Friday, July 9, 2010


A charge often leveled at molecular biologists is that they are too focused on cells to understand organs, organisms, species and ecosystems. Particle physicists are similarly accused by condensed matter physicists or system theorists of failing to see emergent phenomena by focusing too narrowly. In the affairs of humans, new age psychologists could benefit from a sociological and historical viewpoint. Movements such as The Forum, or The Work seem to focus too much on individual psychology, without the benefit of the larger view. I am not a great scholar of psychology, and so I am only aware of two psychologists who had this larger viewpoint--Erich Fromm and Paul Goodman, and both were much more than psychologists. There were and are many feminist sociologists who also made forays into psychology.

I just read one of these, Susan Faludi's "Stiffed-The Betrayal of the American Man". Faludi is a journalist, but also a sociologist, as she goes beyond reporting to making hypotheses about her reporting. I found the book engaging and insightful, an example of how feminism is still vibrant. There are several hypotheses, skillfully hammered home by a plethora of supporting evidence, akin to molecular biology papers that support their hypotheses through multiple experiments until there are no objections (did you think of this possibility--yes, and here is the experiment) remaining.

The first hypothesis is that the economy in the US shifted from primarily producing things to primarily producing images.
The second hypothesis is that masculinity used to be defined, pre-WWII by being of use (of service) to one's community, by teamwork and loyalty to one's society and that as the economy shifted away from production towards image, it also shifted from teamwork and loyalty to individualism and competition with one's fellow workers.

Why is service so important? We seem to be deeply social animals who find serving others deeply gratifying. And what kind of service? Service to a family, to the state, to a community, to a planet? Or service to one's highest calling? These can sometimes be antagonistic. A community may not want to support a mathematician or artist when there are food shortages or enemies on the border. What the state demands may be antagonistic to what the best interest of one's offspring are. And there is a difference between voluntary service and socially or state- imposed service. The peasants in Russia would probably have loved to share if they hadn't been forced to. Similarly, if society expects a man to be a provider for his family just because he's a man, it may be counterproductive. Or when one is forced to have sex from economic necessity, it is not usually as pleasurable as when done out of love. Men naturally want to be useful, of service, but they have to figure out to whom and how by themselves, without social expectations.

The third hypothesis is that sons need fathers to teach them useful skills and a relationship with their fathers that this passing on of skills entails, and that barring such a relationship (brought about by consumer culture) they experience a lack of meaning and abandonment issues.

I pondered how all this fits into my personal life. My father was never a silent or unemotive man. Luckily I did not get that kind of gender curse. I don't feel betrayed by him, I don't feel betrayed by the culture (like it owes me a job or a community). I have been trying to create my own work, so I am not dependent on the culture, and my own community. But I do feel like the culture is messed up in many ways and that is not on the side of joy, peace and justice.

My son probably feels somewhat betrayed and abandoned by me, and the feeling is mutual. I would love to get him back from the Eye of ornamental consumer culture. I would love to leave him a world of life, instead of what I perceive to be a world of death. I would have loved to teach him physics or biology or even a craft, but I am not a craftsman. I would have loved to pass on to him the values of service and a community that he could be part of.

The fourth hypothesis is that masculinity changed into what feminists used to complain about: becoming not of use but used by commercial interests (or by other interests), as in on display. I am guessing that being used as a baby making machine or a sex object feels about the same as being used as an ATM--horrible.

In my own life, I feel used by the culture (with my ex-wife being but a pawn expressing the prevailing view) to provide money that my son does not need. I am reduced to an image of an ATM instead of being able to focus my energy on being of true use to my son, the planet and the larger community.

These hypotheses are nested like layers of an onion, which Faludi calls layers of masculine betrayal. Each deeper layer psychologically affects the shallower one above it. Men's economic privilege going down is the outer layer of betrayal. The useful, productive jobs are mostly gone, replaced by slaves abroad, machines or service jobs (but not so much service to people as service to corporations). Underneath this layer is the layer of loyalty to something bigger than oneself (community or corporation) and integrity. Underneath the betrayal of loyalty and integrity to and from the community or corporation is the layer of betrayal by fathers who are absent or silent, who did not pass on a patrimony. And underneath that layer is a layer of the Eye of Sauron (my analogy, not Faludi's), media culture, always observing, always objectifying, commodifying both men and women.

I think there is at least another layer of betrayal, underneath the eye of Sauron. Why is it that people buy into consumer culture and are so mesmerized by images? I think at the root is the need for comfort and security, of which I've written before. Consumer culture loses its power when one no longer seeks what it offers, or can find it in other ways.

