Bare Bones Biology 253 – Answer the Question

We have come to an age in my country, where almost everyone we talk to is afraid of questions. It astonishes me when someone responds to my questions by bursting into tears, becoming stiff and defensive or, worse, angry over I know not what.

150310-Bitsy-ASC_5542RLSsBut wait. Come to think of it, people also ask ME questions, and yes there are times I get just a wee bit huffy about it. It does depend what kind of mood I’m in, and how I feel about the other person, and also how many times they have asked me the same question. And most of all it depends on whether I think it’s a real question or just something meant to fill the empty space between us.

Sometimes I ask dumb questions for smart reasons or sometimes smart questions for dumb reasons, and most often I ask questions that nobody knows the answers to, but different people have different answers, and if we got them all together some really exciting answers might come out of it.

I am a naturally curious person, and perhaps entering my second childhood, and I like questions because I like to understand more and more about how the world works. So I ask my questions, and what do I get?

Too often, shunned, attacked, shocked responses – too often answers that are not useful, and more importantly the person on the other end of this exchange also gets nothing useful. Or maybe it is that people will only answer the right questions, or questions that are asked correctly or appropriately.

Then you may say, as most people do say about corposystem rituals: “You are doing it the wrong way.” They don’t say the ritual is negative and causes harm to both the asker and the answerer; they say it would all turn out OK if I would do the ritual correctly – that the ritual is the ultimate right and I am wrong. And then they offer to kindly teach me how to do it right — without asking whether or not I had considered and discarded their method before they were even born.

Teeny-boppers!!!!

My answer is: “So what do I care about the corposystem rituals? The corposystem loves to tell us that we are not OK unless we can become perfect at one thing or another. It’s a great technique because nobody can do it, and at the same time these rituals keep we the people occupied and focus our attention away from serious problems we are not supposed to talk about, such as overpopulation, for example, or the corposystem take-over of our political and educational systems.

Imagine raising children and they can’t ask questions. None of us ever stop learning, and in this age of incredibly rapid change, we need answers. If we can’t ask or answer questions – well then – we are stuck in our own history, and doomed to recycle that history. And that’s a really big problem that will not be solved by anyone being perfect or not perfect.

150409-Bitsy-ASC_6264RLSsSo, as for the questions, my goal is to find answers – not to practice someone else’s proscribed format until my performance is “perfect.” And in the long run, I will end up knowing more, and knowing more is both fun and useful.

We all are stuck with each other, so maybe it would be a good time to make do, swallow our fear or pride or that little tickle in the stomach that says: “I’m not good enough; I can’t handle this,” and just answer the questions. Or tell them it’s something you don’t want to talk about. Or ask a good, relevant question back. Because in any normal social situation, questions are not really a threat to anyone. And they can be incredibly useful to us all.

And anyhow, why this need to prove that you are better than everyone else? Questions are nothing more than children learning how the world really does work, and learning the answers is not an onerous task – it’s FUN! Not only fun, but good information increases your personal power in the world.

So why the angst?

Just answer the question.

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Much better than starting wars or excluding others from important information. Or wasting our time on line trying to prove the un-provable — when we could be contributing information and attitudes that can benefit the future welfare of our communities.

I know a person. You don’t know him. Who spends 100% of our time together trying to prove that he is better than I am, or that he is right and I am wrong. Or anything along those lines, and of course it has nothing to do with me. He does this with everyone. The one primary goal of his life is to prove that he is OK.

And yet, he will never succeed, because he is wrong. He is not better than I am; therefore his is one of those impossible life goals, and it seems to me that he has wasted his whole life as a result of having an impossible goal that is of no value. He is wrong; and if I responded as our American culture says I should – as a co-dependant partner in our relationship – if I respond by trying prove that I am better than he is, it’s very tempting because I know how to do that — but I would also be wrong. Because, most basically, there are no dichotomys in the overall reality of Life; therefore there are no absolute rights and wrongs or betters and worses. It’s all about balancing multiple parameters.

I looked up “parameter” in the dictionary and their definition is much more confusing than mine. Here’s mine, expressed as an example. If there are ten different interacting qualities or traits that are required for – let’s say for your car to function properly – my dictionary would say ten limiting factors, but I would say “balancing the ten parameters” is required so that your car will function properly. And let’s say when your car runs beautifully, that is an emergent property – the functionality of that car – it’s ability to function — is the emergent property that arises or is generated by all those parameters working together (each one functioning properly and perfectly balanced with all the other nine). An emergent property is a characteristic that results (emerges) when the “fortunate combination” of parameters (conditions, processes, things) come together to make the “emergent property” possible.

Or you could say that an emergent property is a newly arising system that never before existed because never before has this combination of parameters been able to work together in just this way.

Making an automobile run beautifully is not just a mathematical balance or overcoming a set of limits. It’s that yes, but also an art and a skill, and a very rare event, when a mechanic succeeds in balancing the (many more than) ten parameters so that your car runs beautifully.

