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Too big to succeed

by DeAnander Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 08:01:36 AM EST

McKibben's latest book confronts the problem of the human enterprise directly:  the cult of growth, the idea that we can grow our way out of problems, is almost over.  Now what?

front-paged by afew


In a review entitled "Too Big to Succeed" the reviewer comments:

As I’ve campaigned to get my own community, as well as the world, into a recovery program for growth addiction, I’ve learned there is nothing in our modern world as sacred as growth. While the famous Club of Rome report, Limits to Growth in 1972 began a global dialog about the unsustainability of economic growth, over the last few decades most of the mainstream environmental movement decided economic growth was too revered to even try to dismantle. It became politically incorrect to question continued, perpetual economic growth.

Today that’s evidenced by all the talk about green jobs. In order to jolt us out of our carbon-intensive ways, the environmental movement has resorted to greenwash. We can combat climate change and put everyone back to work – in the new green, clean-energy economy. McKibben bravely acknowledges, we've seized on green growth as the path out of all our troubles.

[...]

He writes that in a hot, post-growth world, decision making needs to slide toward local levels. We need to scale down. Growth was about big, about centralization. Now it’s time for localization. He observes the failure rate of big banks during the recession has been seven times greater than that of small banks. American states and cities have done far more than the federal government to fight climate change. Small, family-owned and managed farms are making a comeback, and we’re learning how to grow better food with less machinery and fertilizer.

Meanwhile, I just paid my US taxes -- unwillingly, for fear of force majeure.  I read that 53 percent of my federal tax payment will go directly into the US military, to support and promote the fossil-fueled growth cult.  Here at home in Canada, Chinese and Euro companies are buying big shares of the Alberta Tar Sands Boondoggle to shore up their own fantasies of never-ending growth.

McKibben:  

Ever since Jimmy Carter first hinted at it in the 1970s, we’ve been desperate to flog our economy back to life. We deregulated, never mind the pollution. We cut taxes, never mind the gross inequality it created. We handed out cheap mortgages, never mind the headache we know was coming. We have, in short, goosed our economy with one jolt of Viagra after another, anything to avoid facing the fact that our reproductive days were past . . .

It is still "incorrect" to question endless growth, insane as that seems.  How do we bring that question into the mainstream discourse?  I think it's pretty clear that for "the economy" (of the industrialised nations) to keep growing, billions of people have to be killed or allowed to die.  After all, if we convert the acreage that once fed them to bio-fuel plantations, what will they eat?  if we steal/contaminate their water for industrial processes, or melt their snowfields with CO2 buildup, what will they drink?  if we poison their arable land and rivers with mining and drilling activities -- not to mention undermining the ocean food chain at every point -- then how can they fish or grow food?  At this point "the economy" (industrial activity) grows only at the expense of life in general, which includes human life -- Georgescu-Roegen's prediction coming alarmingly true.  The point of diminishing returns was a long time ago.

For those unfamiliar with G-R's work, here's the relevant quote:  

Every time we produce a Cadillac, we irrevocably destroy an amount of low entropy that could be used for producing a plow or a spade.   In other words, every time we produce a Cadillac, we do it at the cost of decreasing the number of human lives in the future."

"The future" probably seemed a comfortable way off in the distance to most people who read these words on their first publication.  It no longer seems comfortably far off to me personally, dunno how the rest of y'all are feeling.

What does a steady-state human culture and economy look like?  Obviously more ploughs and spades and fewer Cadillacs.  After several millennia of expansionism and the astonishing blip of fossil-fueled bloom, what now?  Can we even imagine a economy and society not built on debt, speculation, and a bottomless purse of "resources" to loot for big, quick returns on investment?

Display:
if Georgescu-Roegen is right.

for on the one hand, every time we produce a Cadillac, we do it at the cost of decreasing the number of human lives in the future.

on the other hand, if we shrink the economy, then it will be able to support less and less people.

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.

by marco on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 04:21:09 PM EST
to a level sustainable by "organic agriculture", however he defines that.

