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An idea to keep in mind is that there is a finite amount if matter and energy that can be withdrawn from the biosphere.[ii] There is no credit.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)

Illusion of Individuality pt. 14


It is nothing short of infuriating madness to be held to and thus punished and guilted by another’s arbitrary rules, arbitrary in that those rules magically don’t have to apply to the rule-makers. This is a damned arrangement where the only effective leveling one can do to that absurd power structure is to retaliate with equal or greater vindictive, selfish, and irrational convictions. Once you have been through the full terror of a situation like that, the glaring contradictions embedded throughout every aspect of society suddenly become impossible to ignore any longer.

It’s hard to imagine any instance of an average person’s life it would not be true where if that person looks close enough he/ she would realize that they are in a similar situation of conflicting societal values, opportunities, constraints and laws. It would seem a daunting task to not have a feeling of being totally lost and victimized when confronted with a system that has no functional ability to change or escape from, yet that in one way or another controls every aspect of their life. So then what’s the point of trying?

The concept of the individual is at a crossroad here. Two undeniable arguments for the existence of the individual appear, personal desire and personal ability. In a Darwinian sense, ability should reign free to choke out those ill equipped to the challenge of survival, while those able should be aloud to continue living as well as to reproduce. Then there is also desire. Desire is an important thing. It is what drives an individual to live – gather material resources, reproduce, and out-survive others.[i] This raises several issues concerning the survival of the whole of humanity in which the needs of future generations should equal, if not outweigh, the whims and obsessions of the past or current generations. Simply, it makes more sense in the long run to limit the inhibitions of current individuals in order to create a more favorable environment for future ones. In the wake of the most recent collapse of unregulated derivative markets Allan Greenspan, champion of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, he had to admit that his gospel of deregulation was fundamentally flawed.[ii] Coincidentally, over the past twenty years the income disparity (as an indicator of standard of living) the world over has grown at a faster rate than the population even in such a prosperous nation as the U.S.A.[iii] Nobody wins in that game. The ultimate and unsolvable problem is that when the world starts to really go to shit in twenty years or so there will be no separate and well-stocked store of natural resources only available to those who acted responsibly early on, or ever.

In this system of consumption, stubbornness, and of individual desires that is resistant to egalitarian consequence and that catastrophe will only nudge its velocity, how is one to reasonably hope for any sort of meaningful change? Much less, could necessary change be achieved in the small window of time that very well may close within the next two generations, if it hasn’t already?

There seems little reason to have any hope in the face of this kind of view in which every life experience the ultimate situation seems to always mirror this phenomenon where many of the rules seem to be engineered for short-term gains for the most powerful individual interests at the top of an extremely tiered pyramid that believes it can maintain its height while eroding material from its base. This set-up is not just unsustainable; it is construction guaranteeing the most epic collapse imaginable. Society as individuals is just not ready or willing to accept any real responsibility for the extent to which it is degrading its own surroundings given it seems stubbornly unaware of the dependant relationship it has with its planet.

Represent the whole biosphere as a pie. There is only a tiny slice of that which is all we have to live from. And amongst us all we should have to share that portion equitably. The balance needed here is both that which has to be achieved with how much is able to be used as well as how we use it. Should whoever has the ability to take what they can, be able to do so? Or, should we parcel out everyone’s share based on what is available and upon completion of a social contract?[iv]

[i] “Psychological Egoism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/psychego/ (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ii] Frontline: The Warning, directed by Michael Kirk (2009; PBS).
[iii] Floyd Norris, “Median Pay in U.S. Is Stagnant, but Low-Paid Workers Lose,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/business/economy/wage-disparity-continues-to-grow.html?ref=todayspaper (accessed April 28, 2013).
[iv] “Social Contract Theory,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/ (accessed April 25, 2013).

