Bare Bones Biology 122 – Human Hands

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that is playing this week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. A podcast can be downloaded later this week at:

Hold up your hand flat open with your palm facing me. As though you were a policeman trying to stop an onrushing disaster.

Your four fingers and your thumb are all pointing in different directions.

Now let’s think of your four fingers and your thumb as problems or “actions” that you and other socially conscious people are promoting — spending your time, energy and money, using your life to benefit your family, the community and humankind in general. Every person using his/her best skills to address one or other of the major actions, trying to relieve the problems faced by humankind today.

Let’s say your first finger represents hunger, and all the people trying to reduce world hunger. The second finger can represent global warming. The third finger can represent conflict, for example war, politics, genocide, modern economics. And the fourth finger represents religion and spirituality. Your thumb represents overpopulation.

What I notice about this hand is that all five of the digits are pointing off toward different and separate goals. If you added together the five different problems, and the people who are working to address these problems. Well, they are not working together for a common goal – they are going off in five different directions. Often they fight or argue with each other or they simply ignore each other, rather than discussing common goals. For this reason the work of one group often cancels out the gains of one or more of the other groups.

For example, one group is working for compassion in the belief that a compassionate community will not fight. Another group tries to win because they believe that will solve all our problems. The climate change group, after a few hundred years of evidence, is finally beginning to recognize its problem is real and is trying to decide whether to adapt or deal with the root cause of climate change. The hunger group can’t possibly accomplish its goal in the face of climate change and excessive population growth. And the overpopulation group believes that no positive goals can be achieved by continuing the destructive path that caused these problems in the first place.

We imagine if all the groups accomplished their goals they would all add up to a successful community. The reality, however, looks more like a mish-mash of confusing goals and conflicting interests.

Efficient and effective problem solving does not jump out into the world in five different directions at once, with the different parts of itself fighting among themselves. Modern business practice has made many serious mistakes, but at least one good concept has come out of it, and that is goal setting. Good business defines its goals, sets its guidelines, and informs all parties involved.

Our basic human goal is to live in a community that is sustainable into the future. Surely it must be, and if it’s not we should ask each other why not, because we aren’t acting as though it were. We have all these five problems, and more, dashing off in all directions at the same time. Don’t you agree that we could organize ourselves in some way that would at least have a chance of growing a positive future? I think such a future is possible.

If our primary goal really is the common welfare, then we can align our four fingers to represent of our commitment to the common goal of human sustainability on this earth, in good health, at least through the lifetimes of our grandchildren. If my genuine stated goal is the same as the stated goals of people working in different disciplines – then we will cease to be all working for different outcomes.

Next, we can recognize the physical facts: (1) that nobody can accomplish anything if there is not enough food for them to eat, (2) that all our food comes from the earth, and (3) the earth now has more people than it can feed. If you don’t believe these are real facts, then you have an obligation to the hungry humans in the world to fact-check your belief system.

So we then fold our thumb under at the roots of the four fingers, to represent represent the facts: (1) that overpopulation is at the root of all of the other problems. Yes we have had these problems in the past and we did not solve them before. Blame your heritage. Now is now and now we cannot solve them if a large part of the earth’s population is desperately struggling to make a living, and ; (2) therefore, that no other compassionate goal can be accomplished when there are more people than the earth can feed; and (3) therefore, the four other goals cannot be solved in the presence of overpopulation.

Therefore, if we genuinely want to accomplish our goals. If we want our behavior to reflect our commitment to the real goal, and regardless of our personal expertise or our primary interest — hunger, global warming, conflict resolution (community) or spirituality – then it is our obligation to spend a portion of our effort, every day, to help compassionately reverse human overpopulation, first informing ourselves about why it is a problem, and then addressing that problem as it relates to our own special skills and projects. I tend to judge people’s compassion by their behavior. When I see anyone brush off this obligation with a platitude or a blank look — we all do really know how important it is. Then I wonder why they don’t really want to know. Can it be they don’t want to help carry the burden of responsibility that goes with knowledge?

And then – we all work together to accomplish both the root goal and the individual goals by enclosing all of life on earth within the fully informed, goal-oriented, responsible, compassionate hand of human kind.

And then, you ask. (Everyone does.): “But it is such a big problem, what can I do?” The answer is – in this sequence:

1-You can recognize that this is not about “me.” It’s not about who does what at the level of individual decision making. Do not promote the fake debate ( over family planning, which is corposystem propaganda meant prevent us from growing our personal and community power ( the ecosystem. Instead study the real overpopulation threat, which is about human suffering at the level of the population, and at the level of survival of the whole living earth.

2-Do not waste time blaming anyone; it will not accomplish our common goal. Instead educate yourself and others about the suffering of populations of humans who do not have access to family planning because our corposystem is withholding that resource from them.

