Collapse Is Humanity Adapting To Its Own Presence


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    Great article. Nietzsche would have been appropriate here also: “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.”


    Great post. Very inspiring.


    Brilliant! Overflowing with juice. Bravo!

    I hadn’t seen the concept of fractals applied like this before, and the fit is so resonant. Thank you Alexander, this is a first-class contribution to the explication of WTFIGOH (“What the F#@% is Going On Here?”)


    You have presented a new prospective.
    Like I said ,

    Life is more inclusive than “human life”.

    I’m waiting to see what kind of life they discover on Mars.

    It might even cause a re-definition of “Planetary Collapse””

    Before attaining

    So I want to take a moment to imagine a possible future, one that is in my view ideal but not impossible.

    We will be going through the development of the “African frontier”.

    “The Beijing Conference”: See How China Quietly Took Over Africa

    Back in 1885, to much fanfare, the General Act of the Berlin Conference launched the Scramble for Africa which saw the partition of the continent, formerly a loose aggregation of various tribes, into the countries that currently make up the southern continent, by the dominant superpowers (all of them European) of the day. Subsequently Africa was pillaged, plundered, and in most places, left for dead. The fact that a credit system reliant on petrodollars never managed to take hold only precipitated the “developed world” disappointment with Africa, no matter what various enlightened, humanitarian singer/writer/poet/visionaries claim otherwise. And so the continent languished. Until what we have dubbed as the “Beijing Conference” quietly took place, and to which only Goldman Sachs, which too has been quietly but very aggressively expanding in Africa, was invited. As the map below from Stratfor shows, ever since 2010, when China pledged over $100 billion to develop commercial projects in Africa, the continent has now become de facto Chinese territory. Because where the infrastructure spending has taken place, next follow strategic sovereign investments, and other modernization pathways, until gradually Africa is nothing but an annexed territory for Beijing, full to the brim with critical raw materials, resources and supplies. So while the “developed world” was and continues to deny the fact that it is broke, all the while having exactly zero money to invest in expansion, China is quietly taking over the world. Literally.


    “Drop all sense of reason, it’s there you’ll find your own worth.”
    Little Feat


    “Firstly, at what point in decline do we stabilize,…”

    That is the key. With all the nuclear power, nuclear bombs, and similar material, I think you need some sort of Boolean Expression. ‘IF we decline below the threshold that guarantees the continual monitoring of nuclear material, we’re done for tens of millions of years, else (as you properly stated)…..

    You can see this playing out in Japan right now. It is going to take 20 years or more to clean up a plant that isn’t producing any electricity or revenue.

    If we start building some super secure storage place and dismantling the nuclear bombs and decommissioning the nuke plants NOW, we might have enough progress under our belts to avert an ELE (extinction level event). What are the odds of that? One tenth of 1%?

    So I would say the analysis is fairly easy. Either the decline phase of which you speak is avoided entirely, or all it’s all over for the species.


    @pipefit: You say, “Either the decline phase of which you speak is avoided entirely, or all it’s all over for the species.” I think you’re being a bit too black and white here.

    First, we can’t predict the unfolding of the future with anything like that degree of certainty. Literally anything may happen, though some events have higher probability than others. I can think of many ways in which a decline might be halted short of bouncing off the rocks.

    Second, the idea that nuclear power plants, waste repositories and bomb dumps could exterminate our species if we stop monitoring them is far too extreme. Yes, some power plants could go out of control if their active safety systems were allowed to decay before the cores were shut down; decaying fuel containments can release nasties into the surrounding air, water and land; bombs would probably just sit there unless some scavenger opened one up. However, from what I know about radioactive materials, I’d bet that the danger zones would be quite localized. Perhaps there would be a lot of them, and perhaps some would be quite lethal, but that isn’t enough to do in our species. Humans are quite good at surviving in the safety of the cracks.

    I think of us as the super-intelligent cockroaches that featured in lurid early-50’s sci-fi movies. Our species survived Toba, after all. A few nukes can’t bring us down that easily. I think we should accept that we can’t know the future, let alone control it, so we should just wait and see what happens as it becomes the present. It’s bound to be a fascinating experience.


    @Bodhi–Agree on nuke bombs. They are in hardened silos, I believe.

