Bare Bones Biology 039-Good Luck

Is that good luck? When you stick your head out the back door in the first light of dawn and a great, gorgeous owl just glides almost right by your head? Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m out in the yard, doing a little dance with the morning star, because if you thought I was celebrating last week (I was), well that’s nothing to today, with all the good news that’s come into my inbox this week. We’ve had a long ten years with very little good news and I’ve been working on our common problem for all that time, here and away. I finally just settled down with the conclusion there was nothing more I could do that might help the problem and not make it worse, than try to start the discussion among our people. Because nobody can solve anything that none of us will talk about. So. That’s what I’ve been doing.

I felt like I was working pretty much alone, but I guess not, because –- I have succeeded. Or. At least the responsible nontoxic discussion has finally begun. So now I eagerly pass the baton to National Geographic and PBS (and now we know why the corposystem has been fighting so hard to get rid of PBS). But NG and PBS can handle the discussion better than just you and me, so we can go on to the next step, because talking is not enough. The next step is to settle back, take a good look at the overall reality of our situation, and decide upon common over-all goal. My goal is to make life not worse, and preferably better, for coming generations of human kind. We need to make that real. Well, if you agree. If you don’t agree we need to talk more.

The reason we need to set a common goal is because what we’ve been doing is reductionist problem solving, and I know about reductionism from being a scientist. Reductionism does not answer the real questions, nor does it solve the real problems precisely because it is focused on some one little thing (no matter how important) that is not the real problem. In a previous broadcast I called this “evolutionary problem solving.” It might help. It does help – short term – but long term it will not solve our over-all problem. In fact, it makes it worse to work on the symptoms while ignoring the causes

So until our heroic, beautiful, magnificent individual efforts are focused on the real common problem, they will not be used to resolve it. They will be used, but for other purposes. As it is now happening that the corposystem is using all that heroic energy to feed itself — to do battle against the ecosystem.

This is not what we want. None of us can survive a fight against the ecosystem, and this is our year to realign and focus all our work onto that root reality. We can’t win any battle against any grief or sadness or fear or enmity or suffering. We can’t win any battle against breast cancer or poverty or hatred or cruelty or war or dishonesty or even ignorance and wrong thinking. We can’t win those if our effort causes progressing harm to the ecosystem. And this is what is happening. We do great harm to the overall welfare and balance of the ecosystem when we engage in reductionist dogooderism.

Reductionist dogooderism is when every effort is heroic, wonderful, beautiful and leaves you cheering for joy. But all the efforts together do harm to the ecosystem; and therefore none of them can succeed in the long term. And then you go to Bioneers to hear what all the wonderful people are doing, and you leave in tears because their work is so beautiful and the result will only grow a toxic corposystem until it starves out the ecosystem that we need for our own survival. As happened with the Green Revolution. So next time I’ll talk about reductionism.

But today I’m freezing my toes dancing under the stars with a great horned owl. The positive, honest conversation has begun; it will help us sweep away all the lies and get on with the job of helping the ecosystem back to health.

Audiocast at Bare Bones Biology Broadcast 039
KEOS 89.1 Radio, Bryan, TX

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that nobody wins an argument when both sides are right and they both want the same ultimate result, as when one side is concerned with the welfare of individuals, and the other is concerned with requirements for a healthy population. And the third side recognizes that the healthy population requires a healthy environment to live in. The only hope for a good solution is a positive “left-brain” discussion based in physical and emotional factual reality (including the “right-brain” emotions). Not compromise, but an effort to provide for all the most important positive needs of all the emergent parts of the organism. If this is not possible, perhaps because of the complexity of the interacting problems, then the whole interacting network is likely to crash. So the bottom line really is that good talk is the most important “action” that we can do, and bad talk is probably the most harmful. And good talk requires generosity.


Commentary on the Facebook Discussion below.

Talk about a melting pot. We are it. We are in process of learning how, and I especially appreciate the input of “A” who expressed that reality so effectively — and maybe more importantly expressed the difference between “me and you as individuals” contrasted with “all of us as a population.” There is a big difference between these two levels of function. Recognizing this difference we can also recognize that the things we do not like about some population are emergent properties of the population level. I use that term because I want to emphasize that we are biological entities, and biology is organized according to emergent properties. Emergent properties are not labels to pin on any one member of the group they characterize. However, they may be characteristic of the group itself and therefore they may be very harmful (or helpful) to society. If they are harmful, we do need to recognize the harm that is being done. And, within our own groups, we also must recognize that whenever we behave according to the dictates of our group, we ARE (or may be if we don’t think about it) honoring and perpetuating ethics that we deplore. That’s why change is so difficult. For example, fighting for an end to war will never achieve the goal. Sorry all you rabid peaceniks but that’s a reality. Too many wounded losers remain. And it’s almost impossible in a warrior culture to get anyone to listen to what you are saying unless you are willing to fight for it. Or die for it without fighting. Then people notice.

