Thursday, October 2, 2014

Culture and Value

Initial assumptions:

  • Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real
  • Environmental destruction due to pollution, resource extraction and human habitat expansion is real
  • Overpopulation is real assuming current consumption trends continue

Culture is a product of individuals collectively engaging in certain activities. The activities that these cultures engage in is how we identify and discern them from one culture to the next during a specific time frame or across the entire span of human existence.

In order to better understand the initial assumptions and what they mean for humanity I am going to use a cultural 'lense'. Over time, cultures appear to be dynamic and elastic, as well as being very short lived in some cases. The dynamism, elasticity and longevity of cultures is determined by many factors such as environmental conditions, resource availability, access to information and much more. There is no question, however, that cultures can and do change or disappear entirely.

There is a new culture that has arisen recently in the human experience and that is the culture of consumerism. Now we normally do not think of ourselves that way in the developed world. When we think of our culture we might think of things like Baseball, Rock & Roll, fast cars, etc.

But there is a level at which our culture is something more than the sum of its parts and this is what we fail to see when we consider the way we live our lives. We want to have the many things that we take for granted and we want to create them with the least cost and greatest efficiency and expediency. We don't have time to wait for fast food, there are so many things we have to do in our day, so many places to drive and resources to expend.

Some have less hectic lives, but exist within the same cultural paradigm so in one sense, they cannot extract themselves from the responsibility or the burden entirely. But they can begin a shift in our culture by leading the way in less consumptive behavior and more resilient living. Like most people, culture does not change just because a certain inconvenient truth is realized. Culture is slow to change and must start at the local level. You cannot force cultural change without serious social consequences.

We cannot continue with the culture of consumption and thus our culture must change and it will. How and what causes the change is the key to knowing and understanding the culture that will emerge from the ashes of consumption.

It is certainly desired that the change be voluntary and that it does not shock the population with such drastic changes in a short amount of time. A gradual shift into this new culture would be much better for society in general. This seems to be what is happening now as movements like Transition spring up and grow around the world. So there is an idea of how we would like to live beyond consumerism, an expectation. But there is no guarantee that these transition communities will survive the changes expected to occur within the next two decades with the rapid decline of fossil fuels and the increasing tensions and conflicts around the world.

But the best we can do is to try to build the world we would prefer in the absence of mass consumerism and the infrastructure and energy that drives it. Resilience is the key to the success of these movements. Resilience is also key to the success of culture. Until the expansion from the industrial world into the jungles of south america, resilient cultures of native Americans existed in large numbers for thousands of years. They were resilient because their culture was simple, there were few rituals or requirements beyond hunting and gathering.

We can simplify our culture but it will require sacrifices that many are just not ready to make. There is still a large number of people led to believe my initial assumptions are false. Misled by propaganda provided by those that profit most from the continuation of our consumer society. It comes down to what Gandhi said, we need to ‘be the change’ that we want, or rather that we know must happen to survive as a species.

Thoughts on anthropomorphic reasoning and the concept of good and evil.

It is difficult to embrace life and to envision meaning without imparting the learned values and self advancing tendencies that accompany the thoughts of a conscious mind.
We spend the majority of our efforts in acts of self preservation, eating, working, sleeping, etc are all activities that we engage in for the purpose of self preservation and they tend to take up a majority of our time. It is easy to see why our thoughts would include something of a looping mechanism that always returns us back to the question of self interest. Any idea or thought we have is weighed to some degree by this looping mechanism.

In fact, why should we wonder, worry or concern ourselves at all with anything that does not immediately benefit us in one way or another? It would seem pointless on the surface, but just below that surface is a world of understanding that easily eludes us. But we have proven effective at this throughout history. Many of the great thinkers and scientists of the past have unwoven a stunning story of our existence and many without recognition until long after the fact.

So in what other ways can a lack of human-centric thought lead us to new understandings of our reality and our place in it? If I only knew. The idea though is that it allows us to think outside of the human box.

We don't usually think of the concepts of right or wrong when we think about nature or the cosmos. But realistically, the relativistically loaded concepts of right and wrong can easily be extrapolated to the concepts of order versus disorder, and in the natural world, this is a battle that never ends.This then brings us back to 'us' and the evolutionary processes that brought us into being. We have been fighting an ongoing battle to lean toward order or 'right' and away from disorder or 'wrong'. This is not just a metaphorical example, it is ingrained into our very being by millions of years of evolution driving us toward more cooperative social behaviours.

We devised the concepts of morality and the theory of ethics not simply as an experiment or wishful thinking, these premises were expressions of what our social evolution was doing and continues to do. Morality, Ethics, Right or Wrong, whatever we think of these concepts, they are not 'man made'. They are simply expressions of the universe being spoken by one of it's creations. We can quantify them and express them in varying degrees, and this is where anthropomorphism comes back into play.

The biggest setback to purely human-centric thought and pursuits is that humans are programmed to seek the greatest reward in the least amount of time. This conflicts with reality in many ways as we approach the limits of our physical world and this is where we need to think in a systems mode. The earth, the solar system, the universe, are all part of a system based on a few simple laws. Now the biosphere and the earth system are quite a bit more complicated than large bodies pulling each other this way and that in the vacuum of space.

The earth has many complicated mechanisms that maintain just the right conditions for humans and the rest of life to exist. We need to first and foremost protect those systems so that we can continue to survive as a species, but the earth is large and seemingly unlimited to a single mind living a single lifetime and with much more to worry about right now rather than what will be happening a hundred years from now.

So right and wrong are concepts that can be observed in nature with the right kind of eyes. It is not a conscious right or wrong, but it is there and it does influence our existence. It is like the black hole, we cannot see it directly, but we can see how it affects all of existence.

Back to 'us', from an anthropological point of view, good and evil, right or wrong, are concepts used and useful to humans alone. The elemental products of nature do not and cannot concern themselves with the concepts of conscious minds.

So I hope I have at least imparted on you the idea that right and wrong are not owned by humans. Their many variations are spread across the cosmos.

Order versus disorder in a world struggling endlessly against the effects of entropy easily seems pointless. And without a doubt, so is life. Pointless. We create the meaning in our lives and very much of that meaning comes from the core foundations of what we as individuals observe as right or wrong.

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