SATURDAY, MAR 21, 2015

Circles of Non-belief

The Federation Alternative



TUCSON (A-P) — Mohandas Gandhi had issues with the social order and used nonviolence in preference to business-as-usual forced/violent/corrupt political change. Gandhi, the "most Christ-like man of the 20th century," was also nonsectarian and viewed all religious differences as sectarian, including those between Hindus and Muslims. Sectarianism includes political factions, AKA parties. Imagine a world without sectarian divisions, without religious or political affiliations. Would the level of violence, including verbal, be lessened to the point that nonviolence would be the norm? What if people did not wear their sincerely held beliefs on their chest or paste them on their forehead?

Perhaps "nonsectarian" is the bigger, better idea and cause worth dying for than nonviolence, but like nonviolence, a cause explicitly not worth killing for. Gandhi sold "nonviolence" to religionists as "nonsectarian" was unsellable in the 20th century. Perhaps "nonsectarian," a corollary of "nonviolence," is an idea whose time has come. The 22nd century might not be soon enough.

The problem of violence is largely a sectarian issue. "Nonsectarian" boils down to not letting belief-based divisiveness fester into violence. People should consider coming together, leaving sectarian differences behind, and forming circles based on a common ground (AKA reality). Invoking ideological certitudes, whether religious or political, are circle breakers. Minimizing them is good, eliminating them is better. Preferable to suppressing ideological certitudes is to free the mind, to set the mind absolutely unconditionally free from all deeply held beliefs worth dying for (or killing for).

Beliefs are pervasive, seemingly entrenched, as slavery once was not so long ago. To have beliefs entails being had by them. Imagine a world were children are not told what to think, but taught how to think. A world in which telling a child what to think was considered child abuse, where perpetrators and their victims received therapy. Organized religion and organized political factions would pass away. The only organized violence left would be between frenzied fans after some sporting matches, though if identifying with one team and cultivating pseudo-tribal "team spirit" was not encouraged, inflamed fan violence would pass away too.

Individuals undertaking religious quests, engaging in religious inquiry, or playing sports would not go away. Political issues, and inquiry into how best to deal with them, would not go away. A mind freed from belief is a mind in a state of inquiry, one capable of deep learning. All conclusions are tentative, provisional, they come after reason and evidence are considered, and are always subject to change. Conclusions that come first and determine what one's reasoning shall be (and what evidence is cited) are sham (i.e. SHAM!) no matter how deeply held or regarded as unquestionable they may be by ever so many.

Fixed conclusions are beliefs, and belief therapy should be sought. Any concept that can be formulated, i.e. thought about, is subject to consideration and reconsideration. Ideas can be entertained, road tested, and let go of often more easily than taken up. Beliefs resemble concepts as free thoughts, but are functional opposites. Beliefs possess minds. Free thoughts are entertained by minds as guests. Unfortunately, natural languages do not make the difference clear. One can say, "I believe the earth orbits the sun," or "I believe the earth is flat."

If you believe the earth is flat or an oblate spheroid because you were told so, then "believe" is the correct word. If instead of "I believe Earth is an oblate spheroid" you wish to indicate awareness of the reasons and evidence supporting the claim, then say "I understand that the rotating Earth's shape can best be described as an oblate spheroid with a radius about 13 km less at the poles." You are not expressing a belief, but referencing evidence subject to questioning and inquiry.

How minds interpret "Earth" serves as a telling case study, one worth the effort to consider. The default representation created by human minds is that of a flat earth. Until about the 5th century BCE all humans, those who managed to leave any trace of what they thought, thought that earth was flat. Maybe the Atlantisians would have begged to differ, so "all" may be an obscene falsehood, but a partial list of those known to have thought they lived on a flat earth include: all known Bronze Age and Early Iron Age civilizations, Bible writers, Qur’an writer, those in India until early centuries CE, China until the 17th century CE, and aboriginal cultures of the Americas whose views are known or can be inferred. There were differences over details: round and flat (a disc), square and flat, rectangular (6 flat sides) doubt somewhere someone thought it was a flat triangle. Beliefs all.

