Eric & all,
Kitty offered a great question about a historical scholar friend who argues that life is so much better now we shouldn’t complain.
From my view there are lots of things you could point out to him. He probably understands that there’s a limit to any one thing. You can also have too much of any ‘good’ thing. An endless explosion of ‘good’ is the most sure way of getting you there. Everything begins with growth, but things that end with it end in sudden disarray. Any of those examples I gave of natural systems that get in trouble with growth essentially do the same thing, keep multiplying what’s ‘good’ until it overwhelms their internal or external relationships.
One of the common descriptions of the phenomenon is the ‘Fairy Tale’ about “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Do you see any sign of our having unleashed a run-away phantom producing wealth for us, and now going totally out of control?? The most stunning thing about this is that the endless multiplication of ‘wealth’ is the world consensus plan of all the ’smart’ people. Clearly nature is throwing us a major curve, turning our ingenuity against us in a profound way, and we should be both in awe of what’s happening as well as angry and active in questioning everything about it.
One of the signs that something different is going on today than in prior times is that the incomes of working Americans leveled off 35 years ago, with high end incomes continuing to multiply as before. That’s very different from how the economy grew before. Note that 1970 is also about the time when sensitive people noticed we were beginning to collide with the environmental limits of the earth! Part of my interpretation is that some parts of the economy have been more successful in shedding the complications of the growth conflicts than others.
The details are complicated partly because any system is complicated, but also because the complications brought on by our growth collisions with each other and natural limits on a small earth are a little like turbulence. They’re explosions of complication from unexpected places that’ll never be explained. Mostly we just call it overload and wave it off, exposing how it erodes our resilience to change. That’s part of why we’re so slow to respond to global warming and things.
The new complications of living on earth are still there, though, doing their job of slowing the system down, starting from the bottom up it seems…. Maybe the top just lifts off and floats away by itself, finding some other universe where its principles actually apply…? I’m sure they’d like that, but expect something else will happen.
What can we do? I have a simply defined procedural proposal, that also has significant complications. It could be called the ‘SR feedback switch’. All that means is to switch off the automatic growth driver of global finance resulting from investors ’R’einvesting their returns (in businesses obligated to produce more) instead of choosing to ‘S’pend them. Seeing that as a solution follows from interpreting the problem as being that source of otherwise endless exploding feedback of competition.
It’s rather elemental cybernetic steering (i.e., meaning no more than ‘when going too fast ease back on the throttle’) but seems beyond ‘rocket science’ level economics. No economist I know of has done anything but laugh at. Another proposal is NDR, or ‘negative discount rate’. That’s something proposed by other people, with similar responses from the establishment whose oddly warped thinking is the cause of the problem…
I also don’t understand it well enough to interpret. It is supposed to have the same global effect, though. I think the tour bus is way off the map. We’ll have to see what happens.
I hope you could follow this. Would be glad to clarify. Thanks for your great questions Kitty,
To Phil, Bruce, Eric, and the group,
I know an individual who’s an historical scholar (especially of Medievalism) as well as much influenced by Carlo Cipolla’s lectures and writings (pre- and post-industrial society, Berkeley, ’70s) — so he’s knowledgeable and articulate about life up to the Industrial Revolution but particularly how we’ve benefited from it. And his contention is that life is so much better (i.e., easier) now that this alone renders ‘doom-ism’ null and void. (While to me this is pitting apples vs. oranges.)
So when we discuss the inability of many organisims to adapt to changing geophysical environments (and their extinction), his argument is that humans clearlypossess this ability, “just look around you,” he says with a flourish. His contention is that our ’ingenuity’ — our ability to cool the air around us, avoid the contagion of polio, fly to the great cathedrals of Europe… — is the scale of our intraplanetary ’success’.
So one very real element we’re dealing with here is the determination of man to see technology, medical science, and the luxury of convenience as a cloak of security against an overpopulating planet — the tendency to view this scenario as “but I have gained!” Intrinsically, I agree with Eric — that our arrogance can’t (mathematically) go on — that we have hit critical mass. The overriding question is: At what point do individuals recognize that we are in a habitat that’s bigger than our air-conditioners?
I received an e-mail the other day from a group member, saying “…but what can we doabout it?” Ans: Persevere by articulating a platform (and quickly) and getting the informed word out. I watched Eric’s “Infowars” interview – and it’s pretty hard to twist his words into abject fatalism when he talks about setting-up his granddaughters’ college funds… We do have hope — all of us. Let’s work on a platform, shall we?