What to say this week? The clock is ticking, in many ways. Certainly the news is dominated by the political scene in Washington DC, with the criminal allegations associated with the Trump-Russia morass. It seems that Mueller is operating with very sophisticated skill, creating massive anxiety. Essentially this is as it should be — an ineffective investigation would do more harm than good. But it is certainly complex.
The major difficulty is that such an investigation is slow, and the climate clock continues to tick. The report by Dahr Jamail is excellent and comprehensive (as usual), documenting the many ways, the increasing ways, in which we are in trouble. Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to dismantle the efforts to respond — sad. And all the more reason to sort the Trump-Russia muddle.
And on the lighter side, some interesting links concerning the complexity of our culture.
All of the this complexity would be fascinating, if the consequences were not so painful.
Three new studies that indicate the dangers of continued fossil fuel usage, more and faster if we continue our present course. As usual, each report portrays more and more danger as we get better and better data.
This is my second and concluding post on the need for a coup. Earlier I noted Schmookler, in The Parable Of The Tribes, suggesting that a civilization based on power (the original basis by which civilizations emerge) is not sustainable: it demonstrates neither synergy, enhancing the welfare or all, nor viability, sustainable in its continuing existence.
Schmookler also notes that justice could be the antidote of power, thereby underscoring both synergy and viability. Justice requires:
“where power is exercised . . . it should not be used to benefit the wielder of power at the expense of the health of the system as a whole” and
“where different parts of the system have conflicts of interest, the conflicts should be resolved not by their differences in power but by some moral principle which, if always followed, would ultimately be to the benefit of all in the system.”
As a species, we have not yet demonstrated the capability of synergy and viability — world governance, such as it is, is by tenuous cooperative agreement, the limits of which have been demonstrated by Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Again, simply as one example of the many instances of inequitable dynamics, Trump’s stance is that of power; it is not that of justice. Nor is power a stance of cooperation; it is a stance of domination! And it is not sustainable: either it is stopped, or the system itself will deteriorate to the point of collapse (e.g., the predictable outcome of global warming).
So how then does one deal with such insanity, in which it is necessary to develop power over power, and yet act justly. I have seen nothing in the past years to suggest an effective outcome. All of the efforts of the social movements of the past century (including feminism, racial discrimination, the environmental movement, et cetera) have been the attempt of the “people” to get the “1%” to cooperate, and have had only limited success.
Much of what has been suggested thus far is in the nature of civil disobedience. And whereas I believe it is an important tool is opposing power, it is the attempt of the weak to convince the strong to desist certain actions. It does not seem to offer any significant shift in the maturity of the strong, certainly not those who function from the power of domination.
Thus my suggestion that we need a coup! But in contrast to most coups where one form of domination simply replaces another form of domination, we need a coup in which justice replaces domination. And the coup needs to be international, including all of the major powers of the world. Although I often use the USA as an example, I am not naïve in believing that it is the only source of difficulties on this planet.
Furthermore, the only examples of sustainable justice of which I am aware have been within indigenous cultures — cultures that have resisted civilization, albeit without great success up to this point. Our track record of “civilized” process has not been very successful otherwise.
And hence, my best guess is that such a coup must come from indigenous sources, as the power to resist domination and act justly. Again in my limited exposure to cultural issues, it is the native people of North America who seem most apt to engage in sustained resistance (witness Standing Rock and Kinder-Morgan). They also have a cultural heritage that honored justice in much richer fashion than has European-based culture.
These two links discuss the ineffectiveness of modern attempts to limit the use of power, both in preventing individual tragedies and in developing just resolutions to such forces that underlie these tragedies.
An interesting example of how the interplay of legality and power work in our culture. To quote the lead-in: “A peculiar confluence of history, legal precedent and defiance has set the stage for a regulatory mutiny in California that would reverberate throughout the country.” Legally, California can regulate independently of national concerns, and controls at least a third of the auto industry, with a sizable impact on how industry must react. I am reminded of a statement that our culture has a legal system, perhaps sometimes a justice system.
I said in my last post that I would consider the possibility of a coup. At some level, I truly accept that the need for a coup is the only way in which humanity will survive. I’m not a historian, nor a philosopher, nor do I have a military background, so what follows will simply be my random thoughts regarding the issues that confront us as a civilization.
