“We experience ourselves our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest.
A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.”
― Albert Einstein
“The growth of our great cities, the rapid populating of America, the entry of China into the field of European politics are, for example, quite obviously and directly consequences of new methods of locomotion. And while so much hangs upon the development of these methods… development is… a process comparatively independent… of the other great movements affected by it.”
H. G. Wells wrote this in 1902, following the development of the steam engine in the 19-century. There followed plague, World Wars, 1st-World economy, and the petroleum, nuclear, and information ages. Even then, the Western world had no concept of ecology.
Writing of this passage in 1968, the social critic Lewis Mumford said: “H. G. Wells, at the beginning of this century,… had no premonitions of the kind of social disintegration it would bring about.” Things have not slowed down since then.
It’s likely that all previous dislocations will pale in comparison to the pervasive effects of global warming. It’s fair to say that writing in the middle of the 20th century, Lewis Mumford had no idea of the coming disintegration.
Thinking disrupts patterns and we are people of habit, so we discourage thinking. What you think you’re doing is not thinking, it’s patterning. Thinking always involves an uncontrolled step in which something is assembled separate from the patterns you’ve internalized. Without some measure of novelty thinking is reflexive, it’s acting from memory. I don’t consider that thinking.
Society limits thinking by creating institutions that limit our choices and make thinking unnecessary. There are the provisioning institutions that control our choices, such as governments and corporations, and the directing institutions that control our growth, such as community and schooling. When these are operating according to design, we don’t have to think at all.
The institutions give us context and root our collective memory. They build things that remind us how to think and behave: such as marriage, traffic lights, calendars, and money. Without these we’re liable to reinvent things, each other, and ourselves. Reinvention is creative, adaptive, and progressive. It’s also disruptive, error prone, and expensive.
If one were to create a tally, then it seems it’s more efficient to farm a lot of unthinking people, than train a lot of thinking people. Of course, we do think a bit and we do train a bit, but on the whole we do a whole lot more training than thinking, and our lives are more communal than solitary. For most people, a solitary life is both an aspiration and a nightmare. How do you feel about being by yourself?
Little is said about the effect of emotions in guiding social thought and evolution. We credit thinking with our ability to navigate the future, but almost no thinking seems to be directed beyond the present. With few exceptions, such as art and fiction, our thinking is directed toward the future achievement of present needs.
We act according to our thinking and react according to our emotions. We fail to see the two as partners. When opposing parties collide we tend to fixate on their ideas and labor under the misconception that we’re going to synthesize the opposites. Some coins really do have two sides. What makes you think you can reconcile every duality?
The Hegelian idea was “thesis, antithesis, synthesis,” but in almost every case we instead apply “thesis, antithesis, compromise.” There is no understanding in compromise. Compromise is acceptable disagreement, latent antagonism, and the intention to fight another day. This is what our institutions teach us: do what you’re taught and sweep differences under the rug.
It’s all about stability because, in a complex system, there’s little stability. We’re taught and we believe that if it were not for what we’re given, we wouldn’t have anything at all. And it does look like that: however unsatisfactory your situation might be, removing what you’ve got is rarely seen as making it better. And so, you too, play a role in keeping us all thinking inside the box.
The celebrated educator, John Taylor Gatto, said, “Geniuses are as common as dirt.” It might be true. We’re taught that only special people have genius, and those people are projected in hugely distorted images. You could never be a Newton, Leonardo, or an Einstein. Any presumption to the contrary would be met with derision from the experts. But what if you asked Newton, Leonardo, or Einstein? Would they laugh at you?
Conveniently, they’re dead. Isn’t it suspicious that our greatest role models are always dead? There are few living icons whom you can talk to. You’re told that the path to becoming or even meeting greatness takes you past a gauntlet of lesser experts. Lesser experts are unlikely to acknowledge your superior innate abilities; not if it might disrupt their hierarchy.
Human society is a system that responds to need and opportunity. Thinking plays little role at any level and, on the contrary, thinking is discouraged at every level. The only way you’re likely to engage anyone on the subject of change is to phrase it in terms of need or opportunity. Can you imagine how you’d be received if you approached a politician or corporation with an idea for a change that did not provide a tangible advantage?
People fear cultural change because human society is unstable. Once change starts, it often gets out of hand. This leads people to be fearful of the need for change because, since change is unwelcome, the need for it cannot be good.
The only accepted avenue for change is opportunity, but not all opportunities bring change. The most rewarding opportunities, those that are the most lucrative and involve the least investment, change nothing at all: institutional power, professional advancement, and debt-free ownership.
