Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ecology and the Need for a Therapeutic Grounding in Nature

The collapse of a global economic model is what most collapse scenarios address today, not nodes, whether democracies or not, they might fall back into. I think it can be assumed that humans surviving the collapse of a global economic system will certainly find some sort of way to survive if there is enough biosphere and ability to develop survival strategies left. It doesn't take any complex economic theory to anticipate that. What I'd like to raise attention about is the selectivity features of a society, and I'm interested in looking at institutions, since it's institutions that are the medium of adaptation, whether corporate or governmental. Whether the nature of the government is democratic is not likely to have much effect if the institutions continue unabated with a certain type of adaptation strategy. I am, however, interested in looking at the institutions involved in the adaptation strategy.

My interest is in looking at individual awareness of our natural environment, the relationship between that awareness and the theories about individual psychological perspective of the world, which inevitably goes into theories of phenomenological and existential psychology. These theories deal with how we encounter the world and how we make up that world in our own minds. And, from each of our minds come the forms that make up the choices we all make in living in our various societal systems. I want to question just how adaptable those systems are that we create, what is the nature of that adaptability, and I want to use some of the same eco system forms that ecologists have created to understand our biosphere as the most reasonable model we have to resort to for an understanding of ecological systems. Just keeping the discussion within that range is going to be difficult enough, without going off into debates about what democracy is or whether it is the ultimate tool to achieve eco diversity and ecological peace.

I'm going to go back to making the correlation between r-selected species and forms of cultural adaptations that may be correlated with those. As I indicated, the r-selected species are adapted to low succession environments. Humans have shown a unique capability for using their tool making genius to create cultural strategies to shape and form the natural environment for their purposes. Their ability with these interfaces has proven to be competitive in almost any ecological setting, and for the most part there are few species, including viruses, capable of doing more than offering momentary setbacks as humans have slowly, over eons, populated the globe, and rapidly, in the past 200 years, begun to wipe out major segments of eco niches and reduced the globe to low succession, high production of key, human related species for individual energy consumption, and all of this is proving to be a very energy intensive project, because keeping a low succession environment from creating tremendous instability in its population requires a high degree of energy input. That's essentially the nature of how that eco dynamic works and it would take pages of documentation from the ecological sciences to demonstrate that, so if there's any doubts, go exploring. I learned it nearly thirty five years ago.

The reason that's an important set of principles to understand, is that the correlation between unstable r-selected species populations, which show that dramatic rise in population numbers in the above graph, and human being populations is that it's important to recognize that the correlation is not to be limited to numbers of people. It must also be based on ecological foot print concepts, and niche occupation processes which are also a result of the technology and energy expenditures of thea given societal strategy. It's the ecological footprint that the biosphere and its eco systems are necessarily concerned with. If the ecological foot print of the average North American is 12 times that of another person somewhere else, than you don't just count the bodies taking up space, you compare the ecological foot print. If you show the footprint, the population may not be leveling at all, but may continue to increase just as rapidly as societies such as China, change to high intensity forms of economic adaption. So to show that the number of bodies is falling off in industrialized societies overlooks the real facts of how much it takes to support those bodies through a system that may, in fact, be extremely wasteful of the resourse -- an inherent characteristic of r-selected species -- and and may, in fact, require increasing amounts of energy to maintain the very biosphere itself, which is being reordered into an increasingly high energy required, low succession eco system.

For example:

If without firing a shot, human cultures wipe out one fifth of the species as projected in the next thirty years, that can not be considered in ecology the attribute of a K-selected species adaption strategy.

If 12 acres of the complex ecosystems that make up the belt of tain forests continue to disappear every eight seconds or so, nearly all the species involved losing their food and homes, to be replaced by the rapidly depleting soil activities of monocultural industrial farming to support both the large and small footprints of what continues to be an increasing curve of energy needs of the global population, that cannot be considered the attribute of a K-selected species adaptation strategy.

Rainforest Facts

  • We are losing Earth's greatest biological treasures just as we are beginning to appreciate their true value. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.

