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from a comment you highlighted:

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

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