Home » Posts tagged 'ecosophia'

Tag Archives: ecosophia

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Cataclysm
Click on image to purchase

The Flight from Nature

The Flight from Nature

A couple of weeks ago one of my readers pointed me to an op-ed piece on climate change by Canadian journalist David Moscrop, titled “It’s time for climate change defeatists to get out of the way.” If you’ve watched the slow-motion train wreck of climate change activism for more than a year or two, you already know Moscrop’s song well enough to sing it in the shower, but I think the attitudes enshrined (or, better, embalmed) in this piece and its many equivalents are worth another look.  There’s something moving down below the surface of the rhetoric; follow where it leads, and you come close to one of the deep roots of our present predicament.

Moscrop’s essay contains all the usual ingredients, and all the usual omissions, of a good standard tub-thumping climate change diatribe. He starts out sounding like a Puritan preacher—sinners in the hands of an angry Gaia!—but shifts almost at once to talking about feelings: his feelings, of course, and those of the people who agree with him. They’re anxious, he tells us. They’re grieving. They’re depressed. They’re despondent. And of course it’s all the fault of those horrible people over there, those “cowards or selfish monsters or wretched social liabilities willfully closed off to the reality of imminent doom,” who are deliberately keeping climate change activists from saving the world.

Then, of course, comes the call to arms—to “ignore, marginalize, and defeat” those horrible people over there. “That means protests,” he tells us. “That means lawsuits. That means trying to convince deniers or holdouts with our reasons. That means shouting them down at town halls if giving reasons fails.” It means, to be precise, exactly those things that climate change activists have been doing over and over again for the last twenty years, with a noticeable lack of success.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Twilight of the Intelligentsia

The Twilight of the Intelligentsia

I promise, I didn’t time this sequence of posts so that this one would come out the morning after one of the most bitterly fought midterm elections in memory.  Nor, of course, did I have advance notice of the outcome, though it wasn’t a surprise to me that the much-ballyhooed “blue wave” would flop as badly as it did.  In place of the sweeping rejection of Trump’s presidency that the Democratic Party called for, the usual first-term midterm reaction that brings the minority party back into power in Congress gave the Dems only a thin majority in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile they lost badly in the Senate, where an expanded Republican majority can continue to ratify Trump’s judicial nominees and block any attempt to use the constitutional mechanism of impeachment to remove him from office.

In the weeks ahead we’ll doubtless see any number of attempted analyses of what did or didn’t happen in the midterm elections, spinning an equivocal election to support one or the other side of a savagely divided electorate. Popcorn vendors will have plenty of business as those of us not committed to either of these two contending forces watch the posturing from a comfortable distance. Back beyond the momentary passions of politics and personalities move broader forces, and it’s important to try to sense those now, as the smoke of the election clears and it becomes possible, for those who are willing, to look past the present moment and catch some glimpse of the deeper cycles of history in which elections play a transient role.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America and Russia: Tamanous and Sobornost

America and Russia: Tamanous and Sobornost

In the first two essays in this sequence, I sketched out the framework of Oswald Spengler’s vision of the process by which great cultures rise, work through their possibilities, and fossilize once those possibilities have been pushed as far as they can go. That vision of history pretty reliably generates a profound unease among people raised in Western industrial societies, for those societies—the heirs of what Spengler named Faustian culture, the great culture that emerged in western and central Europe starting around the year 1000, and holds temporary dominion over the globe—prefer to see history in a different and far more simplistic way.

In the Faustian worldview, it’s inconceivable that the world’s cultures each have their own possibilities, their own values and insights and ways of understanding the world, which cannot be reduced to any single trajectory. In the Faustian worldview, there is only one range of possibilities open to human beings, the one set out by Faustian culture; all other cultures can be seen only as inadequate attempts to attain the Faustian model. There can be no different but equally valid sets of values and insights and ways of understanding the world; there is simply the Faustian way, which is self-evidently true, and every other way, which is superstitious, benighted, and obviously wrong. (Watch today’s ideologically correct literary critics denouncing the writers of past generations for not sharing the values of today’s elite Western culture, and you can see this sort of giddily self-centered thinking in full and inglorious flower.)