3-Education yourself about how the ecosystem functions to maintain its balance and therefore it’s welfare and its life (you could start with the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook downloadable from the right side of this blog site).

4-Discuss all three “sides” of the issue with family and friends. The “sides” minimally can be described as the conflicting needs of individual persons, families, communities, and the whole earth ecosystem.

5-What we need most right now is the political will to make family planning available compassionately to everyone on earth who wants it and needs it for their health and well being. Work as a citizen to bring this to the people who need and want it.

Bare Bones Biology 122 – Human Hands

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

Bare Bones Biology 031 – Emergent Problem Solving

We live in a sad time folks. We face choices that are different from those of our ancestors, during all the growing times of plenty, yet appear quite similar. Up to now in this series, we’ve talked about three basic models of problem solving that that are available to us for dealing with these problems. One is the head-butting model; one is the “I’m OK, you’re OK” do-nothing model; and the third is to understand our common goal and then figure out how we can all work together to accomplish that goal.

Humans normally do use one of those methods to solve our problems. Hard science tells us a different set of facts that are equally important. It defines the limits of our power to make change – the things we can not change with our technologies – that would be the limits of our head games. And a third factor, common sense, tells us that change, from birth to death, is always with us, our best teacher as we strive to bring more and more logical reality to our various world views. Most people mix these three sorts of information all up together and drop them into the same pot, and then they fight over which one we need to use, rather than using each for its own value. Three basic sources of good information, each provides a different sort of information, and most of it we aren’t listening to because we want to believe there is only one right answer (and of course that would of course be my answer).

The borders of our experience have expanded so dramatically, that our separate world views walk around together, inside our different heads, rubbing shoulders, being polite most of the time, but inhabiting parallel universes. My worldview is so different from yours that we sometimes hardly can understand each other unless we only talk about trivia, and yet all our world views are logical constructs that are based in our understanding of life. Life is life. Your world view grew out of the same foundational reality as mine. And we continue to understand life better and better – the human behaviors, the mathematical facts, and the common sense — as time goes by.

However, given the complexity of growth, emergent properties, evolution, and the living mysteries that we don’t understand, we think we are confused. Or maybe we think we are not confused but someone else is. In fact – we really aren’t. We know very clearly what is happening. The differences in our perspectives lie mostly in how we react to this knowledge, according to our different world views.

The reality is that, worldwide, we have hit the end of the earth ecosystem’s ability to produce enough green plants to feed our further human growth. So we know one certain measurable scientifically provable mathematical fact. That our growth inside this living ecosystem will be stopped. In fact, it is being stopped right now, by the ecosystem, in all the ways that were predictable, and predicted, and in additional ways. Starvation, disease, war, genocide. And climate change.

And people are waking up. People are honing their problem-solving weapons of choice. Many outcomes are possible: that the head-butters (that’s including the good guys) will kill each other off; the I’m OK group will no doubt fail to take actions that are necessary to survive; and that will just leave you and me to plan for the kind of future that we want for our descendants. Do we want our children to live forever into the future butting heads? I know some of us do, but that may not be an option, given the flaws of that particular problem-solving method. And I guess those people would say, as I’ve said before: “We can’t do nothing.” Well, that’s true, we can’t do nothing if we want something better for our children’s children, but how can we possibly believe that those are the only two choices for resolving our common problem? And only one right one. And of course that would be mine.

Bare Bones Biology
KEOS 89.1, Bryan, Texas

Bare Bones Biology Transcript 027. Personal Freedom.

When I began my quest for a way to help the ecosystem and the people in it, I said I wanted to find an action that I could support that is not causing harm to the ecosystem. I wanted to find something where I could actually work to benefit us all, and I wanted someone else to lead the charge.

The first result of my quest was that my mailbox filled up with the bodies of dead trees. Green plants, you will remember, are the source of ALL the organic energy to run the entire ecosystem, including the paper and envelopes used by enormous rich NGO’s to try to get their hands on a share my social security benefits. They do this mostly with pictures of big-eyed babies who are suffering from something, and they use this method because some research has shown that we respond with instinctive compassion to pictures of big-eyed babies. I know I do. But. Mind over emotions, I do not respond unless the requests also make logical sense, so most of these went directly from my mailbox into the trash. Because we don’t recycle white paper in Bryan. What a waste. And similarly with my email.

But finally I picked three or four or so and sent them a couple of dollars. They were not happy with my contribution and so they asked for more. And more and more and more until I gave up. And the last thing they want is what I really had to give, which is a contribution of effort; they don’t even answer that kind of letters, so pretty soon my trash was nearly flowing over with these dead trees, and I gave up that approach to helping human kind and the ecosystem.

