Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are You Humans Smarter Than Yeast - and why does NVDL blog about Oil, H5N1 and 'bad news' all the time

I have often been accused - in my writing, and conversations - of being a pessimist. Just yesterday a close friend responded to an email I sent with a graph, and for the first time called me a 'Doom Prophet'. It was a bit of a joke, somewhat tongue in cheek...but it does raise the question: Am I a Prophet Of Doom?
Yes and no. Yes because I believe we face imminent damage as a civilisation on many fronts, and some of that damage isn't imminent, we've already moved into the 'zone' of contraction. So some of it is obvious. And no because I don't walk around thinking gloomy thoughts, or manufacture dark fantasies for fun. Reality is enough. And I aim to be constructive in breaking through our delusions.

Realistically the world (human and non-human) is faced with imminent disaster. Even if many of the 'bad stuff' doesn't happen, we face at a minimum a food crisis. I mean worse than we face right now. It is difficult to convey just how simple and perilous our situation is with food. The reason is because our lives are so used to consuming (and consuming energy) in the way we do, we find it hard to grasp that this might not carry on indefinitely. In order to grow stuff, we need all those diesel machines operating on giant farms to be able to operate (on diesel), using fertilizers, pesticides and...that is now no longer easy. Farmers are struggling to produce for a variety of reasons. We were raised in a time of television, telephones and air, road and rail transport. Tele and trans imply overcoming...and the last thing we expect is to be bogged down by basic limitations such as:

- blackouts
- food and fuel shortages
- not enough (when we're used to so much)

The reason my urgent appeals for changes in lifestyle appear to be counterintuitive (it's not counterintuitive, it's logic) is because our current culture is invested in:
- capitalism
- exponential growth (in business, population size etc)

In fact we suffer collectively from cultural schizophrenia. Societal norms and reality are out of whack, hence there is discord. We have movies that represent this right now: Kung Fu Panda and The Dark Knight. One is seated in feel good fantasy, where a fat overweight cartoon character becomes the most powerful warrior in the world (through a combination of luck and persistence). Dark Knight is stripped of color (other than in its mad villain) and utterly realistic (Batman is after all the only superhero with no superpowers). Both movies nevertheless represent some sort of fight against evil...and of course, when people feel the need to do something about the environment, the world, the easiest thing to 'do' is watch a movie where someone else does the doing, and you emerge from the cinema, voyeuristically fulfilled.

I've had conversations with many experts in their own fields - pastors (for religion), bankers and politicians (for economics), editors and journalists (for media)...and it is disconcerting to note to what extent beliefs and investments by those people in those industries predicate a certain type of thinking (that is essentially divorced from the possibility of practical reality). I have noticed that a lot of these 'experts' have very little practical or contemporary knowledge gained 'out of the box' of their beliefs. Meaning they have not examined a vast variety of materials to inform their opinions with perhaps better educated guesses. We focus on what we believe, which recycles the same information, meaning we learn preciously little that is new until we open ourselves to this.

And as a matter of practical reality, we face critical issues in our time. South Africans face a smorgasbord of issues, and somehow manage to con themselves that they live in a great country, and that everything will be okay. It won't.

I consider myself a humanist. I used to consider myself an atheist, by I think I can euphemise that to agnostic. I believe religion has an important role to play as a cohesive force in communities. That said, the net effect of religion appears to be as a divisive force.

10 million vehicles will be off American roads as a result of high oil prices (watch above).Is this bad news, or is it something we need to know? Calling something 'good' or 'bad' robs us of knowing what it is before we begin to know what it is. There will be consequences and changes, and who can say whether these will be mostly good or not? Change seems to be what we equate with 'bad', but it's only 'bad' if we resist it, if we refuse to listen, if we're in denial. The world is in denial. Large sectors of populations are overweight, depressed, and working in treadmill jobs that don't make any sense.

The 'Bad News' I communicate is a series of urgent appeals. Yes, if your idea of living is that we continue on doing what we're doing consuming and destroying the planet (not just the creatures here, but for our own species ultimately),then yes, these appeals are not going to be 'positive'. You are probably not aware that driving in your car and going to parties does anyone else any harm...but probably somewhere in there, you have wondered if it is right that an individual can have so much power, be able to go through so much stuff. You judge the appeal too quickly, as 'negative' or 'bad'. Someone who suffers a heart attack at work might have an epiphany in the hospital bed afterwards, quit their job and do something else with their lives - and in that sense, the heart attack is a valuable and important message. In that same analogy you can understand how a doctor warning of a heart attack might not be taken seriously...but the heart attack is. Wouldn't it be great if people had the intellectual strength to appreciate the heart attack warning at face value? And some have. Some very obese people with obesity induced diabetes have turned their lives around.

I don't believe many people respond to the entreaties in this blog. By far the most traffic goes to 'Italian Chandelier' and 'The Human Cannon Ball'. This blog is for everyone else. The good news is that the world that is to come (not after we die, after a decade or two or more of austerity) will be the real world. It will be a bigger, scarier place, and we will - many of us - become human beings once again.

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