In exactly the same way, it’s unthinkable to the Faustian mind that history might consist of a sequence of different trajectories of rise and fall.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America and Russia, Part Two: The Far Side of Progress

America and Russia, Part Two: The Far Side of Progress

Two weeks ago, in the first part of this sequence of posts, we explored the way that Oswald Spengler’s insights into the cycles of history can be used not only to make sense of the past, but also to get some idea of the shape of the future ahead of us. That’s explosive stuff, because the future thus revealed isn’t the one demanded by the cultural obsessions of the present day.

Every great culture, to use Spengler’s phrase, has its own vision of what the future ought to be like. In Apollonian culture—the great culture of the ancient Mediterranean basin, which hit its cultural stride in classical Greece and metastasized beneath the eagles of Rome—the future everyone expected was the present endlessly prolonged. The vision of time and change that guided Apollonian culture in the centuries of its maturity had three phases: first, things were in chaos, then a mighty power arose to set things in order, and that order endured forever.  In religious terms, the mighty power was the god Jupiter taming the Titans with his thunderbolts; in political terms, the mighty power was the Roman Empire bringing the warring kingdoms of the world under its sway; the same logic applied to classical philosophy, which sought to teach the rational mind how to reduce the chaos of the self into an enduring order, and so on.

In Magian culture—the great culture that emerged in the Middle East as Apollonian culture peaked and began to fade, hit its cultural stride during the Abbasid caliphate and metastasized under the Ottoman Empire—this vision found few takers once the Apollonian pseudomorphosis faded out. The Magian vision of time and change, rather, is the one familiar to most of my readers through its reflection in Christian theology.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America and Russia, Part One: Stirrings in the Borderlands

America and Russia, Part One: Stirrings in the Borderlands

To my mind, one of the main sources of collective stupidity in modern American society is our pervasive bad habit of short-term thinking. It’s embarrassingly rare for anyone in American public life to stop and say aloud, “Hold it. What’s going to happen if we keep on doing this for more than a few more years?”  Now of course one of the reasons so few people do this is that those who do get shouted down as impractical dreamers, and the mere fact that the so-called dreamers are so often right, and the practical men of affairs who dismiss them are so often wrong, somehow never inspires the least willingness to rethink the matter.

This has been on my mind more than usual of late, as the price of oil ratchets slowly upwards. It’s risen over the last few years from its post-2009 lows to a point at which it’s beginning to strain the economies of third world nations. It’ll strain the economies of major industrial nations, too, because it’s repeating the same cycle that drove the drastic price spikes of 1973 and 2008.

Those of my readers who have been paying attention know this song well enough to sing all the verses in the shower. Petroleum is a finite, nonrenewable, and irreplaceable resource, and we’re burning it at a rate of some 93 million barrels every single day. (The next time the media yells about how some new oil field has been discovered with umpty-ump billion barrels of oil in it, divide that by 93 million and see how far it goes.)  With each passing year, the hunt for new oil reserves to replace those that have already been exhausted turns up less and less—at this point, annual discoveries are around 11% of annual consumption.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Taste of Another’s Thoughts

The Taste of Another’s Thoughts

We’ve taken a somewhat rambling route in our discussion of how each of us can haul ourselves up out of the swamp of abstractions in which modern industrial society is sinking fast, and find our way to the solid ground of things that actually matter. I know some of my readers have been baffled or irritated by the vagaries of that route, but that can’t be helped. Our sense of where to look for straightforward solutions is exactly what’s led us into this swamp; raised in an era of abstraction, we instinctively try to solve problems caused by too much abstraction by piling on more abstraction, or swapping out one set of abstractions for their opposites.

As Einstein pointed out, you can’t solve a problem by using more of the thinking that created it. What’s more, the solutions to really intransigent problems usually have to be found by asking questions about the most basic assumptions that undergird the thinking that created them. One of Einstein’s odder contemporaries, the irrepressible Charles Fort, put it this way: “It is by thinking things that schoolboys know better than to think that discoveries are made.”

