of it) and that we have a duty to assess the value of where we take it.

    To have faith that civlization has value simply because it happened is no less of a mythologically informed perspective than the nostalgia for eden inherent to primitivism.

  15. i would agree that the myth of ‘civilisation’ is just as inappropriate as a compass for our actions as any other myth. like i say, i refuse to participate in dubious dualisms.
    I value things i can define accurately. in my eye primitivism throws a huge blanket over a lot things good and bad and then condemns them all as ‘unsustainable’.
    i agree that it raises questions and provides needed perspectives, but as a program of action it is utterly bankrupt.
    It’s like saying we should establish a society on mars with no plan for how to get there. or perhaps more accurately, that we should migrate to mars after earth is devastated by nuclear war, but doing nothing to avert the nuclear war, and indeed suggesting that the nuclear war is probably a ‘good thing’.
    i realise that’s an extreme bit of rhetoric, but no more extreme than what’s being bandied about by some of these people.

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