They caught on to this and began to phone.

(sound of ringer)

“Hello, I’m MG. I’m calling on behalf of Senator ______.”

“I don’t take political phone calls at home.”

MG sounded astonished. But how could that be? First, I am (or was) on the no-call list, and second it’s fairly insulting that she thinks I can’t think without her help. It’s the win/lose con game. Only this is on my personal time in my personal home.

And that’s why, if you want to give me a call, nobody answers the telephone except that perky little lady on the answering machine.

Maybe they don’t need me, I thought. Maybe it’s just my ego. Maybe I should just stay home and potter around in the back yard and enjoy myself. Maybe listen to a little recreational television. So I turned on the TV.

Some sweet young thing who obviously knows nothing at all of what she’s talking about told me that what we need, to solve our problems, is growth – and we would have everything we want except it’s China’s fault that we don’t.

They aren’t even trying to be logical. I couldn’t believe it

So I turned off the TV and talked to the people. They have problems. Everybody has problems. But I don’t see a lot of problem-solving going on, and, I keep repeating, I want to do something worthwhile. Making more problems is not worthwhile. Solving them, would be. If I must choose between making problems worse, or pottering around in my back yard, I think I’d rather potter. Still. Mostly what I hear around me is excuses to not try to solve problems.

For Example:
“It’s (someone else’s) fault.”
“Whose fault is it?”
“We’d like to know what is fair” (so we don’t have to think about how to solve it, which is hard and never fair.)
“Aint it awful (anything)”
“They are wrong and we are right.”
“I don’t believe you.” (The answer to this is “why not” and you might have a good conversation.)
“Everyone has a right to her own opinion.” (so I don’t have to think about yours).
“The facts keep changing” (bullhockey, it is the words that change. Words are not facts.)
“What would you do?” (This is supposed to be a trap question to shut you up. I didn’t know this. It worked. So have an answer ready for discussion.)
“On the other hand.” (we can think about the reasons something happened rather than address the solution)
“I know exactly what you mean.” (you do ????????? I barely can believe that.)
“I can’t understand biology.”
“I already understand biology.” (easy to believe, hard to do, given that the media and the school system give a false story. That is, they lie or make up pretty fairy tales to sell stuff.)
“Opinion is equally divided” – right – scientists on one side, oil companies on the other.
Or we would rather talk about something irrelevant. Perfect example the recent murder trial claim that the killer is a “fine young man.” Uh! So? The question is whether or not he murdered the girl.
Or, a really silly one, “Let’s wait and see.” The longer we wait the fewer the options.

Of course the solution to ALL of the above, which are conversations I have had, is to define your goal and talk about that during your problem-solving time. My goal is to not make the ecosystem worse for me having been here. What that means in practice is that the ecosystem maintains its own balance — that’s what ecosystems do. My job is to not upset the balance.

And again, I do not like to be manipulated, and these kinds of word games do more than just waste our time.

And one more thing we should all consider. These kinds of word games do more than waste our time. They are also used, and intentionally used, to distract our attention away from the real issues that caused the problems in the first place, and keep us busy doing something that does not solve the problem that the corposystem does not want us to solve. Because it’s a machine — the corposystem — a humongous computer with its goals programmed into it — and its goals are growth and profits today. It does not care about ecosystem balance, or about tomorrow, because we failed to program those values into it.

Meantime, I’m afraid that leaves just you and me to solve those pesky problems. Let’s get together and talk about it.

Bare Bones Biology #025. Problem Solving II

Last time, we were talking about problem solving skills, and the first one I mentioned was the idea that each person should do whatever they are good at as hard and as fast as they can and keep doing it. According to the American Myth, if we try hard enough, we will succeed. By which we mean, we’ll “win”.

There is actually a lot of truth to that. Fun to think about. Pretty much it’s fun to do if you like competition and if you actually end up winning. But there is a big question of whether or not winning is a good problem-solving skill. We can agree that you won, but did you succeed in solving more problems than you generated. By succeeding, I mean solving a real problem in a way that’s sustainable into the future.

In order to win you have to beat someone. I know some people claim that everybody is a winner, and to them I say it’s better to deal honestly with situations than to make up fairy tales about them. Most people don’t like to be beat. They will wait generations for their revenge, if necessary, a fact that is easy to prove with examples from around the world, including our own civil war. So war, that is, the attempt to win, and that’s at any level from silent disapproval to physical battle, should be a last resort, not the first line of flag-waving. The more times you win, the more enemies you end up with until finally everyone is afraid of everyone else. Eventually, you’re afraid of anyone who is not your supporter and you have cut yourself off from the people who are the most useful for solving problems – that is, people who have ideas that are different from your own. So in trying to solve problems with the win/lose approach, you cut yourself off from the people you need the most.