First, as noted in my original first post of this blog (see my home page), Laszlo (in Evolution: The General Theory, 1996) wrote that we are in a cascade of crises, and that we must extend ourselves into a new maturity, else we will likely perish as a species (or at least as a civilization). I also recall from my PhD research, Toynbee in A Study Of History (1946) considered that in the failing of civilizations, new ones arise at the periphery (of the old collapsing civilization) wherein a small group arises who both represents a new energy of purpose while espousing a new religion, meanwhile opposed by the old tyranny. In my dissertation, I suggested that the small group was the Cultural Creatives and the new religion was our maturing relationship with ecology. The current difficulty with both the Cultural Creatives and the ecology movement, though, is that they are disorganized, and do not present a coordinated front to oppose the oppressive forces of our current civilization. Furthermore, this past century is the first occurrence in which we as a species have come to be both a global village and a power dynamic capable of altering the dynamics of the entire ecosystem of our world; there is essentially no periphery for a new civilization — we must confront the center of the old.
I also noted in my posts about power (beginning 2016-08-16) that civilization(s) arose because the human species came into relationship with power, a relationship different from that of all other previous species. Schmookler in The Parable Of The Tribes indicated that “our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture . . . is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power” — and that there is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” In addition, “The laws of man require power, for power can [only] be controlled with power. The challenge is to design systems that use power to disarm power. Only in such an order can mankind be free.” Perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.”
Schmookler mentions a number of relevant definitions:
system: an aggregate the elements of which interact (and therefore no element of the system can be understood in isolation)
synergy: a pattern whereby each part functions in a way that enhances the welfare of the other parts as well as its own
viability: the ability to maintain without diminution whatever it is upon which its continued existence depends
Our civilization is definitely a system, yet it is neither synergistic nor viable. Our civilization is based on power, not synergy and viability. We compete rather than cooperate. We control by short-term domination rather than by consideration of the long-term. We demonstrate immense creativity, but we do not consider the impact of our creativity on future generations (in either our consumerism or our technological advances).
I am suggesting this link, not as a critique of Trump (which it is), but as an indication of the need for definitive action in stopping this kind of tribalism, a stance that likely results in major deterioration of justice and viability. The current system is not healthy.
At present, I am experiencing cognitive dissonance as I survey various internet sources after the weekend. As I have previously mentioned I am enrolled in a two-year program of contemplative practice, attempting to access a deeper wisdom on the nature of the universe — you could call it seeking God, but for me, it is seeking a worldview that allows me to be at peace. Not easy!
First, I’ve had a great weekend with a men’s group, each of us (at various levels of maturity) seeking that sense of purpose; it was part of the illuman.org program for those who might be interested. Then I come home to the escalating rhetoric between dangerous opponents. Then I note some good news on the climate front — not great news, but news that might give us a slight delay in the tipping points of climate catastrophe. But hurricanes are obviously not waiting for us to sort our differences. Finally a link of how powerful our technology is, in that we might be able to feed the world via biologic manipulation (if we can overcome our reticence — and our immaturity — to be Gods).
How to make sense of all this, and how to respond to it, is beyond me at present. My best case scenario is that mankind be removed from the equation asap — I don’t like this option, but I don’t foresee cultural maturity on the sounding board. What is needed is to take power over power for the greater good (and the resolution of what is the “greater good”).
My next post will likely be on the need to stage a coup.
The escalation of rhetoric is a sad reflection of our immaturity as a species, and in that immaturity, the risk of irreversible consequences is high. My fear is that even if only one side believes their rhetoric, we are in grave danger.
Potentially good news (if correct), but so different from other models that it will require careful study to determine how well these calculations fit experience. The danger is that a) a more generous margin of safety may be used to justify additional delay, and b) the changing landscape will be used to discount the clarity of scientific consensus (especially as to the significance of man’s technology). Science is never able to prove anything; it can only test for the best and simplest explanation of experience.
To quote: “Hurricanes are built to convert heat energy into wind energy, and seawater’s available energy rises exponentially as it warms.” This says it all — the more energy, the more damage when released.
As I have noted previously, I am engaged in a two-year study program in contemplative practice, the ultimate aim for me being to find a satisfying balance between my hermit nature and my desire to contribute, especially regarding my sadness at how our species functions. Given the ineffective political responses to the multiple cultural traumas of recent times (terrorists, alt-right, hurricanes) and the worsening climate, I truly must wonder: Are we f–ked? (See the two good podcasts below.)
The big issue, the immediate one, is how we are responding to global warming. But this is only one component of the complex issues which need to be resolved. I recall a comment in Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed (Diamond, 2005) in which the author was repeatedly being asked what is the single most important issue we need to resolve. His answer: All of them. Fundamentally all these issues interlink and represent the immaturity of our species, especially our simplistic approach to issues. One link below (Can emissions shrink . . .?) comments on this.
