Problem of the Commons

Keith SewellEnvironment, Ethics, Social Issues34 Comments

Our species now faces, for the first time in its history, a number of crucial decisions that can only be made at the global level. This is because they are all, substantially, ‘Problem of the Commons’ decisions. They’re about voluntarily reducing our environmental impact in ways that would at least slightly and temporarily disadvantage any nation-state or corporation that might otherwise be tempted to try them.

To rehash the classic problem of the commons illustration: think of a large area of common land surrounded by a number of pastoral villages. The land can sustainably support only a limited number of grazing sheep, so it’s in the overall best interest all of the villagers to figure out what that number is, and then to allocate it between themselves by an effectively binding (force sanctioned) agreement. In this way all will receive a fair share, and the resource will remain intact for their children and grandchildren. But now for the ‘problem’: This solution is not in the short-term interest of any particular village. On the basis of short-term interest each village will graze as many sheep as possible, even in the knowledge that this will destroy the resource. In the absence of an effectively binding agreement each village will rationalize its behavior through knowledge that the resource is going to be destroyed anyway; as “those greedy bastards in the other villages will certainly overgraze, so our only reasonable course is to get as much of it as we can and while we can.”

This is now our global position in reference to vital commons like our ocean fisheries, hydrologic cycle fresh water, productive arable land, and our atmosphere’s ability to function safely as a carbon sink. According to classic economic theory the selfish villagers still can come out okay; because, having destroyed the resource, they can simply move on to something else. Perhaps they’ve used the profits from their additional sheep to buy some more land in another place, and so can continue that cycle. Or maybe they’ve purchased some fishing boats and will now switch over from mutton to fish as their main source of protein. This is what we’ve been doing for thousands of years, and so are deeply confident in our ability to keep doing. But it won’t work for global level commons. There are no ‘something else’s to move on to. From the top of a pyramid you can’t climb any further. We can clearly see this, but somehow we just can’t accept it. It’s so unpalatable – in the sense of obviously requiring such deep level change in our values, aspirations and behavior – that we collectively choose to turn away from it. We open another glossy magazine, or switch our TVs back on, and escape back into that more comforting and entertaining world.

We are superbly good at believing what we want to believe, and what most of those around us want to believe. I think that we’re so good at it exactly because we’ve all been practicing it from birth; through our belief in our possession of the qualitatively better kind of knowledge (‘truth’), as which and in terms of which we can know that our particular little ideological and cultural quirks are exclusively ‘the right ones’, and that our universe is being run by the specific Supernatural Being who favors us and those who share these particular quirks with us. In my Leaving Truth essays I argue that this practice has never been, in the overall balance, a good thing.

We don’t yet have, and we still seem to be incapable of forming, an international equivalent of the inter-village council that would have been able in my example to assess and then protect the resource of the grazing common. But it’s what we desperately need. I believe that implementation of the deep level change for which I argue in Leaving Truth* now offers our last and best hope for being able to form such a body quickly enough to divert our runaway growth from its present crash course and into a relatively soft landing.

*To express this change most simply: We’ve been insisting on the pretense that we can both have our cake and eat it; and I am proposing that we stop. We’ve all been cooperating in perpetuation of the ‘noble lie’ through which we’ve been maintaining an independent knowledge basis, superior to science and reason, for our propagation of ‘facts’ that we can honestly see not to be so. We mutually assure ourselves that we can continue to teach our children about the unique existence of our particular Supernatural Being(s) and the superiority of our particular cultural delineators without such stuff short circuiting and crippling their own development of reason. We want to believe that they will be able to learn to think effectively – so, to be able to build large and coherent edifices of knowledge, within which to develop strong and mature reason, and the confidence in such reason to honestly follow where it leads – from a base of acceptance of emotionally and politically appealing nonsense as a special and better kind of knowledge. I think that this practice has instead been maintaining our planet as a ‘vale of tears’, for most of us and most of the time, throughout our species’ history; and that it’s now gearing up – through the anthropogenic climate disruption that we can so easily see but not find the clarity or coherence to oppose – to do much worse.

34 Comments on “Problem of the Commons”

  1. Allan Havinling

    The above essay was first posted (in a slightly different form) in the 2015Q1 version of “Keith’s Corner” in the Popper’s Inversion newsletter. Normally, we don’t post Keith’s Corner contributions to the website, but this one could not go unpublished. As explained on the “Gary’s Intro” page of this website, this is what drove Keith in the years leading up to Leaving Truth, and what drives Popper’s Inversion today.

    Together with the follow-on essay to come in the next “Keith’s Corner”, they form the driving force behind Leaving Truth and Popper’s Inversion. However bare bones simple Keith’s philosophy is, it is exceedingly difficult to get across. Our raison d’être shouldn’t be. Please sign up for our quarterly newsletter (due out in April) to get Part 2 as quickly as possible. But yes, it will be published online eventually, just like this one was.

  2. Allan Havinling

    Thanks, Bert.

    Everyone reading this should read Bert Bigelow’s essay, and consider it incorporated into Popper’s Inversion by reference. In case anyone didn’t “get it” from Keith’s hand waving, Bert gets into the details of the self vs commons calculus. He then goes on to provide four concrete examples where the commons calculus has led to depleted or degraded natural resources.

    Excellent work!

  3. Keith Sewell

    Bert,

    Okay. I’ve just gone back and reread your version. I like it, and I agree that it contains some useful additional detail beyond mine; but you and I are both engineers. Where’s the fix; the action item(s)?

    As implied in my version, and pretty well all the rest of my writing, I think that our only real hope now is to help the general mass of people to become a lot more rational in a very short amount of time. I think that our political leaders have already overwhelming demonstrated that they are not going to deal with the TOC problem. They’re getting paid too much, by the corporate interests who own them, to bite their feeding hands. So if it’s going to be solved then it will have to be from the grass roots; and massive aid for reason’s development at the grass roots is the exact intent of ‘Leaving Truth’. To post just one of LT’s several relevant endnotes:

    “I will freely admit that these irrational systems [our religions and political ideologies] are great for arresting our development at a quasi-adolescent level, with large and easy to manage emotional levers for our herding into effective blocks of cannon fodder and/or consumers by our “public servants”. But I am pointing out that they are bad for our development of the rational thinking skills needed to have grasped the significance of the Mauna-Loa CO2 data plus rising sea levels and retreating glaciers back in the 1970s, and for our solution of ‘problems of the commons’, and for our ability to distinguish between genuine political leaders and banking/corporate glove puppets. I am thereby suggesting that our old Platonic snake oil show—”reborn” most recently in the US as Leo Strauss’ The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism—is not merely antithetical to sustainable democracy’s requirement for an intellectually competent electorate, but, and far more seriously, to our species’ ability to avoid massive periodic die-backs through ecological nest fouling. As rash and distasteful as it may seem to all of our extant platonic guardians, I don’t think that we now have a chance through anything less radical than finally leveling with “the peasants” across the board. Through finally crediting them with the maturity to face coherent knowledge in the matter of Supernatural Supreme Rulers as bravely and stoically as they’ve been facing it in that of Santa Claus and The Tooth Fairy. To be crystal clear: I will do my damnedest to shoot down our ancient and seductive piece of Platonic mendacity —that “the poor befuddled peasants need this stuff (religion), so we smart people are really only maintaining it for their benefit”—if anyone even tries to get that rotting hulk off the runway.”
    ———-

    We agree on one thing anyway; the sand is running low in our hourglass. More power to your keyboard, and we’ll both keep trying to turn this thing around.

    All the best,

    Keith

  4. Doug Freyburger

    Some of the problems with the current world situation are rampant irrationality with respect to nuclear power. It’s carbon free, can be used to breed and burn its own fuel and when carefully worked produces tiny amounts of waste. A tie for the biggest problem at the moment is adamant resistance to implementing newer safer and cleaner reactors. The other tie for the biggest problem at the moment is the adamant resistance to refining the transuranic fissionables go out spent fuel thus vastly increasing the waste issue. Consider that nearly all nuclear fuel in use in the US at the moment is mixed plutonium and uranium from stockpiles originally generated in the Soviet Union.

    Almost all current generation reactors need to be replaced with modern models. Many replacement reactors need to be breeder systems that burn recycled transuranics from other reactors. The backlog of spent fuel rods needs to be worked through then both thorium and uranium need to be consumed. In the long run this will eventually reduce the total amount of fissionables available in the world with a direct goal of reduced accessibility at first then an indirect goal of reduced total mine-able supply.

    Many folks don’t realize that radioactive waste will be a byproduct of fusion plants when that technology eventually happens. We need a breeder reactor strategy that consumes radioactive isotopes. In the distant future that’s fusion systems that handle heavy nuclei. In the shorter term that’s fission breeder reactors that reduce all radioactive isotopes in a less organized fashion.

    Another issue is lack of understanding of compound interest and what it means with respect to solar power and storage technologies. Ever since solar power was invented in the 1950s cells have been on a Moore’s Law exponential increase in installed base and decrease in price. Within 20 years all new houses in western civilization will be solar arrays and within 30 all roof replacements will be as well. When storage improves solar will grow to replace most fossil fuel in well under a century. It’s a very tight race with greenhouse gas releases but solar use is growing faster in undeveloped regions than in developed regions because of plant size.

    For solar to move from supplemental power to base power the storage problem must be solved. Read some articles on why Tesla was founded when it was. The founders observed that for the last century battery storage technologies have been on an exponential of the Moore’s Law type but with doubling capacity every 15 years instead of every 1.5 years. The rollover point is now close enough that it’s worth making all electric cars to start the infrastructure. That means in another 15-30 years battery technology will work on infrastructure scales to combine with the growing solar installed base to change solar power from supplemental to base use.

    Those are the two main issues in energy. As Keith and Bert point out energy is only one of the major issues across the world right now. But energy makes a big difference in solving the others.

    Using these two technologies it’s not necessary to go to war over coal use. But how to use nuclear enough for that to happen?

    1. Keith Sewell

      Doug,

      A fine post! Irrationality is indeed just as rampant on both sides of the main US political and ideological divide. How did that song go… “Fools to the left of us, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle… and so on”.

      In a more rational world modern fast breeder reactors would at least have been one of the main bridging technologies for allowing us to dial back our hydrocarbons orgy quickly and fill the gap until we could get wind, solar and geothermal up to speed. If we’d started that 40 years ago, when our scientific consensus was already clear enough for anyone who didn’t have a $$$ vested interest in opposing it, then our present situation would be vastly better.

      One thing that I would love to explain to the ‘fools to the left’, for whom Chernobyl and Fukushima are words that trump all rational discourse, is that nuclear power is every bit as ‘natural’ as sunshine. In 1862, when Lord Kelvin did his overall thermodynamic calculation for our planet’s heat loss – to estimate its age, from an initial assumption of all rock fully molten – he came up with about 200 million years. A long time, yes, but short enough to cause real problems for Darwinian evolution. Just not enough time for all the changes that we could read from the fossil record. The huge difference between Kelvin’s value and our modern one, of 4.5 billion years, is in the fact that our whole planet is being internally heated by nuclear decay reactions. We live on the surface of big nuclear reactor, and if we didn’t then it would have frozen over even before the appearance of multicellular life.

      It’s so much easier to ‘think’ with our emotions, and in black and white (nuclear => bad, solar => good), so it’s what most people do most of the time. But it’s exactly what reason and science help our minds to overcome. I really can’t see us getting out of the corner into which we’ve now painted ourselves without making something like the epistemic level change to unshackle reason (kind of like getting a can of spinach to Popeye) that I argue for in Leaving Truth.

