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Brian M
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Brian M is now following Dave Cohen
Dec 1, 2013
@Oliver - I disagree that there is no point in living in any meaningful sense. However, I suppose it depends on what kind of "point" you are trying to make. If you are talking about changing human nature, then you're right, it's pointless. Human nature will not change, en masse, over any time frame meaningful to individual humans. Ditto human behavior, absent present, in-your-face, existential crisis. On the other hand, if you are talking about individuals and their lives, then I think there is a point. Any number actually. I think you can consciously work towards being wiser. I think you can actively work towards treating those around you as well as possible. I think you can work towards enjoying life and those around you as much as possible, while still minimizing your own negative short and long term impacts on the world. And so on. Will any of this change human nature or human behavior on a larger scale? Nope. Will it prevent the bottleneck and impacts that George and others have described so well? Nope. But that doesn't make it pointless. Just one man's opinion.
Toggle Commented Aug 21, 2013 on Either Profits Go or We Go at Question Everything
It seems to me that this is life, not just human instinct. Living things expand to use up their available energy. Yeast. Reindeer. Humans. For the most part, the only difference is that humans have money, guns and lawyers. We do also have the ability to talk endlessly (and, generally, uselessly), allowing us to explain to ourselves why we are really much smarter than yeast or reindeer. As a result of these human "capabilities", we will surely make the final reckoning as painful as possible. But, unlike yeast or reindeer, we will be telling ourselves how smart we are (and believing every word), all the way down.
Toggle Commented Dec 10, 2012 on Is The Earth F**cked? at Decline of the Empire
Why is it that I seem to be inured to the constant damage we do to our own species, but continually depressed and saddened by what we do to every other living thing on the planet. :-( Too. Fucking. Depressing.
Toggle Commented Nov 30, 2012 on Dissolving Sea Snails! at Decline of the Empire
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2012 on Happy Thanksgiving at Decline of the Empire
The Smart Money is investing in the repo business.
If you judge the quality of a society by how it treats its weaker members (very young, very old, sick, poor, etc.), how is the US doing? Nuf said. The thing is this is very likely only going to get worse. It seems to me that we are, virtually every year, living in an increasingly self-centered, I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now society. As the empire strains under the weight of it's terminal loss of momentum, how is such a society likely to react? If you said "poorly", you are a master of understatement. It seems to me that human nature is such that the personal survival instinct, on its own, would probably result in the easy ignoring of the neediest members of our society. Combined with the the short-sighted, self-serving, winner-take-all, losers-fail-because-they-are-weak attitude carefully cultivated within our society over the past half century, I suspect we will happily blame the weak for their weakness, detest them for their lack of "self-motivation", and label them undeserving of the little support we currently provide. That is, of course, until enough of us join their ranks. When will that be? Who knows, but the story shows it's happening faster all the time. Is it likely to slow down much as the empire's structure crumbles from within and without? What happens then? I really don't know, but human nature being what it is, and the American "character" being what it is, it seems hard to see how that ends with smiles and laughter.
Toggle Commented Nov 20, 2012 on Even More Invisible Poor at Decline of the Empire
Will the last human left please carve the following in stone: "We had mad skills."
Is it just me or are we increasingly seeing this story... The context is some enormous problem caused by human beings (okay, they often don't acknowledge causation, so we'll say "affecting"). They trot out a small number of "experts", usually from the baby boomer generation that has been the greatest beneficiary of the behaviors that cause most of these problems. There is always at least one pessimist and one techno-optimist. Then they bring in some young, can-do, baby-faced youngsters with little experience beyond their academic training. These young folks then naturally, having not experienced much in the way of real human nature, blithely dismiss the pessimists as wrong, embrace the optimistic view, and present an aura of self-confidence in the ability of young humans to solve any problems. Yayyyyyy! Everyone can now feel good. It is safe to ignore the boogie man. Come on! Let's all sing Kumbayah. Life is good! You may all now happily return to your shopping. Nothing to see here. Move along. Could just be me, but it seems to be I've seen this story line about a half dozen times in the last year or so. This will no doubt not be the last.
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2012 on Optimists And Pessimists at Decline of the Empire
"The memo estimates that operating and capital costs to extract a barrel of oil from the tar-like sands have both more than doubled over the past decade. It blames a chronic shortage of workers and resulting sky-high labour costs as the main cause of increased operating expenses." Hmmm. Let's see. In 2002 (probably 2000 data), the US paid $9.85/mbtu (million BTU) for energy. In 2012, the US is paying $18.73/mbtu. Well, look at that. The average price for energy doubled over the last decade. Considering that energy is an input (the ultimate input) to everything we do, could that, rather than labor, be an issue in the rising cost of production? Naahhhhh! Apparently the idea of receding horizons is lost on these people. And Jesus wept.