Faludi's concluding fifth hypothesis is that instead of trying to fit social expectations of what it means to be a man, it is more gratifying (for a man) to seek to be useful to a community of men and women and to seek one's bliss, and that this is also the task of women that feminists have been pointing out for a long time.

Why is being an image so bad? It is because the image is two dimensional, it has no depth, and it does not come from a place of creativity and goodness. It comes from trying to make money or manipulation. It does not contribute to real wealth, but only fictitious money. It is not concerned with what is really happening to produce basic needs, if it hurts other creatures or people, it is selfish. Imaging might be something that happens naturally in conscious systems, but this culture has carried it to hellish extremes.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

mathematics of speciation

In standard evolutionary theory, every species is trying to optimize its fitness function, within a certain environment. But in reality, most of the environment is determined biotically by other species. Let's assume that for simplicity, for now. The situation is each species is trying to optimize its multivariate fitness function, where it only has control over a few variables (geographic location, DNA, etc) and the other species control the rest of the variables (food availability, CO2 concentration, predation, etc). It seems to me that there is only one fitness function since when two species diverge they have the same fitness function and so there is no reason to speculate more than one function with different domains. But one can consider a function of only the variables under a particular species' control, call it the reduced fitness function. These functions can be different for each species, and they are time dependent. The definition of a species is a domain around a local maximum of the reduced fitness function, separated from other maxima by mountain passes. This avoids all the problems encountered when one defines species only by reproductive isolation.Speciation can occur in two different ways.

In the first, there is a temporary reduction in fitness as an emergent species goes downhill for a while, through a mountainpass to another peak.

In the second, two populations which have the same value of the fitness function but are separated a bit by one or a few of the control variables have their reduced fitness function change in different ways due to other species attempted optimization of their reduced fitness function. They both go uphill at all times, with no need to reduce their fitness, unlike in the first case.

It would be neat to come up with actual numerical examples of how this could happen. Perhaps there are topological constraints making certain things impossible. Perhaps it is necessary to introduce an abiotic element (meteors, solar flares, etc) in order for the second situation to be possible.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Does happiness come from within?

In keeping with the last topic, I will talk about a different kind of foundation. The psychologist Abraham Maslow thought that happiness can't be achieved unless a hierarchy of needs are met(physical needs are the foundation, then psychological needs of various levels). The psychologist Victor Frankl, on the other hand thought that people can choose to be happy even if other more basic needs are not satisfied, as was often the case in concentration camps (basic needs not being satisfied). If one believes Maslow, then one is compelled to improve the physical, ecological and social conditions of the world, as happiness, one's own and others' depends on these external conditions. If one believes Frankl, then one may want to improve the world, but because it makes one's own life more meaningful, not because it will make anyone happier. I think they are both right. Frankl is right because we humans are adaptable and have some choice with regards to our states of consciousness. Maslow is right because certain conditions are more conducive to happiness, though it isn't a deterministic system. There is always a choice to be happy or not, even under stressful circumstances. If there is a choice, then sometimes it may be better (in a sense which we yet have to define) to choose unhappiness. It depends what one is trying to optimize. If one is trying to optimize one's happiness, then of course it is tautologically best to choose to be happy. If one is trying to optimize the world's happiness, or any other parameters, then sometimes it makes sense to choose to be unhappy.

Is happiness or communion internally generated? What does internally mean? We are living in a world, we are part of a system. Our neural system can generate experience, but we live in a culture and in a physical environment and we are constantly influenced by it. People who think they could choose to be happy or loving no matter what, usually break down when they encounter a life-threatening situation.

Franklites can choose their worldview in order to hide from things that would make most humans upset. I bet there are more Franklites than Maslowites in places where basic needs are met, such as middle class cultures across the world. Franklites might be happier in such places- they might have a selective advantage in a memetic pool--people might spread memes from happy, confident people more than from gloomy, self-doubting people. They might also have a selective advantage in places where basic needs are not met, such as a concentration camp, Frankl's original example. It is thus surprising that they haven't taken over the human population. Maybe this is because the human species as a whole is dependent on Maslowites to improve the human condition. Maslowites are altruistic.