      As in my reply for Bert, I can’t resist pasting one of LT’s relevant endnotes:
      ——–
      “For some initial inkling of what I believe it will be able to do, imagine the effective balance of power between our old and new mind levels (in essence, desire and reason) as a giant metronome; an upside down pendulum that has been getting pulled up towards its balance point throughout the roughly half million years of our mental evolution as Homo Sapiens. The metronome’s rod is now still on desire’s side (or, in Jonathan Haidt’s terms, our ‘elephants’ are still in effective control). But imagine what it will mean to finally pull the rod over center and onto reason’s side. All of our old-mind wisdom and strengths will still be present. We will still know how to have fun, and will pretty certainly not turn into Star Trek Vulcans tediously reassuring each other “yes, that’s reasonable”. But on the big issues (the ones that have been killing us [literally] for lo these many thousands of years, and that now seem pushing us inexorably towards a full scale and generalized die-back) we will finally be able to achieve consensus and start on the urgently needed repairs. Could that not be worth our sacrifice of even our most ancient and deeply comforting illusion?”
      ————

      We’ll see.

  5. Allan Havinling

    I would nominate the pursuit of economic growth (EG) as an over-arching driver (included in but transcending TOC) behind the coming die-back (some would say already in progress), and it causes me to have very little hope for our future. The desire for EG transcends parties, religions, and nations. The rich need EG to expand their holdings. The poor and middle classes need EG to stay employed. Politicians need EG to get elected regardless of which group forms their “base”. Thus we have interest rate manipulation, stimulus packages, free trade zones, currency wars, and anything else politicians can think of to try to heat up their own economies. Technology just exacerbates the problem, for as it facilitates EG, it at the same time displaces workers, thereby creating the need for even more EG to re-absorb them. It matters little to a politician whether his own country’s EG helps or harms that of another country, but there is a consensus that EG for all is maximized when countries cooperate. The longevity of the human race is not. Against this juggernaut, what hope do we have?

  6. Doug Freyburger

    My next issue with global warming is a dynamic familiar to historians that is a non-religious source of deniers.

    The carbon exchange system and other proposed solutions tend to read like the five year plans published by the old Soviet Union. They are collectivist in the extreme. Historians are aware that half of the previous century was consumed by wars against the socialists. Socialists with the word national in a hot war then socialists with the word soviet in a so-called cold war.

    In a world with plentiful thermonuclear weapons, anyone who has paid attention for the last half century knows that increased collectivism leads to increased totalitarianism, leads to widespread war. People in the general public can easily match this recent history with how carbon exchanges are suggested and project the outcome. Given the horrific results of the most obvious projections from history is it any wonder that opposition arises? It is not a large step from objecting to a proposal by scientists to distrusting scientists to distrusting science. Where does the irrationality start? Certainly not at the point of projecting the results of carbon exchange systems to predict global war. That’s slam dunk to any history hobbyist.

    Yet the end point of distrusting science is irrational. Or is it? In that same half century time frame climatologists have gone from predicting a new ice age to predicting global warming. The ways of science are very poorly taught in schools today. This waffling of predictions demonstrates that the scientific method is working, but also that the field producing those waffling predictions is immature. Reactions range from distrusting climatology until the field gets its act together, to distrusting science in general given the link between unstable predictions and suggestions that lead to global war.

    Should we bet the farm on a prediction that was completely different 50 years ago than it is today? Those of us who know how science works understand that today’s prediction is better than the one made 50 years ago, but how do the historical statistics work for science fields whose predictions have changed that much? I want not just the data from climatologists but the data from scientific historians.

    And I definitely want some suggested strategy other than a carbon exchange market that is in effect governmental enforcement of collectivist systems given how history has gone with those.

    This is why I started with mention of nuclear irrationality and projections of solar prices and wind installed base. The numbers and options on reactive strategies are there to not go with carbon exchanges. The history is there to not go with carbon exchanges.

    Across history times of climate change have been traumatic but they have also been times of great advances. Sure it blows if you live near the shore, but the line is advancing on a scale of generations. That means large slow migrations of people who prepare in advance – Already there is a migration from the south to the north called an immigration crisis. In time it will mean large fast migrations of people who do not prepare – Social upheaval will be certain when shoreline people who didn’t leave long ago have to leave as the storms wipe them out.

    I think what we need is a long term soft landing strategy. Stay away from strategies that historically lead to large scale wars. Move agriculture with the shifting USDA zones. Absorb vast numbers of migrants. Trade and relocation instead of viking and conquest. Okies in Alberta …

  7. Allan Havinling

    Although I do not think Doug was answering me directly, I would still like to point out that my previous comment stands regardless of what form the ultimate reckoning takes. Whether it’s tropical fish in the Arctic Sea or snow in Havana, the point is that it’s certain that the relentless and inexorable march of economic growth will be stopped at some point. The earth is not inexhaustible or replenishable in the face of this onslaught. If I could tell you what form it will take or how far into the future it will be, I’m sure I would be very rich. But the only mathematically tenable conclusion is that it will happen.

    I think Doug is right that we’ll do everything we can to live with our problems rather than solve them. By the time the earth finally forces the economy into a nosedive, much pain will already have been endured. But that will be nothing compared to what’s next.

  8. keith sewell

    Doug,

    I agree with most of your points, but even more so with Allan’s partial answers to them.

    In no particular order:

    On our 180 degree changed prediction from 50 years ago: Well, sort of. Per my understanding there were some indications of our climate tipping towards a new ice age, as it has many times over the past 400,000 years and is now coming due for;
    “Ice core data shows that the last 400,000 years have consisted of short interglacials (10,000 to 30,000 years) about as warm as the present alternated with much longer (70,000 to 90,000 years) glacials substantially colder than present.”
    but our large and accelerating injection of atmospheric CO2 has tipped the scale in the other direction. The most relevant points to remember are (A) that we do clearly understand the physics of increased heat trapping by increased atmospheric CO2. We know how and why it happens, and we can confirm it in the lab on whatever scale we wish. (B) The Greenland and Antarctic ice cores show a direct correlation between increased CO2 percentage and increased global average temperature. If not for (A) then (B) would be discountable, on the old principle of “correlation does not imply causality”, but with (A) it’s a pretty clear smoking gun. And now add in (C): That for the immediate past 60 years – for which we have relatively high accuracy data for both parameters (the Mauna Loa CO2 data, + extensive and accurate temperature measurements) – we are seeing just what our understanding of the physics and models based on it predict. Overall temperature rise. Contracting polar ice caps. Retreating glaciers worldwide. More ‘energetic’ weather disturbances; etc. So did science get it wrong 50 years ago and then have to change its mind? I wouldn’t agree that it did in any significant sense.

    On our present ‘cap and trade’ type proposals for cutting back on CO2 production, I agree they’ve got some flaws, but think they’d be better than our present dithering; if (and it’s a big if) they could be implemented efficiently fairly and effectively*.

    To your suggestion that our climate disruption is going to be kind of painful-but-tolerable, and mainly just a bitch for those living near sea level: I do think that you’re dangerously underestimating. See Allan’s comments about our present rate of species extinctions; and for a couple of very relevant books try Christian Parenti’s ‘The Tropic of Chaos’, and Callum Roberts’ ‘The Ocean of Life’. Both are pretty convincing, and pretty grim about what we’re headed into.

    *But then, about the only hope that I can see for enabling this would be the kind of large and general boost for our ability to reason that I think would come from our implementation of ‘Leaving Truth’s recommendations.

  9. Allan Havinling

    The one thing I recall from the 70s was not so much a prediction that the earth would get cooler, but a question as to which way the balance would tip. They knew that CO2 trapped heat, but also that particulate pollution reflected it. For a time, it was said, the two effects were in balance. Then we cleaned up the particulates. The one geo-engineering answer to global warming I have read about involves reintroducing particulates in a controlled and (one would hope) less nasty way.

    Of course this still does not solve the endless economic growth conundrum. It just kicks the can down the road, as they say.

  10. Doug Freyburger

    A grab bag of issues –

    Social disruption. Folks tend to think about what’s in it for them. Sure, social disruption is bad for the individual. I’m not convinced that I personally should care what happens to the unprepared other than taking into account that they start showing up as refugees in some decade. Some complain that climate change is an extinction event. It’s not. Few take into consideration that the chaos introduced has historically triggered great advances in civilization. I take the long term view in my stance – Long term good for humanity that is terrible for a lot of individuals who could have prepared decades in advance. My long term view is callous the way it works but the time scale for the refugees to arrive in near the retirement age of my granddaughters. There’s plenty of time to move.

    Water access – The reason I addressed the energy access topic first is because I consider water access to be a problem that can be solved with energy. For several centuries anyways. I’m aware of the waste heat problem with using enough energy. Folks who consider this an insufficient response will need to be disappointed as it’s all I have.

    Extinctions – I’m at a loss on this one except about fisheries. Those are now being resolved with aquaculture and farmed seafood products. As happened with the domestication of cattle through rabbits the meat isn’t as healthy as wild but that’s a second or third order effect compared to most of the other issues. Plant trees, buy rain forest products, don’t buy endangered species, buy farmed, eat lower on the food pyramid. All sensible but none sufficient so I remain stumped.

    Population growth – The primary tool to reduce population growth across history has been enriching the population. The most successful strategy in history to achieve that has been free trade. World trade barriers have been going down steadily for centuries. Right now the automation movement has been moving manufacturing jobs to poorer and poorer countries enriching the population in the process. When I was a kid that was post war recovery of Japan, Germany and Italy plus the rest of the regions devastated in the WWII that did not decide to go collectivist, and a steady decline of collectivist countries until technology could no longer hold them up and they collapsed. Now globalization has progressed to many more countries. In a few decades there will not be a poor world unless warring religions stop that from happening. We know that warring religions are doing exactly that so it will take more decades for wealth to stop population growth. We in the developed world are in for a gory time. Folks in the regions where religions are warring are doomed to supply the gore. It blows but this board is one of many attempts to change this historical trend by free exchange of ideas.

    Economic growth – Another part of why I addressed energy first.

    And here’s the big one –

    If we are to pursue reason than that reason needs to include the perspective of history. Propose a solution that triggers forces that in history have triggered war, and that’s not a viable proposed solution. Carbon exchanges are exactly that type of proposed solution. Don’t base reason on context free projection. Do base reason on projection with historical context. The rational folks shouldn’t be the ones proposing or agreeing to feel good pie in the sky strategies that a reading of recent history says will lead to war.

    Do I have a free market solution to offer or am I just opposing a proposed solution based on historical perspective? While it’s true that global war may be worse than the alternative I don’t think I lack free market solutions. That’s the main reason I started my response with the energy discussion. Project the solar cell market. Project the wind installed base. Project the battery technology curve. All contribute greatly to energy and end up growing to cut into fossil fuel use. With a rational approach to nuclear breeders being the ace in the hole.

    I happen to prefer the Candu slow breeder method to the sodium cooled fast breeder method for reasons of dynamic stability but that’s bickering over details. Either system burns away transuranics without any enrichment process thus decreasing the bomb material in existence.

  11. Allan Havinling

    Doug,

    Some complain that climate change is an extinction event. It’s not.” I suppose that depends on what you mean by “extinction event”. If you mean humans will go extinct, we have never suggested that. Keith speaks of a “die-back”; in other words, a substantial involuntary reduction in human (and other) populations. I spoke of economic growth and stated that there were physical limits to that. In any case, we as a people seem to be constitutionally incapable of reacting in any meaningful way. This is what we hope to change long-term with the promulgation of the epistemological foundation of Leaving Truth. Given it’s such a long shot, however, it is also quite understandable to adopt an attitude of, “I’ll just do everything to make sure I and my family are among the survivors.”

    My long term view is callous the way it works” Agreed.

