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Observations over a bowl of noodles

Mon, Oct 31, 2011

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by Tamnaa, who was born in 1948 and, by his own account, is still kickin’ (full bio below)

There’s a noodle shop in our village that my wife and I like to visit occasionally for lunch. It is run by a very nice family and they have allowed us to put up a sign advertising our English conversation classes. They’ve built a row of tiny rooms as student housing and, because the students often eat their meals in the shop, the place has become a busy little establishment over the last year or so.

As we sat down at one of the tables the other day, amid the chatter and clatter and all the bustle around the steaming cauldrons of broth, my attention was momentarily caught by the TV prominently positioned nearby.

On the screen there was a man in late middle age with a somewhat familiar face looking sincerely into the camera and delivering a message in kindly tones. Like a benevolent uncle or a wise and trusted family friend, he was advising anyone watching that it would be in their best interest to purchase the product he represented.

I asked my wife, “Who is that fellow on the T.V.?”.

She told me his name. “He is a very popular singer and movie star since a long time ago”.

So, he’s an actor and he’s clearly very good at his job. He has a long-established rapport with a large audience in Thailand. Presumably, everyone knows that he is being paid to deliver this message with such wonderfully simulated sincerity but, nevertheless, the ad is cleverly persuasive. Is it really in the viewer’s best interest to trust this man and to follow the advice he is giving? He probably doesn’t know or care very much. Obviously, the decision-makers who commissioned the ad believe that it’s in the corporation’s interest for people to believe the message or they wouldn’t have invested in its production and dissemination.

These days we are subjected to an overwhelming deluge of information of many kinds and it’s really very difficult to sort through all the misinformation and disinformation that we may be presented with, to find what’s really accurate and reliable. It’s not just commercial advertising that’s unreliable. News reports, political messages, and even the education system, all deliver “information” crafted by those who are able to profit by our belief and our active compliance.
As a young child, I accepted everything I was told as “truth”.

“Eat your vegetables so you’ll grow up big and strong.” Okay, now that I possessed this information, I had a choice to make. Some of the vegetables were revolting to me. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be a puny weak adult. “Mom, how big will I be if I only eat the carrots but not the cabbage?”

It wasn’t long before I learned that sometimes people gave me information that turned out to be mistaken. All the kids believed that killing a daddy-long-legs would make it rain. Although I liked the harmless friendly “daddy-long-legs” spiders and I hated to kill one, the budding scientist in me needed to make the experiment. After the execution, I waited and watched the sky for the scientifically appropriate length of time (until I got hungry) but there was no sign of rain. Having adequately disproved the hypothesis, I went home for a snack carrying with me another bit of valuable knowledge gained.

Then, at some later point, I learned that people could deliberately lie to achieve something they wanted. I even tried it myself a few times.

“Mom, I feel sick. I don’t think I can go to school today.”

“Maybe we should take your temperature. I’ll get the thermometer.”

Oho! I knew what to do! But, alas, Moms know about thermometers and boys and stuff. The old light-bulb trick works pretty well but, as it turns out, 110 degrees is a bit too high to be credible.

Looking around the noodle shop at the students in their crisp white and black uniforms as they ate together in groups at the other tables, I could easily imagine what kind of information is being imparted to them. Probably, many of their parents and grandparents are lean sturdy sun-browned people who have worked hard in the fields, markets or on construction sites to give these kids a chance to enjoy an easier life. They believe that the old way of life on the land is not good enough, that young people will be better off spending their working lives in air-conditioned offices manipulating symbols on electronic devices and making lots of money.

These students believe what they’ve been told without question, I think, never suspecting that their parents may be mistaken or that the message has been crafted by those who seek to profit from their belief.

They are are mostly innocent, trusting kids, totally unaccustomed to critical thinking. I notice that, unlike the previous generation, they tend to be rather soft, pale, physically weak, and many are quite fat. They are following instructions, getting the best education they can to achieve a lucrative career in some kind of specialized professional field.

Their teachers don’t offer them any alternative to the standard message either. They pass along to students their own devout faith in the value of modernity and progress, economic and technological development, prosperity and material affluence. Thailand is producing another generation of leaders and experts who believe that the only answer to any problem is more: more advanced technology, more industry, more human intervention for control of the natural world, even if the problem was actually caused by all of these factors.

I long to teach these kids that the life of material affluence and technological progress is far from happy and trouble free. Very often the lives of wealthy people I’ve talked to in North America were riddled with problems and disappointments; stress and poor health, depression, addiction, marital infidelity and of course, many troubles with their kids.

If I could set up a university in Thailand, it would resemble a traditional village with small, mud-block buildings under the trees. There would be gardens and fruit trees, ducks and chickens and water buffalo around and fish in the ponds. Students would be taught the values and the skills appropriate for sustainable community living. High levels of education in many fields such as health-care, biology, philosophy etc. would be integrated with the ability to produce food, clothing, shelter and simple implements. Can you envision a highly educated historian, say, wading in the mud behind his buffalo, preparing his field for planting? Our minds are deeply imprinted with the specialization/division-of-labor model of production with its accompanying necessity for trade. Whether trade creates an attitude of competition, trying to profit from one another’s toil and whether or not this is damaging to the cooperative spirit of genuine community is, I think, a question worthy of careful consideration.

The noodle soup was ample and delicious. I particularly liked the heap of bean sprouts and fresh basil that always comes with it and, of course, the tiny fierce Thai chili peppers. My bowl was nearly empty when I saw the news coming on TV. Although I don’t understand much of the Thai language yet, I could hear the word “namtuam”, meaning “flood” used repeatedly. Then a reporter appeared on the screen, standing with a great deal of water behind her, speaking urgently with a concerned look on her face. Bangkok, a city of some 9 million people, built only 2 meters above sea-level on a broad alluvial plain, is being flooded by the heaviest monsoon runoff in living memory.

A friend of ours, after watching the rising waters surround her house, has had to abandon it, eventually escaping with her kids by boat. Then they were all crowded, with a lot of other refugees, into the back of a military truck to be carried to dry ground. They’re okay now, but thousands of others are trapped in their houses, running low on food and drinking-water. Sanitation, of course, is an ever growing problem.

It looks as though this year’s unprecedented rainfall is a strong indication that climate change is upon us. The resulting floods have been worse than need-be because water was held back in reservoirs and then, out of necessity, released at the wrong time. Raised highways and urban roads delayed the water in its movement to the sea. Many old canals have been filled in over the recent decades of Bangkok’s growth, again impeding drainage. The resulting pile-up of water is breaking through hastily erected sandbag barriers and working its way into the heart of the city right now, as I write.

The immense deluge of water that is overwhelming Bangkok is, in a very real sense, “information”. I see it as a message from the earth to humankind. It is telling us very forcefully that all our bungling attempts to meddle with and control the ways of nature are resulting in catastrophe for us and for the planet.

I suppose we can only hope that eventually, this message will be understood and taken to heart.
__________________

“A ne’er-do-well unemployed dishwasher”, that’s how my former father-in-law used to describe me. In his view, I never made much progress beyond that and his assessment was pretty accurate, I suppose. After 63 years of life on this earth I still don’t have much to show for it except good health, happiness, love, freedom and peace of mind … unimportant things of that nature.

Never a specialist (unless, perhaps, in versatility), I have managed to accumulate a wide range of experience in the following fields: hitch-hiking, hopping freights, sleeping rough, wilderness homesteading, organic gardening, bee-keeping, hand-milking, natural home birth, surveying, designing and building homes, therapeutic parenting and leadership for troubled youth, guitar playing, photography, mountain hiking, canoeing, bicycling, helping disabled people and taking care of my mother in the last year of her life.

Currently, I dabble in tropical permaculture and teach conversational English in Thailand.

All in all, I’ve been a very fortunate ne’er-do-well, I’d say.

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97 Responses to “Observations over a bowl of noodles”

  1. Frank Mezek Says:

    Yes you are and an inspiration for all thinking people.Notice I said thinking people—not greedy people.

    Double D

  2. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    Another message to be understood and widely shared, perhaps?

    http://www.countercurrents.org/salmony301011.htm

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

    http://www.panearth.org/

  3. Victor Says:

    Tamnaa

    Always a pleasure to read your wisdom – and wisdom it is. And you are correct – critical thinking is not on the agenda of the educators of most any modern country. Good God! Can you imagine the trouble this would present to TPTB if the population were brought up on critical thinking skills and logic? For one thing, they would no longer be TPTB… ;-)

    Excellent essay…..and it makes me hungry for spicey noodle soup!

  4. Sue Day Says:

    Tamnaa thank you for this Essay it was really inspiring to read.

    I was wondering if you have ever used Permaculture in your work with troubled youth? I work with troubled youth and adults with mental health problems on a carefarm. i have been thinking about incorporating Permaculture into the programme. we primarily us Horses and other animals/gardening as a means to build relationships and improve quality of life for these people.

    I would value your thoughts.

  5. Victor Says:

    From permaculture to increased coal use:

    The Triumph of King Coal: Hardening Our Coal Addiction

    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_triumph_of_king_coal_hardening_our_coal_addiction/2458/

    When the talks began half a decade ago, 25 percent of the world’s primary energy came from coal. The figure is now 29.6 percent. Between 2009 and 2010, global coal consumption grew by almost 8 percent.

    The economy is everything.

  6. Tamnaa Says:

    Thanks to all who have commented.
    Sue; I think permaculture would work very well. It takes years for the full results to be realized, but just showing people how they can make such a valuable contribution to the world by planting trees and caring for them would produce therapeutic effects, I think. Other plants such as berry bushes would give more immediate rewards.

    Here’s an anecdote not specifically about permaculture:
    Many years ago in Canada, I worked in an alternative program for “youth at risk”. One of the best volunteer activities we did was yard and garden maintenance at a group home for physically disabled adults. We asked if the residents would like us to create an organic vegetable garden in the back yard, and they were delighted. Our “delinquents” learned so much; primarily that they could get personal satisfaction by contributing to the happiness of others, and the residents of the home enjoyed their garden and the vegetables we produced. I think in the interaction between the disabled adults and the troubled kids, the soil and the plants, a lot of learning and growth happened spontaneously for everyone involved.

  7. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘These students believe what they’ve been told without question, I think, never suspecting that their parents may be mistaken or that the message has been crafted by those who seek to profit from their belief.’- tamnaa

    in the spirit of halloween, what could be more scary than the truth? link below to part 1 of richard dawkins fine documentary THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL

    and if that isn’t scary enough, according to various news outlets today the world passed 7,000,000,000 population.

    thanks for the excellent essay and thai perspective, tamnaa. i respect your life/talent.