For most of two thousand years, to cite a useful example, astronomers across the western half of Eurasia had tried to make sense of the motions of the planets under the assumption that the sun, moon, and planets moved in circles. The result, as observations piled up, was a vast creaking mechanism of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants—geometrical gimmicks intended to force circles into copying the simple and elegant motions of the heavens. It took a mystical astrologer named Johannes Kepler, who’d brooded over Renaissance sacred geometry for decades, to see through the clutter, realize that the planets moved in ellipses rather than circles, and send the whole lumbering mass of fudge factors into history’s compost heap.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Returning to the Commonplace

Returning to the Commonplace

There are times when the twilight of the American century takes on a quality of surreal absurdity I can only compare to French existentialist theater or the better productions of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and this is one of them. Over the weekend, in response to a chemical-weapons incident in Syria that may or may not have happened—governments on all sides are making strident claims, but nobody’s offering evidence either way—US, British, and French military units launched more than a hundred state-of-the-art cruise missiles at three Syrian targets that may or may not have had anything to do with chemical weapons, damaging a few buildings and inflicting injuries on three people.

James Howard Kunstler, in a recent and appropriately blistering essay, termed this “kabuki warfare.”  It’s an apt term, though I confess the situation makes me think rather more of John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly (Bombing) Runs, or perhaps a play by Camus in which Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin sit around talking while they wait for the endlessly delayed arrival of an American cruise missile named Godot. What, exactly, was accomplished by Donald Trump’s red-faced bluster, the heavily rehearsed outrage and cringing subservience of our European lapdogs-cum-allies, and all those colorful photo ops of missiles blasting off?

To be sure, there’s nothing even remotely new about the latest skit from this transatlantic flying circus. For most of a decade now the US military has been carrying out a similar sort of warfare against jihadi militias in Syria and Iraq, pretending to fight Islamic State in much the same way a mime pretends to be trapped in a phone booth—a habit pointed up by the way that the Russian military, which has a less ineffectual notion of warfare, pushed Islamic State into prompt collapse by having their cruise missiles and bombs actually hit something.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Twilight of Authority

The Twilight of Authority

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the need for a rhetorical education—that is, an education that doesn’t presume to lay down the law about what’s true and what’s false, but instead teaches each individual how to understand and assess claims about truth and falsehood. That’s a concept many people find challenging these days. We live in the last phases in an era of abstraction, and the notion of truth in most people’s minds these days follows suit:  when people talk about truth, they generally mean some set of generalizations dunned into their heads that are supposedly always true in the abstract, even though they may not work all the time (or at all) in the irreducibly grubby and complex world we actually inhabit.

Think about the things that the people around you consider to be truths. (I’d ask you to think about the things that you consider to be truths, but as that guy from Nazareth noted, it’s usually a lot easier to spot the mote in your brother’s eye than the beam in your own.)  Unless you run with an unusually philosophically literate crowd, most of these supposed truths can be expressed neatly in sentences of the form “all X are Y”: “all white people are racists,” “all people on welfare are lazy,” and so on. That’s the kind of abstract generalization I’m talking about.

People get very defensive about their favorite abstract generalizations. If you question the logic behind them, you can expect to be told that you’re ignorant, and quite probably that you’re evil as well.  For that matter, if you encounter realities that don’t fit the generalization and have the bad taste to mention that in public, you can expect to be told that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. Now this may be so in an abstract sense, but the plural of anecdote is also one of the very few ways you can find out that the abstract generalizations you’ve constructed out of your data are hopelessly out of touch with the real world.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

A Rhetorical Education

A Rhetorical Education

Quite a bit of the discussion on this blog and its predecessors has focused on controversial issues, the kind of thing that causes rhetoric to fly fast and thick.  Given the themes I like to discuss in these essays, that could hardly have been avoided.  Ours is an age riven by disputes, in which debate has taken over much of the space occupied by physical violence in less restrained eras. (How many people died in the struggle that put Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton in the White House?  During most of human history, that wouldn’t have been an ironic question.)

Yet this contentious age has an odd feature, and it’s one I’ve referenced more than once in recent posts on this blog:  the fact that the vast majority of the rhetoric deployed in the disputes of our day is so stunningly incompetent.

Consider the way that any widely discussed issue these days is debated: say, the squabble over legislation now before Congress that would make web hosting firms and content providers liable for illegal content posted by third parties. The supporters of the bills in question insist that it’s all about stopping online sex trafficking, and anyone who opposes the bills as written must be in favor of sex crimes. The opponents of the bills, for their part, insist that they’re just an excuse for censorship, and anyone who supports them must be trying to destroy the internet.