    I’m at a loss on [extinctions] except about fisheries.” You can’t deny that land based creatures go extinct all the time. Species live in an interdependent web and every link you break threatens more. Most cognizably, a reduction in pollinator populations across the board threats the plants that depend on them, and that in turn threatens the animals that depend on those plants, including us. The most scholarly general article I could find on the subject was “Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers

    The primary tool to reduce population growth across history has been enriching the population.” You left out war, famine, and disease 😉
    The most successful strategy in history to achieve that has been free trade.” Agreed. However, we are at a point where increasing riches for all means accelerating the consumption of the planet to the breaking point (reference above article). Increased population does that too, although I have been told not as much. I was very surprised back in the nineties learn that my “footprint” was actually greater than someone’s from central Africa. (I probably got this from Newsweek, as it was about the only thing I was reading at the time.) Anyway, the cause of that is not hard to understand. But it may well be that they were defining “footprint” in a way that facilitated them making their point.

    I don’t think I lack free market solutions. … Project the solar cell market.” We wouldn’t even be talking about this as an option without government funded research, subsidies, and loan guarantees. In fact the government has been the incubator of a great many of our revolutionary technologies since WWII, from the first general-purpose computer to silicon chips to the internet. I actually agree with the conservatives on this one. If governments around the world had kept out of the marketplace, out of education, and out of research, we would all be better off, because we would have a much lower standard of living and thus a smaller footprint.

    Doug, I’ve been watching you sneer at the idea of “carbon exchange” for some time now. Since neither Keith nor I brought it up in the first place, there wasn’t really a conversation going, but now I’m curious. Whatever do you mean? Is it a synonym for “cap and trade”? That hardly seems likely since the latter is an intentionally free-market solution that enjoyed bi-partisan support, and incidentally considerable success with SO2. That is until it became a lightening rod for those who believe (correctly) that any acknowledgement of the reality of global warming will likely lead to internationalist and collectivist solutions. But cap-and-trade as a policy is as close to “free-market” collectivism as you can get, and I don’t see how it’s gotten even close to starting any wars. To put it another way, those who believe in free markets should jump at the chance to use cap-and-trade as a way to forestall more heavy-handed approaches should governments ever decide to get serious about this problem.

    Thinking that you perhaps meant something else, I googled “carbon exchange” and came up with all sorts of articles about voluntary markets – essentially offset exchanges. This type of activity may actually be hurtful to the cause because it allows people to waste and pollute – sometimes needlessly – then say that they’re “green”. (Al Gore has a footprint the size of New Hampshire, but he buys offsets. :/) Nevertheless, it’s voluntary, so is a poor candidate for something you would be railing against.

    So I am genuinely curious on this one. What do you mean by “carbon exchange” and what history are you citing? I do confess my history knowledge is very superficial.

    Total agreement on the nuclear issue, though.

  12. Doug Freyburger

    Action regarding climate change as callous – I’m okay with callous being synonymous with rational. With or without human causation climate change has always happened and has always been on a generational time frame.

    The first rational approach is to acknowledge that climate change happens either way and to relocate once in a generation away from the shoreline and/or away from drying zones during a warming trend. If it is callous to suggest that others do so as well before they have no other choice, then I don’t mind being called callous as a synonym for rational. “Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” in the end means lack of rational behavior on your part does not justifying giving away the farm on my part. In my current life I’ve lived more than half of it well away from the shoreline and we are settled well away from the shoreline now. Then again in my current life the decision to move south of the snow line for medical reasons has put me in a region where a lifetime from now it will probably be too dry. Living where I do now will only be tenable for around 50 years. I don’t want my grandchildren to live here.

    The other rational approach is to help in some way to correct human causation. We have very large disagreements on how to go about that and about what approach is rational.

    Except fisheries – I don’t know effective strategies to deal with extinction problems on land. Buy chocolate, forest nuts and forest berries. Don’t buy imported lumber even as carved art. Buy canned beef from Argentina but not from Brazil. All elements of “think globally, act locally” and none sufficient. I won’t say it’s not a problem and I won’t say it’s not my problem. All I can say is I know the reactive strategies I have available on hand right now are ones I know to be insufficient.

    During the neolithic era humans were hunting herd prey towards extinction. Some figured out how to ranch herds. Thus began the switch from wild herds to domesticated herds and for millennia the return of wild herds. My family were conservationists for generations before I was born on that front but it has now reached the point where local activities are no longer enough. I know this to be insufficient and I don’t have a rational strategy that is known to be effective.

    During the automation era humans are right now hunting fisheries towards extinction. Some are figuring out right now how to farm fin fish, shell fish and crust fish. Thus begins the switch from wild fisheries to domesticated fisheries. Projecting that wild fisheries will move towards health again is an optimistic projection but it is one based on history. I also know that eventually that too will be insufficient but history tells me the time scale is vastly larger. For now eating farmed fish and eating down the food chain while avoiding wild caught fish should be sufficient just as it was for our neolithic ancestors who fenced cattle and bred the most docile ones.

    Solar as not free market – I am a political pragmatist and that’s the reason I oppose collectivist approaches. Had I been born in 1858 instead of 1958 and today were 1915 not 2015 I would likely say that I am a political pragmatist and that’s the reason I favor collectivist approaches. But this is no longer the trailing end of the robber baron era raping a continent. It was supposed to be the trailing end of the socialist regime era raping more continents. That the current political environment is not that way says idealism holds too much sway. Hmmm, that’s a topic for further discussion isn’t it? Just as religious fundamentalism is irrational and is to be circumvented (don’t give strength by active opposition), so to should political ideology be viewed as irrational and should be circumvented (don’t give strength by active opposition).

    So I acknowledge that government subsidies were used to bootstrap the solar power industry. As Japan viewed subsidies to take over industry after industry then ended those subsidies and switched them to the next industry, we need to view each subsidy as a disliked crawler or crutch. As soon as we are able to get out of the crawler and walk on our own we need to do exactly that. As the price falls to compete with other energy sources, taper off those subsidies and release the industry into the free market. It’s a pragmatic strategy.

    Carbon exchanges – Cap and trade policies are implemented at carbon exchanges. Those exchanges would not exist at all without collectivist approaches to the issue of climate change. Collectivist approaches were the solution of the previous century that led to world wars. Exclusively private approaches were the solution of the century before that that lead to civil wars. The pendulum is still in the wrong location on its swing.

    Rationality should tell us that last century’s failed strategies should not be used to solve this century’s problems. It was last century’s solutions that caused this century’s problems in the first place. History should tell us not to go the extreme of using the previous century’s solutions either. Don’t push the pendulum until it moves all the way to the opposite extreme. But recognize that the pendulum is still in the position that caused the problems of the last century and push it back towards the middle.

  13. keith sewell

    Doug,

    Please forgive me if you’ve already stated this and I missed it, but in response to your

    “The other rational approach is to help in some way to correct human causation. We have very large disagreements on how to go about that and about what approach is rational.”

    What are your specific proposals? What step(s) do you think would help?

    Best regards,

    Keith

  14. Doug Freyburger

    Keith,

    I had already mentioned the exponential growth curve of solar and the (im)possibility of a rational ramp up in newer safer generation (slow) breeder nukes.

    Other energy response is the endless push at efficiency of products. In the US in particular the car culture pushes for less fuel efficient cars but otherwise there is an endless push. I have no suggestion on US cars other than being surprised that gasoline prices remain low, not an effective strategy. Outside the US recent technology gets installed and while it increases the total infrastructure does move in that direction though insufficiently. As the solar prices fall less and less government interference will be needed to keep it moving.

    A minimal government interference tactic would be to taper off mineral depletion credits over a period of several years making coal, oil and natural gas more in natural competition with nuke, solar and wind without their current government funded advantage.

    I don’t have an answer on water. Throwing more energy at it only works in a few places. At home we have rules that anyone can installed rain catch roof tanks. Rising prices of water will help and that’s a market issue with minimal government input.

    Water has a much longer term problem. Not just aquifer draw down. Soil mineralization from irrigation! GMO crops have limited ability to handle a situation like the great grain belt of the Silk Road becoming a huge desert. Soil mineralization form irrigation has an unknown interaction with warming climate. How much of the Asia desert that was once a lush steppe prairie was caused by the glaciers no longer being on the Asia continent and how much was caused by salt build up by irrigation?

    Population must stop growing. If this does not happen by enrichment leading to lowered family size it must necessarily happen by war. Given how many were killed in the 20th century and it still did not effect the growth curve, the scale of war necessary is beyond the pall in a nuclear world. Fortunately globalization is working but we don’t know if it is working fast enough. There are irrational controls of both religious fundamentalist and political ideological types at work – This forum is aimed at the religious fundamentalist side.

    When it comes to cap and trade carbon exchanges, how to use market forces? Taper off depletion credits only works in the US. Large suppliers manipulate prices to control the market – Saudi reaction to US fracking. I have no solution to offer. The fairest interference it taxing the supply rather than introducing an artificial market, but taxation has the exact same problem as Saudi price manipulation that other governments have to follow suit.

  15. keith sewell

    Doug,

    I’d written most of a reply yesterday morning, but have now come back in to find that our site doesn’t save ‘drafts’. So I’m starting again from scratch; but this time off-line and will paste it when done.

    The gist of my previous was that your ideas do seem to make a lot more sense than most that are now being discussed by our political leaders; but that – and as you seem to agree – they are interim and mitigation measures rather than underlying problem solutions.

    I think that at the underlying level all of what we’ve been doing so far can be lumped into ‘following our bio-programming’. I see free market capitalism as the most efficient ideology that we’ve yet been able to devise for doing what bacteria do. Their programming is to multiply without limit, converting the available food resource into more bacteria until – through some combination of resource exhaustion and waste accumulation – their environment becomes unlivable and the whole colony crashes. Expansion of the bacterial programming to our level merely seems to involve more complexity (bigger/better houses, more/faster/sexier cars and other toys; as opposed to just more copies of ourselves). The basic ‘onward & upward’ ‘unlimited growth’ dynamic remains in force. I think that our only chance for an underlying solution is to finally understand and take control of THAT. To finally ask ourselves ‘how many of us, and living at what material standard, do we want to move towards; and how can we best do so from where we are now? [So, exactly, back to the main Problem of the Commons question]. Our only realistic hope for doing this seems to me to be through some kind of rapid and powerful acceleration of our ability to reason. To throw in one of my favorite Russell quotes:

    “One man likes oysters, and another likes pineapples; this distinguishes between them. But when they think about the multiplication table, provided they think correctly, there is no difference between them. The irrational separates us, the rational unites us.”

    To state it a little more accurately, ‘the irrational’ has in fact been great for uniting us into competitive groups for the efficient pursuit of our bacterial level programming; but it’s in direct opposition our ability to unite at the overall level that will be needed for solution of our global problems of the commons.

    In summary, I strongly agree that we need to work at your immediate and interim solutions level; but I’m pretty sure that if we don’t simultaneously get serious about a deeper level fix, as is detailed and argued for in Leaving Truth, then we’ll just be delaying and compounding* our eventual collapse.

    *To have the big plunge start ‘tomorrow’ – from a base of 7 billion, and with most of our biosphere’s feedback loops still at least somewhat self regulating and independent from our control – might be in many respects better than having it start in another 50 years. Agreed, we’ve got to keep climbing, but we can’t let it be just to get higher so that we can fall further.

  16. Doug Freyburger

    keith sewell –

    “The gist of my previous was that your ideas do seem to make a lot more sense than most that are now being discussed by our political leaders; but that – and as you seem to agree – they are interim and mitigation measures rather than underlying problem solutions. ”

    If I had complete solutions that were rational I would offer them. I think it takes broader expertise about interactions than most have considered. Some miss the historical implications when they propose a strategy. Some disagree with a proposed strategy and they call the theory behind it false.

    The core cause is growing human population combined with high impact technologies.

    To slow population growth takes enrichment through trade and increased rational technological advancement (with the caveat that every generation has left a mess for the next generation, technological or otherwise) or war on a scale beyond our kenn. Which choice is obvious but the implementation is not.

