Posts Tagged ‘‘nature’’

The Political Right and the ‘Bottom Line’

March 8, 2018

Do the right look after the budget bottom line in government?

Probably not anymore. Not if it interferes with giving taxpayer’s money and possessions to the corporate sector.

In the US, we have corporate tax cuts, massively increased military spending and license for corporations to pollute and poison people – none of this will apparently cost the public anything.

In Australia, the Right wing Coalition has blown out the debt since taking over, and plans to blow it out even more, with more military spending, more spending on supporting the Adani corporation dig up and burn enough coal to wipe out climate stability, tax cuts for corporations who don’t pay any tax and so on.

Then there is the Coalition in NSW. They apparently have plenty of money to throw at developers, while selling off public goods, making life easy for coal miners to pollute, and destroy our water table, and harder for ordinary people to protest. They constantly make massive commercial in confidence deals with public money. They sign contracts with private enterprise before business cases and Environmental Impact Statements are finished. They support the idea of public money being spent on private enterprise sports stadiums, when the sports organisations are tax exempt because they are supposed to provide their own facilities. They make totally stupid decisions with public transport – new trains without toilets on long routes, new trains that can’t fit in the tunnels, new tunnels that can’t fit normal stock. They dig up rail access into the centre of Newcastle so that developers can build on the ex-tracklines. They think that a major new tax on transport in Sydney (through the Westconnex set of motorways) is a great idea as long as the tax is a toll going to private enterprise, and it won’t end up funding public hospitals, schools or renewable energy research – and the public funds the building of the new roads. Cost, of course, blows out massively as it is remuneration for private business, and people get thrown out of their homes and undercompensated. This is either a pure waste of money and incompetence, or a deliberate policy about giving money to those who already have it, at the cost of everything else. The other way of seeing this is as normal crony-capitalism in action. The corporations control the parties who control the State, and the State exists to benefit the ruling corporations.

The last two Federal Coalition leaders, have both failed to deal with any of the problems we face at all – in fact they have run away from them, tried to put the cost on the less wealthy, or have simply made the problems worse.

It is always easy to pretend to live prosperously if you sell off your assets and overspend – eventually it hits, and that could be the grand idea, bankrupt the government and throw ordinary people to the wolves. Sometimes, as Walter Steensby says, it looks as though the neoliberal philosophy thinks that people and nature are just costs and an obstruction to its own development, and they need to be disposed of.

The Right often only seems to worry about the bottom line when there is a chance that money might be going to people who actually need it to survive.


Some remarks on the Communist Manifesto

March 3, 2018

If you read the Communist Manifesto, you will find that Marx and Engels briefly describe the dynamics and results of capitalism, and they claim it is pretty much to produce a situation similar to that we find we are in now….

  • Globalisation of a particular culture;
  • Destruction of national industries;
  • Inflation of the size of particular cities;
  • Increasing inequality (particularly in wealth distribution);
  • Increasing monopolization (ie more and more companies and owned by a small number of other companies);
  • Making labour an appendage to the machine;
  • Freeing capital from local regulation;
  • Turning the State into a managing agent for the benefit of upper corporate class;
  • Increasing the spread of directives and the control of land and people;
  • Turning all values into property or monetary exchange.
  • I don’t know of any other 19th Century figures who score so many accurate predictions. Yes they seem to have been wrong on the inevitability of revolution, but that is one missed prophecy and that was optimism in play.

    Nowadays we would probably add to these predictions, the idea that capitalism will destroy its civilization by destroying the ecology in an orgy of mass death and destruction; but we would have to say we have no idea what kind of organisations will follow on from its self destruction.

    Flux and Transformation

    February 18, 2018

    This is a comment inspired by a video whose URL is at the end of the post, about interconnectivity, and how the human body replaces itself, by absorption and excretion.

    There are a lot of processes which demonstrate interconnectivity, however, far more importantly this argument really demonstrates the possible basis of reality is flux, change and transformation.