Illusion of Individuality pt. 13


when your wife finally admitted to herself that she had been recklessly flirting with one of the local baristas (who clearly had highly sexualized eyes for her) by asking your permission to be allowed to engage in an extramarital affair with the girl behind the counter at the coffee shop with the dangerously crazy ice blue-green eyes, you had to chuckle to yourself. after spending the entire three years of your marriage to her being constantly damned as an adulterer despite there having been little instance nor evidence to support that charge legitimately, this seemed like a devious window to change all that. she had never seen the humor in your satirical postings to the Craigslist casual encounters personals advertizing encounters which could include anything from naked bicycle rides through the Quarter with near toxic daiquiris, face-paint & paper streamers to steamy nights duct taped to vinyl couches on second story balconies being flogged with a rubber chicken. sure in your single years hook-ups had been achieved via these posts, but the real fun was in reading the replies of sexually curious/ adventurous/ needy New Orleans women (and men, despite having been in the M4W section), many times with rather startling jpeg.’s as attachments. to you, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to let your wife finally relieve you of this frustrating nonsense by giving her the chance to “hang herself” through acts of her own volition. you also reasoned that if she became an actual adulterer that would not only self-destruct her insane accusations, but she might even share the booty - given patience, time, prodding and a few mixed drinks. But the important thing here was to get her to see her own double standards that you seemed trapped by; you were guilty of an act you had never done which was the same act that she was hoping to do, as if adultery would not be an issue so long she was the one doing it
this psychotic line of reasoning was typical of your wife. you had always pictured the inside of her mind to be synonymous with an puppy who had been randomly kicked with vengeful impunity over its short life and who was currently dosed “to the gills” on PCP, then thrown into a lamp-less shipping container where the floor was strewn with shards of glass that twinkled like diamonds in the light of the fire that flickered from its oil soaked and burning tail… no matter how furious her wild and groundless accusations and condemnations made you, at the end of the day all you ever felt was a deep and aching sympathy, for she neither had any awareness nor control over her doomed and self-contradictory psychological situation.

if marriage and the subsequent attempt to share one’s life, taught you one thing, its that we’re all gonna’ burn.  trying to believe in both free will and causality simultaneously (in the case of your wife and, sadly, what appeared to be the vast majority of everyone else) forces one into situations where there have to be separate rules for individual cases as well as that the application of those rules will be piecemeal and corrupted. thus, any type of actual system is impossible and the only thing left is madness. and so at the end of the day you have always had to amend your logical and liberating admiration to the philosophical theory of strict determinism in order to operate to the most minimal degree within society. for despite your best and most eloquent inquiries as to how another can base everything in their world on the chain of cause and effect, yet reserve this one little area referred to as free will as exempt from having a cause and thus implying that within each human psyche there exists a line in the sand akin to an event horizon or cosmic singularity where past that given (yet indefinable) point the (near) universally accepted concept of causality no longer applies, the standard response from others is either a retreat to an equally absurd and unknowable defense such as the existence of a higher power as an explanation or just a tirade of “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, no! no! no! stop talking like a crazy person!” which, to you, begged the next most obvious question, “now explain to me how i’m the crazy one here and you’re not?”

Illusion of Individuality pt. 12


Somewhere between the problems we face and the cause I am attributing to them are two global institutions that aid in upholding the illusion of the individual. These institutions are the concept of ownership and dogmatic religion. Inseparably linked to the problematic illusion of the individual is the equally dangerous concept of ownership. The most direct self-delusion allowed by having the idea that one is an individual in this continuously transient and fluctuating existence is that the individual can claim possession of the concept of a thing.
This could be debated as the cause of the previous three “problems” facing humanity as equally as the concept of the individual. I would contend that the concept of the individual came first (much like the egg in the vs. chicken quandary) and that the concept of ownership in combination with that of the individual gave rise to those three previously discussed “problems.”
The concept of an individual and the subsequent theory of ownership are contingent upon believing that reality is somehow static in particular situations and thus defiant of the rest of the laws of physics that we understand to define and govern the rest of the cosmos. A thing that is neither fully understood in its existence and that is in constant molecular flux, thus fundamentally impossible to be the same thing from one moment to the next, would without the concept of the individual seem impossible to own. But the concept of ownership is not alone in maintaining this illusion; there is the divisive tool of justification that is dogmatic religions.
One of the last great hurdles before the shift to the next age of humanity is that of religion. The belief in a god and “his” divine word has historically led to the subsequent strife of warring over words written by humans yet attributed to deities. The majority of humanity believes in some form of religion, and ridiculously fights over something they all agree on, there is a higher power.[i] This competition among various faiths is extremely destructive to the biosphere we depend upon. Take monotheism for example, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all agree on several basic points; there is only one god, murder is frowned upon by this god, and that there is a very holy place that despite all these previous agreements cannot be shared and thus should be ground zero for killing each other.[ii] The materials consumed by armed conflict and the destruction it brings to humanity and the biosphere is a sacrilege regardless of any particular faith. If one is to believe in a god, then it follows that one would believe that this god created all of existence.
Now, picture looking down on yourself, from above, standing on a beach at night, looking up. As your view starts to pan out, you’re still standing on the beach but you’re getting smaller and smaller until you’re a speck, still going out until you see the whole planet earth, the solar system, the milky way galaxy, the hundreds of billions other galaxies, everything. Your god made that.[iii]

