Letter to a Mother

You ask if the American Dream can be saved, and I answer that I am very proud of the American Dream, at least my American Dream that imagined a level playing field for all of human kind, balanced under the rule of law. However, I doubt that it can be saved from our greed and our egoistic belief that we can force history, evolution and nature herself to function as we choose to believe they should. The fact is, we do have some control over history to be, some control over technologies related to evolution, but no control over the basic natural law that drives both, and we seem not to know the difference between what we can and what we can not control.

Evolution, for example. What difference does it make on God’s green earth — if evolution was or was not involved with us being here. That is a question for God. The important thing is that evolution does exist and it functions according to natural laws that we can not change. That is also a question for God — why natural law functions the way it does. Who do we think we are, telling God how he should have made the laws of life? Our question is how to live fruitfully within its boundaries. (Can you imagine faintly that I’m having an argument with Adam?) Whoever, we humans will fare far better when we face the fact that we are not riding high, either as a species or a USA, and recognize that we are on the downhill side of our life cycle because of our “take-charge,” “dog-eat-dog,” “red in tooth and claw” attitude toward each other and toward the ecosystem.

Fortunately that’s not how nature works in the overall scheme of things — dog-eat-dog, or red in tooth and claw — and even more fortunately, we know the basics of how it does work. Of course we may not be happy that eating is an essential part of how the ecosystem distributes the energy of its life. It may seem like the big dog gets the best cut. Yes, animals eat to live, but that does not mean the more you eat the better off you are and it does not mean that we should try to dominate. Nobody dominates in the ecosystem, and if they try to dominate the ecosystem will fight to maintain its balance, and the ecosystem is bigger than we are. A fact that our top dogs don’t want us to talk about. And so the information about how the ecosystem really functions is essentially not available to the public. We get plenty of scraps to fight over, but not the real facts that could permit us to adapt to the real deal of how the ecosystem maintains its living balance.

This blog began as a discussion of power; we discuss useful information: not propaganda, not fake facts, not hype or (usually) not metaphors. The real deal.

Up to now we have talked about how energy flows through the system and does not recycle. We pointed out that we can not hog it all for ourselves and still survive in an ecosystem in which all the energy must be shared to maintain the balance and resilience required for its survival. We pointed out that millions of other species participate in this balancing act by their own life functions that accomplish necessary processes within the ecosystem. The flow of energy we can not change; it is a basic requirement for survival; the energy must reach all the living organisms of the ecosystem. The fact that the big dogs want to talk about technologies that will give us access to more organic energy does not change the fact that doing so (unless we change our human social structure) will further unbalance the energy flow of the ecosystem. It’s one of those scraps they want us to fight over while they are grabbing the best cut, so they don’t provide all the information we need to make sensible choices. The bottom line is, no matter what we do to get more energy, we will unbalance the ecosystem unless we change our American belief that growth is good and more growth is better.

That’s not how the ecosystem works, and we can’t change how it works.

Time we also can not change, whatever it is I don’t know, but only in the movies can we make-believe going back in time. The mistakes we make today will be with us forever. We are the product of our history that we can not change. Today is the only moment of time that we can control. How would the world be different if I had decided to go out and ride a horse this morning instead of writing this letter for you and your children? We can never know the answer to that question. Maybe we can learn something by the briefest look at our history.

We are a subunit of the ecosystem. We got here somehow; that matter was decided by God, or at least not by us, and it is history. Whatever is our opinion about that doesn’t change whatever happened, so there is no point arguing. We have a better documented idea of what happened during historical time, when we evolved our social behaviors from the lifestyle of a tribal hunter gatherer; to the pasture nomad with domesticated livestock; to the farmer with domesticated food crops; to cities built on the power and wealth of individuals who in effect domesticated other individuals to work for them; to the United States where we have developed a concept of civil rights based in the rule of law rather than the rule of rapacious individuals.

This rapid social change is incredible, in only a few thousand years, and I just bounced across the high points. If I were to pin down the most important social changes of our species in historical time (I am neither a historian nor a sociologist, so you can tell me if I am wrong), I would point to:

1) The Axial age when the current major religions formed, all of which espouse the similar ethic: Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you; the fall of a sparrow; the ten unfruitful actions; compassion=kindness as a positive and fruitful life style.

2) The abolition of the slave ethic (which occurred first in France);

3) We can hope and pray that we are in the middle of a similarly important jump in our social awareness, if we do a good job using the power that we have right now in this moment in time, to make wise decisions.

So that is where we are in time.

