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since environmental destruction is caused by a civilization which doesn't know itself, nor its relationship to its surroundings

This is a sentimental and idealized version of how life on this planet operates. The earth was not "in balance" before we arrived - it was the scene of intense, slow moving (by our point of view) warfare between all species on the planet, the same as it has been since there were enough life forms present on the planet such that resources could be considered to be scarce. We're doing no more and no less than playing that game. At worst, we'll be the first species on this planet to cause a mass extinction and decomplexification of life  (as opposed to the usual comets / radiation / super-volcanoes). At best our self-awareness gives us a chance to live longer than the average species on this planet, and during our time here, reduce suffering and increase happiness among ourselves and other species. We've achieved more in the latter category than we give ourselves credit for, but overall we're very much on track for the ecocide scenario.

The previous paragraph is in a style I use to attempt a less anthropocentric view of the universe. Just channeling Dawkins, really, minus that quick spiritual departure. Getting back to your entry:

What rearrangement?  I make vague guesses.  I try to find what we can know or learn about people who lived sustainably.  What did they think?  How did they think?  Example here and here.  Surely this example is not reachable by us, being too fragile under external hostility, which is one constant of modern life, but it can at least open our mental field.

Sustainability doesn't exist. Not in the way we think of it. Sustainability implies permanence, which is impossible, at the most fundamental level because the universe itself is not sustainable. The concept needs to have time incorporated into it as a variable. Rather than asking "is this system sustainable" the question should be "for how long will this set of initial conditions be stable?" after we have considered ways to increase robustness of the system to withstand dynamic changes in external conditions. To be able to ask this honestly requires us to come to terms with the mortality of our species, which may be harder to come to terms with than the inevitability of our own deaths, because all self-aware humans have knowledge of this inevitability forced upon them, whereas the death of our species is an intellectual concept that can be ignored if desired.

Studying hunter-gatherers to determine how they pulled off their sustainable societies is a flawed premise, because their societies were not sustainable. [To be fair, I think you implied this with your "too fragile under external hostility" qualifier.] Their societies weren't sustainable because they were killed by competitors with other ideas. We also must come to terms with this. It means that violence must be a strong component of sustainability. Therein lies an incredibly difficult balance that requires something far greater than mere policy to achieve.

The simplified (current) concept of sustainability is the search for utopia: we create a set of initial conditions (some theoretical perfect policy with perfect enforceability) and we as a species live happily forever. Colman and Migeru often say that one of our fundamental flaws is our inability to understand feedback loops. Our simplified version of sustainability is a nearly perfect demonstration of that.

I wrote a stream of consciousness diary on this topic a while back that might be worth reading again.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 05:25:35 PM EST
Great comment.  Dinosaurs were probably one of the most self-sustaining specious of all earth-time, and it took an extraordinary external event to finish them off.  Humans are different, however, in that we have acquired the means to kill off ourselves and much of the bio-sphere of out own volition, and relatively quickly.  This places an extraordinary responsibility on us not to do what we can do.  Dinosaurs probably didn't practice much self restraint, the earths ecology was strong enough to contain them for hundreds of millions of years. We have breached the boundaries of the Earths ecology and so we have to learn to practice self-restraint - and so far we haven't been able to practice it enough.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 05:45:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dinausors weren't self-sustaining, it was a evolving taxon that lasted a very long time, but individual species weren't necessarily longer lived that most mammalian species. And when they finally disappeared - well, depending on what you call dinosaurs, birds are all dinosaurs - they were already on the decline. And it probably wasn't an external event as much as one of the regularly scheduled, biosphere cleaning massive volcanic activity, which apparently are also linked to many other mass extinction events - the main exception being the human-caused one happening right now.

(and since it might interest Bruce, it seems only question marks on a comment subject aren't accepted...)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 06:07:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
MillMan:
At worst, we'll be the first species on this planet to cause a mass extinction and decomplexification of life  (as opposed to the usual comets / radiation / super-volcanoes).
I was under the impression the first photosynthetic organisms caused a mass extinction by poisoning the planet with oxygen.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Oxygen Catastrophe

When evolving life forms developed oxyphotosynthesis about 2.7 billion years ago, molecular oxygen was produced in large quantities. The plentiful oxygen eventually caused an ecological crisis, as oxygen was toxic to the anaerobic organisms living at the time.

