Archive for March, 2017

Is ‘sustainability’ impossible?

March 27, 2017

1) Human social systems and ecological systems are complex systems.

2) Complex systems are surprising and cannot be predicted in detail, especially over time, only by trend.

3) This means that the systems vary considerably over time. They are not always stable. Quite small actions, accidents or external events can affect the system significantly.

4) The ‘excess’ produced normally in a complex system is part of its resilience to accidents and internal or external variation.

5) If that excess is removed, then the system may become less resilient. There may be times when the excess is needed to make up a ‘natural’ loss of certain participants.

6) We tend to think of systems as sustainable with a fixed excess which can be removed for us to use.

7) Removing this excess in a fixed form renders the system less resilient and more prone to crash. If people keep extracting the same amounts without observing the system, then the system can be completely destroyed.

8) Maintaining ‘sustainability’ of this type, varies from impossible to extremely difficult.


Trolling and US politics

March 20, 2017

Trump and trolls…. Its an interesting and difficult question, I can’t really answer it but here is a go at exploration.

I’m going to start by defining a ‘troll’, for initial purposes, as someone who engages in argument by abuse and attempts to annihilate the other, or at best make the other look stupid. A troll generally does not engage in multi-logue or conversation with their victims. They do not aim at creating commonality with the group, or individual, they are attacking. There are other things which are called trolling, but this is what I’ll focus on – categories don’t have to be completely coherent.

Some people seem to enjoy trolling as evidence of their superiority and ingenuity, some people seem to be miserable and want to spread misery (“you only know you exist if you hurt”), and for some it is a strategy of power, enforcement or rebellion (usually phrased as ‘striking back’ – trolls often present themselves as persecuted by their victims).

Applying the term ‘troll’ can also be a political act, which aims to dismiss the other person/people, or at least categorise them so that thinking and interaction can stop.

Trolling seems to be socially validated as well as psychologically validated. Trolling has been part of normal behaviour in the media for a long time, in political comment in particular (it rouses passions and attention). This has been particularly the case for the right wing media(Murdoch Empire etc) – however, trolling generates trolling (conflict normally generates further conflict) and it is now general, particularly amongst readers comments. Perhaps it is now at destructive levels to social cohesion.

I suspect this separation was an aimed for result. If people of different positions/categories cannot talk to each other, or discuss things civilly, then people remain separated and more vulnerable to persuasion by members of their desired social category.

In general we are persuaded by those we identify with, and critical of those we classify as being in outgroups. So we tend to coalesce around ideas (which might be quite ludicrous) as marks of our identity and membership of a valued identity group. Trolling becomes a mark of our loyalty to the ingroup through hostility to the outgroup. That is its pleasure, and if you are good at it, it can bring celebrity, recognition and possibly money – it can increase personal survival.

People build both markets, power groups and loyalties through tolling.

My guess, which is political, is that Republicans chose to go this way, because they could not justify, or hide, the effects of their policies without distraction and without creating an enemy to stop the transfer of information, or ideas, about reality. They also tried to create a sense that the population was not being supressed in the name of increasing corporate power and wealth (‘neoliberalism’), but by academics or intellectuals or ‘progressives’ who were all snobs and hypocrites.

Having a war not only makes people less likely to defect, or have reasonable conversations with the outgroup, it also shows what will happen to you if you fail to stay loyal.

Creating a sense of war justified their normal trolling and encouraged other trolling. The media largely went along with them, until Trump came along and even then they rush to find him presidential or normal at every opportunity, such as after his speech to congress, perhaps out of wanting to create a sense of hope or fantasy that all is really ok. Media is largely corporately owned and expresses corporate interests.

War breaks empathy and if empathy is the fundamental basis of morals, and if an elite can break peoples’ empathy with a scapegoat section of the population (which trolling depends on for its success) then they are fundamentally on the road to as total control as possible. There are fewer acts of violence to enforce their political “order” which remain prohibited.