To say that all humans once thought the earth was flat is not an extraordinary claim. Most Pre-Socratics thought the earth was flat and only a few Hellenists in the 4th century BCE and the next thought otherwise. Some 5th century BCE Hellenists allegedly entertained the idea of a spherical Earth, but why they thought so is unknown. Aristotle's reasons (4th century BCE) are known: 1) If everything on Earth falls toward the center (straight down), then by compression and convergence a sphere would be formed (This is merely a likely story based on reason to indicate a possibility, not evidence—that all things everywhere fall straight down is evidence, but not for a spherical vs flat earth). 2) Travelers going south see southern stars rise higher above the horizon and northern stars go below the horizon. 3) The shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse is always round which rules out the possibility that Earth is a round flat disc. If Earth was a flat circle and always faced the sun, then it would always cast a round shadow, but the sun is not always stationary directly overhead. Ergo Earth is spherical and on the other side animals, perhaps even people, walk upside down (reason and evidence combined).

Other Greeks added that when sailing toward an island that was a mountain sticking out of the sea, the tip is seen first and the island appears to rise from the sea as it is approached. Evidence-based ways of knowing are different. The devil is in the details; they are not matters of opinion or choice. Whether concepts feel good or seem beautiful is secondary or irrelevant. Reality trumps wishful thinking, tradition, and deeply held beliefs.

Aristotle was breathtakingly stupid at times as are all true believers. Seduced by abstract concepts of symmetry, equilibrium and cyclic repetition, he claimed that the equator was encircled by an impenetrable zone of ice with a southern pole of ice opposite the northern one. He was sure, based on no evidence whatsoever, that beyond the equatorial ice was a southern hemisphere were people sailed their own seas, forever separated from those in the north by the icy zone around the equator. In later life, forced to leave Athens because he was suspected of "impiety," he came to part company with Plato's infatuation with abstract ideas and became more empirical in his thinking. Over time he got smarter, the mark of high intelligence.


Help Thou My Belief

And Jesus said to him, "....All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help thou my unbelief."

The default way of knowing is to believe what an accident of birth determines that you believe. If born in a New Guinea tribe in which everyone, so far as you know, believes/knows that the recently widowed must be strangled to death to join their husbands, then so will you. You may wonder why only women are put to death, then ask an elder and learn why. If the elder detects any residue of doubt he might add that apostates ("a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle") also must be helped to transition. When your male nextdoor neighbor dies, his wife demands that her son, your best friend, strangle her because her husband's brothers are not available to do so (per tradition). You, if you are a good friend, will consider killing her to spare your friend from having to do so. This is not a hypothetical situation. Think, "There but for an accident of birth go I."

In a closed society what is commonly believed is "taken in with your mother's milk." Free thought is rare to non-existent in a monolithic sect—all organized religion and political factions are separatists from the common ground of planetary environment and humanity. There are consequences: Mothers are put to death, genitalia are mutilated, sons and daughters volunteer to kill (for "honor, God, Country...."), corporations become people....

Take a bunch of cultures, sub-cultures all, and mix them together and you have today's world. People in New Guinea having contact with non-tribal others are shocked to learn that not everyone in the world kills widows. They never knew that there were such ignorant, barbaric heathens in the world that would suffer a widow to live. If you are not in the same position, in the same state of shock, one of your ancestors, not so very long ago, was. It typically takes more than a few generations to recover. Likely no humans alive today have fully recovered. Few seek to recover. When most are seeking to recover, it will be a "new world order."

Most humans today, being belief-based, form insular circles to preserve beliefs threatened by other "newfangled" beliefs. Most humans still teach their children what to think, as they had been. Even those who have changed their minds may feel compelled to inflict their changed minds on their children. Today most humans are confronted by the rude fact that there are other closed circles—many more closed circles than the one they were born into. There is now a "marketplace of ideas" and the more progressive shop in that marketplace. Others create new products and work tirelessly to sell them. There is intense competition to oversell you on all imaginable products whether they come wrapped in plastic or feel-good beliefs. This is widely considered, by consumers in the consumer society, as an improvement. But, more than ever, caveat emptor.

Threatening beliefs, beliefs that possess, are: traditional, superstitious, religious, and political ones. Ideas that are entertained by scholars, scientists, or citizens are not threatening unless "cherished." Option: don't cherish your beliefs, any of them, no not one. If necessary, reduce your beliefs to one dogma: "I know nothing, absolutely nothing, but I could be wrong."

Before going to bed, instead of praying or watching Fox News (or Democracy Now), read critically from a good book. There is more than one. Instead of praising God, Allah, or your favorite talking head, endeavor to think well. "Thought makes the whole dignity of man; therefore, endeavor to think well, that is the only morality." — Blaise Pascal, or as the Kogi put it, "There is no life [sustainable] without [ecolate] thought".