Frequently I don’t know what to do, and I fall back on continuing my own personal journey, given that if I do not support myself, I cannot support others. I have just this week started the study component of the program I’m doing, and will have more to say about it as the course develops. For now, amongst others, I simply reference two links I have found on the need for discipline (of which I am generally very disciplined). I do not know to what extent, if any, I will encounter any change in my outlook, but giving up is not a viable option for me. In any event, I expect that through my study program, I will deepen my sense of compassion and trust in the ultimate outcome.
Paul Kennedy, a highly respected Canadian broadcaster, speaks to the resistence to discussion of global warming. Gradually the conversation evolves. This particular conversation is not nice; it is however necessary. This link references Part One of a podcast as follows; Part Two aired on September 14th.
In general, psychiatrists and other mental health issues do not comment on the mental health of those whom they have not directly examined, especially public figures. However, in The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump (in publication), 27 leading individuals have chosen to do so, given that they have concluded that he presents a clear and present danger to society.
Long and detailed, this is an interesting study of the age of dysinformation. If accurate, it contributes in a major way to the difficulty of managing global warming. particularly how internectine conflict distracts from effective action.
Amazing use of technology by the Netherlands has allowed them to be the second largest exporter of food in the world, second only to the USA (the US having a land mass 270 times greater than the Netherlands!).
Over the past few weeks, I have been noting my reaction to a number of sources (below), some political, some ecological. As a result, I am again in a place of sadness at the immensity of the task facing us as a species if we are to survive the coming century. All are worth reading from my perspective; my title The Developing Madness comes from the combination of these sources.
First has been my reading of a free downloadable pdf copy of the book Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift In Our Understanding and Treatment Of Psychosis (2012) by Paris Williams. As a physician-psychotherapist and a mystic, I have always been interested in the nature of psychosis, especially since I strongly disagree with the medical profession that psychosis is a biochemical disease (although there may be some biochemical based aspects to the disorder). For me, William’s book is superb: well-written and well-researched, persenting a very convincing argument for both mystical experience and psychosis as being responses in which the normal egoic defences of the psyche are overwhelmed by the vastness of unity experience, the mystic having a successful outcome and the psychotic having a less successful response. But the frame provided by this paradigm potentially asks the medical profession to be humanly authentic with patients, rather than technocrats administering medications while focussed on disease as the problem. The issues are complex, but to become humane would require a major revision of our entire society in its valuing of “experts.” At some level that would be both more expensive and very threatening in the age of scientific materialism.
Another source has been a CBC news article ‘It scares me’: Permafrost thaw in Canadian Arctic sign of global trend (2017 April 17) on the melting of the permafrost infrastructure that supports building in the Arctic town of Inuvik, NWT. As a physician, I worked in Inuvik (1971-1972) just after graduation from medical school, so I have some nostalgia and familiarity with the town of Inuvik, and the nature of permafrost; moreover, in 2009, my precipitation into despair came when I recognized the danger of melting permafrost and the developing release of methane (which, compared to CO2, is a more powerful greenhouse gas) — the CBC article gave me a immediate sensory-emotional link to the concept of permafrost melting. As a result also, I checked with a friend who has been part of the United Nations IPCC team who, over the years, has been documenting the risks of global warming via several different models. He notes:
The IPCC AR5 does not include carbon feedback emissions from forest fires, warming peatlands, or thawing permafrost (NOAA Arctic Report Card 2016). . . . The Amazon carbon sink is declining. World wide,there is increasing tree mortality and die back affecting all world forests (IPCC AR5).
All of this means that we are in even more danger of run-away climate disruption, and the multiple tipping points associated with elevating global temperature. We are easily heading for 2°C warming, at which point the developing madness of global warming becomes profoundly serious to the survival of our civilization, let alone our species.
Fourth: Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation (2017 April 20). Famine is an old idea for our world, but now we risk planetary famine as failed states accumulate. As a “civilized people,” we are failing to respond, both in the provision of resources to those who need them, and in our response to the systemic forces wherein failed states become the domain of brutal armed combat, providing further blockage of our responses. Such insanity is our future as we continue to ignore the impact of global warming.
Finally I have been impacted by two posts by an activist-artist Ricardo Levins Morales whom I have recently found. The posts I find to be thoughtful, but complex, beyond my knowledge of the political situations of the United States — yet the ideas seem valid in my limited understanding. I recommend them:
The two posts present a detailed analysis of the many forces that sustain neoliberalism and the failure of American democracy, thoughtfully written.