Trump plays the us and them game well. However, I’m not sure its conscious, as he does not generally seem that competent when challenged. He fumes and abuses in response – he trolls automatically. He is also just an exaggeration of normal Republicanism, so he seems like an ingroup member and could shift Republicans to join him, if he was competent.

The adhesion to Republican extremity, may hold his cabinet together, despite it looking probable that his cabinet will be full of competing personalities who are used to trolling. The question is how long can the group maintain cabinet as an ingroup and take out tensions by excoriating outgroup members?

Note that these people will never have to encounter a person who disagrees with them for any length of time, or encounter a person who has been hurt by their policies – and anyway their political position allows them to dismiss people who are hurt as weak or whiners or something. They also seem to see themselves as persecuted by others (as well as being natural rulers). So it seems unlikely that any of them will gain insight or end their trolling through empathy with others. It would be socially difficult for them to encounter those others as equals. Counter information can easily be classified as “fake news” or as enemy trolling.

To maintain power Trump may become more insular still, and he is likely to declare a real war to bolster his popularity when his policies fail to deliver for his electorate, and they will fail.

That is the logical consequence of Trolling as politics, but we still have to see if it happens.

Diagnosing Trump

March 19, 2017

Another Vital Post from John Woodcock. This time on the pointlessness of diagnosing Trump. Basically John’s argument is that diagnosing Trump “generate[s] a sense of knowing who Trump is and what he is likely to do on the basis of his ‘clinical profile’. This sense of knowing who Trump is, psychologically or clinically, thus gives us a dangerously false sense of getting a handle on what is going on right now.”

Diagnosis is therefore dangerous. We need to see with “fresh eyes”

So some continuation of this idea.

The circumstances of the world are unique and are not reflected in past history. We cannot predict the consequences of events, or actions, at all. It is also true that the world is a set of complex systems and is inherently unpredictable.

What makes the situation different, is that we have never faced this confluence of crises. They are crises which provoke existential crisis in us, and may possibly end ways of life as we know them quite catastrophically. We, as humanity, face being completely uprooted.

Despite the impossibility of predicting exactly what will happen, there is always the possibility of predicting trends. Trump is, I think, ‘trendable’. However, it must be remembered that Trump is not alone he has a whole group of people reinforcing his tendencies, supporting his acts, fearing him, and feeding him the “right” information. That is what makes him particularly dangerous

So far I’ve found Trump and his collective relatively predictable going by his past history, but the intersection of that past history with current events is hard to fathom, and will possibly get harder to fathom as it goes along. Of course Trump and others may become more monstrous as he proceeds and fails.

Trump supports established big business and attacks ordinary Americans. He aims to remove anything that hinders the power of business to destroy, or increase the wealth they remove from the system. He supports anything that will increase his own wealth, and seems happy to make money out of the Presidency (as with Mar-a-lago). His is a government of billionaire crooks for billionaire crooks. .

He also wants to be seen as tough and a ‘strong man’. He wants his own way in everything public. This is vital, and feeds into the billionaire thug routine. He resents those who think they know better than him, or say he cannot do something. He will seek scapegoats for his failures and seek revenge on those scapegoats.

He will probably start a war, or series of wars, as his policies break down, so as to maintain the illusion of strength. It is no surprise he makes increasing military spending (which also transfers taxpayers’ money to the corporate sector) a priority, despite the fact that the US already spends more on the military than the ten to twelve next highest spending countries put together. Nuclear war is a possibility – he has already suggested it to solve the problems of the Middle East. Who it is, that he will declare war upon is much harder to decide.

He will do nothing to stop ecological breakdown, indeed he will be more likely to speed it up as that shows his power and marks the Earth permanently with his name.

Trump and his cronies (it is not Trump alone) push us further into the crisis, and it is up to us to resist while knowing our resistance will encourage him to go further.

That is the first paradox.

We need “fresh eyes” to see this.