    This is difficult to get, because the whole trend of western metaphysics is towards the idea that reality is eternal and unchanging, whether this is expressed in notions of the unchanging God, or the unchanging archetypes, or the unchanging nature of elementary particles such as atoms. All of these ideas can support interconnectivity, but it is the interconnectivity between things which do not change – at best it is about ‘flow’ of unchanging things.

    This view of reality as fixed, seems to lead towards pathological behaviour, as action becomes setting up the perfect structures, the perfect reality and clinging to it. Spirituality is about clutching to peace, or growing in a particular way. Psychology can insist that we should always be happy or self-actualising or something. Politics is about holding to the structures you have pronounced to be the best – at the moment our politics seems devoted to maintaining the power of established corporations and their plutocracy rather than the survival, or gentle transformation, of the world they depend upon.

    However, if reality is flux and transformation, then everything changes all the time. Furthermore, given complex systems theory, it seems that everything changes unpredictably in specific; we might be able to predict trends, but we cannot predict specific results. One of the properties specified by what we call ‘reflexivity’ is that if people think they understand the ‘systems’ they are in, then their behaviour changes and the system changes the way it works. This change may not be for the better.

    In his book known as ‘metaphysics’, Aristotle points out that Plato accepted the world is flux, but insisted that real reality is fixed, because otherwise it is impossible to speak truth. If everything is constantly changing then you cannot say anything true about them, as they will have changed. Aristotle seems correct in his interpretation of Plato to me, and this is a classic example of a philosopher encountering an uncomfortable position (ie everything is flux) and deciding that because it is uncomfortable it is untrue.

    There are other ways around this problem. Firstly it may not be possible to speak absolute truth, but that does not mean we cannot speak and think as accurately as we can (and that means accepting flux, misunderstanding and degrees of uncertainty). We can also speak in terms of flux, talking say of ‘patterns’ rather than structures, and temporary stasis rather than permanent equilibrium, we can give up expectations that we should know how things will turn out, and be prepared to learn from events as they happen. At the moment, if our actions produce bad results we are prone to deny this, and apply our actions more stringently and rigorously.

    To reiterate, we are caught in and part of a series of largely unpredictable fluxations. However, if we think that things should be eternal and unchanging, or we think that good things should be unchanging, we attempt to imprison that flux. This generally adds to suffering and increases apparent destruction and disorder. A current example, is the refusal to deal with climate change, and the tendency in Australian and US politics of trying to accelerate and maintain fossil fuels, old styles of concrete, environmental clearing and de-naturing. This is an attempt to cling onto an old order which nowadays produces destruction, and will produce more and more suffering the longer it is clung to.

    These points should be obvious to Jungians, as expectation of flux comes out of alchemy, and alchemy is the art and science of transformation. It tells us that the world is constantly transmuting, and that transmutation processes can look messy and chaotic, and that attempts to avoid the realisations of painful stages can be disastrous. It also provides symbolic guides for working with events rather than against events, or providing direction without compulsion. As such alchemy is still the radical way, and difficult for us to really approach, but it may be necessary.

    Some remarks on Geo-Engineering

    January 22, 2018

    Geoengineering (GE) involves the attempt to solve the problems of climate change by altering the Earth’s ecology.

    It comes in two forms:
    Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in which you try and lower the amount of the Sun’s energy/heat reaching the earth’s surface. This can involve: mirrors in space, reflective gasses in the upper atmosphere, or painting mountains white.

    Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) in which you try and suck CO2 from power stations or from the atmosphere. One problem with this technique is the question of what you do with the CO2 once it is extracted.

    The idea of GE is that we can continue on with polluting, and try and lower the effects of that pollution. A common argument is that there is no evidence we can halt CO2 production and climate change, at this moment, so GE may give us a longer period in which we can change, or transition to a new set of energy generators.

    The primary question for both SRM and CDR is a simple one. GE, like everything else that depends on humans, is unlikely to be immune to its social bases. If the dynamics of contemporary societies are inherently destructive of ecologies, then GE is unlikely to prevent that destruction, nor to give a breathing space for new developments. It is likely to help make things worse, or continue the destructive dynamics of that system.

