Behavioral ironies for our moral values

It’s wonderful to have so much movement in the movement now, the passion and connections making such awakening waves around facing our global crisis of growing crises.  Capitalism isn’t amenable to the kinds of change mostly offered, moral suasion, that I hear voiced by the great host of determined voices rising in response. 

The people actually most responsible are the class of highly educated successful professionals from good families ruling the world.  We need to study ironies like that, looked at as non-verbal cues from nature to look more deeply at the problem.  Another irony is that the educated professional class running the world, who like everyone else, exhibits highly successful survival instincts in their personal environments, evidently also seems to think nothing of destroying the home of nature and humanity at ever-accelerating rates; another irony. 

The many ironies surrounding our escalating world crisis all suggest some kind of profound blindness, on the part of nature’s most intelligent species. There is one that the ironies can help us pick out. One of the other ironies that have been talked about for decades now, is that it seems our solutions are the source of our problems. That is particularly clear in how you just can’t talk to people offering great temporary solutions for growing long-term problems. They’re not motivated to look for the flaws in their proud designs. That disappointing truth is pervasive throughout the world sustainability movement. For the biggest example, even the climate change effort amounts to an enormous effort to find a temporary fix that absolutely can’t last. Its aim is to phase out one ever-multiplying energy source for another, taking no (0) account of the ever-multiplying impacts of generating and using the new source for multiplying our control of nature.  What we’re using the energy for is probably a bigger actual environmental problem than how we obtain it!

In short, we’re behaving like confused 2-year-olds with respect to some of our most important tasks, as we also act like grownups with respect to some others. For some reason, I started noticing these kinds of ironies a long time ago. They would just pop out at me.  I noticed in first-year physics almost 60 years ago, for example, that physics does not study the parts of nature that can’t be turned into a formula!  Of course, no one would listen then or ever since, though recently I may be making little bits of progress.  The insight that triggered that observation came while being taught about the parts of simple behaviors that fit formulas, like a ball thrown in the air. We were not taught about the little non-linear energizing and de-energizing transients that begin and end every case of similar events. 

Conceptual thinking, the identification of simple patterns in complex contexts, is I think, at the heart of our problem. We spend so much time with our concepts, observed patterns simplified and detached from our contexts. that we lose track of their contexts, that is, except for the contexts we are deeply immersed in.  The one you can’t feel and the other you can, and that has EVERYTHING to do with behavior.

Thus our good survival instincts are in familiar places and we tend to lose them if all we have is abstract data. That divide also means that we naturally think our social concepts and values rule the world because they touch our emotions so directly. It tends to make the behavior of the natural and institutional systems that really run the world go largely unnoticed. The worst part… is that the simple rules of science and finance for profitably (and blindly) growing our control over our nature and each other (rules we see as detached from their contexts), then also multiply ever-faster. So, naturally, they take over the world those “powers of our minds” (for multiplying our power) are unleashed. Looking at the long history shows the scope of the dilemma. We’ve been doing that for thousands of years, over and over, blowing things up and suffering the disaster. And we are still at it today.  Of course, if this like of questions helps us see the problem, maybe we can do something this time.

So what do we do?  Well, I can’t say what path to take, as that will be determined by first looking for then finding the openings in our blind convictions, to breathe fresh air into them. Then the need appears to be to at least start a cure for the very heart of the problem, how our powerful concepts blind us to the world we take power over.  If we could feel what’s going on around their use we would be able to read the non-verbal cues to the state of our relationships, and not be helpless. Where we don’t feel the state of our relationships we’re blind to the effects of our choices and helpless. The main example is of course our pension for multiplying money, not having any feeling for the extensive evidence that what we do with money is rapidly destroying the earth, for example, the Top 100 World Crises Growing With Growth. 

The list is too much to absorb all at once, but it’s one of the healthiest things to try. https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf The solution is – conceptually – simple too. Learn from the examples of how both we and nature so often steer the growth of new systems to become lasting good homes for their builders!

So we need to somehow bring feeling to the environments our conceptual thinking has isolated us from and prevented us from feeling at home.  Sound good? Do you perhaps wee any openings to explore? Lots of the ones I hear about people looking into seem to me to be just the right type. It’s a diagnosis connecting the emotional and moral openings with a practical behavioral understanding of the problem that is really needed.  I think that coupling is what’s missing.

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An edited version of a comment on Jeremy Lent’s “Patterns of Meaning?

JLH

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