Set aside for the moment the substantive issues involved—they’re real and important, but not relevant to the theme of this week’s post—and look at the rhetoric. Both sides have chosen the strategy of flinging over-the-top accusations at those who disagree with them. That strategy’s familiar enough these days that nobody seems to have thought to ask the obvious question: does it work?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Dangerous Year

A Dangerous Year

‘Tis the season for making predictions about the events lurking in wait for us all in the upcoming year, and I see no reason to demur from that common if risky habit. Those of my readers who’ve been following my blog since the days of The Archdruid Report know that my method in making these predictions is at once simple, effective, and highly unpopular.  Put briefly, I pay attention to what happened when the same conditions occurred in previous historical epochs, and predict that the same consequences are going to follow.

It’s simple because I’ve got five thousand years of history to work with, and since human beings are much less original than they like to think, it’s a safe bet that the events taking place now have occurred many times before, with predictable consequences. It’s effective because, again, human beings are much less original than they like to think, and the more of them get involved in any given event, the more of the Brownian motion brought into being by individual cussedness gets canceled out. Sure, we have lots of shiny new technogimmickry now, but the brains, hearts, and less mentionable organs guiding said technogimmickry haven’t changed noticeably since the end of the last ice age. That’s why the American special forces wasting their time and your money in the northern Euphrates valley right now are enacting a failed strategy that was already old when the legions of the Babylonian Empire were doing the same thing in the same place three thousand-odd years ago.

It’s highly unpopular, finally, because an astonishing number of people in today’s industrial societies labor under the bizarre delusion that when we make the same old mistakes and get the same overfamiliar consequences, we’re actually doing brand new, innovative, unparalleled things that will inevitably succeed in ways nothing has ever succeeded before, and how dare anyone suggest that we might learn something from the lessons of history!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Systems That Suck Less

Systems That Suck Less

Last week’s post on political economy attracted plenty of disagreement. Now of course this came as no surprise, and it was also not exactly surprising that most of the disagreement took the shape of strident claims that I’d used the wrong definition of socialism. That’s actually worth addressing here, because it will help clear the ground for this week’s discussion.

The definition I used, for those who weren’t here last week, is that socialism is the system of political economy in which the means of production are owned by the national government. Is that the only possible definition of socialism, or the only definition that’s ever been used? Of course not. The meanings of words are not handed down from on high by God or somebody; the meanings of words are always contested among competing points of view, and when a word has become as loaded with raw emotions as the word “socialism” has, you can bet that every one of the definitions you’ll be offered is slanted in one direction or another.

That’s just as true of the definition I’ve offered, of course, as it is of any other. I want to talk about who owns the means of production in society, since this is arguably the most important issue in political economy, and it so happens that socialism, capitalism, and many other systems can be defined quite neatly in this way. A century ago, when it was still acceptable to talk about systems of political economy other than capitalism and socialism, the definition I’ve proposed was one of the most common. You don’t hear it very often now, and there’s a reason for that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An Introduction to Political Economy

An Introduction to Political Economy

Last month, when I looked across the vast gray wasteland of the calendar page ahead and noted that there were five Wednesdays in November, I asked readers—in keeping with a newly minted but entertaining tradition here on Ecosophia—to suggest a theme for the fifth Wednesday post. This blog being the eccentric phenomenon that it is, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that the result was a neck-and-neck contest between a post on nature spirits and a post on alternatives to capitalism and socialism, with a focus on democratic syndicalism. Nature spirits won by a nose, but there was enough interest in the other option that I decided to go ahead and write a post on that as well.

Nature spirits and democratic syndicalism may not seem to have much in common, but I’ve discovered one unexpected similarity: it’s very difficult to discuss either one in a single post. To make any kind of sense out of the ancient belief that the forces of nature are best understood and most truly experienced as persons rather than things, it turned out to be necessary to delve into the entire tangled mess our culture has made about the concept of personhood, and what does and doesn’t count as a person. Only when that was cleared away could we go on and talk about what it means to experience nature as composed of persons rather than things.