    Clearly if we use SRM, the system has to be continually maintained, and that will cost billions. There will be ongoing arguments over who should pay, and how much they should pay. If there is a financial collapse or large scale war, then that maintenance is unlikely to be without problems. In which case climate change would have the brakes taken off, and would accelerate rapidly, causing even worse climate turmoil.

    The governing idea of SRM seems that it is easier to change the whole ecological system than to change a political arrangement of economic power and profit. This I’m not sure about. The risk of unintended consequences when fiddling with a system as complex as that of climate is very high. We may already be living in a complex maladaptive system, which is bent on its own destruction and SRM simply magnifies this.

    GE could be the equivalent of encouraging smoking to preserve corporate profits, while trying to do research in the hope of some day being able to postpone the inevitable and increasing cancer toll. It might be simpler to discourage people from smoking and to make cigarettes less profitable.

    Basically, it can be suggested that if GE becomes the main way of dealing with problems of Climate change, then we live in a society in which ‘instrumental reason’ does not function very well as there are cheaper and possibly better options available, but those options require us to challenge established corporate power, and we are unlikely to do that successfully. I think the last 20 to 30 years of politics in the English Speaking world demonstrates that this failure is very likely to be the case.

    Amazingly it is true that among people who both support corporate dominance and deny climate change, GE is quite popular. At the moment I can hypothesise this is precisely because GE does not challenge corporate power, and provides an opportunity for leeching money away from the taxpayers, but I don’t know. It certainly strikes me that if you really wanted less State intervention in life, then you would not want geoengineering.

    I have not seen any viable self-supporting GE proposals. Nearly all of them require massive tax-payer subsidies, and some require appear to need massive cross-national governance and regulation. Of course we could give the massive subsidies to private enterprise and hope they do they job without any oversight, but I doubt that will appeal even to the pro-corporate power lobby. With CDR when that involves storage of CO2 underground, we know that ultimate and infinite responsibility of checking for leaks and collapse of storage, will reside with governments and taxpayers, as corporations do not last that long and will not take on those responsibilities. At the least, it seems probable that people will be concerned about other countries freeloading on their efforts, and there will be massive governmental jaunts to try and sort this out. The likelihood of small government and GE seems miniscule.

    C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and the Spiritual Problems of Our Time

    January 2, 2018

    In a great Post John Woodcock drew attention to the importance of visionary experience amongst other things. However he also drew attention to C.S. Lewis, and this is where I have a problem.

    John reminds us of the end of the Perelandra Trilogy in which the (literally) demonic scientists aim to bring about immortality. He quotes them

    It is for the conquest of death: or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic life, which sheltered the babyhood of mind, the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.

    The people on the side of the angels (again literally) are joyous when Merlin (yes that Merlin) breaks up the possibility of the scientists communicating, and then summons hoards of animals to eat them. Unlike John, I don’t find this denouement either satisfying or hilarious.

    Indeed, the passage from Lewis reminds me exactly why I find him so disappointing. He is caught up hopelessly in surfaces and binaries. It’s spirit/matter, godly/ungodly, good/evil and so on. If God is on our side then whatever happens must be right, whatever discomfort our enemies suffer is wonderful. There are no tensions because God will win. God is all powerful after all, and the good guys are on the side of all power. Suck on that Demons!

    It’s reminiscent of the bits in Narnia where the young woman is exiled because she likes stockings and make-up and the good crusaders slaughter heaps of evil Muslims in the battle to end all battles. All surface, dressed up to be deep. Faced with imagined people who think life is a bit more complicated than he does, all he can imagine is to break up their attempt at communion and praise murder. What a righteous attempt at solution! What imagination! What empathy! Lewis cannot even suspect the shadow of his spirituality, or his God, which he projects onto what he sees as science. His own spirituality can have nothing to do with the problems we face – it is all elsewhere and he is not responsible even a bit.