A- “I didn’t realize when I joined the progressive movement that hatred and intolerance would just apply to different groups. I ultimately changed political affiliations because of views held toward my LGBT brothers and sisters and my mixed race family, as well as a host of other human rights issues. I just don’t understand how it is much different here on the left, sometimes. It’s US vs. THEM. I love my Christian friends. And although I hate the commercialism of the season, if it brings them joy to go to mass at midnight, how is it okay for me to stereotype them all as misled? Just trying to understand. If they are, as a group, insufferable, I still believe that I cannot judge each individual on advance. I hope for each that their belief system brings them peace and promotes peace. That is all. And it is possible.”

B-“My opinion is that (for reasons I don’t understand very well) our whole culture on all sides has bought into the idea that our problems are dichotomous, that we can resolve them by “winning” whatever argument (that, of course, is the essence of hatred and intolerance), and that the problems are serious enough that we have an obligation to try to resolve them. The latter is clearly true — both of the former ideas are easy to debunk, but most modern activists act as though they believe that our win/lose cultural ideal is the only way for us to save ourselves. In my opinion, this is no different from war, only on a more moderate scale. Maybe that’s how the ethic got started. I do remember when we ramped up the violence and war movies on TV over the past couple of decades. Ideas like this are imposed upon us by the culture – not invented by individual activists. And so it is all the more important that you are expressing a contrary view.”

A-“Well, thank you, Lynn (oops, that would be B) for not attacking me. I am an observer. I am often just trying to understand my observations.”

B-“You are welcome. I almost never attack people. However, in my opinion we are losing our country — especially our revolutionary rule of law that was set up to handle disputes in a way that would mostly avoid attacking people. That and our fetish with winning that gets in the way of our solving big problems. (Because no big problem is ever two-sided.) And we do have big problems, bigger than losing our country. I think these big issues are more important than little issues — important enough for us to discuss, and my comments I try to make discussable. If that were to happen (discussion), I think it would be worth the effort, even if people often assume I am attacking individuals when I am not (or I am unskillful and unsuccessful in making my points). If ever we were to all get together to try to resolve these issues rather than participate in them, then I think it would be worth punching a few holes in everyone’s half-full glasses (including mine). What’s the use of social media if we don’t use it to make the society better than it already is? I rejoice in the fact that most of my friends are really very tolerant of most of the things I try to say, and sometimes even try to help me say them.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Years ago, I told our monasteries it is very good to learn science,” His Holiness said. “At first there was resistance and skepticism to this, but now after just five years, we have created a whole curriculum. And now we are starting to study non-Buddhist thought, so that we have monks with fuller knowledge. We must also study living traditions, like Christianity, Islam, and modern philosophy.”

I say it’s also good for us American voters to learn science, if we want to save our cultures and our religions and our ecosystem that supports them all. So I have nominated myself to serve on the review board for supplementary science instructional materials at the high school level.

You don’t have to be in school or on a board to contribute to our welfare. The first step is to be sure you REALLY understand how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep the whole thing alive. The second step is to apply this understanding to whatever charitable activities and actions you espouse.

The American Dream

When I was growing up, and when I was a productive member of the work force, my goal was to save and to share with the future (to sustain) the “American dream.” Of course, that wasn’t my only goal, but it was foundational, and it defined the boundaries of my personal dream. The whole point of “my” dream was that we all can have different dreams so long as my dream does not cause harm to you or your good dream. Of course, that’s an ideal — an impossible island within which to function. Therefore, the other half of my dream was a continual process of negotiating the boundaries of our individual dreams so that our community dream can be a positively functioning whole.

It was only after retirement that I realized some of the people I worked with — and with whom I shared a mutual commitment to the “American Dream” — it wasn’t the same dream at all. We had never explained ourselves to each other, never negotiated our ideas, and so we all were seriously trying hard to sustain different and incompatible dreams. This was a shock to us all, and we very soon were arguing/debating/fighting rather than sustaining. It became clear that we can not build an American Dream if we don’t know what it is and discuss it among ourselves — before we start to fight over misunderstandings that we don’t know exist. We cannot understand each other unless we define our words.

