Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How Silly of Me!

Ishmael talks about how the gods have played tricks on us. For instance, "they didn't put the world where the Takers thought it belonged, in the center of the universe." And moreover, that "they should have the decency to produce him in a manner suited to his dignaty and importance, - in a separate, special act of creation." (pg. 103)

I love how ironic Ishmael can be, and I love these statements. If there is one thing that has keep the human species from learning and discovering the truth is ego and pride. So sad that something so intangible is the hardest thing to swallow.

I also loved the beauty presented from the idea of the lion and the gazelle. It's so true that only to us are they mortal enemies, to them it's natural and the way of life, and its beautiful. There are so many things in life that are given taboos that are perfectly natural and beautiful, and they are shoved under the rug for one reason or another. Open your minds!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Planetary engineering: Agony or thrill?

A journalist, Gwynne Dyer, published an essay earlier this month which sardonically proclaims: "Welcome to the job of planetary maintenance engineer." Dyer, who speaks to much of what we discussed today in the dingy library chamber, writes with an ominous tone; he confronts the challenge of geoengineering with mild dread. But why? Why not think of planetary engineering as something fun and interesting--something akin to an adventure? I don't suggest we should jump on the bunny trail and merrily start sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere like circus comedians clumsily pumping gas out of a burping helium balloon. But maybe we can think of it as a fun puzzle whose solving would mean a lot of learning and yet another validation of our ingenuity.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who lost Paradise?

There are a few major themes I picked up from these chapters, the first being:

1. We can master the environment. Ruler of the terrestrial biomes and the oceans, the mountains and thier valleys, the forests and the plains. We have discovered how to master the environment, but it doesn't belong to us. We are a mere constituent of it.
2. We're just a visitor. Humans have lived on the earth for an eye-blink of the earth's existance, yet the history of the earth often begins with our creaion and for the longest time was though to only have existed for 6000 years. A part of Christian theology that may tie in is the idea that we are not of this world but only passing through, that in our essence we are part of God's world. I don't know how well I even understand this idea but I thought it fitting.
3. Pg. 89 - "The world was given to man to turn into paradise." WTF?!?!? We really have taken over this world, built up resorts and luxury and highways and homes, and this is our attempt at turning the world into a paradise? Personally, I find Paradise when all I have is enough food for the weekend and a pack on my back, and I am in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps surrounded by the Rockies in all their splendor, smelling the pine and listening to the river. Or in the deserty Chaparral dominant in the areas around CLU, and walking across campus in the rain admist complaints when it's a blessing; the rain gives life. Water. Life. If there is anything fundamentally wrong with humans it the attempt to change the world, because it's already a paradise.

Wow. Calvinism is more prevalent than I thought...

Okay, I've read through chapter five, and I don't think I'm ahead, so - for good or for ill - I'm going to go ahead and post my thoughts.

According to Ishmael, our culture's story is telling us that:

1) the world is for us, but needs changing,
2) this change is impossible for us to achieve, because humans are fundamentally flawed,
3) and even if this change were possible, we wouldn't know how to effect it because the right way to live is unknowable,
4) but we should try anyway.

The depressing part of this - to me - was how built into religions this is. We're constantly told that we would be sinful even if we always knew what good is (which we don't), but we should try for perfection anyway. As a result, we all spend our lives trying not to look where we're going, only to sigh to ourselves and say we're not surprised when we don't get there.

Unfortunately, I don't have any solutions to offer. I know too many people who have so much compassion that they champion every cause, shelter every stray, and spend their entire lives staring all the hurt and cruelty in the world right in the face just so they don't have to realize their own heart is bleeding.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere. I'm tempted to say more realistic expectations might help, but that's part of the problem, isn't it? The bar is already set so low that people don't feel moved to act. I guess my main question is: Is there a way to raise the bar without slapping people in the face?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Leopold: A political animal like any other

Warning: My criticism of Leopold is based only upon cursory familiarity with his work. I should want to learn more.