    Nuke power plants are another matter. And, that is sort of a metaphor for technology in general.

    You said, “Humans are quite good at surviving in the safety of the cracks.” That’s possible. Maybe there will be a remote island where the air and water aren’t too badly contaminated with disease or other pollutants. Seems kind of far fetched given the million year half lives of plutonium, cesium, etc. Also, any modern technology that is present will slowly devolve in ‘myth and legend’, possibly as part of some pagan-type religion.

    A far better strategy for the survival of the species is avoid a meltdown (pun intended) of civilization below the previously mentioned threshold. Once modern medicine breaks down, the species will be extremely vulnerable to disease epidemics, especially those groups that are currently the most heavily vaccinated. As you know, those are also the most educated and technologically advanced.

    I could see an Amazon tribe as the sole survivors. But in that case, the meltdown better happen while there is still an Amazon Forest. So you can see, your argument is fraught with risk at every conceivable turn. Better if some sort of prevention manifests itself.


    The problem with not collapsing is that it’s not possible. If we don’t collapse we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing until we do collapse. I don’t see any way to climb back down to sustainability (whatever that means) – that level is so far below where we are right now that the climb down would look/feel like collapse anyway.

    I prefer the approach of weaning myself off the need to feel I’m in control, loosening my fear of the unknown, letting go of my attachments to memories and expectations, and watching in delighted amazement as things unfold. But YMMV…



    Great post. As someone who thinks about these systemic developments in very similar ways, I would like to present a brief critique. I agree completely with everything you said in the first part (before the picture), i.e.

    Yet why is this idea of reframing the narrative so important? I would argue that if we do not demythologize our history we will be incapable of demythologizing ourselves, and if our understanding of our lineage is mythic then our relationship to our own times is equally so

    I also agree with many of the points you make in your historical description, but I can’t help but think you are also trying to take a bunch of complicated human psychology, social relationships and developments over time, and distill out a historic mythology of your own – one rooted in a very naturalist philosophy of fractal systems evolution. Indeed, you start with the very beginning of the Universe and work your way to present day.

    Like I said, I do the same thing in my thoughts and writing quite often. But, when we do that, it also feels that we are artificially simplifying or trivializing historical events (and, by implication, potential current and future outcomes) for the sake of maintaining our general systems philosophy. For example, here are some of your statements that I am uneasy with:

    “What we can see in evolution is that that the organism’s most capable of harnessing available energy are the most fit.”

    “Simply put, the human mind represents the sum logic of evolution, for the purpose of harnessing available energy, in a singular organism. Instead of adapting physiologically it adapts behaviourally, furthering the geometric growth in complexity.”

    “Christianity went from being a cult of ostensibly 12 families to the dominant religion of the empire in less than 400 years. No small feat in a world where the fastest form of travel was the Trireme. This is often described as one of the “miracles” of Christianity and I am sure there would be those that would be quite displeased to hear me say it would be more appropriately called natural selection.”

    “As more people were saved by Christian charity they adopted what was a more functional model of social organization in terms of survival.

    Of course this all came with cosmological justification that was transmitted with the behaviour. In this way Christianity was able to grow geometrically in the empire and undercut and supplant the social order despite powerful attempts to stop the process. Adaptation and evolution by any other name.”

    Around the same time wealth from the New World began to pour into Europe, largely through the Spanish conquest of the Americas. One could also argue that the age of discovery was fueled by geography. With Portugal and Spain on the periphery of the major Italian economic centers and with dense populations prohibiting expansion to the east they were directed towards oceanic exploration and expansion in the west to fuel their economies.

    Thus nations on the periphery of the old medieval order – the Church of Rome -, became both more economically powerful and independent. It was this combination of economic transformation, infused with humanist values of the Renaissance spreading north, that helped spark the reformation.

    Economic independence provided the insulation necessary for a new conception of human relationship to take root and challenge the authority of Rome.

    I say I am “uneasy” with these and other similar statements because, while they are accurate in many ways, they seem to form an evolutionary systems mythology that excludes many other aspects of humanity and human civilization. Every idea, every social transformation, every cultural development, every technological feat, etc. is explained solely in terms of this nearly inevitable evolutionary framework. Are we really so sure that is how reality works?