In Buddhism, the above description might be an example of what is meant by “dependent origin” of a functional car. It’s amazingly obvious and uncomplicated, in spite of all the big words. Nothing happens by itself; everything is connected with other things either by processes or by nuts and bolts; and everyone already knows that, so this whole idea is only a matter of learning the words so we can talk about it.

Joseph Campbell uses the example of a marriage. If both partners are willing to give TO THE MARRIAGE (as opposed to “giving in” to each other, if they each work hard to give to their support to the new emerging entity) recognizing that the marriage is a different, emergent biological reality, different from any other including the partners, then that is what the marriage will become. But the marriage will not become just what either expected because emergence unfortunately can’t be preplanned. It depends too heavily on the environment and we never know what that might come to be. The emergent biological reality – the marriage or the culture or the political entity — grows and “succeeds” by experimenting with all its parameters, within the changing environment, and then only if both partners (or in the case of saving human kind, the majority of the partners) are willing to work for THAT goal rather than the goal of trying to prove who is better, stronger, dominant or more to be admired than the other.

I spent the first half of my life learning all the dominance games anyone could throw at me, including all those definitions and spellings, and the second half of my life learning how to not participate in dominance games (but the definitions and spellings still come in handy).

This is why my clubhouse “action” in Bryan “failed.” People came. Most had other commitments, but we could have created what I think of as a corposystem charitable monster. But that would be the same monster “everyone else” is working for. The only difference would be that it would be serving my ego rather than theirs, and monsters are very uncomfortable to sustain and they create a lot of suffering. My goal was and is to help reduce the suffering of all sentient beings by helping to nourish a sustainable, reasonably comfortable Life, overall Life, preferably with humans in it, on this earth.

It irritates me when people want to use me to pursue their goals that are harmful to my own goal. So whenever I am with this person (I’m still talking about the one who never for a minute stops trying to prove that he is better than I am) I always want to ask why does he believe I would like him better if he ever could convince me that I am worse than he is. Or why he thinks I don’t like him now. But I have never asked him because we don’t know each other well enough – and we probably never will because he cannot and would not “hear” what I am trying to say. Even if I said it “nicely.” (ref nice speak)

And that is why, when people came to me at the clubhouse wanting me to help them “succeed” within their image of (corposystem image of) success, I tried but I would not and I will not promote the corposystem beyond the necessity of trying to stay alive and healthy, for my own sake and in order to continue writing for the benefit of my community, which is not the human community, but the community of Life. (ref community)

When I retired in 2000, I looked around and saw what was happening to our culture. (Before that I thought I was helping it to succeed, but it had already died, my culture, and I didn’t even know it). So I looked around and what I saw among dedicated people and organizations was and still is — everyone “running off in different directions at the same time.” That was a gut reaction, but all my research since then has merely refined the why and how. To me it was watching evolution in action, alternating between creation of variability, stirring the pot to generate new combinations of things until that very, very, very rare event might (or might not) occur of the new “fortunate combination” (one of Campbell’s phrases) of qualities arises that is exactly what the new environment requires. Or, far more often, the species or other biological unit/combination of properties dies.

When people become involved in trying to prove who is better than whom, or who is right and who is wrong (ref), they cannot ever participate in partnerships for the growing of a common goal (that common goal would be the next higher level of organization and would therefore generate its own emergent qualities). First, there is no right and wrong in nature, and we are a part of nature. It’s all about balance and finding a combination of traits/qualities/processes/parameters that work together to generate an emergent system that is more sustainable than any of its parts. An emergent system is a new or different combination of traits, processes and/or things that is abundantly successful in freeing us from the limiting factors of our current culture or environment or system.

At every level of Life there is the possibility that Emergent Qualities/Properties might – well – emerge — that are different from the existing set of realities within which we live. But there is only one way to participate in emergent properties, and that is to find the balance within which they can emerge. Remember I keep trying to define the emergent properties that generated our now American corposystem culture. Our corposystem culture is a much higher level of organization than a car, but the process of emergence is not different. In fact I believe it to be perhaps the most basic law of nature. So I want to know how it works. I want to know so I can refuse to participate. Because we cannot evolve a better social system by continuing to do the things that caused most of our problems in the first place – and we can’t participate rationally with the evolution of a better emergent system unless and until we can figure out which COMBINATION of human qualities is needed for its success. Promoting one quality can never succeed. Because every quality has down sides. We must have a system with checks and balances or the down side will once again overwhelm all our efforts to promote the up side.

A perfect one thing will not succeed. Not a perfect peace or a perfect agriculture or a perfect politics or a perfect spirituality or ethics or happiness. None of these specific ideals can survive in a system that is all about balance, because each of these things, acting by itself within the now environment of the Living Earth – all of them have down sides. Instead, we must grow the balanced combination, and the only way to do that is:

1. Abstain from promoting the old corposystem that is based in greed, winning, competition, charity and happiness). None of the charitable organizations that I know about is consciously trying to abstain from promoting the corposystem excess, except perhaps Amnesty, Resilience, Crash Course, and a few of those that relate to growing food. A few claim to be working for the welfare of the biosystem, but they really are about people, not about ecological health, and that won’t work so long as our promotion of human welfare continues to destroy the health of the Biosystem.

