A totally absurd, utterly impractical wish-list for 2022

#1 Scrap nukes

Why? Ballistic-missile-delivered nuclear warheads are the biggest, fastest, meanest weapons ever, and today there are thousands of them locked in each other’s crosshairs all around the globe. It wouldn’t take much – an unforeseen system failure, a geopolitical miscalculation, a rush of blood to the head of some incompetent nationalist military-political leader – for all hell to be let loose.

Why not? They keep the peace, don’t they? Ukraine relinquished its USSR-legacy nuclear weapons in 1994, under pressure from all sides, and look what it’s facing now. Taiwan was forced to terminate its own nuclear programme in the 1980s and might be in a more robust position today if it hadn’t. Honestly, which world-bestriding military power in 2022 would feel more secure without its nuclear arsenal?

Yeah, but… weapons are made to be used, and a horrible logic dictates that The Bomb will once again be brought into play, humans being what they are when they have too much power at their disposal. Also, manmade systems designed to prevent accidental launch are, like everything else in the universe, subject to Murphy’s Law. Whether triggered deliberately or not, the planet as we know it simply won’t survive an escalating outbreak of nuclear attack and counterattack.

Continue reading “A totally absurd, utterly impractical wish-list for 2022”

Winter’s discontent

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Shakespeare, Richard III

This may become the winter of our discontent as people around the world face a widening energy crisis, rationing because supplies are limited due to delivery shortages, production limits, cost, or by government mandate.  Continue reading “Winter’s discontent”

What we choose to focus on

What we choose to focus on becomes our primary reality. If we choose to become emotionally attached to that which we are trying to move away from – for example, if we become attached on an emotional and intellectual level to “winning the fight” against pollution and climate change – we may unintentionally perpetuate the violence we are committed to transforming. From the standpoint of the Elders, violence involves any actions, thoughts, feelings, or words that consciously or unconsciously sets one person against another, regardless of how well intentioned we are. … We must take the same bold actions to protect that which we depend upon and love, but do so from a place of positive vision, intention and compassion. The Indigenous Elders say that nothing is created outside of ourselves until it is created inside ourselves first.

Continue reading “What we choose to focus on”

What the IPCC report should have told us

The problem with the recent IPCC report is that it is still talking about ‘average’ changes over the earth, discussing what might happen decades from now as a result of increased rate of change. Even if the message is labeled “code red” or urgent, it is still understating what is already happening. We continue to flog a dead horse; the ‘dead horse’ being the fact that scientists are still trying to convince people that climate change is happening and our situation is getting worse.  People should already accept that this is true.  It isn’t the average changes that will happen over the rest of this century that are threatening us.  The earth’s climate has already destabilized to the point where abrupt, extreme weather events are already happening. It isn’t my poor diet that will kill me, it’s the heart attack. Continue reading “What the IPCC report should have told us”

Manifest destiny, restoration, and “the effort to speak honestly”

In speaking of lies, we come inevitably to the subject of truth. There is nothing simple or easy about this idea. There is no “the truth,” “a truth” – truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity. The pattern of the carpet is a surface. When we look closely, or when we become weavers, we learn of the tiny multiple threads unseen in the overall pattern, the knots on the underside of the carpet.

This is why the effort to speak honestly is so important. Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler – for the liar – than it really is, or ought to be.

Adrienne Rich

Continue reading “Manifest destiny, restoration, and “the effort to speak honestly””

yet another something to think about

After 49 years of going offshore fishing or working out of doors in the buiding trades have come realize that an old addage does indeed apply. There are many days when the sun rises so beautiful that you have to stop and just look, thank the cosmos for being allowed to see something special. Offshore there are days when the gods of the wind are kind, the seas are calm, the gods of machinery are happy, the gear comes up like clockwork and full of the finest kind of fish, scallops, shrimp, or lobsters. The gods of the hunt are favorable. Ashore there are days where the gang and materials show up on time, the weathers are good, people know what they are doing and do it, and the job comes together, again just like clockwork. The building gods are happy.

Then there are those days when you call the gang out of the bunk at 0300 after a loud bang and jolt because because the gear is hung down on a old wreck or a giant boulder, and it takes half the day to try and work it free before finally having a wire part off and only one door and half a net comes up, and most of all no fish. The gods of machinery and navigation were sleeping. Or the electrical gods are arguing and a generator goes on the fritz, or it starts snowing hard and the radars or the GPSs go down. Or the wind gods decide to blow and all of a sudden you are banging through 20′ seas hanging on with one hand and trying to do your work with the other.

Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. All in a days work they say, the good with the bad, the way it has always been. At the end of the trip or the end of the year you add it all up and pay the expenses and share up whatever is left. Nothing’s easy theory, or if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Dear reader if you are anything like me, or if your approach to living on this earth is anything like mine and those i see up close around me, then most of one’s energies have been focused on earning a living, raising and teaching a family, trying to be a good friend to those around you, generally trying to be a constructive responsible citizen. That’s how you do it, or at least it was until recently, because it may not be enough. Collectively the way we live has second order effects that are the opposite of the things that even the most aware, careful, and pono of us strive for.

In early February a new report came out from the UK Treasury – “Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”. Now there are so many papers, studies, and plans that get published every single day that it is near impossible to keep up with reading even the headlines or the abstracts. But this one might serve to truly change the way we need to think about our relationship to the world around us. And just maybe it should.