"ENERGY AND ECONOMIC MYTHS", Southern Economic Journal - 1975 January, Volume 41, Number 3

... This vision of a blissful world in which both population and capital stock remain constant, once expounded with his usual skill by John Stuart Mill [64, Bk. 4, Ch. 6], was until recently in oblivion.47  Because of the spectacular revival of this myth of ecological salvation, it is well to point out its various logical and factual snags. The crucial error consists in not seeing that not only growth, but also a zero-growth state, nay, even a declining state which does not converge toward annihilation, cannot exist forever in a finite environment. The error perhaps stems from some confusion between finite stock and finite flow rate, as the incongruous dimensionalities of several graphs suggest [62, 62, 64f, 124ff; 6, 6].  And contrary to what some advocates of the stationary state claim [Daly, Herman E. The Stationary-State Economy. Distinguished Lecture Series No. 2, Department of Economics, University of Alabama, 1971., 15], this state does not occupy a privileged position vis-a-vis physical laws.

<...>

In a stationary state, too, people may be busy in the fields and shops all day long. Whatever the state, free time for intellectual progress depends on the intensity of the pressure of population on resources.  Therein lies the main weakness of Mill's vision. Witness the fact that -- as Daly explicitly admits [Daly, Herman E. The Stationary-State Economy. Distinguished Lecture Series No. 2, Department of Economics, University of Alabama, 1971., 6-8] -- its writ offers no basis for determining even in principle the optimum levels of population and capital.  This brings to light the important, yet unnoticed point, that the necessary conclusion of the arguments in favor of that vision is that the most desirable state is not a stationary, but a declining one.

Undoubtedly, the current growth must cease, nay, be reversed. ...

<...>

Justus von Liebig observed that "civilization is the economy of power".[Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971., 304]  At the present hour, the economy of power in all its aspects calls for a turning point. Instead of continuing to be opportunistic in the highest degree and concentrating our research toward finding more economically efficient ways of tapping mineral energies - all in finite supply and all heavy pollutants - we should direct all our efforts toward improving the direct uses of solar energy - the only clean and essentially unlimited source. Already-known techniques should without delay be diffused among all people so that we all may learn from practice and develop the corresponding trade. <...>

It would be foolish to propose a complete renunciation of the industrial comfort of the exosomatic evolution. Mankind will not return to the cave or, rather, to the tree. But there are a few points that may be included in a minimal bioeconomic program. ...

... Third, mankind should gradually lower its population to a level that could be adequately fed only by organic agriculture.66  Naturally, the nations now experiencing a very high demographic growth will have to strive hard for the most rapid possible results in that direction. ...

... Fifth, we must cure ourselves of the morbid craving for extravagant gadgetry, splendidly illustrated by such a contradictory item as the golf cart, and for such mammoth splendors as two-garage cars.  Once we do so, manufacturers will have to stop manufacturing such "commodities."

Sixth, we must also get rid of fashion, of "that disease of the human mind," as Abbot Fernando Galliani characterized it in his celebrated Della moneta (1750). It is indeed a disease of the mind to throw away a coat or a piece of furniture while it can still perform its specific service. To get a "new" car every year and to refashion the house every other is a bioeconomic crime. Other writers have already proposed that goods be manufactured in such a way as to be more durable [e.g. Hibbard, Walter R., Jr., "Mineral Resources: Challenge or Threat?" Science, 12 April 1968, 143-145., 146]. But it is even more important that consumers should reeducate themselves to despise fashion. Manufacturers will then have to focus on durability.

<...>

Will mankind listen to any program that implies a constriction of its addiction to exosomatic comfort? Perhaps, the destiny of man is to have a short, but fiery, exciting and extravagant life rather than a long, uneventful and vegetative existence.  Let other species -- the amoebas, for example -- which have no spiritual ambitions inherit an earth still bathed in plenty of sunshine

47In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, for example, the point is mentioned only in passing.

66To avoid any misinterpretation, I should add that the present fad for organic foods has nothing to do with this proposal, which is based only on the reasons expounded in Section X.

