The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

If I had any readers in the past who might still be around, they may be saying, “Where have you been?” The answer: I’ve been here but perhaps not creating anything special. This new posting was prompted by a classmate of mine who sent all of us in the class of ’54 a letter suggesting that we write what we have learned about the meaning of life. He offered his contribution, and I thought I would offer mine – on this blog – in a form that may seem somewhat elliptical, but that’s about all I can offer, for now. It seems so presumptuous for one unschooled in philosophy to talk about the meaning of life. It must be a topic well explored by minds greater than ours. But I’ll write a little on The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

We come into this world with very powerful needs to survive. These needs are taken care of by family and the community initially. But we’re still Paleo-Indian in our basic orientation; the Paleo-Indians had to take care of themselves at an early age, and narcissism was born in this need to survive (long before the Paleo-Indians, by the way). If we were only narcissistic, however, we humans would have never survived. We needed community and mutual support. The basic difference between men and women is crucial here, because women (most of them, anyway) are far more community-support oriented than men. So we have families, and nurturing, and community – all thanks to woman’s genes (again driven by Darwinian pressures – the survival, given environment pressures, of the fittest). Basically men are driven to compete and excel (with some allowances for group action and support; note our exuberance around teams and sports) and women are driven to nurture and protect each other and their children.

Sometime past middle age, if they are fortunate, men begin to see that there’s more to it than trying to compete and excel. Maybe it comes when they can’t really do it any more – the younger ones are quicker, faster, seem smarter; competition is really hopeless, although some older men can hold onto dominance based on the power they have obtained and their verbal magic, not on their physical abilities. We – the men – begin to have our eyes open to the need to nurture, protect, defend, and help prosper, not just our own families, but others in the community, and hopefully in the broader community of the world. Men also are finally beginning to see the need to protect and nurture the environment that we, over the centuries, have savaged. Women have been doing the nurturing all along, but it has generally been restricted to family and community (I suspect problems here if any women read this). Wisdom for both men and women may come when they see the needs of people everywhere and of the environment everywhere and actively do what they can to nurture and preserve this extraordinary world we live in.  The meaning of life may be incorporated in the wisdom that sometimes comes with aging.

Parenthetically, Wikipedia notes that at least 8 countries possess nuclear weapons. Some of these are armed and I assume can be directed to almost anywhere in the world. Isn’t this insanity? This is not part of our acquired wisdom. It might be seen as a residual curse of narcissism. May God help us!

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The Parables of Jesus

Posted by David

I’ve started blogging about the parables of Jesus.

Ambiguity in Design


Old and young women

In recent months, Pope Francis has been accused of making ambiguous statements. The media will take his words and say, “Look how liberal Pope Francis is.” But if you read further into it, he will have said another thing that seemed to contradict what he said previously. But are his statements truly contradictory? Our reactions are truly in the “eye of the beholder,” are they not?

The Rich Man and Lazarus


The Bad Rich Man in Hell - James Tissot

For various reasons I am being increasingly convinced that really and truly the only real direction for the Church to take is to become poor. When I say poor, I don’t mean only poor in spirit, I also mean poor financially and poor materially. In doing so, a number of interesting things will happen to us and to our churches.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager


The Pharisees Question Jesus - James Tissot

It never ceases to amaze me how parables are twisted to fit our desires. The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is at the top of the most-twisted list. What do we expect, it’s about the love of money. How often is it preached that we should be shrewd like the shrewd manager because the master commended him? But does Jesus want us to be shrewd? Shrewdness implies a level of trickery. And who is the manager’s master anyway?

The Parable of the Sower


The Sower - James Tissot

The Parable of the Sower may be the most important parable, not only because it is here that Jesus teaches us how interpret all the parables, but more so because Jesus lays out a map for building a good and noble heart. Even though Jesus explains this parable literally, we still cannot understand it without the encryption key. And even with the key, which he does clearly give us in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, you still may not understand, because it is the shape of the hole in your heart that is needed for the key to fit.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep


The Good Shepherd - James Tissot

How much time do you spend primping your life so you’ll fit in with the crowd? We all spend time trying to fit in with our social groups. It’s natural for the human species. Nevertheless, Jesus explains when we do this we live in very dangerous territory. We focus on belonging rather than being loved by Christ. Being loved by God should be our highest aspiration. But how can we make ourselves good enough to be loved by God? We can’t.Who do you think Jesus loves most? You may be surprised at the answer.