    Its easy to imagine Lewis an inquisitor sadly condemning someone to excruciation until death, and thinking that if there is any sin in the matter its the fault of the secular authorities alone – he is innocent and unsullied. [As a caution we should all note that when we start condemning people, especially collectivities of people, we are probably engaged with the Jungian Shadow – ie the ‘evil’ in ourselves which it is less painful to see in others.]

    Lewis needed to dream more freely rather than confine vision to allegory, see deeper and depend less on dogma for his interpretations.

    By comparison good science is precisely about not stopping with surfaces but exploring reality and letting it impress us; not trying to trap it in binaries and given understandings. And we find an awe – even in people like Dawkins – which is perhaps more spiritual than almost anything in Lewis. The world revealed by science is weirder and more complex than anything Lewis or his characters could imagine. The God revealed in creation is not the tyrant of the Bible, but a being who delights in complexity, chance, freedom, creativity, who puts life into the fundamental bits of existence. Sure science has limits, but what doesn’t? While scientists are more Merlin than Lewis’s Merlin, science probably needs a little more more alchemy (in Jungian terms).

    Perhaps Lewis’s apparent spiritual impoverishment (yes that is strong, but that is the kind of language he might use) arises not because of his Christianity, but because of his Platonism. Platonism constructs an ideal world and then regards this world as a falling away, a bad copy, which is of little value, except for the elite to transcend. Dying is good, as it could get you to reality; we must make sure everyone dies. Hence Lewis’s anger that anyone might want to live for ever, unless this life is non-material and it involves his elite and no one else. We probably don’t need Nietzsche to point out the problems with a mythology that seeks its fulfilment in death, either personal or in the death of others (indeed they might well tend to be the same). In that sense Platonism seems to be at the root of our ecological problems, and perhaps our problems of power – in which everything living has to be ordered to be good, when everything that is living is, in reality, messy and unpredictable. For platonists the only good creature is a dead creature. Platonism, and the demand for order is almost certainly one of the roots of the Anthropocene.

    Let’s compare Lewis with another and far greater writer: G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton does have his low moments (in Father Brown, you always know it was the atheist what done it), but his work is full of the sense of mystery impinging on and in the world, and the joyous knowledge that arises from catching a glimpse of this reality.

    Chesterton’s books on Aquinas and Francis are amongst the best of their kind, and full of the glory of spirit, faith and intellect. He does not see intellect as evil but as part of God’s way, part of the way we go beyond appearance to reality. The Man who was Thursday explores the complexity of an omnipotent God, even if Chesterton denies it does, he can do it. Chesterton fights with what he sees as the evils of the modern world; fiercely as with Shaw and Wells (although he accepts their point that unfettered capitalism is not good), but he never lets go of the insight that his enemies are also expressions of the glory of God, and he remains friends with his foes and engages in dialogue – as that communion is more important than righteousness and murder, even while he admits that sometimes war may be necessary. There is no poverty of imagination here. The real ‘material’ world is potentially holy, or even holy already (God made it and it was good).

    Life is a constant potential for transfiguration – although Chesterton would probably use the model of the mass rather than alchemy or hermeticism. Further, he has no need to be of the spiritual elite, because he knows real humility and not the display of humility. He can celebrate the joys of ordinary people who are not perfect, because it is not his business to exclude people from ‘heaven’ or the heaven of Earth. He knows surfaces are holy, and that there are depths beyond the capacity of allegory to imagine.

    My only complaint is that Chesterton is largely ignored, except by those usually on the political right) who would confine him, and pretend he was one of theirs – when he most certainly is not.

    Materialism, Spirit and Shadow

    December 31, 2017

    [Re-edited 14 Feb 2018, responding to comments]

    I’m sometimes surprised when people say that we live in a ‘material age’. It is true that we are governed by an economics and politics that only values money, profit and power, but that is not usually the subject of people’s disapproval, they usually object to science. To be clear, I’m not arguing that we live in an effective spiritual age – I’m not sure such has ever happened – but we hardly live in a scientifically materialist age. The urge for spiritual experience is as great as ever, and its dangers are as great as ever.

