Bare Bones Biology 156 – Nice Speak

The story of my life: Chapter One, I grew up; Chapter Two, I majored in Biology/Genetics/Evolution; Chapter Three, I had a great teacher, Dr. Salt, at UC Davis, who caused me to realize the relationship between human overpopulation and war, starvation, and all the other ills that are now converging upon us; Chapter four I quit science after agonizing for months, trying to decide whether or not it is unkind to tell people these facts of real life. I decided it was. It never occurred to me, until I saw it happening, that my fellow Americans would permit a bunch of crooks to take control of the world food supply and expand the world population so they could take over our governments. Chapters five, six and seven, I returned to science, was successful, and eventually realized why democracy does not work unless the people understand the facts of life and discuss them together. Isn’t that what the “greatest generation” was fighting for?

130623-Fire-ASC_3883RLS+sAnd now I must repeat myself, what I’ve been saying on this program for three years, because the shortest distance between here and there is to start listening to each other, studying, and discussing the issues that face us today as a result of human overpopulation ( Nothing will resolve itself if we continue the modern nice-speak (or any of the many other techniques when they are used to prevent discussion), and then continue each person doing her own thing, on the theory that everyone has a right to her own uninformed opinion.

Nobody has a right to cause harm to the community of Life, regardless of what they believe themselves to be doing. The only way to change a human cycle of behavior – or any biological cycle — is to cut the cycle. That’s why good discussion is essential. First we must see the cycle and then we must modify our behaviors. Nobody sees everything; the cycle cannot be cut by each individual person trying to prove that he personally knows all about the cycle. That turns human control over to evolutionary control and the wheel turns round once again to repeat the past interminably. The only way to change the cycle is by pooling our knowledge of it. Otherwise we doom ourselves to repeat the cycle by focusing all our own energies either on promoting or fighting against the little bit of it that we understand and so pushing it around one more turn of the wheel of divide and conquer.

So this is what happens instead of discussion. If I say to you that I believe population control is the only viable solution to our root problem (the actual cause of the illness without which we cannot cure the disease). What do you say to me? Usually it is one of these things: a) “I disagree;” b) “Let George do it,” which means, “I’m doing something more important than you are, and I don’t want to stop doing that to engage in population control, which is not nice and about which I am not concerned and know very little”; c) ”How would you control the problem without also doing something so appalling that I won’t even think or talk about it?” (I’ll answer that one because of course it is the problem — but it’s not a reason to not talk about it. We are communally already doing something even more appalling by not taking appropriate action; d) “Nobody would give us money if we talk about population control;” e) (well, that’s a partial list, and that’s only the people who do agree that we need to stop the growth. The other side has even more vigorous replies.)

130622-canyon-ASC_3624sTHOSE ANSWERS ARE NOT DISCUSSION, they are attempts to avoid discussion. Of course everyone has said or thought those things, but unless you actually state your reasoning and then are willing to carry forward the discussion, those answers are not discussion; they are attempts to avoid discussion. And there is no point trying to discuss a real communal issue with someone who only cares about his own.

None of those are even a right answer if we seriously want to resolve the problem. The answer is WHY? Or if you already know why, the answer is HOW? The answer is NOT “Everyone has a right to his own opinion.” And the answer is not to complain about how a thing is said — so long as it is focused on the problem and is not abusive (meaning that people are actually listening to the other and trying to understand and respond) — but to complain if discussion is not permitted, usually because some believe themselves to have the only answer and are not interested in the fact that there are many implications of ANY problem, and nobody knows all of them. Either we pool our knowledge or it’s divide and conquer time again and the cycle repeats itself as it has done for a couple of millennia at least.

I am saying the glass is equally as much half empty as it is half full, and that is how Life stays alive. By delicately balancing itself just on the edge of death, between full and empty, and if we continue to unbalance it, we, and possibly it, will crash in this generation or the next, because we have pushed the wheel as far as it physically can support us. If we believe only in the nice things (or for that matter only in the nasty things, or only in one thing, whether or not it is true), then we are easily manipulated, and we have very little long-term power to help balance the scales of our own lives, or of Life itself, no matter what we believe ourselves to be doing.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas. For a podcast of this week’s program, go to

Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance

There’s nothing wrong with ignorance, you know. People get all het up about that word, ignorant. Ignorance has nothing to do with how smart you are. It simply says you don’t know something. Every creature on earth is ignorant about some things, actually most things. Einstein was somewhat ignorant about ecology. Why not? He was a physicist. Physics is not ecology. Einstein spent much of his time thinking and learning about physics; and he did not run around trying to convince people that he knew about things he didn’t know about. He knew what he knew, but the thing that made him so smart is that he also knew what he didn’t know.

I was thinking about ignorance and reading a peer-reviewed research study that was done by Justin Kruger and David Dunning at Cornell University.

I’ll quote their conclusion, leaving out just a few words:

“People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities . . , in part, because people who are unskilled . . . suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. … Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.”

Well, I’m always suspicious of people who use big words when they could make better sense using ordinary words, but these people certainly understand what the words mean, and their methods and statistics, and also a long list of references, all hold up well, so I’m pretty sure their results are accurate. The bottom line is — the best way to grow your competence is to be very clear about what you know and, more importantly, what you do not know. Or as I say it, the best way to grow your personal power is to know the difference between the facts, the lies, the opinions, and self-serving poppycock. People respect knowledge more than recycled blather. Would you hire an engineer who doesn’t know the difference between a slide rule and a calculator?

So I thought it was really interesting — that same day, I received copies of an article in The Economist. The editorial and the article clearly review many of the problems that we humans face in our ecosystem today. And they use all the right catch phrases. Resilience for example:

“. . . it is possible to add to the planet’s resilience, often through simple and piecemeal actions, if they are well thought through.”

But apparently they don’t understand the relationship between resilience and the numbers of species in an ecosystem, because they also stated that half the earth’s species are going extinct. And they did not mention that we are almost entirely ignorant of the functions that most of those species perform to maintain the resilience of the ecosystem. So – given our enormous ignorance, I don’t understand how they plan to carefully think through a method of improving resilience while at the same time extincting half the earth’s species. Would you hire these people to engineer the future of the earth ecosystem that provides your air, food, water and work – literally your life?

And if we revert to commonsense, there is an idea they did not even consider. Wouldn’t it be safer, easier and less abusive to humans and the living earth ecosystem to remove the cause of all those problems? The common root cause that lies behind all these problems – and anyone can do the math — is excessive growth. But the implications of this fact are not seriously considered anywhere in the article.

Bare Bones Biology 063 – Power of Ignorance
KEOS FM, 89.1, Bryan, TX
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