Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 15


The standard notion of regarding oneself as “an other” from the rest of the biosphere is an antiquated myth. Rather than the previous base knowledge from living in such proximity to the rest of the biosphere as in preindustrial times,[i] now we are armed with the knowledge of biology, genetics, nuclear physics, modern industrial chemical manufacture, etc. and that allows the illusion of being separate and elevated above the rest of existence to a degree of aloofness that is a luxury only gods could have from being so immune from such limitations brought about by mortality.

An idea to keep in mind is that there is a finite amount if matter and energy that can be withdrawn from the biosphere.[ii] There is no credit. Earth is a closed system, so there is a limit. Not only is there a finite amount but also at any one given moment, of all the matter and energy available, but some is needed to but back into the system in order for it to keep perpetuating itself. It’s like the species of fish, the cod; we can take as many as we can, as fast as we can, out of the sea, but if there are not enough codfish left to life long enough to make more codfish, and we keep taking the codfish from the sea, the codfish disappear forever.[iii] If you think of all the planet's resources, living and non-, as finite when frozen in time, yet with the movement of time are self-perpetuating; you can start to see that there exists an equation, it is called Maximum Sustainable Yield.[iv] 

Humanity as a whole can only take a certain amount out of the biosphere at any one time so that the biosphere can continue to produce enough for itself so as to keep going as well as enough so that we can continue to take some for ourselves. But, the nature of the matter and energy we take will be transformed into one of two things. It either becomes a “waste” product that can be re-entered into the biosphere as a source of “fertilizer” or as a “toxin.” Naturally the “fertilizer” waste will feed the biosphere, ultimately producing more matter and energy whereas the “toxins” not only cannot be converted back into useful matter and energy but they further inhibit otherwise productive areas of the biosphere. If humans could bring themselves to both consume the biosphere’s matter and energy in a responsible amount, as well as to use that matter and energy in a way where the most of the remainder of that process could be used as fuel for the biosphere, from whence it came, then as little as possible of that remainder would be left in a form that would pollute, and inhibit further production, this would minimize our impact and maximize the efficiency of our relationship with the rest of the biosphere. Essentially, we have an allowance; it can either shrink or grow depending on how we manage to spend or invest it. That little slice of the pie has to get divvied up among all us people. Yes, there is more pie out there to take, but if we take too much of it now there will be less pie tomorrow. So, we have to illicit some self-control. We have to govern ourselves; in how much we take, in how we use what we take, and in how we distribute what we take. This is what balance is all about. 

If this sounds similar to certain political systems of the 20th century, that is understandable but it is important to realize that just because one can see a few surface similarities between two things that does not mean that they are identical. Communism and Socialism, in the West, have a stigma attached to them due to the horrors associated with the repression of peoples under various “communist” rules. The problem here is that communism ultimately failed do to the manipulation wrought by power-hungry individuals and the lack of technology needed to hear the voice of the people. Imagine if Lenin had a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Or perhaps if the Bolsheviks had a comments section on their web page, it would have been much easier to have a dialogue with the peasants east of the Urals and in the Caucuses. And of course that is assuming there was at least one computer or Smartphone per village. But these are luxuries of economically and technologically developed countries not found in 1917 Russia, 1948 North Korea, 1949 China, or 1961 Cuba.  None of the major communist players of the 20th century were a post-capitalist society (as Marx stated as a prerequisite for this socio-political system); all of them were essentially pre-industrial at the time of their communist conversion.

As it stands, there are only about ten countries that are currently ripe for a post-capitalist revolution. Countries where due to the eventual nature of capitalism the cord that bridges the battle cry of  “free enterprise” and the disparity of wealth that inherently grows with market share control. But especially in America, we are so close to the cliff that we’ve just shut our eyes and started screaming in attempts to drown out the train of consequence that is barreling down on us, when we should be leading the rebel yell of dramatic and immediate change instead.[v] Concerning the global economy, when the debt bubble soon bursts, the following bubbles will not exist as they used to[vi], and our markets will return to being based on the real-time availability of food, water, and fuel and less on immaterial wagers. We will have entered into combat with each other and everyone. Rather than running screaming as individuals in all different directions, it would make much more sense in terms of surviving the coming environmental crisis to reverse direction, hurry the hell up and work together. Sure not everyone is going to be happy all the time right away but no other system to date has been able to achieve that, plus taking into account the current state of things not a one ever will. It might be almost time for a different approach, like dispelling this illusion of the individual.

However, this is not socialism, communism or Marxism that I am endorsing despite it sounding awfully similar in several ways. Rather, this is a plea for functional altruism – thought with regards to everything else beyond oneself in order to most benefit oneself. After all, “No man is an island.”[vii] Given the knowledge and technology that is available today, there is no rational argument to support the widely held social hallucination that the mind, the body, or the synthesis of the two is in some way more independent and less at the mercy of large and complex chains of interaction with “external” environments. Not only is this orthodox viewpoint logically flawed, but it is mortally dangerous too. As a result of these selfish and irreverent institutions of behavior the state of the world is in peril, weather it be from pollution, the ever-expanding global disparity of wealth, both compounded by the unbridled overpopulation. Although it will be damned near impossible to shed this illusion of the individual until the institutions that support it such as those of religion and ownership are resolved, or at least relegated to their proper place on the sidelines of political influence. These divisive and ingrained aspects of society need to be limited, much like the concept of being separate, in order to realize the true extent of how dependant we all are on the “lesser” creatures that we share this planet with and the real fragility of existence that comes with being an apex predator versus a single celled photosynthetic organism. It is about time to put aside personal desires and comfortable consumption as the driving forces in our decision making process and refocus on our actual place in the grand scheme of things as well as living sustainably.

That balance of personal whimsy versus mass necessity historically has been a skewed one. But current technology can begin to overcome the functional gaps such as our infantile understanding of the building blocks of our universe, or the connectivity and integration of the global biosphere both as a micro-community as well as an entire one. The immediate global system of communication, the Internet, is key as in the new paradigm affordable and instantaneous trans-global communication will be required to manage populations, ideas, and the allocation & distribution of resources. In closing, I offer the words of Stan Lee, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” So keep in mind, it’s not that you, the individual, are “special,” rather it’s that you are PART of something special and you have an inherited responsibility to preserve and maintain that system that is so much larger than yourself in scope and scale.

[i] “Romanticism in Science, “ Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism_in_science (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ii] “Exponential Growth in a Finite Biosphere,” Real Economics, http://real-economics.blogspot.com/2012/04/exponential-growth-in-finite-biosphere.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
[iii] Katharine Q. Seelye and Jess Bidgood, “Officials Back Deep Cuts in Atlantic Cod Harvest to Save Industry,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/us/officials-back-deep-cuts-in-atlantic-cod-harvest-to-save-industry.html?_r=0 (accessed April 25, 2013).
[iv] Karin Limburg, “MSY Lecture Notes,” SUNY College of Environmental Science, http://www.esf.edu/efb/limburg/fisheries/MSY/Logistic_MSY.pdf (accessed April 25, 2013).
[v] Bill Blakemore, “America’s Position on Climate ‘A Tragedy,’ Losing U.S. Prestige to China,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2011/12/americas-position-on-climate-a-tragedy-losing-u-s-prestige-to-china/ (accessed April 19, 2013).
[vi] Kenneth Rapoza, “The World’s Bubble Economy Getting Bigger,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/01/18/the-worlds-bubble-economy-getting-bubblier/ (accessed April 19, 2013).
[vii] Donne, John. “Meditation XVII.” http://www.online-literature.com/donne/409/ (4/16/2013)

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