  • One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second with tragic consequences for both developing and industrial countries.

  • Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multi-national logging companies, and land owners.

  • Nearly half of the world's species of plants, animals and microorganisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century due to rainforest deforestation.

  • Experts estimates that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.

  • Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value and then are followed by farming and ranching operations, even by world giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Georgia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal.

  • There were an estimated ten million Indians living in the Amazonian Rainforest five centuries ago. Today there are less than 200,000.

And that is certainly not the whole of the range of environmental degradation going on. The ocean fisheries are a whole nother chapter.

It's the premise of the ecopsychology introduced here that by becoming more sensitive to these features of our environment, some sense of this will become a part of our total psychological awareness, and in that sense may become an important part of how each individual approaches a variety of choices that feed back through the global economic system itself. Whether or how this exploration and the individual awareness involved may effect the powerful institutions that are a part of that system is only to be guessed at, from my perspective.


Since my last blog entry, I've lost the entire contents of my laptop's hard drive and I have been very busy rebuilding my system from the scattered bits and pieces of writings I've produced on several message boards, plus from the good fortune of having saved some of my writings up to a point in February of this year, when I'd last backed up my work on an external hard drive. So I think I'll devote this entry to my thoughts I've had over time about message board writing, sind, in a tangential way, they do relate to issues of globalization, modern technology, democracy, and other themes I've been writing about, because it's been a window into the way others think around the world, through direct writing contact, that I'd otherwise have never experienced. And the experience itself has been part of this creative assembly process I'm doing here.

Thoughts to a friend:

I don't know if what I say illuminates anything. You and I have been communicating on this board for a long time and have developed an understanding, a rapport, so maybe when I come up with something it makes sense to you from that background of familiarity. When you have the time I have found you quite adept at creating your own complex thoughts, usually more efficiently than I do, so we share an interest in language and thought building, not thought destruction. The sense of building an idea and playing with it is quite dissimilar to making preclusionary assumptions about a few words, which is pretty much all most people seem to have the time to do, or interest to do, and setting up an antithesis to the assumptions without bothering to find out if they've grasped the full extent of the thought being developed, and this goes on over obvious preconceptions in some strange pattern that just recurs over and over from what I can see. Like watching a ping pong match. Perhaps it's not the same for others but watching ping pong bores me so quickly I can't get my mind away from it quickly enough. I think more than anything I don't make sense to most people. What I have in mind to say doesn't exactly fit into a sound byte, I've discovered, when I try to find words for what I see. It's a real challenge. And this is a unique environment.

I've tried different tactics. The long essays is one. Obviously that cuts down on readership in a hurry. When I try to develop a thought a little at a time, the ability to distract and disarray comes into play. Non sequiturs abound. For example, there's absolutely no reason to assume that someone can't enjoy beautiful architecture made with the unique creative abilities humans have, and also learn to enjoy intricacies and complexities of the biosphere that we now have come to understand from the unique set of cognitive tools the sciences have developed, not impossible tools to grasp, yet that is the implication of putting a picture of some archictecture piece and asking some question that presumes that whoever is talking about this ecopsychology subject is incapable of having that appreciation as well, thereby setting up all sorts of preclusionary arguments that are completely unneccessary and, yes, for anyone struggling to grasp what might be an elusive and new way of thinking about what our planet is about, and how they relate to it through the given prisms of institutions, it certainly can derail their thought, creating some confusion and difficulty in paying attention, and the result of that I've found is I end up going back to the same starting point, trying to find the threads that were lost, and looking for ways to reweave them.

Again, it's a real challenge. I guess that's why I keep at it. I get a lot out of that effort. One thing I've learned in three years is the worthlessness of making any effort to stop the distractors. I can stay with what I want to develop better now than I could three years ago. Obviously this is very different than teaching in a classroom. When one teaches a subject one has a lesson plan and an already developed notion of what one wants to say, and an allotted time span to say it in. I don't start with that here, I am eclectically exploring a topic and, when it works out, others explore it too, as we did on that thread about hierarchy a couple of years ago, that started with Jeff Vail's (see link to Jeff Vail on side bar) discussions about the tragedy in Bhopal. I can see the nonsense in the distractions, the way baiting one's character is a distraction that wastes time and effort. That there are very real and deep differences in the way people "see" the world through values and fundamental forms developed through experience, perhaps from birth, and little is done to illuminate anything by defending those differences.

