Category: green


Gaia is born of freedom

June 23rd, 2016 — 3:07pm

Freedom is a very basic personal instinct. I think all creatures want to be free, free from fear and desire, free from hunger and pain. The protection of key personal freedoms has been central to the rise of civilisation, and this has continued in modern societies through activities like the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women. We now believe that freedom is a basic human right and human happiness and social cohesion is dependent on it.

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Img: earth wind Map

But we are even now not entirely free – and much of what we do in life is really an effort to procure more freedom than what is granted to us at birth by our society. So gaining power over others has become the primary means to exercise more personal freedom. This drive to acquire power is the basis for the market  – as money grants us material freedom so earning money becomes in theory a freedom creating exercise. Freedom of mind is more elusive but either quenching or ridding ourselves of desires can be described as a method of freeing ourselves from them, and so becoming happy. By engaging in such activities, we express in our everyday lives the truth that greater freedom is a good thing, whether we think much about how we obtain it or not.

The struggle for personal freedom has been continuing since the first microbe ate another to make some space in the warm purple soupy ocean of the Archaean earth. Evolution is simply the playing out of these desires through time, with the reward for chance innovations being an enhanced domination of other species. Even though the struggle of evolution was undertaken nearly blindly by its competitors, it delivered us our bodies and the supporting natural world around us. The survival games of a market economy continue with this model. So long as a level playing field is maintained, market economies harness the same desires for freedom that are the drivers of evolution to encourage innovation. The 20th Century has demonstrated the amazing facility of the market to create the most efficient systems to feed, house and entertain the human population of the planet, nearly all driven by the self-interests of everyone involved. As an engine to drive evolution or humans technological powers forward, there seems to be nothing better.

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Img: John Lurie Art.

The creation of corporate entities has added a level of coordination in this activity, but the principle is the same. Corporations act within the system as if they were individuals, but with desires that are tailored to their individual business model. The drive for increased power and freedom is the same – but it is like a ghost desire, articulated in the objectives and raison d’être of the organisation. It is hard to hold the individual greed of humans accountable – except in a few instances of corporate tycoons whose personal agenda is embodied in the company they lead (Murdoch, Koch brothers et al). John Poynder noticed in the 19th Century that corporations “have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned” (referenced here by John Quiggin) but do reflect the amalgamated desires of the actual bodies of a subset of the human population.

Nation states are very similar creations, as they also seek the greatest possible freedom for themselves. It’s just we tend to view them more benevolently as they are supposed to put the rights and wellbeing of their citizens first – places like North Korea are exceptions.  Nations have an interesting relationship to corporations, as taxation is essentially parasitic, yet its legislation is existential. The drive by corporations to reduce government power pushes back against these hindrances, in accordance with the desire for increased freedom. It is interesting how in recent decades nations actively compete against one another to provide low tax havens to encourage businesses to set up their headquarters, e.g. Apple in Ireland.

This might go on indefinitely. However a problem emerges when the environment which these entities operate within becomes suddenly closed. This can be demonstrated by placing yeast in a jar. Previously harmless by-products (alcohols) which used to be carried away suddenly become concentrated. The yeasts go on multiplying and competing with each other and producing these contaminants, not realising that they all face the same existential threat. Thus they poison themselves en masse once they reach a certain concentration. Portions of human society have been in similar scenarios through time, for instance on Easter Island where all the trees, then all the historical records (inscribed on wooden tablets) were burned for firewood as society collapsed. As the population has grown, the whole of human society is now effectively in one jar now, with climate change being the most pressing hazard resulting from pollutants at present. Because the same problem affects all inhabitants of the planet equally, and there is no way for one person’s activity to avoid it (space colonies still being too difficult), we find that the struggle against one another, as created by market capitalism, does nothing to help us innovate away from the apocalyptic end game. The way of talking about this in economics is in terms of ‘negative externalities’.

In this situation, nature does not select against one or another of us, nature selects against all of us. The only solution which actually guarantees our continued freedom is clearly one that reduces our freedoms. It is a solution which supersedes the market economy but requires the coordination of our activity as if we were a single organism. But in doing this, there is no alternative but to restrain the personal freedoms which are so highly valued by each of us.