Instead of stagnating in the sub-culture of your choice (likely birth), instead of associating so far as possible only with others so afflicted, who read too few books, watch one channel, talk the same political or religious talk with the like minded....instead of wallowing with the elect in confirmation bias: Consider free thought, the open society, the open life, the consideration of all memetic offerings without liking or disliking, being for or against.

To willingly embrace the entire content of world culture, past, present, and whatever the future may bring is not possible as there are competing claims that cannot all be right, but to consider all offerings is a permissible endeavor. Culture 1 says a) children are never to be hit, spanked, corporally punished and can play with knifes, b) recent widows who do not demand to be strangled must be helped to transition by two relatives (one to hold her down and one who strangles her) and c) 10,000 other things. Culture 2 says a) spare the rod and spoil the child, b) that strangling widows is murder and c) 10,000 other things. Both cannot be right. You cannot embrace contradictory injunctions in your own life and inquiring minds want to know, want to consider. You may have been born into culture 1, 2, or 4,583 but it doesn't matter. All could be wrong. Someone (or more) somewhere could be right about something.

Culture 1 may be right about a) and not b). If so, culture 2 is wrong about a) but not b). The deciding factor need not be choice, personal preference, or belief-based opinion. Alternative would be to consider reasoned evidence. In favor of a) is that the vast majority of cultures do not hit children and do permit them to play with knifes as a learning experience. Evidence is that punishment is an ineffective modifier of behavior. Knifes are attractors and punishing children for being attracted to them does nothing to reduce the attraction, but does minimize instruction, experience, and learning. A reasonable interpretation of multicultural parenting experience is spare the rod and let children play with knifes, but dull ones, not razor sharp ones in the early years. As for whether Culture 1 is also right about widow killing, that determination is left as a exercise for the student (lifelong learners).

Consider claims, not claimants. You don't have to go to New Guinea to ask an elder why widows should be killed or to Somalia to ask why genitalia should be mutilated. Consult the anthropological literature for details as to why people do what they do. If two anthropologists offer contradictory data, both cannot be right, and if any offer to interpret the data for you, any and all could be wrong. Their interpretation is likely better informed than your neighbors or your own, but even the collective consensus of the majority of experts is subject to doubt. You can put no head higher than your own. Not because yours is the highest or bestest head, but because it is the only one you have. Subject all claims to the flames of an all consuming doubt and see what is left over.

Therefore; endeavor to think well. This is the first fork in the road: Be a believer or an inquirer. Conclusions either determine what your thinking shall be, or considered reason and evidence leads to tentative conclusions. I don't see a third option, but of course I could be wrong. We live in a world where virtually all children are conditioned from a tender age to be believers, and fed on a steady diet of comforting conclusions as adults who become willing consumers. That this is just how it is is a fact. That it could not be otherwise is a belief. You are not being asked to belief in free thought and join a community of freethinkers—the Freethinker Sect who believe in reason and evidence. Your options are existential: engage in belief, join a faction, be a faction of one or engage in inquiry, actually do it and see how it works for you. You will associate with believers, may even spend time with others engaged in inquiry, but you do not, will not, cannot join a sect, faction, party, organized religion, et al. as to do so is the end of inquiry. Inquiry is an option. Consider it, do it, but don't believe in it.


Inquiry Unto Death or The Music of the Spheres

To die as an inquirer one would first have to live as one. How might a life of inquiry be lived? Let's assume Juan and Mary are born into a traditional culture (a sub-culture, which need not be specified). There are some cultural near universals such as chant and dance to trance.

Some chant only to make music, some add stick beating or rhythmic sounds made by more melodious instruments such as drums or those with vibrating strings. Not surprisingly, Juan and Mary find they have an interest in music (and dance and trance). As children, the music offered was likely limited to the music their parents, family and community preferred, but they were curious and remained so throughout life. The music of neighboring villages was of interest. It was strange, but they kept listening and it had some appeal. They were of the first generation to travel further from their village than they could walk in a few days. As young adults they heard of a bus thing that was stopping at a village within walking distance. It brought strangers with camera things and boxes that made music. It was strange, but they endeavored to listen to it. Before long they managed to get a box of their own. It was a cellphone thing with internet access. They learned there was a world of music from many places and many times. They shared an interest in music, managed to travel, meet, marry, and spent their free time listening to the world's music.

Some compositions held special interest. They seemed to grow in interest the more times they were heard. Some music did not seem worth hearing the first time and became less so with repeated playing. Some was interesting the first time heard, but not the second time. Some was interesting the first and second time, but diminished thereafter, and so on. Juan and Mary developed similar but not identical tastes in music. They did not argue about matters of taste. They agreed that some music was best listened to using headphones.