Now, one should realize that the average 70 odd years of being alive[iv] is an astronomically small amount of time, so small it can barely be measured in the 13.7 billion years since the last singularity.[v] And, to your knowledge, is there proof of life anywhere in the universe other than Earth? Nope. So, considering how small Earth is in the big picture, it would be accurate to label all of life on it truly unique, as one of a kind. 
It would also be accurate to make the general assumption that either for religious reasons or otherwise, life (the whole miracle of it) is special and should be preserved. Given that all of life on earth is so rare in the known universe it can be considered a single entity, and that in all its diversity it is all interconnected down to at least the molecular level, this egotistic notion of an individual human being it is a gross misconception, that is to think of yourself as somehow separate from the whole system. An individual human could hardly be a single bacterium in his/her stomach by scale to the whole biotic layer. Unless one is doing everything they can to integrate with the system it is part of, they are not participating in a symbiotic relationship and are then by default parasitic. And in the case of pollutants, that further hinder the engine of life, if so many are crated that life as a whole is imminently threatened, we could safely call that egoism akin to a cancer upon all life as we know it.
So, a god created this thing we call life and as far as we know it is unique, and this god in its capacity regards life as special, or at least good. Simply there is a choice to either be a cancer, or just a parasite (analogous to a “Zero Emissions” lifestyle - still plenty of solid waste), or strive for a symbiotic relationship that would be by its own nature 100% biodegradable. A society that is goal oriented instead of the current goods oriented one would be much more productive overall and much healthier.            

[i] “The World Factbook,” Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2122.html (accessed April 25, 2013)
[ii] “Holy Land,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Land (accessed April 25, 2013).
[iii] Opening sequence of film “Contact”
[iv] “Life Expectancy,” World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends_text/en/index.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
[v] “Universe 101,” NASA, http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_age.html (accessed April 25, 2013)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 11


This situation where the population swells[i], and the pool of resources remains stagnant[ii] leads into the third issue concerning the concept of the individual, overpopulation. A collection of individuals, as opposed to an interdependent network that is the whole of humanity, will always clamor for individual freedoms and choice. One of the most fundamental “rights” of an individual is the ability to reproduce to whatever extent to which that individual is able, much like a cancer or virus.[iii] The problem here is the stagnant (but realistically shrinking[iv]) pool of resources of which we are all dependant on will at some point (arguably past[v]) no longer be able to provide adequately for everyone, at which point we kill our host or die trying.[vi] Of course there will always be the classic 1973 Charlton Heston solution of Soylent Green, or the classic “A Modest Proposal,” but much like eating excrement, cannibalism is generally considered a damnable taboo, so this is not a realistic global solution to overpopulation.[vii]
One option that has been tried on a national scale was China’s one child policy. Granted, it was steeped in small failures such as the cultural preference for having sons. Yet, despite the fact that its implementation has neither been evenly applied nor was it perfect in other ways, China’s one child policy has had dramatic effects concerning curbing overpopulation on a national scale.[viii]  Various dictators have attempted forms of eugenics, yet our individually oriented culture finds this distasteful; possibly that is because these genocides have historically been based on such ridiculous standards like race or religion instead of empirical study such as genetic dispositions for illnesses.[ix] That, however, begs the larger question of “what is illness?” which seems pointless to attempt to answer until after the paradigm shift from individuals to an organism occurs.
There may be no magic bullet to this problem that can be voiced without some popular cry of condemnation, but at some point in the not too distant future someone will have to take control of the situation for it is clear that self-governance is not a viable option. Thus, if the nature of our existence is continually kept at arm’s length it will always remain impossible to fully embrace. So until an ultimate root cause of the issue is realized and largely accepted, a potentially productive course of action on how to address the issue cannot begin.            