This dilemma, of subverting personal freedoms for the good of the whole, is not entirely new to us. We are familiar with the operation of the principle in some areas of civilised life already, and it is forced on us by nature herself – every creature has an instinct that runs against their personal freedom when rearing its children, for instance. But we are not used to it affecting our right to compete with one another. Ever since we have been free of slavery or serfdom or debilitating poverty, we have expected to be able to use our work and cunning to obtain what is best for ourselves and our family, to increase our freedom at the modest expense of those around us. It seems counter to the very trend of modern society to slip back into the shackles of a controlling overlord. If we do not fight against it at a personal level, it will certainly be fought by corporate entities and nations for whom the freedom to compete and dominate one another is as natural as it is to the male lions of the herd or the sharks in the ocean.

Perhaps we should prefer the feminine instinct to protect the herd against the greater existential threat, than to continue to allow infighting for dominance among the alpha males. However, unlike some on the left, I do not think that the engine of innovation which is the market economy should be shut down altogether. However it needs to be subsumed within a system that places first the good of the whole, second to the good of its individual parts. It can be like the mitochondria inside an animal cell, generating energy but kept safely in check.

The shift in reference which needs to accompany this change in the organisation of humanity really can be compared to episodes in the evolution of the species. In fact it seems that every great leap forward has been accompanied by a similar gestalt moment – the realisation that the whole must become more than the sum of its parts. The movement from protozoa to eukaryote is one such shift, the movement from single cell to multi cell organism, the socialising of animals into altruistic groups, and finally civilisation itself – are all shifts upwards in the level of coordination. At each shift, there has been a loss of freedom at the level of the individual component. It is unavoidable. But the benefit is clear and in some instances it has been necessary to ensure survival.

Humanity is at this juncture now. Climate change poses a certain kind of existential threat but it is only one part of the general threat which is a product of our own success – the limitation of the earth’s resources to sustain us all. The threats that are now coming our way occur on a different plane to that on which the market economy works. They are essentially unseen externalities to the players in the capitalist game, as the actor – humanity as a whole – is simply assumed by these players to continue to exist. There has never been an existential threat to it, so there is no capacity to respond to such threats. Humanity’s interests must be hardwired in, through a new superstructure which must be applied to the entire society. Fortunately, the technology for this superstructure has just been invented.

(next episode coming soon…)

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the blankness inside

October 5th, 2015 — 10:11pm

new poems.. like new leaves on trees soon to be felled. the darkness the darkness.. what is the simplest path now? the straightest path leads into emptiness ..

Capture

the vast gasp of new verbiage heaping onto blogs, spilling from pages into vacant minds, pictures pouring into eyes.

the heart like a tickertape machine, printing painful and bloody sermons.

the great mind.. seething.. unseeing but knowing.. everything. it is coming soon.. soon.

happy happy sitting with an empty mind.. i hold my friends close to me.. i am the author of another old salty fish hanging on a sea breeze bleached post.

miraculous mercury – come to me – errors accumulate like grime in a filter.  a pocket calculator quietly adding.

better not to write. always better not. to write.

argues “myself in my head. with myself” “in my head” into bbq sauce, the black tar of neutrinos, untrapped, free to radicalise.

Scene 1: he flings his cape about himself and dissolves into smoke. or maggots. or yellow leaches. something. the smell of warm blood, or gearbox oil. it is hard to tell.

vacant lot. vacant car park. that one piece of gravel with a white paint mark, loose, lost and unfitting.

the cat. oh the unendurable misery of the cat!

 

 

2 comments » | drunken, green

a ‘belief sphere’, induction, and stained glass flarf

April 11th, 2013 — 12:46pm

There is plenty of promise held in the future’s tightly clenched fist, and I look forward to prising those surprises from its grasp as the years unfold glorious and slow.

I want to explain a concept i have had lately. I would like to introduce a thing I call a “belief sphere”, which occupies the space beyond the horizon of our understanding. This unexplored vast space is by definition unknown, and so is able to contain any idea or thought that you can posit. It contains all the crazy Flying-Spaghetti-Monster type theories, the amusing thoughts and mental daydreams which do not seem to belong to reality. It is of course infinite in size, as there is nothing that cannot be fitted into it. In fact what i am describing simply resembles the imagination. I have been thinking about how to define it for a long time, because i think it has its own ‘reality’ and is also composed of a few different elements.

Anyway the first point is that even though this space is continually encroached upon by progress in knowledge, the accrual of ‘new knowledge’ it always remains whole and intact. It cannot ever be lessened or dissolved, for even if every possible phenomena was known, that knowledge cannot ‘know’ itself, so there remains a bit of ‘left over’ knowledge still to discover (a bit like several paradoxes such as godel’s theorem make clear). Also, if theories obey the law of Occams razor and so must take the most efficient route in explaining phenomena, it implies that something is left out. So perhaps the only complete theory is also the most complex, and in fact occupies the entire fabric of the reality it explains – and so is in fact that reality (I wrote a poem about Occam years ago).