Increasingly, it seems obvious that humans (as a group) are short-sighted convenience-seekers. In fact, I think that short-term convenience is really the holy grail of modern industrialized society, perhaps of humanity itself. In my observation, there is just no way that modern humans (as a group) will give up either the conveniences they have or the pursuit of further convenience, at least voluntarily. Of course, since these conveniences virtually all rest on the back of fossil fuels, they will eventually have to go. As you point out, the only question in that regard is when. Of course, that's not a particularly meaningful question, since the answer certainly falls within a single human lifetime from now... geologically speaking, it's basically happening now. So, perhaps a more interesting question is what these short-sighted convenience-seeking primates are going to do when their deified conveniences begin to disappear? What will their reaction be? Frankly, I shudder to think because my gut instinct is to say that they will not deal well with it. Our nature is to be short-sighted and to seek greater convenience. Given that, humans will trade whatever they have left to preserve existing convenience or garner greater convenience. Since, for humans, this is generally a trade-off of long-term impacts (worse outcomes on future generations) or accelerated impacts (bad outcomes sooner) for some kind of short-term, technology-driven convenience, I assume they will do the same thing. We are one trick ponies. Left to our own devices we will surely make a bad future worse and push it forward in the vain desire to avoid inconveniencing our entitlement to our cherished "way of life".
Toggle Commented Oct 9, 2012 on Horseshit Stories at Decline of the Empire
Persevere? Perseverance is generally what the people who are sitting pretty tell the people in deep shit to have. "Hey buddy, rough situation. Still, you're tough. I know you'll endeavor to persevere."
Friends don't let friends hedge drunk.
I like to think of it as all of modern humanity is built as boats on a river of Fossil Fuels. The increasing flow of the river has, like any big river, allowed more traffic. As the flow of the river wanes, it will support less traffic. In a hat tip to physics, what goes up, must come down.
Hmmm, what's that sound I hear? Is that the fat lady singing? Nope. Sorry. That's the echo of the fat lady. The fat lady has left the building... just like Elvis. As they say in these parts (Boston)... the pahty is OVAH! The class war has been fought (okay, only by one side, while the other side simply stood there yelling, "Thank you sir, may I have another!"). The elite have won that battle. No process that is inherently controlled by those same elites is going to reverse course. Brandeis was right, and now democracy is dead in this country. The Supreme Court was just shoveling dirt in the grave with Citizens United. Change, if it comes at all, is unlikely to be for the better, unless one considers the vagaries of revolution to be a good thing. But that time is far off. After all, the same masses who watched their middle class existence being systematically pillaged are the ones who would have to rise up. They still think the Dream is alive, and that they (due to their entitled purity and special hard work) will rise up to join the elites. What would it take for them to change? How long would it take for them to see, understand and act in anger? I'll bet it's longer than anybody thinks. People are desperate to believe that things will be better, that what they have always believed is really true. They will cling to those beliefs until... well, who really knows, but a long, freakin' time. Too long, I fear, for change absent blood and tears. Like I said... O V A H! But feel free to vote for whomever you want. After all, it is our "right" and our "responsibility".
The shifting baselines problem is, I think, made worse by the increasing absence of any meaningful historical education. Even basic history is increasingly falling by the wayside as school systems rush to meet arbitrary guidelines that focus almost exclusively on math and "literacy". There was a time, within my educational memory, where we were taught, at quite a detailed level, about the natural world and our historical relationship to it. I remember topics like pollution, population, oceans, food chains, rain forests, and a host of other issues that helped show us that our world was changing, and not necessarily for the better. My kids receive virtually none of this education (at least through 6th grade), with their limited exposure to history focused on colonial interactions with native peoples. Now it seems like all change is good, all change is "progress". There seems to be little effort to educate children with regards to the nature of our planet over time. The failure to do this reinforces our natural tendency to simply assume that the way it was when we were young is the way it always was before. It's hard to overcome our irrational minds. Harder still when we don't make the effort.
This is probably the single biggest thing that gets me down (although there are a number of them). Not only is it patently impossible that corporations will voluntarily change what is, from their view, working perfectly (increasingly sucking all wealth out of the system and into their control), but the system is so inherently corrupt that there is absolutely no possibility that even popular outrage could affect real change. Worse, there is unlikely to be popular outrage because the public has been sold (at this point genetically) that this pursuit of profit is the be all-end all of life, that those with money are superior to those without, that the rich deserve what they have, that the poor deserve what they have, and (this is the biggest lie of all) that they "work hard" they will have the chance to join the 1%. A huge percentage of America believes that crap, another large percentage wants to believe it and hopes it's true. These people will NEVER (at least until they are penniless and on the street) agitate for change, let alone really work for it. Fuhgeddaboudit.