Most important for me has been what Morales, in the Broken Mirror, calls the Titanic Compact — it provides a possible frame for understanding the inability of NGOs to cooperate with each other. It sets the bounds of “permitted struggle” — it notes:
The destruction of the mid-century mass movements through repression and funding, smashed the mirror in which peoples’ struggles could see themselves as parts of a common movement. In its place narrowly focused non-profits, licensed by the state, are permitted to each carry a single shard of the broken mirror. . . . Under its terms we get to fight to improve conditions on the Titanic as long as we do not ask about the direction, speed or ownership of the ship itself. As long as we comply, we can solicit funding from the 1% and enjoy protection from state violence.
Much of this contract is undoubtedly unconscious, but consistent with what I perceive to be happening in many areas. We are so busy defending our small patches to truth that we do not want to see the overwhelming truth of where we are headed, in the developing madness. And we are so busy designing our protests that we fail to identify that we must mature as a species.
Our options are:
spontaneous emergence from the chaos (wherever this leads), and
deliverated emergence from the chaos (choosing a path of progressive psycho-spiritual evolution, wherever this leads).
At the risk of hubris, only the latter option is likely to resolve our difficulties. Culturally, we must come to terms with power over power, and we must come to terms with our desire for greatness.
In Part 1, I indicated my interest in the Netflix series: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), and my own issues with trust. Here, I continue with commentary on the underlying issues of how we trust, as well as the immense difficulty we have with too much information, or (mis)information.
In attempting to understand trust, I recently looked up the nature of cognitive biases. To quote Wikipedia, “Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.” Depending on which source I looked up, I found between 180 and 250 distinct biases, ranging from anchoring bias (the tendency to anchor conclusions on the first piece of “trusted” information acquired) to the Zeigamik Effect (the tendency for interrupted tasks to be remembered better than completed ones). I found the list to be fascinating, and recognized that many of the biases would have great survival value in a simple culture.
But ours is not a simple culture. When overwhelmed with too much information, I (and almost certainly any human being) will rapidly sort the information for importance according to my biases, especially my other-than-conscious biases. I know I do this every day — and (perhaps as my bias) I believe I am very sophisticated in my understanding of human communication. Heaven help those who are less sophisticated.
Whom To Trust
As I said recently, I have previously written about the means by which we establish trust (Whom Do You Trust?), and the TIC process that people use. To reiterate (as I regard it as a very important process to understand), people:
translate (T) the new information into language they can understand more easily, they interpret (I) into their own system of meaning, and then they corroborate (C) this meaning with groups that they already trust. For example, if I want to process information about new electric cars, I translate (T) the information into my current understanding of cars, think about (I) what cars mean to me, and then go ask (C) my friends what they think about electric cars.
Thus the fundamental basis of trust is how we select those around us whom we will believe, or at least with whom we will associate. But the group we trust may have their own biases, often in many ways. Examples include the colonial stances of the 19th century and the information presented in The Untold History . . . .
Such biases are especially important in the light of George Marshall book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change that I recently reviewed (7 parts, beginning here).
I recently wrote to a friend, concerning our mutual need to find a way to have the Canadian people mobilize for climate disruption, that we need:
a big frame that allows the conservatives and doubters to engage together with those committed. We have to interact so as to establish trust, not so much with the people like [Steve] Bannon, but with those who listen to him and still have uncertainty. The frame could be something like: ‘What do you want for the future? We are all in this together, and even though most of us have uncertainty, we need to pull together to create a better world. Let’s all talk to each other as if the other has truth in what they are saying: both those who are uncertain about climate disruption, and those who are more certain.’
But I continue to wonder to what extent my own biases and those of others interfere with our ability to cooperate on this super-wicked difficulty.
And if we don’t cooperate, the consequences are immense, if not disastrous.
I’ve been watching a fascinating series on Netflix: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), twelve presentations based on a particular interpretation of documented events during the 20th century, especially events related to the politics of war, specifically the cold war. I find it fascinating because it seems well researched and well presented, and it also reinforces my biases regarding the duplicity of modern politics (and probably ancient politics also). And as a result, I am challenged again to decide if the information is actually mis-information — hence my title The (Mis)Information Age.
Reviews of the series were mixed, with claims that there was really nothing new presented in the interpretations provided, and that there was much selective cherry-picking of the information presented. Perhaps this is true, but I still find that it provides me with much information that I had not previously encountered, and as a result that I have been reflecting a lot on how do I process information in the modern age.