  8. Steve Says:

    Tamnaa &all,

    Nice post. For additional insights check out The Archdruid Report blog entry for 10/26/11 – The Trouble with Binary Thinking. — http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/.

    Steve

  9. Victor Says:

    The City of London Corporation – If there exists a heart of evil in our world today, this is it – an organisation that is beyond the control of any national government and has global tentacles reaching into he farthest places of the world. And it is virtually invisible to us commoners. This is where the true financial power of the world resides, and represents the political/operations arm of the globalist PTB:

    http://www.monbiot.com/2011/10/31/wealth-destroyers/

    Quote:
    the Corporation exists outside many of the laws and democratic controls which govern the rest of the United Kingdom(15). The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected. The mayor of London’s mandate also stops at the boundaries of the Square Mile. There are, as if in a novel by China Miéville, two cities, one of which must unsee the other.

    Several governments have tried to democratise the City of London but all, threatened by its financial might, have failed. As Clement Attlee lamented, “over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster.”(16) The City has exploited this remarkable position to establish itself as a kind of offshore state, a secrecy jurisdiction which controls the network of tax havens housed in the UK’s Crown dependencies and overseas territories. This autonomous state within our borders is in a position to launder the ill-gotten cash of oligarchs, kleptocrats, gangsters and drug barons. As the French investigating magistrate Eva Joly remarked, it “has never transmitted even the smallest piece of usable evidence to a foreign magistrate”(17). It deprives the United Kingdom and many other nations of their rightful tax receipts.

    By undermining the standards set elsewhere, it has also made the effective regulation of global finance almost impossible. Shaxson shows how the absence of proper regulation in London allowed US banks to evade the rules set by their own government. AIG’s wild trading might have taken place in the US, but the unit responsible was regulated in the City. Lehman Brothers couldn’t get legal approval for its off-balance sheet transactions in Wall Street, so it used a London law firm instead(18).

  10. Tamnaa Says:

    I think it’s quite probable that, of all the people who post comments here, I have the least experience with higher education (chorus: Yes, that’s quite obvious.) I didn’t give university much of a chance, really, only one year, and I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t for me (chorus: Got the boot, did you?). It wasn’t directly after high-school. I had been out and about in the world for two years, working my way, travelling rough and gaining a fair amount of experiential knowledge. The fact is, I was naively hopeful and idealistic about university (chorus: Naively hopeful and idealistic? Haven’t changed much, have you?). Really, I had seen too much to let me accept what was being taught at that time and I felt hugely disappointed.

    But I’m very curious about other people’s experiences with university. Was it, for you, a training program for empire, or did you find teachers who showed you how our culture oppressed other people, species and the living earth as a whole and encouraged you to work out less harmful and exploitative ways of living?

    Also, what is your concept of what a truly excellent education system would be like? What kind of knowledge and values would be taught, and how could these qualities be appropriately conveyed to the minds of students?

  11. Kathy C Says:

    Tamnaa, I went two years to university and dropped out. I went back 2 more times and dropped out each time (each for different reasons). I have not been sorry. For one it allowed me to explore the world of knowledge without being taught one view of that knowledge. For another it put me in jobs with people who had also not gone to college and gave me input on life for people on the other side of the college divide.

    Of interest, my husband taught logic for years. One time a man came up to us in the park and told him that he had been a student and that of all the courses he ever taught my husband’s was the only one that gave him learning that he still used.

    I personally believe that crash is ominously imminent and what happens after crash will not come out of our planning the best way to educate. Kids will learn what they need to survive longer by surviving alongside adults who are still surviving. Who gives kids a class in survival on the garbage heaps of Brazil or China or wherever. No one. But some survive longer than others because they have learned their skills for foraging and evading those who hunt them for sport. When the dust settles, if we remain an agricultural system I suspect some sort of apprenticeship will arise. If we return to tribal living, each tribe will find its way to educate. But for us now, I think the time before chaos is too short to do much other than be as personally prepared as we can be or care to be.

  12. Kathy C Says:

    PS Tamnaa, I forgot to say, Great Essay. I enjoyed reading it this morning.

  13. Tamnaa Says:

    Thanks for responding, Kathy C.; “I went two years to university and dropped out. I went back 2 more times and dropped out each time (each for different reasons).”

    I don’t mean to probe too deeply but, at that time, were any of your reasons for dropping out actually educational in nature, or were they personal/financial reasons etc.?

    Were you taught back then that a “crash is ominously imminent” or at least it would be eventually probable?

  14. Kathy C Says:

    Reason 1st drop out, got married and was going through a difficult emotional period
    Reason 2nd drop out, moved due to my ex husband getting pushed out of his job (fired in essence)
    Reason 3rd drop out, where I worked I got a new boss and my hours changed from 40 to 60 or 70 a week.

    If I probe deeper, I suppose, laden with self doubt, I suspect I was afraid I might fail even tho I graduated 11th in my high school class. (I worked hard my last year to be in the top 10 so I could sit on stage, thinking that would mean I was Somebody).

    No one taught me anything about Peak Oil . When did I know it was probable – I can’t really say. When I learned Peak Oil was upon us in 2001, I remember thinking “oh it’s now”. But it was well before that that I knew that the environment was the most important cause and I knew I was not personally ready to live as I thought we had to live to share equally much less to save the planet from environmental destruction. My $8 back of the envelope was probably done some time shortly after leaving Haiti. But pinpointing when I knew something for sure I can’t say. Since 2001 I would say the ominously imminent feeling comes from Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov and Guy McPherson. But I don’t feel they “convinced” me so much as they confirmed what I felt and thought.

    I think the most important thing education gave me was my (NYS) High School Reading list which included The Jungle, 1984 and The Grapes of Wrath but also some very good biology and other science classes.

  15. Kathy C Says:

    It gets interesting
    “NEW YORK (AP) — Worries that a planned Greek referendum could scuttle a plan to resolve Europe’s debt crisis rattled markets Tuesday morning. Stocks indexes plunged in the U.S. and Europe. The dollar and U.S. government bond prices rose as traders moved into assets considered safe.

    The Greek government shocked financial markets with news that it would put its cost-cutting plan to a popular vote. A vote against the plan could lead the country to drop the European currency and default on its debt.”

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Greece-shocks-markets-with-apf-2652398969.html;_ylt=AuzjlfbOJLsEiI0RBz2SRmi7YWsA;_ylu=X3oDMTE1Y2owNTFsBHBvcwMzBHNlYwN0b3BTdG9yaWVzBHNsawNncmVlY2VzaG9ja3M-?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=main&asset=&ccode=

  16. navid Says:

    Tamnaa,

    I would gladly teach at a mud-hut university like you describe – as time permits, between sowing and harvest ; )

    ————–

    You asked above:

    “But I’m very curious about other people’s experiences with university. Was it, for you, a training program for empire, or did you find teachers who showed you how our culture oppressed other people, species and the living earth as a whole and encouraged you to work out less harmful and exploitative ways of living?

    ——
    “Everett, however, is pessimistic about their future.

    Missionaries and government officials see Pirahã society as poor and seek to help by giving them money and modern technology.

    “The Pirahã aren’t poor. They don’t see themselves as poor,” he says. He believes capitalism and religion are manufacturing desires.

    “One of the saddest things I’ve seen in Amazonian cultures is people who were self-sufficient and happy that now think of themselves as poor and become dissatisfied with their lives. What worries me is outsiders trying to impose their values and materialism on the Pirahã.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/10/daniel-everett-amazon?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

  17. James Says:

    I have a degree in mechanical engineering, which obviously tends towards keeping the machinery of empire running. However, even in the heart of Texas, the university was still where the radicals and free thinkers found what limited refuge they could. I had one engineering professor that was teaching because he refused to work for the military industrial complex. I also had a political science professor who required us to read “Who’s Running America”. On the other hand, I learned vastly more on my own than I did in college. There might still be pockets of liberal arts majors out there who talk late into the night about philosophy and politics, but my guess is that most students are there to get that piece of paper in order to get a job. I know I was.

    When I lived in Colorado I used to ask students from Naropa (the only accredited Buddhist college in America, at least at that time) if it was worth the money, they told me it was. But being from a more lower middle class background, I could not afford to get an education that didn’t directly translate into a career. In fact, I almost switched my major to Environmental Conservation but I realized that nobody would really pay me to save nature.

    The bottom line for me is that a college education is highly overrated and given the ridiculous expense these days I would recommend that most people not even bother.

  18. Kathy C Says:

    Navid, thanks for the link on Everett and the Pirahã. I just ordered his book. Fascinating – they have no creation myth along with no numbers, no colors and many of the values that religion teaches (but doesn’t practice) without religion. In fact they freed Everett from religion! Looks to be a very interesting read here at the end of industrial civilization.

    Meanwhile
    ” Stocks tumbled on Tuesday after investors were blindsided by a surprise call for a Greek referendum on an EU bailout plan, casting doubt on the sustainability of the recent market rally…Analysts said if Greek voters reject the unpopular bailout in a vote proposed by Greek Premier George Papandreou, it would likely result in a “hard default” by Greece, causing bigger losses for banks and raising the threat of systemic risk.

    The news slammed European stocks, particularly the region’s banks, which slumped 6 percent. U.S. banks were also hit hard. Morgan Stanley, which investors worry has heavy exposure to Europe, fell 8 percent to $16.23.

    Indexes swung sharply as successive European lawmakers lined up behind the bailout package but returned to close near session lows after a Greek government spokesman said the prime minister told his cabinet the referendum would go ahead.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/01/us-markets-stocks-idUSTRE7A01NM20111101
    Has the greek gov’t decided the anger of the people is a more imminent threat than the anger of the big boys in Europe?

  19. vera Says:

    Tamnaa, what a fine biography. I wish I could have had the courage to do as you did.

    Terry, what does Dawkins say is the root of all evil? I can’t get the video.

    Victor, isn’t it amazing all the secret crap oozing out of the woodwork nowadays? Off to read Monbiot.

    For folks interested in ancient agriculture and whether it is the root of all evil ;) please visit my blog. I am hoping for some feisty conversation.

    http://leavingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/agriculture-villain-or-boon-companion/

  20. Tamnaa Says:

    Vera, I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying in your blog. Very well written, too. I’m impressed!

    So often scholars do little more than pass on the ideas of other scholars, often supporting those notions which seem “academically satisfying” to them in preference to ideas which are reasonable or consistent with observation. I really think they’ve got it wrong when they vilify the growing of useful plants as causing all the evils of civilization. The sharp distinction between foraging and agriculture made by anthropologists and historians is an ivory tower fabrication disconnected from reality.

