Archive for June, 2017

Being in complex systems

June 30, 2017

We are entangled in a dangerous situation of our own making, although it was not made deliberately. There is no point to blame other than assuaging personal guilt. We are all responsible, even if some are more responsible than others.

We are entangled in a set of complex systems with no straight lines and few determinable borders. These systems are not systems of firm bounded objects, they are systems of untidy, overlapping flows, with no absolute rigidity; things merge and blend.

These systems may not harmonise and may be subject to abrupt transitions to new states.

in such systems there are no lone individuals. There are no people not interdependent upon others, borrowing and transforming, and being borrowed and transformed.

Flux and chaos is Everywhere.

In these systems, we cannot know the totality of the systems (which compose us), or all of the interconnections, we operate within a swarm of unintended effects. Outcomes are unclear –as it is hard to determine what is the immediate cause of outcomes, as outcomes have multiple interacting causes and may look like they had nothing to do with us. We may not even perceive the outcomes we part-produce.

What we do will have unintended consequences, and we may not be able to recognise them. We also need to know lots of different facts and theories to make it clearer when we might be ignorant.

In these systems, lack of knowing is basic – we cannot accurately or definitively model complex systems (and if we could then acting on the model would change the system). This does not mean there are not degrees of lack. We don’t have to be claim everyone is equally ignorant, or that some ideas are not more accurate than others. Ideas are actions and actions are ideas.

However, given the lack, then we might have to educate towards conscious ignorance. Not unconscious ignorance, or thinking our knowledge is complete.
Knowing what we don’t know, to the extent we can know.

As we are ignorant, the unconscious (systemic and psychological) is everywhere. Our self bleeds into the world. It is not separate from that world. We do not know our self or where it ends, or what we are entangled with. Yet our self seems concrete as do the systems. This concreteness may be an illusion. We think with the world, as part of the world, and in the world. We also feel with the world, as part of the world, and in the world. The world comes to being in us, and we come to being in it. There are no lone individuals. Mind is extended, there are no lone minds. And yet: can we only respect the lone or be moral with the lone? We do not exist without the multiple, and that multiple appears to have no known border; it blends.

AS we are entangled then we (to some undetermined extent) involve the rest of the systems. How then, as we exist and attempt to extricate ourselves from the problems we created, do we involve the non-human without modifying it so that it exists for us? Speaking for the non-human renders it human, and risks erasing it. Yet if the human does not speak for the non-human then it does not exist to the human. This gives us the paradox of representation it represents and distorts at the same time. It may be that in dealing with complex systems and unintended effects we are always dealing with apparent paradox…

One way is to change ourselves (a small action with possible systemic effects). Knowing we do not know.

There is no way out of the systems we are entangled within. We have no option but to work on us or it and in it.

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It may be that people have embraced the term ‘complex adaptive systems’ rather than simply ‘complex systems’, because the idea implies teleology and purpose – “to adapt, and adapt well”. The term suggests everything will adapt constructively, rather than that things can adapt destructively, or injuriously. It removes the spectre of disorder and suggests beneficence. It suggests an ordered cosmos once again, with aims and ends.

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Individual vs Systemic change

June 30, 2017

The problem with promoting individual change to deal with large problems, is that it often operates without recognising that the individual is part of a set of systems and those systems make demands, or set up the parameters of action…

Thus the destructive action that one person may take, say using a leaf blower, driving a car several hundred metres to the shops, using new plastic bags or wrapping, planning a residential area that needs cars, may not make much difference in itself, but in their billions they do. One of our current problems is that if the ‘developing world’ emulates our way of life, then we are lost. The destructiveness is too great.

In our defense, we can easily use the examples of others’ behaviour to show we are not doing much harm. Using a new plastic bag is not as harmful as clear felling the amazon, or poisoning whole populations with waste from a single factory. Building one coal powered energy source is not as bad as building hundreds. Using a leaf blower is less harmful than building hundreds of coal power stations. It may even be less harmful than something else that is minorly harmful – such as driving a car to the shops. We can say we use a leaf blower because we have kept so many trees or because it is easier on our back or whatever. We can manage to feel proud that our destructive acts are less destructive than other possible acts.