2. Personify in our own behaviors the balance of ideals that we believe will grow the new culture. All of the “actions” are trying to do this, in a sort of half-hearted selfish kind of way, but they are also trying to prove that the one human quality they are trying to exemplify is better than all the human actions that others are trying to promote. That will also not work, because evolution is not interested in better, and in the end (unless we face up to the realities of how evolution actually functions) it is evolution that will decide what works in the environment and what doesn’t work in the environment. What combination of human traits can merge their qualities to create a new reality that can survive in the environment of now.

Our culture is or has been very successful. However, its elegant combination of primary human qualities (greed; dominance; being better than everyone else at something, which I call winning; charity and happiness) is no longer appropriate to the new environment it has created. Because there is not enough food and water and energy (earth, air, fire and water) available to give these things to the people, and the resources cannot be MADE available because of what our culture has done to mess up the balance of Life that generates earth, air, fire and water.

That is evolution. That is exactly how evolution works to maintain its balance. And that is why I say the only way I can succeed in my goal (which is not about fighting anything) which is to grow a NEW COMBINATION of traits, so that a NEW EMERGENT community of life can emerge. WE CANNOT DO THIS BY PARTICIPATING IN activities that empower the corposystem ethic.

It still seems to me, because humans are the cause of our problems and because we know what we must do to stop causing these problems, that we humans ought to be working consciously to found a viable, sustainable culture, but I don’t see it happening. We have trained our people that our job – all of us – is to prove that we are better than all the others, and that was not the question in the first place. Dichotomous (two sided) “better than” questions are a waste of our time and of our lives. We already know the answer: “It depends.” And anyhow that question is not relevant to the problem we face. There is no way to succeed at anything unless we ask the right questions that relate functionally to the goal that we want to accomplish. Just being better at something than someone else isn’t even a useful or usable goal.

It makes one wonder if humans really are as capable of learning as we claim to be. The result of a “divide and conquer” maneuver is fragmentation. We’ve known that since before the Tao. Fragmentation will not and cannot result in a successful emergent community until AFTER the crash, if there are any human pieces left to pick up, which is unlikely in this big of a biological catastrophe.

Bare Bones Biology 195 – What do we Want?

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We want to build a human society (system) that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable for humans. That was the dream of the founding fathers; that was the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., and the reason we supported his dream; that was the dream of Jesus and Gandhi and Mandela and countless other dreamers you and I have never heard of. But we-the-people messed it up. So that is not what we have been building.

How did we mess it up? Maybe we didn’t clearly understand the dream in the first place, or maybe we learned too much (but not enough) about too many things in too short a time. Or maybe the power of our technologies and the hubris of our assumptions led us astray.

I had to look up the word hubris a while ago, and now I use it quite a lot because it means pride multiplied by conceit, audacity and self-importance, and that’s what we Americans are. But those were not our intentions, and that does not describe the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, et al. Stubborn they were, but not prideful in the sense of conceit on top of ignorance. Nevertheless, regardless of our intentions, hubris is what we have come to, simply because we are a part of the modern American corposystem, a system that functions out of the energy of hubris.

That is not what I want; my mission has always been to build a human system that is sustainable and reasonably comfortable within the nurturing environment of a healthy Biosystem. Because that is the only way humans can “give forward” toward a viable future. http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/OrenLyons_with_Bill_Moyers-AccountabilityB.mp3

It would be a lot of fun to go ahead as we are, King of the Hill with all our toys. But it doesn’t work; we are using our toys to destroy our own hill, and destruction does not lead to any of the good things that humans can achieve. I want to grow a joyful human future that is sustainable. I do not want to nurture the suffering generated by the violent blip in a universe of time that is our corposystem of today. http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/AmyGoodman_OrenLyons_DN130809-clip.mp3

Every system grows or is created around a core characteristic that is “successful.” And it measures its own success in relation to the “ideal” embodied by its own core characteristic. I have said above that our current American corposystem is built around – one of the core characteristics is “hubris.” Because all systems are cyclic, that also means that the people with the most hubris become the most “successful,” or perhaps a better word would be most appreciated, within our existing corposystem. That is one of the ways that a system maintains itself. Of course there are good ways to build pride, but our system does not consider those ways successful. That’s why I use the word hubris.

Our corposystem hubris is built upon a dream of domination (power plus violence) that is maintained by growth based in greed. That is, growth for profit. Not a pretty story, and definitely not sustainable. Nothing in the entire universe, so far as we know, can grow forever. Certainly nothing that is part of the earth can grow forever, and besides that problem, we need all the other parts of the Earth system to make our air, water, and soil, and to capture our energy for us. That’s why the corposystem is already crashing, and the worst part is that it is ruining the Biosystem resources for any future humans.

I believe most of us would rather build a new human system on this earth that is sustainable within a nurturing Biosystem and is based on human values that we admire because we can proudly share them.

So — let’s do it.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1, Bryan Texas. The podcast can be downloaded here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_195_-_What_do_we_Want_asnd.mp3