His italics, my bold.

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.

by marco on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 05:26:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the world population grows, then 'production' must grow too. However, there is a difference in growth built on the finance/corporate game, and 'sustainable growth'.

Sustainable growth does not mean a return to agrarianism imo. But it does mean an end to the production of consumer crap and a complete rethink of how we generate (and waste) energy. We also need to examine the complete life cycle costs of everything we produce or provide services for.

As I note in a recent comment, technological innovation as a solution, requires state intervention to coordinate many different disciplines. Only government can provide this coordination, and also the social responsibility context - not only nationally, but globally.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 04:35:06 PM EST
Sven Triloqvist: Sustainable growth does not mean a return to agrarianism imo. But it does mean an end to the production of consumer crap and a complete rethink of how we generate (and waste) energy.

Georgescu-Roegen would agree with you about the consumer crap:

Fifth, we must cure ourselves of the morbid craving for extravagant gadgetry, splendidly illustrated by such a contradictory item as the golf cart, and for such mammoth splendors as two-garage cars.  Once we do so, manufacturers will have to stop manufacturing such "commodities."

Sixth, we must also get rid of fashion, of "that disease of the human mind," as Abbot Fernando Galliani characterized it in his celebrated Della moneta (1750). It is indeed a disease of the mind to throw away a coat or a piece of furniture while it can still perform its specific service. To get a "new" car every year and to refashion the house every other is a bioeconomic crime. Other writers have already proposed that goods be manufactured in such a way as to be more durable [e.g. Hibbard, Walter R., Jr., "Mineral Resources: Challenge or Threat?" Science, 12 April 1968, 143-145., 146]. But it is even more important that consumers should reeducate themselves to despise fashion. Manufacturers will then have to focus on durability.

Not quite sure about the return to agrarianism:

Third, mankind should gradually lower its population to a level that could be adequately fed only by organic agriculture.66  Naturally, the nations now experiencing a very high demographic growth will have to strive hard for the most rapid possible results in that direction.

66To avoid any misinterpretation, I should add that the present fad for organic foods has nothing to do with this proposal, which is based only on the reasons expounded in Section X.



The point is not to be right, but to get to right.
by marco on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 05:32:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i think some people will be too busy doing other things to farm, but i think farming will be everywhere, and revalued for the essential activity it is, rather than the present systemised fossil-fueled folly.

it is an uncontestable fact that the closer we are to out food supply, the better our health, and the more we respect the process that ensures our lives.

right now we have farmers subsidised to grow tobacco 4 times as much as to grow corn or sunflowers round where i live. this is more folly.

i think 50 years from now, cities will be cleaner, and roof, terrace and vertical gardens will be everywhere.

people will eat much less unseasonal food, and will become wise again in the arts of food preservation, as our great grandparents were.

the present levels of waste in supermarkets will be looked back on as a dark age in ignorance, (along with many other worst practices).

European Tribune - LQD: Too big to succeed

 It no longer seems comfortably far off to me personally, dunno how the rest of y'all are feeling.

it hasn't felt comfortably far off since 1975, a split second in earth time, but 35 years of sensing the whole western consensus reality was cantilevered way too far out on rotten moral beams has made me more phlegmatic as to how long wile.e.coyote's legs can keep spinning before the swift plummet down.

humanity should have spazzed off the ledge long ago, but here we are, still teetering, still looking up...

the flash i got this time reading this dreary death warrant was: what if once we really have realised the value to what cannot be created, but so easily destroyed, the new social positioning markers will consist of intellectual property, rather than bling.

if that were to happen, we may look back on these years at ET as some of the soundest investments we ever could have made.

if the internet survives, we can de-parochialise rural life, and democratise knowledge, removing the stigma of ignorance and backwardness traditionally benighting those whose geography was removed from the loci of centralised cultural events and ideas.

first we need to decentralise the energy supplies, and remove electric bills from households, freeing up much money that way.

then we need to do the same thing nationally, and keep at it till the whole world is networked for power and knowledge.

for knowledge is power, and ignorance slavery.  

digitised campesinos...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 06:55:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Couldn't agree more, especially:

melo: if the internet survives, we can de-parochialise rural life, and democratise knowledge, removing the stigma of ignorance and backwardness traditionally benighting those whose geography was removed from the loci of centralised cultural events and ideas.

first we need to decentralise the energy supplies, and remove electric bills from households, freeing up much money that way.