And it is true that stopping by yourself will not change anything. But if millions of people stop, then it does change things. So, if you believe that something you are doing has the possibility of harm, then it might be your responsibility to a) stop that harm, as much as possible, b) be aware of the harm you do without making excuses, and c) exemplify the change and show others it is possible.

Humans learn through imitation of respected others. We have to exemplify the change we wish to see, and prevent exemplificatory capture by the powers that be. Donald Trump is perceived by more than us, and becomes an exemplar of behaviour and thus of what we can and should do. But despite this, we exemplify as well, and may well exemplify more relevantly to our audience, than the US President does.

By our behaviours, we make those behaviours normal, and it more likely that others will take them up and thus that the system changes. One of the problems with Revolutions is that individual behaviours do not change, and the new system becomes as harmful as the old. So changing behaviour is worthwhile.

The systems we are entangled in provide a degree of resistance, and this is what keep systems stable for periods of time. Learning to go against the system, helps us learn how the system reinforces its trajectory. For example we may learn that we are over busy without time to think and we do destructive acts simply to avoid more friction and consumption of our lives. We need freedom to live as well as to survive.

Changing even minor behavior can lead to calls for major changes as well.

Ultimately, what we do, and the systems’ responses to this, creates the future. There is no excuse for not doing what you think is right, but learn to recognise if it does not work. Failure is learning. Try something new.

Over time multiple changes in small parts of the system may reconfigure the system and so it was all worthwhile.

This also suggests that the solutions are found in the doing, and that we try and act small scale. Large scale may produce catastrophe – the point is we do not know. We can approach things with care, knowing that good intentions are not enough, they may even stop us perceiving what we need to know.

Small ways can lead to big things, although the small ways may need support. Even small acts can help. There can be ripple effects. Let’s not always get tied in the importance of big drama.

The systems may do the important work, not us.

Communism AND Capitalism

June 22, 2017

The problem is that, usually, communism and capitalism are considered in purely abstract terms. Thus communism is supposed to be a state-free, large scale organization, which is organised around anarcho-democratic principles. Everyone is supposed to have the same rights, and is automatically allocated food, housing etc and helps produce everything for everyone else. The ideal is co-operative. Capitalism is supposed to allocate resources perfectly through the purely unintended economic consequences of selfishness. It can ideally have a state or not have a state depending on who you read. Supposedly ‘free markets’ are vital and bring liberty.

The problem is that though the defenders of each system are well-intentioned, neither works as perfectly as predicted, or has the consequences which are expected. This is quite obvious when you considered how they are formed and that humans are as co-operative as they are selfish and competitive. We are not one or the other. Consequently those who are successful in capitalism co-operate to prevent challenge to their power over the markets and other’s lives, and some people compete in communism to establish their own power and security at the cost of others. Furthermore, freedom is usually associated with plurality of organisations, but both systems tend to crush plurality in favour of their ideal.

The ideal societies, that people usually discuss, do not exist and probably cannot exist.

What we call ‘communism’, so far, has been born in revolution. Consequently there are always active players inside, and outside, the country aiming to get what they consider their rightful power and wealth back. Consequently communists have to use the State and repression to defend themselves, the new society and produce stability for transformation into the new society. They usually end up using the old apparatus which is the one they know, and is already in place. They justify this in terms of transition; its always supposedly temporary. Of course, some people succeed in this framework and gain power and privilege and don’t particularly care about the ordinary people who can be seen as obstacles to the progress of the State and its ideals. Mao appears to have tried to appeal directly to the people to destroy the State mechanisms and the ingrained bureaucrats. This was a dangerous policy it produced the cultural revolution, which was not a great time (to put it very mildly) and the State came back to produce stability and protect those in power. It is also relatively easy for a dictator to take over when you have a strong State, no other organisations which can challenge it, and an external threat.

