Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Storm Warning

Long Distance Sailing

All experienced long distance sailors know there comes a time when they have to stop just sailing along, enjoying the local wind and weather, and start doing what they can to see beyond the horizon, into tomorrow or the next day, make a forecast of the conditions coming at them from afar.

In our societal economic and cultural conditions, we are in such a situation today. What is coming is not pretty. But we can handle it if we are prepared. Those who do not prepare, will be in grave danger of being sunk, economically, physically, maybe even psychologically and spiritually.

We can prepare by getting together with like minded people, sharing knowledge forecasts and ideas, and making plans together to weather the storms and make life useful, bearable, and even pleasurable for all of us.

The issues we have to face, in my opinion, are:

A. Collapse of the economic system from two (interrelated) causes,

1. the collapse of the monetary system, and

2. the depletion of resources, agricultural land, pure water, and most importantly, depletion and greatly increased cost of fossil fuel energy.

B. The ensuing collapse of the cultural norms and spiritual mores that are the "glue" holding civil society together.

History teaches us that human cultures are like ecosystems. They always reach a "climax" stage and eventually collapse, and either disintegrate completely, or reform into a different system. They collapse from the psychological shock of major resource depletion, triggered and accelerated by climate change, or from contact with or take over by, an "alien" seemingly vastly superior culture.

The task of a "Transition" group is to form and commit action to, a rational and spiritually satisfying plan to handle these issues as they appear in our lives, which in my opinion, they already have done. Many people are aware of these issues, and are beginning to think and plan how to deal with them. So, for these people, the "transition" has already begun.

Why can't we rely on advanced science to free us from these worries?

In my opinion, it is not at all helpful to imagine that some form of science will enable "business as usual" to be carried on by 7 to 9 billion billion people into the future.

Historically, the vast majority of people have not used scientific knowledge to reduce the human footprint on their earth habitat. Instead, science has been used by the majority (who are ignorant of the methods and forecasts of science) to do more of what they have always done, which is to procreate without limit, and consume and waste earth resources and energy sources without limit. A simple example, humans have always travelled. They used to go by hand made canoes and other boats, now they use science to fly. It is clear that humans would have ensured they lasted longer on the planet if they had continued with only the slower, hand made methods of travel.

We are in danger of virtually extinguishing human life on this planet within the next century or two. Humans would likely have lasted at least several millennia more before reaching this point, if it had not been for the "Industrial Revolution" invented in England and carried around the world and forcing the collapse of indigenous cultural ecosystems everywhere by the dominating capacity of the will and enterprise of the British culture. (Note that nothing in ecological theory suggests that a "dominant" species can be so capable as to ensure the survival of the ecosystem it has come to dominate. )

What's another point of view?

The science of neurology is telling us these days that our brain functions to programme our decision making based on past encounters, chance experiences, and our inherited DNA tendencies to follow certain paths and reject others. It may be that our notions of free will are just illusions, that we are more like ants than popularly supposed.

So none of what I have said above has any value except to enable us to continue being happy under the illusion that we have some degree of control over our lives. In fact, the Popes who excoriated Galileo and other early scientists were quite right. Those early scientists banished "spiritual values" as a basis for decision, making them seem like pure illusion, only to substitute their own illusions that we humans are powerful enough to overcome our basic limitations.

The latest neurosciences have this virtue at least, that they teach us to be a lot more humble in the face of our own incapacity to order our existence as we wish. They bring us back to the position of the old time Christian theologians, and North American native teachings, that is it not by our own will , but by the grace of some stronger power, that we are given our daily bread.

And if you want to insist that it is only by chance that we get our daily bread, I would say you are entitled to that view. However, I don't see how we can organise a moderately civil society on that premise. It would enable an axe murderer to go unpunished, claiming he was just an agent of chance.

I choose instead to believe that my actions are guided at least in part by moral imperatives proceeding from a Spiritual Creative power greater than I am, with whom I can be in touch every time I go barefoot on the earth, which gives my culture what I call its "soul".

We are into the Christian Christmas season. Always a happy time of nostalgia and celebration for me brought up in the most ecumenical fringe of this culture. I take the birth of the Christ Child to symbolise the best of what we can get by being part of a human culture whose members enjoy each others company, value each others lives and families, and efforts to live as best we can, and who maintain a hope that if things are not good today, they can be better tomorrow, by the grace of God, or whomever we call that Power.

Donato Dec. 5 2011