Here is a link to the main UK website:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review

There you will find both the short versions and the full report (26 MB) in pdf and html formats, and i believe it helpful to start with the basic outline “Headline Messages” (10 pages, 1.84 MB). I submit the link to this report in hopes that it may spark comments and insights from our loyal local readership, but make no mistake it is not for the fainthearted.

The Essential Latour

“It would certainly be a shame to lose too quickly all the benefit of what Covid-19 has revealed to be essential. In the midst of the chaos, of the world crisis that is to come, of the grief and suffering, there is at least one thing that everyone has been able to grasp: something is wrong with the economy.”

“Underneath the capitalists are the workers, and underneath the workers are living things!”

For a quick, painless intro to the relevance of Latour to the moment, he recently did a Guardian interview.  Even better is this essay just translated into English.

Also the Gedankenausstellungen (thought exhibition) “Critical Zones“.

On the Mauna

“I think,” my daughter Ua said gravely, ”I want to go up on the mauna.”  In Hawai’i, these words have a distinct and edgy meaning lately.

The mauna (mountain) she was referring to is Mauna Kea, where an encampment of kia’i (protectors/protestors) of the mauna have halted construction of a cutting-edge telescope  by occupying the access road. Continue reading “On the Mauna”

A Review of of Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth

“How could we deem ‘realistic’ a project of modernization that has ‘forgotten’ for two centuries to anticipate the reactions of the terraqueous globe to human actions? How could we accept as “objective’ economic theories that are incapable of integrating into their calculations the scarcity of resources whose exhaustion it had been their mission to predict? How could we speak of “effectiveness’ with respect to technological systems that have not managed to integrate into their design a way to last more than a few decades?  How could we call “rationalist’ an ideal of civilization guilty of a forecasting error so massive that it prevents parents from leaving an inhabited world to their children?” – Bruno Latour

Our rationality is leading us…to where? If rationality is a mental discipline, a method, then we must ask what purpose does it serve?  Where does it begin and where does it go to? If we don’t know in what our rationality is rooted and where it is leading us, then what good is it?  Or if our rationality is leading us somewhere that we don’t want to go, then it is worse than useless.

The anthropologist and historian of science, Bruno Latour, has written a political essay: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime. This brief but fascinating book begins by invoking the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “From the 1980’s on, the ruling classes stopped purporting to lead and began to shelter themselves from the world.  We are experiencing all the consequences of this flight, of which Donald Trump is merely a symbol, one among others.  The absence of a common world we can share is driving us crazy.” Continue reading “A Review of of Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth”

The ambiguous dreams of the techno-optimists

“Here’s one of my scenarios.  Let’s say there comes a time when human consciousness is readily uploadable into digital form, virtualized and so on, and pretty soon we have a box of a trillion souls.  There are a trillion souls in the box, all virtualized.  In the box, there will be molecular computing going on — maybe derived from biology, maybe not.  But the  box will be doing all kinds of elaborate stuff.  And there’s a rock sitting next to the box.  Inside a rock, there is always all kinds of elaborate stuff going on, all kinds of subatomic particles doing all kinds of things.  What’s the difference between the rock and box of a trillion souls? The answer is that the details of what’s happening in the box were derived from the long history of human civilization, including whatever people watched on YouTube the day before.  Whereas the rock has its long geological history but not that particular history of our civilization.

Realizing that there isn’t a genuine distinction between human intelligence and mere computation leads you to imagine that future — the endpoint of our civilization as a box of a trillion souls, each of them endlessly playing a video game, forever.  What is the ‘purpose’ of that?”

  — Stephan Wolfram, in Possible Minds, 25 Ways of Looking at AI, edited by John Brockton.

What is the purpose indeed.

Let’s just say that I hope we don’t have to wait until we’ve uploaded ourselves into some kind of general artificial intelligence to ask what the point of all this is. What is the purpose of all of our civilizational striving, our technological competitions, our race towards AI? Is it technological enabled ‘immortality’? Do we really want to put our souls in a box? But is this not the telos that our civilization seems to have chosen – this strange sterile vision of a purified, virtualized selves somehow made incorruptible through information technology? Our powers of symbolizing, of turning life into symbols, are turned upon ourselves. Do we not already treat each other – with our social media and big data – as symbols to be manipulated for profit?

As Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying in defense of his Blue Origin space project in the New York Times: “‘We will run out of energy,” Mr. Bezos said. “This is just arithmetic. It’s going to happen.’ At that point, to remain on Earth would require rationing and declining opportunities. But the rest of the solar system offers virtually limitless resources. ‘Do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘This is an easy choice. We know what we want. We just have to get busy.’”

In other words, if we refuse to renounce the cult of growth and figure out how to live within the limits set by this planet in these humble, imperfect, contingent biological bodies, then ipso facto we must escape both bodies and planet in a technological rapture, more or less as described by Bezos and Wolfram.

Perhaps it’s just me but I don’t find these visions appealing. Nor am I convinced that such goals will bring the best ROI, if we must speak in such terms. Why are we allowing ourselves to be led towards goals (AI, space colonialism) that are, at best, questionable and by leaders who seem rather stunted in their understanding of the possibilities and purpose of Life on Earth?