Our Greatest Common Factor

If we only have one thing in common, it's that we all need a planet that can support life.


Leave a comment

Morality vs. Causality

It is still a widespread view that morality is the key element of being human, and the ability to make the destinction between (absolute) good and evil is the only way to be able to live an acceptable life.

This is why it might at first sound like a paradox to some to criticise morality, and furthermore claim that absolute morality could in fact be one of the biggest obstacles in the way of humanity’s survival – so I ask you to bear with me for a couple more paragraphs.

Morality and Emotions

First of all, learned moral code tends to have a very strong emotional affect on us, that can prevent us from understanding the real chain of causes and effects that has lead to the situation under consideration, and therefore, also prevent us from finding solutions to change similar causations to our favor in the future. For example, the case of Josef Fritzl causes such a strong emotional distress and feelings of disgust, you simply don’t want to think about it beyond the notion that Fritzl was, simply, absolutely evil. But if we submit to our first emotional reaction, and accept this conclusion without question, what tools do we have to prevent this from happening in the future? Try to find and catch all the evil people in the world?

But if, in the name of deeper understanding, we try and see through the layer of emotional and moral distress, we just might to be able to look into the causality behind the horrible situation. What was Josef Fritzl’s childhood like? How did World War I and II affect his personality? What else do we not know about the background of this person? If we studed the subject thoroughly, we could perhaps find out some of the probable reasons why this happens, notice similar causations in the future and maybe even be able to prevent similar cases beforehand.

Understanding instead of Resentment

In my opinion, the same pretty much applies to viewing human behavior on a global scale, too. The more you learn about the mechanics of our culture, the easier it is to resort to thinking that people are generally ‘greedy’, ‘evil’ and so forth – in other words: to moral resent. The problem with this mindset is, it tends to lead nowhere – no new solutions, no deeper understanding, just feelings of guilt and/or anger, that admittedly might lead to spontaneous action now and then, but rarely to long lasting change in your behavior.

Again, I have a strong feeling that a more constructive approach would be to try and look through the layers of morality and emotional impact, and tap into the causality behind the phenomenons we’re trying to figure out. Why are we ‘greedy’? Why do billionaires keep wanting yet another 100 million, even if its affect on the quality of their lives was practically nonexistent? Why do the morbidly obese want yet another bag of chips even if they know it could kill you any given day? Looking behind moral assumptions, the answer could perhaps be found in the history of our species, and the behavior of other species as well.

Human development has lasted for about a million years, depending on its definition. Only a couple of thousand of years of it has happened in a culture resembling anything like ours, and less than a century in an environment that requires profound understanding of global mechanisms and resources. Therefore, it’s pretty safe to say that biologically, the post-industrial age hasn’t had time to affect our evolution practically at all. This seems to lead to the conclusion, that the basic properties of our problem solving capabilities have basically not changed after the times we lived on mercies of the nature. Of course we have a lot more information to help us understand our surroundings, but the basic mechanics of thinking and feeling haven’t really changed.

In this light, our behavior is only logical. When we lived without the support network of modern society, eating whenever possible was the wisest thing you could do – the everyday struggle for survival made sure all-you-can-eat was never too much. And the ones who most diligently collected foodstuff, medicinal plants and materials for building better habitats – in other words, wealth – had the best chances of survival. The tragical irony here is, that as descendants of these survivors, our own survival instincts are still so strong, they just may end up killing us. Luckily, we do have a secondary system of problem solving, namely critical thinking; whether we use it to rewrite our instinctive behavioral models to meet up to today’s needs, is up to us.

The Paradox of Absolute Morality

The obvious problem in absolute morality is that it tends in fact to be relative. The fact that there’s a lot of different views on what’s absolutely good or bad, automatically leads to feelings of moral superiority towards each other and basically devastates all possibilities to form respectful relations with one another and learn from each other. So, while understanding this may offend someone – my apologies – I want to make it very clear that no philosophy, theistic or atheistic, will have automatic dominance over any other here. Any and all defaults will be analysed and criticised here whenever necessary.

Causality and Empathy

I understand someone could interpret all this as a some kind of a weird eulogy for sociopathy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Admitting that morality is relative to species and to some extent, even individuals, does not automatically lead to indifference and unscrupulousness. Instead I’d like to highlight another of our naturally evolved qualities: empathy. The bigger our communities became, the bigger role empathy played in our survival. For some reason, you often hear the claim that only our selfish properties are natural or animal, and all our altruistic properties are the result of civilization and rational thinking.