    To reduce impact is the goal of both conservation as cap and trade and conservation as reduction in cost. Progress is made through energy efficient refrigerators and every other product on the market. Ever moving technical improvement by reducing resources. Industry mostly needs to have its attention focused on the profitability of lower energy and material consumption by its products.

    So in both cases market forces are in place but neither dominates enough. Enrichment does handles the population expansion problem, but fast enough to not have global war? Industry efficiency and greening does reduce the ecological impact, but thoroughly enough to not have global war? In both cases I don’t know but I’m not as pessimistic as the folks who project the trends without taking those two factors into account.

    “I think that at the underlying level all of what we’ve been doing so far can be lumped into ‘following our bio-programming’. I see free market capitalism as the most efficient ideology that we’ve yet been able to devise for doing what bacteria do.”

    Which is to say that free market has been the most successful at increase where increase is no longer the goal. I point out that efficiency is also a free market result as is enrichment. Both of those forces move in the opposite direction of endless growth. Above a certain level of enrichment the exponential population growth pattern stops as has already happened in much of western civilization. Combine this with enough greening of products and it might be possible to propagate to the rest of the world without a massive war. Optimistically but probably not realistically.

    That problem with ideology is why I use an ideology du jour for pragmatic reasons not for ideological reasons. In this case I pick the opposite of the popular for strategic reasons. I decided to favor the founding principles of the US and the closest party was Libertarian. I looked at recent history of fight against socialism then growth of socialism in western culture and decided that lower case l libertarianism opposes that as well. I’m not ideological enough to be a party line voter rather I pick it for historical and pragmatic reasons. And should grand grand swing of history change I’ll eventually change my politics in a planned manner using the same decision tree method.

    Ideology is a political blinder just as fundamentalism is a religious blinder. Both make claims about absolute truth without being willing to check the results objectively.

    Human nature is too ad hoc for principle based approaches to work well for long. This is my conclusion from reading history. When either type of blinder comes on the result is terrible, but also when either type of blinder is ignored the result is slower but just as certainly terrible.

    And so I offer what appear to be interim and mitigation based approaches that should in my best guess work with unprincipled human nature in the direction wanted.

    I suggest that in this case a principle based approach, with respect to human behavior, is not an effective strategy. A principle based goal setting , with respect to the physical sciences, is an effective strategy because the universe works by predictable principles. Humans don’t if you use principles that work anything like ideology.

    How to get there from here? By ad hoc human methods that trigger trends that address physical principles.

    Is it really bad if the end result is the historically predictable result of great cultural advancement during hard times? Just how much should we favor the entirety of humanity over the individual …

  17. keith sewell

    Doug,

    A very good post. Especially your last couple of questions. From my side I think that we could safely leave our further development to “ad hoc human methods that trigger trends that address physical principles”. But only after explicitly correcting the basic epistemic level error that I can see us to have been making for thousands of generations. If we could just stop propagating our belief in our possession of a qualitatively better kind of knowledge, then I think we’d quickly gain the capacity to solve all of our more immediate and higher level problems. Try to imagine, as a thought experiment, what would happen if a significant percentage of the US population were to understand and accept my main arguments laid out in Leaving Truth. (A) We’d intellectually reengage with the theists at a level from which definitive victory would at last be possible (relevant essay: Crystal Blue Persuasion). (B) We’d stop teaching our children that we have a qualitatively better kind of knowledge, through-which/in-terms-of-which our repeatable-physical-observation based knowledge can be legitimately trumped (relevant essay: A Chemical Analogy). As clarified in ACA, I think that children educated in this way just wouldn’t experience our present intractable problems as such. They would find them trivial. [“Based on our best present data and modeling projections we need to immediately do X, in order to mitigate undesirable outcome Y. Therefore, and without further ado or procrastination, let us do X”.] In the Problem of the Commons illustration none of the villagers want the inevitable outcome from their failure to establish an effective husbandry policy. They know rationally what they need to do, and that they could do it, but they’re prevented by the problem of their rational mind’s not really having executive control. What I’m arguing for is a basic epistemic level change that I think would dramatically reduce that problem.

    To come at it from a slightly different angle; your closing question “Is it really bad if the end result is the historically predictable result of great cultural advancement during hard times? Just how much should we favor the entirety of humanity over the individual …” is a superb one. But its one that doesn’t have a simple answer. The answer will be nuanced, will be different in some areas from others, and will vary with time and changing circumstances. In short, it won’t be something that we can shoehorn into a simple ideology. We urgently need to address it, but we just can’t effectively do so from the basis of our present epistemic level confusion; which is why I’m arguing for change at that level. I will agree that Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ is the best ideological level answer that we’ve yet been able to find; that it can be seen to work, and that it will need to be incorporated into any broader and more effective answer. But I think that we now desperately need that answer.

  18. Doug Freyburger

    “I will agree that Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ is the best ideological level answer that we’ve yet been able to find …”

    I take ideology as parallel to how you take theology. So what’s needed is policy not linked to ideology. What’s needed is policy linked to data.

    I worked at the Rand Corporation for a couple of years maintaining their computer networks. The approach taught there is “Show me the data” and “Yes I would like to do the math”. Sometimes the data aligned with some ideology somethings it didn’t. Sometimes the data lead to a popular conclusion sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the data said the obvious was correct sometimes it didn’t. That last one tended to be hard to take.

  19. Doug Freyburger

    “To come at it from a slightly different angle; your closing question “Is it really bad if the end result is the historically predictable result of great cultural advancement during hard times? Just how much should we favor the entirety of humanity over the individual …” is a superb one. But its one that doesn’t have a simple answer. The answer will be nuanced, will be different in some areas from others, and will vary with time and changing circumstances.”

    It’s why I question just how bad the effects will be. I know that advancing shorelines will cause severe disruption and that moving inland one person at a time isn’t going to solve the problem, but I also know that the Italian Renaissance started during a time of severe war time. As the Renaissance advanced its center moved to cities under massive stress. There are multiple other examples across history and prehistory.

    When I ask how bad it will be I don’t refer to the gross effects which will be very bad. I refer to the net effects in the context of the Renaissance, the migration age that triggered the iron age, the receding glaciers that triggered the discovery of herding and farming, the railroad which triggered both the industrial revolution and the age of total warfare.

    “A recession is when you lose your job. A depression is when I lose my job.” That approach refers to the gross effects of social change from the individual perspective. History tells us the personal pain of such an era is offset by a ratcheted increase in the total level of civilization. When do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? When it’s about external trends of history not about personal choices. When it’s simply a matter of living in interesting times.

    Humanity has to survive and that means the planet has to survive. How much biodiversity needs to survive in a time at the birth of genetic engineering – I can’t say and don’t have a plan other than to observe the trends and be optimistic. How is water to be handled – I can’t say and don’t have a plan. Moving away from the equator does work given the existence of Canada and Siberia which will not remain uninhabitable. And we need fusion to get out into the rest of the Solar system.

  20. keith sewell

    Doug,

    Let me apologize in advance for what I suspect is going to be a pretty disorganized and discursive reply. To summarize what I now understand to be your overall position: You agree with Allan and I that things are going to get pretty bad; but not as terribly bad as we think, and you are more optimistic than we are about at least some mitigating positive developments. I’d offer two main responses:

    First, my essay ‘The Sad Best Case’ which is just being issued in this quarter’s newsletter. The uncomplimentary and ad hominem gist of that essay is that I am at some level a goddam Luddite. I do want unrestrained scientific and technological growth, but I’ve got huge reservations about them in pursuit of our present ‘bacterial level’ programming. If it’s all going to stay mainly about conspicuous consumption and selling more product then that just isn’t ‘the change that I would see in the world’. I don’t think that it could be sustainable, and even if so then I think it would be deeply dystopian. Go back and re-watch Terri Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, or read Carl Safina’s ‘The View From Lazy Point’ for more background on this.

    Second: There is the worry that I hint at, but don’t really explore, in ‘Leaving Truth’. This is the apparent deep linkage between religious faith and our living of hellish daily lives. To paste the most relevant para from LT:

    “In looking both at our present world and back across our seven thousand years of accessible history we can see a chilling correlation between human misery (gross economic exploitation, war, famine, disease, poverty, et al) and our seductive irrational knowledge systems. Or to put it otherwise, beyond being rare in “foxholes,” atheists are also rare in the slums of Karachi, Lagos and Port-au-Prince; while believers are rare in the advanced societies of Sweden Denmark and Holland. Most succinctly: religions and other such systems —which promise quick and easy fixes through prayer or utopian social upheaval, or at least fixes after death—tend to flourish to exactly the extent that most people’s experience of daily life has become degraded. And, in reference to my anthropogenic climate change comments above, I am sadly confident that we’re now entering a period in which a vastly higher percentage of us will be in that condition.”
    I do broadly accept Stephen Pinker’s thesis from ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’; about an overall positive historical trend in our civility, aversion to violence, and ability to settle our disputes through reason. But I think that Pinker dangerously underplays the importance of the European Enlightenment for his thesis during about our past 350 years. I think that if things get as bad as I fear then we could, via the mechanism just discussed, substantially submerge all of our Enlightenment gains within a new worldwide orgy of religious and ideological ‘enthusiasms’ (with, of course, the vast accompanying resurgence of warfare). If that were to happen* then it’s hard for me to imagine what kind of upside could possibly compensate.

    *And I think that we have a pretty disturbing historical precedent in the 2nd and 3rd century collapse of the Western Roman Empire. To read the best of the ancient Greeks, and then Romans who inherited that best, in comparison to anything that Europe was able to generate during the following 800 years (with all education and higher culture then under the thumb of The Church) is pretty sobering.
    In overall summary: The closest thing to voice now speaking for Allan and I’s position seems to be that of the ‘New Atheists’. But it isn’t very close. In reading the counters to it by Mr. Uygur under this link http://qz.com/379074/bill-maher-and-the-new-atheists-are-anti-muslim-bigots/ . I find myself in agreement with many of them. Uygur and the NAs just seem to hashing over and over the same old ground, while the sand in our climate disruption hourglass drains away; so I still think that our last best hope is the large boost for reason that I outline and argue for in LT.

  21. Doug Freyburger

    “Second: There is the worry that I hint at, but don’t really explore, in ‘Leaving Truth’. This is the apparent deep linkage between religious faith and our living of hellish daily lives.”

    I offer two very different responses.

    1) As usual you abbreviate a couple of religions as all religions. It is not true that all religions have the same problems, the same goals, the same approaches. You are treating theology as something not subject to wider investigation. “Objects in mirror are more distant than they seem”.

    This is not to say that all religions are optimistic with respect to events in the world. Some observe that endless small scale warfare is a part of human nature without offering any potential end. With the addition of industrial capacity this led to wars being fought on a larger and larger scale. The Bhagavat Gita is the story of one such war among many. Odin explains to Thor that he stirs up small wars to recruit warriors for Ragnarok. Outside of the religious theater Darwin’s The Descent of Man suggests these endless small scale wars contributed to human evolution.

    Religions that claim to offer a solution to this problem fail to deliver on their claims. Setting peace as a goal does not work. The religions that observe the problem as a fact of human nature tell us to deal with it. “For the Tao to reign in the Empire, the Emperor must foster personal excellence” never did lead to less war. Civilized people tend to want more than either.

    2) Meditation is hailed as one of the great advances of human culture, but those cultures that practice it the most are those cultures with the most misery. Meditation may have personal medical benefits that are easily measured and personal psychological benefits that are difficult to measure, but its practice has not been good for its parent cultures.

    This is the flip side of the same coin. Achieving personal peace does nothing to lessen the misery in society.

    What does lessen the misery in society is industrial advancement, with the problems discussed in this thread. The industrialized world does appear to be approaching sustainability because of the lowered fertility, the ever improving efficiency of products and the various green movements. But will globalization that leads to world spanning industrialization converge on sustainability? As you have observed I am more optimistic on the topic than you are.