We are also a subunit of the universe in space. The universe is organized in levels of complexity, like boxes inside of boxes. I will skip over a few of these levels as quickly as I addressed the story of our times. The whole universe contains a bunch of galaxies; each galaxy contains a lot of stars; some of those stars have planets, including ours, and the earthly planet is unusual in that it is a living thing. A definition of life is that living things create the balance they need to stay alive, and this is certainly true of the whole earth ecosystem, and easily proven. So we are organisms that live in a living ecosystem and we are made of cells that live in a living organism. Levels of organization in the living ecosystem can be thought of from smallest to greatest, as: cells; tissues; organs; organisms; populations (a population is all of one kind of organism); and ecosystems and the whole big living earth that gives life to it all. Among all those various levels of organization, I choose to consider three over which we do have some element of control. Or at least all of our behaviors do influence all three of our closest levels of organization, and because we have influence, we therefore also have responsibilities to the outcomes of our behaviors.

Level One is us and our interpersonal interactions. One on one.

Level two is the human population behaviors. It would include war and the health bill and things like that. Maybe things that happen on the internet. Level two is basically the average of all the interpersonal interactions in the human population, and their impact. Politics and civil rights depend upon the accumulated behaviors of all the people.

And here we run into that “tooth and claw” error again. Politics and civil rights are political; however, they do not primarily affect level two according to who wins and who loses, as in an election. Level two outcomes are not the wins and losses — they are the actual history that we leave behind us — the actual composite result of what we all do. Successes and failures are not the same thing as wins and losses. Level two outcomes represent the results of what we all do and how that whole result changes history from what it otherwise would have been. Tooth and claw politics is not the most effective and certainly not the most positive road to success, because it only benefits the big dogs while at the same time causing harm to the population as a whole. Which is more important, the big dog or the whole of level two?

Level three is similar to level two, but it is more real because it is the entire ecosystem with all the parts that keep it alive. All of life on earth, not only people. If the ecosystem dies, or kills us off to protect herself, then we have wasted our level one and level two efforts. Ignoring or denying that fact will not lead to a successful outcome for human kind on earth.

The most important point here is that we, and especially Americans, tend to assume that whatever we believe is good — is good — without stopping to find out what really would be good at level two, because we have been suckered into the belief that whatever it takes to win in a good cause is good. And what about level three? We don’t even try to think about what is best for the survival of level three. We just toss our cans in the recycle bin and try to save the people of Haiti, working at level one, and get on with fighting over scraps in level two.

That won’t do it, folks, because that’s not how the system works! The requirements of a healthy level two, and especially a healthy level three, are different from the requirements to be a “successful” level-one American hero.

If level four is God, then I’m pretty sure God would not want us to destroy the pretty little blue and green life form that is circling around our sun; and because I don’t see anyone in the media effectively paying attention to her needs, I choose to focus on helping level three.

Because I am working at level three and you are working at level two does not relieve either of us of the ethical responsibilities of level one, and the biggest of these is to respond to other organisms in need, if they really are in need of our help. Using these people to feather our own nest, without also responding to their need, no matter how noble the nest, is unethical.

Our level two efforts, including the ACLU and the political controversies, KEOS radio and education — these are not bad things. I believe all of these good works are the germ of a new breakthrough in human level two belief systems.
But the only way that breakthrough can conceivably happen is if we survive on this earth.

To survive, we must incorporate level three needs into the (already complex) problem set. That’s why I say we have the potential, right in this moment of time, to generate the third giant step in human social evolution. However, we are leaving out the essential component of that step. We can’t survive in level two if we kill off level three. By ignoring this level three need, we will destroy your level two goals that relate to civil interactions among peoples and your level one goals as a mother.

Anyone who claims to care about other people has a responsibility to not make life worse for other people. To do that, we have also the responsibility to understand all sides of our own “actions” at all three levels, so we can know where and how our own “actions” are actually causing harm to other people. We have a responsibility to not rejoice over “wins” that take food out of other people’s mouths or force the ecosystem to change herself (climate change is only one example) for her own survival.

Normal life doesn’t work that way. Healthy life is maintained by a balance of interactions among a skezzilion processes and actions; it is not a win-lose battle; it is a program designed to maintain healthy life — at level three, so that it can be available to all the levels. But if we continue to force the ecosystem into a fight for her life, either we humans (along with a lot of other species) will lose — or we all will lose. If we can’t change our growth ethic and our win/lose method of getting what we want, then we will discover that the ecosystem will do whatever is necessary for her own survival, and there is nothing we can do to stop her except to stop messing up the balance of her systems.

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