  21. Kathy C Says:

    Well over 200,000 years humans did not totally trash their planet. In 10,000 years we have raised our population from perhaps as low as 15 million to 7 billion. Coincidentally small scale agriculture is believed to have started about 7,000 BC. While the rape of the planet and the rise of agriculture may just be an unconnected correlation, what else could account for that huge rise in population and the increasing destruction of soil and water sources? In 1800 the population had reached 1 billion – 66 times the estimated population of hunter-gatherers. Did our brains get bigger, did our gonads produce more eggs and sperm, what? What got us in this mess if not agriculture? If you have no other convincing theory for how we got from 15 million to 1 billion and then 7 billion then I think you have to acknowledge that agriculture is a likely suspect.

    I know that some people grow food in seemingly benign ways, but the facts are that:
    hunter-gatherers never built pyramids with a cast of millions
    hunter-gatherers never built an atom bomb
    hunter-gatherers didn’t damn up the salmon runs
    hunter-gatherers lived their lifestyle for 190,000 years
    agriculturalists lived their lifestyle for 10,000 years and it looks like that will be it for them

    If you will check out the link that navid supplied, the Pirahã don’t save food. I would suggest that the domestication of plants that produce food that can be stored is what brought “surplus-oriented intensification” – remember old Joseph and his 7 good years and 7 bad years storage solution. Instead of famine keeping population under control, Joseph beat the demon famine only to put off famine for a later date. If not agriculture what did humans just took a moral bad turn 10,000 years ago???? If so, what accounts for that??? Did they all go insane 10,000 years ago, and if so why??? It is not enough to posit a change to becoming surplus oriented without explaining what caused that change.

    Its not a question of agriculture bad, hunter gatherer good, or vice versa, its the question of which lifestyle worked longer.

  22. Tamnaa Says:

    Kathy C. ; “hunter-gatherers never built pyramids with a cast of millions
    hunter-gatherers never built an atom bomb
    hunter-gatherers didn’t damn up the salmon runs
    hunter-gatherers lived their lifestyle for 190,000 years”

    Right! I don’t think anyone is disputing facts of this kind. It’s the idea that people can never find ways to avoid these mistakes if they grow plants that is so unreasonable.
    Generally, when people use the word “agriculture” they are thinking of intensive production of grain surpluses which allowed specialization, trade, cities, standing armies, etc.
    Also, when they talk about how peaceful and egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies are, they mean the !Kung, not the Haida, for example.
    Personally, I think tendencies to aggression and dominance are what humankind needs to see as insanity. Planting trees is not evil.
    Have you killed a lot of wild animals, yourself, Kathy?

  23. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Tamnaa, Was it, for you, a training program for empire, or did you find teachers who showed you how our culture oppressed other people, species and the living earth as a whole and encouraged you to work out less harmful and exploitative ways of living?

    Also, what is your concept of what a truly excellent education system would be like? What kind of knowledge and values would be taught, and how could these qualities be appropriately conveyed to the minds of students?

    I enrolled in college the first time in the Fall of 1978. I couldn’t believe it when my father wrote out the tuition check for $300! I was astounded! Even though both of my parents had Master’s degrees, we had always been poor and I never dreamed that he would have that much money in his account. Perhaps he borrowed it. I never asked. No matter, it was a waste as I dropped out after one semester.

    I was back and forth in college multiple times over the next 10 years, never really sure what I was doing there – rarely accomplishing much of anything. It took me a long time to grow up and commit to learning how to take care of myself.

    For the most part I was disappointed with my education experience from freshman year all the way through to graduation of medical school. I always longed for the experience of being surrounded by a group of intelligent young minds looking for the answers to the mysteries of the universe, always willing to sit and discuss important questions for hours. Instead, I never could seem to escape the masses of people who cared for nothing except passing the next test so that they could “get the hell out of there”. For the most part, I found my classes and instructors no more inspiring than I found my classmates.

    Perhaps I set too high a standard for a system that simply wasn’t designed to do anything other than churn out degrees.

    Of late, I find it somewhat amusing that universities are working so hard to put themselves out of business – or so it seems. Schools in our area are tripping all over themselves to enroll more students in web-based courses. And they’re being successful. Some students at our local university are getting their entire degree online (they used to call those correspondence courses) while paying the same price as the kids in the regular classes. So, basically, these students are paying a gazillion dollars for a high-priced diploma that they earned by reading the book and passing the test. So what do they need the university for?

    For me, the ideal education would include spending much more time in understanding “why” and learning how to question accepted thought and employ critical thinking. Of course, that’s in the “other” world of BAU. In our world of collapse, I’m working to teach others simply how to survive. In the process, I’m learning more than I ever thought possible.

  24. navid Says:

    Kathy,

    I’ve got to get the book too.

    I love how they “live in the present” in every sense of the word (including lack of creation myths as you note … no oral history at all ?!?!?).

    I really hope they survive.

  25. Robin Datta Says:

    Obviously, the decision-makers who commissioned the ad believe that it’s in the corporation’s interest for people to believe the message or they wouldn’t have invested in its production and dissemination.

    John Michael Greer has been addressing the problem of how to influence the non-cognitive part of the brain (“the lizard brain”, where emotion and basic urges to behaviour are mediated) in a series of recent posts to his blog The Archdruid Report:

    Pluto’s Republic

    If you want to influence the thinking of a nation, or even a community, you have to paint with a very broad brush. That means, first, you have to aim at one of a few powerful nonrational drives that affect most people in much the same way; second, you have to pile as much pressure as possible onto whatever drive you have in mind, so that you can overwhelm whatever the psyche of the individual might throw at you; and third, you have to weaken the reasoning mind, because that’s the part of the self that most often trips up efforts to work magic off basic drives, especially when those efforts aim at goals that most of the targets think are against their best interests.

  26. Robin Datta Says:

    If I could set up a university in Thailand, it would resemble a traditional village with small, mud-block buildings under the trees.

    Perhaps it might resemble this:

    TED Talks – Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

  27. the virgin terry Says:

    vera, the title of the doc ends with a ? i omitted, just to let u know. dawkins is suggesting quite boldly and forcefully that religion, or more specifically dogmatic ‘faith’ that trumps reason and science, is possibly the root of all evil. several portions of the film are noteworthy for the way dawkins confrontationally interviews various fundamentalists, and applies his own formidable logic in a scathing critique of how ‘faith’ opposes and thwarts reason in various ways. i think he’s hit the nail on the head. unreasonableness/dogmatism imo lies at the heart of our predicament, promoting ignorance and delusion.

    tamnaa, my personal ideal for education is roughly detailed in a passage of daniel quinn’s autobiography from about p.120-125. book’s title is PROVIDENCE. i recommend the whole book. basically, his idea is that kids should be free to roam the community, learning from all, and all should be teachers. totally informal. no coercion involved. just let nature take it’s course. children are naturally curious, and many adults naturally eager to pass on knowledge and wisdom. no need for formal institutions (which indoctrinate/control).

    victor, fascinating article by monbiot on ‘the city’. it prompted me to more reading including a wikipedia article that agrees with your claim that ‘the city’ is thw world’s leading financial center, surpassing wall street. i didn’t know that. as i was reading about it’s ‘privilege’ and independence from pesky government regulation, i was thinking how similar this is to the situation with wall street. in both instances, money rules and corrupts. thanks for this as it throws further light on the anglo-american axis of financial power. perhaps instead of ‘occupying wall street’ demonstrations around the world, it should be occupy ‘the city’.

    vera, your blog sounds interesting. i find so much interesting, time consuming stuff on the internet, there’s not enough time for everything. perhaps i’ll check it out soon, and don’t be shy of mentioning it again. perhaps u can get guy to highlight one of your posts here as a guest post, stimulating greater interest.

  28. navid Says:

    Re. an interesting kind of reasonably low-tech, “alternative medicine” = “fecal implants”

    —————–
    Fecal Implant to Treat Relapsing C. Difficile

    Khoruts and colleagues took a small sample of bacteria from the patient’s husband and mixed it with saline solution, then delivered it into the patient’s colon.

    In the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the researchers report that “transplantation had a dramatic impact on the composition of the patient’s gut microbiota,” adding that, by 14 days post-transplantation, “the fecal bacterial composition of the recipient was highly similar to that of the donor and was dominated by Bacteroides spp. strains and an uncharacterized butyrate producing bacterium.”

    http://www.hcplive.com/articles/CDI_infection_fecal_implant

    —-

    It reminds me of Russian scientists collecting bacterial viruses from raw sewage, and using these viruses in enemas to treat bacterial infections in the colon (esp. good for diarrhea/dysentary). Never caught on in the west really…

  29. vera Says:

    Tamnaa, thank you, it’s a pleasure when I see that people “get it”… as I am just trying in on for size.

    Kathy, foragers built Gobekli Tepe, which was a humongous undertaking… similar to a pyramid…

    But I know what you are saying, humans took a bad turn somewhere back then, and if we know what it was, we can use it as a lever today, perhaps. I will write about what brought about — IMO — the surplus oriented, ratcheted intensification in a future post.

    I am not disputing that ag made huge numbers of humans possible. But that is a different piece of the picture. I want to know what triggered it all. And my contention is (and evidence points in the direction) that the trigger happened among foragers, when populations were low and climate benign — then they could play around and experiment. But what drove it on past, er, sanity?

    Piraha don’t save food. True. There were tribes in Canada well documented by Jesuits who did not either. I don’t know about them, but the Piraha do not live long lives. Happy and contented, yes, but short. There are always trade offs…

    Of course the Piraha probably die young because they live in a jungle full of nasty diseases. Saving food may not be essential in the tropics… (?)

  30. vera Says:

    Terry, thank you. Will mull over your suggestions. And will definitely mention my posts again, when they’re in line with stuff discussed here.

    Dawkins? Yeah, well, that’s all he ever says. The man is a monomaniac. Besides, dogmatic faith is alive and well within reason and science…

    Love the picture of unschooling you paint. If the Hindus are right and we get born again, that’s where I wanna be. :-)

  31. Robin Datta Says:

    But I’m very curious about other people’s experiences with university. ….. Also, what is your concept of what a truly excellent education system would be like?

    My father was a physician, and once I was old enough to decide on what I wanted to do, I did not even think about it. It came naturally to me to become a physician, as a duckling takes after a duck into the water. It was in a “Third World” country – East Pakistan mostly, which became Bangladesh towards the end, I was in the last batch of graduates from East Pakistan, but had to retake the exams because Bangladesh did not recognize them: so I was in the first batch of graduates from Bangladesh (in 1972).

    There was no concept of empire in that place, and low-tech was de rigueur. From there, America was utopia. Clarification came when I had my uS Army “boots on the ground” in Korea.