As Migeru once put it about a different but related prospect:

One can always hope...


The point is not to be right, but to get to right.
by marco on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 01:06:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... given increase in population is, in part, a matter of distribution of resources and efficiency in utilizing them.

Indefinite, continuous population growth is only possible the old fashioned way ... by spreading out. Since the surface of the earth was sufficiently occupied 5,000 or so years ago to force people to descend into civilization in response to increased population density, spreading out at this point means moving out ...

... so here on earth, we do indeed to halt population growth.

However, according to the rough guide at the global footprint network, the resources consumed by one American can keep two Japanese, five Chinese, and six Burkinabe going. So the ecological footprint per person is not a static and fixed constant value.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 02:31:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How can we compare the quantitative value of the various lifestyles?  The american would quip that not only would they not like to live like burkinabe, but that the burkinabe would rather live like them.  Whether this is actually true or not, let's suppose it is, isn't that then saying that the american lifestyle is fundamentally superior to the burkinabe lifestyle and hence a morally directed goal for all humanity to reach?
by njh on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 08:17:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, if morality is measured by desire.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:00:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Its simply an observation of fact that the desire for increase material consumption can be cultivated among a population, but it also seems to be entirely beside the point.

For the conclusion that a given population implies a given level of resource consumption, you have to assume that the other two factors of I=PAT are held constant - the consumption per capita and the technological impact per unit of consumption.

However, assuming those to be constant is silly - for all of the living memory of each of us, the A and the T have been subject to constant and ongoing change, and so to assume them constant is to assume the one thing we have never observed them to be.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:58:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But impact per unit can be constant at a given time (everywhere may be able to use the same ideas) so comparing sideways is not unreasonable.
by njh on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 12:11:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Technology is not disembodied ideas alone, its ideas as implemented by social rules of behavior and available tools and skills.

So you still must respect that talking about population growth without talking about resource distribution is only ever a first cut analysis.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 01:19:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does a steady-state human culture and economy look like?

That's the question we should be answering but we can't. And once we answer that we have to worry about how to get there from here.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 06:58:23 PM EST
R selected or K selected?  R or K?

one's easier -- just live it up, have a nice boom, and hope that the bust happens to our kids and grandkids instead of us.  yippee, party hearty, discount the future, damn the torpedoes.

one's harder.

might call it the Yeast Party vs the Redwood Party:  we can grow like blazes, pig out on any bonanza of nutrients or energy with no thought for tomorrow... or we could aim to be a climax anchor species whose activity provides -- rather than destroying -- habitat for many others... unfinished thought... gotta run...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Apr 14th, 2010 at 08:07:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DeAnander:

one's easier -- just live it up, have a nice boom, and hope that the bust happens to our kids and grandkids instead of us.  yippee, party hearty, discount the future, damn the torpedoes.

one's harder.

now, now with yer binaries!

conceptually, it's easily that stark, but down in the real world TM too much hairshirtism leads to atrophy of the will.

as for partying hard, that can be more or less sustainable...

 i think of those african tribes out in the desert, barely two sticks to rub together, but still doing a boogie round the fire under the stars.

get too far out and no-one but the already initiated can relate to you.

sometimes you have to let it all hang out, or the efforts to be exemplary can cause a nasty stress of its own.

both/and. this era is tragically funny, and horribly hilarious.

still something good to celebrate there, for want of better choice...

the very meaning of the word 'growth' has to change, from that of a (once-benign, but now metastized) tumour to intellectual growth, since that's what makes us different (if not yet better!) than the rest of mammalia.

that might be your cup of tea, De.

drunk out there rocking on the water under the banshee moon.