My Experience of Trust
When I was a young boy, if I wanted to know something about a topic, I went to the encyclopedia; if needed, I went to the local library and searched for the topic in the Encyclopedia Britannica — the definitive source of the time. There I would find a concise three to five page article on the topic, and I had a sense of trust that I had now found useful information, actual knowledge of the state of the world at the current time. And that there was not easily a better source available.
Almost certainly this was a gross error, and if reviewed now, the information would undoubtedly be considered heavily biased (male perspective, British Empire perspective, et cetera). However, it was a world in which there was a sense of trust. Such trust was manifest in many ways. Many days as a child, I wandered freely over the neighborhood, perhaps blocks away, with no sense of fear. As a much younger child, I frequently visited with the “neighborhood grand-father,” where together with eight or ten other four-year-olds he would read us stories on Saturday mornings. I also recall going to school alone on the bus when I was seven or eight, perhaps younger. My older brother and I, he then perhaps nine or ten years old, would hop on the bus and go downtown to the Saturday morning movies, alone. When somewhat older, I cannot recall that I ever locked a bicycle or a car; most of the time the house door was unlocked, unless we were planning to be away for a few days.
In the interim, in my lifetime, I have watched the erosion of trust, both within myself, and within society in general. As I am sure you the reader know, almost no one fails to lock their home or their car anymore, or if they do, they worry until they return, fearful that it will be vandalized or stolen. Who today would think of leaving a younger child to go to the movies by themselves? Or allowing a young child to take public transit alone?
Nor do I trust modern communications, especially the media, and also much of professional literature. I have six university degrees, all of them in some way related to science; hence I generally understand scientific reports, but I do not trust many of the conclusions presented in modern scientific reports. I am very aware of the ways in which the language used in reports are heavily biased in subtle ways. Especially I do not trust the writings in psycho-pharmacology or nutrition (I also have a 1000 hours training as a cook, and know the politics of the culinary field).
Thus, I have my own issues with (mis)information.
To be continued (Cognitive Biases and Whom To Trust).
This is my final post exploring a précis I did of George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome. The bottom line is how we deal with trust.
Chapter 42. In a nutshell.Some personal and highly biased ideas for digging our way out of this hole. Climate change is a scientific fact. Psychological obstacles are also a scientific fact. A large body of rigorous research based evidence suggests that we need to overcome numerous biases against threats that appear to be distant in time and place. We need to make these obstacles explicit, and recognize that many may be subconscious.
Marshall then offers approximately fifteen suggestions based on the extensive research he has personally done, interviewing many diverse groups as to what has been effective in mobilizing response to global warming, and what has not. [Unfortunately, I find this chapter to be the least useful of the entire book, partly because Marshall’s suggestions have not created a large frame for me — they are more a compilation of suggestions, all pointing at climate disruption. What follows is my attempt to give a frame.]
Trust is more important than information; emphasize qualities that create trust by telling personal story, and being emotionally honest.
Be honest about the danger, while encouraging positive vision. Activate cooperative values, and stress what we have in common. Relate solutions to climate change to sources of happiness.
Recognize people’s feelings of grief and anxiety; mourn what is lost, and value what remains.
Build a narrative of cooperation. Accept the spectrum of approaches that all parties bring. Create a heroic quest in which the enemy may be our internal weakness rather than an outside group.
Follow narrative rules to recognize the actors, motives, causes, and effects. Resist narratives of in-group and out-group; be wary of narrative takeover.
People are best motivated when action reinforces identity and social belonging. Emphasize action that makes us proud to be who we are. Enable communications with built-in interaction.
Resist simple frames, and be open to new meanings. Be sure that a wide range of solutions is constantly under review.
Never assume that what works for you will work for others. Close the partisan gap by affirming wider values.
Keep an open mind; be alert to your own biases. Remember experts can also be biased. Learn from your critics.
Never accept the frames of opponents: do not negate, repeat, or structure arguments to counter them. We all contribute to climate change; argument simply detracts from narrative.
Argument does not establish trust! The very word “opponent” suggests argument! Work to find a way to include the frames presented.
Emphasize the climate change is happening here and now. Be wary of creating distance in time and space.
Develop conversations about long-term preparedness, emphasizing a narrative of positive change.
Recognize moments of proximity that create symbolic moments, adding to emotional narrative.
Present climate change as a journey of conviction. Be prepared to learn from religious sources, which are frequently journeys of conviction; invoke non-negotiable sacred values.
Remember that how we respond now will provide the template for future responses.