    We (and it’s a Western ‘we’ here, apologies to everyone else) have probably lived in one of the most exciting spiritual and theological periods of human history. Since 1880 or thereabouts the flourishing of spiritual thought and action(of various levels of sophistication), has been extraordinary – partly because of the, perhaps beneficial, decline of religious authority.

    In theological terms we have had Mary Baker Eddy, Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Simone Weil, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Wolfhardt Pannenberg, Rudolf Bultmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin and Mathew Fox to name some of the original and more well-known writers. That’s just off the top of my head and I’m not a theologian; I’m sure people will think of other influential originals. We have had important movements such as liberation theology, death of god, process theology, ‘traditionalism’, feminist theology, historical Jesus, and green/gaian theology. We have had the popular recovery of alchemy, hermeticism, gnosticism, kabbalah, sufism, goetic magic and altered states of consciousnes. We have had the ongoing (and again popular), cross fertilisation between Christianity and Buddhism (to the betterment of both in my opinion, with the shift of Buddhism from suppression of desire to active compassion, and the recovery of Christian meditation and oneness). We have had the influx of Indian religious practice, and we may have some popular understanding of Taoism. We have popular contributions from science (Haldine, Bateson, Capra), philosophy, (Bradley, Wittgenstein, Edith Stein, Heidegger, Barfield, Agamben, Vattimo), anthropology and comparative religion (Frazer, Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner, Evans Pritchard, Rene Girard (ok this list could go on :), literature (From Kazantzakis to Dan Brown and C.S. Lewis) and of course psychology (Jung, Maslow, Ornstein, Houston, Mindfulness, AA etc). We’ve had arena’s full of popular spiritual writers and practitioners. We have probably had more channelled texts than at any time in history (from the ‘Book of the Law’ to the ‘Course in Miracles’). The world is full of spiritual healers. We have even had important and influential ‘joke’ spiritualties like Discordianism (All hail Eris!). Again this is not to say that all are beneficial; that is the point, because something claims to be spiritual does not automatically mean it is a good guide to life or ‘spirit’.

    If ‘materialism’ means not limited and not dogmatic, then we have had a materialistic age. However, if ‘materialism’ means non-spiritual then this has not even remotely been a non-spiritual age. It has been an age of flourishing experiment rather than authority, and an age in which few people have been burnt at the stake for heresy. We should probably celebrate it, rather than denigrate it.

    However, this does not mean we have had an age without shadow. Clearly not as the ‘spiritual’, (like everything human) is rarely without shadow or its specific ‘evils’, and it is dangerous to think that because something is spiritual it is automatically good or constructive. Part of the spiritual problem is that spirit sometimes can only see its own as spirit and protects its own and only its own, and attacks all else. Hence, perhaps, the apparent inability of ‘spiritual people’ to perceive current spiritual flourishing, and the (perhaps necessary) descent to dogma.

    As for the ‘darkness’: we now know about child rape in church and the protection of rapists for the spiritual good of authority, of the insistence on obedience and not thinking, of spiritual desolation in proposed saints, of spiritual violence against the failing world. There was Nazism, and if you don’t think Nazism was a spiritual movement you have not read enough of the original Nazis. We have the activity of some Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists who work in a unity of hatred to bring about the apocalypse in the middle east, with the second coming of Jesus and the birth of perfection in the death of millions of sinners and infidels, and we have religious terrorists, sexists and racists – every ‘evil’ you can think of will have some spiritual defenders.

    We have many spiritual programmes that primarily seem to seek personal wealth as the mark of divine favour, and who often condemn the poor as unspiritual or undisciplined. I would tend to agree with the proposition that people are mislead by much of this kind of spirituality; that is part of the shadow I am discussing. But simply stating that one is not so mislead, and that the followers of such movements are, does not mean one is without shadow. We perhaps need to ask whether this condemnation of others is an inherent part of the shadow of spirit, which helps to justify the elite who ‘get it’ and their position as beings of influence?

