In a post on Horizons of Significance I’ve gone around on the subject, What Do I Want? It’s a recurring question. I’ve marveled before on how difficult it is to answer meaningfully. It has tended to leave me speechless more often than not. In the attempt to be meaningful it’s easy to err on the side of platitude, wishing for “World Peace” or simply, “That we just get along….”
Here, at Fine Lines, we’re supposed to maintain a firm contact with what can be done. Design deals with the possible or else it fails at the outset. Still, the most common error I find is to be chasing futility by holding to a false, empty pragmatism. There are times, comes a time, when doing something just because it can be done is worse than doing nothing.
In an attempt to thread this needle I want to talk about a set of requirements while allowing myself to range over how they might be constituted. Let’s start with what I think I know. We have three broad areas of necessity. We need an economy, we need a living – I was going to say ecology or ecosystem or some other neologism when I just realized the meaning I was after is already captured in the word economy. A gnomy of the eco, a knowledge of our house. No need to get fancier than that!
The trouble with the term as it’s presently understood is a misunderstanding, not a fault in the nomenclature. Human Economy is a subset of the Earth’s Economy – and by that I don’t mean globalization!
We need a viable economy then, one that measures costs and benefits without the ignorant fictions of tossing out the hard stuff and calling them externalities while playing games, whether Ponzi or power plays, to aggregate narrowly defined wealth while true self-interest is ignored. Within the scope of these activities; human, animal, vegetal and mineral; and our abilities as humans to measure their ebbs and flows and to cope – not manage, management is a Chimera –to cope with these dynamics; falls to a long-term project, one whose fulfillment cannot occur before we make it through a major restructuring of our debt. Countless and immeasurable externalized costs will be repaid. That point is not open for argument. Unlike the “Invisible Hand” of “Markets,” this truly is an Immutable Law.
Within this broadly delineated economy we humans need to find our way. Most of the old paths, perhaps all paths, are closing rapidly. This is change. Change is what happens. What we need to come up with is adaptation, not change. Sloganeering and its violence to language and meaning has failed us yet again.
Adaptation. It’s no wonder Darwin sat on his breakthrough for so many decades! Somewhere, in his “nature?” in his experiences and studies, he found patience, the patience to grapple with questions that have no simple answers, that throw so many of our accustomed adaptive mechanisms into disarray. We will be Epochs of Human History – if we have them – dealing with the collision between the realities he discovered and so much of what came before us.
Adaptation! Why else would I pay daily homage to fulfilling the needs of my dog, almost ahead of my own if I were to define my interest narrowly? She is a constant lesson in adaptation, in the dance of talents, abilities, strength, predisposition held in the closest harmony with the facts of her existence while doing what she can to fulfill her nature. Every moment she never loses sight of what are so glibly called the “facts on the ground.” She’s an example and a constant reminder and a lesson of a vision of life as more than survival while never losing sight of the shifting metrics through which survival is accomplished moment by moment.
Sadly, many dogs fall from this point of equilibrium into displacement activities and a merely despondent existence. Even more sadly, they do this in emulation of their human keepers who’ve equally lost all sight of life’s ways. While sad, it can’t be surprising, at a time when arguably the most intelligent species that’s ever lived on this Earth focuses more energy, both mental and physical, on seeing to the most massive over-reach that’s ever occurred on this Earth. It would be how many orders of magnitude worse if this were us acting at our best?
Here is where hope lies. We are an experiment, an experiment on whether intelligence coupled with awareness can cope with the powers these qualities unleash, and find a way to continue life’s project on Earth. Here is the gulf we feel in relation to the rest of nature and that apparent gulf is our greatest predicament. It’s also such a grand wager! On this rock, four and some billions of years old, to have Beings aware of it all, of what’s happened, of what’s been accomplished, and all that’s at stake! To have Beings that experience all this with self-conscious awareness and an ability to pass along the fruits of that awareness, not only in a series of “ACGT’s,” in a code of four variables; but one of 26!
The Victorians saw Darwin’s Nature “Red in tooth and claw!” Basically transferring their unexamined sense of themselves onto the mother of their being. What Darwin teaches is that above all else, Nature is Patient. Not clever, not violent per se, not omniscient; patient. Any time scale can be “all the time in the world” or “no time at all!” It’s merely a matter of punctuation. Nature has divided these billions of Earth’s revolutions about the sun into moments short enough to turn that time – along with a few billion years to come – into Eons of time, at least from the perspective of the life-forms inhabiting it. What are merely “half-lives” to some elements have been long enough to play out entire Epochs in the arc of whole families of living things. A process that went by unexamined until this most recent instant in all that time, our instant.
We’re beneficiaries of all that time. It’s given us the “raw materials” and the stored energy to burn our way through our species adolescence. This time has given us experiences, both laudable and horrible, that will work to temper our maturity – if we ever reach it. It’s been a gamble. Earth’s nature has invested not just our species, but much of all of its slow, deliberate development has been put at risk in this project. If we fail, at this point even if we succeed, so much has already been lost.
In this time when so much palaver has been vented on “gaming,” and whole economies teeter on the outcomes of sketchy wagers; we seem to curiously lack “the stomach” for accepting the terms of this wager.
I’ve ended up combining the first two of what I had thought of as our three necessities; A viable Ecosystem and a viable Human Economy. I now see these as being just divisions of one concern. We tend to look at this, when we give it any thought, as some grand macro-economics dealing with enormous aggregations. It is that but it also includes our individual lives and the myriad of “micro” movements and decisions and actions we each take in finding our own ways across the landscape. In the end, as sentient creatures – creatures that feel, that sense their world as an engagement that is that of a flesh within flesh – this is the only part that is really “Real.”
Before getting to those details, let’s fill in what I had thought of as the“Third” element of our necessities. Security. The first two, or the Economy taken to incorporate them both, have to do with Being. This third has to do with maintaining a Presence. We go from the realm of inhabiting the world to the realm of defending our existence against competing interests and chaos acting either through external agencies or even within our very fabric and flesh. This realm also extends from the most macro levels to the most micro. It has to do with providing ourselves with continued access to that which is good for us while protecting us from whatever wishes us harm.
The questions of Human and an Earth economy are being grossly misinterpreted today, and much of our activity in their regard is counterproductive. The same can be said of this latter question. Security as it is now embodied has become the realm of the oxymoronic! We chafe at the absurdities of the ways we collectively strive to achieve Security even as we demand more and more of what so manifestly does not work. The level and scale of the dis-conformity between what we desire and the means we use, even the shifting creep of our desire from a laudable expectation of a “chance” for continued existence, into demands for “guarantees” that our most vapid fears be answered not with derision and the demand that we “buck-up!,” but that they be taken as all the reason needed to erode away any vestiges of Justice or Humanity, so we may feed the Lizard’s Cortex within.