Furthermore, you have cut yourself off from most of the good solutions, because winning and losing are only two of the available options. No problem is so simplistic as all that; there are always at least three possible solutions, even to the most simple problems, and usually many more. And while we’re killing ourselves trying to win, or not to lose, there are hundreds of other possible solutions we just don’t care to hear about because they don’t involve winning. Or we’re too busy. Even though they very likely might succeed in resolving the problem.

And then, there is another difficulty with the win/lose option, and that is you probably might lose instead of winning, and end up a bitter and lonely old man with no friends. I probably don’t need to explain why that’s not desirable.

So, what to do? Try this one. Whenever you get the idea that “the end justifies the means,” stop yourself. Or, if you think, “that’s the right way to do it.” Stop right there. Sit with yourself for half an hour at least, and ask very seriously if you believe the proposed action really does justify the method you plan to use. Will it really help solve your problem or will it just cause more problems later on? Is it maybe somebody else’s idea of how to solve a problem and doesn’t apply to your own problem. So that takes a little practice.

After you can do that, try this one. Go out and find somebody who disagrees with you and of course somebody who can talk rationally at the same time as disagreeing. First establish what is your common goal with this other person. There’s always a common goal. Just figure out what it is. And talk. Talk about the problem. Talk nice. If both sides genuinely want to solve the problem, you might succeed. And without all the bother and chaos of trying to win something. Or. You might not.

There are all kinds of twists to the win/lose method of problem solving, as well as any other method. For example, as Ann Garrin said recently with regard to senatorial problem solving: “They’d rather have the issue than the victory.” In other words, they’re not interested in solving problems. But that doesn’t change the fact that winning always causes more problems than it fixes.

Bare Bones Biology 024. Problem Solving I

So, I retired about 10 or 11 years ago, I know you’ll get tired of hearing this story, and looked around to find some charismatic leader who is going in the same direction. I would become his or her follower and so make a contribution to the future. The only requirement was it has to cause more good than harm for people and the ecosystem.

I looked.

And looked.

And looked.

Lots of charismatic leaders flying off in all directions, but if you put them all in one big pile they cancel each other out. No progress. This is OK if you believe in the evolution model of solving problems, because eventually something will climb out of the pile that brings about change, but it’s extremely inefficient.

The evolution model is that everyone works really, really hard at whatever they are good at, and then one wins according to the conditions of the day, and the other 99 get lopped off. That may be OK for dinosaurs and other creatures that don’t do science and history, and don’t know how to learn from their mistakes, but I think it’s really inefficient for persons like us who have logical brains. I prefer to work at something that has more than a ½ percent probability of succeeding.

So I kept on looking, and what I found, among the charismatic leaders around the world, was a set of problem solving techniques that don’t solve problems. Or rather, they only solve little temporary problems — sometimes.

This was beginning to remind me of the time in my previous life that I determined never again to do anything I would be ashamed of. It lasted almost two years, and I basically never did anything at all for the whole two years except maintain life and limb and keep my job . I contrast that with my first trip to Japan. I squirm with embarrassment even now, remembering how almost everything I did was inappropriate to where I was, and yet I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other single experience in my life. But it would have been better if I knew what I was getting into before I got into it.

Maybe there is something between those two, where we can avoid the really, really dumb mistakes, and study the things we don’t understand before we try to change them. I mean, we are the only creatures gifted with that kind of mind.

And there is, actually, a set of problem-solving methods that can be expected to do more good than harm, but only rarely do we see it actually used. Maybe that’s because the people who used these techniques succeeded in solving some problems, and that’s why we don’t hear about them on the public media. Problem gone. But of course you’re asking how this could be done, and I will tell you. It’s different for every problem, and it will only work if the people really want to solve the problem. So whatever it is the problem you want to solve, don’t claim that you have really tried until you follow this program:

1. Identify your very specific goal so you decide what actions are more likely to accomplish that goal.
2. Study the root causes of whatever problem you are trying to resolve, not only the sound-bite possibilities, or the propaganda possibilities, or whatever you want to make happen.
3. Learn the differences between facts and opinions.
4. Be very skeptical about the opinions and the “facts” of people who have money invested in the outcome.
5. Be very sure about the parts of the problem that you can not change. There are always parts you can’t change, even if you are a rich American who owns a technology company. Don’t try to change them.
6. Figure out what human behaviors are contributing to the problem. Because human behaviors are nearly the only thing you really can change.
7. Don’t lie to the people. They’ll probably figure it out.
8. Listen to the people who disagree with you. They may be your best source of good ideas.
9. Discuss the problem with everyone who is affected by it, including the children, unto the seventh generation.