The Parable of the Unworthy Servant


The Exhortation to the Apostles - James Tissot

The more we learn about Jesus the more we realize how unworthy we really are. We hear about how “faith” saved and healed the people who flocked to Jesus. Our response can be like that of the disciples, “Why don’t I have that level of faith.” In the Parable of the Unworthy Servant, Jesus explains to his disciples exactly how to increase their faith.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan


The Good Samaritan -  James Tissot

The Parable of the Good Samaritan might be the most well known of Jesus’ parables, partly because it is so simple to understand and also because churchgoers learn it in Sunday School at an early age. But how well do we really know it? In order to really understand it we must put on our sinner’s ears and our repentant heart and look deeply inside.

The Parable of the Ten Minas


The Tribute Money - James Tissot

Once again, with the Parable of the Ten Minas (or the Parable of the Talents from Matthew), we find a parable that has deep layers of ambiguity where sinners will hear one thing and the false-righteous will hear another. This parable has been cited to support usurious lifestyles and to justify the rich’s oppression of the poor. It has also been used to explain how some in heaven will shine brighter than others. But what did Jesus really mean by it?

The Parables of the Cloth and Wineskins


Meal in the House of Matthew - James Tissot

We sinners must drink deeply of the new wine that Jesus offers us. But you’ll find the Pharisees of today still trying to keep the new wine from the lips of Jesus’ disciples. In the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees once again try to trap him when they ask why his disciples drink and eat with Jesus rather than fasting like John’s disciples. Jesus responds to the Pharisees saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The Pharisees are implying that association with sinners is desecrating. But the opposite is true. When Jesus associates himself with sinners he consecrates them.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet


Woe unto You Scribes and Pharisees - James Tissot

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is the last in a series of parables which indict the chief priests and elders in their efforts of keeping the kingdom of heaven from the people. In Matthew 23 Jesus exclaims, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” This series of parables directly accuses the leaders of spiritual fraud.

Salt and Light


Jesus Teaching by the Seashore - James Tissot

Each autumn we usually make a bucket of sauerkraut for the winter. To prepare it, my wife buys an enormous cabbage from our local market. I shred the cabbage, put it in a sterilized bucket with salt and spices, and beat it with a 2×4. After I put a weight on top, I seal it up with a one-way air valve, so oxygen can’t spoil the lactose fermentation process.Salt-curing was the main way of food preservation for ages. When Jesus talked about salt to his listeners. They knew it was all about preservation. They knew they were learning how to be preserved and preserve others for the kingdom of heaven.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins


The Wise Virgins - James Tissot

“Keep watch,” Jesus says. But keep watch for what? When we are vigilant for Christ should we be watching for just the right guy to rise to power? I doubt it. Just the other day, I was driving down the highway by myself and missed a chance to pick up a hitchhiker. I chose not to stop for him because I was in a school district vehicle. But was Jesus in that man? Could my relationship with Christ have grown deeper by helping him down the road? I was off in my own head, rather than being ready to help someone out in the name of Christ. Vigilance was key, but I missed the opportunity.

The Parable of the Rich Fool


The Tithe Barn - Walter Tyndale

Autumn has settled in and slowed us down here on the Olympic Peninsula. The big-leaf maples are turning yellow. The rains have begun. It’s the time of year that we gather our winter supplies and we cozy up together. We glean apples with friends from the unused orchards for cider pressing. We spend a good deal of time canning fruits and storing up the other beautiful vegetables from our garden. I enjoy taking the kids out to the state lands to cut wood for our firewood stack for the following winter. Both my wife and I just love this time of year. We drink a lot of tea and spend the darkening evenings warming up next to our wood stove. What a life, right? But doesn’t Jesus call that sort of activity folly in the Parable of the Rich Fool?

The Parable of the Persistent Widow


Parable of the Unjust Judge - John Everett Millais

How often have you prayed and prayed about something and God did not respond with what you considered a just and right response? This is a common experience in the life of all Christians. Why? Doesn’t Jesus tell us, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” How do we reconcile our prayer life with God’s words? Does he really give us what we ask for?