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Image courtesy of t.abroudj on flickr

I tend to think that reality is fractal, so that it is possible to grab a small part of it and generalise upwards, but it gradually becomes imperfect the further up you generalise. So you have to grab a larger chunk of it to make a better generalisation, a better theory. Ultimately though, the only perfect way to describe reality is to grab the whole thing. This explains why theories are getting more and more complex generally – there is nothing wrong with that – it is just the same as how our tools and technology are getting more complex and operate at finer and finer tolerances in order to do their work for us. Theories are like tools – in fact they are inseparable from the tools of experimentation. Fractals have simple equations underlying their complexity, but chaos theories explain that if you want to find the reality of a precise location you need to do a lot of computation – you basically need to a computer as big as the universe to do the whole thing, and it will take all of time to run the program. We need to somehow step out of the system and just observe it as it is.

The problem of induction seems to be a problem with time, and the fact that our brains don’t experience it completely, but rather are drip-fed the reality of it day by day. So we can never know what is just around the corner – even if we recognize a pattern and can make guesses about the future, it is never certain, because patterns can change suddenly and chaotically. This is not a problem in the natural world because we can see a shape in its entirety and say “that is a circle” – end, i suppose, of story. But when we want to say ‘the sun will rise tomorrow’ even though we have a fairly established pattern, there is no knowing because we have not experienced tomorrow. If on the other hand we were eternal beings that could step out of time as freely as stepping out of a river, then there would be no problem with making such a statement – the knowledge would be there simply by looking at the reflection in the water.

I read an interesting article in the Guardian yesterday about the work of Sam Parnia in resuscitation, and his thoughts about the nature of mind as distinct from brain/neronal activity. He states that “Even prominent neuroscientists, such as Sir John Eccles, a Nobel prizewinner, believe that we are never going to understand mind through neuronal activity”.

This clicks with me. To clarify, I believe that mind is something that is eternal and can experience the past and future, as well as different life trails (see this earlier post for a bit of a mashed up description of this idea). There are lots of people who believe this in some way or other (read some of the comments on the Guardian article to get a few). The problem is that these days, unless we are ok with being crazy, we need to justify our beliefs in terms of scientific truths. But does this take us back to the first paras of this article, where the justification of such justification is itself a belief, and one built through flawed inductive reasoning at that? So there is a problem here, if we want to put an eternal mind inside the same ‘system’ as ordinary reality. I don’t think it can be resolved through simple scientific proofs.

However there might be a test – if we become able to read images out of the mind (and there are already successful attempts out there at doing this) then it might be possible to pick up something from this ‘belief sphere’ – of course there will be loads of stuff from the past, i.e. memory. loads of stuff that is just ‘imagination’ but there should also be stuff which turns out to be from the future. Sifting it all out is the problem. I personally have had impressions of future events which strike me as being sound and true – but proof seems hard to attain through metrics. Instead, it might come through capturing images, if these can be resolved out of the mind somehow. It might not be ‘proof’ in an ordinary sense, but if it could be shown to resonate sufficiently deeply, then we might have something tangible for people to accept as true.

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Flarf has got a bit of press lately with the inclusion of some flarf poems in Norton’s 2nd ed of Postmodern American Poetry. There is a really gratuitous and amusing discussion going on about it on htmlgiant. I was reading this at the same time as i was reading a paper about the Devonian Hodgkinson Formation in Norther Queensland, and imagining Conodont faunas swimming in ancient red sandy bottomed lakes (my Ettrema trip was primarily to visit a contemporaneous Devonian reef on Jones ck). Anyway the whole lot got smashed up in my mind and all evening i had this sensation like I was observing things through a blue stained glass window, like a petrographic thin section, a matrix of intergrown materials which do not exactly coalesce or form a solid solution but have to live alongside each other somehow in my brain. Like a flarf poem cut and pasted together, or winnowed down through selective deletion.

And this sensation, of chaotic interlinking but distinct objects forming a translucent window, this to me is what a slice of time looks like when you hold it up to the light of eternity. That is when events and ideas have distinct shapes which can be mapped and known for what they really are. It’s just an image but it captures a truth for me.