The problem with capitalism is that it is born in theft and in impoverishment of some people, and leaves them behind to maintain that theft. In the US we have theft of native American lands, and theft of people’s lives in slavery, amongst other things, that create the basis of private property and its inequitable distribution – the stolen wealth does not go entirely to the victorious group. Wealthy people team up to keep the wealth for themselves, and to keep it coming and soon try to take over the State, or start a State, and use that State to defend their privilege and keep ordinary people in their place. They use the State and their own economic power to destroy open non-capitalist markets which could challenge them. The processes they implement consolidate property and shift people into wage labor and dependency. The more important the leaders of business become, the more everything has to be organized as a business, and anything that is not profitable business is automatically classed as not worthwhile. Similarly, everything that adds to business cost, like wages or looking after the ecology we depend upon, is to be destroyed or run down. There are many other problems with capitalism, but the main one is that it ends up being a self-destructive plutocracy – and the more capitalist it becomes, the more this eventuates.

After the second world war, many countries embraced what they called either a ‘mixed economy’ or ‘socialism’ (communists usually insist this is not ‘real socialism’). There were state funded business ventures and private funded ventures. They both kept each other in check. Business could not lower wages too much and accumulated too much profit, and State business had to look to what people wanted to buy. The State and big business were further kept in check by the people and by other flourishing organisations such as Churches, small business associations, unions, universities, legal bodies, the judiciary, returned services organisations, science bodies and so on (I’m sure other people can think of more such organisations which organized themselves in many different ways). This spread power about, so no one faction dominated and people generally prospered. There was a large and growing involvement with ‘people power’. To some extent this arose because some capitalists feared the possibility of communist revolution and thought it better to share some of the wealth they had extracted from the community around to keep them safe.

However, in the mid seventies, in the English speaking world in particular, the corporate sector launched a take over, through funding think tanks, media takeovers, takeover of political units, and general promotion of ideal capitalism. Then European communism fell. There was no longer any fear of revolution, and little opposition to capitalism. The result was what we have now. Capitalism as it is….. Capitalism was to be the only solution, the only value and ordinary people lost power and prosperity. Any other organisations where to be organized along business lines and started praising business. As a result, there is now almost no challenge to big business from anyone and no non-business stories, especially as communism collapsed under its incapacities.

There is close to no question that capitalism will collapse under its incapacities as well – there is nothing challenging it. The issue is whether it takes us all with it.

Alchemy

June 19, 2017

Alchemy was an art of all kinds of transmutation and ‘perfection’: of metals, human bodies, souls, agriculture, pottery, politics and so on.

Those alchemists working on metals, usually attempted to transform Mercury, rather than lead, into gold. The lead is a popular story and I’m not sure when it originated. However, the mercury may not be what we call mercury, it is the ‘Mercury of the Philosophers’ which is something completely different but like mercury…. alchemy is confusing in that way.

As many people are aware, Isaac Newton was an alchemist and spent far more effort on alchemy and biblical interpretation than on physics which was simply a sideline. Some have argued that alchemy was important in supporting Newton with the otherwise unpopular idea of action at a distance. Robert Boyle and lots of other members of the original Royal Society were also alchemists, although Newton was the most traditional of all of them and incredibly secretive about what he was doing – as he was with everything. The others tended to exchange notes and procedures.

I have read of people using nuclear reactors to do transmutation of the elements but ,as everyone notes, that is way too expensive at the moment – although it can be taken as demonstrating that alchemy is possible 🙂

There are alchemists operating today doing the work on metals, although they seem to be more interested in medical alchemy than gold making. There are also those who see alchemy as more of a psychological or spiritual procedure.

This psychologizing has a surprisingly long history but, while it simplifies, it basically arises because alchemists generally did not see a difference between interior work and exterior work. Everything was connected, the change in the alchemist was as important as the change in the material, and the two were linked. Everything was mutable. Psychologising also serves the function of explaining why any particular alchemist did not make the transmutation, and further explained and justified the altered states of consciousness that arise through inhaling and tasting various substances and concentrating on being a human thermostat for weeks on end. It may also be true of course 🙂

However, separating the spirit work into its own domain becomes more usual during and after the 17th century. By the late 19th century it was often considered that work on the spirit was the secret of alchemy, probably because it became increasingly difficult to see spirit and matter as related.