[i] Justin Gills and Celia W. Dugger, “U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/world/04population.html?_r=0 (accessed April 19, 2013).
[ii] “Natural Resources,” European Environment Agency, http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/natural/intro (accessed April 19, 2013).
[iii] Kay Steiger, “’Population Bomb’ Scientist: ‘Nobody’ Has the Right to ‘as many children as They Want’,” The Raw Story, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/01/22/population-bomb-scientist-nobody-has-the-right-to-as-many-children-as-they-want/ (accessed April 19, 2013).
[iv] “Natural Resources”
[v] “Land Degradation,” University of Michigan, http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/land_deg/land_deg.html (accessed April 21, 2013).
[vi] “’Population Bomb’ Scientist: ‘Nobody’ Has the Right to ‘as many children as They Want’.”
[vii] “Soylent Green,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_Green (accessed April 19, 2013).
[viii] “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” The Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/08/chinas-one-child-policy (accessed April 19, 2013).
[ix] “List of Wars and Anthropogenic Disasters by Death Toll,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll (accessed April 19, 2013)

Illusion of Individuality pt. 10


A second catastrophic, systemic problem arising from the concept of the individual is that of disparity of wealth over the whole of humanity. As long as this concept of being separate and individual remains in existence any legitimate possibility of true equality will be impossible. We all require the same basic resources to survive. Sure if someone is injured either physically or psychologically they will temporarily require some assistance, which is analogous to needing more resources than an otherwise healthy person. However if a person is healthy, which is to say that he/ she is in a state of equilibrium, there is no legitimate justification for him/ her claiming more than what could be viewed as his/ her fair share of the commons.[i]
Conversely, if some individuals are allowed to have more than their fair share, it follows that there will not enough resources for others, otherwise known as the Tragedy of the Commons.[ii] When this trend persists, those who claim more for themselves will use that more that they already have to assume a position of power based on them having more which will then provide them the opportunity to amass and even greater level of inequity.[iii] Consider the phrase “It takes money to make money.” This works both ways. If one has no money it would seem impossible for them to make any money. On the other hand, if one has a great deal of money that would facilitate a more rapid acquisition of even grater wealth. Whereas if this concept of “mine, not yours” that is intrinsic to the concept of being an individual were to be discarded, and equity and equilibrium were to take its place the possibility of disparity of wealth would cease to be possible. The possibility of the aforementioned equilibrium becomes increasingly more difficult as the population expands though.

[i] “Commons,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ii] De Young, “Tragedy of the Commons,” University of Michigan,  http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rdeyoung/tragedy.html (accessed April 25,2013).
[iii] “The One Chart You Need to Understand America’s Mind-Blowing Incom Gap,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/income-distribution-visualizing-economics_n_3044892.html (accessed April 25, 2013).

Illusion of Individuality pt. 9


Similar to other terms discussed here, one has to first consider the term pollution in the broadest sense. 
“Presence of matter (gas, liquid, solid) or energy (heat, noise, radiation) whose nature, location, or quantity directly or indirectly alters characteristics or processes of any part of the environment, and causes (or has the potential to cause) damage to the condition, health, safety, or welfare of animals, humans, plants, or property.”[i]
When speaking about pollution, it is not just referring to litter on the side of the road, the thousands of massive landfills, or the 1312 Superfund sites.[ii]  
Any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants”[iii]
Pollution should be recognized in all its detrimental forms whether it be any byproduct from growing, obtaining, or using an otherwise naturally occurring substance or anything from food wrappers, to CO2 emissions, to the remains of industrial chemical production. Simply put, pollution can be regarded as essentially leftovers from sustaining ourselves. Weather it is a pile of prehistoric midden or barrels of radioactive material, it is all the same in that we have primarily labeled such things as “waste.” So rather than using materials in a way where whatever is leftover is converted into “fuel” for some secondary process, it has traditionally been piled and pushed aside to the realm of “out of sight, out of mind.”
As we have seen for some years now, we are running out of places to store all this waste where it can remain out of sight. Take any one of the trash islands in the mid-ocean gyres for an example.[iv] Or perhaps a more accessible instance is the terrestrial version of these islands otherwise known as landfills.[v] In some cases these landfills have been covered with dirt and grass and converted into parks or playgrounds. But after a few years the sludge underneath starts seeping out. And most are left open to off-gas and leak unmitigated. When these sites are no longer just a threat to “other” things like plants and wildlife, but infringes directly upon the heath of the people in proximity, only then is action occasionally taken to “clean up” the site at a cost that far exceeds what it would have taken to deal with the waste initially.[vi] [vii]
Another example of pollution, which has grabbed far more headlines over the years than landfills or trash islands, is that of atmospheric pollution, specifically carbon dioxide. There is little point in debating the extent of how detrimental this pollution may or may not be anymore.[viii] Regardless of what the specific numbers are, simply put, the more carbon there is in the atmosphere the worse the fallout will be.[ix] Consider that it took hundreds of millions of years for natural processes to sequester all that matter into what we have dubbed fossil fuels and in a matter of the past 150 short years humankind has expelled a considerable amount of that material directly into the atmosphere.[x] But in similar fashion to other air-born particulates and compounds (Methane, radioactive “dust” from the testing of atomic weapons, etc.) they cannot be seen with the naked eye. So we’re back at the same place: out of sight, out of mind. [xi]
Now that we have a more holistic and complete picture of what pollution is the broader concept of what pollution is can be related back to how it is solely a product of the concept of the individual. As long as people will see themselves as not intimately intertwined with the rest of everything, they afford themselves the ability to treat all that “other stuff” with a sickening degree of callousness. In that they can’t imagine how pissing in the water supply and shitting all over the land will in anyway come back to bite them in the ass. One could argue that there is something of a universally human taboo concerning the direct consumption of ones own excrement (bodily, industrial, or otherwise), yet that earlier mentioned callousness allows one to be able to not think of the reality in which all that excrement isn’t really going anywhere, unless it is managed responsibly, so it just winds up in similarly toxic forms right back into the food web. Whether one wants to realize it or not, without proper management of all that excreted pollution is taken up by processes such as biomagnification and that light illustrates that people are essentially just eating their own shit. If pollution is managed in a reusable way it can foster, rather than hinder, biotic processes and would then cease to be pollution. This could be achieved if we could create only wastes which could be rapidly absorbed back into the biosphere unlike the current habits of relying on petroleum based products whose half-lives are longer than a human lifespan. If civilization could view itself as a cog in the planetary machine that is Earth instead of a bunch of individuals our collective waste could function as fuel rather than endlessly increasing pollution.