;)

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 05:51:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
intellectual growth,

I dunno from definitions, but I call that 'whole-brain-use', or own responsibility for 'personal growth'.  IMHO, all human 'capacities and potential' reside in the brain including feeling, creativity, imagination, emotion, intuition,... besides rational thought processing, and the endless combinations.  If any of us had had a 'sane' upbringing, we would have developed the neuron discipline to find our 'best mix', guided by basic social values, but I think most of us got blocked, shorted and conditioned in many areas.

So we live trying our best to grow and develop:
the best balance of all of them in ourselves and
the best place to put them to good use.  

Dreamer (;  


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 06:53:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes i dream, that's why i have accomplished so little during my years here, but that's also why what little i have accomplished has proved to be enduring to me.

i loved your comment, mv, because it reminded me how male this insistence on the word 'intellect' is, like the mind is some kind of rocket probe to go higher and higher into the vast firmament of the unknown.

while i do want to help celebrate the intellect, i am very aware that the very term falls into a (very male) trap of separation.

and i'm aware that intellect is historically value-neutral, without respect and wonder, humility and proportion, it can lead us into hell and drop us off there with no ride home.

intellect for me can be found in an illiterate bedouin shepherd, it's not a product of academia, though western education can burnish it, notwithstanding the cultural conditioning.

maybe we have to discover the intellect in order to transcend it (another male obsession, btw), or better celebrate it equally with energies from the other pole, a sensuous use of the brain for pure art-delight, seeing its use also in say figure skating, distinguished from its ivy league, ivory tower
connotations. the term has become so loaded, it can be compliment or epithet depending on pov.

i think we need it to comprehend abstract notions, a castalia in which to ponder issues of weight and great nuance that can be lofty enough to leave the gritty everyday world far behind, and therein lies the trap.

intellectual freedom, the bugaboo of tyrants through history is what i think we crave, yet, it's an not unironic truth that ultimately the intellect must get in line with all the other faculties we master and possess, or it will warp and become bent.

...as will a character whose will to intellectualise has been devalued, perhaps by an anti-intellectual parent or peer pressure.

once grown there can be a huge resentment at people who have developed their brains while still flexible enough to do so, a stoking rage that they missed a bus, and now it would be unimaginably hard to correct, like taking up violin at 90!

this bloodlust is what i see blazing in the teabagger movement, fr'example. they look at a leader like obama, and the realisation that the very (self-)education that they eschewed when they could have made something of it is personified in a black(ish) man, who three generations ago they could have called 'boy' and sent to the back of the bus...

you're so right though, it's much more about wholebrain-thinking and balance than mere garlanding the intellect, which without moral grounding can be devastatingly destructive, though it's hard to not see equal capacity for destructivity in power-without-intellect, such as was hallmark of hitler, pol pot, stalin and mao.

when you want unthinking followers, slaying intellectuals who may invite freedom of thought in the lumpenproletariat is a .....-no-brainer', lol.

Idealist (;

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 08:26:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i loved your comment, mv, because it reminded me how male this insistence on the word 'intellect' is, like the mind is some kind of rocket probe to go higher and higher into the vast firmament of the unknown.

<sigh>

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 09:03:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a data point. As far as I know, the scenarios without collapse presented in The Limits to Growth ceased to be feasible around 2000 since the kinds of (broad, vague) corrective policy directions assumed in the scenarios were not adopted. (This is from looking at the 1990's 20th anniversary book Beyond the Limits to Growth).

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 06:45:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
possible.  

The depth of the crash is still undecided.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 04:10:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'since we're on our way down, may as well enjoy the ride...'

James Taylor 'Secret of life'

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 08:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the yeast can out compete the redwood in the short term.
by njh on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 12:13:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
look like?

Migeru: That's the question we should be answering but we can't. And once we answer that we have to worry about how to get there from here.

So you are not satisfied with Herman Daly's suggestions?

(Neither was Georgescu-Roegen, if I read him right.)