I find this line of thought utterly strange. As I see it, empathy is most natural, and it’s in fact been one of the keys to our survival as a species. And when we begin tackling our biggest challenge so far – combining sustainable living with modern culture – its significance grows even greater. I believe strongly, that understanding of causality and the ability for empathy are the single most important components of our survival over the coming centuries. If we understand why we behave the way we do, and are able to identify with others’ situations, we will end up making decisions that allow us to develop towards sustainability and wellness – with or without a given moral code. Gladly, there’s a lot more uniting than disjunctive causes between all major philosophies – whether you believe it’s because of a higher force that’s affected all our philosophies, or simply because we all share a set of basic principles to secure our species’ survival, is up to your personal beliefs.

Towards Concreteness

I think that there’s now enough background information for you as a reader to be able to decide whether you want to be part of this, and for us to start the actual brainstorming. I think I’ll post a short, non-definitive overview on the global environmental problems we’re facing, just to make sure we’re on the same page, and try to persuade more people here to actually get some discussion started, and then we can begin thinking where and how to collect the actual ideas of how a sustainable society could work. You’re warmly welcomed to discuss, share your thoughts and educate me and other readers about anything posted here – as I’ve said earlier, I’m not an expert on any of the fields discussed here.

Advertisements


2 Comments

Brainstorming for a new society

The point of this blog is to spread the idea that common people like you and me can achieve huge things by working together (with the help of social media and existing Wiki-style net infrastructure) by gathering masses of ideas with brainstorming techniques and then refining them with iterations of critical thinking. And when I’m saying huge, I mean things like a working model for a sustainable society.

Free (Fall) Market

Let’s face it: our way of life in this ‘free-market economy’ or unregulated market economy is so obviously unsustainable, that our collective denial about it has to be some kind of an instinctive, special (as in species), psychological defence. It makes sense – as biological beings, we’ve evolved during millions of years, virtually completely under circumstances that only required practical problem solving skills and understanding of no more than our immediate surroundings. And as much as we’ve achieved as a species, as individuals we’re still driven by the exact same urges and fears as we were a million years ago.

One particularily strong defence hits us when we try to think about the course we’re on as humanity, especially if we’re faced with evidence that seems to prove the specific course in question is leading us towards a certain crash. Our brain is instantly filled with excuses, explanations and generally anything that could justify us to stop thinking about it altogether. The excuses come in all sizes and flavors, but a common one is that it’s all too complex to figure out anyways. That’s true of course, if you try and comprehend the mechanisms of our society in full detail. But if you pull back and take a look at the big picture, it’s a no-brainer. We’re simply wearing this planet down, and at such a speed that the notion of finding another planet to rape or some redeeming new piece of technology in time to meet our ever growing needs is somewhere between science fiction and absurdist fantasy.

I like to keep as much as possible open for debate, as to not jump to conclusions and potentially miss previously unthought-of solutions. But for the purpose of this blog, I will be making a couple of assumptions, that really aren’t debatable (here I mean, of course… I’m sure you’ll find your forum if you want to argue on the very exceptions mentioned here). The first one is:

  • The current course of humanity will sooner or later lead to an enormous ecological and/or economical and/or political disaster

Of course, nobody knows the exact timing or order in which the collapse will take place, but it seems evident we’re talking about a very human timescale (as opposed to thousands to billions years that significant changes usually take in nature), some generations anyways. As for the question about what natural resource or economic structure will wear out first, it’s like falling from a plane without a parachute and pondering on what bone you’ll break first when you hit ground. Maybe it will be oil, maybe breathable air or temperature conditions that can support life, maybe we’ll just panic before all this and bomb ourselves to stone age. It really doesn’t matter that much, what matters is changing our course before we’ll see for ourselves.

Most people who get past denial, are stuck in apathy. ‘This is just how the world is’, ‘One person can’t do anything’, ‘I’ve got my personal troubles to think about’, ‘I’m already putting my banana peels to biowaste, there’s nothing more anyone can do about it.’

But history has shown, and this will be my undebatable assumption number two:

  • When the time is ripe, one person can change everything

But what? What can we, the little people, do? We don’t have power, we don’t own the big investment banks, we don’t have veto on international contracts. What could we possibly achieve that would actually have any kind of an effect?

To achieve a goal, one needs to imagine the goal first

The basic principles of Capitalism, Communism and the variations of Socialism between them (to take a few shortcuts), that are commonly considered as realistic options for an economic system nowadays, were all set with no or very little understanding of the limited resources of this planet. This makes them all flawed in a prominent way that is not fixable with mere finetuning. Campaigning for or against the forementioned economic systems, let alone the little differences between the variations inside each system, will not solve the underlying problem, that’s compromising the one thing we all share despite our differences: we all need a planet that can support life to be able to go on with our weird, ugly, chaotic and wonderful coexistence here.

In other words, what we need is:

  • A completely new socioeconomic system, whose first and foremost priority is to make sure our planet will never run out of resources that are imperative for it to keep on supporting life.