[i] “Pollution,” Business Dictionary.com, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/pollution.html#ixzz2RVCjem3l (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ii] “Final National Priorities List,” Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/query/queryhtm/nplfin.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).
[iv] Russell McLendon, “What is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?,” Mother Nature Network, http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/what-is-the-great-pacific-ocean-garbage-patch (accessed April 25, 2013).
[v] “Solutions for Landfill Applications,” RKI Instruments, http://www.rkiinstruments.com/pages/application_briefs/landfill_gas_monitoring.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).
[vi] Marshal Brain, “What if We Eliminated Landfills?,” http://marshallbrain.com/etq-landfills.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).
[viii] James Grubel, “Summer Ice Melt in Antarctica is at the Highest Point in 1,000 Years, Researchers Say,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/antarctica-summer-ice-melt-antarctic_n_3082750.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
[ix] An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, (2006; Hollywood, CA: Paramount Classics.)
[x] “Petroleum Industry,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_industry (accessed April 25, 2013).
[xi] Bill Mckibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719?link=mostpopular5 (accessed April 27, 2013).

Illusion of Individuality pt. 8


Much of humanity has operated as a collection of materialists, which in the broadest sense implies that ownership of a thing is at all possible. As a result of considering ourselves individuals, as separate from each other and apart from everything else, multiple systemic problems have arisen. Pollution, disparity of wealth, and overpopulation are prime examples of such problems and, as it happens, these are three of the most pressing concerns facing civilization today.