So what makes a discussion flow amongst participants, and what sorts of things disrupt it? In the flow of a discussion with a dynamic interchange of ideas, I've experienced a personal sense of community, sitting here in my room, physically isolated, yet somehow electronically connected. This is not the same thing as a connection to nature I've been exploring in this field of eco-psychology, which emphasizes experience of nature as primary, and out of the forms of that experience will hopefully come a restored sense of psychological wholeness. No, this is exclusively an abstract exercise out of with imaginary connections can occur, but to make them grounded at all, one must turn to one's own experiences in order to enrichen and inform them with sensory content.

Disruption is probably the easiest of the engagement possibilities. It often occurs by bringing in of the most obvious elements already imbedded in a discussion, and then treating them as if they are somehow important, unattended to, and therefore being excluded. So by becoming focussed on what may seem already obvious, the flow is disrupted as attention is turned to bringing clarity to what is in a sense already obvious. Psychologically this is disrupting, because the whole sense of trust that everyone is connected becomes distorted and at least momentarily a sense of distrust is created. And that makes for the unnecessary distractions in the development of a cooperative dialog, or any other type of exploration of ideas, that can sidetrack or derail the investigative efforts. With those who have a tendency to set up a dialectic format in their mind it also leads to the false creation of an antithesis (perhaps another term might be "non sequitur) that does not require more than a glance to recognize it for what it is, and that is problematic. Especially in an environment where all the physical keys to understanding by observing the subtleties of body language are missing. The challenge is then to act with proper discipline to ignore the possibility of going off on an endless and meaningless discussion, exhausting everyone and losing any sense of integrity in the discussion. Sometimes it's simply enough to ignore these distractions, sometimes it can be instructive to examine their nature.

For some in these discussions, the question of freedom in these instances come up. If "my" freedom to express "myself" is inhibited, then my thoughts are being controlled by others in some way. So whether their thoughts are distracting the conversation or not, they assert their "rights" to express them, rather than taking the effort to sense the flow of the conversation and attempt to understand what others are trying to articulate.

From my own phenomenological perceptions, I see that freedom of the individual is inevitable until one is rendered incapacitated in some way or dead. The real question I am interested in, is about the form that freedom takes. I personally recognize that I have the innate, volitional freedom to agree to do what is being required even under the most extreme forms of coercion where I am being given choice, because I am the one that chooses to do it, even if I would prefer to do something else. The choice may also include the choice to go on living, or keep a finger, or one can imagine many other scenarios of of coercive pressure, but the choice is made until it's completely taken away. If that were not true the body hangs like a puppet waiting for strings to move it in some external way. It requires self initiation, self volition, hence "freedom," to act in any way, even to act in concert with others, or follow orders in a hierarchy. It requires personal freedom to agree not to bother someone if requested, and personal freedom to ignore that request. It requires freedom to drive down the highway on the established "correct" side of the road to minimize danger to self and others.

This sort of freedom hardly needs to be made into an issue. If we didn't understand it we wouldn't even bother with rules. At least one effort of any intellectual exploration is to seek to discover the abstract structural elements of mind from which actions freely emerge. Freedom of action is assumed as long as action is possible, as long as the brain is functional. So it's an entirely trivial point to say that the destruction of an ecosystem seems inevitable without freedoms. With freedom the destruction of the ecosystem may also be inevitable if people don't excersize it to question the very form and structure of their complex society. What you end up with by introducing such a concept is a non sequitur into the exploration of the meaning of freedom, in the context it is brought up, and the recognition that the meaning "imagined" in this vague way involves a whole series of beliefs and values, very often directly related to the very institutions themselves that are taking everyone "freely" in the direction of their own demise -- if indeed that's where things are headed.