Great comment, by the way. The reference to the ultimate mortality of the species reminds me of Asimov's The Last Question.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 07:46:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, but the oxygen catastrophe was caused by multiple species!

I thought about including it, but I tend to give up on googlepedia after 30 seconds, and I hadn't heard the term "oxygen catastrophe" before.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 07:58:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I got to it was through googling "banded iron" on wikipedia. However, last time I tried that I had forgotten the exact name and it took me an inordinate amount of time to hit on "banded iron". The first time I just serendipitously hit the cluster of articles.

To nitpick a little, it was likely caused by a single taxon, unless photosynthesis was evolved indepedently by disparate organisms.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 08:11:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There also is the Late Devonian:
Reasons for the late Devonian extinctions are still speculative. Bolide impacts are dramatic triggers of mass extinctions. In 1969, Canadian paleontologist Digby McLaren suggested that an asteroid impact was the prime cause of this faunal turnover, supported by McGhee (1996), but no secure evidence of a specific extra-terrestrial impact has been identified in this case. Needless to say, there are some extinction spikes during the period, and the Alamo bolide impact in Nevada, United States, and Woodleigh crater in Australia are believed to be candidate trigger impacts for some of these events.

The "greening" of the continents occurred during Devonian time: by the end of the Devonian, complex branch and root systems supported trees 30 m (90 ft) tall. (Carbon locked in Devonian coal, the earliest of Earth's coal deposits, is currently being returned to the atmosphere.) But the mass extinction at the Frasnian-Famennian boundary did not affect land plants. The covering of the planet's continents with photosynthesizing land plants may have reduced carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, reduced levels might have helped produce a chillier climate. A cause of the extinctions may have been an episode of global cooling, following the mild climate of the Devonian period. Evidence such as glacial deposits in northern Brazil (located near the Devonian south pole) suggest widespread glaciation at the end of the Devonian, as a large continental mass covered the polar region.[3] Massive glaciation tends to lower eustatic sea-levels, which may have exacerbated the late Devonian crisis. Because glaciation appears only toward the very end of the Devonian, it is more likely to be a result, rather than a cause of the drop in global temperatures.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 08:48:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was also a hypothesis that the first plants using wind-distributed pollen caused a mass extinction of land vertebrae (though this now seems out, with the first angiosperms being dated earlier and their rise seen less sudden).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 07:42:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a sentimental and idealized version of how life on this planet operates. The earth was not "in balance" before we arrived - it was the scene of intense, slow moving (by our point of view) warfare between all species on the planet, the same as it has been since there were enough life forms present on the planet such that resources could be considered to be scarce.

That is a cynical and judgemental version of how life on this planet operates. Go tell it to the bacteria in your stomach.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 08:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Go tell it to the bacteria in your stomach gut.

Hey, that sounds better, too. Cooperation between species, up to the point of symbiosis, is just as much a part of evolution as is competition.

... adding that these are still morally loaded frames. The Dawkins you channel may be less anthropocentric, but he anthropomorphises with the best of them.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 09:24:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like shades of kropotkin.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 09:51:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution is a book by Peter Kropotkin on the subject of mutual aid, written while he was living in exile in England. It was first published by William Heinemann in London in October 1902. The individual chapters had originally been published in 1890-96 as a series of essays in the British monthly literary magazine, Nineteenth Century.

Written partly in response to Social Darwinism and in particular to Thomas H. Huxley's Nineteenth Century essay, "The Struggle for Existence," Kropotkin's book drew on his experiences in scientific expeditions in Siberia to illustrate the phenomenon of cooperation. After examining the evidence of cooperation in animals, "savages," "barbarians," in medieval cities, and in modern times, he concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are as important in the evolution of the species as competition and mutual strife, if not more so.