There is another paradox. Trump is not a reforming radical as he, and his supporters claim, he is the same old Republican fraud. However, he does not have the same constraints of past Republicans.

So we cannot hold the possibilities within constraints. The crises ridden system would probably not allow this anyway. We cannot rely on our past assumptions about US governments. We might have been able to assume that while Reagan would risk nuclear war, his government would behave “reasonably” in other ways. With Trump’s government we have no assurances.

We need fresh eyes to see, that do not block our perceptions of trends in ‘heroic’ specialness, and do not suppress paradox.

The Energy Crisis

March 19, 2017

This article developed from a comment on an article by Jessica Irvine in the Sydney Morning Herald “Energy crisis: The 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask”.

Point 1: There may be no energy crisis but there is an ecological crisis – which is growing. It is vital to keep the ecological crisis in focus as other crises flow on from that.

Point 2: The worse the ecological crisis gets, the more the energy crisis mounts, and the more people will suffer or die as a result. The economy and food supply will be hurt as well.

Point 3: There is currently a problem with gas supply in Australia, but that results from gas companies deciding not to supply gas to local consumers, and from gas power stations failing in the heat (from the ecological crisis). We need to get out of the control of the gas companies.

Point 4: A point of agreement with the author. Coal is stupid, expensive and poisonous to people and the environment.

Point 5: One significant problem is that the Coalition parties (both in government and opposition) have become obsessed with defending fossil fuel companies, and have actively worked to prevent alternate energy supplies from increasing. Labor was not much better, but it was better.

Point 6: Prices will continue to increase in the market as it exists, as companies continue to manipulate that market to increase profit. That is what companies do. That is why the prices have increased after the Carbon tax was repealed. We have a situation in which various companies are profiteering from the destruction of both our environment and Australia’s energy systems. This, is the main story, so let’s not forget it.

Point 7: South Australia is going it alone because the Federal government has done little but attack them (mostly using false information) in order to defend fossil fuel companies, and has provided no help, or even moral support. Essentially more states will have to go it alone if we want a solution under this Federal Government.

Point 8: Battery storage is still in development and will get better. They are still cheaper than the alternatives. We might think about a contract in which batteries get replaced with newer models as time passes. But that would not be supporting fossil fuel companies, so there is little chance of that.

Point 9: The Coalition government is in the business of picking losers that won’t challenge fossil fuel companies. The new Snowy scheme will be overpriced, depend on water and snow we may not have, and be powered by coal if possible. It is a massive waste of money, as you might expect.


March 10, 2017

Empathy, is in my opinion, the fundamental driver of human morality. Empathy is the ability to understand, sympathise and relate to another person, creature or place.

Empathy is primarily an imaginative act as it involves imagining how the other is feeling, or how you might feel in the same situation, or being so identified that you suffer along with the other.

The weakness of empathy is that it can be contracted to direct kin or even to one’s self alone (depending on the training), or expanded to the whole of creation (depending on the training). In some ways the history of empathy is precisely this expansion to cover almost the whole realm of the known. In some societies empathy may be directed at the whole of nature, but this current time is the only time that empathy can be directed to the whole world, and we are capable of destroying that world. So empathy becomes more and more important to our survival.

Empathy may even be the fundamental imaginative act, that precedes all other imaginings, and is possibly related to mercy in that working empathy may find it hard to extract full vengeance… It allows another chance, another imagining. It implies that we are not foreign to one another, that we could step where the other has gone.

When empathy is cut off, then there is no possibility of a moral response to anyone or anything. There are only rules or fury. Empathy disturbs legal rules and fury.

That is why dictatorial regimes like finding scapegoats. Firstly it excuses them their own failings (it is someone else’s fault) and secondly it breaks empathy. Once it is broken, then it becomes easier to do vile acts and enforce the will of the dictators.

Why is talk of ‘free markets’ beneficial for Corporate domination?