    The first mission of an educational system should be to teach how to think. Almost all of today’s education is focused on what to think. Even when it comes to specialized knowledge, there is always room for instruction in how to think.

    Trivium Education

    A basic book on the subject is:

    The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric by Sister Miriam Joseph

  32. Robin Datta Says:

    Daniel Everett speaks at The Long Now Foundation about his experiences in the Amazon rain forest:

    Daniel Everett: Endangered Languages and Lost Knowledge

  33. Robin Datta Says:

    in the spirit of halloween, what could be more scary than the truth? link below to part 1 of richard dawkins fine documentary THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL

    Watched the first minute or so of the video. Quit afte the same stultified postulations that science is incompatible with religion, and the presumption that a G_d is a prerequisite for religion.

    When the G_d is dropped, science is of the provenance of religion.

  34. Robin Datta Says:

    Professor George Mobus, in a post to his blog Question Everything, with yet another grim prognostication:

    Seven Billion and Counting

  35. Kathy C Says:

    Vera http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe “The inhabitants (of Göbekli Tepe) are assumed to be hunters and gatherers who nevertheless lived in villages for at least part of the year.[19] Schmidt speculates that the site played a key function in the transition to agriculture; he assumes that the necessary social organization needed for the creation of these structures went hand-in-hand with the organized exploitation of wild crops. For sustenance, wild cereals may have been used more intensively than before; perhaps they were even deliberately cultivated. Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Mount Karaca Dağ 20 miles (32 km) away from the site, leading one to believe that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.[20]…Schmidt also interprets it in connection with the initial stages of an incipient Neolithic. It is one of several neolithic sites in the vicinity of Mount Karaca Dağ, an area where geneticists suspect the origins of at least some of our cultivated grains (see Einkorn). Such scholars suggest that the Neolithic revolution, i.e., the beginnings of grain cultivation, took place here. Schmidt and others believe that mobile groups in the area were forced to cooperate with each other to protect early concentrations of wild cereals from wild animals (herds of gazelles and wild donkeys). This would have led to an early social organization of various groups in the area of Göbekli Tepe.”

    It may well turn out that even the earliest experiments with domestic grain changed the whole social structure, allowing far larger groups to form, live together, and begin the whole process of domination by a specialist class.

  36. Kathy C Says:

    Tamnaa you wrote “It’s the idea that people can never find ways to avoid these mistakes if they grow plants that is so unreasonable.” It seems reasonable to me to that humans should be able to find ways to avoid these mistakes. But when has it happened and lasted for any time? Just because central gov’t seems far away from your village doesn’t mean that your people don’t live under a central gov’t. How far back do the kings go? Did those lovely temples from the ancient past get built by forced labor or were all the farmers just happy to go build palaces for other people? Civilization with all its evils doesn’t happen because individual farmers unreasonably choose it, it happens because some individuals see they can provide “protection” for a fee, since those farmers are no capable of producing an excess. It is the excess that farming creates that is the problem, not the farmers themselves.

    The excess has been a problem even for hunter-gatherers when they happen upon it such as the Aborigines in Australia and the Northwest Indians. Hitting the energy jackpot by immigrating to a land where humans with tools have never been before they go a bit crazy. Agricultural humans have extended how long such craziness can go on.

    Having said that I change my position. Hitting the energy jackpot is the worst mistake humans ever made. Perhaps then mastering fire then is the worst mistake. But you cannot argue with the facts that the 190,000 years of humans as H-G did far less damage to the environment, than the last 10,000 years of hitting first the agricultural food jackpot (which ruined several food growing environments, starting with the build up of salt by way of irrigation in Mesopotamia) and creating populations large enough with enough freed from food production to find other ways to extend the jackpot.

    You wrote “Have you killed a lot of wild animals, yourself, Kathy?” What has that got to do with the argument? If I haven’t or can’t kill a wild animal is my argument invalidated (I did smash a baby bunny with a stone once, does that count)?

    Have I ever said we ALL need to become H-G’s. (that would be impossible as the planet cannot support 7 billion H-G’s) I just suggest it is a more planet friendly way to live and that when the coming dieoff reduces our numbers, it may be the only way we can live. I expect to be part of the (earlier than expected) dieoff, I don’t expect 30 years more of life even tho my father’s longevity might suggest I could live that long. I also suggest we evolved as H-G’s and our mind programs may still be almost entirely those of H-G’s. Whether happier or not, whether better in some way or not, I suspect that living that life feels more right, just as the lion in the cage, free from parasites, provided daily food, would still feel more right in the Savannah with all the parasites and necessity and risk of getting his own food.

  37. Robin Datta Says:

    The planting of seeds with intent to harvest implies the corollary of a claim to ownership of the land.

  38. Tamnaa Says:

    Many thanks to all who have commented on the essay and to those who answered my question about experience with higher education. It’s very interesting to read and I think you’ve all been very kind.

    Seems to me there is a rough consensus that that critical thinking was not a high priority in the curriculum and that obtaining qualifications for a relatively high-paying job was the main purpose for most students.
    Sorry if my own bias has distorted this.

    As Robin says: “The first mission of an educational system should be to teach how to think. Almost all of today’s education is focused on what to think. Even when it comes to specialized knowledge, there is always room for instruction in how to think.”

    By the way, I agree with Vera and Robin about Dawkins. I think he yearns to be the high priest of a new dogmatic faith: Scientism.

    Robin, you come from a fascinating part of the world. I never visited the area now known as Bangladesh, but I was in Calcutta for a while in 1968. It was a life altering experience for me.

    “The planting of seeds with intent to harvest implies the corollary of a claim to ownership of the land.” Right, It has always implied that. Any human remnant should, in my view, form tiny communities with a focus on allocation of land to families, not as an owned commodity, but as a sacred responsibility for stewardship. The idea here is to emphasize nurturing the biosphere rather than exploiting it. The concept of ownership is negative in value, so… no buying and selling, no expansion. Voluntary commitment to many other principles would also be necessary, eg: population stability, non-aggression, etc.

  39. Yorchichan Says:

    Tamnaa

    A little late in the day, but here goes. I did a first degree in mathematics in the UK between 1983 and 1986. (Also a PhD in statistics, but that’s another story.)

    “Was it, for you, a training program for empire, or did you find teachers who showed you how our culture oppressed other people, species and the living earth as a whole and encouraged you to work out less harmful and exploitative ways of living?”

    Neither. Like most other people in those days I went to university because I got the grades to go to university. At least at my school this was what happened. There was no advice on what to do after school or what subject to study at university. So most people simply chose a subject they liked at school and carried on with it. I doubt many gave any thought to a future career; I certainly did not. Once at university, it was all about the social life. I had sixteen hours of lectures a week at which the lecturers wrote notes on a blackboard to be copied down word for word by students. It wasn’t necessary to pay any attention to what was being said so long as the all important notes were copied. Nor was it ever necessary to read a book: everything necessary to pass the exams was there in the notes. At most there were four assignments a week, each based on the week’s lecture notes and taking maybe one to one and a half hours to complete. Apart from at exam time, the weekly assignments were the only real thinking I ever did.

    It probably sounds a horrendous waste of time, but I enjoyed it. Like I said, it was all about the social life (whilst doing the bare minimum necessary to get the desired grade at the end of the year). I have certainly never used anything I learned at university in any job I’ve had. Even working as a government statistician (2 years) I could have got by with the statistics I learned at school. But without my pieces of paper I couldn’t have got some of the jobs I have had.

    As a training program for empire, it was useless. Lectures where attendance is optional, five months holiday a year and a maximum of five hours a week of actual thinking are not much training for the daily grind of office work. It would have been difficult for a lecturer to work a discussion on how our culture was oppressing other cultures and destroying the living earth into a lecture on Fermat’s Last Theorem. A few of the lecturers were highly entertaining but they always kept the discussion on topic. In this they were blameless. It was simply their job to teach mathematics and that is what they did. It was not their job to change the world. It is no different to you teaching English to Thai students, knowledge that will probably prove useless to them if, as many on this blog believe, industrial civilization is about to collapse.

  40. Kathy C Says:

    As I tended my garden today, I realized how already climate change and chaos is affecting me. My pumpkins got a late start due to lack of rain and heat. When we finally got a break from the heat and a bit of rain, they made pumpkins. Then an early frost has mostly killed the leaves and I am left with a field of green pumpkins. Will they still ripen, who knows. It continues dry at a time when we usually get rain.

    The H-G vs small time agriculture may be determined entirely by climate. If the climate instability we are seeing now is any indication that the future will be more chaotic, agriculture will be in for some very hard times. As Guy notes in his essay “Extinction Event” the climate may already be in the territory of feedbacks that cannot be stopped and extinction of humans a possible outcome. But short of that, being tied to one location and further tied by planting perennials and trees may not work as climate change progresses. OTOH H-G takes skills that may all vanish before any bottom is reached and be hard to recreate in chaotic times. The only advantage of an after life might be to look down from whatever eternity one is in and see how it all plays out.

    Meanwhile I head back out to water my winter greens – can’t remember ever having to water this time of year.

  41. Sue Day Says:

    I was reading that the latest research shows that the Earth has warmed one degree but that the temperature has remained constant without any further warming for the last 10 years. I’m afraid I don’t know how to do links ( I am a techno dummie). But it is on Drudge if anyone wants a look.
    On a truely random note Guy is there anyway global warming could cause an increase and severity in earthquakes?

  42. Rita Vail Says:

    Tamnaa – I started out as a business major, but immediately realized that just being in that building was suffocating. I was in my 40s, but still not sure what job to prepare for. Then I switched to art (graphic design). Then I switched to geography and almost got a masters in that. I wrote my thesis on environmental hazards with the expectation that I would go on to get a Phd and teach. Then my dad got altzheimers and I also lost my health for a year or two. I never defended the thesis.

    I believe that I got a great education from the University of Arkansas. Nearly all my professors were incredible. I did learn critical thinking, how to write, read and make maps (geographic information systems), how to lie with statistics, and how to teach (as a TA). And of course – how to draw and paint, use a computer and various software programs. I only wish I had learned to code. I will put that on my bucket list.

    I probably already knew how to think, having had four children by this time. Yes, I know. Four is too many. I agree.

    If I had gotten the Phd, I would have worked to get geography in all the schools. That is where I learned about global warming, peak everything, population, corporate politics, etc. When I taught these subjects in the mid-90s, freshmen were mostly unable to wrap their heads around any of it. Few of them had ever been outside of Arkansas or could find China on a map. Now that is really sad.

    I must add – the engineers and math majors were the biggest denialists of all.