Interesting. But now to find a pre-socratic who said it first...
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 05:39:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Coevolution and cooperation of all types are part of the process I described.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 02:02:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So how is 'intense, slow-moving warfare between all species on the planet' a useful frame? Are my 'selfish genes' eventually out to get those of the bacteria in my gut?
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 05:48:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why would they?  They compete their rivals, and doing so in alliance with other genes, be them on the same chromosome or another, in the same cell or another.

Of course, MillMan's way of putting it as species competing with each other is misleading and too narrow. Say, lions don't compete with gazelles.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 07:36:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately, cooperation usually has an objective to compete against other cooperating units. This also applies to expressions of support and approval on ET that curiously lead to piefights.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 07:38:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
heh...!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 09:24:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
life on our planet, nor how it operates.  It was about our civilization, and how IT operates.  Perhaps I should repost:  

Anything that can cut through the willful ignorance of this civilization is to the good.  

If you followed that link, you know those people had no "competitors" until some neo-lib businessman decided to cut down the (adjacent) rainforest for cash.  

Ascribing simple crime to "Darwinian evolution" does not impress me overmuch.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jan 2nd, 2008 at 10:09:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
those people had no "competitors" until some neo-lib businessman decided to cut down the (adjacent) rainforest for cash.

Exactly. Their society was sustainable up until someone with superior technology showed up and destroyed it. Explain to me why we can dismiss this (wars of conquest) when looking for ways to create a sustainable world.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 02:15:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Our civilization is murderous and suicidal.   Right now you see it happily destroying others, but in fact it is also destroying the basis of its own life.  The natural model is a cancer tumor.  Do tell me about the Darwinian superiority of cancer tumors who do--after all--manage to destroy all competition.  

It is unfortunate and sad when sustainable peoples fail to evade this Engine of Death.  For in fact, the continuation of life will be possible only if they learn how to persist.  Some may actually be doing that but here I hold my tongue.  

For those of us who are already part of this Death Trip, we first have to decide if we want out of it or not, and secondly what that entails.  It is all a gamble anyway:  It may not be possible.  But if it is, it is the one thing that would actually be worth doing.  

Our "superior technology" is a delusion.  Our whole way of life is a delusion--a drug binge that ends in the morgue.  

Don't you understand?  We have already LOST your Darwinian war of all against all, by choosing to fight it.  The bacteria in your gut are superior to you:  They will outlive you, and all humans.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 01:54:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All is not yet lost IMHO.

A little furry Corporate animal is busily consuming all the Dinosaur eggs. The partnership-based entities I talk about are emerging because they "out compete" the existing corporates.

How? Because they do not have to pay a return to "rentiers".

They surround the cancerous cells and assimilate them...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 03:43:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]


The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 03:57:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nitpick: the Darwinian war is only lost with total extinction, if much of the biosphere and 99% of humanity is destroyed but a population of 100,000 post-civilisation scavengers continue humanity, it goes on until the next catastrophe.

On a more serious note: hunter-gathering lifestyle is not sustainable on a longer timeframe in the sense that the rise of a technological civilisation from it is possible. Hunter-gatherers weren't susptainable on a century timespan because they knew the danger, it's more they didn't knew how to be wasteful on a scale that it didn't just affect fellow humans, but the whole of the biosphere.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 07:53:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While I do realise you (Gaianne) haven't said this, but for what it's worth on the sidelines: from what I said, I follow that should civilisatio fall completely but humanity survive as hunter-gatherers, methinks memory would lapse, and civilisation would emerge again (maybe in 1000, maybe in 100,000 years), and the problems would begin anew.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 07:57:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some primitivists say that should we go back to paleolithic civilisation, returning to civilisation would be harder than the first time around ; loss of topsoil and biodiversity means agriculture'd be harder ; no more easily accessible  iron or copper ores, as those have been harvested ; harder industrial revolution as we are out of cheap fossil fuel...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 08:04:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I rather suspect that tells you more about them than anything else.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 08:12:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If there is a "next time" it will be without the oil and coal, which should prevent us from getting back to the nuclear age. Still, we'd simply be right back to the regional overshoot and collapse cycle through unsustainable agriculture and deforestation. There is a small chance of mitigating that if we manage to send what we know forward.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 03:31:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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