Sustainability is a word that we must understand if we are to build a future for ourselves, first because Americans have multiple different ideas of what should be sustained, and more importantly because the word has been deliberately co-opted and re-defined by the economic community, following the green revolution, to mean the exact opposite of what it means. The idea of sustainable growth (which is impossible within the living earth ecosystem) has overcome the actual meaning of sustainability. The implications of this reality are, to me, genocidal. I see this campaign to change the meaning of the word sustainability as a deliberate attack on the life and health of the whole earth ecosystem for the profit of a few. Worse, the attack seems to have succeeded, and the result, literally, is a Ponzi type of growth scheme that is manipulating the resources of the entire world. Like all Ponzi growth schemes, it’s lots of fun while it lasts; however, it is not sustainable. The fact of sustainable growth is physically impossible, even though the concept of sustainable growth has become embedded in our culture as a synonym for sustainability.
(This is an excerpt from Bare Bones Ecology, in production.)

How can we know so much and yet so little?

Can a cell imagine a brain? Probably not, because a cell’s “senses” relate to the fluid that surrounds it.

The brain, on the other hand, because it consists of millions of cells, that are organized just so, has the capacity for thought. Directed thought at that. Directed though clearly is impossible for individual cells because thinking requires many cells working together in an organized way to gather all the information necessary to make a thought. That is why we say that thinking is an emergent property that results when millions of the right kinds of cells come together in just the right way in just the right kind of body. It is an “emergent property” of multicellular organisms, and it’s a function that can’t be done by one cell alone. If you knew nothing about the brain and everything about individual cells, you could not predict thinking.

The unpredictable nature of emergent properties result from precisely organized complexity, and that is why they use the word emergent. It’s not a good word; sounds too complicated. But there you are. The emergent property of a car is that you can drive around in it, where you can not drive around in an engine. The emergent property of a kidney is urine. Not hard to appreciate when you already know what it does — but impossible to predict.

Emergent properties occur at every level of organization, from molecules to cells to multicellular organisms, and surely also the ecosystem.

One of the biggest unsolvable mysteries of life is to understand the emergent properties that characterize the ecosystem. The whole ecosystem surely must have emergent properties — and they will not be human properties, any more than the brain has exactly the same functions as a cell — but there is no way for any scientist to know precisely what properties of the ecosystem support our lives within it. I mean beyond giving us oxygen, climate and the basic requirements of life — there must be an organizing function that the ecosystem needs to stay alive and us in it. But we can’t think about it because we are just a tiny cell inside the complexity of the ecosystem “brain.” If we could understand what it is, and if we could devise a technology, we still couldn’t change it because it is bigger than we are. Cells can definitely mess up what your brain does, if they go wrong, but they can not make your brain better if they go right. It’s already doing what it is supposed to do to keep you alive.

If we persist in believing that we have the ability to understand all about life; if we demand that our technologies save us from our own atrocities, if we become so great a challenge to the ecosystem — to her life and to her unknown emergent properties — that her own life is in danger, then she will eliminate us. She will do this by the immutable processes of which she is composed — shortage of materials; shortage of energy; the disruption of cultures, so that children cry alone and learn to fear life and grow war; the great sweeping climatological changes that we can not predict, because climate — a self-sustaining climate on earth that supports and interacts with life — may very well be the emergent property of the ecosystem. But we don’t know. And the phenomena of collapsing networks that mathematicians are only beginning to understand.

“The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) distinguished between a problem ‘something met which bars my passage’ and ‘is before me in its entirety,’ and a mystery, ‘something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is not before me in its entirety.’ We have to remove a problem before we can proceed, but we are compelled to participate in a mystery…” (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God)

The ecosystem is a mystery in the same way that love and infinity and God are mysteries. Science and technology can answer almost any short-term factual problem, but the scientific method can not stand between us and the mystery in which we must participate as living parts of the ecosystem. The arts, religion, philosophy, history and sociology, are well suited to explore the ongoing, long-term mystery of life, but they do not do a good job of kicking rocks out of our path. Unless our well meaning humanists choose finally to listen to what science and technology can tell us about the rocks under our feet, rather than permitting politics and technology to use our science to serve short-term human ends, they may very well star-gaze us right into history. Or infinity.

And the Next Step Is?

Belt tightening.

Up till now I have been trying to provide at least symbolic support to various groups of well intended folk whose goals are similar to mine, even though — if one analyzes the problem and the actions — it’s pretty clear they haven’t got the foggiest chance of success. The idea was that in a time when there are so many people with hostile and harmful intentions, good intentions are enough to be worthy of support.

From now my view will be to avoid donating time or money to projects that have little chance of success. This was the genesis of my “toxic tolerance” blog several days ago. They wanted more money. Sadly I decided against supporting an organization that is so dedicated to their own mind set that they can not accept donations of expertise from a field outside their own.

For quite a different reason I’ve now dropped a different group. First they wanted me to tell Obama to stop global warming and today they want me to tell Obama to stop hurricanes. I swear — that’s what they said. If it wasn’t what they meant I will never know, because there is not much point reading further than a headline that is that far out of touch with reality.

I’ll keep my hard-won dollars in my own jeans.