The P Word

Well Look at This

Conservation Magazine, after years and years of dancing around the May pole has used the P word.

I don’t believe it, especially, the idea that television can give women power, without regard to what is ON the television, but a step in the right direction is a step.

Below is what I have been lately thinking about.

Dr. Susan Clayton
The Psychology of Biodiversity Conservation:
Connecting People to the Natural World
A seminar I recently attended

Front. Ecol. Environ. 11(7):377-382
Front. Ecol. Environ. 11(7):355-361

This is not a summary of what Dr. Clayton said in the seminar, that you can get by reading her excellent papers, so much as it is a description of how her seminar settled in my mind and gave me a new idea about how to approach our common problem. Which I would term more as connecting people to the self-evident reality that we are living in an over-stressed Biosystem.

In my opinion, they already know that; they primarily want to pretend it isn’t so.

Dr. Clayton said – Identity: Our identity is a sum of our experiences
Early experiences
A label embraced by ourselves
A label imposed by others
A framework that incorporates values and worldview.

Me: I recognized our old friends, levels of organization, upon which the Biosystem and all systems are based and which arise out of evolution (as it really is, not as we have been taught).

I find it interesting in that Dr. Clayton’s system of identities recognizes the biological levels of organization that represent the systems of which we are a part, including ourselves as individuals; ourselves in our communities; ourselves in relationship with the corposystem values — of which ourselves and our communities are integral parts — and ourselves in relation to the Biosystem itself, that is the whole of Life.

This reminds me that each system – every system and subsystem that has naturally evolved – has emergent properties that arise as the “phenotypes” that maintain the specific system as a unitary whole. I always think of limbs in animals as my example. However, human social systems also have emergent characteristics. For my example below I will use the corposystem. A very interesting system, and because of my primary interest in ecological evolution, I have watched how it has evolved during this critical late phase of its existence.

The corposystem has a number of obvious emergent characteristics, but I will use for my example a dominant one – growth. This may be a property of all biological systems, but that is a different subject. My question is – why does the system have a property that is not shared by the worldview (identity, values) of many or most of the individuals that make it up? Of course, this is an old question: what are emergent properties? Important, because emergent properties (phenotypes) – and the environment – direct evolution.

And basically evolution is what Dr. Clayton hopes to influence, though she didn’t use that word, and she is not alone.

We all are threatened primarily by our own overpopulation, that arises from the corposystem requirement for growth and the fact that an evolved system’s primary function is to perpetuate itself (that is, to perpetuate it’s own emergent value system, which is growth in this example). But the personal values of most individuals who make up the system, I would reckon, do not focus on growth. Thus, in my opinion, what Dr. Clayton is working to change/understand is not the actual cause of the emergent phenotype, or at least not the proximate cause. (ref. The Shift)

So I think it very likely that we cannot change the growth ethic (which is very likely to be the cause of our demise) by changing the value systems (identities) of ourselves individually. Or at least that is the question that arose in my mind during the seminar. I think the growth ethic of the corposystem is primarily a top-down phenomenon that is maintained as an emergent property generated by the whole of the system, not as an additive bottom-up creation.

Dr. Clayton: “We want to find a way to make an impact in the face of these problems.”
And she discusses experiments that relate to changing identities (worldviews, value systems).

Me: My observation is that most people want to be important within the system – not make an impact on the system (there is a difference, expressed by behaviors but not by language), and that desire is the main driver of the system. Even or especially extreme activists; what they primarily want (if they can’t have both) is recognition within the system — not whatever change they are advocating. I think that is the human driver of our corposystem emergent characteristics.

But the corposystem, of course is NOT HUMAN, and therefore cannot be evaluated using human psychology. Therefore, at the level of the system, neither psychology nor human values is relevant.

It is not at all clear to me that we can change the corposystem by understanding the psychology of humans. I think it’s more likely that the corposystem will find a way to use this information to reinforce its own emergent property (growth). That is, of course, why it supports academic research and keeps the results of that research out of the hands of “us” as individuals.

The human behaviors that Dr. Clayton studies are relevant at the human level. It is valid and useful research. And her experiments seem to rather strongly suggest that our self image and values as individuals are mostly informed by our social environment. So, the social environment would be what the corposystem uses to maintain itself, and what we potentially might use to change the (ex.) growth ethic of the corposystem.

I have been experiencing a strong dose of social influence lately, living for one month in the black community of Bryan, another in the privileged part of Chama NM, back and forth each month, and then all summer alone with the Biosystem. And then when I am brave enough to go back into my former world as one of the first women faculty in the College of Science at Texas A&M, sitting in a seminar, I sense my life and my past to be so different from that of current women students that they cannot imagine who I am. Nor I them. Who we are and what we worry about depends very strongly upon our cultural environment. Much more so than we realize if we stay put somewhere. And we can’t avoid that fact.