What fascinated each was the music that bore up to repeated listening. There was no one genre, but individual compositions within many genres that passed the test of repeated hearing. For Juan, who developed a taste for instrumental music, the list included Boya's High Mountains and Flowing Water (5th - 8th century BCE), Rabanus' Veni Creator Spiritus, the Raga Sindhi-Bhairavi, Mei Hou Wang, Song of the Dragon & Phoenix, Greensleeves, Sakura Sakura (by unknown composers), Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus, Pachelbel's Canon in D, Vivaldi's Gloria Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Bach's Menuett in G Major, Scarlatti's Sonata in E, Handel's Hallelujah, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Beethoven's Piano Sonata #8, Wagner's Tannhauser, Brackett's Simple Gifts, Emmett's Dixie, Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Patrinos' Misirlou, Ravel's Bolero, De Rose's Deep Purple, Goodman's Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing), Arlen's Over the Rainbow, Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez, Strayhorn's Take the A Train, Monk's 'Round Midnight, Forest's Night Train, Smith's Dueling Banjos, Bernstein's Overture to Candide, Herrmann's Psycho Theme, Ventures' Walk Don't Run, Wang's Dance of the Yi People, Booker T & The Mg's Green Onions, Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia Overture, Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy, Theodorakis' Sirtaki Manolis, Morricone's Ecstasy of Gold, Zeppelin's Moby Dick, Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar Overture, Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Williams' The Imperial March, Glass' Vessels, Vangelis' Conquest of Paradise, Zappa's G-Spot Tornado, Whelan's Riverdance, Kats-Chermin's Eliza's Aria, Kondo's Twilight Princess, McCartney's Gratia from Ecce Cor Meum, and Skorupa's Shaent Blathanna to mention a few. Juan was aware the music of his childhood had been limited, and made an effort to expose himself to all and let the preferences fall where they may.

So Mary (who had a taste for vocal music) and Juan inquired into the nature of their interest in music and explored it. Neither subscribed dogmatically to one genre. Juan's taste for instrumental music was likely due to some limitation in how his brain worked. But with Mary's help, Juan came to appreciate Janis Joplin, for example, and Mary came to like Ravel. Differences there were, but neither formed a quasi-tribal allegiance to any genre/sect of music. It was not easy, something of a stretch was involved, but with music they were able to find common ground (their common endeavor to explore their resonance with music). By forming a circle based on common ground, by being nonsectarian, they helped expand one another's appreciation. The alternative is to call yourself a K-popper, listen only to K-pop, marry a K-popper, and endeavor to raise children who "appreciate" K-pop. Or you could go multicultural and fail to see a difference between Juan/Mary and a devoted K-popper, and claim to have no preferences, no way to judge others.

Forming circles based on music is relatively easy. Religion and politics are more challenging which is why avoiding these topics is recommended in polite, would-be civil society. Music can be contentious, sports can be too, but politics and religion notoriously are causes to die (and sometimes kill) for, or at least shout another down over. Musical differences, at least, rarely result in overt acts of violence/imprisonment (Pussy Riot sang, but it was religious and political powers who put them down, and not because they didn't like their music per se).

Forming circles, finding common ground based on religion and politics is, however, the same as forming inclusive musical circles as opposed to musical tribes, just more difficult. After thinking about how you might find common ground with others in shared musical inquiry who are on the music quest, move on to more difficult issues. If you come upon others who glare, grin, and blast you with their genre, move away from them as fast as you can. Participate in circles of non-belief.


Life After Religion

To be clear, "religion" means organized religion. Like music, authentic religious interests take the form of individuals inquiring into the nature of their interest in the religious life, if any, and exploring it. Free thinkers are like cats; they don't herd easily; they don't form sects. They read books about religions—about all religions. They consider what those presuming to teach others about things religious have to say, both the ones living and ones long dead. They may talk to believers, but they would not feel compelled to do so any more than they would feel compelled to go to New Guinea to talk to elders about widow killing, unless they were anthropologists and there was no other way to learn why they killed widows. Those with an interest in music, as distinct from group identity, don't join genres, nor limit their musical interest to their own tribal identity music. Those interested in what a religious life may involve do not join cults, sects, nor organized religions unless seduced into doing so.

Mary and Juan had religious interests. They considered offerings, all offerings. But neither was seduced by any. What all purveyors of religion offer are conclusions and they may use any human weakness to seduce the vulnerable. They will also appeal to reason and selectively cite evidence to sell their wares. It was because Mary and Juan had considered the offerings of so many sellers of certitudes that they came to realize all could not be right. All belief-based religious claims are based on arguments that involve authority. The seer, guru, prophet, the Book, the gods themselves they claim to channel are higher authorities than the believer. No inquiry is involved. Doubts are seen as weaknesses authorities seek to eliminate.