  22. keith sewell

    “As usual you abbreviate a couple of religions as all religions. It is not true that all religions have the same problems, the same goals, the same approaches. You are treating theology as something not subject to wider investigation. “Objects in mirror are more distant than they seem”.”

    Doug, I’d contest some of this, but can’t argue with your implication that I should go ahead and clarify the sense of ‘religion’ that I find so objectionable. First, let me take a step back, and reiterate that the Leaving Truth essays are not written merely or specifically against ‘religion’ in any sense. They are written against our apparent belief in our possession of a better basis for knowledge than the coherent edifice of our on-demand-repeatable physical observations. I think that this edifice is what we mean by ‘science’; and that ‘a better basis for knowledge’ is what we must mean* by ‘truth’. From there, and having in consequence dismissed truth from my own thinking around 30 years ago, I am for all of our knowledge that can be propagated without invoking our truth concept, and against all knowledge whose propagation requires it. That may sound strange and complex, but it’s not. I’m for all knowledge that can be passed to a child on any honestly human basis (‘I saw it’, ‘I heard it’, ‘I was told it by your granddad’, ‘I can demonstrate it to you right here and now’, etc.). I’m against all knowledge that can only be passed through invocation of an effectively superhuman basis (‘It’s the truth’, ‘Its how the world actually is’, ‘because I say so’, etc.).

    *Both what we must mean empirically, from our observable linguistic useage; and what we must mean analytically, in order to maintain our truth concept as non-redundant. (We can believe and propagate proposals that make sense directly on the basis of their making sense. The additional claim of ‘truth’ contributes absolutely nothing).

    With all this on the table I can now get back to ‘religion’, and say simply that our big main organized religions are the clearest examples of the kinds of knowledge systems that I find harmful. We require ‘truth’ for their propagation, as none of their sets of basic tenets can be seen to make any sense. Being obvious fairytales they cannot be passed on any basis but that of their being ‘the truth’. And then also, on the flip side, we require them for truth’s propagation, as they provide our main illustrative examples of it. Belief that snow is white can be based efficiently and elegantly on our being able to see that it is; while belief that Jesus turned water into wine can only be sold as a truth. To list some important understandings of ‘religion’ that I have no beef with: 1. Spirituality. I’ve never been able to detect any more spirituality in religious people than in atheists, and this has been unsurprising as I’ve never been able to figure out how or why irrational beliefs should nurture spirituality more effectively than rational ones. 2. Deism. To the extent that religion looses its specificity (“we believe that there is a ‘god’, but not that we can know anything whatsoever about him or about what he might want us to do”) my objections to it disappear.
    To summarize: When I write against ‘religion’ I’m writing against our irrational authoritarian systems centered on the existence of specific supernatural agents. To return to your above paragraph, I don’t care much about their differing problems, goals or approaches. All of such stuff seems to me to come down to debate about how many angels can occupy a pinhead. The systems themselves don’t make a damn bit of sense, and thereby appear to me to be very harmful, in continuing to propagate the legitimacy of our embracing systems that don’t make a damn bit of sense. If it’s really epistemically okay to do this then, as I note in LT, knowledge finally comes down to nothing more than what the strongest or most charismatic among us can coerce or hoodwink the rest into believing.

    I’ll finish with a quick essay recommendation, but not for one of mine! Try William Clifford’s 1887 essay ‘The Ethics of Belief’. It’s delicious, and probably the most direct antecedent for the LT essays. After it I promise that you’ll understand – if still with any doubts now – why I so deeply oppose religions.

  23. Doug Freyburger

    “They are written against our apparent belief in our possession of a better basis for knowledge than the coherent edifice of our on-demand-repeatable physical observations. I think that this edifice is what we mean by ‘science’; and that ‘a better basis for knowledge’ is what we must mean* by ‘truth’. From there, and having in consequence dismissed truth from my own thinking around 30 years ago, I am for all of our knowledge that can be propagated without invoking our truth concept, and against all knowledge whose propagation requires it.”

    You left truth long ago and switched to evidence based knowledge. I long ago came to understand that truth is asymptotic based on observation not absolute based on faith. Other than a difference in terminology our different seems to be that of observation versus evidence. We’re not going to agree on that distinction because we mostly don’t disagree – I do not allow observation not linked to evidence to be used to dictate to others, removing most of your objection. What remains is I’ve been steeped in science long enough that I don’t care if less educated folks use the word wrong. ;^)

    “With all this on the table I can now get back to ‘religion’, and say simply that our big main organized religions are the clearest examples of the kinds of knowledge systems that I find harmful.”

    The usual statement that says other religions work as Christianity and Islam do. Not a topic we’ll ever agree upon. I think you and everyone else who reads theology needs to move beyond it. Consider scanning “God is Not One, The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter” by Stephan Prothero for more examples.

    “while belief that Jesus turned water into wine can only be sold as a truth.”

    Actually, teaching that it literally happened and there is a video available loses most of the truths symbolically present in the story. This is like saying (pick your most profoundly moving fictional tale) does not contain value because it is fictional. Of course I dismiss out of hand that Jesus actually converted water into wine by a miraculous atomic transformation. Any rational person knows that’s physically impossible so it didn’t happen. But even though it’s a part of some other religion I am able to identify multiple true meanings in the story. As a prophet who people readily followed he “converted” (other meaning) the water of uninspired people to the intoxicating wine of inspired people. Also remember that before the invention of the microscope the fermentation by yeast was unknown so the conversion of fruit juice to wine was a miracle of agency. I could go on like this for a while but I would rather do the symbolic meanings in the stoy of how Thor got his servant Thialfi than what Jesus did at someone’s wedding.

    “To list some important understandings of ‘religion’ that I have no beef with: 1. Spirituality. I’ve never been able to detect any more spirituality in religious people than in atheists, and this has been unsurprising as I’ve never been able to figure out how or why irrational beliefs should nurture spirituality more effectively than rational ones.”

    Spiritual is one of those tricky words that people confuse with religious. The two are overlapping sets because being spiritual is one of the goals of most religions but as described in God Is Not One it’s only a secondary goal in most of them. I have met as many deeply spiritual agnostics as I have theists. This is of course as unsurprising to me as your observation is to you given the difference in what we are looking for.

    “2. Deism. To the extent that religion looses its specificity (“we believe that there is a ‘god’, but not that we can know anything whatsoever about him or about what he might want us to do”) my objections to it disappear.”

    I suggest that what you object to is the authority basis being abused and as such the more one moves away from monotheism the more your objections disappear.

    “To summarize: When I write against ‘religion’ I’m writing against our irrational authoritarian systems centered on the existence of specific supernatural agents.”

    I point out that political ideology works in exactly the same way. Had I been born in 1858 not 1958 I would have seen a very different part of history and would probably use my political membership to push for socialism for ad hoc reasons using ideology as a lever not as a goal. Instead I saw the missing family members from the Hot War and I lived the Cold War so I use my political membership to push for libertarianism for ad hoc reasons using ideology as a lever not as a goal. Ideology uses supernatural agents – Assertions about human nature that do not match the evidence.

    “I’ll finish with a quick essay recommendation, but not for one of mine! Try William Clifford’s 1887 essay ‘The Ethics of Belief’. It’s delicious, and probably the most direct antecedent for the LT essays. After it I promise that you’ll understand – if still with any doubts now – why I so deeply oppose religions.”

    It also suffers from the incorrect assumption that all religions have the same methods and same goals. It’s interesting that it has to ignore the Dhama Pada and drawing from the less important Tripitaka to force Buddhism into that mold.

    I suggest a more fun problem with the essay – If we go by verifiable evidence then we most be our deeds not our thoughts. That makes examination of our motives of secondary importance compared to our actions. “We are our deeds” is a primary tenant in my religion Asatru and it has all sorts of consequences that mostly drive us to be evidence based in our actions using our spiritual or religious or heritage base as a jumping point not a rule book.

    As I read the essay I noticed how badly it clashes with “We are our deeds” yet I agreed with most of its reasoning when it didn’t mention Buddhism. As I read I pondered this more and more. If wrong thought leads to right action, who should really care? And if right thought leads to wrong action, is that really an excuse? The example in the first couple of pages seem to make the investor guilty of a mind crime that is worse than the negligence crime.

    But that leads us down a new and huge path that far exceeds the parameters of this part of the thread. It does address other strategies we might use to deal with the Problem of the Commons, though.

  24. keith sewell

    Doug,

    We again seem to agree on a lot, so I’m homing in on the important area where I think we still disagree:
    ———————–

    The usual statement that says other religions work as Christianity and Islam do.

    K: I don’t think I’m making that claim. I do find Christianity and Islam to be the worst, but just slightly more so than their dad, Judaism. I’ll also admit that – at the other end of the scale – there are some relatively sane, gentle and non-authoritarian systems that we frequently lump in as ‘religions’. I think that we’d be more honest and clear in calling these philosophies. To try to go ahead and cut this knot: If the system features one or more supernatural beings, who are thought to be presently active in our world, then it’s what I call a religion. And its what I believe that our species would be better off without.

    Not a topic we’ll ever agree upon. I think you and everyone else who reads theology needs to move beyond it. Consider scanning “God is Not One, The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter” by Stephan Prothero for more examples.

    K: Okay. I’ve been to Amazon and bought the eBook, and will get back to you once I’ve read it. But to jump back a sentence; I can’t really say that I read theology. I do read and enjoy ‘mythology’, but ‘theology’ seems to be exactly the mistaking of this stuff for objective knowledge, like our scientific knowledge, that I find so dangerous.

    “while belief that Jesus turned water into wine can only be sold as a truth.”

    Actually, teaching that it literally happened and there is a video available loses most of the truths symbolically present in the story. This is like saying (pick your most profoundly moving fictional tale) does not contain value because it is fictional. Of course I dismiss out of hand that Jesus actually converted water into wine by a miraculous atomic transformation.

    K: I’m afraid we’re talking past each other here. To try again for intersection, I’d have no beef with Christianity if it presented itself as a profound and moving piece of mythology. I can indeed read or watch a good piece of fiction and be moved by it, while knowing full well that it’s fiction. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would fit the bill. But we both know that Christianity doesn’t do this. It DOES claim to be knowledge in the same sense, and on the same or stronger footing than our empirical knowledge. It claims that its supernatural being exists, and has prescribed certain behaviors for us, and actively intervenes in our affairs. Believing that leads – logically, and observably – to quite different behavior from not believing it. At even the most superficial level, different behavior in reference to birth control, women’s rights, gay rights, and many promising avenues of scientific research. Going a little deeper, and back to our underlying topic, different behavior in reference to anthropogenic climate disruption. If the whole show really is being run by God then why should we worry or change our behavior? As/when the shit hits the fan He will of course just intervene and sort it out.

    But even though it’s a part of some other religion I am able to identify multiple true meanings in the story. As a prophet who people readily followed he “converted” (other meaning) the water of uninspired people to the intoxicating wine of inspired people. Also remember that before the invention of the microscope the fermentation by yeast was unknown so the conversion of fruit juice to wine was a miracle of agency. I could go on like this for a while but I would rather do the symbolic meanings in the stoy of how Thor got his servant Thialfi than what Jesus did at someone’s wedding.

    K: Me too. Especially as Thor no longer seems to be causing us real and present damage. On the symbolic meanings: I think that we can stretch the way you are here to get just about any meaning that we want out of any text that we may choose. It strikes me as intellectually dishonest ‘post hoc’ justification, and I think the theists have turned it into an art form.

    Any rational person knows that’s physically impossible so it didn’t happen.