Practically speaking, it's all just theater and matters not. Politically, it might end up being mildly entertaining (but probably not ;-). Clearly, nothing happens until after the election as both side want to bludgeon the other with the CLIFF. After the election, you will almost certainly end up with a lame-duck session of congress whose only real issue is this. What will they do? Obama has threatened to veto anything that doesn't a) meet/exceed the automatic cuts, and b) contain some degree of tax increases in addition to cuts. Will congress cave and rescind their cuts? Will Obama actually veto it? Will anybody offer up anything remotely meaningful? Will the Democrats be shut out, leaving the Republicans twiddling their thumbs until their guy gets sworn in? Or do they cut severely and try to lay the whole thing on Obama on his way out? Lots of ways this could go. My personal guess.... both sides cave, somehow kicking the can further down the road and into the next congress.
Posit: Humans are rational Definition of insanity (per Einstein): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" Observation: Human beings constantly watch/listen to/read the news expecting something different to happen. Conclusion: Theory is wrong, humans are not rational. Q.E.D.
So, let me see if I can summarize... 1. Human beings are not rational. 2. It's always about the money (i.e., economics is more important than everything else). Does that about cover it?
Toggle Commented Aug 9, 2012 on Climate Change Idiots at Decline of the Empire
Seems intuitively obvious. What's the old saying, if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Well, if the only tool our species really has (or thinks it knows how to use) is that of adding technology, then every problem will look like it needs more technology. If you buy the idea that additional technology/complexity eventually exhibits diminishing (and eventually negative) returns, and you believe that humans are, either by habit or genetics, predisposed to solve all problems with more technology/complexity, then you kind of have to come to the conclusion that, well, we are good and truly screwed. The idea of habit vs. genetics may (or may not) be important in the long term. Over the short term, it matters not at all. In either case, the behavior would be the same, given that the habit is based on conditions of growth beyond living memory. However, after the addition of more technology/complexity has sufficiently greased the skids (as in and introduced the living memory of the species to a new set of realities, the difference might matter. If the trait is genetic, humans will continue to try to apply technology/complexity in ways that inevitably, in our new circumstances, both fail and make things worse. On the other hand, if the trait is actually a learned habitual behavior, then enough time in changed circumstance (e.g., decline) might actually lead to changes in behavior that might actually be positive many generations hence. Of course, this is a purely theoretical question because, as I said, over any short to mid-term time frame, we are probably screwed regardless.
Hmmm, I could have sworn the two rules of politics were.... Rule 1. Politics make you stupid. Rule 2. See rule 1. I guess these are corollaries. ;-)
Dave, I think this is an excellent observation. I think there's an additional hope-related problem, perhaps simply reflective of your observation that no truly genuine hope is apparent. Even in the area of genuine hope, even if actions were apparent, there is a tendency (perhaps more of an epidemic) to treat hope improperly. Hope, genuine hope, hope engaged with change and effort, is a potentially valuable thing. Hope is, on the other hand, an awful thing to rely upon. Our species, and our (American) culture, seems to have come to the point where we are no long willing to work towards our hopes, but only to rely upon them in expectation that they will somehow be fulfilled (perhaps because they have been in the past, or perhaps because we simply think we deserve it). In our reliance, we effectively convert any potential genuine hope to false hope, for reliance relieves us of the need to change (or even try to change), and, as your essay notes, change is the hallmark of genuine hope. Simply, genuine hope can be enormously complementary to hard work in difficult times, but hope is not much help if it's only strategy.
Or... another theory... Maybe humans got to the island, and, because it's highly isolated (sort of like Jurassic Park... note foreshadowing), encountered VERY LARGE RATS. Maybe the rats forced the humans to build Rapa Nui (from the rat language meaning "stupid human tricks") to worship them (you know, like a Sphynx, but smaller). Unfortunately, since rats are omnivores, they eventually ate all the people, ending that party game, and, because rats suffer from stupid group think, they then ate all the trees, tried to swim off the island, and ended up as shark bait. "OK, I've got a theory. All I need now is some evidence—any evidence will do!—to support it." :-)
The depressing part being that this provides a general indicator of just how far we have to go. It means that, for the most part, America still has to look forward to moving through Anger, Bargaining, and Depression before we can arrive at even a possibility for Acceptance, itself a requirement for even a half-assed meaningful response to any of the predicaments we face. By the way, ponder, for a moment, how much fun it might be to live through Anger and Depression in a society of well-armed irrational humans, fully engulfed in a faith-based belief that they have an inherent, preordained right to the American Way of Life As They Believe It To Be. Yee-haw!