March 8, 2017

We have had about 40 years of politicians and media continually spruiking the benefits of free markets. During that time, we have seen a steady transfer of wealth to the exceedingly wealthy, a consolidation of ownership and control of the corporate sector, a decline in social mobility and a boost in state attempts to control ordinary people and reduce control over the corporate sector.

This result is not a coincidence. Indeed corporations sponsor free market think tanks. Corporate and think-tank self-interest justifies the idea that free market talk primarily supports their power and wealth.

Free market talk boosts corporate power as follows:

1) It makes business the only important part of society. Economics and “the market” matters, nothing else does. Therefore the desires of the business sector are vital and must be attended to, and protected, before anything else.

2) If people would like or need something, or it is socially important, but does not make a profit or interferes with corporate profit, then it is clearly not needed, or not of value. It can be also dismissed as impractical, because the market is the only mark of value and practicality.

3) Regulations which curtail or add work to business to favour the ordinary person are automatically bad. Regulations which control the ordinary person and protect big business are automatically good as they support standard business practice, which is the ultimate good. Unions are bad, business associations (and their ties with politicians) are wonderful.

4) The market can never be free, as regulation is required to protect ‘private property’ and contract, so there is always further to go in favour of reducing restrictions on the corporate sector and tightening its control.

5) Free market liberty allows people to compete on “equal terms” with corporations. Josephine Bloggs and BHP are equal in law and equal in their freedom to spend any amount of money to buy lawyers, politicians and that law. Who is surprised that most people don’t bother to challenge power?

6) Free market talk destroys commons, because commons are not private property owned by anyone, and nobody is responsible for theme. Therefore they must be transferred to the private sector as cheaply as possible to regularise everything. Consequently, the people lose property and power.

7) Government services can be contracted out to the private sector and the costs and benefits can be kept secret through commercial in confidence arrangements, as not having these would interfere with business and the free market.

8) Government services which cannot be privatised become punitive, as people should be using the market, and must be evil if they are not. Services to ordinary people are removed.

9) As profit is the only value, truth becomes that which makes a profit or supports established power, and thus the media has no obligations to anything but the propaganda interests of its corporate owners or their corporate friends.

10) Free market talk suggests Governments should do nothing and everything should be left to the elites with wealth. So we move into plutocracy, which reinforces the process by which everything is governed in favour of corporate elites.

11) Corporations will compete politically and legally if it gives them a competitive edge or subsidy. The more other sources of influence remove themselves from politics, the less likely will it be that corporations will face opposition from anything other than corporate sources. So pro-corporate laws get passed continually.

12) People are told, by almost all public sources, that governments are inefficient and useless and that there is no point them getting involved and trying to take over the State in their own interests rather than the interests of the wealthy.

13) The more people withdraw from participation in politics and the State, the more the governors become isolated from ‘the people’ and the more they depend on corporate money for their campaigning, so the more easily they are bought by the plutocrats.

14) Wealth becomes the primary source, and mark, of power and virtue. Everything else is inferior and to be dismissed, and the free market continues to be promoted above all else.

[It is true that free market people sometimes talk a lot about ‘liberty’, but they only mean the liberty of business to do as it likes. Everyone else has the ‘liberty’ to adapt to government by business.]

Science and spirit yet again

March 3, 2017

Let me suggest that ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Reason’ have the same origins and face similar problems, although they can be used to ‘correct’ each other. They work better together than apart, but they are still vulnerable. In particular, they are both vulnerable to social factors and to being used in power struggles

Let me begin by asserting that most human knowledge is fallible. This is a proposition usually agreed to by theologians, philosophers and scientists. They may disagree on what is required to fix the problem, but they agree on the problem

I’d suggest that most people who disagree with this proposition are likely to be destructive, because they will not try to modify their actions to suit the world but the world to suit their ‘truth’. Indeed one of the problems we face is that climate change is being ignored because of the ‘truth’ of the virtues of capitalism. This is a truth which has little reason behind it, but perhaps lots of intuitive/spiritual value

Reason always depends upon either a spiritual vision or intuition or a dogma for its axioms. Axioms exist outside of the field of reason or science. They cannot be proven in themselves, they simply seem obvious. Because the axioms seem obvious they may not even be perceived as axioms they may be seen as reality itself. If the axioms are wrong then reasoning from them will eventually produce incorrect results

Spirituality can give a ‘direct perception’ of the workings of the world. However, this perception can be as wrong (in parts) as the axioms deployed by Reason. Acting on this perception may also not have the results which are intended.