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.

by marco on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:52:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So you are not satisfied with Herman Daly's suggestions?

I'm satisfied with his framework, but you'll notice rdf ends his diary with

Since I've been a big fan of his goals and a critic of his lack of implementation ideas, this seems a good step forward.
It is not clear (though it may be for lack of study on my part) that this is the answer.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 04:18:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the central question. If we have the main characteristics of a stable or steady-state way of life then we can construct a narrative that will resonate positively. Currently (in terms of mass communication) we're boxed into the "go back to freezing in caves by candlelight" story. Half the battle of getting there from here lies in persuading people they want what's proposed.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 02:27:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
we're boxed into the "go back to freezing in caves by candlelight" story. Half the battle of getting there from here lies in persuading people they want what's proposed.

....preferably without them having to freeze outside a cave without any candles first, before they get it.

it's taken millions of years to get this stupid!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 05:34:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
That's the question we should be answering but we can't. And once we answer that we have to worry about how to get there from here.

i don't find visualising more realistic and sustainable futures difficult, but the second part of your statement completely stumps me. i prefer the word 'concern' to 'worry', as it is more positive, but that's PN.

a combination of chris' ideas and sven's marketing might be a good start!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 05:31:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But there is no such thing as "a steady-state human culture and economy."  If, by that, one is postulating a dynamic system where all State/Condition variables and constants give rise to a dynamic stasis.  The key word there is "dynamic."  It's possible to have a "steady-state" as long as that state is dissipative.  Once any variable is or turns additive a system tends to seek a new equilibrium point.

The greater the affective strength of a variable - such as population growth - the sooner the system will move.

 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 11:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's possible to have a "steady-state" as long as that state is dissipative

And what makes you think a human culture or economy is not dissipative?

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:00:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's make sure we're talking about the same thing.  By "dissipative" I mean major and minor changes effectively cancel each other out, leaving the system intact.  

Look at the good old classic example: Chaco Canyon.  They built a system under marginal conditions using a technology that increased population requiring a further deployment of that technology.  For a couple of hundred years they were able to meet and solve adverse weather conditions - no rain - by intensifying the use of that technology.  Then they ran into a situation were the challenges they had to meet could not be met with the level of technology they had developed.  The result was a collapse of the Chaco Canyon culture, the population it supported, and an abandonment of the area by the remaining population.

It's possible to find "steady-state" societies, a good one is New Guinea.  But these can only continue over long periods of time under isolation with minor, non-system affective, technological development.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:28:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, so with constant technological/cultural innovation you cannot have a steady state. It's like steadily increasing the Reynolds number of a system - it may look steady for a while but then you have a shock and bifurcation. And the shocks happen with increasing frequency.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:34:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's more than one kind of steady state:

  1. Steady-state population head-count.
  2. Steady-state 'science' - in the widest sense of world modelling and practical technology/agriculture.
  3. Steady-state culture - art and politics.
  4. Steady-state sustainable resource use, where resources taken from within the environmental footprint are either insignificant, or they replace themselves, or they're managed so that they replace themselves.

There's also force majeure steady-state where climatic and other conditions outside of immediate control remain stable.

Tribal cultures tend to do all of the above. This makes them inherently sustainable, but very static. You can leave a tribal culture alone for a few thousand years, and when you come back the people will doing the same things, eating the same food, telling the same stories and singing the same songs.

This looks secure but it depends on environmental stability. If the climate changes or if there's a disaster, these cultures have mixed prospects of adaptability. Without a tradition of innovation they may not be able to adapt.

Force-based cultures don't believe in the steady state. Survivability is enhanced through innovation.

But in fact the West is a mixed culture. It believes in force and change in everything except politics and economics (which is just politics with numbers).

There's vanishingly little political innovation in Western history. You can compare the Roman Empire or Greece to the US Senate, and they're recognisably similar. Rome had its redistributive land reform economic populists like the Gracchi, and they weren't any more successful than ours have been.