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Just Don’t Scratch the Furniture

Posted by Mike

Does it happen to everyone. Do you just fall into things – like acquiring cats? I suspect in some matters, yes, and in others, no. It’s really irrelevant to my discussion. When something has happened, one can philosophize all you want, but once an event occurs – or events in most cases – we can’t turn back time and do a redo. In life, daily, we have to deal with what is, not what we would like it to be, or what we might have done or chosen had we been better informed, or thought more wisely, or….This brings up another issue that is very important for us Americans: We tend to believe that we must make most personal decisions by ourselves, that seeking advice and wisdom from others is somehow lessening to our independence and self-worth. Women, of course, are better at seeking advice from others than men. Perhaps it’s mainly us males who have the problem. It’s nonsense, of course. Why didn’t we let others talk us out of it?

The cats, as you might have surmised, are the problem. You feel sorry for the feral cat and her kittens. One day you see her with three kittens following her; the next day, only two; and a little later, only one, virtually a carbon copy of the mother, who herself looked like little more than a kitten. We have really big owls where we live; I suspect that the owls made away with the other two kittens. So you let the poor mother and child in, give them a home. Oh! And it’s necessary to buy a litter box, and litter, and cat food. And to be responsible, they must be neutered. And the injections for various feline diseases come next. And a tower so they can scratch it rather than the blankets, and bedspreads, and furniture. And lots of other accoutrements.

Soon one has (one in this case is Linda and myself) a cat-oriented household. It becomes like having children again: When “Big Cat” doesn’t come in before dark I begin to get panicky, like maybe my daughter missing her 11 p.m. deadline twenty-odd years ago. EEEEAAAAGGAADDDDH!

I’m getting use to it. Night before last I didn’t fully close the hall door. At 4 a.m. there was heavy breathing, purring, and licking on my ear, and little feet walking down my torso and legs. I even discovered a cat mole crawling through the dark area between sheet and blanket. The last cat we befriended was expert at destroying blankets with a few well-placed rips from her front claws. Remarkably, these cats are being reasonably considerate; they haven’t destroyed anything yet. I’m waiting!

All of this is to say that I thought I was over the period in life when you are raising things, like mainly children, but also cats and dogs and other various animals. I’m sure that cat lovers, if they have gotten through this tirade will say, “They are so lovable. They’ll be wonderful companions and you’ll love having them.” I’m waiting; I’m waiting!

Let’s not kid ourselves, cats are wild animals; other appearances are just that. Maybe it’s time for a dog?

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Ship of Fools?

Posted by Mike

It was Sarah Palin, then Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain. How could any reasonably intelligent person actually think any of these people

Childe Hassam Flags on the Waldorf detail Amon Carter Museum.jpgwould make (or would have made) a satisfactory President? Is this country filled with ignorant people who are unable to discriminate competence? The remaining candidates, thank goodness, all have some credibility, and hopefully some might make adequate Presidents. I have no complaints about people who might be supporting Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, or Mitt Romney, though I wouldn’t agree with any of them regarding their choice of candidate.

The answer to my question above is two-fold. First, I don’t think this country is filled with ignorant people. The people I interact with every day, at work, at the grocery, at home, seem very bright and competent. And I think that people in general, in this country, are very bright and competent, at least in the areas of their expertise. But secondly, I think the problem is that in some areas – and I think politics and religion are the two prime suspects – we just don’t learn to discriminate very well, to put on our “thinking caps” and apply reason and logic, seek information, and perhaps more than anything else, be willing to challenge accepted notions. I fault religion with having the most influence in this area. Religious beliefs and doctrines are handed down from one generation to another and there is a generally unexpressed assumption that these basic beliefs are not to be challenged, that somehow, just because a belief, doctrine, or institution has survived essentially the same for 200 or 500 or a thousand or two thousand years it is sacrosanct and not to be challenged. I’ll just bore you with one issue I have with our religious beliefs. One denomination on its website reports that, “Our beliefs all stem from a full commitment to the authority of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.” If you think like these folks, no challenge is possible. I wonder what they say to the occasional questioning teenager who wonders, “What makes it inerrant and infallible?” In my opinion there is no satisfactory answer to that question. My guess is that such questioning if it ever occurs is squelched, but I really don’t know as I don’t run in those circles.