Dav believes that the only problem in this world is that we are destroying it. He is a Franklite. I am a Maslowite, and believe that there are other problems, having to do with psychology, economics and spirituality all related to each other and related to ecology. Psychology: alienation from the means of production, alienation from other people, alienation from nature. Economics: A non-local economy/technology promotes corruption, environmental destruction, concentration of power in the hands of a few, minimal freedom of expression for most, and opacity (lack of transparency). Capitalism promotes exploitation by those having capital of those that don't (so most landlords get much more than what they put in just for having capital). Spirituality: Instead of communion with other people and nature, people are usually stuck in their ego. The basic need to transcend one's ego is minimally met through drugs/alcohol/addictive sex. It is not true that people could just change if they chose to. The economic, psychological and spiritual system of which they are a part gives them constant reinforcement to maintain homeostasis. Even people who have been radicalized and woken up, still have trouble changing because it is real hard to make a real, sustainable change by oneself. The infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, and this can only be done by a community (many communities), not a lone individual or family. The concentration camps were not ended by happy Franklites, but by many factors, including defection of Nazi soldiers upon seeing atrocities committed against human beings (Maslowites?) who refused to be dehumanized, and the allies war effort.

Capitalism (and probably any complex and powerful enough system), as Herbert Marcuse
pointed out, tends to coopt and engulf any opposition. The opposition coming from the environmental movement is an example which has begun to show signs of being coopted, though the story has not been finished. I don't think any psychological maneuvering which is allied with capitalism can really solve the systemic destruction of out planet, because it is too tied in to economics, psychology, sociology and spirituality in ways that are contradictory to capitalism.

Even if it were possible to separate the environmental problem from everything else, and solve it, I wonder if Dav would really feel like everything is OK with the world if we did things sustainably but had slaves, or Jim Crow laws, or if we lived in a sustainable fascist state. What if we (or most people) merely live a living death, working at stupid jobs that do not use our highest potential and disconnect us from nature and each other, not being able to commune with people (but able to have superficial connection) because everyone is too stressed out or dumbed down or living too far apart and commuting to work and competing with everyone? We got alot of work to do to mend things and it's much more than fixing the environment and taking the Forum.

Friday, April 16, 2010

abundance on a firm vs rotten foundation

We are working hard to create abundance. We dig the soil with a shovel and fork, we water with rain water and a solar-powered pump, we plant lots of vegetables. We are thinking about raising fish, we will definitely raise some chickens. Dav built some raised beds with lumber, galvanized sheet metal and soil from Lowe's and pond liner from an online source. We are building a solar shower with scrap PVC and black plastic hose. We have built two rocket stoves, with both scrap and bought stove pipe, bricks, perlite and barrels and local sand and mud for cob. We gather sticks and split wood that someone cut with a chainsaw. Also we split some scrap oak flooring. We have a room hooked up to the batteries, running LEDs and outlets. The rest of the house is just waiting for GA power to release their tentacles so I could safely go in through the main panel and hook up the inverter to the rest of the house. I am thinking about joining the local goat coop so we can get goat milk and make goat cheese. Maybe we could get some goats on the neighbors yard if we build a Kelvin Generator electric fence. We have many projects, all designed to create an abundance of food, water, energy, heat, shelter. I'd also like to have an abundance of ideas, love, discussions, workshops, skills, trade, dance, music. We have started a dance and a meditation.

Yet we have not forgotten that the foundation is still rotten. Almost all the materials come from environmentally destructive, people exploitive, war promoting sources. The money to buy those materials that we don't scavenge comes from companies (that have employed us in the past) that have questionable practices. The economic system (capitalism) is based on selfishness, greed, and making people into wage slaves, rent slaves, and dependents on whatever product or service the corporations are peddling to the masses. We are committed to fixing the foundation.

If one does not mind the foundation and builds or renovates a house on rotten sills, it matters not how wonderful the house is, it will still crumble. In the case of a culture, even if the culture survives a long time on a rotten foundation, the rot affects the souls of the people of that culture.

I am thinking of Ilse Koch, practicing abundance at Buchenwald. She had a horse-riding arena built, she rode horses, she had lots of fancy stuff in her home, like lampshades and soap, she had a zoo she had many lovers. The arena cost the lives of about 30 prisoners. The fancy stuff was paid for by stealing from the inmates. The lampshades were made from prisoner's skin. The soap was made from prisoner's fat. The zoo had a bear who would tear apart prisoners and an eagle who would pick the bones. Ilse's lovers murdered people routinely. Ilse committed suicide in the late 60s.

I am thinking of the Roman empire. I am thinking of antebellum Southern US. I am thinking of the Green sky novels. I am thinking of us.