    It is clear, for example, that your framework totally leaves out any role for human spirituality and metaphysics, which, in the case of the the last 1700 years of the Western world, is represented by Christianity. But the same could be said for any time period and geography in which any type of religion/spirituality existed in the last 10,000 years. If the “natural evolution” of Universal and human history is not really so strictly “natural”, then our picture of the past, present and future significantly changes.

    If “demythologizing” means stripping out the value of every mythical conception produced by humanity, then we may be going way overboard in our efforts to produce a consistent and coherent theory of history. Again, that’s not to say your framework would completely fall apart, but it would be simplifying the situation to a level that may lead us to miss key evidence and draw erroneous conclusions.


    I wish to add a thought/question for you to consider… it possible that civilization is a ‘tool’ we have created for the purpose of taking to much from the earth and others, and we will not need this ‘tool’ once we learn how to simply accept and receive from the earths abundance?


    I suspect that it will be more worthwhile to not look at “civilization” as a whole, but at what it’s composed of. What’s the distinction between society and civilization? What’s necessary? What’s not? I’ve shared my perspective on money. I haven’t seen other suggestions beyond what might fall into the category of rules (e.g., laws and policies) and new ways of thinking or living. But how will either be enacted to a meaningful degree when the incentives remain in place? Even if some subset of the population changes how they live and operate, those who continue believing we need an “economy” will move us further toward collapse.


    That is a good question what is the difference between a society or group of people and civilization?

    One other way people organized themselves in the past was based on the family structure. The tribes of north america were extended family units and we of course have the example in the bible of the Jews organizing based on thier family tribes. I’m sure there are many more examples and perhaps we forget that simple human relationships have the power to aid in keeping the peace as it were.

    Perhaps we know we are in civilization when we don’t ‘know’ anyone any more?



    I sincerely appreciate the criticism as that was the original reason I sent my musings to Ilargi. I would like to justify myself a little in that the essay is an attempt at boiling down a few observations and I know that there is much that is left out and truncated. A description of history is far from “the thing in itself” so to speak. The narrative constructs that we develop always have aspects of mythologizing to them. I think that it is probably unavoidable and that it is up to our individual ethic to try and be aware of the far greater complexity and magnitude of reality than any attempt to describe it can actually encapsulate. Perhaps “demythologizing” is the wrong term, maybe it is an issue of selecting for better myths. To try and reduce the billions of psyches and their interactions over the course of millennia to a few pages is undoubtedly a simplification and probably a bit hubristic. Certainly I worry about making things sound reductionist, mechanistic and linear. It also worries me that you feel that my framework “totally leaves out any role for human spirituality and metaphysics” as I value this aspect of our humanity deeply. The irony for me is that the process I have been attempting to describe is something that I perceive and feel on a very spiritual level. This is obviously something that I must refine in my communication. The idea that the emergence of our cultures are predicated on human consciousness responding to its own presence in the world has powerful metaphysical implications to me.

    So just a few thoughts in response to you uneasiness. On reflection my statements can look a little absolutist which enforces a perception of mechanistic linearity. We can put the idea of simple mechanistic selection to rest when we look at how close the Chinese, the Islamic caliphate and the classical Greco-Roman world all came to the advent of industrialization. Certainly if it was so perfectly linear industrialization would have been selected for with the development of the first steam powered device at the beginning of the Christian era (and the mess would have long ago resolved itself one way or another).

    I also did not intend to strip the peoples that I mentioned of the depth and intensity of their world views. The Christians for example were not simply operating on a cost benefit analysis of material returns. They had true, passionate belief in what they espoused that in turn molded and shaped their actions far beyond just food and care. However the providing of service was a behavioural expression of those beliefs that allowed them to “compete” more successfully.

