Collapse or Transformation: Adult Behavior and the Two Great Denials

Copyright 2011, John Manimas Medeiros

I have always remembered how adults appeared to me as a child: comically hypocritical and self-deceived. The permanent messages of moral guidance to us children were: don't smoke -- but I smoke because I am an adult; beware of sexual temptation -- but sexuality is good for adults; don't drink alcohol -- but I drink because it is safe for adults to drink. Later, the advice for better living gets more sophisticated: think before you act; recognize your own limitations; observe reasonable boundaries; don't take any unnecessary risks. And on and on, all great advice, little or none practiced by those adults who give it freely.

Today, we are enveloped in the wonder and frustration and deeply felt concern as to what is going to happen next. Is our current situation of toxic industry and poisonous methods of producing energy and food, and the vast changes in the ecological systems of our planet Earth, that we have brought about with our false sciences, going to produce only a devastating and cataclysmic collapse of human civilization, mass extinctions, possibly including us; or, will this long moment of crisis, created exquisitely by human blindness and stupidity, lead us into a positive, possibly even glorious transformation, a modification of our world view and our sciences that will not only sustain us through this hard time but begin a new age of human success and harmony with Nature? How must we re-create our economic science and our economic systems?

Since I was a child I always have felt that human engineers and scientists are fools who do not know what they are doing. The reason for this is that I have always had a deeply imprinted world view of how all things are connected. And, I noticed at an early age that specialization in human functions is a two-edged sword. The expert or specialist knows a lot about one thing, but little or nothing about other things. The problems this reality creates are many and enormous. The ancients used to build bridges of stone, many of which still stand, many still used, after thousands of years. American engineers actually designed and built a highway system that is rotting after fifty years. Steel beams either exposed or covered with concrete are reached by salted water -- spread on the highways to melt snow, and the bridges are falling apart. What did the engineers and contractors not think about when they built these bridges? Is this not an excellent example of limited knowledge and limited responsibility? We simply did not believe, or understand, in our society, that an engineer needs to know more than how much weight a steel beam of a given size can support.

The phenomenon of our throw-away technology is repeated infinitely in just about everything we do. We built malls with large asphalt parking lots and channels for the rain water that runs off of them, but we forgot that this is in fact the best way one can conceive to pollute water. We built skyscrapers, taller and taller buildings with lots of steel, aluminum and glass, so proudly, but decades later only have we discovered that our proudly built skyscrapers kill millions of birds every year, and they actually threaten the extinction of birds who lived successfully on Earth for millions of years before we arrived. Today, when some people want to build windmills to generate power without pollution, there is opposition from some who argue the windmills kill bats and make an unpleasant "woofing" noise for those who live nearby. This may be true, but if we cannot kill a few bats, then we have to be consistent and remove all the skyscrapers that are driving our birds to extinction. We should, really, stop driving cars, which kill skunks, bear, deer, dogs, cats, squirrels, and birds, and people by the many thousands.

And so, I could go on for many paragraphs about how adults are in denial and rarely follow the good advice they give to children, especially "observe reasonable boundaries" and "think before you act." Among the primary causes of our current crisis, the crisis that might end human civilization, are the two great denials:

1) Businesses and corporations employ the sharpest of human thinking to diminish or remove the need for human labor, not to "create jobs";

2) Growth leads to death. The persistent argument that economic and social and environmental problems can be solved by "growth" is insanity. Long ago, real scientists demonstrated that bacteria in a petri dish (life in a closed system) multiply to the point of self-toxification and kill themselves and collapse to a small remnant colony of dormant spores. They also demonstrated that a colony of mice in a closed system can easily reproduce to a point of severe over-population, which leads promptly to crazy and dysfunctional behaviors.

Know your own limits; observe reasonable boundaries. So, by over fishing and over polluting, we have changed the oceans. They are now over populated with killer Humboldt squid and deadly stinging jellyfish, some of them of giant size, some toxic enough to kill a human in one encounter. As a child, I was taught that one can create a "balanced aquarium" or "balanced terrarium." This means a tank of water, or soil, with the right balance of fish or toads and insects and plants and moss or algae so that the natural lives of the plant and animal life in this closed system will sustain itself, in balance, indefinitely. Of course, this version of indefinitely would be rather brief compared to geologic time, but if it were six months or a year it would seem to us to have been forever and kind of magical.

Of course, our balanced aquarium of planet Earth has become seriously unbalanced by the unlimited growth of human populations and human "economic activities." Keep in mind that when discussing economics, there are numerous plants and animals that we call "economic" because we use them. We also destroy them, make them sick, drive them to extinction. We do not seem to have understood that driving any plant or animal to "near extinction" has the same effect as extinction, because when the population of a plant or animal becomes very small, it is too small to perform whatever services or functions it is able to perform when it is of sufficient size. The idea that bringing a useful animal to "near extinction" or endangered is somehow less offensive than annihilation is just another example of the engineer who forgot that his bridge would be washed with salt water or who did not know that his skyscraper would kill birds. The closer one looks at human science and engineering, the greater is the clarity that humans are no smarter than a mouse who gets killed in a trap that has food as bait and a spring as the surprise.

Since the early 1700's, when engineers were still called "mechanics," the purpose of industrial enterprise has been to design machines so that the need for human labor -- which is expensive and relatively slow -- could be reduced or eliminated. We have become so infatuated with our machines that we now produce robots who have greater dexterity combined with greater strength, precision, and a capacity to repeat exactly the same motion indefinitely, at exactly the same pace. This is wonderful, but this is also the icon of human denial with regard to "job creation." By what backwards logic do investors and banks and developers and engineers and "entrepreneurs" make the claim that business entities, or corporations, create jobs? All of their investments and talent is devoted toward new ways to produce whatever with less human labor, not more.

New technology creates new types of jobs, while eliminating many of an older type of job. Fine, but none of this has led us to what Socrates and Plato were looking for, the ideal world where a man could spend time relaxing with his family. Human society, over the past few centuries, has become more frantic and less restful. Our wars are more brutal. Although we have comforts, we also have great discomforts, and we know that we may be about to pay the cosmic bill for our crazy ways -- this coming "collapse and or transformation." The transformation part sounds encouraging, but when you press the purveyors of "transformation," you may find some robust famine, plague, war, and mass extinctions, and the near extinction of humanity, are the pre-requisites for the final prize of another chance to get it right with Nature.

The other great denial is of course the insistence of our cosmically stupid economist-bankers-investors who just cannot let go of "growth" as the key to success. They are so blind that they do not see they are telling us that now that a wisteria vine has encased and is crushing our house, all we need to do is give it some fertilizer. Jiffy fertilizer, manufactured by the Jiffy Corporation to make things grow fast. Think before you act. Observe reasonable boundaries. Know your limits. Like, the limits of how much heat and waste we can produce without breaking the balance in our balanced aquarium. What we need, any child can tell you, is an economy that thrives on stability, not growth. We need economic science and economic methods that work exactly like the choices of plants and animals and minerals that we put in our balanced aquarium or balanced terrarium. We need to have things in balance, in harmony, because that is how a closed system continues to live indefinitely. Growth, as sure as a stone rolls downhill, dies. Balance lives longer, and better, than growth. Growth is frantic, urgent. Balance is like a family relaxing together. We are in the hands of Nature, more loyal and honest than adults who give advice that they do not follow.


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