So in fact rather than looking for tribal self-sufficient nostalgia, a technological fix or a big die-off, I'd suggest that the way to make Western culture sustainable is to eliminate steady-state politics and economics.

This doesn't mean revolution in the Marxist sense, but it does mean making politics and economics more open-ended, chaotic, innovative and participative, and not based on the old tribal assumptions.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 01:18:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Diary.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 01:22:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
in the first place destructive (of others) and in the second place self-destructive.  When enough self-destruction has occurred, technological development will cease.  

Our real task is to persuade people to give up the technological addiction ahead of the descent into that level of self-destruction.  

But recovery from addiction is a spiritual process.  

If humans remain the center of human concern, recovery is not possible, since in that mindset arguments against the convenience of exploitation cannot be countered.  

If, contrariwise, humans can devote themselves to non-human-centered, life affirming goals and processes, the doorway to recovery will stand wide open.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:56:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Technological development is in the first place destructive (of others) and in the second place self-destructive.  When enough self-destruction has occurred, technological development will cease.

I simply don't see that that's true.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 02:17:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]


The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 03:47:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the elucidation.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 03:04:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're talking utter nonsense now. Step away from the Internet, get off the computer, stop wearing clothes, living in a house, eating non-wild food, talking (mostly). All technology. Meditation is a technology.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 02:41:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, technology is just ominous-looking smoke-spewing factories overlooking a workers' slum, like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 02:52:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I want the Chocolate Factory if no one else does.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 04:20:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman:
Meditation is a technology.

I disagree with you, Meditation is a state of being, which you can also achieve without techniques. :-)

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 03:11:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Méditation is a symphonic intermezzo from the opera Thaïs written by French composer Jules Massenet in 1893. The piece is written for solo violin and orchestra. The opera was first premiered at the Opera Garnier in Paris on March 16, 1894.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 03:17:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM:
 If, by that, one is postulating a dynamic system where all State/Condition variables and constants give rise to a dynamic stasis.  The key word there is "dynamic."

intriguingly paradoxical.

it brings to mind a comment someone made to me that there was a long period of british history where not much happened, all the records are there, and inspection reveals a normal, humdrum period of peace in the shires.

meanwhile the continent was knee deep in carnage.

something to do with being an island, i guess.

anyway, i was speculating how to the brits, that period wasn't dull at all, there was plenty to do and reasons to do it, without invaders breathing down their necks, or social upheavals. in fact the everyday might have been much more fully lived in a healthy way, without those unpleasant distractions the history books are so full of.

a steady state society would aim for this, consciously, imo.

in some discussions here, i seem to remember taking away a figure of 4% as annual natural yield resource multiplication, if those resources are stewarded responsibly.

if we learned to be happy with that, we could have our precious growth, just like if banking returned to being boring, they could still live well without scamming us.

looking at the way things are panning out now, 4% seems amazingly generous, but in a global atmosphere where madoff-like profits were touted as the new norm, it seems like....b-o-r-i-n-g.

eating the seedcorn, burning the furniture, all about us, wanna wanna wanna.

what will it take to make us grow up and harmonise our existence with our habitat, instead of cudgelling it into subjugation?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 02:45:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mathematically it's straight forward.  The paradox arises when trying to explain it in English.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 05:42:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, isn't it amazing how the future is going to fit your ideology so neatly? More science fiction, just as daft as the flying cars brigade.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:13:38 AM EST
well, we'd have to go far to be dafter than thinking we can continue to overdraw every resource on the planet indefinitely (as our dominant economic gurus, to date, blithely assume).

so what do you think is coming next then?  it's easy to snipe at someone else's crystal ball.  what do Colman's Own Bespoke Blend of tea leaves say?

... and why is it, I wonder, that other people's opinions are always "ideology," whereas one's own are just reasonably informed opinion based on the sum of one's reading and one's worldly experience?  :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 10:41:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have a clue what's coming. I'm not as clever as you: the more I know, the less I find I can predict the future.

My crystal ball shows "System complex, future uncertain".