  43. vera Says:

    Kathy, thank you for the detailed responses! Well, that’s the thing… I am trying to push the idea that what was happening then in the Near East was not a “transition to agriculture” but rather a transition to intensification of agriculture. And the question is why?

    The organization that went along with the exploitation of wild foods did not lead to “agriculture” (meaning more and more intensified growing of stuff) in other places, like the Kwakiutl (as you note). They intensified their gathering. Others, in Australia and elsewhere, just did some cultivation and were happy with it and did not intensify.

    And if the hypothesis holds re people cooperating to protect their fields, why is it that Catal Huyuk was built far away from any fields or harvested grasslands? Many mysteries, none of them easy.

    Again, it is not grain per se that enabled domination… there is evidence in the Paleolithic that hoarding of mammoth meat by certain families was happening… and again, among the Pacific Rim tribes, some hoarded salmon and played power plays (and others in the same area did not).

    Actually, it is thought that the first Egyptian pyramid (Cheops) was built cooperatively. And in Norte Chico, their pyramids seemed to have been built by volunteers who threw huge parties when a section was completed. Not all civilizations were as crazy as this one.

    So then you bring up the “excess” that farmers or foragers produced in some areas. Why did they? And why in other areas they did not? Now we are getting closer…

    Hitting an energy jackpot cannot be the worst mistake in the history of the human race because it was not done as a choice. People happened onto fire, and grokked they could carry it with them. Or people floated over to an island, or walked to America, and lo and behold, a larder! It does not feel right to call it a mistake. In that case, the mistake was on the part of Mother Nature, to give us a curious brain. In any case, we cannot not know fire, any more than we can not know language….

    And yes, the issue you raise, what is the optimal way to eke out our living in the future on a badly damaged planet? Pure foraging? Why, when a mix of cultivation and foraging is the most secure form of subsistence available, and when the cultivation part can give the foraging areas rest and a chance for healing?

  44. Robin Datta Says:

    Robin, you come from a fascinating part of the world.

    Perhaps so, but probably not to the 20,000,000 from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the 10,000,000 from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) who were evicted from their ancestral lands of time immemorial and from the newly-formed country of Pakistan in 1947, or to the half a million each slaughtered in East Pakistan and West Pakistan.

    The only advantage of an after life might be to look down from whatever eternity one is in and see how it all plays out.

    In the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain tradition, an afterlife would be constituted by the subtle karmic tendencies (samskaras) passed on from the present life. To use the metaphor of a dust-devil, those tendencies would be the impelling force that sustains the whirlwind. But the physical appearance of the dust devil would depend on the matter it picks up, and may change as it moves from place to place. Or to use the metaphor of a flame, when an oil lamp is lit from a wooden match, the flame is transferred to the lamp, but then is associated with oil rather than wood.

    When all the subtle tendencies are shed (when one “attains” “enlightenment”), the metaphor used is the ocean. It is like a river entering the ocean: the river does not cease to exist as it might have if it had dried up, but rather the river becomes one with the ocean. This metaphor is carried further by Buddhism in describing those who formally accept Buddhism as stream-entrants: streams being those that ultimately flow into the ocean. (Formally accepting Buddhism is called “taking refuge”, the three refuges being “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma – the principles, I take refuge in the Sangha – the community of fellow-travelers. )

  45. Guy McPherson Says:

    I couldn’t make this us: According to MSNBC, the Federal Reserve Bank is trying to produce economic growth via jawboning. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  46. Robin Datta Says:

    Jawboning, regrettably does not substitute for growth in available enorgy needed for an increased rate of production of usable items from natural resousces (=economic growth).

  47. Kathy C Says:

    Sue, I was wondering what the climate deniers were going to pull out now that a report by a climate skeptic, funded in part by the Koch brothers, has in fact shown that the planet has warmed. The deniers had not long ago said the planet was actually cooling. That disproved, ah we are now on a plateau. Unfortunately for the planet it might take another decade to prove or disprove this one conclusively. We don’t have time for that. Luckily finance is going to crash industrial civilization and then we find the answer to another question, are positive feedbacks that are already happening irreversible (melting methane in permafrost etc. being added to the atmosphere one of the big feedbacks)

    I read somewhere that the melting of the arctic and antarctic would redistribute the weight on the planet and might cause earthquakes. However so far that seems not to have happened at least in the last 10 years per http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqarchives/year/eqstats.php

    Please only read Drudge for humor.

  48. Kathy C Says:

    Sue, bringing a bit of humor about the deniers is Climate Change Deniers Crock of the Week
    Here is the latest on the new report that has the deniers busy trying to figure out spin on the disappointing report by Muller

    “Richard Muller seemed like the last best hope of the anti-science movement. This month he published his global temperature results, and the climate denialists are up in arms. What went wrong?”

  49. Kathy C Says:

    Vera, what I posted was from the researcher who is working the site. Not having direct knowledge of the site, I thought the preliminary conclusions of the man who was directing the excavation and provided the wiki link to the article. Your assertion that they were hunter-gatherers was incomplete per the assertions of the archaeologist on the site.

    Please supply links to your other assertions, such that the first Egyptian pyramid was built cooperatively. Remember than any recounting of the event would be written not by the peasants doing the work but the scribes who were employed by the Pharaohs. Remember as well that some slave owners in the south thought their slaves were happy to be slaves. Remember that the Pharaohs and priests could use religion to gain cooperation that may be forced in fact by how they put forward religious obligation as a way of pleasing the gods.

    Early attempts at agriculture should be considered with all factors included, wild plants and animals that are suitable for domestication, climate and climate stability, etc.

    As I note in a subsequent post, probably we won’t have the stable climate needed for agriculture in the future and most likely IMHO we are heading towards self extinction. Que sera sera – we only like to imagine that we are in charge of our futures.

  50. Tamnaa Says:

    Busy times here, new students, 5 hours teaching today, 7 tomorrow.

    I just watched the TED talk video linked by Robin: http://www.ted.com/talks/bunker_roy.html

    I found it excellent, thanks Robin Datta.

    Yorchichan; your description of university life seems like some dystopian nightmare! “It probably sounds a horrendous waste of time” Yes, it really does. Re; teaching English, it’s not my place to decide for students what will or won’t be useful to them. I honor their choice and do my best to help. Getting to know so many Thai people (ages 3 to about 62) through English classes has been a wonderful experience for me.

    Rita Vail; “but immediately realized that just being in that building was suffocating” yes, I felt that way too. I thought, if this is the local center for intelligence and learning, why is this building so unhealthy and ugly?

    Kathy and Vera; Ruth Benedict put a lot of thought into understanding the differences in the cultures of various societies. She saw societies on a scale between the “surly and nasty” groups where aggression was rewarded, (cultures of low social synergy) to the more cooperative and less aggressive groups (cultures of high social synergy) in which mutually rewarding activities were emphasized.

    For me this is far more important than the question of how a given group obtains its food. Of course intensive surplus-producing agriculture began to be used as a tool in support of conquest and dominance by nasty, surly cultures some 10,000 years ago. This does not indicate in any way that all humans lived as nomadic H-Gs (like the Kalahari Bushmen) before suddenly starting to plow fields and plant grains, or that no H-G groups were ever low-social-synergy aggressors.

    People probably cultivated plants and domesticated animals to various degrees at least 20,000 years before that time without notable increases in population occurring.

    I think it’s the surly-nasty side of human behavior that has caused all the problems. Large population concentrations were produced for the purposes of aggression. Intensive field crop farming was developed when an elite warrior class compelled slaves/serfs to provide storable surpluses to feed their armies and craftspeople. Competition between groups of this kind has resulted in the ravages of empire while marginalizing more peaceful and life affirming societies.

  51. Kathy C Says:

    Not being covered in the US press
    Coup fears in Greece over referendum plan’
    full story at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/nov2011/gree-n02.shtml
    By Peter Schwarz
    2 November 2011

    Prime Minister George Papandreou sacked the Greek military high command Tuesday. The move came amid furor on the part of world governments and international financial markets over his proposal to submit a European Union bailout plan that spells years of punishing austerity for Greek workers to a popular referendum.

    The Greek defense ministry issued a terse emailed statement that Papandreou had dismissed his chief of national defense, the Greek Army general staff chief, the heads of the Air Force and the Navy, along with 12 other senior officers.

  52. Kathy C Says:

    Tamnaa, even if small scale agriculture started 20,000 years ago (link to study saying that?) larger scale agriculture didn’t happen without the antecedent incipient agriculture, thus while on a small scale it may not have led to increased population, small scale agriculture led to large scale agriculture which in the end led to more people. Some roads are best not started down, for once on them it is hard to turn back. But of course humanity didn’t actively choose any road, they just found a new trick and it worked and on and on, and like any living creature will expand their population until something stops them. Lack of agriculture seems to have stopped humans, but then they started farming, then lack of fertility seemed bound to stop them and then they found guano and new lands, running out of guano and new lands seemed to stop them and then they found oil. We have about run out of stops.

    No doubt in a future world agriculture will be more limited if practiced but I do note that over and over agricultural civilizations have depleted their soil and water and crashed.

    I don’t know the future, maybe humans will finally get reasonable and farm and gather in harmless ways. I just know that the track record for H-G’s is far longer than for agriculturalists. It seems to me that H-G lifestyle would be the safest bet for the human species based on the record. But we don’t choose. It will happen as it happens no matter how well any of us make points for our case on this blog.

    “Anthropological and archaeological evidence from sites across Southwest Asia and North Africa indicate use of wild grain (e.g., from the c. 20,000 BC site of Ohalo II in Israel, many Natufian sites in the Levant and from sites along the Nile in the 10th millennium BC). There is even evidence of planned cultivation and trait selection: grains of rye with domestic traits have been recovered from Epi-Palaeolithic (10,000+ BC) contexts at Abu Hureyra in Syria, but this appears to be a localised phenomenon resulting from cultivation of stands of wild rye, rather than a definitive step towards domestication.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_agriculture
    As I read this 20,000 BC saw the USE of wild grains, while 12,000 years ago saw a possible cultivation of rye

  53. john rember Says:

    Tamnaa: Excellent essay and ensuing discussion. A lot of what we call the world is our cultural reality, almost to the point where we can say that many of the cultures under discussion lived in separate universes. The corollary is that you can’t get there from here, particularly once the surlies and the nastys start setting the lowest common denominator.
    I too have noticed that the high elite and their children are not as happy or conscious as you would think they would be, given their relative advantages. Considering that reliable recipes for happiness and consciousness have been around for two or three thousand years, some drive toward misery and unconsciousness must reside in their makeup. I don’t think the rest of us are any different, just alienated enough from the prevailing cultural reality that a small amount of consciousness and resultant happiness is possible.

