Bare Bones Biology 109 – Communication

In the past two Bare Bones Biologies, that’s 107 and 108, we tackled one of the most complex of human topics, communication. There are people who specialize in this area, and I probably should consult such an expert, because I confuses me. We so seldom use communication to communicate our reality, and then we have to translate, or guess, what people mean by what they say, and I’m not a good guesser. I finally did figure out the reason people don’t listen to what I say – that’s one of my biggest complaints – is because they’re listening instead to what they would have meant if they had said it.

This is not necessary by the way. If we did understand each other it would eliminate a lot of confusion, and it would only require asking a few questions. But now I find a generation or two of people who are offended by questions, because they equate questioning their meaning with – “dissing” them. (To diss = to disrespect.)

I can understand this, because so many people in our culture are addicted to – or afraid of – power. So we often use words as we would money, or expertise, or machismo or whatever we have at hand to reinforce our own sense of dominance or of defence. The result is not very useful.

I remember a time when expertise was envisioned as useful, not because it gave us an individual edge in a world of fearful competition, but because our individual expertise, whatever it is, can be used to contribute to the welfare of the community. There still exist communities, and some new ones growing, in which each person within the community supports the efforts of the other (even if by support we mean pointing out the flaws so together we can grow a better effort).

Every effort has value, and the values among the many can be discussed. They have worth. None is perfect and none is expected to be perfect. But all together, if the information is made available for solving problems, the community is in a position to deal with the real problems as a group, and so the community has more power than the individual to build a better future for the whole.

Generally, in our culture, we tend to view these communities a primitive, but let’s face it, primitive peoples lived sustainably for thousands of years until we came along with the so-called advanced cultures that are not sustainable within the factual reality of the earth ecosystem. Loving the ecosystem will not change this fact. Neither will technology. Until the spiritualists and the technologists are willing to learn about limiting factors, our advanced human cultures are on a fast track to destruction. Because we do have responsibilities to the earth itself, and unless we know what they are, and fulfill them, well, then our spiritual and technological good intentions are, and I quote St Bernard of Clairveux: “the road to hell, paved with good intentions.”

In a society of competition, where everyone is afraid of everyone else, we cannot use our expertise compassionately to benefit the whole, because the whole is composed of other people, most of whom are more concerned with their own physical or emotional survival.

The result is useless and fruitless power struggles rather than a compassionate intention to address real problems. And in a society where people are hooked on feeling good, or aspiring to feel good, there can be very little compassion, because in a crisis situation, compassion most often does not feel good. Doing what’s best to benefit the whole, often does not feel good. But that is what compassion is – doing what is best for the long-term interests of the other and the whole.

When a solution to a problem is well documented in fact, then it is the responsibility of compassion to study these facts and use them to promote the overall welfare, that is the least suffering, of the whole. For that, we must learn to listen and to discuss. Without listening and discussion of the impact of the facts on all the levels of life, from the individual through the ecosystem, there can be no deep, sustainable, compassion.

Bare Bones Biology 108 – Communication
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Owl photo taken in New Mexico at
Discussion photo taken in California at the conference of:

Deep Doodoo

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty assumptions are doomed to failure.” Steve McCurry

FYI, below is a letter I sent to a fellow scientist.

1. If all scientists thought alike we would be in deep doodoo. They nearly do and we are.

2. If the scientists were paying attention to the whole living reality it wouldn’t be necessary for me and a couple of other people (most prominently and tirelessly, Jane Goodall) to spend all our time trying to draw their attention to the emergent properties of the entire living system within which we make our only home.

Actually, the reason I think you should read COLLAPSE has to do with the details of how these things do and have happened in the past, within the past 6000 years. Diamond does an excellent job of bringing all the data to bear on the holistic reality in multiple different cases of collapses that were caused by more growth than the resources of the ecosystem could support. So in hindsight we can see what caused the collapse, and it was different in every case (except of course for the foundational cause, which was excessive growth of economy and population). Whatever are his conclusions I already knew before I read the book, but the reason for reading is the lovely collection of facts that he presents — the details he uses to construct a world view that is in accord with the facts on the ground. Taken together, Diamond’s COLLAPSE and Barabasi’s LINKED should be read by every scientist who believes the details are more important than the whole picture — or believes we can understand the whole picture by adding up all the details.

The whole point of networks, such as the internet or the ecosystem, is that the details can change without loss of the emergent properties — up to a point. The emergent property of the ecosystem is all of life on this earth. And when we reach the point, the collapse is awesome, it is very quick and it’s not possible to go back — oops, shouldn’t have done that — and change it. And we can’t know what that point is by studying the details. And of course we can not avoid it by reducing global warming because global warming is only a symptom, not the cause of the unbalanced ecosystem; the only viable solution is to modify our growth ethic or at least our growth behavior, and the only good that I see coming from our obsession with global warming is that we might make the connection between global warming and over-use of resources. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have decided to use global warming as an excuse to not deal with over-growth.

Nobody needs me to help treat the symptoms of an overtaxed ecosystem — war, genocide, starvation, disease and the other methods the ecosystem uses to try to save her own life in the face of cancerous growths in her body. The world abounds with people trying to make their reputations by claiming to do something that will help — something that will not, in fact, change the cancerous growth that threatens the ecosystem because the things most people choose to do simply add to the problem of overgrowth. Especially as we continue to let the corporations and the corporate media (even PBS and the NGOs that I have studied) rename every problem as a lack healthy growth and then throw more growth in as the supposed solution.

There is no such thing as healthy, sustainable growth in a living thing.

  • Congratulations all you who have helped to make this almost a book: Bare Bones Ecology – or rather Part one, Energy. This is the final entry on the blog, and the book is now in production. Probably I will find a way to post it on this blog so that you may print it out, hold it in your hands, read from front to back, and share with others who want to know more about the home we live in and to be able to understand more about how our behaviors affect her survival.

  • P.S.(LL I would add Chaos to the reading list)