[Paleopsych] being in touch with reality II -- sustainable lifestyles
Paul J. Werbos, Dr.
paul.werbos at verizon.net
Fri Dec 31 17:13:35 UTC 2004
In the end of the last email, I concluded:
But abandoning firm and rigid commitments to nonsustainable lifestyles,
while also not turning humans into robots (trying to repress the
trying to tie it up like the feet of pampered ancient Chinese women)...
those are among the most obvious elements of the race. If we move too slowly
on these variables, we may be well and truly dead, on earth as it is in
heaven, as they say.
OK -- so what is a "nonsustainable lifestyle"?
I am NOT saying we all have to head back to the caves.
And I am thinking more of collective sustainability.
An example of extreme nonsustainability -- the old slave-based plantations in
Haiti. The slaveowners there would fight to the death to "avoid change," to
preserve their traditional lifestyle. The slaveowners in the US South would
do the same.
But in Haiti, they won for a long, long time. In the US, they lost.
Or did they? Look at the lives of the great-great grandchildren of those
Sometimes winning is losing, and losing is winning. Or, as some of the
technical international relations people
have said, "It is sometimes challenging to derive a good measure of the true
long-term national interest." Sometimes "preserving the status quo" is
a CHANGING situation, whose changes may kill the very people who try to
In fact... a few decades back, US cities were undergoing a very severe
demographic shift --
a growth of a kind of welfare culture ... that was every bit as threatening
as what destroyed the economy
of Haiti. (The racial expression of this is a red herring... an easy way to
ignore the more inescapable realities.)
A combination of two or three main factors reduced this trend so much that
we can try to ignore it
(much as safe Victorians and cognitive scientists often tried to ignore
sex). One was Roe v. Wade,
which empowered poor women to avoid having more children than they could
reasonably raise and
support. Another was the massive welfare reform under Clinton, which caused
a lot of pain, but
was executed in the most compassionate way possible, and was essential in
order to avoid greater
pains. Maybe general improvements in education and health care were also a
But we should not forget.
Any long-term growth in human population above some nonzero level k would
in time be nonsustainable,
and force a massive breakdown in the pattern which leads to it. The details
of the breakdown mechanisms
are complex... but on the whole, if we don't choose a benign and viable
mechanism, other mechanisms
will appear. In areas like the Middle East, as nuclear technology continues
to spread... well,
it really ends being a matter of life and death. Positive thinking that
ignores the realities... well,
haven't we learned by now that the ostrich is not a model to emulate? Or do
to understand psychology and philosophy better, to remind ourselves that going
crazy or committing suicide really aren't what we want to do? (This is one
of the roles
of psychology, I guess...)
So... if continued pop growth>k is nonsustainable... we must ask next what
are the main determinants
of population growth.
Optimistic reports from the UN are NOT one of the determinants. It is true
that a greater concentration of lawyers
would tend to reduce local fertility :) but this doesn't really reach the
poorer parts of the world.
The World Bank (Pauline somebody...) pioneered studies of the
determinants of fertility
which have stood the test of time, identifying two main factors -- women's
and full access to health care (yea even unto reproductive choices).
The bottom line: those cultures which would block those two factors are
They are like the Haitian slave-owning cultures. No, I do not endorse the
of effeminizing cultures that want to weaken males and repress our natural
we need to face up to reality here. No culture -- no fundamentalist culture,
east or west, Christian or Moslem, Jew or Hindu -- which interferes with these
variables is sustainable. Such cultures may at times grow, like cancer --
cancer, if unchecked, they lead to the death of the entire body, cancerous
We need to appreciate this. (And, yes, on balance, I agree that there are
spiritual aspects to the
nonsustainability of such cultures as well, but the mundane numbers are
enough by themselves...)
But... there is a lot we can do, and still be sustainable.
We can still hope to grow economically in a way that substantially
increases energy use
per capita in the long-term. **IF** we take the trouble to develop truly
energy sources (of which ground-based "solar farms" and new designs for
space solar power
are the most definite options), it is clear that we CAN multiply per capita
by a huge amount, safely, if the number of "capita" doesn't go astronomical.
And so we could supply the entire world with HDTVs, if they wanted them,
and so on and so on.
And yes, we can reach out beyond the earth. And we don't have
to become human robots to do it.
Modesitt's book the Ethos Effect is uncanny in its degree of match to some
aspects of reality
(even as obviously fictionalizing others). It portrays a "Revenant" culture
(as do earlier book
in that series) which has obvious ties to old Mormon or Moslem cultures --
and to the kind
of treatment of women that fits the discussion above. But it also portrays
a "Taran Republic"
which has disturbing parallels to Rome and to certain forces at work in the US.
(Though Marion Zimmer Bradley has a book Heartlight which has a more
of the same forces, simplistic but not entirely to be ignored.) Do **BOTH**
cultures involve a kind of fundamental nonsustainability, like a system of
has accepted a few key premises ultimately guaranteeing a kind of internal
contradiction and collective nervous breakdown? The Sharia --- the "fair deal"
concocted by the Abbasid emperors -- can easily be diagnosed (and in principle
corrected) -- in that spirit. But what about the corruption? The many LEVELS
of corruption all around us? Such as willful ideological blinders... such as
the new role of PACs and... whatever? And ersatz TV preachers and mullahs,
dedicated to their own person sports games without any real respect for the
I remember a friend studying psychoanalysis who once said :"Actually, those
neurotics were much easier to treat. There was hope for them. They had
ideas. How do you treat a walking jellyfish?"
Best of luck to us all in the new year and beyond..
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