I'm beginning to think that a nice neat view of how the future should be is a prerequisite to having  a nice neat view of how it will be.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 11:26:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Amen, brother.

I would add:

"System complex, in Extremistan mode, future twice uncertain"

by t-------------- on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 12:26:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm beginning to think that a nice neat view of how the future should be is a prerequisite to having  a nice neat view of how it will be.

interesting contrast:

ThatBritGuy:

it does mean making politics and economics more open-ended, chaotic, innovative and participative, and not based on the old tribal assumptions.

form follows function. intention crucial, neat or not, we do well to visualise, analyse, criticise and discuss before/while designing.

thanks ET

 

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 03:20:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The human species is well on the way to a steady state peace.  Extinction.  Have you ever noticed how peaceful a cemetery is?  

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:16:02 AM EST
Well, yeah, in the sense that we're all going to die. Eventually.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 09:34:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have to be much more precise with our definitions here.

I think a distinction between growth (as determined by financiers is one thing) whereas a phrase like "sustainable growth" means something quite other.

Growth is also associated with Keynes' advice to pump money into the public sector, so the term is also used as a cudgel. Axel Weber's crew insulted the IMF last week as growth-oriented softies.

I don't like it when a basic human impulse (growing, changing) gets perverted so easily. Nor do I subscribe to a notion of greenwash. After all, we can grow smaller.

by Upstate NY on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 10:17:28 AM EST
After all, we can grow smaller.

indeed, it's funny how we tend to forget that!

after growing bigger first, that's exactly what nature has our bodies do.

totally agree about the word hijack. nice catch about the 'growth as epithet', that's a new one to me. how low can they limbo.

I think a distinction between growth (as determined by financiers is one thing) whereas a phrase like "sustainable growth" means something quite other.

i see the first as vertical, the second more horizontal.

the word 'churn' is frequently mentioned here. can we visualise a system that rewarded dialling down churn, rather than the present one, which exists for it.

a lot of middlemen looking for a new gig, but how much less bloat and bubbles...

if we grow at 4%, it seems slow, but if we continued without rocking the boat, it would accrue to huge amounts over time, even adjusted for post peak oil perspective.

conservation and waste are still little more than concepts so far, compared to what we need to change.

thanks for turning us on to the archdruid a couple of years ago, De. he's making more and more sense.

 

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 03:01:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Every conversation about growth (population, economy, etc) reminds me of Ed Abbey's epigram: "growth for growths' sake is the ideology of the cancer cell."
Groups, businesses, countries like to be taken seriously, respected, feared; and size is one means of achieving that end, but it typically just leads to a desire for more growth, more dominance.
And eventually the host organism dies.
by Andhakari on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 06:35:35 AM EST
Thanks DeAnander!  

Another rare diary, full of developed thought, which springs more thought for most of us.  The ramifications of growth mania are the hip-deep s__t we are wading in and that barely allow us to manouver as individuals any more.  

Many people still use technology as their hammer to veil more growth under acronyms like R+D+I....  All the earth can support is the spread-share of some technologies we already have, not the infinite multiplication.  Technology, all dressed up, cannot be eaten.  

TBTF, TBTS is TBTExist for humankind, really.  


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Fri Apr 16th, 2010 at 08:02:48 PM EST
All the earth can support is the spread-share of some technologies we already have, not the infinite multiplication.

Unsubstantiated.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 03:05:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Without reading the comments, I note that there's no mention of psychological growth, not happiness, nor even hedonistic satiation.

Perhaps we could stabilize, or even diminish human population AND resource depletion, by making people happier with online blogs, games, and human interaction.

Observe Korean youth addicted to online gaming. Is that a bad thing? Why can't people pick their own poison -- we're all going to die anyway, and the cult of personal fulfillment may not lie along hiking national forest lines.

Just compensate for the lack of exercise with muscle stimulators, or even Wii-type gadgets, and stop imposing your idea of growth on the problem.

Grow minds, not lifestyles. Isn't that what you need to understand?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 05:05:54 PM EST


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