    My hope with the descriptions of historical events was to describe the material circumstances that helped form the parameters of emergence within the cultures I mentioned. You are correct, within those parameters a multitude of worldviews and behaviours existed. What influenced or predisposed the individuals that constituted those societies to select for and organize around some ideas and not others? What created the attraction towards certain values and modes of being even if there were “better options” available (I immediately think of Babbage’s Analytical Engine and Tesla’s research but there are many examples and many beyond just material advents). The best term that I have ever come across for the real complexity of human causality is Karma. It was one of the things I really wanted to elicit in my writing, the sense that we are in dialogue with and shaped by relationships, perceptions and actions from countless generations preceding us. The subtlety of that can be overwhelming and largely impossible to verify. For example I wonder how the experience of the Irish fleeing the potato famine and the dynamics that would have developed in Irish families and communities as a response to that have affected the culture of food in America some 160 years later. I am not saying this to be trivial, roughly 12% of the United States are descended from people that experienced a severe famine and this undoubtedly has had a powerful karmic impact on family and cultural dynamics. I suppose that what I am saying is that the rabbit hole goes really deep on that one.

    As best I understand it our universe appears to select for complexity and this complexity seems to be directly linked to thermodynamic flows. I believe that evolution and human consciousness reiterate this process. However there is massive variability in this process, and by the time we hit something as complex as human consciousness that relationship becomes unbelievably profound, but as best I know these are the rules by which we play the game. I don’t think of this as something that limits our freedom but is rather the condition by which our freedom is made possible. We are an entity that imbues this world with value and meaning, and what value and meaning we create is invariably a metaphysical decision. Even in the case of science, the decision to value quantifiable phenomenon over non quantifiable or qualitative phenomenon as having greater truth value is a metaphysical leap of faith (as far I know we have yet to find a truth particle). So for me this does bring in the spiritual element of the whole process, we know we must play by the rules of the game, yet it is the value and meaning that we embody and imbue that determines how we play the game. This is probably the greatest freedom in the universe. So in the end whether and how we survive will be as much a metaphysical/spiritual relationship with our world as it will be a material manifestation.

    Ashvin, I thank you for your criticisms, they have given me much to reflect on and I hope that my response was adequate enough. Sincerely – Alex



    Your response was more than adequate… it was excellent. We probably don’t agree on the specifics of the metaphysics involved and its implications, but your framework is obviously a lot more nuanced and comprehensive than I first thought.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts!


    Ashvin, I would be very curious as to your metaphysical views if you ever care to share. Cheers – Alexander


    ZuluBuddha post=4778 wrote: Ashvin, I would be very curious as to your metaphysical views if you ever care to share. Cheers – Alexander

    Nothing fancy… just plain old Judeo-Christian metaphysics.

    I won’t get into any discussions/debates about that here, though.


    No worries Ashvin, I certainly understand not wanting to get into a discussion about such things here. I would only say briefly that the Judaeo-Christian metaphysics are from plane. While I am not a Christian I have a deep affinity for the Greek version of John describing God as Logos and believe absolutely that the ethics of Jesus express logos amongst humanity. I promise I am not trying to draw you in a discussion, I just wanted to express that there is probably more that we agree upon than you think.


    Beautiful article, inspiring!


    I liked the spirit of the article very much, but the intro left some questions.

    “we distort our ability to truly empathize and understand the humanity of those who preceded us and in doing so we distort our ability to understand our own position in history and relationship to those that will follow us.”

    Your basic position seems to be that we are incapable of truly understanding history, but you then go on to try to do just that….

    “it is important that we work to empathize with their reality as best we can so that we might understand our own more fully.”

    Can you name some examples in which empathy with the reality of forbearers led to a fuller understanding of current reality? It sounds like a platitude. On the contrary, there are many examples in which we don’t learn much from our errors, such that, in trying to predict the future, we often quite confidently and reasonably assume that the same errors will be repeated.


    Fantastic post.

    My post on here from about a year ago.

    “Now the world system is in a structural/systemic crises, in its final stage, once more -we are approaching a transition akin to that of the neolithic/industrial revolutions and eventually a new system will arise. A new world order. This time around things will happen much much faster. It took the neolithic revolution several thousand years to take over the globe, the industrial revolution took just a few hundred and this next one will take just a few decades. Speed of information transfer is the key to rates of change. History seems to actually moves faster, in a kind of telescoping nature for epochal change. Most of us will get to witness the destruction of this old world system and the birth of a new in our lifetime.