When Leopold, his various disciples, and others who shy away from taking responsibility for the adventure that is human artifice endorse their particular vision of a "natural" order of human communities (which, as Carrico has observed, often includes an appeal to nature as a moral category), they are still exercising their distinctive emotional and cognitive muscles with which only we, as political animals, have yet been endowed. No act of powerful human volition--not even the act of dreaming of a "state of nature" where humans try awkwardly to disrobe themselves of their artificial clothes (by "clothes" I mean everything we build atop the edifice of nature, including our political institutions, symphonies and financial markets)--can expunge that volition. There aren't very many kinds of animals (or cyborgs or other agents, if any) who could do what Leopold did, or who could do what Leopold wanted us to do with our politics (assuming the particular desires Leopold happened to proclaim are even possible to achieve in practice). And so far as I can tell, all of those exceptionally-endowed agents fit reasonably well in the category of the "human". Not even Leopold could escape from embodying human exceptionalism! (Nonetheless, one wonders whether he actually thought he had plucked his vision from an ethereal Tree of Truth rather than simply used his imagination--like all political animals--to invent his vision.)

Whether we like it or not, we are increasingly responsible for life on this planet. Rather than deny our special role, why shouldn't we embrace it?

(I'm trying not to sound human-racist, but as usual, it's difficult.)

(Acknowledgment: Thanks to Walter Truett Anderson for inspiration.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I loved this chapter! I love the whole creation and the intelligent design debate, but this was a whole new twist on the topic that I had never thought about before. Every account of evolution I've studied in geology really does end with the creation of man, but by no means do I believe that world was created for us. Religion teaches us this as well. Earth was made for us, that's how it always ends (but wait a minute, nothing has ended yet!!!!) I mean, for a species that has existed for an eye-blink of the earth's history, it sure is selfish of us to think it was created for us. Yet humankind takes its resources for granted, like on page 61: "If the world was made for us, then it belongs to us and we can do what we damn well please with it." Ah, if only we could take the words of Aldo Leopold and recognize that we are not the rulers of the earth but mere constituents of its community. We are not the king but mere subjects. We build and use and destroy, even so, hurricanes and earthquakes still bring us down to our knees. I do, however, want to refute the statement that "man's appearance caused no more stir than the appearance of a jellyfish." (pg 58) Did jellyfish drill oil fields, build highways and erect skyscrapers, destroy our coasts, and drop atomic bombs? Would they ever have developed this capacity. How selfish we are.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Textbooks are myth anthologies Ishmael says

"The Takers regard the world as a sort of human life-support system, as a machine designed to produce and sustain human life."

According to Ishmael, the human myth sees creation and the birth of the universe as a means to an End, that End being Mankind. Mankind is viewed by man as the end all be all of life-the most highly evolved of all creatures. The world, according to man, was made for Mankind, not necessarily by God, but by fate and destiny. This anthropocentric (Thank you David for the vocab.) view is both natural and cultural. Just as the invertebrate jelly on the edge of the primordial bowl viewed itself as the center of its universe, man sees himself as ultimately significant.

This is something we all recognize. Who is the proudest of these species?

This chapter describes quite a revelation for Ishmael's student, who denies the existence of the myth entirely. Later he accepts his ignorance as a result of his apparent acculturation. Much the same way Americans view liberal democracy as the greatest of all political systems, man as a whole is obsessed with his own dominance and way of life. I feel man may be as foolish today as he was during the dark ages. In many ways the world is still very flat. In so many words, creation was a means to an end-the end of the world, just as birth is a means to die.

If I get back from the city by the bay in time, I'll see you all Friday. If not, cheers until next time.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Check this out!

Since we are trying to save the world I think that it would be a really good idea to get a whole new perspective on the world. This is a really cool visual, it's called the breathing earth.

I am still absolutely baffled by the existence of a creation myth for our society, becuase though we have them derived from our religious traditions, religion is not a universal entity, and often times religious people are the source of conflict. Unless, perhaps as someone hinted, the creation of this 2nd chapter of the story of humanity lies in the creation of the Takers and agriculture. I am really excited to keep reading this book, I love how it pushes you.
After today's discussion, I was thinking that there is perhaps a startling feature to the vision of mankind. This feature can be thought of as the 'destined goal of humanity'. I think what is implied here is the myth about mankind's potential because it assumes we exist to achieve either a furthering of our species alone or that we have a purpose beyond that of our current position in the universe.
I believe that humans are starting to understand that our myth may be well intentioned, but is purely romantic. We all would love to see a more advanced humanity, but we should not lock ourselves in a box of anthropocentric design.
Why must we have a myth or story which seeks to focus human potential back onto itself? Why can't our vision of humanity being the 'final aim of the universe' simply be a vision of beings with a great amount of potential?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

To exist, or to be free?