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Ettrema

March 19th, 2013 — 7:49pm

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a difficult wigwam walk down into Ettrema gorge.. the remotest place in the Budawangs perhaps.. endless scrub and scratches.. rock hopping starry nights, bottle of wine aka moorhose, wet splashy waterfall washes naked hopping into streams.. endless birdsongs hopping thru twiglets. big dark humanity just a whisper in the sky.. satellites and meteorites..

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we alone in wild tough rocks and trees scree scrub jones creek cave splendid stinkhole old cans vines curlicue cliffs watermarked by old timer hands.. sphalerite, galena, chalcopyrite just standing out like the sparkly veins of a buried majik gigantic fist.. verdigris green copper leaching out of stained watercracks.. broken bottles in dark cold holes..

ettrema

climbing transportation spur was a mistake, we should have died before it and floated up through ethereal weightlessness.. off the mark we explore a nearby cut gully, ageless trees, moss, a goanna, waterfalls.. up a final cleft to pagoda hewn monumental viewing plateau before crash home to car and fast hwy to wife and bed

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Bob Brown at ANU

December 3rd, 2012 — 10:12pm

I was lucky enough to hear Bob Brown, former Senator and Leader of the Australian Greens party, speak at the ANU Crawford School yesterday evening. I always admired Bob’s lonely contributions of sanity to parliamentary debates and have always voted Green in past Australian elections. He is an interesting man with a very special story.

Last night I saw some of the fire that must have inspired so many others and got him to such a high position, as he talked passionately about the controversial James Price Point gas hub which will be an environmental disaster if it gets the go ahead from the Labor government this week. The development would send thousands of tankers straight through the middle of the worlds largest humpback whale breeding ground, to facilitate which, a huge channel will be dredged through the pristine coral reefs. The three kilometre long wharf and gasworks will flatten unique remnant rainforest and ancient dinosaur footprints. Some of these individual footprints are 1.7m across. Bob stretched his arms out passionately and his voice wavered as he described these recently discovered prints, made by the largest animal known to have walked the earth. It is such an astoundingly reckless decision by the WA government – although millions of dollars are going to local indigenous communities because of it, which has kept them quiet, this does not counterbalance the irreversible desecration of the landscape and injury to whales and other wildlife in the area. There are other good options such as floating quays or pipelines to existing facilities. I encourage Australians to find out more about this issue and write to their local MP about it urgently – there is also a petition here. A decision is being made this month on whether to do a proper environmental assessment. He also spoke about CoAG reforms which will see the Federal Government hand back environmental powers to the states – where they will more easily be sidelined by commercial considerations. This is a move which undoes 40 years of environmental safeguards put in place originally by Whitlam and preserved by all subsequent federal governments till now.

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Bob is a showman, in his own rambling sort of way. A highlight of the lecture was when he took a call from Miranda Gibson in her Tasmanian treetop bower 60m above the ground, protesting against the astonishing logging of the tallest flowering trees in the world, and amplified her voice through the auditorium by holding the mobile against his lapel microphone.

His main topic of discussion since escaping from the “Senate cage” as he called it, has been to promote a global democracy. He talks about the current age being one of struggle between Democracy and Plutocracy, and has found that because of these huge corporate interests, there is a everywhere a strong opposition to any talk of global democracy. He has been painted as a lunatic because of it – but poses the question – “what is the alternative?”. Democracy is good for green issues, as the majority of ordinary voters do genuinely care about the environment at some level, it is just the power of big business interests which continually try to railroad through conservation areas. I was interested in whether he has heard about open democracy movements, as I think the two go hand in hand in many respects, and both have the goal of getting true democratic decision making happening and wresting power from the rich, but it turns out he doesn’t use a computer out of principle – although his partner Paul Thomas, told me he recently succumbed to modern pressures and bought an ipad! He bemoans the state of media ownership in Australia, and prefers The Global Mail.

He also had some interesting things to say about depression, that he was depressed for ten years himself, and for him it was experienced as a rational state of despair. He took medication for some of that time. He said this kind of depression is different from a simple chemical imbalance in the brain, but is what can be experienced when one has a true appreciation of the state of the world. But he got over it – “optimism feeds on optimism” he said and quoted Emma Goldman “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. He also quoted himself, saying the choice with green issues, or any strongly felt matter, is always between “democracy or guns” – guns are never the right choice, so democracy it has to be.

The new Bob Brown Foundation has more information about many of these issues.

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