Is religion (organized) a vast sea of overused bath water? Or might there be a baby or two in it somewhere? Inquiring minds want to know. If there is something somewhere, is it to be found in the more esoteric core of organized religions shorn of dogma? Is there a philosophia perennis et universalis that should not be thrown out? Are there universal religious truths on whose foundation all organized religions and doctrines have grown?

Perhaps what distinguishes all religions to which a name can be given (Islam, Hinduism, Scientology....) is what is peculiar to each, which is precisely what is not universal, and therefore false. Perhaps there are universal religious truths which cannot be spoken, conceived, or thought about because they are not things the mind can conceptualize but are experiential in nature. Perhaps he who knows does not speak, cannot speak of things that have no yesterday, tomorrow, or today. If religious truths are existential, as distinct from conceptual in nature, perhaps existential inquiry merits human interest and exploration.

Religion as experiential inquiry involves practices. Individuals might try prayer, meditation, standing on mountain tops, entheogens, sitting in caves, or the time honored chant and dance to trance. Mary danced, Juan meditated, both sat quietly under the starry sky....their inquiry and wonder deepened. They often took part in circles of non-belief. They talked with others, but rarely with those who thought as they did. They often attended separate circles of fellow religious questers as they spent enough time talking to one another. They sought out those least likely to agree with anything they thought or had so far managed to think. In speaking one merely repeats what one already knows or thinks one knows and so learns nothing. If all others in a circle speak as you do, no one learns anything and confirmation bias is merely deepened. Humans talk, that's what they do, but best is to endeavor to make the talk productive. Talking with others who see as you see, think as you think is an attractor, but Mary and Juan did so in moderation, in small private encounters between consenting adults.

Life After Political Factions

Of politics, factions, parties....of seeming endless sectarianism, perhaps all that need be said is by way of pointing out the non-belief-based alternative. Political issues are real enough and the need for policies to address them is not to be ignored. Real solutions based on data, on a best-guess understanding of the nature of things, of how things work would be alternative to obeying short-term self-interests per politics-as-usual.

Belief-based politics and policy making, like belief-based religion, will pass away when most come to not believe in political 'solutions'. The making of effective policy involves informed judgment as evidenced by a capacity for critical thinking, problem solving—for finding things out. What the majority may eventually come to accept is the need for reality-based informed insight, the ability to iterate towarrds truth, to understand life, the universe and everything when looking through both the microscopes of specialists and the macroscope of systems science.

New technology, such as AI, allows new alternatives. Humans have such a fragile grasp of reality that perhaps they need help. Those with an interest in "what is," in finding out how things work, share notes and a body of knowledge and understanding is built up (science). Accessing the sum total of all notes, much less assessing the veracity of each, soon becomes super-human in scope. Groups of humans who specialize in one area may help one another, but information overload soon limits their collective grasp of what-is outside their silo.

Models of reality are helpful tools. At first they may be conceptual only, but computer modeling vastly exceeds an individual mind's abilities or that of collective minds no matter how numerous. Attempts to model complex phenomena, such as Earth's weather, begin as little more than curiosities. As data accumulates, as thousands endeavor over decades to improve a model, as multiple models evolve and innovations are shared, the collective model's grasp of reality (e.g. climate) improves and vastly exceeds the abilities of any primate to compute. Intelligence is the ability to find and face reality. Computer models are the beginnings of AI. We don't need AI that can equal us or chat with us in ways that appear human. We need AI with a vastly better model of reality than human brains can manage.

A human's knowledge and understanding could be assessed by a neutral third party, such as AI. Cogency can be assessed. Ability to avoid cognitive errors, fallacies, and memory biases can be assessed. In a meritocracy, for any given policy decision, relevant knowledge can be assessed (tested for). Those scoring 100% have their vote count 100%. Those scoring below 70% have their vote discounted. Those in between have their vote count 1% to 99%. If the human vote differed significantly from AI's assessment, study of the issues by both humans and AI would be redoubled. Thus policies would be decided upon and would be revoted on periodically. Enforcement of policies would be by mutual coercion mutually agreed upon. In so far as possible, individuals could vote with their feet.