We've talked a lot recently about "saving the world" and "saving humanity". Dale Carrico (one of my own favorite writers) has a different perspective: the championing of freedom and democracy above all else. The following is from a recent email from Dr Carrico. One of the great qualities of Carrico's writing is that it is dense with things to talk about. I'd like to hear Dr Brint's response to this in terms of conflicts between freedom and liberty (as he described in his book, Tragedy and Denial).
I will add, as an aside, however, that I am not too keen on the rhetoric of a humanity that needs saving when all is said and done, since what I think humanity needs most of all is to be free. I do not mean to belittle in the least the discourse of existential risk (and I am an advocate, for example, of a proportionate version of the precautionary principle as a democratizing peer-to-peer deliberative framework for technodevelopment, one that is more likely to encourage public works and r & d than to discourage them) and so on. But I do worry that the commonplace move of thinking about "the" future through repeated recourse to survival over self-creation, security over democracy, threats over promises, and more particularly elite knowledge of threats over rash and biased popular ignorance about these threats skews too much "futurist" discourse into profoundly (bio)conservative forms, usually forms that drift all-too-comfortably into ready-made neoliberal economic terms and forms of security-speak that rationalize endless military spending (that is to say, in affirmative action for elites). Again, I don't deny the dangers, but I insist that democratization yields more a robust, flexible, reliable, responsive knowledge base with which to deal with danger, and hence democracy is a priority even if one worries about danger. Again, I don't deny the instrumental force of concrete technodevelopmental outcomes, but I insist that it is not this force but the fairer distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of concrete technodevelopmental outcomes that renders them emancipatory or not.

Why I love Worldchanging

Since Scott has brought the Worldchanging community to our attention, let me explain--from the perspective of a sympathizer and cheerleader--some of its cool features, in no particular order. (Keep in mind that some would likely debate my stronger claims. They're just my own biased perceptions as a person who has been enthusiastically watching the group since its launch in 2003.) I strongly suggest starting by reading the very short "about" blurb on their site.

Worldchanging is a movement that aims, step by step, to actualize the fair, robust, and sustainable human civilization that now exists only in potential. And when they say "potential", they mean it. In fact, they don't even say "potential"; they say "it's here" already, and that we need only "to put the pieces together".

Worldchangers see the present political, economic, and social moment as a battleground on which a high-stakes, "all-or-nothing" (to use Steffen's words) battle is transpiring for the continuation of human life as we probably want to live it (unless we have a deranged idea of "the good life"). We either fail to put those pieces together (in which case the world falls into deeper and deeper turmoil), or we actually succeed. The prize for success could be about as close to utopia as we can get. The struggle for sustainable polyculture and more efficient industry is merely one facet of what Steffen (who I also had the pleasure of meeting recently), in the same piece referenced above, labels as the larger "fabric" of plights that challenge us now: climate, biodiversity, population, poverty, conflict, public health, toxics, terrorism.

In the face of this great struggle, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of nostalgia. "Technology is ripping the world apart! Let's reject all technology and restore our civilization to 'the natural order'!" This kind of bleak, depressing reminiscence of the past is known (to some of us) as "dark green environmentalism". The color of Worldchanging is--you guessed it--bright green! Worldchangers don't conflate (as many environmentalists make the mistake of doing) the insensitive, exploitative technodevelopment of the past with the potentially globe-renewing technoscience of the present and future. For me, that's a great reason to embrace Worldchanging.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Pearl Jam for Real?

I mentioned to Jon the other day that I was too ignorant to make links to relevant sites in my blogs for Ishmael. It turns out, when I joked that all I could knowledgeably link to were Pearl Jam lyrics I wasn't being as stupid as I had thought. In a Wikipeadia page I read today about Ishmael it mentions that Eddie Vedder, the lead singer for Pearl Jam, was inspired to write their album Yield by the book Ishmael. I didn't know this until today, but the very Pearl Jam song I was thinking about when I joked with Jon is on that album! It's called Do the Evolution. The lyrics are pretty relevant to our topic and are somewhat responsible for my feelings, impressionable young chap and music lover that I be. The video is amazing as are the lyrics. Take a look at them. Won't you?