    K: Excellent. We’re now right down at the base of our disagreement. I’d point first to the large number of people who seem to be rational in other areas but who would tell you, exactly, that it did happen. As high profile examples I’m thinking about Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Francis Collins, and William Dembski. They’d tell you that it happened because they’re still smart and intellectually honest enough to understand the full implication for their system of its not having happened. Clear admission that the foundational Christian miracles did not happen logically equates to admission that we have no basis beyond emotional appeal for belief in the existence of the Christian God. You seem to be implying above that – although you don’t do it yourself – you find this to be an okay basis for religious people to use. But please think through the precedent that you’re condoning. If it is finally okay to believe whatever we emotionally need to believe, even in diametric opposition to reason*, then from what position can we effectively oppose any belief or resultant behavior whatsoever? If I can concoct an emotionally seductive system of beliefs, and use it to bond together under my control an army of people, with which I then invade your country and offer you the choice of ‘converting’ to our system or being butchered after watching that happen to your wife and kids, from what position will you argue with me? From where will you try to tell me that I’m wrong? From your position as I now understand it I’d only need to assure you that all of my actions were and are based on genuine emotions (lust for power, feelings of superiority and grandiosity, and so on).

    *To what degree do we need to oppose reason in order to embrace Christianity, or either of our other two big monotheisms? (A) It’s based on a book that we can clearly see to be wrong. [The book is a morass of internal contradiction. It therefore can’t all be right, and we can have no way of deciding from within it which parts are right and which aren’t.]. (B) We can see it to be a system of exactly the same kind as millions of others that our species has already created and abandoned, and to be in logical opposition to all of the others that we haven’t yet abandoned. So we must, in effect, judge it to be right against our understanding of such systems having a perfect track record for being wrong. (C) We can see its supernatural claims, which provide the logically necessary justification for initial belief in the existence of its supernatural being, to be in diametric opposition to our entire edifice of on-demand-repeatable physical observation grounded knowledge. Or, to sharpen the point a little; we can see our world NOT to be as Christianity says it is to the full extent of all of our clear and coherent knowledge about how it is.
    Collectively, I’d say on the basis of these 3 points that the opposition between Christianity and reason is total. So, if we accept the validity of rejecting any proposal or system of them on reason’s basis then we must reject Christianity; and if we don’t accept that validity then we have no effective platform from which to oppose “might = right”. I think that our sacrifice of Christianity and its ilk would be a very cheep bargain for our finally being able to realize such a platform

  25. Doug Freyburger

    D: The usual statement that says other religions work as Christianity and Islam do.

    K: I don’t think I’m making that claim.

    D: In this particular case it was the article you referenced. Very much that I’ve read in atheist writings is terrible on making this incorrect assumption so they tend to reach incorrect conclusions based on that incorrect assumption.

    K: I think that we’d be more honest and clear in calling these philosophies.

    Notice how we’re talking across each other here. You want to push the definition of the word religion to your end by excluding the ones with fewer obvious problems. I suggest that if your definition excludes well over a billion people the problem is with your definition not with their practice. I want to push in the opposite direct based on the same criteria – If someone says they don’t practice a religion based on this broken definition I say they are practicing a religion and the problem is the restrictive definition they are using not their practice. Mostly modern shamans in my case.

    K: To try to go ahead and cut this knot: If the system features one or more supernatural beings, who are thought to be presently active in our world, then it’s what I call a religion. And its what I believe that our species would be better off without.

    Notice that Buddhism teaches that humans *are* supernatural beings. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. As to presently active in the world I write about that extensively with my mentions of direct personal observation.

    K: Okay. I’ve been to Amazon and bought the eBook, and will get back to you once I’ve read it. But to jump back a sentence; I can’t really say that I read theology. I do read and enjoy ‘mythology’, but ‘theology’ seems to be exactly the mistaking of this stuff for objective knowledge, like our scientific knowledge, that I find so dangerous.

    D: I include discussion of meaning in myths as theology otherwise it’s no different from watching a movie for entertainment. Of course any myth should work when watched/listened to as entertainment for market reasons. That said, in other posts I have already used theology as a parallel to ideology as that portion of practice that leads to harmful behavior. This tells me I have not yet worked out the complete range of what I mean by the word.

    K: To try again for intersection, I’d have no beef with Christianity if it presented itself as a profound and moving piece of mythology.

    D: And thus you’d have no beef with most of the religions in the world as they don’t make the mistake of biblical inerrancy. Which means us back to our pushing the definition of the word in opposite directions for the same reason.

    K: Going a little deeper, and back to our underlying topic, different behavior in reference to anthropogenic climate disruption.

    Which loops us back to the general topic of this thread. Drop biblical inerrancy only present in two faiths and the requirement to believe which is only present in two faiths and we arrive at the religions practiced by the majority of the population.

    And yet the problem of the commons remains among those other faiths as well. They just aren’t dealt with the same way. There are collectivist faiths like Wicca that would use force to impose environmentalism. There are collectivist political movements like Green that would use force to impose environmentalism. I’ve already mentioned exactly why I oppose such movements given their historical results. I’ve already also mentioned my stance is not ideological but historically pragmatic so the response I want is one that is floating point between ideologies. I don’t want a robber baron era response any more than a collectivist response.

    K: Especially as Thor no longer seems to be causing us real and present damage.

    D: Not easy to find an example when he ever did except for that battle with the Midgard Wurm Joramunder. It’s why Thor is seen as stupid. He fights a battle with the being that pushes the land above sea level. Of course it’s also the being who generates one of two types of earthquakes (may as well explain something you don’t understand in two symbolic ways).

    Odin is quite a different story. One of the descriptions of WWII is Odinnic Frenzy. Those guys had no idea who they were dealing with both in the physical and spiritual realms.

    K: On the symbolic meanings: I think that we can stretch the way you are here to get just about any meaning that we want out of any text that we may choose. It strikes me as intellectually dishonest ‘post hoc’ justification, and I think the theists have turned it into an art form.

    D: That’s been the argument ever since the generation after Socrates was forced to drink poison. It would appear that before then families discussed the meanings in the stories but about that time the poison of biblical inerrancy arrived. The stories can’t be twisted any direction. They have many meanings but limited ranges of meanings.

    K: Excellent. We’re now right down at the base of our disagreement. I’d point first to the large number of people who seem to be rational in other areas but who would tell you, exactly, that it did happen. As high profile examples I’m thinking about Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Francis Collins, and William Dembski. They’d tell you that it happened because they’re still smart and intellectually honest enough to understand the full implication for their system of its not having happened. Clear admission that the foundational Christian miracles did not happen logically equates to admission that we have no basis beyond emotional appeal for belief in the existence of the Christian God. You seem to be implying above that – although you don’t do it yourself – you find this to be an okay basis for religious people to use.

    D: No such implication. The mistake of biblical inerrancy is an unmixed bad that should never have poisoned any religion. It isn’t the reason I’m neither Christian nor Muslim but it’s high on the list of reasons I looked outside the JCISMR family.

    K: *To what degree do we need to oppose reason in order to embrace Christianity, or either of our other two big monotheisms? (A) It’s based on a book that we can clearly see to be wrong. [The book is a morass of internal contradiction. It therefore can’t all be right, and we can have no way of deciding from within it which parts are right and which aren’t.].

    It’s only wrong if you accept the poison of biblical inerrancy which very few religions do, plus if you are inside that religion and decide to drink the poison, which many do not. If this is the basis of your objection to “religion” then you’re a loose cannon firing randomly in the hopes of cutting down the forest because you can’t figure out how to identify the infected tree. It’s not that hard once you stop making the incorrect assumption that all religions are the same.

    K: (B) We can see it to be a system of exactly the same kind as millions of others that our species has already created and abandoned, and to be in logical opposition to all of the others that we haven’t yet abandoned. So we must, in effect, judge it to be right against our understanding of such systems having a perfect track record for being wrong.

    D: Incorrect assumption leading to incorrect conclusion.

    K: (C) We can see its supernatural claims, which provide the logically necessary justification for initial belief in the existence of its supernatural being, to be in diametric opposition to our entire edifice of on-demand-repeatable physical observation grounded knowledge.

    D: We can see its literalism claims leading to that. Same incorrect assumption.

    K: Or, to sharpen the point a little; we can see our world NOT to be as Christianity says it is to the full extent of all of our clear and coherent knowledge about how it is.

    D: Sure. And with respect to any other religion than Islam, so what?

    K: Collectively, I’d say on the basis of these 3 points that the opposition between Christianity and reason is total. So, if we accept the validity of rejecting any proposal or system of them on reason’s basis then we must reject Christianity; and if we don’t accept that validity then we have no effective platform from which to oppose “might = right”. I think that our sacrifice of Christianity and its ilk would be a very cheep bargain for our finally being able to realize such a platform

    D: Where “it’s ilk” equals one other religion. Two among many.

    “You are in a twisty little maze of passages all different” as it said in the old computer game Advent. You remember “You are in a maze of twisty little passages all the same” and have confused the two mazes. Since you are running the wrong maze you aren’t finding the prize.

  26. keith sewell

    Doug,

    It seems to me that we’re still failing to communicate at the most fundamental level. That my problem with religions is not what you understand it to be, and so keep responding too. Let me try again from your final statement:

    D: “You are in a twisty little maze of passages all different” as it said in the old computer game Advent. You remember “You are in a maze of twisty little passages all the same” and have confused the two mazes. Since you are running the wrong maze you aren’t finding the prize.

    I want to ask simply, what are you referring to here? What is or would be ‘the prize’ for you (and so, by implication, that you’re recommending for me)? If, as I suspect from all of your responses so far, it’s something individual and personal, like a feeling of oneness with the universe or deep and final satisfaction with its status quo, then I’d point out the guy who I understand to be your main mentor (Siddhartha Gautama) supposedly did achieve this, and then rejected it. He elected to plunge back into the hurly burly of the world, and not rest until he had been able to make things better for everyone. At that level and in that sense I would join you in Buddhism; and if your answer is as I hope then I think I will eventually be able to convince you that our starting to wind down the vast negative feedback loop that I can see us to have been running between our religions and the qualitatively better basis for knowledge (‘truth’) as which and from which we’ve been maintaining them, now offers our best hope for being able to make things better for everyone.

    Over to you…

  27. Doug Freyburger

    “D: “You are in a twisty little maze of passages all different” as it said in the old computer game Advent. You remember “You are in a maze of twisty little passages all the same” and have confused the two mazes. Since you are running the wrong maze you aren’t finding the prize.

    I want to ask simply, what are you referring to here? What is or would be ‘the prize’ for you (and so, by implication, that you’re recommending for me)? If, as I suspect from all of your responses so far, it’s something individual and personal, like a feeling of oneness with the universe or deep and final satisfaction with its status quo…”

    Those are messages quoted from a computer game named Advent also marketed as Zork. In the game there were two mazes. Each maze had its own prize hidden in an alcove. In one maze the description of every non-alcove room was identical. In the other maze the description of every non-alcove room followed a fixed pattern. If what you saw was the pattern not the exact order of the words you could not tell the two mazes apart so you could not find both prizes. You’d never win the game. The player had to notice the differences within the pattern to advance in this particular aspect of the game. The game has long since lost popularity but it is legendary enough that I still keep seeing people sign off with those descriptions quoted.

    What I mean is that lesson from the game. In your discussions of religion I keep repeating that you extend your pattern where it does not apply. You keep repeating your pattern. When using repeatable observation it is important that the reports accurately describe what happens. That’s one of the main basis for your replacement of absolute truth. By staying stuck in your pattern you depart from the rationality you claim to value.

    My direct personal observation is individual and personal as all such observations must remain until there is instrumental detection but that does not change the nature of what is taught by and to the members of each individual religion in the world. What is taught can be measured as can the results of those lessons. Per the principle “By your fruit shall ye be known” the results of those teachings are often different from the intent of the teachers but that only changes the situation to the need to measure by results not words. Which is as it should be when asking for objective evidence based repeatable data. In politics ideology has that same problem.