  54. vera Says:

    Kathy, Ran Prieur wrote a while back about the Cheops pyramid; apparently they have signs on it where various guilds announced they worked on this or that section. He also speculated that the subsequent ones declined in workmanship because the populations were forced into it.

    There is possible evidence that horses had halters at around 17,000 ago, and they found a reindeer who was cared for by humans after its leg broke, also way into the Paleolithic.

    And who says we did not cultivate during the long warm period of the last interglacial, 100,000 years ago? Of course, these are just tidbits to go on… those who think that ag is the root of all evil will continue believing it.

    The track record of the foragers is not perfect. They, for example, devastated most of the continent of Australia and brought about climate change for the worse. Check out Flannery’s Future Eaters and various articles about the damage wreaked by the so called “firestick farming” in Oz. I also recomment Colin Tudge for a look back into the Paleolithic. He says his professors way back when already taught that the Neolithic Revolution was neither Neolithic, nor a revolution.

    Tamnaa, did Ruth Benedict speculate why some cultures took the turn for the nasty surly part of the spectrum, and others for the cooperative?

    You said: “Of course intensive surplus-producing agriculture began to be used as a tool in support of conquest and dominance by nasty, surly cultures some 10,000 years ago.”

    Bingo! :-)

  55. Bernhard Says:

    Victor.

    Where are you.
    News today. UK preparing to assist US in case they decide to attack Iran.
    Not enough “humanitarian” reasons so far, that can change rather quickly.

    Any news from “cold fusion”? It’s getting rather urgent, crazies are trying to blow the place before collapse can occur, which then of course may be the outcome anyhow.

  56. Bernhard Says:

    Agriculture

    Another theory.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/3okoykh

    Pharmacological properties of cereals and milk

    Exorphins: opioid substances in food

    Are those Exorphins what drives “great” civilisations?
    Making them constantly mad at the same time?

  57. vera Says:

    Bernhard, I did mention that theory. Those chemicals are supposed to make people feel good… the theory says that humans got into grains for the alcohol and the endorphin high. Could be one of the reasons…

  58. the virgin terry Says:

    i just finished kevin moore’s new book: THE EASY WAY. of course i highly recommend it as a concise but relatively comprehensive summation of our ‘predicament’. i don’t think it’s available via amazon. u might have to contact kevin directly, as i did, to get a copy.

    one quick observation on thinking: it’s become somewhat popular to promote the idea that sheople need to be taught how to think. i find this idea somewhat absurd and orwellian, as those who would teach others how they should think would ostensibly then be in position to control. which is basically what we have now, with state operated schools, and various religions promoting ‘faith’ in dogma. this is why i side with dawkins. sheople do not need to be taught how to think. thinking comes as naturally as breathing. rather, it’s desirable to do away with all institutions which encourage sheople not to think, period, but rather to ‘respect’ and obey ‘authority’. it’s arguable that many sheople simply can’t/don’t think well, and thus should rely on others to do their thinking for them in matters of public importance, but again, this is basically what we have going now, and it’s not working out very well, is it?

  59. Bernhard Says:

    Vera
    Sorry, didn’t see that. Stumbled upon this today when scanning for information about diets as a possible cure.

    “…are supposed to make people feel good”
    At the moment I’m bewildered what this might imply. Virtually all of populations on drugs, day by day, three to five times a day.

    I’ve been searching for explanations as to WHY people are not willing/ capable in “grasping” the idea (to be short), acting accordingly to what Pacha Mama is so willing to tell us, by just looking.

    One, maybe a severe reason, are we constantly drugged by our food?

    Great blog by the way.

  60. Guy McPherson Says:

    Sue Day asks, “Guy is there anyway global warming could cause an increase and severity in earthquakes?”

    Sorry for the delayed response, Sue. I’ve heard rumors about incidence and severity of earthquakes being linked to increased global average temperatures. But, as nearly as I can determine, they are rumors. I know of no data, models, or mechanisms to support this notion.

  61. Sue Day Says:

    Thank you Kathy and Guy for your input.

    Ive just been reading this book that suggests that there will be a massive increase in the severity if not the incidence of earthquakes and also of tsunamis. Certainly that seems to be born out by recent events. What is debatable is whether AGW are to blame for it.

  62. Robin Datta Says:

    … those who think that ag is the root of all evil will continue believing it.

    The root (not necessarily of all evil) is the genetic programming that drives every species/ensemble of DNA towards maximizing like ensembles. 

    Some “primitive” species that have been through innumerable cycles of overshoot & dieback (without going extinct) have evolved ways of sensing overshoot and preparing for imminent dieback by adopting hardy forms that are frugal to the extreme, to enable them to tide over the adversity. These forms include spores and cysts. 

    Yet such species, in the absence of signals of overshoot such as a deteriorating environment, will continue to grow. Species that do not have this adaptation will probe every accessible niche and crevice in search of avenues of further growth. The developmentn mammals of a brain i capable of more than elementary cognition, which then progressed to an analytic brain in primates, and then elaborated to an even higher degree in hunting-gathering humans had led to humans spreading to all continents except Antarctica.

    Connecting the memory of a fallen or discarded seed to the appearance of a plant at that site was a connection within the capabilities of (and quite likely uniquely of) the human brain, and could be the setting for the development of plant cultivation, the embryonic stage of agriculture.

    The ability to handle abstract concepts allowed the  development of methods to handle such diverse realms as philosophy, mathematics, law, and the sciences, which further advanced our ability to manipulate the environment in our favor. It was Tahoe ability that allowed us to take (undue) advantage of fossil fuels in furthering the drive to produce more (functionally capale) copies of one’s DNA.

    Excepted in a gifted few, the analytic brain falls short of extrapolation or even the comprehension needed to deal with scale, complexity and longer time-frame in very large issues. Then again, failure to recognize such issues may stem from blocks operating out of the “lizard brain”, where emotion and primal drives are mediated.
    The hunter-gatherer-brain, by its ability to grok low level abstractions and to manipulate and build upon them by methods such as science, mathematics , philosophy, etc, has extended its reach into the unknown but knowable. But like the proverbial two-edged sword it cuts two ways. 

    Humans are a part of Nature, and our depredations were also enabled by natural processes. 

  63. Robin Datta Says:

    “developmentn mammals” – typo, “Tahoe ability” – autocorrect; intended:”development in mammals” and “the ability” apologize for the errors. Or as the standard disclaimer from times of the British Raj went:: E&OE: Errors and Omissions Excepted.

  64. the virgin terry Says:

    i wonder if god is a slightly sadistic juvenile delinquent prankster and creation, particularly humanity, it’s victim. surreally. makes as much sense as anything to explain surreality, my pet name for what kevin moore refers to in his book as having to be a nightmare, for it’s incredibility and horror.

    on a more pleasant track, perhaps god is a dreamer of unimaginable complexity, and this is in fact just a passing nightmare of it. soon god will awake, go about it’s godly business, and when next it dreams, it will be a pleasant utopian one in which we’ll all experience heavenly bliss and peace.

    there’s a third possibility that i think everyone is inclined to hate/deny, that there is no god/meaning/purpose/virtue in our existence, awareness is mere illusion/delusion, nothing more than one of mother nature’s sleight-of-hand tricks for no reason and no ultimate consequence. this is nihilism, is it not? u may visit, but i advise against setting up camp here if u can avoid it, unless, like me, u have a perverse attraction to surreality, despite it’s incredible horror. actually, we have no free will in the matter, do we? we can’t help being rational, intelligent, curious, dedicated truth seekers, can we? just like those who are irrational, stupid, incurious dogma addicts have no choice. unless one is godly, truly surreally godly, free will is but an illusion. and as steve would say, gods don’t have feet of clay. we certainly do.

  65. vera Says:

    Bernhard, thank you. Yes, it is a weird concept, getting high off food everyday. But then, human existence on this planet is full of trials, and one can hardly be surprised that people would find regular doses of endorphins welcome…

    What sort of a cure are you looking for?

    Robin, what you say is way too fatalistic. Why is it that the Easter Island culture self-destructed, while the people on Tikopia were able to stop themselves and turn around? I think if we can answer that question, we are on the way to turning around ourselves.

    For folks interested in the two cultures mentioned, look on my blog for a recent post called Wisdom-process.

  66. Tamnaa Says:

    Kathy C. as I understand it, the 60′s revisionist anthropologists such as J. Diamond are seen as out of date now. Here is some interesting material although it doesn’t go very deep, I’d say.

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology/gathering-and-hunting/

    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology/agriculture-as-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race/

    If an elephant has a good feed on mongongo fruit and later deposits the seeds in its dung, I don’t think anyone would call this “agriculture”. We all accept that animals an birds provide natural transportation for dispersal of the seeds of many plant species. The elephant has quite effectively made improvements to its range, though, which enhance the survival chances of its progeny. During the course of human evolution, we humans have always performed the same function. Does anyone deny that?

    A !Kung forager might bring berries and other fruit back to camp to share with her group. As they eat the fruit, they spit the seeds on the ground, some of which some of which may be scuffed into the soil and one or two may actually start to grow. If they recognize the young plant and avoid harming it, if they pour some water on it now and then, is that agriculture? They are knowingly improving their habitat for their own use.

    Now, you may argue that the !Kung never do that. Perhaps not, but throughout pre-history, foragers naturally did this sort of thing and a lot more. Protecting and tending useful wild plants slowly evolved into gardening and indigenous permaculture over a great length of time, in many ways, among many cultures. At the same time, foraging continued and the H-G life still goes on today.

    We eat wild greens nearly every day. Our best papayas are “volunteers” that we didn’t plant. We get more mangoes than we can eat every year from a huge tree that we didn’t plant. Somebody must have planted it, I think, but we’ve been told it is a “forest mango” meaning a wild variety. I don’t think so although this was forest only ten years ago.

    Just this morning I’ve been clearing brush and high grass out from around banana plants, some of which I propagated, some I didn’t. One is a wild banana plant with big black seeds in the fruit.

    Ordinary people don’t know or care whether they get their food through foraging or agriculture. This dichotomy exists only in the minds of intellectuals and gives them something to talk and write about I suppose but it has little to do with reality.

    Having said that, large scale field tillage, occupational specialization, aggressive expansionism … this was clearly the wrong path.

  67. Robin Datta Says:

    i find this idea somewhat absurd and orwellian, as those who would teach others how they should think would ostensibly then be in position to control. which is basically what we have now, with state operated schools, and various religions promoting ‘faith’ in dogma.

    - An example of not knowing how to think, with a consequent confusion of method with content.