What I envision is that the pathway between human self-image and change in the biosystem is mediated via the corposystem reward and punishment methods of maintaining itself. Simply because that’s how systems evolve. Systems evolve by building and testing variations on whatever made them successful in the first place. They become better and better at what they are good at. (As example, the giraffe.) Reward and punishment arises out of this mandate, and humans follow the reward. Not the other way around. I believe it makes very little difference to individual humans what is rewarded and what is punished, so long as they have a chance to be recognized as important within the system.

The result, in my observation, is that “we” will do whatever is necessary to NOT rock the boat — because we do not want “things” to change from those upon which our identity (what I call our worldview) is based. Those “things” values/beliefs are imposed by the system. The function of a system is to reinforce itself, and changing our identities may not be an option until the system crashes. I think Dr. Clayton’s takeaway message points to this reality; but I think the causes and effects are reversed. In other words, we are not at the center of the story; we are not in control of the mechanism, and cannot ever be so long as we believe that we are. We are teaching our women to think like European men, rather than teaching our men to think like Asian women, with respect to systems over which we do not have direct physical control.

The result in my example is that we are all afraid to talk about or study or even think about overgrowth, overpopulation – not because we are physically afraid, but because the corposystem will (1) reward us for doing something else, and (2) it will punish us if we keep trying to point out a truth that is harmful to the corposystem as it evolved. While American individuals and communities espouse our right to our own beliefs, the corposystem enforces our “vow of silence” on the subject of growth, and it is a vow that runs from academia to the highest office in the land and down to the lowest of the low. Even though it is the one subject that must be discussed if we are to survive, we are afraid to open our mouths.

Another system belief that we have currently taken to our hearts is that human systems are more powerful than natural systems,, a false believe shared by most highly educated people. But I will stick with growth for my example.

Dr. Clayton discussed ways in which “nature” can be linked with our identity and some very interesting experiments around that question.
Political identity
Social identity

Me: I came away with an impression that our social identity is so powerfully connected with our environment (“peer pressure”) that the effect is close to irresistable. Thus, what we say we want, and we believe that we want — are not connected with what we actually do want.

When I talked with Dr. Clayton after the seminar, I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to find that she is very concerned about overpopulation. And yet the word was not mentioned. And when I mention it in academia, the reaction is essentially the same as when I mention it anywhere else. We can’t talk about that. Usually with no reason given.

My bottom-line take-away for myself and my own activism is as follows:

1. The corposystem tells us that we must not talk about overpopulation. Mostly it tells us this by telling us how we MUST talk about issues, in a way that excludes real discussion of solutions and instead mandates “aintitawful” ranting and/or sound bites or euphemisms in our public utterances. I have chosen not to participate in these “acceptable” displacement activities, basically because I believe in not “feeding” the growth of the corposystem (as described much better by the attached

And yes, the punishments exist. First, you can’t get published if you fail to conform to the norms defined by the corposystem, which as far as I know are not based on anything except how to get published. (Research papers excepted, as they are. originally at least. based in the scientific method. However, we do not see the word overpopulation in scientific or political discussions of the causes of our wars, starvation, extinctions, climate change, and it is the most obvious thing in the world that these social phenotypes would not be necessary if human populations did not exceed the carrying capacity of the earth. And that we cannot resolve them so long as our populations do exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.)

2. “Peer pressure” or “social identity” seems to be the strongest direct influence over human behaviors, and the emergent “value” of the corposystem itself (growth in our example) is an indirect, but stronger influence on our identity-based behaviors. The result is that individuals don’t, won’t or can’t act out their own personal value systems.

Of course my efforts have been strongly negated by this astonishing “conspiracy of silence.” The sky is falling on our species, but we are not permitted to talk about it, and if we can’t talk about population, then we can’t talk about what conditions the Biosystem must have for its healthy sustenance.

My takeaway conclusion from this seminar is in fact very useful to my activism. Obviously, I cannot change an emergent property of the system of which I am a part, but possibly I could influence the social values of the subunits (us).

I already know that ranting and raving about things that other people don’t understand is of no particular use in getting them to understand; I also know that they aren’t interested in understanding (they would rather be important within the corposystem, or just carry on the lives they expected to have), so logic and evidence won’t do the job.

What I learned from the seminar is to fit peer pressure into this schema; to simply act and speak and converse, on a regular basis, as though EVERYONE DOES TALK ABOUT IT and refer casually, as though it were common knowledge, to whatever references I choose to mention. I will no longer be afraid to talk about “it” because “they” are afraid to talk about it. Instead I will pretend that discussion of overpopulation is commonplace, normal, non-threatening in all contexts, and anyone who is not discussing overpopulation must be a member of the out-group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: