Yves here. As Ilargi himself acknowledges, even by the standards of his fare, this post on “overshoot” is plenty sobering. We do seem to be on our way to precipitating a mass species die off (as in it’s underway already and humans seem remarkably unwilling to take sufficiently stern measures to stop it). The end of civilization as we know it seems almost inevitable, given that most “advanced” economies are seeing serious erosion of their social fabric, as reflected in falling social well-being measures.
However, the provocative point that Jay Hanson argues is that our hard-wired political habits guarantee our undoing. It’s akin to a literary rendering I read long ago of Dollo’s theory of evolution, which went something like this:
Species develop characteristics which give them competitive advantage. Dinosaurs get big so no predators can eat them up. Saber tooth tigers develop monster jaws so they can chomp on mastadons and other large prey.
But the problem is that species continue to develop these characteristics beyond the point of maximum advantage. Dinosaurs get so big that they need to get a second brain in their midsection to manage their bodies and they die of anatomical schizophrenia. Saber-tooth tiger become such efficient killers of large prey that they begin to wipe them out, and their hypertrophied jaws are badly adapted to killing smaller prey, so they die of starvation. And humans have developed overly large brains and are in the process of thinking themselves to death.
By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth
There is not one single person I’ve learned more from than Jay Hanson, back when I was even younger than I am now. Jay is not the greatest writer in the world, his talent is that he has the right kind of unrelenting curiosity, needed to dig deep into the reasons we put ourselves where we do (it’s hardwired). This curiosity made put together the best library of information on ourselves and the world we live in that one can ever hope to find, at dieoff.org, much of it not published anywhere else. I took a month off 15 years ago and read it all back to back. The dieoff library was – mostly – finished by then. So it was a nice surprise to have someone send me the following piece, which is recent. It may look bleak and dark to you, but the challenge is to find where you think Jay goes wrong, and what you know better. That will not be easy, Jay’s a mighty smart puppy. I guess the essence is this: our brains are our destiny. That this leads to things we don’t like to acknowledge is something we will need to deal with. Walking away from it is neither a solution nor the best way to use the one part of us that may help find a solution. Which is also our brain.
Evolution Under The Maximum Power Principle
Jay Hanson: I have been forced to review the key lessons that I have learned concerning human nature and collapse over the last 20 years. Our collective behavior is the problem that must be overcome before anything can be done to mitigate the coming global social collapse. The single most-important lesson for me was that we cannot re-wire (literally, because thought is physical) our basic political agendas through reading or discussion alone. Moreover, since our thoughts are subject to physical law, we do not have the free-will to either think or behave autonomously.
We are “political” animals from birth until death. Everything we do or say can be seen as part of lifelong political agendas. Despite decades of scientific warnings, we continue to destroy our life-support system because that behavior is part of our inherited (DNA/RNA) hard wiring. We use scientific warnings, like all inter-animal communications, for cementing group identity and for elevating one’s own status (politics).
Only physical hardship can force us to rewire our mental agendas. I am certainly not the first to make the observation, but now, after 20 years of study and debate, I am totally certain. The net energy principle guarantees that our global supply lines will collapse. The rush to social collapse cannot be stopped no matter what is written or said. Humans have never been able to intentionally-avoid collapse because fundamental system-wide change is only possible after the collapse begins.
What about survivors? Within a couple of generations, all lessons learned from the collapse will be lost, and people will revert to genetic baselines. I wish it weren’t so, but all my experience screams “it’s hopeless.” Nevertheless, all we can do is the best we can and carry on…
I am thankful for the Internet where I can find others bright enough to discuss these complex ideas and help me to understand them.
Today, when one observes the many severe environmental and social problems, it appears that we are rushing towards extinction and are powerless to stop it. Why can’t we save ourselves? To answer that question we only need to integrate three of the key influences on our behavior: biological evolution, overshoot, and a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle”(MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power generation, by degrading more energy, whenever systemic constraints allow it.
Biological evolution is a change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. Individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic (DNA/RNA) material from one generation to the next.
Natural selection is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution, along with mutation, migration, and genetic drift. Selection favors individuals who succeed at generating more power and reproducing more copies of themselves than their competitors.
Energy is a key aspect of overshoot because available energy is always limited by the energy required to utilize it.
Since natural selection occurs under thermodynamic laws, individual and group behaviors are biased by the MPP to generate maximum power, which requires over-reproduction and/or over-consumption of resources whenever system constraints allow it. Individuals and families will form social groups to generate more power by degrading more energy. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.
Overshoot eventually leads to decreasing power attainable for the group with lower-ranking members suffering first. Low-rank members will form subgroups and coalitions to demand a greater share of power from higher-ranking individuals who will resist by forming their own coalitions to maintain it. Meanwhile, social conflict will intensify as available power continues to fall.
Eventually, members of the weakest group (high or low rank) are forced to “disperse.” Those members of the weak group who do not disperse are killed, enslaved, or in modern times imprisoned. By most estimates, 10 to 20 percent of Stone-Age people died at the hands of other humans. The process of overshoot, followed by forced dispersal, may be seen as a sort of repetitive pumping action—a collective behavioral loop—that drove humans into every inhabitable niche.
Here is a synopsis of the behavioral loop described above:
Step 1. Individual and group behaviors are biased by the MPP to generate maximum power, which requires over-reproduction and/or over-consumption of natural resources (overshoot), whenever systemic constraints allow it. Individuals and families will form social groups to generate more power by degrading more energy. Differential power generation and accumulation result in a hierarchical group structure.
Step 2. Energy is always limited, so overshoot eventually leads to decreasing power available to the group, with lower-ranking members suffering first.
Step 3. Diminishing power availability creates divisive subgroups within the original group. Low-rank members will form subgroups and coalitions to demand a greater share of power from higher-ranking individuals, who will resist by forming their own coalitions to maintain power.
Step 4. Violent social strife eventually occurs among subgroups who demand a greater share of the remaining power.
Step 5. The weakest subgroups (high or low rank) are either forced to disperse to a new territory, are killed, enslaved, or imprisoned.
Step 6. Go back to step 1.
The above loop was repeated countless thousands of times during the millions of years that we were evolving. This behavior is entrained in our genetic material and will be repeated until we go extinct. Carrying capacity will decline  with each future iteration of the overshoot loop, and this will cause human numbers to decline until they reach levels not seen since the Pleistocene.
Current models used to predict the end of the biosphere suggest that sometime between 0.5 billion to 1.5 billion years from now, land life as we know it will end on Earth due to the combination of CO2 starvation and increasing heat. It is this decisive end that biologists and planetary geologists have targeted for attention. However, all of their graphs reveal an equally disturbing finding: that global productivity will plummet from our time onward, and indeed, it already has been doing so for the last 300 million years.
It’s impossible to know the details of how our rush to extinction will play itself out, but we do know that it is going to be hell for those who are unlucky to be alive at the time.
• To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory. Frederick Jackson Turner
• Genocide is as human as art or prayer. John Gray
• Kai su, teknon. Julius Caesar
 Power is energy utilization for a purpose; proportional to forces x flows = work rate + entropy produced (Maximum Power and Maximum Entropy Production: Finalities in Nature, by S. N. Salthe, 2010). A surplus resource is stored power. Energy is a key aspect of overshoot because available energy is always limited by the energy required to utilize it.
 Originally formulated by Lotka and further developed by Odum and Pinkerton, the MPP states that biological systems capture and use energy to build and maintain structures and gradients, which allow additional capture and utilization of energy. One of the great strengths of the MPP is that it directly relates energetics to fitness; organisms maximize fitness by maximizing power. With greater power, there is greater opportunity to allocate energy to reproduction and survival, and therefore, an organism that captures and utilizes more energy than another organism in a population will have a fitness advantage (The maximum power principle predicts the outcomes of two-species competition experiments, by John P. DeLong, 2008).
 The best way to survive in such a milieu is not to live in ecological balance with slow growth, but to grow rapidly and be able to fend off competitors as well as take resources from others.
Not only are human societies never alone, but regardless of how well they control their own population or act ecologically, they cannot control their neighbors behavior. Each society must confront the real possibility that its neighbors will not live in ecological balance but will grow its numbers and attempt to take the resources from nearby groups. Not only have societies always lived in a changing environment, but they always have neighbors. The best way to survive in such a milieu is not to live in ecological balance with slow growth, but to grow rapidly and be able to fend off competitors as well as take resources from others.
To see how this most human dynamic works, imagine an extremely simple world with only two societies and no unoccupied land. Under normal conditions, neither group would have much motivation to take resources from the other. People may be somewhat hungry, but not hungry enough to risk getting killed in order to eat a little better. A few members of either group may die indirectly from food shortages—via disease or infant mortality, for example—but from an individual s perspective, he or she is much more likely to be killed trying to take food from the neighbors than from the usual provisioning shortfalls. Such a constant world would never last for long. Populations would grow and human activity would degrade the land or resources, reducing their abundance. Even if, by sheer luck, all things remained equal, it must be remembered that the climate would never be constant: Times of food stress occur because of changes in the weather, especially over the course of several generations. When a very bad year or series of years occurs, the willingness to risk a fight increases because the likelihood of starving goes up.
If one group is much bigger, better organized, or has better fighters among its members and the group faces starvation, the motivation to take over the territory of its neighbor is high, because it is very likely to succeed. Since human groups are never identical, there will always be some groups for whom warfare as a solution is a rational choice in any food crisis, because they are likely to succeed in getting more resources by warring on their neighbors.
Now comes the most important part of this overly simplified story: The group with the larger population always has an advantage in any competition over resources, whatever those resources may be. Over the course of human history, one side rarely has better weapons or tactics for any length of time, and most such warfare between smaller societies is attritional. With equal skills and weapons, each side would be expected to kill an equal number of its opponents. Over time, the larger group will finally overwhelm the smaller one. This advantage of size is well recognized by humans all over the world, and they go to great lengths to keep their numbers comparable to their potential enemies. This is observed anthropologically by the universal desire to have many allies, and the common tactic of smaller groups inviting other societies to join them, even in times of food stress.
Assume for a moment that by some miracle one of our two groups is full of farsighted, ecological geniuses. They are able to keep their population in check and, moreover, keep it far enough below the carrying capacity that minor changes in the weather, or even longer-term changes in the climate, do not result in food stress. If they need to consume only half of what is available each year, even if there is a terrible year, this group will probably come through the hardship just fine. More important, when a few good years come along, these masterfully ecological people will/not/grow rapidly, because to do so would mean that they would have trouble when the good times end. Think of them as the ecological equivalent of the industrious ants.
The second group, on the other hand, is just the opposite—it consists of ecological dimwits. They have no wonderful processes available to control their population. They are forever on the edge of the carrying capacity, they reproduce with abandon, and they frequently suffer food shortages and the inevitable consequences. Think of this bunch as the ecological equivalent of the carefree grasshoppers. When the good years come, they have more children and grow their population rapidly. Twenty years later, they have doubled their numbers and quickly run out of food at the first minor change in the weather. Of course, had this been a group of “noble savages who eschewed warfare, they would have starved to death and only a much smaller and more sustainable group survived. This is not a bunch of noble savages; these are ecological dimwits and they attack their good neighbors in order to save their own skins. Since they now outnumber their good neighbors two to one, the dimwits prevail after heavy attrition on both sides. The “good” ants turn out to be dead ants, and the “bad” grasshoppers inherit the earth. The moral of this fable is that if any group can get itself into ecological balance and stabilize its population even in the face of environmental change, it will be tremendously disadvantaged against societies that do not behave that way. The long-term successful society, in a world with many different societies, will be the one that grows when it can and fights when it runs out of resources. It is useless to live an ecologically sustainable existence in the “Garden of Eden unless the neighbors do so as well. Only one nonconservationist society in an entire region can begin a process of conflict and expansion by the “grasshoppers” at the expense of the Eden-dwelling “ants”. This smacks of a Darwinian competition—survival of the fittest—between societies. Note that the “fittest” of our two groups was not the more ecological, it was the one that grew faster. The idea of such Darwinian competition is unpalatable to many, especially when the “bad” folks appear to be the winners.[pp. 73-75] (Constant Battles: Why we Fight, by Steven A. LeBlanc, St. Martin, 2004)
The Slaughter Bench of History, by Ian Morris, THE ATLANTIC, April 11, 2014
 “Dispersal” is important in biology. Many amazing biological devices have evolved to ensure it, such as the production of fruits and nectar by plants and the provision of tasty protuberances called elaiosomes by seeds to attract insects. Often a species will produce two forms:
(1) a maintenance phenotype (the outcome of genes and the structures they produce interacting with a specific environment) that is adapted to the environment in which it is born,
and (2) a dispersal phenotype that is programmed to move to a new area and that often has the capacity to adapt to a new environment.
According to the present theory, humans have developed two dispersal phenotypes in the forms of the prophet and the follower. The coordinated action of these two phenotypes would serve to disperse us over the available habitat. This dispersal must have been aided by the major climatic changes over the past few million years in which vast areas of potential human habitat have repeatedly become available because of melting of ice sheets.
The dispersal phenotypes might have evolved through selection at the individual level, since the reproductive advantage of colonizing a new habitat would have been enormous. They would also promote selection between groups. This is important because selection at the group level can achieve results not possible at the level of selection between individuals. One result of the dispersal phenotype includes ethnocentrism (the tendency to favor one’s own ethnic group over another) and the tendency to use “ethnic cleansing.” The other result, as previously noted, is selection for cooperation, self-sacrifice, and a devotion to group rather than individual goals. Factors that promote selection at the group level are rapid splitting of groups, small size of daughter groups, heterogeneity (differences) of culture between groups, and reduction in gene flow between groups. These factors are all promoted by the breaking away of prophet-led groups with new belief systems.
One of the problems of selection at the group level is that of free-riders. These are people who take more than their share and contribute to the common good of the group less than their proper share. Selection at the group level gives free-riders their free ride. They potentially could increase until they destroy the cooperative fabric of the group.
However, the psychology of the free-rider, which is one of self-aggrandizement and neglect of group goals, is not likely to be indoctrinated with the mazeway of the group. Nor is it likely to be converted to the new belief system of the prophet. Therefore, theoretically one would predict that cults and New Religious Movements should be relatively free of free-riders. Such an absence of free-riders would further enhance selection at the group level. Moreover, this is a testable theoretical proposition.
Cult followers have been studied and found to be high on schizotypal traits, such as abnormal experiences and beliefs. They have not yet been tested for the sort of selfish attitudes and behavior that characterize free-riders. If a large cohort of people were tested for some measure of selfishness, it is predicted that those who subsequently joined cults would be low on such a measure. Predictions could also be made about future cult leaders. They would be likely to be ambitious males who were not at the top of the social hierarchy of their original group. If part of why human groups split in general is to give more reproductive opportunities to males in the new group, it can also be predicted that leaders of new religious movements would be males of reproductive age. Female cult leaders are not likely to be more fertile as a result of having many sexual partners, but their sons might be in an advantageous position for increased reproduction.
Conclusion: The biobehavioral science of ethology is about the movement of individuals. We have seen that change of belief system has been responsible for massive movements of individuals over the face of the earth. Religious belief systems appear to have manifest advantages both for the groups that espouse them and the individuals who share them. It is still controversial whether belief systems are adaptations or by-products of other evolutionary adaptive processes. Regardless of the answer to this question, the capacity for change of belief system, both that seen in the prophet and also that seen in the follower, may be adaptations because they have fostered the alternative life history strategies of dispersal from the natal habitat.
Moreover, change of belief system, when it is successful in the formation of a new social group and transfer of that group to a “promised land,” accelerates many of the parameters that have been thought in the past to be too slow for significant selection at the group level, such as eliminating free-riders, rapid group splitting, heterogeneity between groups and reduction of gene transfer between groups. Natural selection at the group level would also favor the evolution of the capacity for change of belief system, so that during the past few million years we may have seen a positive feedback system leading to enhanced cult formation and accelerated splitting of groups. This may have contributed to the rapid development of language and culture in our lineage. (The Biology of Religious Behavior, Edited by Jay R. Feierman, pp. 184-186)
 The results of the study are striking, according to Robbins Schug, because violence and disease increased through time, with the highest rates found as the human population was abandoning the cities. However, an even more interesting result is that individuals who were excluded from the city’s formal cemeteries had the highest rates of violence and disease. (Violence, Infectious Disease and Climate Change Contributed to Indus Civilization Collapse , Science Daily, January 17, 2014)
 My discussion will revolve around two basic propositions regarding long-term human population history: 1) the near-zero growth rates that have prevailed through much of prehistory are likely due to long-term averaging across periods of relatively rapid local population growth interrupted by infrequent crashes caused by density-dependent and density-independent factors; and 2) broad changes in population growth rates across subsistence modes in prehistory are probably best explained in terms of changes in mortality due to the dampening or buffering of crashes rather than significant increases in fertility (Subsistence strategies and early human population history: an evolutionary ecological perspective, by James L. Boone, 2002).
 Sustainable Engineering: Resource Load Carrying Capacity and K≠phase Technology, by Peter Hartley, 1993
 pp. 118-119, The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-destructive? by Peter Ward, 2009
Spot on piece by Ilargi. We can already see overshoot in action as war, riots, protests are taking place around the world simultaneously … Of course this is all purposely ignored and spun by the MSM to reflect the “their common wisdom” on these situations.
The powers that be keep chanting growth when in fact real growth is a thing of the past. The growth/employment figures reported today are from studies and surveys that are doctored, severely underestimate inflation, count the “broken window” economy.
Resources such as oil, water, farmland are declining or taking even more effort and energy to supply transferring consumer discretionary spending to necessities. The powers that be have used cheap money via low interest rates to help themselves but re-energizing world demand would send commodities soaring.
There will have to be a crash for people to “sober up”. As Hanson says “We are “political” animals from birth until death. Everything we do or say can be seen as part of lifelong political agendas.” The hand writing is on the wall … Life is about to become shorter, harder and more brutal.
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity …
Seems about right. All occurring way below the unconscious. We aren’t any more likely to stop than the emerald ash borer.
Well, with regards to changing belief systems there is a loophole in the above dire picture, for the few people who are exposed to the right information and chose to exercise it.
To summarize, in complex ecologies, the trend is not towards greater competition, but greater cooperation, such that each species in a system evolves in a direction that allows it to more efficiently use specialized resources, at the expense of the general ability to inefficiently use many resources. This ever finer use of resources is the result of selective pressure brought on by competition, and the result is reduction of competition and corresponding increase in cooperation. So, while the energy and resources available to systems remain relatively fixed, the “orchestrated” behaviors of ecosystems as a whole tend to accumulate energy, biomass and diversity. Human beings, being (occasionally) rational and observant animals, can roughly comprehend this process and encourage systems (with a lot of observation, trial, and error) in ways that maximize this natural evolutionary tendency. An example of this would be adding logs, mulch and ground cover to areas in ways that mimic natural forest processes, rather than foolishly leaving soils exposed to the elements.
If this kind of thinking were trained into everyone on the planet, I don’t think we’d have much trouble supporting a population of 20 or 30 billion people sustainable without significant resource conflicts. Although lacking that, humans will be lucky if we survive with 1 billion people. And getting to that 1 billion (probably significantly less) number will be a fairly horrific process. Therefore even armed with ecological knowledge and a desire to disperse it, in the Mad Max future we face being well stocked with solar panels, monetary metals, and ammo is still very recommended.
Correct, this is the thrust of the talk I gave last week (referred to below). Diversity, cooperation and efficient targeted use provides a much more robust and powerful ecosystem that outcompetes the view presented above based on the metrics of what MPP means.
As far as human systems, I tried to be convincing that it is close to the point where we can use the logic of financialization against consumerism and even itself.
I’m not sure the essay above has anything that’s wrong, it’s just not complete. We have a choice to decide how to use the observation and I dont’ think we need much of a buy in to get started.
‘Free-riders’ is a timely metaphor. A real-world example is NATO. NATO is an alliance of European, USA and Canadian partners set up to defend each other in the event of external threats. As everyone knows the Americans have pretty much have had iron fisted control since its inception. However, in recent years the USA has called on its NATO partners to pony up more of the burden sharing. The USA is looking to beef itself up in Asia after all. I looked up the NATO burden sharing budget for 2014…. drum rolls please….. the USA portion has grown a bit in recent years and is at 73%. In other words, powerful countries such as Germany, France, UK, etc.. round out the balance at 27%. In case you wanted to know, Germany contributes just over 4% (but less than 2% of its GDP) to NATO. Talking about a free-ride.
What is not widely discussed is the roll of Germany in NATO. Germany has benefited
free-rideimmensely from the USA and others at keeping threats far away from its borders, but when it comes to supporting recent NATO partner endeavours, Germany found itself abstaining, siding with China and Russia in the case of military intervention into Libya. I personally thought going into Libya was a bad idea, but partners must protect each others back, not unless you are ‘free-rider.’ For German leadership, impoverishing others via mercantilist means is a safer strategy. The way they see it, it provides better ROI.
Rather than side with its long time allies, Germany abstained from voting in the UN Security Council. Fair enough, but then this: Germany withdrew its warships from the Mediterranean after the vote to the consternation of its allies. Fine, no one wants bloodshed, but what Germany should have done with the warships was to provide casualty support — security. Wars have unintended consequences and its partners could have used Germany’s support in assisting the wounded.
To quote from above:
“One of the problems of selection at the group level is that of free-riders. These are people who take more than their share and contribute to the common good of the group less than their proper share. Selection at the group level gives free-riders their free ride. They potentially could increase until they destroy the cooperative fabric of the group.”
NATO is an excellent example.
In case you were wondering, Germany has been the 3rd largest exporter of major weapons systems for years, behind USA and Russia. Guess who is one of their largest markets? The Middle East.
Cake and eat it too. Plus they largely call the shots within the EU.
‘I personally thought going into Libya was a bad idea, but partners must protect each others back.’
What partners must do first is comply with the treaty. The NATO treaty guarantees collective defense of its members against actual hostilities.
When Bill Clinton first involved NATO in an ‘out-of-area’ deployment in former Yugoslavia, there was no actual threat to any NATO member. NATO, lacking any raison d’être after the Soviet collapse in 1991, had simply decided to reinvent itself as a ‘global cop’ as an imperative of bureaucratic survival. At this point, having overstepped its treaty authority, NATO became a rogue organization.
German foot-dragging presumably expresses a kind of veiled disapproval of NATO’s activities. But ultimately, Europe is going to have to grasp the nettle and expel its American occupiers, who have no business there some 70 years after hostilities ended.
NATO is one of the worst examples of a military bureaucracy that is not merely useless and incompetent, but also massively counterproductive and destabilizing. After its humiliating ass-kicking in Afghanistan, you’d think the NATO clown posse would have the decency to declare victory and go home.
Exactly right! Clinton and Yugoslavia often get overlooked but this was the Great Leap forward in American foreign policy. Once NATO got away with this the stage was set for the neocons to push further – each test confirming minimal blow back would allow even more push. It ends with the “justified” use of nuclear weapons.
A bit of a stretch, re the topic no?
But since we’re on the topic of Germany this recent post from the Saker blog is, like, whoa…
All this guy ever writes are anti-German screeds. And France has out-exported Germany in weapons for decades. And the USA has benefitted more from NATO than any other country, as it has been its unsinkable aircraft carrier and dagger at the throat of Russia since its inception. Without NATO, the US would have had to plan for landing an army on the Eurasian continent to fight the Soviets, which would have been impossible given Soviet land power. Thus, US hegemony would have been limited to the Western Hemisphere (the nightmare scenario of 1938-41 that drove the US into being a global power in the first place).
Perhaps you didn’t read carefully. He is passing along a letter from a German correspondent, one he doesn’t agree or disagree with. I only put up the link because if that German writer is correct then it would be quite a different understanding of events. Which is to say file under: interesting, needs further corroboration.
As I’ve said before, Saker has his hobby horses but also has an insider perspective (he is Russian, speaks Russian) that is hard to find elsewhere.
My response was to John, so please forgive any unintended rancor. My posts are screened, and the delay can mess up the flow of discussion.
John says he lives in Belgium. They do have a bit of history with the Germans.
Nonsense. Europe gets nothing in return for their wasted military spending. The US would never put itself at real risk over a threat to Europe, real or imagined – and it’s been virtually always the latter, as neither Russia nor the Soviet Union ever had designs on Europe per se. If the US stopped spending on NATO, the organization could die the death it deserves, and US policy would at last be stripped of the pretense that NATO is a collaborative decision-making body operating in the interests of ‘the free world’, as opposed to a relic of US Empire in search of a Mission – like wreaking gratuitous havoc on places like Libya, turning one of the better-run, most stable States in all of Africa and/or the Arab world in terms of public/social services into a cauldron of chaos and violence.
Europe would then be free to set up what it needs as defined by their own potential global relationships absent a US clearly still locked in ‘unquestioned global hegemony’ thinking run amok. The US can save itself a $trillion a year cutting military/security spending back to what it takes to actually take care of itself. Its the exemplar of the doomed strategy of overshoot.
Not having the time to respond fully, I thought I’d post a link to an essay I wrote on the topic last spring, in an essay contest asking how we should steer for the future;
“Despite decades of scientific warnings, we continue to destroy our life-support system because that behavior is part of our inherited (DNA/RNA) hard wiring.”
Total nonsense. There is zero evidence for political behaviour being “hard wired” by genetics. I challenge anyone to produce a single peer-reviewed publication demonstrating a specific heritable genetic basis for any human economic or political behaviour or any reasonable analogue in a model organism. The notion that biological systems intrinsically organise around energy flows and thus we must continue burning fossil fuels until we all die because this is the Law Of Maximum Power is ridiculous, and the notion that a paper in a philosophy journal demonstrating that this “law” works to provide simple model for protist competition has anything to do with human behaviour borders on intellectually dishonest.
This kind of thinking is effectively identical to market fundamentalist attempts to naturalise contingent systems of property, resource exploitation, political organisation, etc using the rhetoric of the natural sciences to produce a veneer of scientistic credibility. The goal in this case is to legitimate doomer ideology and to excuse the tiny minority of humans who have historically emitted the vast majority of carbon and continue to do so (for the most part wealthy westerners) from culpability by presenting their profligacy as simple natural law. The effect is the same, however- nothing can be done, the status quo is an inviolable consequence of evolution (never mind that evolutionary hypotheses must be demonstrated by actual genetic data in order to achieve any minimum standard of credibility).
“I challenge anyone to produce a single peer-reviewed publication demonstrating a specific heritable genetic basis for any human economic or political behaviour or any reasonable analogue in a model organism.”
To clarify- evidence that political, economic, organisational behaviours are necessarily produced, that is, “hard-wired”, by some genetic regulatory network. There are of course the GWAS fishing trips demonstrating that particular genes tend to segregate along political lines in the US; I don’t intend to suggest that our genetic complement doesn’t influence political behaviour, but rather that no credible geneticist or neuroscientist has suggested that particular genetic complements are necessary and sufficient to produce specific historical political/economic structures.
You are a faster writer than I. And better able at putting forth a coherent argument too. A glass raised in support of your position sir.
I completely agree with you. At this moment this article has 105 comments. In my view it is the lowest quality article I have seen posted on NC. It is full with pseudo-scientific statements and I hope the NC readers will see it for what it is worth.
Agreed, too many pseudo-scientific statements — too many for any point-by-point (re)analysis of the specific claims. That’s unfortunate, given the importance of the topic.
I read somewhere that the societal mode that has proven most sustainable – coming in at 80,000 years – is hunter-gathering, in that some aboriginal ‘tribes’ (groups?) in Australia can boast this sort of longevity (if memory serves, though I’m pretty sure about the 80,000 number). Their societal mode is not greed-based, not fear-based and is not elitist/hierarchical. Regarding ‘hard-wired human nature’ then, we might argue that egalitarian/anarchic societies better reflect our DNA in that we lived in these far more open and cooperative modes for the vast majority of our time on earth, if there were any validity to asserting a tight relationship between human genes and human social structures (homo economicus).
I believe our wide-ranging and daunting problems are cultural, not biological, but this only makes them slightly easier to overcome. I.e. not impossible, but as good as damn it. There’s such enormous cultural momentum to the way things currently are, our behaviors may as well be ‘hard-wired’.
‘I read somewhere that the societal mode that has proven most sustainable – coming in at 80,000 years – is hunter-gathering, in that some aboriginal ‘tribes’ (groups?) in Australia can boast this sort of longevity (if memory serves, though I’m pretty sure about the 80,000 number). ‘
Don’t think there’s any rolling back of sedentary agriculture, but it’s certainly wise to look at the anthropological and historical record when evaluating these kinds of claims. There are all kinds of examples of sustainable agricultural practices in any case- China and Japan provided the source material for FH King’s “Farmers of Forty Centuries”, a source text for much of the organic ag/permaculture movement.
‘There’s such enormous cultural momentum to the way things currently are, our behaviors may as well be ‘hard-wired’.’
That’s certainly possible. Digging into what constitutes cultural momentum and inertia requires looking long and hard into the mirror and recognising that the issue is that most those of us who benefit and derive comfort and sustenance from the violent imperial subjugation of the global south, from the rape of the earth, are simply by our feebleness, fecklessness, acquiescence expressing a preference for our comfort over intra- and inter-generational justice. Much easier to spin yet another evopsych just-so story explaining the competitive advantage of the habits of the rapacious bourgeoisie than to be honest and admit that it’s easier to submit to Mammon than to put one’s reputation, freedom, body, and life on the line for others (born and yet-to-be).
While your last paragraph is true to some extent, I think it’s equally true that it’s just plain difficult to opt out fully, as you imply when you write “Don’t think there’s any rolling back of sedentary agriculture”. One might need a wholly different skill-set (e.g. permaculture) that then requires lots of time (and therefore money) to acquire, you may have dependents who don’t see the world the way you do (family), and your own habits, both of thinking and doing (if that’s a valid distinction), are likely very hard to break/alter.
We are “feeble” for a reason. We are social animals and thus need the support and encouragement of those around us, from those we trust, love and respect and perhaps also society generally: the infamous They. All these fears and constraints are aspects of cultural momentum. Change is difficult, radical change profoundly so.
I certainly did not intend to imply that it was possible to “opt out” or that change is not difficult, merely that that our inability to commit to the difficult, potentially impossible courses required for our actions to be morally consonant with our knowledge is often the result of a inability to grapple with uncomfortable moral and spiritual insights, which armchair biological and thermoeconomic theorising often serves to provide a handy escape hatch from. We have to, of course, recognise that to be weak is human, and that this state necessitates mercy and love.
The eternal nature vs. nurture debate…
Exactly! And which is true? Both, of course.
Why do I get the feeling that those who believe in 100% free will believe in 100% nurture?
More true might be that it’s a false dichotomy!
It’s certainly not an exclusive disjunction, but some people appear to think that it is.
Exactly! This whole DNA determinism crap is being discredited. For example, recent studies have shown that, while there are genes for certain diseases most are triggered by stress and thus social factors, not biological determinism. Biological determinism is, at heart, the origin of fascism.
That’s way too easy an out for what is a powerful, if limited, argument. The persistence of war and the examples of what happened in Rwanda, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, and what is happening now in Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza (or just read the Bible) indicate that people have a hard-wired habit of inter-group violence. And, as Napoleon said, god does fight on the side with the big battalions. We are more than chimps with better tools but we are not completely different from chimps with better tools. How we lived for 100,000 years before agriculture matters. And the evidence is that hunter-gatherers lived a hell of a lot like chimps, with base zones, no-go zones, and violence along every boundary. Waving away the mountain of evidence he gives with the dismissive “ah, biological determinism” may make you feel better at night but doesn’t change the trajectory we are on, which is right into the crapper.
Sure, fight the culture that supports this destructive behavior. And hope like hell that is enough. But there is a chance that our genetic inheritance will not be amenable to giving peace a chance if we are put under enough stress (and the stresses are already manifesting themselves around the world–perhaps the rise of Fundamentalism is an instinctive response, a collective circling of the wagons as the dust clouds loom closer on the horizon).
First, we have no way of knowing what early human culture was like–really, we are just guessing based on our current understanding that, even now, has not fully encompassed the findings of social- and neuro-science. Also, what I know about “primitive” cultures and Shamanism tells me that there is a whole level of reality that those people live in that is not very accessible to people trained in Western civilized societies which would mean that ancient cultures were far more sophisticated than we give them credit for–we have just chosen to ignore magic and spirituality, generally, for good reason–we would not be where we are today without a deliberate repression of those two areas of life.
Second, the countries that degenerated into brutal wars were not isolated incidents but all could be traced back to Western imperialism both old and new. Take the ME, for example, here were people who lived together in relative peace (yes some conflict but not anywhere near where it is today) yet after Western powers went in full bore (France and UK right after WWI and the U.S. after WWII) the region became increasingly chaotic and dangerous.
However, you are not wrong in saying that there are aspects of us that are very concerned with identifying with a tribal unit and an us against them mentality. Tribal hatreds are easily manipulated by the “leaders” who actually have no interest in the welfare of the tribe–and that is the weak point for the current global structure. To increasing numbers of people their leaders appear not to care about them whether they are tribal leaders or national leaders. Thus when the tribal flags are waved the response is more lukewarm. Once Obama is out of office, for example, the GOP, will have a hard time waving the racial flag which is at the center of the appeal of the far-right.
In my view we have now evolved morally to the extent that we are right on the edge of being able to see sentiments behind lyrics of “Imagine” are close to being realized. Take away cultural prejudices and people are, today, less inclined to violence despite the high stress levels of modern life. We are evolving morally and we have all the tools to effect that transformation right now–to create a convivial world–we have only to find real leaders and form real teams to make that happen.
We can learn a lot about very early human culture by studying our close relatives, the great apes. Decades ago, Jane Goodall observed warfare among chimpanzees and documented it in The Chimpanzees of Gombe, which is unfortunately now out of print. Her observations are summarized in Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham.
We can (and must) overcome our tendencies towards violence and territoriality. But we’ll never overcome them if we deny that they exist.
First, we have the bones of our ancestors, and a whole load of them show signs of murder and mayhem. And, Western Imperialism? You’ve read the Bible. You know the history of the wars between the Romans and the Parthians, Ottomans and the Persians, the Arabs and the Mongols. People don’t need Western Imperialism to kill one another.
I’m not saying that everything in the article is absolutely correct and inevitable. But dismissing it as if it were not intelligent and well-grounded really bothers me, because I believe it worthy of serious meditation (and I read Gwynne Dyer’s book War: The Lethal Custom and take that very seriously).
I’d like to see the evidence that early humans lived like chimps and not bonobos. Or, that it wasn’t a complex mix of both. However, this would play too strongly into the biological determinism camp, which is a dead-end, as I think people are increasingly realising.
Robert Sapowsky records a case in which all the alpha baboons of a troop get wiped out from eating poisoned meat from the bins outside a restaurant. Suddenly without leaders, the troop switches to egalitarianism thereby apparently overcoming is biological imperative, and is still egalitarian today 30 years later. Indeed, members of the troop train out the hierarchical/dominating tendencies of potential alphas. Nature vrs nurture is, I assert, a false dichotomy. The reality is far subtler.
In comments to posts like this of course we can only offer the merest of summaries, but can’t we point to as much cooperation as war? History does tend to have a fascination for war while having far less to say about peace. And what of our everyday lives? How do you react to people who ask you for directions? How is the debate on this site? Do manners maketh the man? Isn’t there peace in war and war in peace? Etc.
On a broader note, as we begin to recognise that there are really no Alien Others out there, so boundaries between Us and Them blur and we see the common humanity in everyone, the right to a life of dignity in all living things and systems. This slow but seemingly inexorable expansion of the circle of reciprocity is as important to our historical arc as our biology, or rather as how our biology inter-exists and co-evolves with our environment. The dehumanisation that leads to war and slavery and exploitation is becoming harder and harder to sustain.
Generally speaking, to me it looks like cooperation is a more efficient and sustainable strategy than competition.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
Thanks, PM and the many responders who took most of what I watned to write and beat me to the post. As much as I agree with the general conclusion, and as often as I appreciated Ilargi’s writings and cross-posts, this piece is just a lot of pseudo-scientific junk that reeks of the abuse of basic scientfic terminology and concepts to prove ideas that have been around for centuries. Mancur Olsen’s The Rise and Decline of Nations does a far better job of explaining the same points.
But what’s particularly troubling about this piece, and other members of the political science cum physics genre, is that by characterizing human actions as nothing by the results of universal and uncontrollable forces, we deny ourselves any change of changing the future. As Stanislav Andreski explains so well in <a href = "https://openlibrary.org/books/OL5310180M/Social_sciences_as_sorcery.".The Social Sciences as Sorcery, such conflations actually are expression of “crypto-conseratism” or “crypto-totolitarianism”, since they legitimate justify existing power structures.
While I doubt that’s the intent here, it likely has the same affect.
Hi Paper Mac. You said:
Political end economic behavior is very complex, so it is unlikely that any particular gene or group of genes will directly cause political behavior. However, it is a near certainty that genes heavily influence political end economic behavior. The causes of human behavior are a blend of nature and nurture, genetics and environment, including culture.
It’s not a peer reviewed paper, but here’s a Wikipedia reference to a reasonable analog in a model organism:
Setting aside the point that mouse models are terrible at predicting human biology, I don’t see how you can compare the aggression-repressing effects of FEV with human political behavior. These are apples and oranges.
It’s an example of mammalian behavior that is largely determined by genetics. Apples and oranges? No, more like Granny Smiths and Red Deliciouses.
I still disagree. The FEV mutants lack a major aspect of a critical brain function. Here, we’re discussing something far, far more more subtle. It’s been well known that some humans too have emotional problems after suffering major brain injuries. The mouse model is far closer to those examples than some “inherited” political behavior.
And again, we’re talking about mouse brain function vs. human intellectual and emotional actions.
So are you saying that genes have no influence at all on human behavior?
I’m saying that the mouse paper you quote proves nothing, and the link is very tenuous when considering such complex behaviors as political decisions.
Well, we disagree. The mouse paper proves that genes affect mammalian behavior. There are probably plenty of other experiments that provide similar proof, but I’m not a biologist. Maybe someone else can direct us to them.
Perhaps I should clarify something. I do not think that genes are an absolute determinant of behavior, but they influence how we act. I understand that this is distasteful to many people, but that doesn’t make it less true. As I pointed out to Banger, we’ll never solve our problems if we deny that they exist.
The claim being made in this article is extremely specific and strong: that there is a direct, “hardwired” genetic basis for the organisation of human society in a manner that maximises the dissipation of energy through it as a system. If it is, as you concede, “unlikely that any particular gene or group of genes will directly cause political behavior”, this claim is false and the import of the remainder of the article is minimal. I have already noted above that I accept that one’s genetic complement necessarily influences political behaviour, it is impossible to argue otherwise. On the other hand, it’s trivial to demonstrate that historical contingency is far more important in determining the specific formation of energy fluxes in given societies- Romans were familiar with the use of coal in industrial applications and the potential to generate work by steam power, but a ready supply of slave labour precluded any impetus toward the invention of the steam engine, for instance.
Probably the key sentence is this one:
“organisms maximize fitness by maximizing power. With greater power, there is greater opportunity to allocate energy to reproduction and survival, and therefore, an organism that captures and utilizes more energy than another organism in a population will have a fitness advantage”
If it were the case that there is always selective pressure to maximise power, a huge swathe of the biosphere is completely incomprehensible. 30 seconds observing a sloth should be enough to convince anyone with two brain cells to rub together that selection operates on a far more complex basis than this. Speaking as a biologist with an evodevo background, you should be extremely suspicious whenever someone claims that evolution has “maximised” or “optimised” anything. Selective pressure produces “good enough” solutions, not optimal ones.
I was probably influenced by some of the apparently uncompromising language in your comment. Words and phrases such as “Total nonsense”, “zero evidence”, and “ridiculous”. There was also Banger’s “DNA determinism crap”. This combative tone may have triggered my fight or flight response.
I apologise for the agitated tone. I get very frustrated when evolutionary theory is abused in this kind of sloppy, dishonest manner to legitimate particular ideological positions. The doomer position being exposited here is a particularly egregious example; it’s a teleological, even quasi-theological argument, and the invocation of “DNA/RNA”, evolution, etc are there solely to appropriate the social legitimacy of the scientific method and its products in order to give it credibility among people who don’t have the training or background to evaluate the claims being made. John Michael Greer has written lucidly about the doomer inversion of Progress theology:
“The civil religion of progress also has its antireligion, which is the belief in apocalypse. Like the antireligions of other faiths, the apocalyptic antireligion embraces the core presuppositions of the faith it opposes—in this case, above all else, the vision of history as a straight line leading inexorably toward a goal that can only be defined in superlatives—but inverts all the value signs.”
We should be careful not to allow the scientific patrimony of our civilisation to be leveraged to support this kind of position.
If it’s any consolation, I dislike teleology. I look upon our negative genetic and cultural influences (assuming they exist) as dangers to be overcome, not portents of inevitable futures.
Just a second. There are plenty of people from all manner of backgrounds who are neither fools nor cultists nor peddlers of ‘Apocalypse’ who have taken a good long look around and concluded we’ve utterly fouled things up and stand on the precipice of total failure to head-off an epochal human calamity, with even the possibility of another mass extinction event that includes ourselves. To cast most of the serious, informed people who harbour grave doubts about our viability as being engaged in ‘teleological thinking’ or inverse ‘progress’ syndrome disorder sufferers is as far off as the piece you largely correctly criticize.
I believe it possible we can avoid a planetary catastrophe – but I do not at all like our odds.
Paper Mac, I have a concern about something else that you said, which is probably peripheral to the main topics of discussion today:
Not true. We don’t have genetic data for dinosaurs or trilobites, but there are credible hypotheses and theories about them.
Hypotheses which are untestable are not scientific. The word has a specific meaning in the sciences, it’s not a synonym for “speculation”. To the extent that we have credible evolutionary hypotheses about the genetic basis of traits in clades like dinosaurs, it’s because we have access to their living descendants.
So are you saying that evolutionary hypotheses prior to the release of Mendel’s work or prior to the DNA breakthroughs of the 1950s are unscientific?
Many of those ideas weren’t scientific hypotheses in the sense that they could be empirically tested. You can find evolutionary ideas in al Jahiz’s zoological tracts from the 9th century; Ibn Khaldun has a pretty clear exposition of an evolutionary theory in the Muqaddimah in the 14th, but I’ve never heard anyone describe these as hypotheses. That doesn’t mean they’re “unscientific” in some pejorative sense, merely that they’re not subject to empirical evaluation and hence can’t be invoked as some kind of objective factual reality.
” … we continue to destroy our life-support system because that behavior is part of our inherited (DNA/RNA) hard wiring.”
There is no hard wiring. There are at least three intertwining evolutions: 1) Evolution of the physical environment of the earth; 2) Biological genetic evolution of life forms; 3) Cultural memetic evolution of information. Environmental evolution influences biological genetic evolution. Biological genetic evolution changes the environments. Living forms create niches — changes to the physical environments which then further change biological evolution. Biological genetic evolution provided the conditions for cultural memetic informational evolution which fed back and altered and alters biological genetic evolution and our physical environments.
“Hard wiring” is simplistic. Too much sociobiology. Get over it. Nothing is genetically determined. Genes by themselves do nothing. They can only operate in the specific environments and cultures they have co-evolved in. Nothing is hard wired. Nothing is autonomous. Nothing is deterministic. Human nature is not fixed. It is right now changing rapidly.
Human behavior is genetically influenced. Yes, the phrase “hard wiring” is simplistic, but equally simplistic is any notion that we aren’t heavily influenced by our physiology, biochemistry, and genetics.
Of course we are influenced by our physiology, biochemistry, and genetics. Our physiology and biochemistry are what they are because of the combined actions of our genes, our physical environment, and our cultures during our development from a fertilized egg throughout our lives. “Not by Genes Alone” is the title of a book by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd. The book is worth reading but the title says it all.
If all goes reasonably well during our development a human at some point will have for example the capacity for anger which seems to be a direct result of our physiology and biochemistry and our genes. See Robery Sapolsky “Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers”. But our culture which we learn from other humans tells us when and where and by how much we get angry. Human traits depend on our three inseparable co-evolutions; Physical environment evolution, biological genetic evolution, and cultural informational evolution. Cultural evolution is the fastest of all and it seems to be accellerating.
I think the feedback and feed forward loops between the past and the future are so complex that monocausal explanations (“laws”) are likely to be false, by definition. So I agree.
I came to an identical conclusion several years ago after researching population dynamics and the Maximum Power Principle. It was extremely depressing. However, my thinking has evolved since then. I don’t have any argumentation against the presented logic, but do believe three things:
1) Living in the “ecologically genius” way is healthier and more fulfilling. This is not only from (beginning) personal experience and speaking with others who do, but anthropological studies.
2) When societies are in overshoot, living sustainably is a competitive advantage that has better risk adjusted returns if properly harnessed within a group.
3) The methodologies (permaculture, open source, etc), tools (internet and such) and mentalities are there for people who want to band together and make something that genuinely works reasonably well. Once they do, it will become a symbol.
So really instead of fretting about the end state, I’m trying to focus more on the path. It’s much more fun and although tiring, it seems that we are close to reaching some initial breakthroughs. My particular focus right now is on increasing energy efficiency in New Zealand through a service model (like Solar City does through PV) except the assets and reinvestment is done in a public trust owned by the community to help fund the transition. It will issue bonds to obtain funding, specifically targeting retirement accounts and the like; although one day it may be possible to power a credit union as well.
Last week I gave a talk at the University of Otago about growth in general, how the MPP explains what strategies win and how late capitalism is reflective of the MPP. But then I pointed out the ways that transition type initiatives can beat late capitalism on the same metrics, enabling communities to fund their rebirths.
It seemed pretty well received.
I realize it’s frittering at the margins compared to the piece above, but on the other hand it feels like there is a shot to actively combat the decaying system in a way that provides livelihoods and meaning for others, including myself. If we’re going to go down at least we might as well have fun doing it.
Many will call it the doomer view but the reality is that the sun will burn out one day and so will human life..
Optimism is not about getting what you want but about bonding with people and getting the opportunity to use one’s best skills and feeling useful somewhere, somehow. It’s about the travel and not about the end destination.
This brings us to the idea that if you don’t have the skills or inclination to make it in the leading status quo group, you will probably have a better life following the spin-off group that needs and recognizes your skills.
The toughest part is accepting that your skill set might never make you good money… that is a tough one to swallow in an economic world where one’s personal worth is linked to one’s monetary worth.
Or even worse, that you are good at what makes you money right now.
I had a coworker who is a young, conscientious, Phish type stoner. He was saying that he can’t wait for the world to collapse so he can move to a farm. I asked why he had to wait until the world collapsed and he said because he was bad at farming but good at his (meager income) research job, so it was too hard to justify leaving. The way he figured it, whenever he had a hard time he’d lament giving up the easy life for the scrabble based one.
Protons, electrons…. Most people believe their brain gives them free will when, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a slightly more advanced form of attractions and repulsions.
Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!
Too much twilight of the gods, not enough facts.
” I have been forced to review the key lessons that I have learned concerning human nature and collapse over the last 20 years. Our collective behavior is the problem that must be overcome before anything can be done to mitigate the coming global social collapse.”
Ok, lets stop here. Why has the writer been forced? He doesn’t say. What key lessons has he learned? Ditto. Why just 20 years? Why not look back over a longer time (history, that is)? He doesn’t say. Then we get the “problem”, flatly stated with no supporting reasons. “Our collective behaviour”. Who do you mean “we”, paleface? And what “coming global social collapse”? Did I miss the memo?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, both individuals and nations are facing major problems. Yes, there are problems that are possibly the biggest ones faced by individuals and groups since ever. Yes, it feels like “we” are not facing up to our collective responsibilities of presevation of life for ourselves and our children. But the author is not helping with this opening paragraph of rhetorical flourishes.
All processes have beginnings, middles and ends. While the Indus Civilization declined, so have all others. The modern attempts to apply social science to make adaptive changes have never really had political power. 20th Century social science does not want to be included in future poetry anthologies with clever titles such as: Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! The call to design, to design with nature, to plan or be planned for comes up against the hard limits of the existing dominant culture. To break free was a personal and political struggle that exploded in the 1960s that now is relegated to sound bites of derision. The biologists who studied ethology were frequently quoted by Timothy Leary to explain the imprinting of behavior onto the brain that comes with being born. To overcome the social conditioning, the socialization of American materialist society certainly does take more than reading your way towards sanity, pleasure and happiness. But the return to the norm seem unavoidable in the absence of real alternatives. Hence, the dire need to build an alternative America by every which way possible, including communal cooperatively owned households, community development corporations with food coops as a center piece of economic activity, along with too many to mention other new institutions that have now become standard politics. Everything but the restructuring of the economic relationships that still must adhere to the capitalism, even the New Deal capitalism of the mixed economy.
In reviewing the select literature for arguing that there is a biological dead end for humanity by self destructive behavior produced by our large brains thinking us all to death, I would say, only if you believe in Homo Sapiens. Our large brain has capacities, that I would argue, transcend thinking, or language manipulation alone. Wittgenstein made a similar critique when he said: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” But again, as the police have realized they are not going to arrest their way out the problems of society, we are not going to read our way into a new way of living. But certainly, while we are stuck with the world that we have now, we need to begin the project of how do we live in world of fixed material resources and expanding population. And even if we check the population expansion by hook or by crook, expanding desires for consumption still must face fixed amount of resources.
Homo Ludens or Man The Player, is another view of humanity, not the ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN Cogito Ergo Sum of Descartes, following in Newton’s one eyed sleep. John Huizinga writing in the 1930s run up to Nazism produced an argument that play is a necessary but not sufficient creative generating component of culture and civilization. That the freedom expressed in play is transcultural and allows for the development of culture in general due to formal rules being proposed for a way of living and behaving outside of the actual real world people have to inhabit at any place or time. In play acting at something that is fun, with no real consequences, you can try out something that may grow to become an institution over time as it is learned from and incorporated into the behaviors of a people. On this site, there is a frequent derision of faux progressives, an absentee Left. Everyone is hypercritically demanded to explain themselves in case they may imply a fondness for the Democratic party, which is of course is somehow seen as completely identical to the Republican party as far as the political economy goes. Your radicals have not been playing by the rules. They have not been the noble savage or the magic Negro. They have not been the untouchable paragons of incorruptibility. They may have even been wallowing in nonsense. And on this site, there is no greater nonsense than identity politics. Gays and feminists can be part of the oppressive politics as much as a WASP. Yeah, we know, Roy Cohn, the relentless aide to Sen Joe McCarthy, Democrat from Wisconsin.
I would argue that just maybe, maybe people who dropped out of status games of Wall St, Washington DC were playing at a New America. One where you have less of chance of being beaten to death because you are gay and everyone around you knows. One where you have a better chance of surviving breast cancer, because they are now doing medical research focusing exclusively on women, and THEIR specific problems. Marching for the cure, any cure for almost anything now, is a standard street protest, where thousands of people can be seen marching throughout cities and towns and regions across America. And the national guard is not called out to quell the massing numbers. And today, the 2nd state has legalized commercial sales of marijuana in Washington and NY is the 23rd state to approve medical marijuana. In the 1970’s, the federal government sent military air craft into Mexico to poison the marijuana crops with a DEADLY chemical known as paraquat. The pot was harvested and distributed, mainly to blue collar and lower middle class kids who smoked it any way. Thanks again to Nixon, the gift of oppression that keeps on giving. We’ve gone from poisoning the controlled substance in a war on drugs to selling openly for recreational and medical use.
So while the elites seem impervious to change due to their hard wired brains, I am seeing changes I can believe in. At the same time capitalism was developing, it developed along side a feudal order. It grew and incorporated more and more territory across political boundaries due its commercial trade. It now seems to be in decline, but what will replace it? If you are not right now doing more than reading your way to social change, and from what I read here, plenty of people are doing more, you aren’t doing much. Knowledge serves a purpose in action. There is more than enough out there to try out. You may even try registering to vote and voting. SHUDDER!!! That is an action, as opposed to criticism, denouncements which people in power certainly aren’t going to pay any attention to anyway. That’s because their brains are hard wired. The people who are making America a radically different place today may not be locking up Jamie Dimon, but then that’s your thing. I suggest you figure out some new way of dealing with it on your own. Attacking people for not rising up in political opposition for you self appointed cause is just another way of making the same invisible people all over again as invisible. As if their achievements self directed and self defined to give themselves someplace, any place at all in America that comes with dignity and respect is not at all important due to its foundation upon identity. Most of these identities are forced upon the subject group by the dominant culture, not the other way around. An inclusive society would not have these harsh boundaries separating the races, the sexes, the classes without that terrible history of various institutionalized oppression that is part and parcel of America, and what all of a sudden, it seems to be shedding in so many key areas. I would suggest that these substantive changes are a prelude to other greater restructurings. It is up to the finance types to come up with the replacement institutions, such as public banks or a National Infrastructure Bank. It is not so much that everything will just collapse as if we are heading into the sun, building alternative financial institutions and using them to finance projects will show how it can be done here and now. The same way that we can end the naked aggression of the war on drugs against one another. The moral equivalent of war may be dawning right now.
Brilliant reply–I won’t have to cogitate on this too much.
To be simplistic, any species which can create the destruction of WW2 then top it by inventing atomic weapons must have a self destruct wish to be fulfilled in the near future.
The species did not start and pursue WWII, and then build the bomb. People did that.
The species, the rest of the People, did/could not stop the few … and, in the case of WWII, were absolutely enthusiastic in their support of the few who perpetrated and carried it out. EoinW’s comment may be oversimplified to the point of banality but it unfortunately points to the deeper truth. We have not settled on a mechanism of governance that provides counter-balancing forces to the war-lords and their sponsors.
The species, the rest of the People … That’s a category mistake, which was my point. “The People” is a political/historical category; “species” is an inherently a-political, un-historical category.
Evolutionary biology may well explain human behavior, but it does a poor job of explaining human history, and only attempts to do so by ripping actual human existence from its specific political and historical context.
Humans are unusually sociable and pacific animals. We’re also the only creatures on the planet that make war. There’s no “war gene” any more than there’s a “global warming gene.”
Yes, the governments in World War I were concerned that many young men who had been “infected” with socialism and other anti-establishment ideals would not rally to the colors, but in the summer of 1914 rates of non-compliance, desertion, and evasion of the call-up were minute. People in this thread seem to lose sight of the fact that as Marx said, men make history, but they don’t make it out of whole clothe de novo. We are severely constrained by our history, our biology, our psychology, and our culture.
If peak oil and climate change are real, and given that radical steps have not been taken and no one can tell me if or when they will be taken, then disaster looms. When that disaster comes all the personal freedom/give peace a chance/I’m an individual and won’t go along talk will be worth a bucket of warm spit. As the author points out, when the gangs of dimwits strike, you better have numbers, organization, and weaponry to deal with them–they are not going to be rational and peaceable. They are going to be like Balkan and African warlords. What I think, what I believe, what I want or would prefer, will mean nothing. But, I guess it’s easier on the conscience and the ego to imagine that it won’t happen here, or won’t happen to me, or won’t happen in my lifetime, or, the real kicker, it doesn’t really happen and all that this guy says about history and biology is a crock of shit. But I’d check out Diamond’s Collapse and the Chaco Canyon cannibal victims before I chortled too loudly.
Back during my salad days there was a popular book called The Population Bomb that predicted widescale starvation by the 1980s. A summing up from Wikipedia:
And yet this didn’t happen. New methods of agriculture using chemical fertilizers hugely increased food output.
Going even further back into the 1950s and 1960s there was a strong belief among many that nuclear weapons would end life on Earth. The Bureau of Atomic Scientists extinction clock was at five minutes to midnight. But that didn’t happen either (perhaps through dumb luck).
While I mostly agree with the post’s notion that DNA is destiny, I think the further assertion that “humans have developed overly large brains and are in the process of thinking themselves to death” is closer to chicken little-ism. We, the apes with big brains, are evolutionarily unique and amazingly adaptable. I believe these problems will be solved.
Malthus predicted geometric growth for humans and atirhmentic growth for food, result starvation. Forgetting that humans grow food and more humans can therefore grow more food, and that our food consists of animals and plants, which are living things, and can also increase geometrically. However, the limit is arable land and energy of cultivation. So, we dodged Malthus’ bullet by opening the Americas to agriculture, and using petroleum for cultivation energy, fertilizer, processing and transportation of foodstuff. We won’t be able to do that a second time. Oil was exploited because it made people rich — rich as Rockefeller. Sustainable agriculture won’t make anybody rich.
JGordon argues that permaculture can feed the population of the earth, but that’s far from proven, and it looks like our population is still increasing while our arable land is decreasing. The scenario I envision is a few hundred, or a few thousand, intentional communities (tribes?) who see the writing on the wall and start now to learn to exist in a resource-based way, and when it all goes pear-shaped, a band of hungry armed guys will come along and kill the villagers, eat the food (and possibly the villagers), torch the place and go on to the next. And it won’t take a lot of them to destroy many many permaculture settlements pretty quick. Outgun them? Outsmart them? Be so remote they can’t find you? Ummm, don’t think there could be such a thing.
We are already failing to provide better than subsistence living for 2 billion people, with another 3 billion in rather precarious circumstances. The so-called ‘Green Revolution’ has long-since peaked, and in many areas of the world the downsides have arrived in the form of decreasing yields, too much dependence on high-cost, energy-dependent inputs in the forms of fuels and fertilizers and toxic sprays that wastes of all sorts are turning rivers, estuaries and oceans into alternatively dead zones or hyper-growth of nuisance/destructive plants, etc.
We are failing every day, in exchange for industrial farming, which never did produce better quality or quantity food than that intensely managed by experienced people.
Interesting post, but a little too lopsidedly depressing for me. Some reading of David Sloan Wilson supports this outlook but can also give one hope that in the short run anyway, as in a few thousand years, things could work out well; “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”
And in the long run we are all dead.
Let us honor the gardeners, perma-culturalists, and composters. Let us teach our young to perpetuate what can be saved in the face of energy-collapse. Even if all this pessimism is over-stated by an order of magnitude, all the smart money has endorsed its inevitability. Time to start with those who might make different personal choices if confronted with the truth. Even if it is two or three generations later than Hanson and friends imply, nothing will be harmed by some sensible preparation.
The “erosion of the social fabric” as a symptom of endtimes is an illusion caused by the refocusing of capital away from social benefit and towards selfish benefit. There are a lot of doomsayers out there these days harking different versions of this approaching endtimes (the end of innovation? Really?) but they all point back to the same source. Until we start once again to invest in ourselves, we are not going to make any progress. As it stands, we are moving backwards.
We may be able to improve our social relations, but we will have to do it under the twin stresses of climate change and peak oil, and in the end that means the forcible confiscation and redistribution of the assets we do have, because growth, as has been experienced over the past two centuries (and nothing like it has ever taken place before and is unlikely to take place in the future) is unsustainable. Those who have under the current dispensation are going to lose something, and history tells us that people don’t surrender their assets and advantages without a fight.
You can’t derive sociological or political conclusions about human societies, or predictions about the near-term future of a single species, from general principles in evolutionary theory or thermodynamics. This should be evident from the fact that these latter general principles have been true at all times and in all places, while the former phenomena exhibit a great deal of flux and variety.
I’m disappointed that Naked Capitalism is willing to promote this kind of crackpot doomer pseudo-science.
Agreed. This stuff is like trying to explain the outbreak of WWI by citing a supposed propensity in the human species to assassinate Austrian archdukes.
It presupposes a reductionist-materialist interpretation of consciousness which is by no means proven. The essay is interesting and worth reading, but it seems to be heavily shot through with a version of Predestination masquerading as science.
Nowadays, ocean travelers are more likely to encounter large beds of floating plastic debris than beds of floating flowers.
Yes, but the Jersey shore still has a fragrance!
I am, therefore I think…and some days, I think too much….here’s something to chew on, the Hindu concept of the Kali Yuga, our current age of degeneration, disease and warfare, the result of our collective karma (i.e., cause and effect):
“The definitions of Kali are many and multi-layered. Kali, depending on the context, can mean quarrel, conflict, strife, discord or contention. Therefore, these attributes have come to represent a defining way of life throughout the Kali Yuga. As testimony (glaring), the headlines of virtually every newspaper or news website clearly illustrates this unfortunate, but quite inevitable, fact of life. The very fabric of society, after all, has been woven in such a way so as to ensure that war and strife would come to dominate the entire age. And so it has … as the history books of every nation graphically portray.”
Well, the good news is that it will come to an end, for (I quote the I Ching here, Hexagram 36) “…evil must itself fall at the very moment when it has wholly overcome the good, and thus consumed the energy to which it owed its duration”.
I don’t buy the reductionist/materialist explanation of consciousness as a result of electro chemical impulses in the head. But even if I did, evolutionary biologists would have a lot of quibbles with this. It’s just predestination with materialist lipstick.
Eliminative materialism is an extremely peculiar doctrine. I’m not sure what accounts for its popularity.
If we are to have predestination myths uh, let’s have *better* predistination myths?
Carolinian – I support your assertions. Malthusians are wrong. We are monkeys with tools and a reactive species. We do design the tools to protect the masses after the fact of a rising death toll but it does happen. In 1914 there were 2 B people. Now, 100 years later we are at 7 B. Our brains are moving faster, we are nearing the end of our human evolution. We’re going back to the garden, evolving back to a point of energy. We’re punching holes into the 4th dimension, a place we really don’t understand.
Europeans discovered the America’s by chance to increase trade with Asia. Likewise, we have stumbled upon a new promised land using quantum physics. The need for physical resources ends in that place but I am certain new challenges will emerge in our next stage of evolution.
If the thesis of Ilargi is true that our destiny is hardwired into our DNA then what I am speaking of is part of that process. Could nuclear war kill 1/3 of us (a common historic death toll of war and disease) the rest will carry on. The weapons being thought of by those suppressed by natural selection and must outcompete make nuclear weapons a laughable joke. But I have found such thinkers aligned to our collective purpose rather than raw predators that take the rest of us down with them. Perhaps that is where the theory goes wrong. Just another Malthusian but I don’t discount Ilargi’s intelligence just his hyperbole.
Fear sells but more so does opportunity to benefit. Time to roll-out Operation Eternity.
To even say that ‘destiny is hardwired into our DNA’ is absurd in both an existentialist/materialist view as well as a Bergsonian/Whiteheadian ontological structure. If you’re a materialist, then the idea of destiny is just off the charts. It’s all a ‘random walk’.
Lots of smart comments on this NC post. Since Quantum references my own comment I will just clarify my view. DNA is destiny with regard to individual behavior, not in any grand historical sense. Meaning that humans organize themselves in a way similar to other social animals with leaders, followers, competition for sex, food, dominance. I also think traditional humanists are reluctant to acknowledge these animal impulses or somehow view them as primitive or shameful when they are a large part of what we are and shape much of our behavior.
So in that sense DNA is destiny because historical leaders or simple ordinary people were all acting according to these hard wired instincts. I certainly don’t believe that DNA is destiny in the sense of the crackpot racialist theories of the 20th century. Darwin was badly abused during that period.
At any rate I believe this interpretation may also be the basis for the doomer claims in the Ilargi article. And there’s something to that. But, scientific optimist that I am, I do believe science will in the end solve the problems that science has created.
From a broad selection of, er, amazing statements I will pick this one: “[T]raditional humanists are reluctant to acknowledge these animal impulses.” Read Macbeth lately? Or Lord of the Flies? Dear Lord.
You’re right. My statement should have been: traditional humanists are reluctant to acknowledge the SOURCE of these animal impulses.Which is to say traditional humanism was based on religion, man created by God etc. And it still is to some extent. When people say, for example, that Hitler was evil they are still using the language of religion– an earlier and very non scientific model for understanding the world. To a scientist there is only behavior.
Which is not to make a case for Hitler or to deny the value of ethics or judgments about good and bad behaviors. We are of course different from animals since those big brains allow us to apply reason to our animal impulses. It’s why humans rule the earth and also why I think the doomer prophecies are too glib. I’m just saying we need to take the realist position about how people behave and act accordingly.
And when the most deeply entrenched with immense power are effectively those that employ ‘science’, and scientists, to utterly insane ends? As in right now? We are currently running dozens, scores even of enormous live experiments on a planetary scale having given no thought whatever to all manner of impacts scenarios prior to roll-out. We already know enough about some of them to know they are lethal to our future absent immediate action. Certainly science is going to play an important role, but the problem is a political and moral failure of the entire elite, including scientists, to respond appropriately to the catastrophe staring us straight in the face.
This is going to take everything the human race has in it to pull together, and will be impossible if we in the developed world will not reduce our own footprint radically.
For further reading – it’s back in print. Sure seems to mesh with the article here:
I can see how objectors to Ilargi’s article make reasonable (and predictable) arguments against the theory of an evolutionary “hardwiring” of Human potentials and patterns of thinking and behavior. The weakest argument is the idea that there is a lack of “peer-reviewed” publishing to support the ideas. The objectors seem largely to be people who are “true believers” in the idea that professional “peer groups” are in fact “objective” – when it is obvious that they are not. I personally am very interested in the Nature of Belief and human resistance to changing beliefs and human tendencies to “believe first” – then find arguments to support adopted beliefs. I appreciate NC’s willingness to post articles looking at this phenomenon and in many areas including Health Care, Finance / Economic Analysis, Politics, Patriotism, Religion, for starters. I don’t think that any rational person can claim that any single religion is “The” only right belief, yet they believe and act as if it were. I am astonished at how economists choose a belief, join a belief group, and then only consider facts and arguments that support their adopted point of view (religion) and reliance on statements of authorities with similar faith. I’m astonished that MD’s and healthcare officials argue for the fill-out-a form evidence-based medicine concept. I’m astonished at how most economists adopt a set of assumptions and then don’t question them (religion). This applies to medicine, political questions, moral questions, economic questions – I truly suspect that people who object to the ideas in ilargi’s article (If they were truly were introspective) would admit that they are defending an adopted unalterable position..or they are just arguing for the money they make. Folks with this kind of attitude tend not to believe in Global Warming, Peak Oil, Social Safety Nets, Government Regulation for the public good in the use of resources, and they tend to argue in support of foreign military violence, and trust the NSA’s invasions of privacy. These folks tend to argue articulately with no intention of ever questioning their assumptions and beliefs.
The weakest argument is the idea that there is a lack of “peer-reviewed” publishing to support the ideas…
Agreed. We might still think the earth was flat if our ancestral scientists had waited for peer review. It’s often used as an arguing gimmick.
The article explicitly references peer-reviewed publications and the scientific tradition. It’s entirely legitimate to ask for evidence supporting its claims that meet its own criteria of credibility. If you have an alternative argument to make supported by some other kind of evidence, feel free to make it; what’s left is just an ad hom insinuations.
There can be a fine line between legitimate and hindering.
Peer review can serve as proof but lack of peer review does not prove a hypothesis is false.
The way arguments work is that when you make a positive claim, you have to provide evidence for it. When you make a positive scientific claim, you have to provide scientific evidence for that claim. If you make a positive claim without adequate evidence, you should expect that people will point out that you have done so. Crazy, I know!
I understand the concept. It’s just that with many commenters here, you nearly have to demonstrate everything, including proving the definition of every word.
A lot of the stuff here is not hard science. Good luck with trying to prove everything!
Personally, I don’t come here to have everyone prove everything to me. I come here to read different ideas and then I go around looking for my own proof.
I guess we all expect different things out of blogs.
Cave Echo Psychology: Relationships, Behavior & Law
Relationships are open loop dynamic equilibriums creating variables, separated only by the perception of time, gravity operating in closed loops. Mercenary marriage is a function of peer pressure because it’s a closed loop contract, specifically designed to maintain the status quo, feudalism in a duration mismatch.
Civil marriage and entitlement, with civil law to ensure control over the means of production, natural resources, has always been an extortion system, for those incapable of adaptation. Legacy FILO is just the seed of the gravitational field, adding layers to protect itself, from change.
Under feudalism, seeing is believing, so the participants group themselves by media polling, contracting attention spans to reinforce false assumptions. As a result, they can only communicate in the language of possession. Their job, debt as income for the middle class and debt as asset for legacy, with the upper middle class straddling the line, is who they are.
Civil law is not substantially more complex than a two-pole battery. Legacy families grant arbitrary monopoly licenses by doctrine, to whosoever exploits natural resources most efficiently, to the end of legacy, which is why civil marriage operates on superstition (which is also why you cannot transform lead into gold, directly). The system cannot see beyond its own self-absorption.
Civil law acts like a virus, a ponzi of diminishing return, because closed loop systems with increasingly fixed costs become prohibitively expensive with variability. Boeing can land itself under conditions of near zero variability, but, outside the collapsing empire of price and wage control, we do not live in a zero variability environment.
Tax tribute is just a feedback loop for money supply, pulling debt back which is not fully deployed to exploit natural resources. Whoever exploits human resources the best, to feed the ponzi, wins, lower taxes and more debt.
Physics and the economy do not work quite the way the critters are taught in school, by superstitious teachers, to confirm the status quo of feudalism. All you have to do to collapse a building straight down is ignite a small gravity bomb in the pit, shrinking space to ignite the chain reaction between pressure and heat.
Group security has always been an extortion ruse, perpetrated by insiders against outsiders, divide and conquer, until the pyramid turns on its head, at peak demographic participation. Blaming non-participants for system error ensures the status quo, until it blows up, and the corporate identity is changed to protect the guilty.
The Internet, like the telescope, is designed to focus on a biased past, to project a biased future, which is why the critters travel in circles. If you want to explore, you have to meet the universe in the future and build your instrument accordingly, to discount the past.
From the perspective of the universe, the planet is breeding humanity, and civil marriage is just a relativity circuit extending gravity in the distillation. Your job is to learn how to parent, to create variables and provide for the majority, leaving the latter behind to implode, when it seeks to take your children.
Prosperity depends upon adapting to grow the next generation, parenting, because the future is always becoming the present, not Fortune 500, State or Foundation, derivatives living in the past until they can’t. GDP simply measures the efficiency of exploitation by legacy technologies, replacing people with automation, on one side of the fulcrum.
The elderly dependent upon entitlements as income are getting liquidated by RE inflation precisely because the demographic ponzi is collapsing, and are accelerating the collapse from the bottom up, by crowding young people out of the market. For the dependents, it’s the worst possible scenario.
As much as you may prefer, cannot make choices for others, especially your children, and for every force, there is an opposing force. The empire crowds its side of the lever, packing density with peer pressure.
The feudalists have now printed debt on the backs of several billion slaves, to support a few million slaves higher in the pecking order. Feudalism always seeks order, with disposable automatons, new same as the old. Discount to adjust gravity, adjusting your position accordingly.
You have a strong force and a weak force, an open system and a closed system, operating across a fulcrum, producing gravitational and magnetic fields with nR compilation. Distributions are gears in the clock, and the association of elderly and young discounting inflation is the one that matters.
The law follows behavior follows relationships, except in the empire, which runs backwards under the line in a feedback loop, employing feudalism as a pendulum. The heap moves the gears in and out like a clutch, if you allow it. Order is actually separated by disorder, but don’t tell the superstitious efficiency crowd that.
The Fed is burning up its clutch trying to find a gear it discarded long ago, in the name of efficiency, which has since reorganized. When the old-timer rolls up, it’s quitting time, not before and not after. Quick beats speed, the dead, every time.
Certified, arbitrary stupidity is the low end, not the high end, as RE inflation and debt as income leads most to believe. The bank pays you in debt to become obsolete. The only difference between hardware and software is perception, a false assumption built into the clock. You can program with hardware and rewire with software.
The Nazis are always at war, with each other, and a crisis on their part is no reason for an emergency on your part. The empire is noise, trapped in its own time, racing to nowhere. You can resign yourself to join, get upset and then join, or build out your side of the fulcrum, in multiple dimensions, to complete the circuit.
The empire devalues work and costumes consumption as its replacement because critters have been doing that for thousands of years, and are getting pretty good at it, but the only difference among them is their attire. Parenting is not for the feint of heart, but if somebody(s) wasn’t pretty good at balancing the empire gravity, you wouldn’t be here.
Confidence and expertise is a sales pitch. God only knows what you are going to see next, or what you are going to need to complete the bridge. Don’t let a costume fool you, one way or the other. Optimism is a function of faith which is a function of experience.
My crime was encouraging my children to seek beyond status, for which the empire imprisoned itself. Just because the check engine light comes on does not mean that the oxygen sensor needs to be replaced, or that anything is wrong, but they change it every time, with the same result, experts in false confidence.
Kevin Earick – Thank you for the time for a fantastic commentary that integrated physics with observations of human behavior.
And the obvious will become apparent to the hopelessly occluded?
Oh crap, life’s a bitch, and then you go extinct! Hanson: “…since our thoughts are subject to physical law, we do not have the free-will to either think or behave autonomously … This [violent atavistic] behavior is entrained in our genetic material and will be repeated until we go extinct.”
Jay ‘Eyore’ Hanson has a sobering thesis with plausible historic evidence, but his apocalyptic doom is too absolute and dogmatic. Are our minds really unable to transcend the brain? Is our unused gray matter extraneous tissue; our unmapped DNA merely “junk”? Is McKenna wrong; are we as incapable of individual evolution as all other animals? Is humanity an evolutionary dead end? Is Hanson right and all mystics wrong? Rumi, Buddha, Jesus? Hanson presents theory as a religious creed, declaring the utter depravity of humankind, without meaning and purpose, but even worse, devoid of love and utterly beyond redemption.
I agree with Hanson’s alarmism but reject his defeatism. If we are so predestined to self-destruction and our thinking so predetermined, then why do the Mad Men of Manhattan spend so many billions on propaganda, on media monopolies, on lobbying and think tanks, on political bribes, and on slime-slick shysters like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?
Why? Because brainwashing works! Look at American culture: in large part prurient, greedy, violent, and ignorant. It’s no evolutionary accident that most Americans apparently believe crony capitalism, rigged trade, cartel money creation, and perpetual war is god’s will or the natural order of the universe. This is a concerted neoliberal construct that’s been drilled into us, convincing us to accept self-evident nonsense as received wisdom. Hanson would have us accept this dark perversion of fundamental reason and intrinsic human nature as inevitable and immutable. NC then might as well close its doors and refer readers to the Heritage Foundation, that hideous spawn of the late, unlamented, Richard Mellon Scaife.
No way! History rhymes, yes, but humanity has progressed far beyond the Darwinian jungle, and we are not hopelessly doomed to repeat it. We are not dinosaurs or saber-tooth tigers. When the next crisis comes, the outcome will be determined by the soundness of ideas that gain traction at a critical point. We cannot just give up, and allow the same perpetrators to repeat their recurring crimes once again. That probably would be an extinction event.
and just what physical laws are our thoughts subject to? other than a living, responding body?
If you want failure, study failure. If you want success, study success. You can learn from failure, and should, but it does not tell you what to do, only what not to do.
Obviously, we should not do what we are currently doing.
The basic mistake Hanson makes is common to nearly all Western thinkers: He assumes that there is nothing between our conscious thoughts and “hard-wired” biological drives. But a cursory review of history or anthropology would show that this is wrong, and human possibilities are far richer and various than we are so far willing to believe.
Let me move to specific cases. The native people of North America lived in sustainable societies for thousands of years. Even more to the point, the aboriginies of Australia are thought to have created their own collapse, much as we are doing through overshoot and resource depletion, and then found a sustainable way of life that did not consist of endless cycles of overshoot, crashing, and burning. If we are serious about our predicament, we should be learning from them, including learning how they thought and what they valued in life that made them successful.
Admittedly, it seems likely we will do nothing of the sort. The collapse of Rome provides an easily comprehensible model for us to emulate. But there is nothing “hard-wired” about such an emulation, only social choice–which is social.
It is not at all sure that we can find our way to a sustainable way of life, but given that such ways are already known, our failure will be social, not physical–for their are no physical obstacles, only social ones.
But if you care about this subject, you should be putting your mind toward understanding the goal, and understanding and overcoming the social obstacles to reaching the goal.
In this light, our situation is difficult–very difficult–but not theoretically impossible.
And we already know where to start.
Some people make it so much easier to realize why the human intellect is incapable of accessing Reality.
I think if we go a little deeper and consider some of those physiological bases, it might both explain and give some direction.
You could say reality is the dichotomy of energy and form/information. Energy manifests form and form defines energy. The tension is that while energy is dynamic, form is static and so energy is constantly creating and dissolving form. This creates the effect of time, such that energy goes from past to succeeding forms, form goes from being in the future to being in the past.
This is expressed physiologically, with the central nervous system to process form/information, while the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems process energy.
This dichotomy can be considered in terms of a production line and product. While the product goes from start to finish, the production line consumes raw material and expels finished product. So the timeline of entity of the product goes from being in the future to being in the past, while the process goes from past entities/events, to succeeding ones. Biology is like that as well. The individual goes from birth to death, while the species is constantly growing new individuals and shedding old ones.
As individuals, we experience change as a sequence of events and so think of time as the point of the present moving from past to future, but the larger context is change turning future into past, ie, tomorrow becomes yesterday because the world turns. This makes time an effect of action, similar to temperature. Time is to temperature what frequency is to amplitude.
We have two hemispheres of the brain, the left, linear, rational and the right, emotional, intuitive, non-linear. Essentially the left is like our experience of time, a sequence of events, by which we order the experience of our lives. The right side is more of a thermostat and emotions act as a scalar, like temperature, or pressure. That’s why we experience them is terms such as hot/cold, stress/boredom, giddiness, depression, etc. Insights arise when the various elements flowing around our subconscious combine in that stew of details.
Now societies also function in this linear/thermal dichotomy as well. Movements, such as cults, religions, nations, corporations, etc, exist as entities and so must maintain a singular coherence, even if it is within a larger network, like cells in a body. Otherwise, if it starts to break down, then the form disintegrates and the energy is absorbed by others. Yet within a healthy system, this is a necessary process, because those which don’t, become cancers, or otherwise diseased tissue.
So what we need to do is to find a way for humanity to transition from being top predator in a collapsing ecosystem, to central nervous system to a planetary organism and in many ways, this would be something of a religious movement, in that understanding that sense of self, which is the essence of our being and the source of our drive for self preservation, is also the same elemental spirit motivating all of life on this planet.
It’s not so much a God, which is the spirit as an ideal from which we fell, but the spirit as essence from which we rise. Bottom up, rather than top down spirituality. The new born babe, rather than the old man. The source, not the apex.
Knowledge then is a feedback loop with our environment and fundamentally subjective, since perspective requires a point of perspective. Too much information quickly becomes noise, rather than more signal.
This goes back to the problems of current theological models, in that as institutions, they lack fundamental reset buttons. Christianity originated as something of a reset to Judaism(God as Father, God as Son…) and in fact was used as an analogy by the ancient Greeks for their tradition of the Year King, which was sort of an annual renewal, yet the inherent revolutionism of this was successfully buried by the church and the trinity came to symbolize other, more academic distinctions, than past, present and future.
Consider the problems Islam is currently having, since it had originally been a very successful cultural and political movement and having coasted on that for centuries, is having trouble getting past old animosities, as it deals with a more technologically advanced world.
We have to learn and respect why we die. Why nature has to keep resetting in order to thrive.
Could go on, and on, but pushing the cease button here. This is a topic for much consideration, as the old order breaks down in this building heat wave of chaos.
A most thoughtful comment.
I appreciate the emphasis on the importance of energy in biological and social systems, but a great deal of the “genetic” stuff is quasi-scientific. Genes are the tools that make the structure (more or less) not how that structure is used (particularly for humans with our capacity to reflect and think critically). Environmental factors greatly influence how these biological machines are used. Sure, we do have many tendencies that can be linked to genetics in some way but to consign our fate to genetics ultimately relieves us of any duty to change our terrible habits, which are the result of poorly structured environments (political, cultural, etc., environments). Dinosaurs could not (as far as we know) reflect on their being too large to sustain themselves, same goes for sabre-tooth tigers and their soon-to-be maladaptive jaws. What makes our apparent short term existence on this planet all the more inexcusable is our ability to reflect on our shortcomings and needs. People have exhibited the ability to behave in a disciplined and principled manner throughout the ages. This behavior understood and repeated can, in turn, make our world more rational.
As i took to saying years ago, put three people in a room and you have politics.
It sickens me whenever i see what is close neighbors constantly jockeying for that marginal difference in social position. It strikes me as so wasteful i feel like screaming.
I don’t know. This maximum power thing strikes me as being way too similar to value added theory. Simply replace “power” with “profits” and you’re there.
The central problem with value added theory is the argument that the need for profit it the drive behind all economic activity. This simply isn’t true. For one thing, it’s a money centric position that ignores our biological natures. If it was all about maximizing our values – why eat? It would be better to save that money and invest it in something that provides a fiscal return. We eat because we need to eat in order to survive.
My initial reaction is that MPP risks falling into the same trap. For one thing, it implies a system has an end goal – to maximize its consumption of power within its environmental limitations. But biological systems have no will, no goal, nor any designs. They exist to survive and survive in order to continue existing.
Once we challenge this assumption, the whole argument falls apart, like pulling at a loose thread.
And as someone else pointed out – the competitive model is not the only model out there. We see natural systems also engage in collaborative systems. And what makes man the dominate animal is our socialization. It is our ability to collaborate and organize that has enabled man to dominate.
Step one needs to be challenged because it appears to start with a presupposition, “all group behaviors are biased by MPP.” Sorry, I am not buying the argument at this time. It’s the cart, where is the hoarse pulling it?
The overshoot argument as presented here is also not entirely accurate. It ignores the reality of a dynamic environment and the presence of stabilizing mechanisms. A healthy community will have the ability to react and mitigate short term stresses. Preparation and anticipation for lean times increases the ability to deal with stressed environments. Boom times doesn’t necessarily lead to overshoot as it could also produce to refilling or expanding reserves.
Overshoot tends to be the consequence of momentum, and is far more relevant when considered in the shadow of the industrial revolution. Human populations were largely constrained and contained by naturally evolved constraints that were resulted by limited sources of energy – mostly biological labor from man-labor or beast-labor.
Once artificial labor was realized by burning non-bio-fuels (fossil fuels such as coal & oil), vast reservoirs of new energy not limited to biology were made available. Our ability to consume energy was restrained only by our technology. When placed in such excess growth is bound to take off. Only then dose overshoot becomes inevitable.
This debunks step two because with the industrial revolution, there effectively want any limitation on available energy. The population and economy grew as fast as possible to exploit this new area without any thought of pending constraints.
Step three, four, and five our just variants of starvation driven collapse or contraction. When resources become scares, competition for reaming resources inevitably becomes competitive and deadly. But strive is not a requirement. Even if you have a society that manages to stave off any and all forms of social instability, the lack of resources will force contraction regardless. If the excess population is not killed of violently, then the population will be reduced by famine.
Violent conflict actually can be a stabilizing effect by aggressively reducing the population’s size before reaming resources are consumed beyond the point of recovery.
This point has been made in criticism to humanitarian efforts, especially in areas dominated by “persistent famine.” The importation of food and other resources slows the population’s contraction, making resource collapse inevitable in the long term.
My conclusion is that I remain skeptical that man’s impending demise is baked into his DNA and evolutionary heritage. We are not “thinking our selves into oblivion.” I would instead point the finger at the dominant pyridine of growth at all costs, which commands us into an overshoot reality.
The industrial revolution has changed the energy portfolio of this super organism, rendering existing controls as obsolete. However, unlike the saber tooth cat which likely hunted itself into extinction. Our intelligence gives us the ability to reconsider population controls and to regulate growth within the envelop of our resources.
Just another article singing the TINA mantra! There are numerous Alternatives to the world’s corruption of human activity, non of which are in the interests of those in power! If humans were political, things would be different! Humans are herded like the animals we all are and those in power know that to be true! Few are capable of critical thinking, the rest too brainwashed to question authority or even care!
What a bunch of tripe. This one really sticks out:
“We use scientific warnings, like all inter-animal communications, for cementing group identity and for elevating one’s own status (politics).”
Yup, all that yapping about Global Warming is just those egghead scientists trying to “elevate” themselves over the bible thumping rednecks in flyover country. That is what ALL “inter-animal communications” are for!
This isn’t genetic determinism, it’s game theory determinism. But we’re not any less doomed. Just look at how far we as a society devolved from the relatively enlightened (at least for whites) 1950s and 60s. I don’t know how the thermodorean swing is possible without a series of great calamities. And that’s a best case scenario in my mind.
It can be argued that the whites were never enlightened.
Yves – Lamarck would be quite pleased with your dinosaur teleology. Interesting you bring up Dollo however. Wouldn’t Dollo’s Law negate the “loop” premise of this piece if applied to behavioral evolution?
For some reason, I have been constitutionally unable to engage in collective behavior for most of my life. Probably because every time I did, I regretted it. There was no payoff in being a lemming, either before or after the cliff.
If the non-collective among us survive (because we know what NOT to go along with) to form a NEW form of collectivism, a smart form which must convince us on its merits, not on its PR, then we will become Vulcans. Live long and prosper!