We have various types of Green politics, sure, but the problem is they’re built on top of economic systems that ultimately contradict with them. There’s over 150 entries in Wikipedia’s list of government forms and over 50 entries in the list of economic systems but none define even imaginary systems that are based primarily on sustaining the resources of this planet. (I aknowledge Wikipedia doesn’t represent definitive truth by any means, but in the same time it does indicate whether a concept has any popularity). The discussion of even the possibility of this type of a system seems scarce.

What I think we need to do, is to start from scratch. What do all the 7+ billion people need to survive and to live a reasonably satisfying life? Food, shelter, tolerable climate conditions, a basic healthcare. All the rest is luxury, that could be either divided equally or earned with individual extra effort of some sort, depending of whether the system would be a socialism-like or capitalism-like system. Would exchange economy play a part in this system, or would you need a market economy? And if so, what qualities would “money” have in this system? What kind of a medium of exchange would it be? How would it be regulated to make sure global natural resources were only used as quickly as they could renew?

Yes, it’s utopia, and completely unrealistic for now. But this is brainstorming – we first need a million stupid ideas in order to refine one, that is realistic and applicable. And the more people are throwing in ideas, the more critical mass the  system will have and the more refined it will become, until, sometime in the future, we could actually have a working basic model of a new socioeconomic system.  Crazy? Perhaps, but hey, what else were you going to do today – watch Big Brother? Why not give this a try instead! If you’re an economist, take half an hour to imagine how a certain detail of this system could work… if you’re a trashman, think about how your work would change if the use of plastics and other carbon based materials were restricted to the absolute minimum…. if you’re a linguist, you could suggest what word would best describe this model… if you’re unemployeed, you probably have valuable knowledge on how to survive with less – there just might come a day when former millionaires come to you begging for consultance. Everyone of us will know something that could help making this model more detailed and realistic.

Feel free to comment and add to the discussion with any/all related ideas of yours!

The underlying idea here is, everything that’s ever been achieved has had to be imagined first. And, it seems, things that are once imagined, also have the tendency to get realised sooner or later. Many of our everyday electronical gadgets, just to give a simple example, are in a way result of the work of science fiction authors from decades earlier. Imagination is not just a fun toy to entertain ourselves with, it can be used purposefully and scrupulously to achieve realistic, applicable results and maybe – change the world.

Global Movement

This is just a single individual’s blog, and I’m not an expert at any of the areas discussed here – although I have to say I’m not sure if anyone can really be an expert on humanity. Anyways, these are by no means unique thoughts, I just believe every additional voice talking about these questions, and every additional mind thinking about them, will help. Perhaps the next person googling about this will find this blog and get to know more people who think alike, and feel encouraged to speak up. More and more people want change, and so it’s happening simultaneously on many levels and locations. So far, the biggest entity I’ve bumped upon that works on similar ideas is the Zeitgeist movement – I’m sorry to say I haven’t really familiarized myself with their ideals, so all views on their thinking is warmly welcomed!

When I was googling for possible phrases that could describe the ideas explained above, amazed that none of them really had provoked much discussion at all, I finally entered the keyword ‘sustainocracy’. This lead me to another individual’s site, namely Jean-Paul Close’s. I thought his video presentation of humanity’s current state was profound, I’m just not sure we should be requiring huge leaps in individuals’ conciousness or other mental capabilities in order to a certain scenario to work. What I’d personally prefer more, would be scenarios that could work despite ourselves, so to say. A positive finding nonetheless, and a lot of thoughts worth considering, for sure.

About Me

My personal properties have no relevance whatsoever with the ideas I hope will be discussed here. This is why I prefer to write incognito. I’m not famous in any way, especially rich or poor, or politically engaged to any existing party. I belong to the financially privileged part of humanity, but that’s pretty obvious anyways knowing that I have access to a computer and an Internet connection, and that I have enough free time to think and write about this, instead of just trying to survive.

PS.

This is not a blog on linguistics or etymology, but since the phrase ‘free market’ has such a huge indoctrinative power on us, I’m pointing out right from the beginning that I’ll address the subtext of some common words and phrases whenever it seems relevant.

A free market is commonly seen as opposite of a controlled or regulated market. So why isn’t it referred to as an uncontrolled or unregulated market? I’m not sure if the particular choice of words has its history in Cold War rhetorics or earlier times – be it as it may, it’s been around for so long it’s easy to mistake for a neutral descriptive phrase with no emotional value, even though this is obviously false. The positive connotations of the word ‘free’ soothe our limbic system every single time we see or hear the phrase. As the powers-that-be know so well, the most effective propaganda is the kind that we never come to think of as propaganda.

As a small thought experiment, every time you pass by the words ‘free market’ from now on, why not try and replace them with a phrase with equally negative connotations, let’s say ‘chaotic market’  and see if it affects your interpretation of the actual textual content at hand. In this blog, I’ll try my best (and probably fail miserably) to be relatively objective, though, so I’ll be using the phrase ‘unregulated market’ instead.