News tips for NPR
On Morning Edition today, the report on the crypto crisis offers other fascinating and important story openings to follow. The interview with Wilshire Phoenix said in response to the expected high risks of crypto trading reflected only the normal stumbles of new technologies, just kinks to work out. That’s not necessarily the case with ‘Phoenix’ technologies, however. The myth is about systems that never stabilize but keep reviving to crash horrifically again. Modern economies still seem to do that, too, crashing again and again after every fix that was supposed to last. The myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun is another story of warning about the same easily overlooked universal systems principle, that overreach, taking things too far is a mortal whole system threat.
The irony is that technical fixes for overreach would be great if they cured the problem, as the many growth systems that then stabilize with technical fixes demonstrate. If they’re to sustain the unsustainable, as economies generally make them, they are even MORE of a threat by promising a growing series of ultimately fatal threats.
That’s the first main news tip for the team to follow up on. Look at how centuries of financial fixes for economic crashes have also always resulted in bigger ones to come that, as at the moment, the authorities never saw coming. Lots of other people see these things coming, just feel it coming, so one of our puzzles is why the authorities consistently don’t. Why that misfortune seems to happen is that new conditions are created by overshoot, that many people may feel as dangerous pressure and tensions, but about which there is no information from hindsight available for the authorities, relying on rules developed from before.
What to look into is the original design of the economy. It is designed to serve people by using their power to grow their power, by leaps and bounds if possible. That means investors are always maximizing their overreach of our own and nature’s capacities, trusting that they will individually escape. Society seems to hope that the self-healing and adaptation ability will let society and nature tolerate it. Of course, what makes it intolerable is the ever more rapidly accelerating disruption of society’s and nature’s systems. So then, failing to understand what will happen, like the Phoenix, we “crash and burn,” over and over, hoping to rise again and that the inevitable won’t happen again.
A general study of it shows a remarkable and unexpected new story. It turns out literally every kind of new complex living system do it: organisms, families, businesses, cultures, etc. They all develop from innovations that start the growth of a new system formed of richly connected relationships, an internal world with external connections. So what all of life learned to do well is what is giving humanity so much trouble.
The other part is that innovations that sustain periods of growth always overshoot their starting conditions. That reality is a big part of what makes life so dangerous, lively, and deeply satisfying to succeed in having a long life. What seems to make humanity so unusual is relying heavily on successful rules that trap us in an endless cycle of boom and bust. The larger risk is that it is also a natural suicide mission. With each societal collapse, vast system knowledge of how to get along in the world is erased. So the Phoenix doesn’t always revive, and there seems to be some simple trick for how to end growth creatively that we’re missing.
Examples of growth systems that take the other path are also all around to study. To do it easily, the key is choosing when the time is ripe when the new life is fully formed but not yet severely threatened. What they choose is to use the resources that had been used for growth to perfect the system that growth developed, in place of taking it to overshoot and collapse. It’s a major change in strategy that can be triggered by quite small changes in information if the information is recognized for what it means. For struggling societies like ours, the path is likely to be more difficult, but always possible as long as the system as a whole has profits it can direct to serving the sustainable health and prosperity of the whole.
Perfecting societies and their economies as a way to cap their growth provides a natural limit guided by their original ideals that reaches a climax at a peak of vitality and prepared for the future. It’s a strategy quite plainly visible if pointed out but hidden in plain sight from our way of thinking. It’s such a deep principle of life it seems to be the original innovation that made life as we know it possible.
Complex life couldn’t exist without both beginning with a period of explosive organizational growth and then also then responding to signs of overshoot and shifting resources to use for perfecting the new life’s systems to avoid collapse and prepare for a long fulfilling future. That typically occurs during a longer period of coordinating and maturing internal designs and learning about the new world they find themselves in, and developing their environmental relationships. That longer period of perfecting the design for life is what we call “growing up” for ourselves when new lives gain all the adaptability and knowledge an adult system needs. It ends in their “graduation” and then “leaving the nest,” both for young birds as well as young people, ready to be free, a matter of “growing up” to do it.
So these ways to perfect our economic design is the second main news tip to follow up on. Both ending economic growth to allow the development of humanity toward a peak stage of sustainable vitality and readiness for a long life of engagement with others are what our plans for economic societies have left out for thousands of years. Our ideas of the future for humanity have been missing both of the biggest events in any life; birth and graduation. The origin of that tragic misdirection, though science seems only to have missed failed to understand it, seems to have been the beginning of science with Thallus, the first scientist, whose great achievement was demonstrating how amazingly profitable studying the numbers could be. The philosophers may not have paid attention, but the rulers and business communities surely did.
All the above is quite well verified and not too hard to check for one’s self. A somewhat speculative study of a Bronze Age culture that seems well-founded and might be a big help. Before Greek culture flowered there was a preceding much older stable and creative Aegean homelife culture that left an enormous mark. It’s more than a myth but traced partly from feint language and narrative sources and partly from strong archeological ones, as the origin of Greek language, art, architecture, and democracy, and was organized around a sacred home-life tradition, that led to the Greek homelife culture, much of which was also the source of the modern world’s anchoring “hearth and home” associated home cultures too.
I call it the ‘Hestian culture’ for lack of another name. Its design for homes became the design of classical greek temples! Its central icons were Hestia and Hermes, representing the ecological principles of centers and connections. Hestia was known as “the guardian of the sacred flame of hearth and home,” both for home as the spiritual center of life and tending the perpetual flame of the home at its center. Most records of it were lost due to a historical accident, it was displaced by the early Aegean dark age, and not even Homer seems to have learned its stories. However, it was a long, stable, and richly inventive society that did exist and apparently had a deep understanding of how to make the world a good home.
So, in any case, we still need to learn from any examples we can find how we might change strategy so the modern world can survive rather than potentially face economic extinction. It’s definitely an achievable end, as examples of others from history do seem to show. Technological civilization has failed the test repeatedly, though, always making things too complicated (and unrewarding) to survive, Joe Tainter’s long study showed and is described in a recent podcast.
The big barrier we face is the ~2,500 years of organizing technological societies around using the power of our minds over nature to perpetually multiply it. It also has hidden potential benefits, like centralized communication allowing all of humanity to understand the problem and maybe have time to respond, potentially, as a whole. Lots of other forms of life do seem to do it quite smoothly, though needing to patiently take a little time.
So the third main news tip to follow up is knowing that we have to change in a truly historic way, finding interesting and interesting news about our path to either a really great or very dangerous future. From many serious scientific views now, continuing to focus on multiplying our power over nature might produce the long dark age that normally follows civilization collapses, and it could possibly also be our last. The material risk at present is that the economy is aggressively exhausting all the rare technology resources, which also escalates the energy required. So that alone would make it very hard if possible at all, for another technological society to develop after us if we took our growth to a classical civilization collapse.
The NPR audience is both very hungry for it and, with the right engagement, also urgently needing it.
For the research ref’s for this “news tip”, see notes and papers linked from Reading Nature’s Signals – https://synapse9.com/signals
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