Business-as-usual Again and Again

overshoot loop

The above is "neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so." Humans who think about it may wonder if there is an alternative. As biological organisms, humans do not differ from other organisms and will continue to follow the pattern. Humans, however, are capable of memetic evolution, and those who live through the transition (step 2, AKA overshoot & descent) are more likely to wonder if there is a way out. But within a few generations after the transition (natural and normal for yeast, hard on humans) the horror is forgotten and when the opportunity for growth presents itself, it will be joyously embraced. Growth will again be celebrated.

Those who may live through step 2, however, may be too dysfunctional to learn from the horror. Like the rats and mice in Calhoun's experiments, the remnant population may not be able to rebuild at all or for many generations. A neurological concern is that our collective amygdala will hijack our collective prefrontal cortex rendering our brains unable to think well. Our collective endeavor to think well, Pascal's 'only morality', will fail. The coming scarcity will engender conflict-as-usual. Conflict, as the grim Second Law of Thermodynamics, will waste energy, in violation of the First Commandment to not waste potential energy, and disrupt material flows resulting in increased scarcity, whether of actual shortages of supplies or longages of demand (perceived shortages). This process may be thought of as Sociology 101. The negative feedback loop will be, as usual, the death spiral of civilization, specifically the one 99+% of humans now live in, the first global empire.

The concern should be that the loss of information, the dissolution of our collective prefrontal cortex, will be total. If humans go extinct in the near future, but 50% of mammal species/families survive, especially if some primate species survive, then 80-90+% of 'our' genetic information will still survive, such as the half we share with a cabbage. A 90 to 100% loss of memetic information (of what works, of what is), may be lost as with all prior collapses of complex societies. A rapid reduction in human population would not be the worst thing that could happen, but could be the best thing to happen, especially if managed by us and not by Malthusian feedback loops, aka Nature. A rapid reduction in population would reduce scarcity, quite possibly preventing the scarcity/conflict death spiral having no positive outcome for humans.

Prosperity has a peace dividend, and is to be sought for that reason, not merely because it feels better to consume more. Peace is the absence of such conflict as threatens the social order, such as it may be, resulting in chaotic collapse that may not end until there is no one left to be eaten. Ideologues, firebrands, rabble rousers, pontificators, 'leaders', use rhetoric to inflame human amygdalas that hijack human prefrontal cortexes, resulting in the mass movements Eric Hoffer first meditated at length on. Understanding the neuropsychology of amygdala hijacking may deliver us from social movements and demogogery/ideologery as usual, may deliver us from the despotism-as-usual that endgames tend to select for.

Primate concerns with 'justice', 'fairness', 'equality', 'dignity', 'freedom', and 'rights' are not necessarily our friends. Strong emotions can be evoked that hijack any ability to think well we may possess, whether on an individual or societal level, Nazi Germany being a recent example. A rapid reduction in social and material inequalities, real and perceived, is needed to 'keep the peace' as, in descent, force will fail as usual. Force only works during growth so long as all, in varying degrees, get richer. A rapid reduction in human population, and of their animal mutualists, is needed to create a prosperity of enough that sustainability concerns favor. Concerns for peace and sustainability are foundationally equivalent.

Humans are biological organisms, as were their ancestors for some billions of years. Learned behavior eventually evolved. Humans have become linguistic to such an extent that their concept forming brains have come to model reality, however imperfectly, and to create models of existent and non-existent entities. Our grasp of reality, via concepts and models, may be extremely fragile, but is subject to possible refinement. For some humans, the only evidence that they are in contact with "what-is" is that they can walk or drive around (most of the time) without bumping into things. Still, of humans, it can be said that we are a "most promising species."

Humans can tell stories about the world better than yeast. Science is a form of storytelling—the endeavor to tell the most likely story. Humans differ significantly from other primates, but only in the complexity of their verbal behavior and potential for memetic evolution. We differ from other organisms not by being wise (sapiens), but in that we tell stories. We are Homo narrator, the storytelling animal. To be other than biological organisms, to be successful memetic organisms, we need to tell better stories. We need to endeavor to think well, to create better models using all the help we can find (AI), and live by those models. By understanding the business-as-usual pattern, we can be delivered from it.

The "we" in "we can" must mean either all humans or the dominate humans on the planet. Consider the Tale of Two Watersheds:


Tale of Two Watersheds

Two neighboring tribes start out equal, in separate but equal watersheds with the same amount of water, potential arable land, forests, game, population, rainfall.... But they differ culturally. One tribe wears only white feathers and the other only red feathers. They meet for an annual festival. They exchange memes and genes. At other times those trespassing to hunt or gather are met with opposition. Rocks and spears are thrown, insults exchanged, but few are hit by rocks and fewer by spears, and few are seriously injured or killed. Territory is stable and their hunter-gatherer life is sustainable.