Illusion of Individuality pt. 7

In 1982, I was born in a suburb of Los Angeles, a first and only child. In a few years my family would move to New England. Where another few years would pass by. Nothing spectacular to mention of these early years combined with limited memories of those times; houses in relatively quiet suburban neighborhoods, playmates with the children of nearby families, a broken leg at the age of two and what seemed like an eternity in a plaster body cast, a typical middle-class beginning. Just before turning six, November of ‘88, my family would move again, from Nashua, New Hampshire to the South Minneapolis area of Minnesota.
We settled in a quiet area of the city, again on a quiet block surrounded by similar families. Everyone seemed to be working towards and achieving almost identical goals; own a good home with continuous remodeling and upgrading, send the children to a good “progressive” schools,[i] achieve more lucrative employment, buy a new car every few years, celebrate and gather with each other reinforcing the idyllic urban community of the late 80’s – eat, drink, work, play, and be merry.
Of course, there were the unavoidable dramas of life. There were arguments between the otherwise playful children of the block. I was the one only child, but fortunately I was in the middle of the pack age-wise, so there was almost always a neighbor to play or watch cartoons with. Yet whatever conflicts may have arisen between the kids, I was young enough to be shielded by the naivety from the strange troubles the neighborhood parents.
And so life continued that way for several years. Although too young to consciously understand the ideals and the process of imprinting them upon me, this was the lifestyle that would remain the unchallenged goal of mine for many years to come. And only through a long and varied painful process of experimental lifestyles, relationships, and philosophies would I come to grasp the fragility, ultimate falsehood, and potential alternatives to that moment in time which for countless reasons I would never be able to return to.
A few years rolled by, and in that time my corporate father climbed that ladder. In doing so, the raises in pay led to the natural tendency to afford a bigger home in a more affluent suburb, commuted to in a shinier car, etc. etc. I was moved to a more “affluent” school[ii] (The International School of Minnesota) for the fourth grade, so the social reset button was pressed again; new place, new people, new set of rules. In the mean time, my mother was climbing a ladder of her own, as a school psychologist. Aside from wildly the unprofessional dinner table anecdotes of her “clients” situations, every new version of each diagnostic test that came across her desk required a guinea pig; a.k.a. me. In addition to the pains & humiliations of grade school, I would be continuously subjected to the rigors of every coming version of the MMPI, Rorschach, I.Q. etc. etc. All this focus on professional progress in my little family just isolated each one of us from each other.
It was 1995 and the age of thirteen was a big year for me. The private school I was in was divided between an upper and lower school. The Upper school started at 6th grade, thus I was one of the “big” kids now. Early that same year I “broke up” with my first mock-girlfriend. In the year or so we had been close we had never even kissed, but it despite it not being more of a roll-play, it was an emotional milestone. So was seeing her immediately move on to someone who until that time had been a relatively good friend of mine. That was not to last either. At the end of that year, her family packed up and moved to Cincinnati.
Those were by no means the only memorable parts of the 6th grade, math league and show choir provided interesting scenarios as well. But I had always slacked off in school, and it was getting worse. I never cared much for homework and managed to weasel out of most of it. The same year a classmate of mine and I would start to sneak a cigarette behind the sports field on campus, or smoke grass rolled in paper thinking it was all the same. They were all hilariously uniformed acts of breaking out and rebelling against a society we had little concept of. If “they” didn’t want us in the “group,” then we would actively attempt to fulfill that assigned roll.
I really just craved some sense of belonging. So, if the easiest way to do that was to learn to surpass the expectations of what I felt others thought of me, then so be it. I couldn’t be the athletic, carefree, have to study really, really, hard to get by, but it ultimately doesn’t matter kid in the center of a ring of adoring classmates who always gets saved the best seat at the lunch table. I wanted to, don’t get me wrong, I wanted the popularity but I was smart and creative and passionate add to that with my delicate face and frame, traditional popularity wasn’t going to be the case apparently.
I will argue that the disintegrating security of home probably played a roll in this as well. My parents would try and hide the arguments and growing animosity, but the more they tried the more obvious it was. These patterns of pubescent delinquency and tiptoeing around a marriage under stress continued into the next school year. And like any pattern of behavior, the longer it continues; the more intense and ingrained it becomes. By the time I was halfway through 7th grade, there were fights at school and a growing sense of disconnect and ambivalence. I got picked on and in turn picked on the one kid who was even scrawnier than me. There were other kids that were friendly with me and I to them, but none I would consider friends. That December my folks pulled me out of the school and put me in the local public middle school. Now, we lived in the same affluent suburb we had been in for the past two years. And by that, the local public school was as well funded as many private institutions, there were just more kids, less rigid supervision and greater opportunity to fight the yolk of conformity. And so my path was set. From then on I would see the “norm” with growing cynicism for with each passing year it would seem to only offer greater disillusion and discontent.
so, when the time came around age 15, when it was observed that I wasn’t “adjusting” well, I treated the “professionals” I was forced to visit as nothing more than a game; given my knowledge of my parents’ discipline, its testing, labeling and compartmentalizing it was more engaging for me to see how wildly I could swing the pendulum of clinical diagnosis from one visit to the next. Keep them on their toes to prevent a harmful classification to place me neatly within the rigid confines of their big black bible, the DSM-IV…
that hatred of possibly being categorized like insect at a museum or a particular strain of virus, that fear of being labeled, kept me with one toehold across the doorframe of many different social groups for years until I lost control of the juggling act and succumb to the grander, yet equally ignored problems facing the whole of civilization and ultimately the planet.

[i] The Waldorf School, http://clws.org  (accessed April 21, 2013).
[ii] The International School of Minnesota, http://www.ism-sabis.net (accessed April 21, 2013).