In the same way, if we’re going to make any kind of sense of the alternatives to capitalism and socialism, it’s going to be necessary to talk for a while about capitalism, socialism, and the third and usually unmentionable system of modern industrial economics—yes, that would be fascism.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The One Drop Fallacy

The One Drop Fallacy

Last month, in the process of exploring the awkward fact that most people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think, I talked at some length about thoughtstoppers: those crisp little words or phrases that combine absurdity and powerful emotions to short-circuit the thinking process.  Thoughtstoppers, as I noted then, very often keep the people around us (and ourselves, let’s be honest) from getting past blind emotion and dealing with the rising spiral of problems that confront us today. They’re everywhere these days; the media is awash with them, and every politician and pundit spews them into our mental ecosystems the way computer factories spew toxic waste into the environment. Learning to detect and dismantle them is a crucial skill for navigating past the rocks and whirlpools that beset voyages of the mind just now.

I’m sorry to say, though, that learning about thoughtstoppers—useful and indeed necessary as that is—will not keep you out of all the mental traps set for the unwary in today’s world. There are other things that lead people into mental dysfunctions of various kinds, and as we proceed with the current sequence of posts on learning how to think, it’s going to be necessary to do as Lewis Carroll recommended in The Hunting of the Snark:

…It next will be right
To describe each particular batch;
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
From those that have whiskers, and scratch.

Some of the traps in question are logical fallacies so old they have names in Latin.  We’ll be getting to those in due time, not least because it’s good sport to point out, to people who insist that their notions are exciting cutting-edge insights nobody ever thought before, that any ordinarily bright twelve-year-old in ancient Rome could have explained to them exactly why the notions in question are so full of holes they make Swiss cheese jealous.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Field Guide to Thoughtstoppers

A Field Guide to Thoughtstoppers

It occurred to me a while back that one very simple issue is responsible for much of the crisis of our age. No question, that crisis has plenty of causes, some of them recent, some of them much less so; to get a clear understanding of the way that modern industrial civilization has backed itself into a corner from which the only exit leads straight down, it’s necessary to trace patterns of belief and action that go back to the early days of the industrial revolution, to the rise of mechanistic philosophy at the end of the Renaissance, or all the way back to the rejection of the Pagan gods and goddesses of Nature by newly minted prophetic religions obsessed by the glittering dream of a perfect otherworld on the far side of death.

All these are relevant, and indeed important. Yet it’s not always necessary to understand a problem in all its intricacies to come up with a viable solution. People were breeding plants and animals to get inheritable characteristics they wanted millennia before anybody had the least idea what DNA is, and Isaac Newton in his Principia Mathematica famously refused to discuss the reasons why gravity worked the way it did. “I frame no hypotheses,” he wrote, and that act of self-limitation was essential to his triumph, allowing him to focus entirely on the mathematics of how gravity functions without being distracted by the then-insoluble question of why.

In the same way, plenty of things that could have been done to head off the coming of our present planetary crisis required no particular grasp of the historical complexities that got us into the mess we’re in.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our Shoggoths, Ourselves

Our Shoggoths, Ourselves

There are many ways I could talk about the point I want to make in this week’s post, but when it comes to the really difficult issues—and yes, we’re going to be talking about one of those—the indirect routes are generally the most useful. For that reason, I want to start out with a seeming irrelevancy, and talk a bit about shoggoths.

Some of my readers already know about shoggoths. For the benefit of those who don’t, I’ll note that they’re one of the many species of imaginary critters that slithered out of the perfervid brain of iconic American fantasy-horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Shoggoths look a bit like huge hungry masses of iridescent black soap bubbles, fitted out with a random scattering of phosphorescent green eyes that ooze to the surface and then sink again. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re nightmarishly fast, and like most of the other critters in the Lovecraftian universe, their entire purpose in existence is to give investigators something to run away from as quickly as possible, screaming in terror all the while.

That sort of thing is a staple of bad horror fiction, but Lovecraft was doing something at once highly subtle and unpleasantly familiar with it. Central to his worldview was the belief that the eight-inch-long lump of meat called the human brain is completely out of its league when it tries to make sense of the cosmos in which we live, and can all too easily go stark staring crazy if it makes the attempt. His monstrous beings and tentacled devil-gods get most of their power over the reader from their sheer incomprehensibility. In his very best stories—“The Color Out Of Space” is perhaps the finest example—that theme takes center stage, and lives are destroyed and minds shattered by a force without malice and without meaning, irrupting from an impersonal cosmos serenely indifferent to the pretensions of our species.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Cataclysm
Click on image to purchase