    The question is what is next? “


    Hello Carol,
    Thanks for the thoughts. Firstly I feel that there is a large difference between “distorts” and “incapable”. To distort means to twist or warp something, meaning that is not holding its true form. However this does not mean that it is completely “untrue” the fundamental structure is still there, we have just altered it through our perception of it. This is very different from incapable. Rather I just think we can take some of the cultural twists that we have put on the process so that we can look at the historical process closer to its real nature.

    This leads into your question, “in which empathy with the reality of forbearers led to a fuller understanding of current reality?” (I really appreciated this by the way.)

    I think that one of the greatest examples we have is the Italian Renaissance. I think that it represents a period where an intense curiosity and desire to understand the minds and culture of the classical period resulted in massive cultural transformation in the present. While I am not trying to say there was not mythologizing and distortion in this process it was a real attempt to empathize with and understand their ancestors and that there were many positive and beautiful effects.

    Cheers – Alex

    Basseterre Kitona

    Wow, great writing. Nicely done, Mr. Aston. Bravo!

    And call me crazy, but I actually see seeds of that imagined future already beginning to emerge in what many people still disregard as the wasteland of Detroit, Michigan. It’s a city that certainly has it’s problems & dangers still, but it’s also ahead of the curve when it comes to collapse.


    Nice brain food…
    The early Christian ethos made a stronger, more stable primary unit IE family/society…which replaced the nurture,rather than nature..which was the base of Greek and Roman…
    Who knows were we are headed?…It has occurred to me the smallest units in some ways can be the strongest….but now,we have seen the essential “atom-ization” of family structure here in the USA.[How many even know where extended family even lives?]

    What has also come about, is one of society’s more interesting evolution’s that still has a way to go..I mean of course the self structuring,self evolving creatures of the web,such as TAE.

    The web allows the self-strucure of ANY sort of community.One can think in terms of societies that are formed and reformed until the original members do not recognize why they are members[and leave,in droves]
    Back in 1996-7 I was involved in a y2k discussion group on usenet …CSy2k…which evolved into a greenspun discussion board,which was [I thought]hijacked by someone who saw a money machine into its “present” form.

    [never mind who,they are politically to the right of ghengis khan with a hard right christian bend.

    I look at that whole time of my life as a real educational experience.It first set me to thinking just what the hell would I do in the event of a really serious emergency.That is when I chose to live out in the sticks,as far as employment would let me,and started planting fruit trees.I am still out in the sticks,planting fruit trees 20 years later…and keeping bees…and living what I have always thought, how one should live.

    In most cases I have seen,self-organised communities failed the longevity test when the things that caused their formation changed…or the person[‘s] with the “charismatic factor”died,or were otherwise unable to hold the myriad strings of a community together.
    It is my belief that the strongest communities we will see develop in our future,may/will be the ones that form under duress,with the personal schisms of unhappy relationships sublimated by the very real threats that will exist from surrounding environments.
    This will be the real “society-building”

    Bee good,or
    Bee careful


    David Peter

    Brilliant article Aston, you wrote:

    “Humanity’s greatest ecological pressure is itself.”


    “The Christian worldview, its behavioural/cultural genetics or memes, describes a system of mutual aid and care giving, i.e. “love thy neighbour”.”

    If mimesis is key to understanding human behaviour, as proposed by René Girard,

    then the object of our desire, and further, the subject or our desire, is the prime driver of our evolution.

    So who do we model our lives on?

    One possibility, for example, is the imitation of Christ.

    What kind of “civilization” could result from following Christ lead?

    I do believe that we are capable of desiring Jesus Christ, and that such desire is in our best interests, and that by so desiring, a renaissance awaits us, where we can leave behind, as you wrote, “an age of dinosaurs [where] massive beasts in the shape of nation states and corporations roam our planet, consuming resources, metabolizing them and excreting waste”.

    What we need above all is love and hope.

    Best wishes

    David Peter – When doing something for the first time, always expect the unexpected!


    It is all very well to have a positive attitude and all but the fact is h saps saps is looking straight down the barrel of extinction. Climate change has hit tipping points. When the oceans are dead whattya gonna breathe?

    Consider the extreme climate events that are happening RIGHT NOW and factor in the buffering effects of the oceans. 40 years is a commonly mentioned figure. Face it, we’re toast!