    “then I’d point out the guy who I understand to be your main mentor (Siddhartha Gautama)”

    I’ve not been consistent about who my main mentor across history is but if you’re going to average it out across my life and do data smoothing, you may as well suggest a very good one. I might have guessed Lao Tse founder of Taoism or Sveinborn Beinteinsson the buy who founded the Icelandic branch of the modern Asatru movement in 1970.

    “supposedly did achieve this, and then rejected it. He elected to plunge back into the hurly burly of the world, and not rest until he had been able to make things better for everyone.”

    You need to break out of your all religions having the same pattern trap before you become a philosophical Bodhisattva. The fact that I remain posting says you and the rest of the group have much of value without achieving that level. It’s a wall we must shout across at each other.

    “At that level and in that sense I would join you in Buddhism; and if your answer is as I hope then I think I will eventually be able to convince you that our starting to wind down the vast negative feedback loop that I can see us to have been running between our religions and the qualitatively better basis for knowledge (‘truth’) as which and from which we’ve been maintaining them, now offers our best hope for being able to make things better for everyone.”

    You’re careful to exclude Buddhism as a religion listing it as a philosophy not a religion then suggest you’re join me in a carefully defined manner. Nice. I studied Buddhism for a year back in my 20s and decided it didn’t pay enough attention to deities but my studies of the religion left me with a very high opinion of its ideas, its history and its members.

    Something that Buddhism shares with its historical parent Hindu – No concept of progress in general society only in an individual. The end result is civilizations that did have progress overwhelmed the Hindu and Buddhist societies that did not. Which has led of to our modern Problem of the Commons.

    Now that we have a world spanning civilization maybe a spiritual system without the concept of progress in society is a good idea. I don’t think it would work because once the progress genie is out of the bottle it won’t go back in. Global weather satellites are too good to give up.

    If you are thinking of a Buddhist-like approach as one item in a cafeteria style grab bag, I’m with you on it. At a personal level because it begins to bring you out of your pattern. At a society level because it mostly teaches a more workable type of peace than most other religions. At a philosophical level because it is consistent with non-growth systems without objecting to the knowledge based aspects of the progress system.

    As to peace, my own Asatru deals with the fact of war without offering a cure. To the extent that war is a part of human nature, may as well keep them small and local as attempts to eliminate them fail completely. It’s an ad hoc system not based on principles and thus not ideological. We add a theological aspect by saying Odin recruits the souls of warriors to prepare for Ragnarok. In the end it’s not a greatly different strategy than the one from the Baghavat Gita to go be a warrior if that’s your job.

    If, and it’s a big if, Buddhism improves on either approach, I’m for it. But how to stop population growth without war? That’s something we’ve discussed extensively elsewhere in this thread.

  28. keith sewell

    D: What I mean is that lesson from the game. In your discussions of religion I keep repeating that you extend your pattern where it does not apply. You keep repeating your pattern. When using repeatable observation it is important that the reports accurately describe what happens. That’s one of the main basis for your replacement of absolute truth. By staying stuck in your pattern you depart from the rationality you claim to value.

    K: Point taken; but then, here’s what I’m still not getting: From what external or alternative ‘pattern’ are you making your claim – that what you call my pattern is inapplicable in some areas? How does your other pattern actually work as a basis for any claims, including that one? Or to re-frame in response to your last sentence: Howin, specifically, am I “departing from the rationality I claim to value” in suggesting that our interests would all now be best served by our explicit dismissal of our supposedly alternative and reason superior basis for knowledge (‘truth’)? To get the cards on the table: Yes; I really do understand that from your side there are two mazes (or patterns, or what have you). What I’m advocating is our explicit and deliberate repudiation of the one of them through which you and most other people seem to be reserving your option for controverting reason wherever the emotional stakes appear to be high enough. Your consistent implication has been that there is a separate ‘prize’, available only through that other maze (or pattern); which is fine, but I’m asking you to tell me what it is. I’m asking because I can see, from my side, all kinds of harm being done within your alternative maze; and no good that can’t be easily matched within mine. To try to show you what I mean I’m going to copy/paste here LT’s final brief essay:
    ———

    ‘Spirituality sans Theism’

    Intro:
    This very short essay was originally written as an online forum reply to a theist who had posted a variant of their ancient dead horse: “We humans need religion for our spiritual development.” I responded with what I believe to be a better alternative.

    Main text:
    First: LEARN SCIENCE. Drink as deeply as you can from the lake of all that we now know about how ancient, enormous, complex and beautiful physical reality can be seen (rather than merely imagined) to be.

    Now go out alone into nature. To a deserted beach, or the high desert, or a mountaintop. Think about where all of that more-beautiful-than-you-could-ever-have-dreamt-up reality stops, and “you” start. Think about your defining skin, the top layer of which is dead and continually sloughing off cells. At what point do these cease to be you? Think about your blood, which was water yesterday and will be urine tomorrow. Try to find the clear points of those transitions. Think about the oxygen that you are now absorbing from your inhaled air, and the CO2 that you are exhaling. At what point does the former become you, and the latter cease to be you? As it passes through your nostrils, or into your lungs? As it diffuses into solution across your alveolar membranes? Or perhaps as it enters, in your cells, into the chemical reactions of respiration?

    Think about your experience of who you are. Are the thoughts, dreams and ideas that define “you” merely your own? How many of them did you create, and how many will die with you?

    Now think about your deepest division. The one that directly supports your experience of self-consciousness. Who maintains that, and for what purpose? Is it reality rejecting you? Is it really, in any coherent sense, external? Or is it merely your own adaptively powerful assumption of a position from which knowledge can be held? And as you get the right answer to this, go ahead and let it, and all of the rest of your self-maintained divisions, fall away. Let your consciousness flow out in all directions. Down into your soil, and the teaming life therein. Out into all of your winds and waters, and rocks and ice, and creatures and processes of joy and pain. And if you’re in the high desert at night, then on out across your billions of light years, and back through eons of time. Through other life on other worlds, and the births and deaths of solar systems and galaxies. Feel it all. Remember at last, and in your bones, who and what you really are. You won’t be able to function in this state. You won’t be able to do a damn thing, because with all divisions dismissed, the limited little entity that can make decisions, and so “do things,” will no longer exist.

    Eventually, prosaic biology will supervene. You’ll need to pee or you’ll get thirsty or cold. Through one path or another the familiar little game of normal consciousness will reassert itself. But you can carry back into this your memory of the deeper game. You can maintain an awareness of it just beneath and all around you, as you resume your exciting role of being a vulnerable little spark of consciousness in a vast and indifferent universe. You can know both that return to the deeper game is possible, as/when you really need it, and that you will return to it for sure as/when your divisions collapse again in death.

    Having even once experienced this, you will be able to see clearly the worth of all of our parochial little theisms. How inadequate they are in relation to the magnificent thing that they presume to represent. And also how irrelevant they are to all that we understand as morality. Compassion, altruism, and reverence for life will now be intrinsic to who you are, rather than being mandated from without by an imaginary deity. They are, most simply, an inseparable part of the deeper and stronger game.
    ———–

    My point in including the essay here is that I believe all of it to follow necessarily from reason. To be not only available, but inevitable, within ‘my maze’. If your additional maze – which I think we both now agree to be a logical requirement for maintenance of our religions as I defined them in my last post – can really offer something more or better than this, then I’m keen to hear about it.

    D: My direct personal observation is individual and personal as all such observations must remain until there is instrumental detection but that does not change the nature of what is taught by and to the members of each individual religion in the world. What is taught can be measured as can the results of those lessons. Per the principle “By your fruit shall ye be known” the results of those teachings are often different from the intent of the teachers but that only changes the situation to the need to measure by results not words. Which is as it should be when asking for objective evidence based repeatable data. In politics ideology has that same problem.

    K: All strongly agreed. But as implied above, my position is exactly that our application of “By your fruit shall ye be known” to our religions reveals them to be on balance disasterous. From the little that I’ve now been able to gather about your Asatru I don’t think that it falls under my definition; but I do need to ask in what sense any system can ‘deal with the fact of war without offering a cure’. That looks from my side kind of like dealing with cancer by letting it kill the patient. It seems to me that war and most of the other similarly stupid habits of our species could be dealt with pretty easily just by finally ceasing to cripple our children’s minds. By ceasing pass to them as knowledge – but instead, only art – the authoritatively convenient and emotionally seductive systems that I think you and I now agree make up your alternative maze or pattern.

    To tie these threads together, I’m thinking about an old ‘70s song, “War!!?? Good God y’all, what is it good for??” and asking that question about your alternative maze. Also thinking about an old Dylan lyric from ‘Maggy’s Farm’: “….and you ask why I don’t live here; Honey how come you don’t move?”

    All the best, and all offered in furtherance of Siddhartha’s agenda,

    Keith

    Note: There were some good comments that I could have made to those from the remainder of your post; but they were mostly strong agreements and/or amplifications. I’ve passed on them because I think it more important to focus for now on settlement our ‘one maze or two?’ disagreement.

  29. Doug Freyburger

    K: From what external or alternative ‘pattern’ are you making your claim – that what you call my pattern is inapplicable in some areas?

    D: Your assertion that all religions function the same as C/I.

    K: Your consistent implication has been that there is a separate ‘prize’,

    D: In your case the prize is valid versus invalid conclusions. By merging the mazes you support your thesis using a claim that is easily revealed to be incorrect. Argument by counter-example. One version of your thesis goes “Religions assert absolute truth therefore we need to move past them (both religions and absolute truths) to be able to achieve rational ends”. Since it is known that only a small number of religions actually do that, the rest of your thesis is built upon a very shaky foundation.

    K: available only through that other maze (or pattern); which is fine, but I’m asking you to tell me what it is.

    D: In my case the prize at the end of the maze isn’t as well defined. A heathen lesson is to live life well and let the afterlife take care of itself. That how we live our lives matters more than how long we live our lives. That how we face our deaths matters more than how long we can delay them. Aristotle’s definition of happiness. Aristotle dated from a time before the Romans split the southern pagans from the northern heathens so he was one of us. Back when I had just started peeling off the Christian influences of my upbringing I found Aristotle’s definition of happiness to be contrary to what I’d been taught but it has since become a natural consequence of what I have learned.

    So in the meantime I am here for the dialectic. That both of us may hone our thinking and improve our conclusions.

    K: To try to show you what I mean I’m going to copy/paste here LT’s final brief essay …

    I’ve read the essay multiple times. Come to any Asatru weekend gathering and you will find some of us doing exactly that. And telling stories about it because stories are how humans process truths about the universe. Pick a gathering of any faith outside of the JCI family and the same is to be expected.

    Something about peace and war that I ponder with no end in site –

    Peace is a goal. Historically peace has never been maintained. Does that make peace a part of theology or ideology as in an ideal that should not be pursued for its own end? Or does it make maximizing peace one goal by which we take our ad hoc pragmatic stances when we pick sides in any competition?

    Is peace in fact possible at all in the long run? If the answer can be yes the evidence currently runs against that yes answer.

    In history when peace has been pursued with passion the result has been later wars that have been worse. WWI and WWI being the worst but not the only examples. In history when peace has been pursued regionally by means of keeping wars localized the result has been societies that are subject to outside conquerors – Rome taking over the internally waring Celts, Napoleon rolling through the German principalities and so on. In history when peace has been pursued by pushing wars to the fringes it’s the same from the inside out – The Pax Romana ending when the Goths and Germans rolled in, multiple armies taking over China then founding dynasties, Egypt being subject to several outside conquests and so on.

    Is it rational to try to eliminate war completely or is it rational to use war as an ad hoc pragmatic tool to rid any one society of its malcontents and/or to keep the problem regions of the world in check? Clearly this is a question we will not agree on the answer!