We have seen that what is identified as "binary opposition," as the structuralists like Claude Levi Strauss have pointed out, can possibly be the very basis of human consciousness. We have also seen how it has inherent attributes that lead to hierarchical thinking, where one of two concepts in an opposition are favored over the other. It's, of course, an act of freedom to favor one over the other, which is essentially how values and institutions of all sorts are created. A transnational corporation is essentially an institution created out of a complex matrix of binary oppositions, one favored over another, creating the hierarchical structures of the institution and the form in which decisionmaking is made and the purpose of the collective efforts achieved, efforts from the providers of capital to the "work" -- whatever that might be.

But as the post structuralists and the post modernist era philosophers have also shown, those binary oppositions may not be as set as the earlier structuralists proposed them to be in societies, and thus may not offer such a good explanation for why a given society seems formed the way it is, in fact may not even explain that a society is formed the way it is; and then, it's recognized that the cognitive structures of binary opposition are constantly degrading, so a constant reiffication effort is required if a social form is to be maintained or allowed to change.

This in fact may be a more accurate description of the many "other" societies that anthropologists rushed to study as the institutions of globalization over the past five hundred years or so wiped them out through colonialization, and later something called "modernization" and "development." Many of those societies may have been much more flexible and interactive with their environments than the structuralists, who were operating themselves out of a paradigm of societietal mode bent on maintaining its own complex institutional forms intact, imagined them to be with their projecting of an analytical stasis by coding and analysizing through their entirely rational screen of the binary opposition tool, an analytical device they'd discovered through the very nature of their own philosophical traditions. Post structualist anthropologist have gone back and reexamined the precepts of Anthropology itself, and from that have emerged different efforts at understanding the nature of society, efforts that attempt to see how abstact forces are moving dynamically and in a flux relationship, both within the institutions and between the interface of cultural devices that are the very adaptation to the environment. Ecopsychology is something that has emerged out of the awareness that some sort of complex adaptational process is taking place, and that the consciousness of the whole of a society is involved. The hypothesis is that an increased awareness of the forces of nature can be a positive element in that process.

The binary oppositions then can be recognized to be in constant degradation against the forces of the whole of society which are made up of institutions, and what minimizes degradation is often the adherence to form itself that people participate in, almost like a daily ritual, and those forms reiffy the validity of the the institutions and the need for them, which can give a sense of stability and thus with stability "safety." This safety and stability of institutions may be a good and a valid strategy for all to take part in, as society is a group effort no matter how many notions of disintegration are introduced -- notions like favoring the concept that individual "freedom" is favored over the values of a whole of a group, a particularly familiar binary opposition one often hears as a rational explanation to promote certain societal institutions as necessarily performing for the good of all in a somewhat vague, and usually poorly defined atmosphere that holds together yet another concept called "free enterprise" and Reagan's famous "magic market," and so forth. This is how at least some of us go about looking at the rational forms that make up the glue of society, that hold together the institutional forms that we all, with some degree of conscious intent, freely agree to maintain.

If, perhaps, the social forms do not comply with the natural ontology of the inherent elements of a planetary biosphere seeking balance and sustainability of energy flows and species interactions that are the very nature of that energy interaction in a complexity we think of as life. In fact, past efforts to create complex societies based on an adherence to the institutions that are that that very hierarchical complexity has nearly always led to the collapse of complexity, from our understanding of history. That history is itself worth paying attention to, and holding in mind as we question the nature of our own complex institutions and where they may implicitly lead the human participants. So that itself, once understood, should bring a note of caution to those who follow the forms of their society, and one might then want to understand those forms and their ontological implications.

Thus to make an effort to stand aside from the forms which are the "conformity" the forces of society seek to maintain in order that the forms continue, to look at them and attempt to see them and their very nature, is an act of freedom; in fact an act of radical freedom because of the very inherent nature of institutions, and one which is generally frowned upon, and one for which those who dare do it are often eliminated from the public discourse in one way or another. There are many ways the status quo of cultural forms can be used to "eliminate" seekers and questioners.