    Hi ZuluBuddha,

    Interesting attempt at sketching a ‘big picture’ reality. O f course one of the biggest problems here is our own somewhat self referential ‘internal bubble’ reality as exposed with the problem of shifting baselines:


    “Shifting Environmental Baselines
    From the Preface: “In my work as a scientist, I find that few people really appreciate how far the oceans have been altered from their pre-exploitation state, even among professionals like fishery biologists or conservationists. A collective amnesia surrounds changes that happened more than a few decades ago, as hardly anyone reads old books or reports. People also place most trust in what they have seen for themselves, which often leads them to dismiss as far-fetched tales of giant fish or seas bursting with life from the distant, or even the recent past. The worst part of these ‘shifting environmental baselines’ is that we come to accept the degraded condition of the sea as normal. Those charged with looking after the oceans set themselves unambitious management targets that simply attempt to arrest declines, rather than rebuild to the richer and more productive states that existed in the past. If we are to break out of this spiral of diminishing returns and diminished expectations of the sea, then it is vital that we gain a clearer picture of how things have changed and what has been lost.”
    From Chapter 18: “The idea of shifting baselines is familiar to us all and does not just relate to the natural environment. It helps explain why people tolerate the slow crawl of urban sprawl and loss of green space, why they fail to notice increasing noise pollution, and why they put up with longer and longer commutes to work. Changes creep up on us, unnoticed by younger generations who have never known anything different. The young write off old people who rue the losses they have witnessed as either backward or dewy-eyed romantics. But what about the losses that none alive today have seen? In most parts of the world, human impacts on the sea extend back for hundreds of years, sometimes more than a thousand. Nobody alive today has seen the heyday of cod or herring. None has watched sporting groups of sperm whales five hundred strong, or seen alewife run so thick up rivers there seemed more fish than water. The greater part of the decline of many exploited populations happened before anybody alive today was born.”
    The Unnatural History of the Sea reconstructs marine ecosystems that have been lost over the centuries to fishing, hunting, pollution and habitat degradation. Descriptions in the book bring alive past oceans as our predecessors saw them.
    Web Link:
    Shifting Baselines, a Partnership Between Hollywood and Ocean Conservation”

    End Quote.


    Also your comment about the Irish Potato famine needs careful scrutiny:
    “What became known as the great famine occurred between 1845 and 52 and was one of the greatest catastrophies of the nineteenth century. It resulted in the deaths of millions of people from starvation and disease and a decline in Irelands population through emigration. It was thought by many to be an English induced famine used by a greedy government to solve the Irish question. The potato failed from blight but the country was full of food, which was taken away from those who grew it, to be consumed by the expanding workforce of the industrial boom in England or by its army overseas. The English hid behind the fact that they were the constitutional government for the Irish people pretending to be concerned by begging food for her people abroad while at the same time by constitutional policies taking the food from the people. They were ruthless in putting down all attempts by the Irish for self-government and all attempts of resistance. They passed laws that made it a crime for a father to protect his children or his home from destruction. They passed coercion laws that made it a crime for the Irish to leave their homes between sunrise and sunset or to hold arms. They had a well-fed armed guard of military and police watch over them while they starved. Never in the history of mankind was there a government who acted so cruelly to its people. Ireland never needed the begging bowl it had its own food grown in its own land and only needed its own concerned legislatures to pass laws to save her people. The constitutional Government of England was then the most powerful in the world and had the ear of the world through its influence and press. They manipulated the facts to cover up the real truth of what was happening in Ireland the mass murder of its people and the destruction of Ireland. An English induced constitutional famine.”

    End quote.


    They were not fleeing hunger, they were persecuted ‘political’ (the result of policy) refugees.

    This also pretty much sums up the current policy of ‘global governance’ IMHO, indigenous food production is destroyed by ‘aid’ and replaced with cash crops for export. It also bodes ill for the future… Adapting to any of this ‘human presence’ is going to be at best difficult, and at worst impossible.

    More likely is some form of ‘discontinuity event’ which you touch on in the theme of punctuated equilibrium which will in turn puncture the mind bubbles of sufficient humans to allow for another reality to form. Extinction is also another highly possible scenario.