More interestingly, Carl Jung argued that Western alchemical symbols arose as a kind of collective dream, acting as compensations for the kind of psyche produced by official Christianity. If that is the case, then alchemy can, even today, act as a map of psychological transformation – what he called individuation. James Hillman expanded on this, pointing out that alchemical symbols actually give us a very concrete embodied way of seeing, feeling and engaging with psyche.

I personally think that alchemical symbols can give us a way of thinking about transformations of all kinds, and that they are particularly useful for thinking about chaotic, complex and messy processes. But that is a subject for another blog post sometime.

Anarchism and Capitalism

June 18, 2017

Something approaching anarchist communism is the way most human societies have functioned during our evolution and prehistory. Humans co-operate and compete, live in relationship to other humans and nature, talk, produce art, engage with God and ‘science’, and try to prevent the accumulation of inequalities. So for them property is exchanged rather than accumulated. They resolve disputes by long discussions and listening, trying to reach as real a consensus as possible. If that fails then the society splits, or there some minor violence occurs. Those people who like bossing others around or displaying their wealth or who cannot relate to other people can move out and join the capitalists or Statists, where their personality traits are considered normal or even praiseworthy.

The weakness of anarcho-communist societies is obvious – State and business based societies usually slaughter them, unless they can hide in otherwise inhospitable mountains or deserts. So there is no ‘paradise’ once State and business gets going.

A fundamental difference between anarchism and capitalism is that in capitalism the fundamental relationships between people are not communitarian and consultative, they are Boss and Employee, or Servant and Master. Pro-capitalists hope to avoid the servitude they cultivate or force on others.

As well, capitalism requires a State and violence to allow the accumulation of property, and the severance of human relations that allows that accumulation. There is, and has been, no capitalism without accumulation and a State, or without forming a state. Accumulation of wealth also allows the financing of specialists in violence like a military or a police force which helps State formation. Capitalism nearly always leads to plutocracy. Indeed one can see that “anar caps” are usually keen to have proto-State apparatuses such as police, courts, prisons and lawyers when those forces are mercenary and available to the highest bidder because that means that the wealthy own both the law and the enforcers of the law, and thus make the law, and the State apparatuses, serve them. There is little anyone outside the circle of wealth can do to go against this ‘law’. Wealthier and more violent enforcers will tend to take over smaller mercenary enforcers, or severely damage them. Enforcers will routinely protect those who contribute most to their prosperity, and the law, and so ‘judicial’ decisions and laws will respect those powerful ‘customers’. The observed aim of capitalists is not to abolish the State but to abolish any part of the State that does not serve the sole interests of successful, wealthy and dominant capitalists.

Once the wealthy own the means of violence and law, then they will probably team up in their mutual interest to make them all safer in their suppression of everyone else. This is what elites do, and this give further coherence to the burgeoning State they are creating.

This process is given legitimacy as, in capitalism, wealth is the only acceptable marker of value, whereas in anarchism people may be renown for many different things.

As we said earlier, sociopaths, greedheads and exploiters will tend to migrate to capitalism where they think their personality traits may be rewarded. The wealthy may well tend to have a higher concentration of such individuals than the rest of the population. In capitalism, people without wealth, or not interested in making wealth, are naturally considered inferior and nobody worries if they get trodden on.

Consolidation of plutocracy is even more likely, because in a system of inequality and resultant shortage, wealth is a portable and transferable basis for power, and can be applied to all other sources of power. Wealth can and will buy violence. It will buy the law. It will control the information flow and propaganda, so that ‘free market’ ideologies and ideologues will be supported and counter examples and ideas repressed. Wealth can control cosmologies and religions. Wealth can command specialists, administrators and managers to further reinforce its power and boss people around. Plutocracy is the only possible result of capitalism.