As I have argued previously, modern ideas of ‘Reason’ made their way into the West as part of a spiritual vision that God had made the world in a way which was uncoverable by human thought processes and deduction. God did not cheat and God was not irrational. Reason is based on this intuition/tradition that reality is reasonable and explicable.

There are two big differences between modern patterns of science and traditional patterns of reason.

Firstly scientists try to interact with nature to find out if the conclusions from their theories are the same as expected. The reasonableness of the proposition is not recognised as enough to guarantee its truth. Science demands an open interaction with reality, not with hunches or intuitions – although hunches, intuitions and spiritual experiences, may lead to suspicions the theories do not work, or to new theories (which then need to be tested).

Secondly, scientists frequently attack the axioms of science, or conduct thought experiments to see what would happen if the axioms were different.

Frequently these processes lead to power struggles (scientists are humans, and they work for the State or private enterprise, both of which may have their own non-reasonable drives). However, the ultimate ideal arbiter is the interaction with Nature – the experiment.

One of the axioms of science is that, ideally, the people participating in the experiment should not make a difference to the experimental results. The experiment must be replicable to be true.

Scientists tend to ignore things which are not replicable, not testable or which seem to be personal. This may limit their effectiveness, or their ability to relate to other humans.

Spirituality, especially in an organised form, rarely does any of this. Rather it tends to ignore any inaccuracies and teach them to students, holding that any deviation from the teaching is a problem. It is also expected that different people might get different results depending on their virtue, dedication or whatever. So failure to replicate the experiment is easily explained away as a moral or spiritual failing. Spiritual people tend to include more of what seems to be human, and can thereby seem more persuasive, as we all know that non-replicable, personal events are important to our lives. However, because of this, there is often nothing to decide between different visions other than violence – unless reason or science is admitted into the debate.

So the point is:
Both science and spirituality depend upon an ‘irrational’ intuition, or perception, of the nature of reality.

Scientists tend to deduce things from this intuition/vision and test them in interactions with nature. Testing is built into the discipline. Nature is the final arbiter. They tend to suppress personal factors which are important to people’s lives.

Spiritual people tend not to test their intuitions or perceptions. They accept them as truths, until they are superseded by new visions. They do generally accept and elaborate on personal issues, making those issues relevant and conceivable in life.

Both factors are needed for the whole human.

Science and uncertainty….

March 3, 2017

Most forms of human knowledge are fallible.

Despite this, it may need to be recalled, that everything we know about the global despoliation of nature comes from scientific work.

It is scientific work that shows us that ‘nature’ is a vast set of interactive systems, essentially powered by the sun and, occasionally, by global thermal energy.

It is science which shows us that we are dependent upon other people, that we share as part of our nature, and that we compete as part of our nature. The individual only exists because of the group. We are shaped by, and shape cultures (collective ideas, feelings and habits). We emerge from the collective interaction.

It is science that shows we are related to many other Terran life forms, and depend on the interactions of other life forms. It is science that shows us our bodies and minds are fractious colonies.

Science shows us that natural systems are inherently complex and unpredictable in detail. Natural systems are unstable and subject to contingency and accident. They eventually escape human ordering, although we can disrupt them.

Science shows us that eventually, at particular times, there are natural limits. It is capitalism and developmentalism which insist these limits can always be overcome, and hence are prone to lead to lead to disaster