But then there is a new thing under their sun. Corn, along with beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco, is introduced by traders from afar. By clearing fields, diverting water, growing crops, there was prosperity for all. Far more food could be produced than gathered. As farming ways and means were perfected (maximized), there was time enough for art, music, love, and thought.

The Smartipanz tribe noted that agricultural production was limited and that they were close to reaching it. Population surely could not double again. It had doubled once, twice, a third time. There were now nearly 8 times as many living in the watershed. One more doubling would make 16 times as many and doubling again would make 32 times as many as hunting and gathering had once supported.

According to the elders, rainfall over the past 20 years had been more than they had ever known. Increasing current production seemed problematic as most arable land was nearly used up. To build new houses teams now had to travel three days to cut trees. The great wealth was not equally shared and a steep social hierarchy was developing with the privileged having more and wanting ever more. There was still leisure time to think adaptive, sustainable, resilient, transitional thoughts and a consensus emerged.

Their population would be limited to remain comfortably within average conditions. Resources would be rationed to each according to need as distinct from want or power. Without the extravagance of luxury palaces and monuments to ego, well-rationed wealth would ensure all had enough when the drought came. The marginal lands remaining would be left as is. No new houses would be built. Trees would be planted and allowed to regrow so that when current houses needed timber replaced, logs would not have to be dragged for days.

All who had not had children were given a number. One citizen, one number. Numbers could not be copied, stolen, or duplicated. Any child born needed a number. Numbers could be transferred but not created at will. One parent could have one child. Two parents could have two children to whom their number was transferred to. A childless relative could transfer their number to another who wanted more children or use it to adopt a newborn if they could have none. If a child died, their number reverted back to the donor. A baby born without a number was humanely put to death.

No one favored infanticide; all were motivated to avoid unintended pregnancy. That vaginal intercourse led to pregnancy was known. A capacity for celibacy was tolerated. Gay marriage was celebrated. Artists made numerous statues depicting couples having sex. Most every bedroom displayed several. Only one sexual act was not depicted—that of vaginal intercourse. Vaginal intercourse did happen. Indeed it was a big deal, done incessantly before and during intended pregnancy. Sometimes the unintended happened and no one was able to adopt, and a newborn was put to death. All would redouble their efforts to be happy with the 68 alternative lovemaking acts.

The Smartipanz tribe was ridiculed, disparaged, jeered, and otherwise viewed with scathing contempt by their neighbors, the Nimwit tribe. The Nimwits did everything right and even though they had to walk four days to cut trees, they never complained. They believed in hard work; they enjoyed building monuments, would never put an infant to death, and everyone having many children was admired. Their population was three times that of the Smartipanz (their slaves didn't eat much), proof that they were favored by the Gods Themselves.

The year the rains failed to provide the expected abundance was noted, but they had such reserves that no one was worried. By the fifth year no one doubted that the drought was caused by a Smartipanz sorcerer as all amassed for the attack. The Smartipanz still had abundant food reserves. Only a third of Nimwit warriors, who went into battle with three times as many warriors as the Smartipanz had, died in battle. The Smartipanz's young women and many of their children were not put to death—Mugga, the Merciful, be praised. The rains returned, for a time, and for 187 years the Pax Nimwit prevailed. All the land the Smartipanz had neglected to develop had been, all the trees they had planted were harvested, and the terrible reduction in population due to the war with the evil empire of the Smartipanz had been more than replenished. Then the pattern repeated.


The Federation Alternative

The Smartipanz lived in self-governing villages, within an overarching Federation of Villages whose directives were minimal. They celebrated the goddess, while the Nimwits believed in Big Daddy God interested in enforcing moral codes and legal conformity which is correlated with a political and social hierarchy beyond the local community, harsh or uncertain environments, animal husbandry, and patriarchy. In local prosperous egalitarian communities, such as the Smartipanz lived in, largely free from outside rule, communities serve their own interests and not those of distant elites. Decentralized power occurs where conditions are more verdant, social inequality minor, and men know their place. Such communities go light on religion/politics and may prefer the goddess as metaphor.

Big Gods and Big Brother are consilient. The payoff for imposing uniform political or religious beliefs is increasingly obedient cooperation, willing or not. The bigger, more centrally organized, more regimented groups tend to prevail at conquest and empire building, not because they are better, but because they can. A global Federation of Watersheds with a shared military force is needed to limit empire building.