Covid-19 is a good infection from its own point of view. It’s simple, low-cost, and effective. It’s doing what infections often do: exploiting an unprotected opportunity for its advancement at the expense of a poorly managed human ecology.
From our point of view, it’s ruining everything. All king’s men can hardly do a damn thing. But more than that, the politics, health care, and economics around the COVID-19 virus have been a shocking failure. The fact that we’re even using untested vaccines, whose roll-out has been confused, poorly monitored, inequitable, potentially dangerous, and largely opaque, when at least one highly efficient cure has been available for the last six months in the form of ivermectin, tells the Big Lie of government.
It is true that now, due to selective thinking in non-institutional quarters, some momentum is beginning for the purpose of curing the infection, see https://www.togethertrial.com/. This initiative for low-cost, low-risk care is resisted by governments who are discouraging or criminalizing alternatives, institutions such as NIH who are ignoring information, and corporations such as Merck who are releasing false information.
These are not questionable actions of unintended, collateral damage, they are profitable strategies that are committing murder. We’re forced to accept such strategies during war. As we all should understand, war is just diplomacy by other means. For all of our governments, it all seems to be more or less the same thing: no sacrifice is too great in order to keep our team winning.
The pandemic is an overture. One of several that we’ll experience. The ecological crisis has just starting.
It has already started, and the evidence can be seen, but how many people really care that the population of insects in Germany? In Germany, the insect population has fallen by 75% in the last 30 years** but there is nothing particular about Germany, they’re just keeping track.
If you lived in an ecological skyscraper—as we do since we’re on the top of a huge, ecological pyramid— you should be concerned when 75% of your foundation disappears, but people don’t know enough to care. This reflects the poverty of our education and the ignorance of our governments.
Given institution’s short-sighted and self-serving response, it seems inconceivable that governments, corporations, and institutions can be relied upon to marshal an intelligent response to our ecological crisis. There is a great similarity to physical illness: the underlying cause is only addressed when the symptoms become dramatic and painful. As our medical system also demonstrates, even at this point the underlying cause is rarely addressed. The political system, like the medical system, is not gaining greater insight as their strategies fail. Relying on institutional leadership only works when there is a pattern in place.
New thinking is required. New thinking is stimulated by needs and opportunities. Our ecological problems require new thinking. Governments, institutions, and corporations don’t think. They don’t have brains. Only you have a brain; only you will see the needs. You will need to start thinking.
I’m a physicist, educator, naturalist, psychologist, neurologist, and educator. You might think these are all different fields, but that would be another deception wrought by our obsolete institutions. As should be obvious, all of these fields connect, and they connect in the holism of how things work. You too are many things, even if you’ve been misled to believe you’re only competent in one specialty. You’ll need to break out of that mindset. You’ll need to start connecting the dots.
I hardly know how atoms work any better than you do, I just know where I can find predictive equations for particular experiments. I don’t know neurology all that much better than you do, I just have a stack of neurology publications that will beat yours. And I don’t really know that much more about education than you do. In fact, if you’ve been as badly educated as I think you have, then you’ve got a tremendous resource of misdirection and negative role models which, when you uncork that bottle, will launch you to the moon!
The ecological crisis, which is reflected in the global political crisis and the pandemic health crisis, is a new, great need. It is going to open up a lot of new thinking. Call it “a new age,” or whatever astrologists, biblical literalists, and yoga-nauts want to call it. It’s none of that garbage, it’s just a simple, man-made, global disaster.
In the end—not really the end, just the resolution of the ecocrisis—the bugs, trees, air, and oceans will be just fine. They’ll recover because they always maintained dynamical equilibrium. There will be extinctions, of course, but holes in healthy ecologies get filled in.
Human civilization will not continue on its unsustainable trajectory. Technology will not come to the rescue. It will not rescue what’s out of balance. We will all move to renewable resources. Of course we will.
We will abandon a meat-based diet so long as raising meat is not ecologically sustainable. The petroleum age was a disaster; the nuclear age really has little to show for itself, aside from x-rays.
During the transition, we’ll encourage thinking. Once things start to settle down, we’ll go back to discouraging thinking. The unfolding times will be more creative; the closing-down times will be more stable. I’d rather live in the unfolding times.
** A study published in the journal Biological Conservation suggests 40% of all insect species could die out in the coming decades, see: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/02/why-insect-populations-are-plummeting-and-why-it-matters
Also see: “Without Bugs, We Might All Be Dead”, https://thriveglobal.com/stories/without-bugs-we-might-all-be-dead/
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