    If pupils were taught how to think, they would examine more critically anything presented as what to think.

    it’s arguable that many sheople simply can’t/don’t think well, and thus should rely on others to do their thinking for them in matters of public importance, but again, this is basically what we have going now, and it’s not working out very well, is it?

    Indeed that is why it is important to impart training in how to think.

    on a more pleasant track, perhaps god is a dreamer of unimaginable complexity, and this is in fact just a passing nightmare of it. soon god will awake, go about it’s godly business,

    There are described four human states of consciousness: waking (jagrata), dream sleep (swapna), deep sleep (susupti) and the Fourth State, turiya.

    Just as it is possible to be aware that one is dreaming (lucid dreaming) it is possible to be aware from the Fourth State of the other three states. That is what is referred to as “enlightenment”.

    It is not a G_d that has to awaken (if one postulates the existence of a G_d), but for the human to become aware of the Fourth State in which the person always exists.

    we can’t help being rational, intelligent, curious, dedicated truth seekers, can we? just like those who are irrational, stupid, incurious dogma addicts have no choice.

    The expected attributions to “we” and “those”.

    Free will is only present in those who are free of their subtle tendencies, making them free of their “I-ness”. Then there is neither “G_d” nor “I”, or for that matter, “is” and “is not”.

  68. Robin Datta Says:

    Robin, what you say is way too fatalistic.

    Not aware of where it is “fatalistic”. We are headed to a bottleneck, after which if there are survivors, they will likely be ones with traits better adapted to the circumstances leading to and through the bottleneck. Thereafter there may be selection from this cohort to the then-current circumstances after the bottleneck.

    So evolution will mold whatever Homo species emerges from sapiens. Nature Bats Last.

  69. Robin Datta Says:

    If they recognize the young plant and avoid harming it, if they pour some water on it now and then, is that agriculture?

    It is the embryo of agriculture.

  70. Bernhard Says:

    Great elaborations.
    Terry
    Love the part on thinking and god, especially third possibility.
    Vera
    So maybe these drugs at least help keep populations under control, to not ask, not question, not ask the “ultimate” question – to insist on asking what the present behaviour will imply for “7″ generations to come.
    Being constantly drugged by food, wow.
    Cure, family member. 4 months into ketogenic diet -seizures-, got gluten out from the beginning also, now entering a stage to get rid of lactose also. Very interesting, diet as treatment. Success to some extent so far, getting ever more curios about what is to come;-)

  71. Sue Day Says:

    I would imagine that free will is one of the most verifiable aspects of humanity and explains much of the horror we see today. With free will we cut down tree’s and pollute our environment. We slaughter each other and steal food from children’s mouths.

    To deny free will is to deny responsibility for all the good and bad that lives within us. It is interesting to me that when we are proud of our achievements and talents we are happy to take responsibility for them but anything else we condemn and blame God for.

    To deny free will is to take away everything we are.

  72. Kathy C Says:

    Given how often Gov’t war games have coincided with events that mirror them of late, this assurance that the test below is only a test, doesn’t leave me feeling assured.

    http://news.yahoo.com/anxiety-over-upcoming-test-us-emergency-system-194650367.html

    “It’s only a test, but nerves are somewhat frayed over the first nationwide exercise of the system designed to alert Americans of national emergencies.
    The test occurs at 1900 GMT Wednesday, November 9, and may last over three minutes — longer than the typical 30 seconds or one minute for most broadcast test messages.
    According to a message being circulated by local school and government officials, there is “great concern in local police and emergency management circles about undue public anxiety over this test.”
    “The test message on TV might not indicate that it is just a test,” according to one email being circulated by a Washington area school district.
    “Fear is that the lack of an explanation message might create panic. Please share this information with your family and friends so they are aware of the test.”
    The test is being conducted jointly by the US Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Weather Service.
    “We’re asking everyone to join us by spreading the word to your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family… please remember: don’t stress; it’s only a test,” FEMA said in a blog post.
    The test is part of the Emergency Alert System designed to transmit, via TV and radio, emergency alerts and warnings regarding weather threats, child abductions and other types of emergencies, according to officials.
    While state and local tests already take place frequently, a simultaneous, nationwide test of the national EAS “emergency action notification” code has never occurred”

  73. Kathy C Says:

    Vera, I have read Flannery and if you will re-read my posts you will see that I acknowledge that when humans first got to environments that man had not been before they went sort of crazy because of winning an energy bonus.

    The only Ran Prieur I could find appears not to be a anthropologist but a commentator and unless you provide links I am not going to search his whole site to find he said. As has often been noted the winners write history and anything written on pyramids is written by the winners. You will note that the history we were taught in school about say Columbus did not include his crimes of enslavement of the locals, and his brutality to not only the locals but also his own countrymen.

    I have never said that H-G’s were better humans. I have only said they were living in a world that their programs evolved in and thus I suspect they fell more right than us self caged humans feel. Of course anywhere from there to here would run along some gradient of feeling “right” so that H_G’s who do a bit of agriculture would in my scenario feel more right than Wall Street bankers. By right I mean how we imagine a lion feels in the Savannah vs. how he feels in a zoo cage. The acknowledgement of that is the creation of animal parks with larger confinements, but still I presume they separate the lions from prey and provide daily meals. It is of course safer to have your meals provided than to have to risk starvation by hunting your own meals, but the lion loses the thrill of the hunt. I have no doubt that evolution has in some way made the hunt desirable to the lion beyond the satisfaction of a full stomach, just as evolution has made sex desirable. This matching of programs to environment is as far as I can remember all I have ever asserted concerning H-G’s beyond the fact that they have a track record for success that is 19 times longer than agriculturalists.

  74. Kathy C Says:

    Re the transition from H-G to agriculture think of it this way. Machines were made long before what we call the Industrial Revolution. Clearly the Industrial Revolution didn’t go from no machines to lots of machines in one day. Yet at some indefinable point machines took over. Where should you pin that day? You can no more pin that day than you can pin a date on the first day of agriculture. Yet you can define a time period in which machines begin to dominate. Likewise you can define a time period in which agriculture begins to dominate.

    As far as increasing population, it would take some time before incipient agriculture would increase population enough for scientists looking at bones to say ah here it increased. Yet between say 20,000 years ago and now both took off. If agriculture didn’t make that possible what did? After oil and gas added more fertilizer and irrigation, machines made possible large scale farming, and the green revolution increased grain yields population took off again. More food is known to increase bacteria populations, bunny populations etc. is it not? Isn’t it a fairly reasonable hypothesis that the correlation points to causation if you can’t identify any other possible causation?

  75. Kathy C Says:

    Sue “To deny free will is to take away everything we are.”

    Well since what we are is a rapacious species that is ruining the planet, perhaps suicidally, I would say that if we have free will we would have been better off without it.

    Free will has no constraints. Free will is acting willy nilly. In fact the Bible denies free will when it says “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Thus it is asserted that if raised correctly we loose the ability to choose the way we go and this is deemed desirable. In fact socieity believes that promise of punishment is a good way to change behavior, but if behavior is changed by fear of punishment it is no longer free.

  76. Tamnaa Says:

    Here’s something I just discovered while trying to answer Vera’s question about Ruth Benedict’s ideas:

    http://www.resiliencycenter.com/articles/human.shtml

    Short quote: Abraham Maslow “recognized that some people do not merely self-actualize and then stop. Some people transcend being “merely healthy.” They resolve, master and integrate conflicting forces and are motivated to create a good society for themselves and others.”

    Maslow was Ruth Benedict’s assistant for a while and learned from her. I think there’s a lot of interesting analysis here re: “the survivor personality” for anyone whose mind is open and active.

  77. Tamnaa Says:

    Robin Datta; “It is the embryo of agriculture.” yes, I think so, and if that is true, how far back in time should my estimate about when humans started to tend useful plants (30,000 years ago) be revised?

    In the Buddhist temples here I have participated in small ceremonies in which water is slowly poured from an ewer into a bowl while a monk chants a blessing. At the end of this I was instructed to go outside and respectfully pour the water at the base of a tree. I think this might be a remnant of an extremely old cultural habit of giving used water a beneficial end purpose.

    When I lived in a log cabin with a turf roof in northern British Columbia, I would always take the basin of used wash water outside and toss it up on the roof to give the grass and wild rose plants up there a drink.

    I think humans have always had an inherent purpose in contributing to the well-being of the natural whole system within which we live. The insane notion of “conquest” in which the individual and collective ego struggles to exert power to control and dominate the world around it has brought us to the current crisis.
    A human return to sanity would eventually restore planetary health.

  78. Sue Day Says:

    I think the planet would agree with you that free will for humans is a bad idea. I am not sure most humans would agree with you.

    crime rates around the world give ample testimony to the fact that the fear of punishment is not a sufficent deterant to stop people exercising their free will.

    With regard to the verse you quoted in the Bible I would suggest that education and discipline provide a framework by which free will can operate. A yard stick to determine the consequences of our actions. Without this yard stick our instincts and selfishness are more than capable of overpowering any parental teaching which we have instilled in us. Perhaps the value of a “good upbringing” would be in providing us with that yardstick before our instincts get too strong. Therefore giving us the tools we need to have true free will in that we have the power to withstand obeying our instincts in a slavish manner. Rather than choosing to obey or disobey them in a dispassionate manner.

  79. Kathy C Says:

    Sue you don’t understand free will. Do dogs have free will? We train dogs and humans much the same way – we provide an incentive to make certain behaviors more desirable and disincentives to make certain behaviors less desirable. Thus the dog sits (to gain master’s approval and treat) and the child sits down in the bathtub to please mom. While our incentives and disincentives are more complicated I would assert that behind every action is not a “will” but a set of instincts and learning that lead to each decision.

    As for the Bible, you illustrate of course how the Bible is seldom actually treated as literal and is subject to interpretation to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean – as Bishop Pike said “Give me 5 mins and 5 dollars and I will prove anything to you from the Bible”. I didn’t quote the Bible to prove anything, just to note that the book of believers who are so apt to blame others “will” rather than circumstance and brain programs for bad behavior often denies the will. As Paul famously said “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” What happened to his will there?

    You might find the book “The Illusion of Conscious Will” by Daniel Wegner of interest. It would seem that while we all have the feeling that the conscious self is in charge, most, if not all of the time it serves to interpret what the unconscious self decided and steps in to take ownership and provide the rationale for the behavior.