With birth control technology, infanticide would be optional and vaginal intercourse could be common. To avoid Business-as-usual, killing babies may be optional, but living within limits is not optional. For a minority to voluntarily live within limits will not change the pattern of overshoot and collapse. We live in a Nimwit world. They will not listen much less change their behavior. "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."

It will only be during the transition period that a majority of humans may be receptive to considering alternatives to Business-as-usual. It will only be when one tribe, i.e. the Business-as-usual tribe, dominates the planet, as they do now, that overshoot and collapse will be a planet-wide event for the first time in human history. When the global transition comes and becomes obvious, the Federation alternative may be considered. The Federation, having noted the overshoot and predicted the consequence will be the only one to take detailed notes on the way down or offer an actual alternative.

They will have modeled the fossil fuel pulse—exponential growth, overshoot, descent, and beginnings of recovery in detail. They alone will be able to credibly offer "sustainability" as an alternative. They will define the limits to growth. Those who join the Federation will have to live within limits. Those who do not will repeat the ancient pattern. The Federation will limit its use of force to defensive actions preventing any Nimwit-types, wherever they may be, from attempting to subsume a Federation member. If most humans opt to repeat the pattern, the Federation will fail. The Federation will place no limits on love or learning, beginning with love of the home planet and the things of it, where learning is an act of love and survival.

There is a reason to live sustainably now. We need to think about how to live sustainably and more importantly to actually do it to learn how. The Federation, being in a position to say "We told you so," will for a brief period have the attention of humankind. If the Federation can also say, "Having been there done that, here are designs for appropriate technology to meet human needs and help you live sustainably," then that will be better. If the Federation can preserve knowledge, information technology, AI, and the freedom to think, it will be alternative to the Nimwit Business-as-usual way. Extinction would also be alternative, but the Federation's information packages (memes) about what actually works may be preferable. You can't join the Federation, but you can be Federation and make it so.



Framework for Peace

  1. The Earth is finite in space, resources and capacity of its systems;
  2. Man is adapted to the current equilibrium in the systems of the Earth; we are the environment;
  3. A healthy biosphere is essential for equilibrium in the habitats for man;
  4. The biosphere is maintained by photosynthesis in plants;
  5. There is a limit to the size of the biosphere;
  6. An increase of human population means a reduction of those of other species;
  7. Perturbations in the biosphere as well as in other systems could break the equilibrium;
  8. In a closed system the effective fertility rate of each species must be that of replacement;
  9. There cannot be human rights that lead to the destruction of the community;
10. The concept of community needs to include all humanity and the biosphere;
11. Ultimately man will have to live with renewable resources; sooner is better;
12. The principles of economy need to be modified; replace neoclassical economics with biophysical economics;
13. Equity requires a limit to personal wealth;
14. The meaning of life must be found in something other than procreation or consumption;
15. All ideals cannot be realized;
16. Some new rationality needs to be added to the rules of community;
17. Evolutionary success of Homo sapiens will be greater in a small permanent community;
18. The Earth can support indefinitely an abundant lifestyle in a limited global civilization;
19. Many wars were due to mismatches between available resources and human demands on them;
20. Human population must be reduced. Voluntary Refugee Movement.

Yuji Ishiguro, Fatal Errors of Humanity.




The Earth should not be cut up into hundreds of different sections, each inhabited by a self-defined segment of humanity that considers its own welfare and its own "national security" to be paramount above all other consideration.... The Earth faces environmental problems right now that threaten the imminent destruction of civilization and the end of the planet as a livable world. Humanity cannot afford to waste its financial and emotional resources on endless, meaningless quarrels between each group and all others. there must be a sense of globalism in which the world unites to solve the real problems that face all groups alike. — Isaac Asimov

You iterate towards the truth. You don’t know it....eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism. — James Lovelock (who considers an 80% die-off of humans in the 21st century possible/likely)


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The Business-as-usual Heuristic

The global growth culture:

Socio-politio-religio-economic system self-organizes in response to the contingencies of power, profit, preference and survival.

Large corporate-state structures:

Large corporations are autonomous technical entities (machines) emerge that pursue the contingencies of profit. Those that don’t are eliminated by bankruptcy.


Corporations hire/own media to program their "consumers" to consume and vote.


Consumers do as biological evolution and the media have programmed them: consume their own life-support system and elect their leaders.
Elected (or not) leaders:
Leaders do what they are in power to do: sell the planetary commons to corporations for personal gain. Those who don’t are nullified by opposing campaign financing or assorted Machiavellian "tricks."

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