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until they are unable to persist at all.  

Each failure creates the need for a shiny new theory to explain why next time, everything will be different.  "Now that Vietnam is behind us . . . "  

(Yes, I am old enough to remember that.)  

Many of us lefties obsess over the question:  Why can't they learn from their mistakes?  What you seem to be suggesting is that the mistakes are built into the very concept of who they are in the world, and therefore cannot be changed because they cannot ALLOW themselves to learn.  Your suggestion has merit in that it describes reality--specifically, the persistence of failure.  

But it leads to the unsettling conclusion that what we know of as civilization, cannot be saved at all.  

Now, for geological reasons, we know this is true, except that the promise has always been held out that if we can accept reality, and respond to its demands, we can adapt and make needed changes.  This is called, the "soft landing," and represents the transformation of society rather than its total destruction.  

In the thirty years since the geological facts have been made clear, the opportunities for a soft landing have been passed by.  Suppose, as you seem to suggest, the reasons for this are social, built into the underlying structure of our civilization, rather than just a superficial trait ameliorable to change?  

The biological study of the varied survival strategies of different species, and the course of succession those strategies imply, then becomes very interesting.  Such study might suggest courses of action.  

One further point:  The rhizomes you allude to must somehow avoid being themselves consumed by the civilization as it collapses, and must somehow keep the resources that THEY depend on from being noticed and expropriated.  

I hope you write more on this.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Apr 11th, 2007 at 04:15:12 PM EST
I am captivated to hear the technical terms "r-selected species" and "k-selected species". I make a point here sometimes that most living species are not optimally greedy. Primitive selfishness has obvious short-term benefits (and a certain necessity at critical times), but it has grave long time risks. There must be a kind of natural selection working on longer time scales, punishing species that are too greedy or aggressive. Provoking more frequent or deeper Malthusian crises is not to your survival benefit.  

R-selected species indeed keep on coming. But as they are exposed to a sequence of boom-and-bust cycles, they ought to "acquire" more "altruistic" traits, and become k-selected species. Of course, different scenarios are possible, and they occured numerous times throughout evolution, with various frequences.

What I may object is this assumption.

In stable or predictable environments K-selection predominates, as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial, and populations of K-selected organisms are typically very constant and close to the maximum that the environment can bear.

Ok, k-selection makes more sense in stable or predictable environments. (On longer times scales, many things are better predictable, by the way.) But then come the assumptions of "limited resources" and "crucial competition". I do not see that these aspects must be always overly important. How can we measure how close is the population to the maximal capacity? What law forbids species to ignore the possibility of most effective expansion and resource utilization?

I know, Dawkins would say that the idyllic picture of lively organisms taking "only what they need" is in principle unstable, since more greedy individuals will start "benefitting" most and forcing everyone to an exploitation race. But first of all, the "unstable" ignorant period may last much longer than the "rational" growth-bust phase. Secondly, it is assumed that you can do nothing at "crazy" times but join the bahanalia. Well, dealing with "foolish" species and bands is indeed problematic. But the things to do to overcome habitat's degradation does not have to be wholesome participation. Nothing may be guaranteed on individual level, but what may survive more easily are collective arrangements or symbiotic relations. The harsh times are the best times for altruism!

In general, the r-selection is "justifiable" when the resources are abound. That is perhaps the story of every "innovative" disturbance: a pack of r-selected species occur and a boom follows, with a "depression" (or worse) thereafter. But however dramatic this cycle may look for participating species, the booms and busts may perform a "pedestrian" function for more complex organisms, or ecosystems. In particular, the predictable sequences of ecological successions might be more orderly than it should be  expected from the determenistic chaos paradigm: the successions might be controled by a pool of genes distributed across participating organisms.

But even in times of plenty, it is not "stupid" to refrain from most effective growth, while that can last. K-selected species can be suboptimally greedy because of a genetic or habitual trait from critical times, and that can be useful on the long time scale. Of course, the art of long term survival must include dealing with "foolish" r-selected species. Living is a complicated problem - so the biological world is becoming more complicated while solving those problems. I think that cooperation and contribution to resilience pf environment must be important part of solutions against r-species. In this light, the Gaia hypothesis might become more interesting.

by das monde on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 02:26:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
das monde, you raise some questions that are a bit prickly to grasp.  I am familiar with the Gaia theory, and I'll read through more of your diaries when I have some time.  From the titles of a few, I see we are running along similar themes with our explanation of our explorations.  I was amused to see the title of one asking if civilization is a pyramid scheme, because that's one I use from time to time, though I like the word "Ponzi scheme" because of what it evokes in my senses when I say or think the word: Ponzi.  Don't ask me to explain!

Traditional ecological theory, as I understand it, tends to limit itself to the observable mechanistic reactions of complex feed back loops based on theories of interspeciate competition for resources, of which many of the species themselves are counted as predation moves up the chain.  From your boom bust explanation, I'm confident you are familiar with the lemming population sine wave and the corresponding sine waves of their interrelated co species, but that whole explanation is based on observable mechanistic theories of predation.  It's much more difficult to observe "intentional" interspeciate altruism, so altruism is a more difficult hypothesis to support, I suspect.  But that does not mean it's not a valid question! Such questions have bearing when the underlying economic theories of our r-selection cultural mimic of free market neoliberalism are discussed, especially with adherents who view them as gospel.

The term "greed" implies to me a conscious intention, which I can easily overlook and focus on the functional elements the term describes, but for others I find it problematic, probably because it's laden with moral implications, so I personally tend to steer clear of it.  I avoid it even when describing capitalism and the implied ontology of infinite growth in the need for an expanding of capital accumulation as a necessary part of the investment/production cycle in order for the system to persist. It's not steady state in theory.  Very classic r-selected strategy, though.

The genius of Gaia as I see it is in the built in feedback loops in its systems that inevitably do limit the growth of the r-selected species, which seem inherently designed to get out of control when the opportunity arise, in any given eco system, no matter how "greedy" for resources.  The most effective means for achieving growth when resources are available have many other inhibitors when the eco system is complex, and that implies to me much potential truth in your argument that:

K-selected species can be suboptimally greedy because of a genetic or habitual trait from critical times, and that can be useful on the long time scale. Of course, the art of long term survival must include dealing with "foolish" r-selected species. Living is a complicated problem - so the biological world is becoming more complicated while solving those problems. I think that cooperation and contribution to resilience pf environment must be important part of solutions against r-species. In this light, the Gaia hypothesis might become more interesting.

Good thoughts, I hope to explore this more. Thanks.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 12:23:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Greed can be defined pretty mechanically, as seeking to maximalize some satisfaction or utilization. It is kind of compulsive algorithm.

A more tricky concept is "selfishness". To love yourself truely, you have to take care of long term perspectives as well. That implies planning, preferences, intention.

My definition of Gaia is a cybernetic system whose core functionality is preservation of livable conditions on Earth in the long term. The main characteristic of a cybernetic system is the perception-reaction cycle. It must be fascinating to pin down what things Gaia can perceive, and how can it respond. Above that, comes learning capacity, which means that things repeat themselves not so much because of causual forcings, but that there is a controlling code somewhere. How far fetched is that? There is something about holistic thinking...

[By the way, I'll be largely away next two weeks.]

by das monde on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 09:49:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My definition of Gaia is a cybernetic system whose core functionality is preservation of livable conditions on Earth in the long term. The main characteristic of a cybernetic system is the perception-reaction cycle. It must be fascinating to pin down what things Gaia can perceive, and how can it respond. Above that, comes learning capacity, which means that things repeat themselves not so much because of causual forcings, but that there is a controlling code somewhere. How far fetched is that? There is something about holistic thinking...

Sophisticated thoughts...

Neuro science is finding similar ways of describing the systemic interactions in our own brains it seems. Brings up questions about the nature of intentionality and consciousness that we can relate to experientially while finding relational patterns as we learn more about our planet and its living biosphere.  You call to my mind Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind and his discussion of deutero learning.  Big questions about the nature of the desire to control, it being a possible neurosis and all.

I'll look for you when you return.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Fri Apr 13th, 2007 at 12:31:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is something about holistic thinking...

I hope this does not relate to wholeness of the infinity.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2007 at 01:42:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please do not ask him to explain.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 01:26:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some provocative comments Garianne.

I'm old enough too, in fact I was recruited by the elites with my musket and powder to go save democracy and freedom in Vietnam.

Perhaps I might ask, can the entire biosphere of the world survive civilization? If civilization is an r-selected variant of the species various experiments with it's primary adaptive strategy, its ability to put together various systems we put under a category we call culture (in the anthropology technical sense of it, not just Beethoven or hip hop), if those strategies are themselves the characteristics that make the environment optimal for it's growth, is it perhaps like a cancer that is able to cultivate environments of the body, making it optimal for itself at the eventual detriment and demise of the body?

Despite that type of question, I look at all this with some degree of optimism.  I think Joseph Tainter wrote a fine beginning to this study you suggest in his book: The Collapse of Complex Societies where he sets out basic characteristics of collapse that can be contrasted and compared.

I'm hopeful we humans can learn from understanding what we apprehend after studying ecology, and then recognizing that we too are adapting to this environment.

Low succession type environments where r-selected species thrive, have an abundance of primary energy sources in the food chain, which are generally limited in number.  The genius of agricultural practice amounts to the conscious intervention of limiting of an environment to a few desired species. In other words a human originated strategy of reducing complexity to simplicity.  If we see that the simpler, low succession environments are inherently unstable, and require energy expenditure to maintain, we could conceivably at least calculate the energy available to expend, and apply such calculations to our cultural strategies.

My hopefulness for the planet is based on the initial observation that we as a species seem to be able to do these things consciously, thus the vast array of cultural experiments by different groups that we've witnessed.  But then there are a whole lot of human beliefs and entrenched institutions in between whatever results those calculations might be and their implementation.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Thu Apr 12th, 2007 at 10:55:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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