    I note that you also use neo-darwinian terminology (“selected for” etc). This points to the current ‘view through the glass darkly’ of today’s Hi-Story, for our reality is always little more than the stories we tell ourselves, with our own language. Trying to project this back into an assumed past is but part of that story. We just do not know what ‘their story’ was, yet alone what language (as in the ‘meaning’ behind the words, not just the words themselves) they used and how they really saw their world. All we can do is project.

    For instance, there is a ‘story’ that many millennia ago there existed a ‘Celtic’ empire that ran up from north Africa/Mediterranean all the way up the west coast of Europe into what is now called the British Isles. This ’empire’ had many clans and tribes, but a primary organising principle was the Druidic system where Druids where trained for twenty years in the sacred ‘way’. It was only after this long apprenticeship that they were allowed out into the broader society where they acted as guides and council to the people. A society that was highly egalitarian; where for instance anyone who lost their spouse would receive food from the wider community, and where orphans were fostered to relatives. They had knowledge of the bodies energy meridians two thousand years before the Chinese. ( Compare that to the Invading Romans, whose hierarchical thought system saw people as objects, and any non Roman object as a potential slave or fodder for the Coliseum. Orphaned children were unceremoniously thrown on the rubbish tip, dead or alive. My point being that this Roman Empire never collapsed but morphed into the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ whose thought structures in terms of story telling we are still immersed in today; that being a world view consisting primarily of object/subject hierarchies. The ‘Great Way’ of the Buddhists, Daoists and Druids cannot exist in such a framework… hence westerners mis/in-comprehension of so many ‘eastern’ traditions (not that there are many of those left intact).

    Sorry if this makes little sense, some things are after all, just beyond words.



    Hello Sid,
    Thanks for the response, I have put into a compilation of all the criticism and reflection I have received as I find it all invaluable. I wanted to express a few thoughts. Firstly I am well aware of the political nature of the potato famine. My family is Irish and was a strong part of the cultural memory that was passed on to me. Regardless though the result was famine and I was speaking more to the impact that experiencing famine has on individuals, communities and family dynamics regardless of what conditions created it. That is not to dismiss the effects that colonization, oppression and injustice have upon individuals. On a side note it is an issue that particularly raises my ire when my ethnic and cultural identity is reduced to being “white”. My people are Irish and damned if they were considered “white”, or racially superior throughout the vast majority of their history. That is a very recent phenomenon and one that requires that near total obliteration of Irish history.

    As for shifting baselines, you are absolutely correct. It is the issue of the frog boiling in the water. I am certainly not arguing that there is no or even just superficial damage to the biosphere, and the longer it takes for us to adapt it will only get worse. Of course the worse things degrade the more powerful the pressure becomes, so there will be a point of equilibrium even if that is our extinction. However given what we know about the nature of life once that equilibrium is achieved it will start to recover, hopefully we are part of that process.

    Finally I agree that we are always in a process of constructing narratives about our past. These are inherently shaped by our subjective biases. However I do believe that it is possible to created more accurate and less accurate narratives. My point was that we cannot truly know the individuality of our ancestors, but we can at least hold our selves to a standard of intellectual honesty that at least accepts that and tries to incorporate it into our narrative.

    All the best – Alex


    However given what we know about the nature of life once that equilibrium is achieved it will start to recover, hopefully we are part of that process.

    Just a small nit-pick …

    “… it will start to recover”

    I think that you are expressing too much optimism.

    Let’s just say that it will be different than now.


    Jal, I agree that it will be different but I think that short of total sterilization, i.e. the sun explodes, there is no question that life will recover. I think that the permian extinction shows that quite resoundingly.


    Hi ZuluBudha,

    Forgive my lack of clarity, when talking of extinction I was alluding to the extinction of the current ‘industrial human society’.

    Also I too have some Irish ancestry (the rest is Cornish), from some great grand parents who for all I know might have ‘fled’ the later famines of 1879 and 1885. They ended up in the Staffordshire potteries before trying America, not liking it and returning to the midlands. However, while aware of my bodies ‘genealogical’ past, I eschew any fixed identity having studied and understood the Buddhist proposition that no permanent self can be found anywhere, all is constant flux and movement; a reality that is constantly arising and ceasing.