The essential means of communication is personal story. Good communication is meant to be a sharing which leads to change in both originator and recipient. Modern communications, especially media, have been very effective in creating personal story, but usually have minimized the resources of logic and ethics. The modern means of communication whereby individuals leave comments, often anonymously, has generally become a means of diatribe, rather than dialogue. It is the means by which individuals discharge their emotional energy, but unfortunately is usually ineffective:
the individual does not fully release their energy, and
generally neither originator nor recipient learn from diatribe.
For effectiveness, personal story must be combined with good information, information that is logical and ethical, and which meets the recipient in a manner that the recipient trusts. Unfortunately, this kind of communication is uncommon. Thus it is essential that communicators work to include the frames of “opponents” — those who, often, are simply attempting to include their frames, and come from a position of argument.
From my perspective, the major need is to find promote cooperation by inclusivity. This requires both personal contact and time for relationship to develop. Given that evolving climate disruption has a time frame, I attempt to work in a manner that hopes/trusts that this effort will be enough! It has been my experience over my lifetime, especially in my career as a therapist, that change often comes in totally unexpected fashion, sometimes in what seems miraculous fashion.
These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome.
One more post to go to complete this series — it has seemed long, but I believe the ideas to be important. The next post, on the final chapter of the book, will summarize my thoughts as well.
Chapter 38. Intimations of mortality.Why the future goes dark. We all know we are going to die, and we used to be able to cope with the thought that our life was contributing to something larger that would survive this. Now even that has been taken away from us. [Such losses overwhelm us.]
One of the destructive aspects of scientific materialism. Human beings respond to emotional narrative — the glory of the material-based cosmos thrills us with its complexity, but does not provide a sense of purpose. This is one of the reasons I ascribe to panpsychism (philosophically) and panentheism (spiritually) — they offer me greater depth of awe.
Chapter 39. From the head to the heart.The phony division between science and religion. Conviction is a condition of strongly held opinion, reached through a personal evaluation of the evidence. We know what needs to be done, and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done. It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and an even longer journey from the heart to the hands.
Both science and spirituality seek to honor the cosmos, and are not opposed (although they have been interpreted as such) — the historic division occurred largely because of power politics of the 13th century, sustained since by the self-righteous struggles of both ends of the spectrum. We need a narrative that includes both, but most importantly we need to stop arguing details when we do not recognize the centrality of our ignorance. Then perhaps we could treat the world, this planet and its biosphere, with the respect it deserves.
Chapter 40. Climate conviction.What the green team can learn from the God squad. Climate change appears to be hopeless because people will never be prepared to make a sacrifice based on rational calculation, but this is not the case with religions, which contain sacred values that are so fundamental that they are entirely nonnegotiable. In religion, the reward for belief comes from belonging to a community of believers, and the cost of disbelief is social rejection. The language of climate change is strongly based in guilt and blame, and contains no language of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, people either reject the entire moralistic package, or generate self-forgiveness to ingenious licensing.
What will it take for we humans to know and honor a value system that treats the world appropriately?
Chapter 41. Why we are wired to ignore climate change . . . and why we are wired to take action. The issues of climate change are difficult to challenge; they are complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. They require certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against uncertain longer-term loss. They challenged deeply held assumptions about comfort, about gases that we have considered benign, and that our familiar environment has become dangerous and uncertain. Cooperation amongst large numbers of rival social groups is required for a distribution of losses, and thereafter the allocation of the greatly diminished shared atmospheric commons. We all contribute moral responsibility together with the powerlessness of individual action. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent, lending itself to multiple interpretations of causality, timing, and impact. This leaves it extremely vulnerable to our innate disposition to select information so that confirms our pre-existing assumptions. These constructed narratives become so culturally specific that people who do not identify with their values can reject the issue they explain. The bottom line is that we do not accept climate change because we wish to avoid the anxiety it generates, and the deep changes it requires.
. . . and why we are wired to take action. Nonetheless, we are capable of dealing with all aspects of climate change. We have a virtually unlimited capacity to accept things that might otherwise prove to be cognitively challenging once they are supported by shared conviction, reinforced by social norms, and conveyed in narratives that speak to our sacred values. We currently feel isolated and powerless, but could readily be mobilized if our concerns and hopes become validated within a community of shared conviction and purpose.
Unfortunately, it is not yet clear at what point we will fully engage in this process. Readers of this blog will know that I do not believe climate change to be a technological issue — it is an emotional issue reflective of our hubris as a species. We have much maturing to do as such.