It is one thing to continue to build on a rotten foundation, while trying to fix the foundation and doing everything so that one has the energy and resources to fix the foundation. It is another thing to pretend like the foundation is not rotten and to fill one's time with fancy stuff. One can be loving and spiritual, but if one's material foundation is rotten, the love will not be quite right. The material and spiritual are intricately linked, as in any complex living system. Perhaps a house is not the best analogy for such a system, not complex enough. An organism or ecosystem would be a better analogy for a culture. Instead of foundation, we can think of roots, or of photosynthesizers and fungi. On the other hand, if one's material foundation is sound but there is no love or freedom of thought and deed, that's not a good place to be either. We need to build a beautiful house on a firm foundation.

Friday, February 5, 2010

the hookworms of the system

Most people don't want to create a new culture. Of those that do, most can't get beyond the wishing stage, because they are lazy and can't take the discomfort, both physical and emotional, that is necessary to do something revolutionary. Of those that can take discomfort, most do not have enough energy and time, after earning their livelihood and meeting their familial responsibilities, to put into creating a new culture. There is also the belief that children need to have the comforts of the old culture and that they need to be "put first". The obvious selfish gene/meme evolutionary advantage to putting one's children before other people's children and before any revolutionary program explains the morality that has developed around this meme. However, as in the prisoner's dilemma, acting in this selfish manner not only is currently worse for the planet (the "greater good"), but is actually worse for one's genes and children. Because everyone is "putting their children first" (translate--doing the short term culturally-normative things to provide for the children's comfort and security and so-called "education"), they don't have the energy to create an alternative to the culture that is destroying the earth and our souls.

For every joule of energy that the Possibility Alliance is losing by using human power instead of petroleum power, they gain about 5 joules of energy by not having the systemic hookworms sap their energy. No governments who sap their energy with zoning, board of health burocracy, and legal stuff. No ex-wives who sap their energy with "child support" payments. Children who contribute to the well being of the community and are involved in community work, learning and ritual, instead of parasitizing it in the name of the liberal (and originally well-intentioned) idea of no child labor. No planet/soul-destroying jobs to commute to. No cars that constantly break down and require huge sums of energy to purchase. No police and ambulance sirens, day and night. No air and water polution to destroy one's health. No beliefs of "me and family first" which are a poison to the human spirit. No computers or TV which shield people from real live human to human contact and promote ADD (how much energy is wasted because of ADD?).

You want to do well by your children? Then think of how to make things better for EVERYONE's children and everyone alive whether they are children, men, or women (I always bristle when people are outraged that someone is killing women and children, as if men are totally expendable). Sometimes this global view will cause some suffering to yourself, and even your children. There are tradeoffs to be made. What is good for your children in the short run often will be bad for the planet and other people's children in the long run, and vice versa. This selfish tendency to put oneself and family first is very hard to overcome. It is the same biological root of laziness, doing what is best here and now even if it makes things worse globally and in the future. But we humans can overcome laziness and we can overcome selfishness.

Oftentimes we can do both: take care of our children, and follow our heart path to heal the planet. Or help the homeless old man on the street and follow our vision. But when we can't and we choose heart path and vision, we are no less "responsible" than those who merely follow their biology and try to dress it up with morality. I have tried through the years to offer material and emotional support and guidance to my son. But after I started living responsibly and sharing resources with people who were not my biological family, it was difficult for him to spend time with me. I have asked him several times if I should come to where he lives and "put him first". Everytime until this summer, he said no, he understood that I am doing something important and he respected it and wanted me to keep doing it. This summer I came to help him, but I am not giving up on my work (and I mean life-work, not the prostitution that most people call work because it pays them money). He respects me more than his mom, who has done whatever the culture considers right except have a loving, respectful relationship with him (which the culture is split on-some say parents are just supposed to control their kids, drive them everywhere and make them planet-destroyers just like their parents) and model a good way to live.

It is possible that sometimes people go to the other extreme and get so caught up in their vision and heart path that they are blind to the suffering of their children and other people close to them. My friend Christina claims this has happened with her mom, who according to Christina neglected her.

An analogy (based on the mountainpass analogy mentioned in another post): We are 18th century pioneers trying to get from our valley (which has become hostile to humans) to another valley, where hopefully things are better. It takes alot of energy, not just in preparing the wagons but in crossing the mountainpass, where the weather is nasty. If we spend most of our time just surviving in our valley, we will never make it to the other valley. If we spend most of our time climbing the mountain, without stopping for rest and taking care of each other, we also may not make it, or we will make it alone and then perish. We need to do both to make it to the promised land.