We haven’t really learned, in this country, to question authority, to challenge accepted notions and the status quo. It’s been to our disadvantage continually, since the formation of our nation, and it’s remarkable that we have preserved to the extent that we have , our democratic processes given this lack. I’ll grant that there have been and are countervailing forces that have encouraged independent thinking and challenges to the status quo, from Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to Occupy Wall Street, but they have tended to be a “weak force.” The “strong force” has always been the maintenance of the status quo. One example: It took almost 100 years for the full effect of Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves to be effectively brought into being. Equality for African-Americans was delayed in the American South for years by supposedly “well meaning” whites who were unwilling to grant equality for all Americans. Oh – and did the churches speak out against this travesty?

It’s threatening and scary for our cherished assumptions and beliefs to be challenged, but adaptation to a changing world requires openness to that process. And it’s even more important now with the extraordinary effects of the internet and global interconnectedness as well as the increasing rapidity of innovation in technology and its effects throughout the world. Oh – we’re not a Ship of Fools or we would not have survived as well as we have. We do need to assess our foolishnesses from time to time, and this is one of those times.

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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

An early carnivore that was a close relative of Miacis uintensis, Vulpavus. (Credit: Marlene Donnelly and The Field Museum)

An early carnivore that was a close relative of Miacis uintensis, Vulpavus. (Credit: Marlene Donnelly and The Field Museum)

Remember on the Planet of the Apes when the monkeys had evolved into Humanoid like creatures, well, don’t put your bets on that happening in reality. It’s just not the way evolution works.

I think that I’m discovering that each general species group, such as carnivores for example, has a period in its early history when it’s innovative and has the ability to evolve. Evolution is more volatile early on. But once it’s an old timer, say a wolf, it’s not going to change much from there. An old dog really can’t learn new tricks. However, the early carnivore certainly could. It was a young dog and it had the right stuff to turn into bears, raccoons, hyenas and cats too. And it did.

Take another example: the sea otter. Could it ever become like a baleen whale, the early ungulate ancestor of our water spouting cetaceans? I don’t think so. There were times in which evolution was rampant throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. The morphologies of those species were simple and general. The behaviors were probably also characterized by general habits rather than highly refined. But as species groups began filling the smaller niches, their traits became more and more specialized and as a result the morphologies became distinct and stable.

It seems that the fossil evidence shows that once a species hits it’s archetype, it doesn’t change all that much afterward. If true, this is significant. It demonstrates that, yes, evolution is unidirectional. And no, survival is not the underlying method for evolution. Species evolve because they are tending toward their archetype.

I’m not a paleontologist, but this theory could be tested by looking at the fossil record and graphing various species groups and how much they changed over time. I expect that you’d find that all species groups’ morphologies change significantly early on and less significantly as time progresses.

What does this say about mankind and our species? It says that bonobos can’t become human. It also says that mankind has an archetype into which it is evolving (or has evolved). And my bet is that it is not Homo technicus. Instead, we tend toward our Archetype: Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1: 1-5

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Time Keeps on Slipping…into the Future

Posted by Mike

“Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping–into the future.” It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But somehow, expressed that way,Ashs-coursebook-cover-2010.JPG it makes us take another look at time. What on earth is it? We know that it’s happening, but what is it really? Like so many things that we take for granted, we have trouble when we try to narrow down and define what time is. Time is just – well – Time! We can measure its passage, can’t we? Of course. With clocks. But what do clocks do? They are a somewhat artificial way of measuring Time! We humans have made up the concepts seconds, minutes, hours….They are not real, but quite arbitrary ways of helping us to organize this thing that we call time. We can also observe change and the sequence of events occurring in the world as some kind of process. And this brings us very close to something important in our definition. That is–experience. Time is something that we experience and that we can observe, and it relates to sequential events and changes. If we didn’t have time, we likely wouldn’t have events or change; but we really don’t know that, because we do have this thing we call time, and we can’t really know what the universe would be like without it–but my opinion is that there would be nothing there!

Maybe you think I’m belaboring my point—the issue of what time is. What is it? It is basically that time is experiential; it is subjective. It is not tangible, but an intangible, and that it can only be noted through experience, through observation, and through measurements, which don’t clearly define it, but which enable us to present objective examples of its existence and presence.

So many of the things that we talk about as if they are real are like time. They are constructs that have no objective reality that we can see or touch or hear, but we objectify them using examples that are clear and concrete, which if varied and numerous give us a pretty clear picture of what we are talking about. For example, if we were trying to define the construct “love,” we would begin to build up a good idea of what it is from concrete examples of physical affection and caring, events that we can observe – the events themselves and their consequences. Then we would have a fairly clear picture of what love is. That’s the way it actually is with all constructs; we have to bring them down to concrete observables—events that we can see, hear, touch. It’s in the real world that we live and breathe, and it’s from these real things that we can construct the meanings of the intangibles – things like love, and courage, and God, and patience, and war, and peace – and time. In our definitions of all of what we call reality, at bottom we must return to clear observation—shared observations among us all. With our shared observations and agreements, we have notions of what we are talking about. At the more abstract levels we often can agree; but as we become more and more concrete, it might be surprising how much we differ on the significant details. In general, most of us can agree on Time – especially that it keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping – into the future!

Bristol Bus Station clocks.jpg

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Tale of Two Cities – Part 3 of 3

Posted by David
Two trains of the Ffestiniog Railway at Tan y Bwlch Station

Two trains of the Ffestiniog Railway at Tan y Bwlch Station

Part 1, Part 2

The key to wealth is not the actual ownership of wealth, but rather the being a conduit for it. You may either do this by being increasingly useful to the greater system or by becoming a larger conduit, which are actually the same. If you stay useful and transform and transfer the energy provided to you in increasingly innovative ways, then you keep your job in the system. If not, you are shed and become transformed wealth. “Sold! to the highest bidder.”

If that sounds a bit terrifying, well, it is if you want to be a part of one particular economic system. But in this world there are actually two economies working in parallel. Thank goodness, because one of the systems is too ruthless for me to be a member. And thankfully, one is dieing and one is living. In fact, one is death and one is life. In one, the energy driving the system is pride or powerlust. In the other, the energy driving the system is love. Pride is a contained system. Pride is a self-centered system. Pride is a closed system and has a definite limit to its innovation.

Love on the other hand is based in God, who is outside the system itself. So, it is an open system. It is eternally creative and innovative. Not only does its innovation never end, but neither does the fuel nor desire. All parts of the energy triangle work indefinitely within this economy of Love.

To be a part of the former system, you must fight, deal, cheat and steal. You must transform energy for the greater pride.

On the other hand, to be a part of the latter system, you must pass love without regard. You must transform the energy give for the greater love. And it’s not possible to horde love. It can only be passed along to the greater benefit of the whole.

I mentioned that these two economies, or what Saint Augustine called “cities,” work in parallel. This is important to understand, because some of us might think that we’re caught or trapped in the former system and can’t get out. But by being in parallel, it’s easy to just step over to the other track and start passing love rather than envy, pride and lust, no matter where you are. When we spend money, we do it out of love rather than fear. We do it out of charity rather than vanity. So you don’t need to quit your job. You can jump tracks wherever you are and serve either a master or a friend.

When you start converting your conduit over to love rather than pride, love then starts eroding your streambed, rather than ruthlessness. Your river gets bigger and draws in more love. God’s love starts broadening your conduit. And I finally understand at least part of Jesus’ Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Jesus shows us that we must use our position (our conduit) to funnel love rather than trickery. We’re not stuck. We can get out. When we do, we find true wealth to actually be relationship, particularly relationship founded in the eternally innovative Love of God.

So, what’s the key to greater wealth?

  1. Wealth can only be found in relationships.
  2. There are two types of wealth in human civilization: pride and love.
    1. Pride is a false-wealth. You become a slave to its master and will fall with the master when the peak is reached in this closed-system.
    2. Love is true wealth and is only had through a relationship with that which is outside the Universe: God.
  3. You cannot store wealth. It is uncontainable. It cannot be horded. There is simply no need to try.
  4. You can become a greater conduit for both types of wealth—pride or love—by freely passing what is given to you.

The master commended the dishonest manager for his  shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Luke 16: 8-13

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Middlemarch

Posted by Mike

It’s a comedy and a tragedy. The author’s subtle humor is seen on every page. She is generally making delicate fun of her characters’ very human frailties and foibles. George Eliot.jpgBut she displays a sensitivity to their feelings and private anguishes that reveals her own broad awareness of the varieties of human physical and emotional predicaments. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) published Middlemarch in 1871, but the incidents in the novel took place in a provincial English country town in the 1830’s.

Middlemarch has an ensemble cast of main and secondary characters; and unless it is read straight through, the reader might have the difficulty I had of being able to place exactly where Mr. Brooke or Mr. Trumbull and others fit into the tangled web of family, social, business and other relationships. Despite this, the main characters show up regularly enough that the reader can get at least their relationships reasonably clear. For me, in long narratives of this sort, I become personally involved in the hopes, affairs and entanglements of the characters, wishing for the best, while knowing that the author has the guiding hand, not Providence, and that resolutions remain with the author and not with my feeble desires and expectations.

I will say that the writing is complex. On virtually every page there are extended passages that I needed to reread if I were to understand the author’s meaning, and there were times that even then I wasn’t sure. Her frequent use of triple negatives and multiple qualifiers often left me gasping for clarity. But ultimately the charm of her style overcame my frustration–to the point that I suspect I have begun to incorporate elements of Evans’ obscurity into my own writing!

The novel is complex, brilliant, sensitive, and true to humanity at least as I see it today in my section of the provinces 150 years later.  Despite the author’s frequent but subtle mocking of the naiveté of her characters, her own humanity and sympathy for them as frail mortals struggling with the immensities of life is evident.

One of these characters is Dorothea. Of  her the author writes:   “…the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Evans is saying here that all of us whose lives are not particularly distinctive but who work at being decent human beings, despite what might be our baser inclinations at times, also contribute in our own small way to the betterment of the world. What a hopeful epitaph, for me and perhaps for you, too.


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Can’t Touch This – Part 2 of 3

Posted by David 
Wealth equals relationship diagram

Wealth equals relationship diagram

Part 1Part 3

The interesting similarity between ecosystems and economic systems is that nothing owns energy. There is no true wealth gained by the parts of any system. Energy (or value) is always transforming and changing places. It never stops. It might slow by becoming stored in a slow process. But if it is to actually stop, it would no longer be energy. It would be dead. And energy can’t die. It can only transform or change state. Nothing in ecological systems is actually dead. It is always being used for something. There is never really a loss of energy. Nothing is wasted.

On the other hand, people tend to see economic systems as systems based on accumulation of wealth, whether that be money, stocks, gold, cars, homes, land, businesses, etc. But just like in ecological systems, the parts are not valuable. The flow of energy between structures is the only thing of value. So, wealth is not the accumulation of things. It can’t be. If its value stops and is stored, it dies. Value only happens at the moment the energy is transformed. Money is only worth something at the untouchable moment when it passes from one hand to another in exchange for something. When money or assets stop doing something (transforming), they are not valuable. It’s not even worth anything if someone thinks it’s worth something, as some may wish you to believe. It’s only worth at the moment of transaction or transformation.

Human individuals can never truly know economic wealth. It’s always just beyond our reach, which is why the people who are obsessed with wealth are always unsatisfied. They can’t touch it.

True wealth can only be known outside of an individual parts of the system. No part can have wealth or energy. Energy is in the relationship, not the parts. Even the Universe does not know its ‘glory’. Only God who is outside the natural system can claim to be wealthy. One may argue that, within my body there are innumerable relationships and stored processes that are continually transforming and transferring energy. True, however, we can’t know that wealth. We can’t understand that value, because it is still outside my point of reference.

Pride and power work the same way as wealth. They are ever-desired, but always out of reach. Power is something that cannot be contained by an individual, because it only becomes power when it is being transformed between two systems. Neither of the systems can claim ownership of the wealth.

However, certain systems can become greater conduits of the flow of energy. As more energy is transformed within a system, that system can begin to grow. This is the process of succession (or evolution) as discussed above. That’s not to say that they are any more important than the other parts of the system—but that they transfer and transform the energy in greater amounts. We see this in a forest when a tree becomes a conduit for transferring oxygen into the atmosphere. Just due to its great size it provides a greater flow of energy than say the fern below. A river is a good example also. As water flows through cracks and fissures, the more water that flows, the greater the erosion of those cracks and the more water tends to flow through those systems.

Once again we also see this in our economic systems. Certain companies and individuals which have spent enormous amounts of money in innovative interests become conduits for greater wealth. They are not actually wealthy, but they are conduits for it. And in fact, if they start wasting their wealth, or stockpiling it, the innovation begins to decline, the flow of wealth diminishes and so does their company. Again innovation is key here. Depending on their size, they must be more and more innovative to sustain the flow of wealth. Within human systems as they hit their climax, they tend to find innovation through more and more questionable and ruthless means, ultimately to their destruction. We see that rampant type of business today in our world. It is a harbinger to what is to come. They make me realize that, yes, we have peaked. Innovation is dieing. Our lightning bolt is coming soon.

I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’

Luke 16:4-7

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Economic Succession – Part 1 of 3

Posted by David
Ecological/Economic Succession

Ecological/Economic Succession

Part 2, Part3

Ecologists speak of succession in terms of how a particular plant community evolves over time toward a climax system. All ecosystems grow under this process and I expect the same is true for economics and for civilization in general.

To see how this works, let’s first look at a forest ecosystem for example. The process of succession usually begins after a particular catastrophic event that clears the landscape. This might just be a local event such as a blowdown or an avalanche, or it might be broad in scope such as a fire, volcanic event, or emerging from a period of glaciation.

Initially, pioneer species populate the landscape helping to build up important nutrients such as nitrates, or structures, such as soil and habitat building blocks. This is the time of ‘innovation’. Diverse groups of plants, trees, animals and biota expand over the new landscape.

What follows is usually a succession of species that culminates in a fairly uniform, slow-growing community of species. At this point, innovation begins to collapse as the group of climax species become dominate and unchanging. This system is much less diverse than its initial pioneer stage. The species set stays the same until some catalyst returns the process back to the beginning state or climate or geography changes. In ecological succession, I argue that it’s actually the lack of diversity or the lack of innovation which is what ‘calls in’ the catalyst—maybe a fire—which returns the landscape to the beginning of the succession cycle.

Could civilization and economics be driven by the same process? I think so.

In society, initially innovation drives the changes and innovation creates the building blocks which allow the next stages of social and economic development. But finally, that innovation fades out, just like species diversity. Newness ends. It can’t go any further because all natural systems have limits. They hit their archetypal wall. They become what they were to become, or close to it. A Tsuga mensezii forest will only become a Tsuga mensezii forest unless the climate changes. That’s what it becomes. Cultures culminate into their archetype. The Maya, Astecs, Egyptians became a Pyramid building culture. This archetypal culture emerged out of man’s understanding of natural history and his development of math and the occult. It’s interesting to note that the pyramid describes perfectly the process of succession—more diverse at the base, less diverse at the zenith. Other cultures developed into their archetypes. Rome seems to be a special type that isn’t all that different than what we have today. Only ours is nested more firmly in advanced technology.

In our global industrial civilization we are walking along the same successionary process as forests follow. Innovation builds the society and lack of innovation will bring our decline. I argue that innovation has truly peaked in our global society. I remember seeing a boy with a shirt on in southern Argentina in 1998, which read in English, “Know no limits—Mountain Dew.”

Yes, there are still minor innovations in science and culture…but we’ve hit the wall. We will know our limit. And I think we’ve been at the peak for a number of years now. The question for me becomes how long can we last at this final climax stage? A Tsuga mensezii may last hundreds of years in the climax stage.

Fire triangle

Fire triangle

The succession process and growth of an ecological community is very much like a fire. It runs under the same process. Take fire triangle for example. For a fire to burn, it needs fuel, oxygen, and heat. Without either of the three, fire cannot happen. Likewise, for a civilization to grow it needs fuel, innovation, and desire. Without either of the three, it collapses. Could it be that they all three occur at once? Do they feedback on one another: Lack of fuel lowers desire which lowers innovation. Lack of innovation decreases desire, which limits the amount of available fuel. You get the idea. In our civilization, you might call it Peak Oil, Peak Innovation, or Peak Desire. Whether the chicken, the egg or the chicken pellets came first doesn’t matter. The peak occurs and then the civilization fades or collapses.

But what can we learn about the catalyst that initiates fire at the end of the forest succession process? As energy goes into a system if it’s not being put into innovation, it is being stored elsewhere, dry wood, fuel, lack of diversity, cranky people, etc. Eventually, that dry wood, those cranky people, become the fuel for the fire. I argue that it’s the accumulation of fuel that actually draws in the lightning, but how it happens isn’t important to this argument.

I mentioned “cranky people,” but I’m not really kidding. It’s those cranky people that help to dissolve society. They and their lack of innovation is the precursor to civil war or revolution.

The same is the case for our present society and economic reality. Energy is always entering the system, but when it stops flowing into innovation, it starts being stored up in the people, and even the products to some extent. The energy becomes ripe for the fire that causes its decline. The energy is what feeds the fire. When it builds up great enough, there will either be an event that is the spark that causes its destruction. Some people call these “black swan” events.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

Luke 16:1-3

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