    My offering the Asatru approach of keeping wars small isn’t my only source. All of history can be viewed as a suggestion to that end. So I have a lot of Grandmas reaching a conclusion and teaching it to the grandchildren and I have a lot of scholars offering the data without reaching a conclusion.

    SF example “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Niven and Pournelle. A species suffers huge cycles because each time their civilization advances they try to advance more than any previous cycle and the result is a worse war than any previous cycle. Only the most smart plus cynical among them trigger wars early to have higher lows after the wars.

    Tying this topic back to the problem of the commons – One result of endless grow is larger and larger wars. Eventually the growth reaches a point where the war has to be huge as in the collapse of a bacterial colony. Ants have solved this problem through endless war between colonies. The total population of ants never falls much because they never reach the point of resource exhaustion in any one region thanks to their inter-colony wars.

    Ants have had a lot more time for evolution to solve their problems for them. That we consider that solution ugly and unacceptable does not make that solution not optimal. One of the lessons of science is to move past our preconceived notions. This can be as far in the past as heavier objects not actually falling faster than lighter objects. This can be as far in the future as learning enough about human nature that we must reform our thinking about what type of societies to build. Shudder.

  30. Allan Havinling

    K: From what external or alternative ‘pattern’ are you making your claim – that what you call my pattern is inapplicable in some areas?

    D: Your assertion that all religions function the same as C/I.

    A: Doug, you’re not answering the question Keith is asking here. I’ve seen him ask this question hundreds of times in all different ways. He is looking for an epistemological basis; something akin to his Knowledge Selection Procedure. This admittedly projects his framework (maze) onto yours, but if neither that nor its converse can be done, our ability to come to any agreement is extinguished.

    A: As to this little spat you guys have going over the definition of religion, I must say I admire you for being able to get around it most of the time to deal with substantive issues. Most of the time. Since Keith has said, “From the little that I’ve now been able to gather about your Asatru I don’t think that it falls under my definition [of religion]”, Doug’s claim that “[Keith’s] assertion that all religions function the same as C/I” is reduced to a purely semantic disagreement. For my part, I practice Buddhism and belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have never seen this as incompatible with my being a co-founder of Popper’s Inversion. If Keith has, he never shared it with me.

  31. keith sewell

    Comment: K: From what external or alternative ‘pattern’ are you making your claim – that what you call my pattern is inapplicable in some areas?

    D: Your assertion that all religions function the same as C/I.

    K2: Doug, this seems to fail on two counts, both of which are logically fatal:

    First, I’ve never made any such assertion. You now seem to be attacking this issue entirely as a straw man, and in spite of my best efforts to head that off. When you first raised it I answered – in my April 25th post – with a clear definition of our species’ understanding of ‘religion’ to which I’m opposed. I’ve always admitted that to the extent that your understanding differs from that – including, as I’ve again explicitly stated, some systems that I would classify as philosophies – then my objections do not apply to those other systems. This does not equate to ‘all religions function the same as C/I’.

    Second, your implication that any assertion from my side could function as an epistemic basis for your opposition to it seems like a logical non sequitur. If I was making this particular assertion (which, as just re-clarified, I’m not) then I wouldn’t be asking whether or not you liked it. I would already understand that you didn’t. I would be asking if you could show me any more coherent grounds for your objection to it than finding it to be emotionally unpalatable. [As we’ve already been through: if we’re finally going to accept ‘emotionally unpalatable’ as a basis for our rejection of knowledge proposals even in full opposition to reason, then there is no limit or coherence to what we can reject. Try this: “So what if our entire edifice of science now converges on the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption? I, as the owner of a coal mine, find that emotionally unpalatable, so I’ll reject it.” Your position doesn’t seem to me to allow for any counter to this. The mine owner needs only to state that he’s holding his position from a genuine emotional need, and so, within your alternative maze.]

    Per the clarification that Allan has also just offered, the thing that I actually am requesting your epistemic basis for is not the above straw man. It’s your whole broader and deeper maintenance of your alternative ‘maze’. I understand, and can explain to you, how my maze works. I’m simply asking for that from your side; for your alternative. In particular, and to be fully explicit, how yours can work in clear opposition to mine. I think that mine subsumes – at Level 5 of my KSP, LT’s pages 48 & 49 – all that is of net value in yours. So I guess that a simpler way to pose this question might be: “For what more (than is granted in Level 5) do you want to maintain your alternative maze?”

    K: Your consistent implication has been that there is a separate ‘prize’,

    D: In your case the prize is valid versus invalid conclusions.

    K2: Here we go again. I’m suggesting that you need some other place to stand, from which to claim that my conclusions are invalid. From within reason’s ‘maze’ we can’t believe in diametric opposition to reason. We can’t therefore believe in the foundational miracles that establish the existence of any of our supernatural beings. If we can’t believe in their existence then we can’t maintain our assumptions that they are active in our world, or have plans or desires that we ought to follow; so, basically, our ‘religions’ as per my definition of that word. I understand that you want to defend these, but think that you do need to do so from your alternative maze. I’m simply asking, once again, how that alternative maze actually works. How does it justify any of its claims?

    D2: By merging the mazes you support your thesis using a claim that is easily revealed to be incorrect. Argument by counter-example. One version of your thesis goes “Religions assert absolute truth therefore we need to move past them (both religions and absolute truths) to be able to achieve rational ends”. Since it is known that only a small number of religions actually do that, the rest of your thesis is built upon a very shaky foundation.

    K2: I wouldn’t agree that I’m ‘merging the mazes’. It’s a lot simpler than that. My position is that your alternative maze has always been, in effect, a terrible human brain bug (in the recent Michael Shermer and Dean Bunomano sense of ‘brain bugs’). I’ve therefore rejected it, lock stock and barrel. I have conceded that some of the proposals that we’ve traditionally been maintaining through it can be brought across onto an epistemically coherent basis, which is what my ‘Level 5’ is about. I’ve further conceded that your Asatru and some of our other similar systems (that would not qualify as ‘religions’ under my definition, but seem to under yours) can legitimately be maintained at Level 5. What I think can no longer be legitimately maintained is all of our ‘direct opposition to reason’ stuff; and therefore all of our religions and ideologies that depend on those foundations.

    K: available only through that other maze (or pattern); which is fine, but I’m asking you to tell me what it is.

    D: In my case the prize at the end of the maze isn’t as well defined. A heathen lesson is to live life well and let the afterlife take care of itself. That how we live our lives matters more than how long we live our lives. That how we face our deaths matters more than how long we can delay them.
    Aristotle’s definition of happiness. Aristotle dated from a time before the Romans split the southern pagans from the northern heathens so he was one of us.

    K2: Of the Greeks, I’d nominate Epicurus as the closest to being ‘one of us’. Especially the Epicurus who emerges from Lucretius’ ‘De Rerum Natura’. But I do also have a fair bit of time for Aristotle; just none for his teacher.

    Back when I had just started peeling off the Christian influences of my upbringing I found Aristotle’s definition of happiness to be contrary to what I’d been taught but it has since become a natural consequence of what I have learned.

    So in the meantime I am here for the dialectic. That both of us may hone our thinking and improve our conclusions.

    K2: Strongly agreed, and ‘lay on MacDuff’!!

    K: To try to show you what I mean I’m going to copy/paste here LT’s final brief essay …

    I’ve read the essay multiple times. Come to any Asatru weekend gathering and you will find some of us doing exactly that. And telling stories about it because stories are how humans process truths about the universe. Pick a gathering of any faith outside of the JCI family and the same is to be expected.

    Something about peace and war that I ponder with no end in site –

    Peace is a goal. Historically peace has never been maintained. Does that make peace a part of theology or ideology as in an ideal that should not be pursued for its own end? Or does it make maximizing peace one goal by which we take our ad hoc pragmatic stances when we pick sides in any competition?

    Is peace in fact possible at all in the long run? If the answer can be yes the evidence currently runs against that yes answer.

    K2: If we’ve been making the kind of foundation level mistake that I suggest we have been in LT then the historical evidence may not be a very good guide on this question. I’d say we’ve simply never tried the solution that I believe would work.

    D: in history when peace has been pursued with passion the result has been later wars that have been worse. WWI and WWI being the worst but not the only examples. In history when peace has been pursued regionally by means of keeping wars localized the result has been societies that are subject to outside conquerors – Rome taking over the internally waring Celts, Napoleon rolling through the German principalities and so on. In history when peace has been pursued by pushing wars to the fringes it’s the same from the inside out – The Pax Romana ending when the Goths and Germans rolled in, multiple armies taking over China then founding dynasties, Egypt being subject to several outside conquests and so on.

    Is it rational to try to eliminate war completely or is it rational to use war as an ad hoc pragmatic tool to rid any one society of its malcontents and/or to keep the problem regions of the world in check? Clearly this is a question we will not agree on the answer!
    K2: Yep. No agreement.

    My offering the Asatru approach of keeping wars small isn’t my only source. All of history can be viewed as a suggestion to that end. So I have a lot of Grandmas reaching a conclusion and teaching it to the grandchildren and I have a lot of scholars offering the data without reaching a conclusion.

    SF example “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Niven and Pournelle. A species suffers huge cycles because each time their civilization advances they try to advance more than any previous cycle and the result is a worse war than any previous cycle. Only the most smart plus cynical among them trigger wars early to have higher lows after the wars.

    K2: Hummm. A few little caveats to throw in: (1) In that book it’s not their advancement that screws the Moties at the end of each cycle, but rather something more akin to our present climate disruption. And it’s not even being caused, like our situation, by their own self manufactured inability to think straight, but by the more sympathetic circumstance of their solar system’s weird cycle that periodically wrecks their planet’s biosphere. In the final showdown at the end of that book I was quite tempted to root for the Moties! (2) On the business of starting wars ‘early’: Yes, I can see how that would follow from your position (the inevitability of war), but as you know, there is no such inevitability from my side. To give you an example of something that actually is inevitable, and so where preemption actually would be a great idea: The next big California earthquake. We know that that’s going to happen, and, with a very high probability level, within the next 50 years. We know (can measure) the background rate of movement at the fault interface, and the approximate mass involved, so can even calculate a pretty good estimate of the amount of energy that has now built up and so will need to be released by the coming slippage. I’m pretty sure that we could have that slippage on our timetable rather than nature’s. That we understand the geophysics well enough to be able to drill down to the right depth at the right spot and plant a 10 or 15 MT shock charge that would initiate the slippage. We could do it sooner, so with relatively less energy involved; with everybody evacuated from at-risk buildings and multi level highway interchanges, and with all of our emergency services and hospitals at full readiness.

    Tying this topic back to the problem of the commons – One result of endless grow is larger and larger wars. Eventually the growth reaches a point where the war has to be huge as in the collapse of a bacterial colony. Ants have solved this problem through endless war between colonies. The total population of ants never falls much because they never reach the point of resource exhaustion in any one region thanks to their inter-colony wars.

    K2: I don’t think that this solution has much potential for us. We’ve already shown our ability to breed up to the point of achieving resource exhaustions in spite of our wars. And I still think that our faculty of reason gives us an option for being able to do better than ants. I just don’t think that we’ve chosen to exercise it yet. LT is my plea for us to go ahead and make that choice.

    Ants have had a lot more time for evolution to solve their problems for them. That we consider that solution ugly and unacceptable does not make that solution not optimal. One of the lessons of science is to move past our preconceived notions. This can be as far in the past as heavier objects not actually falling faster than lighter objects. This can be as far in the future as learning enough about human nature that we must reform our thinking about what type of societies to build. Shudder.

    K2: All broadly agreed. But I now think that our most counterproductive preconceived notion is that we actually have the special and better kind of knowledge as which and through which we’ve been maintaining your alternative ‘maze’.

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