    In terms of feedback are you familiar with Mae Wan Ho’s work on quantum coherence in living systems at the macro scale? – she has an interesting book “The Rainbow and The Worm” which examines this in some detail, and seeks to give an answer to Erwin Schordinger’s 1944 work “What is Life”. There is also her organisation the Institute of Science in society (ISIS – which has looked at the way living systems entrain ‘energy’ and has come up with the idea of a Dream Farm based upon these principles:


    “Sustainable systems as organisms
    Essentially, the ‘zero-waste’ or ‘zero-entropy’ model of the organism and sustainable systems predicts balanced development and growth at every stage, as opposed to the dominant model of infinite, unsustainable growth. This immediately disposes of the myth that the alternative to the dominant model is to have no development or growth at all, and that is how most critics of the dominant model see it, including the New Economics Foundation, for example, which sees itself as very radical [5].
    The dominant model of infinite competitive growth can be represented as the bigger fish swallowing the smaller ad infinitum (Fig. 1), and it describes equally how a person should behave and how a company should develop in order to be successful.

    Figure 1 – see website.

    Figure 1. Big fish swallows small fish swallows little fish
    A person grows at the expense of other people; a company grows by taking over other companies, laying waste to the earth’s resources in the meantime. There is no closed cycle to hold resources within, to build up stable organised social or ecological structures. Not surprisingly, this is totally unsustainable, which is why we are faced with global warming and the energy crisis.
    In contrast, the archetype of a sustainable system is a closed lifecycle, like that of an organism, it is ready to grow and develop, to build up structures in a balanced way and perpetuate them, and that’s what sustainability is all about. Closing the cycle creates a stable, autonomous structure that is self-maintaining, self-renewing and self-sufficient.
    In order to do that, you need to satisfy as much as possible the zero-entropy or zero-waste ideal (Fig. 2). We tend towards that ideal, which is why we don’t fall apart, and grow old only very slowly. If we were perfect, you realise, we’d never grow old.

    Entropy diagram – see website.

    This diagram says no waste or disorganisation (entropy) accumulates in the system. Even the waste (entropy) exported to the outside is minimised towards zero in a healthy balanced system. The more we approach that ideal, the better the system can develop and grow, and remain young and vibrant.
    The system’s cycle contains more cycles within that are interlocked to help one another thrive and prosper. The minimum integrated farm has the farmer, livestock and crops. They work by reciprocity and devolved autonomy.”

    End Quote.

    While this is great in terms of sustainability, in terms of entropy life itself seems to exhibit what Schrodinger termed ‘negentropy’, that is the ability to defy entropy by becoming ‘more’ organised.

    “The reason ‘negentropy’ continues to be used is that ‘entropy with a negative sign’ simply does not capture what is intended by the original term. Schrödinger uses it to identify the remarkable ability of the living system, not only to avoid the effects of entropy production – as dictated by the second law – but to do just the opposite, to increase organization, which intuitively, seems like the converse of entropy. Szent-Györgi, on the other hand, alludes to both the notions of free energy and of organization in his use of the term. Both scientists have the right intuition – energy and organization are inextricably bound up with each other.”


    This last article just quoted goes on to discuss in depth the thermodynamics of organised complexity in which dissipative structures are coupled cycles, ending with a definition of ‘negentropy’:

    “’Negentropy’, as stored mobilizable energy in a space-time structured (organized) system, can be intuitively understood as follows. In an equilibrium system, energy is fixed, which in turn fixes the population of energy levels characteristic of the temperature of the system. In a nonequilibrium system such as the organism, energy is stored over all space-time domains. For a given temperature, the energy stored is no longer fixed, but on account of efficient coupling, becomes transferred to ever larger space-time domains (starting from the photon trapped in photosynthesis, or the energy in food) until all characteristic domains are equally populated. This implies that the organism itself has no preferred levels, its activities spanning the ‘quantum’ to ‘classical’, from the ‘microscopic’ through ‘mesoscopic’ to the ‘ macroscopic’ in a quasi-continuum of self-similar patterns.”

    I though this somewhat paralleled your own model so thought it worth a mention,

    Best Wishes,

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