Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Artificial Resistance

As I've mentioned elsewhere, most of us seem to have developed a relationship with our artificial world similar to what we might with a natural ecosystem. We pursue their self-interest as defined by their equivalent of a niche – characteristics and activities that efficiently use a subset of the resources available to the system. In the artificial world, we display the amazing adaptability of our species by differentiating ourselves as predators, prey, parasites, or grazers, depending on the situations we find ourselves in.

This observation may explain the resistance experienced by those of us who question the sustainability (and even validity) of the artificial world. People react as if we are questioning a natural law, which from their perspective we probably are. There is also a lot of investment to defend, and expectations that drive virtually every aspect of their behavior. Even many of us who have glimpsed the larger picture find it very easy to lapse into such thinking, especially where we remain embedded in the artificial world and depend on it for our survival and the survival of those we care the most about.

In previous discussions, I've focused on the raw consumption aspect of sustainability, and in a crude way, what that consumption supports: increasing “happiness” along with its proxy, life expectancy. Those discussions have mostly ignored the real experience of life in our society, the complexity of interactions and environments that both create our artificial world and are created by it. The abstractions have real and ultra-significant counterparts in what is the essence of many people's lives, of my life. It is therefore no surprise that they are viewed warily, at best as thought experiments, at worst as sedition (for example, a conservative friend once told me that the reason I could continue writing such things was because I was too powerless to be considered a threat).

In my cynical moments, which are becoming more frequent, I'm inclined to view recent economic and political events is as a preemptive power grab by those with the most to lose if the artificial world is significantly modified. I have no doubt that many of them are smart enough to see the inevitability of such modifications if anything resembling civilization is to survive this century (or even, as I've argued, the next couple of decades).

By watching what they're attacking, it's obvious that they understand at least the outline of the modifications that need to be made. The Achilles heel of our system is arguably its promotion of hoarding and waste, which enables a decreasing number of people to have an increasing amount of personal power at the expense of everyone and everything else. By contrast, in a sustainable system (such as a healthy, natural ecosystem) very little is wasted, and everything else is effectively borrowed. To defeat any transition to sustainability, those who choose to hold on to power (or want some day to attain it) would try to maintain people's dependence on non-renewable resources for as long as possible, destroy or manage to own the elements of natural systems that might be enlisted to provide free resources and services, and undermine cooperation among people that can't be controlled economically or otherwise (thus enabling people to find more natural niches than the ones provided by the existing system). All these things are being done, with already devastating consequences.

When I'm feeling extremely cynical, I imagine (and write) that the people who worship power are simply following the logic of competition to its ultimate conclusion, where only a few people (“the winners”) survive, and everyone else dies. Whatever their motivation, the end result may actually be worse: with no one to take care of them, and the natural world in decline, they'll just be the last ones to die. To avoid total depression, I spend some quality time in denial, then resurface with hope that somehow enough people can be educated about the fatal flaws in their worldview that we can work together to create a future for all of us and maybe a few more generations.

1 comment:

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