    Then we have Platonist spirituality where focusing on the ideal spirit, or absolute perfect forms, can lead to denigration and attacks on the ‘fallen’ ‘imperfect’ real/material world and help foster ecological crises and the destruction of Nature. In this wordview only death opens perfection as we escape the material we hate. Only a dead or transcended world seems a good world. Or we can say everything is in the hands of God, and nothing harmful will eventuate from human action – spirit is already perfect and that is all that matters. People can attack their bodies, their minds and their empathy for others, in the name of spiritual perfection. We can see murder of the ‘evil others’ on whom we have projected our spiritual shadow, as the solution to problems – particularly if our God is good because ‘he’ is all-powerful and prone to vengeance. In that case, what difference is there between our spirituality and existential fear? Our righteousness seeks to prove we are on the right side, by condemning others before we ourselves are condemned. The shadow is massive.

    The idea that all that is spiritual is totally of the light, or immaterial, is dangerous. Especially when it is phrased as if people on the right path cannot be deceived. Again, this can be a basis for murderous righteousness. The idealist shadow can penetrate all modes of life, making the possible seem deadly material by comparison, and lead to the sacrifice of both humanity and nature for a perfection which exists elsewhere – and possibly only imaginally.

    If we need more spirituality then we need as much care in identifying its shadow and integrating it as we do in all other parts of life. We may well need a material spirituality, in which the world itself is part of the sacred and, if we transcend, it is as in alchemy, and endless circulation in which we bring back the spirit to this world and unify the two – neither being complete without the other. We respect what is, as we live amongst it.

    To repeat, just because something can be called spiritual, it does not mean it is unalloyedly good or beneficial for either humans or nature. This has to be discovered rather than claimed in advance – anything can have unintended effects.

    Action on Climate Change

    September 17, 2017

    Some random comments.

    Let us be clear, the issue is that people should not emit more greenhouse gases than the environment can handle, if we wish our ‘civilization’ to survive – not that we should not emit any. Not emitting any greenhouse gases is impossible, and the system emits and reprocesses these emissions naturally, just not as much as we are currently emitting.

    Coal is particularly bad in terms of the poisons it emits at all stages in its production and use. There is very little positive to say about coal (that is not in the ground) at this stage in our history. Coal mining and power probably needs to be eliminated, as there is no evidence that coal can be made ‘clean’ or environmentally friendly to the degree that we need it to be.

    We probably also need to work at changing what seems to constitute modern life. Modern life is not a product of free choice but of what we were offered and chose within a particular set of social arrangements that did not value ecological survival.

    That needs to change – and frankly I’m not sure people really ‘need’ or ‘want’ disposable bottles, polluting and failing concrete, coal power, massive amounts of beef, destroyed fishing grounds, and so on. This can be modified, and hopefully will modify.

    It will be hard of course. Some of the problem may well be that the system we live in seems to create a psycho-spiritual emptiness which we fill by purchasing products – and this keeps us acting as wage slaves and generally making ourselves feel empty. This is part of the pattern of domination which we often call neoliberalism, but is probably better ‘capitalist plutocracy’.

    Recognising plutocracy is important. I’ve rarely met anyone who is interested in renewables, who is not aware that these new technologies are being resisted by people who have lots of wealth, power, status and symbolic resonance tied up in fossil fuels. It’s pretty much an every day experience, and the established powers have heaps of money to throw around to influence the debate. Without them, and without the triumph of neoliberalism, we probably would not be having a debate; we would be engaged in finding the best solutions. Resisting plutocracy is important but difficult.

    My main problem with the “energy problem” is that it distracts attention from the other ecological crises which are happening simultaneously. These are produced by building (concrete), mining, farming methods and so on, which are destroying our fresh water supplies, downing our oxygen supplies, wrecking the phosphorus cycle, killing the oceans and so on.

    To be real, we need a lot more action on a lot more fronts.


    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.

    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.

    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.