Capitalism not only tends to produce a State it tends to produce an imperial State to gain new markets, new resources, new workers and new places to dump waste and pollution from its methods of production. If the capitalists verge onto the anarchists then the capitalists will generally not recognize the property of the anarchists – after all anarchists have no contract and their property is not registered as belonging to anyone in capitalist law. If property does not exist in capitalist bought law then it is terra nullius and ripe for the taking. Historically this is what capitalists do.

This leaves the anarchists with a problem, they could pay tribute to the capitalists to be left alone, but that implies subservience and depends on some wealthy person not taking them to capitalist bought court and challenging their lack of ownership. Anarchists may not even have currency to pay with, which of course shows they have no rights or value as people, as they have no wealth. The capitalists may decide to rule them for their own good, and use their ‘defensive’ military or police for that purpose. This then throws the anarchists off the land they don’t own (in the capitalists eyes) and forces them into wage labor and subservience to a boss – so the bosses may become still more prosperous. The conquered anarchists will no longer be seduced by ideas of communitarianism, liberty and disregard for profit, they will have to work for hire in subservience. They won’t effectively challenge capitalist power by existing free of it.

There is an inherent difference between anarchy and capitalism. Anarchists aim to maximize the amount of time that all people can use for non-economic, purely human purposes, while capitalists aim to maximize the amount of time that the vast majority have to labor to survive.

This is why pro-capitalists only ever talk of the ‘market’, or try to make the ‘market’ and economic reward the central, and deciding, part of human life. This arrangement tires people out and keeps them submissive to their bosses. Pro-capitalists may come to believe that there is nothing else in human life than economic labor, and profit, which reinforces the ideological system of power. This is also why they are always so destructive of the environment that others live in, and even their own. Anything can be destroyed if it makes profit and it does not inconvenience another person with ownership of the law.

There is a magic here; pro-capitalists appear to believe that by supporting the dominant power, and forcing others to do so, they will gain power and prosperity for themselves.

Anarchists always have to be wary of capitalists, and see them as supporting plutocracy. It is certainly arguable that largely unfettered capitalism will, with enough power allocated to business, produce a State and a society very like the one we have to day – which after 40 years of endless praise of free markets, should not be a surprise to any one.

How many people might die from climate change?

June 2, 2017

Sorry that is the sort of question which cannot be answered accurately.

Social systems, environmental systems and climate systems are complex systems which means they cannot be predicted in detail. All these systems will be interacting with different forms of landscape – such as low lying areas, loss of glaciers and water and so on. We need all of them to remain stable to make valid detailed predictions. All we can predict is the general trends, and these can be disrupted by rapid changes of state into new systems which may not be human friendly.

The trends are likely to be extreme. People will try and move from parts of the earth which become difficult to live in, because of temperature (heat stroke, heart failure, dehydration), lack of drinking water and sea level rise, and that will likely cause wars – in which people will die as well. The massive storms we have seen will cause deaths as well, as well as disrupt the balance and interconnection of social functioning which will produce more deaths. Destruction of agricultural stability will produce problems with food supply, which is likely to produce malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to the other effects. Tropical diseases will move into what have been temperate climates, as well as be carried by people movement. It is likely that those of us who live in temperate environments will have little resistance to these diseases. We may see some parts of the world which have previously been uninhabitable become open to human life and the great powers will compete over those areas, which is also likely to produce war and death.

We also keep polluting the oceans which will disrupt the climate and ecological systems. Many biologists think that ocean death is possible, this will mean we will lose most of our fish stocks, we may also lose oxygen supplies if the plankton die and we keep cutting down forests, although it is unlikely we will kill ourselves, this will also lessen resilience.

With pro-corporate policies which help corporations release chemicals pollution without much in the way of check we will also poison ourselves and the other creatures and plants we need to live. The results of these chemicals on bio-system evolution cannot be predicted at all…

Basically there are a whole heap of endangering ecological processes going on, of which climate change is only one. What the results of multiple chaotic disruptions will be is absolutely unpredictable. However, it can be predicted that normality is going and that many people will die as a result.