    Of course sometimes it gets confused and we find ourselves say “why did I do that” knowing for example that we had willed not to eat another cookie and then finding it in our mouth after all. But most of the time we cover for the unconscious self and come up with a good rationale for why we do what we do. IMHO of course

  80. Kathy C Says:

    Bernhard, thanks for that link to the article about food and the rise of agriculture. It might help further explain why the life of a H-G was traded in for the trap of civilization. But I know Ed has looked into foraging and has mentioned that it is hard to get all your carbs with foraging. If that is so, ie. that without farmed cereal grains it is hard to get enough carbohydrates, then that would of course provide the limits to the expansion of human numbers and explain why the increase in agricultural output and the increase in human numbers run together. Since humans need food to live and reproduce it is hard to see how an increase in humans caused the increase in agriculture rather than the other way around.

    Years ago I started going to Overeaters Anonymous. Much talk in many OA groups is about the addictive quality of certain foods. I certainly felt addicted to sweets an after a bit swore of refined sugars. It was only hard for a bit. With refined sugar out of my system, fruits became more delectable. That was I guess almost 30 years ago. Others in the group gave up refined flour, and others gave up all flour. I wasn’t aware of any who gave up all cereal grains. I admit to knowing that wheat flour products have me in their grip and given my success with sugar you would think I could wrench myself away from flour. But the incentive of losing weight was accomplished by the elimination of sugar. I haven’t found an incentive to give up cereal grains or even just flour but the article certainly suggests some worth examining.

    You and your wife have a promise of a strong incentive and I sure do hope it pays off for you. Do keep us posted.

  81. Sue Day Says:

    I think perhaps it is our definition of free will that is different. I don’t particularly disagree with anthing you said. I also believe that free will is something of an illusion in some cases. I suppose what I mean by free will is that no one can compel us to do or think anything if we have the resolution to withstand them or die in the attempt if need be.
    Why should the unconcious not be considered a part of our free will? It is us after all. As you say the unconcious plays a huge role in what we do or not do. But it is still very much a part of who we are and therefore should in my opinion be considered part of our free will.

    Perhaps we illustrate true free will best by altruistic acts of kindness. When we cannot possibly benefit from an action directly or indirectly. I read a good quote once about how you can tell the quality of a person by how they treat those who can do nothing for them and I think that is very true. One of the things I do is train horses. in fact I have been trained by one of the best horse trainers in the world to do this. But she and I could give you numerous examples of horses who have had the most intensive training there is sometimes choose not to do something you ask it too. When they are not compelled to do something but asked sometimes they say no. If a horse can do that I believe a person can do so too. In my work I see many people who have said NO to the way they have been treated. No matter how carefully they have been groomed to say otherwise. Free will is alive and strong and living in the hearts of men.

    Whilst I appreciate that many things can take away our free will, at least in part. The fact is that if I choose to take some course of action then it is my choice and I must bear the consequences of that choice. I wont blame God or anyone else for it.

  82. Kathy C Says:

    Altruism in animals
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Altruism is a well-documented animal behaviour, which appears most obviously in kin relationships but may also be evident amongst wider social groups, in which an animal sacrifices its own well-being for the benefit of another animal…
    Dogs often adopt orphaned cats, squirrels, ducks and even tigers.[6]
    Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time and pushing them to the surface so they can breathe.[7]
    Wolves and wild dogs bring meat back to members of the pack not present at the kill.
    Male baboons threaten predators and cover the rear as the troop retreats.
    Gibbons and chimpanzees with food will, in response to a gesture, share their food with others of the group.
    Chimpanzees will help humans and conspecifics without any reward in return.[8]
    Bonobos have been observed aiding injured or handicapped bonobos.[9]
    Vampire bats commonly regurgitate blood to share with unlucky or sick roost mates that have been unable to find a meal, often forming a buddy system.[10][11]
    Raccoons inform conspecifics about feeding grounds by droppings left on commonly shared latrines. A similar information system has been observed to be used by common ravens.[12]
    More at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals

  83. Yorchichan Says:

    Tamnaa

    “Yorchichan; your description of university life seems like some dystopian nightmare! “It probably sounds a horrendous waste of time” Yes, it really does.”

    A nightmare for the poor taxpayer I would say! I knew students who were disappointed with their final grade not because it would adversely affect their career prospects but because it wasn’t sufficient to continue in higher education so they could continue partying for a few more years.

    Perhaps the greatest benefit for me of higher education was meeting students from all over the world. It was through the friends I made whilst studying that I first got to travel to Japan and Thailand. The Japanese students dreaded the end of their student life even more than the British; they thought the start of their career would be the end of all happiness. So you can see why I don’t think university life is training for empire, even if it doesn’t teach critical thinking.

    “Re; teaching English, it’s not my place to decide for students what will or won’t be useful to them. I honor their choice and do my best to help. Getting to know so many Thai people (ages 3 to about 62) through English classes has been a wonderful experience for me.”

    I judge nobody. Unless your adverts read “Learn conversational English and guarantee yourself a high paying career” [aside: you do know that the Thai’s refer to English as “phasaa ngeen” = the language of money?] then nobody could possibly argue you are doing anything immoral. In any case, the most important thing is the learning experience rather than the usefulness of the knowledge. BTW, if you are finding it hard getting to grips with the Thai language, Thai linguaphone worked for me. Apart from the five tones and unfeasibly large number of vowels, it’s quite easy!

  84. vera Says:

    Bernhard, I did the scd (special carbohydrate diet) a couple of times in my life, it was hard, and it did help my health. I did it for 6 months the second time. Good luck with that for your loved one!

    Tamnaa, the reason I got into the whole ag/horti/foraging distinctions is that many people think nowadays that agriculture is where we humans took the Big Bad turn. I disagree… and I do think it could be really helpful to know where it happened.

    Robin, that’s what I meant. All the talk about what happens after the die-off. I would rather spend my time figuring out how we can turn around, in some ways. The die-off will take care of itself.

    Terry, I think the universe is unfinished. And it is permeated by intelligence. And that there is directionality in evolution. Beyond that, who knows. I also believe that Dawkins is an a-hole that delights in making people miserable.

    Kathy, the spectacle churners will do anything to keep people scared and distracted. Chucking the poop tube can do wonders for a life.

    “This matching of programs to environment is as far as I can remember all I have ever asserted concerning H-G’s beyond the fact that they have a track record for success that is 19 times longer than agriculturalists.”

    Not in Australia. But I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I am trying to make a certain point…

    “As far as increasing population, it would take some time before incipient agriculture would increase population enough for scientists looking at bones to say ah here it increased. Yet between say 20,000 years ago and now both took off. If agriculture didn’t make that possible what did?”

    Deliberate economic intensification (which of course begins with food) — whether among primarily foragers, aggies, or horties — led to increased populations. There were plenty of tribes who were aggies who chose not to intensify.

  85. Kathy C Says:

    Vera, I never meant to say that agriculture started full blown. I assumed that was understood by all. It seems so obvious that agriculture started bit by bit that I hardly thought I needed to say it. Some started down the road and continued, some did not. The numbers that did just a little agriculture or turned back are small and getting smaller. The numbers that intensified grew. They not only grew, they consistently forced out H-G’s. They still do. I personally know some fine men who are peasants in Bolivia who were resettled in the jungle. I am sure they learned to gather food in the jungle along with growing food as they had on the Alto Plano (which had of course gotten too crowded to support all the agriculturalists it had). I admire them and would like their lives to go on as they are now. BUT I still know that by moving into the jungle they appropriated territory of H-G tribes and may well have caused some tribes to die out.

    I feel like we are now playing with words instead of looking at the simple facts – agriculture fed more humans, and grew in intensity and fed even more humans until there are too many humans. The line doesn’t matter, the results do. While some managed something in-between, it would seem that agriculture is quite seductive whether because it feeds more people or feeds them addictive foods or more likely both. It is far easier to avoid an addiction in the first place than try to control it.

    I have often thought that we are in the process of making the world safe for our species, ie. depleting it so effectively (as did the Aborigines in Australia) that we are defanged, that we cannot ever go down the dangerous road of civilization again. We are perhaps creating a world so difficult for us to survive in that all our energies will be turned outward to our environment rather than inward on our own species. Of course I don’t think that is conscious, it is rather how I think it would look if we could ascribe any intentionality to what humans as a species are doing. It is a rather dangerous project for the result could be extinction of the human species. Humans have behaved so abominably to other humans as civilized humans and others are intent on showing me how violent un-civilized humans (H-G’s) are. If I was to be convinced that the H-G way of life is so bad and not worth living while knowing that civilized life is incredibly destructive, I must conclude extinction of our species is just the thing this planet needs. So for the moment I will hold out hope that our species can once again become wild humans and live free.

  86. Ed Says:

    Busy busy day here on NBL.

    Guy, I started digging in a little on Fujimura after reading an article about him on the Energy Bulletin.

    http://www.winifredbird.com/journalism/Notebook/Entries/2009/9/7_Yasuyuki_Fujimura.html

    He has some pretty cool specific ideas and his overall views are awesome. Not sure where your fridge designs are but Fujimura seems to have one ready to go.

    Whatever I find I’ll put up for comments,

    Best,

  87. Ed Says:

    Yorchichan:

    My university life consisted of a constant party for 5 years. Happy to have been red-shirted to get that extra year. My reward for that over indulgence was 6 years in Riyadh and 5 years in Hong Kong. I learned more in my first 6 months in Riyadh than I did in 5 years at a top 20 school in the US. I admit I wasn’t trying very hard here in the US.

    Best,

  88. Sue Day Says:

    Kathy I am not suggesting that altruism is a purely human trait. Far from it. But it is an interesting one. Perhaps it illustrates that animals have free will also. : )

  89. Yorchichan Says:

    Ed

    I feel sorry for today’s kids who have the choice of either missing out on a fun time or else coming out of university with a mortgage sized debt hanging over them (plus little chance of a good job at the end of it). So dull to go straight from school into a job, and that’s the lucky ones. My eldest child is eight and I’m not expecting things to hold together long enough for him to go into higher education.

  90. Guy McPherson Says:

    I’ve posted a new essay here. Thanks much to Tamnaa for the thought-provoking essay.

  91. vera Says:

    Very eloquent, Kathy, thank you. Again, little to pick bone with. I myself think that there is another way ahead… those in bondage to the Machine think of plants and animals as their slaves, and do anything to them they wish, however horrendous. But free humans understand that some animals and plants made an alliance with us, and as long as we hold up our part of the bargain, and are good for them, as they are good for us… while both being good for the land… then we have a way of life that goes all the way back to our beginnings and appreciates cultivation as well as foraging. I suppose permaculture comes the closest?

  92. the virgin terry Says:

    i believe that the ability to think effectively, incisively, rationally, is like any natural talent such as singing, drawing/painting pictures, or telling jokes. without natural ability, teaching can only go so far (not very). it’s apparent most people can’t think very effectively, or else civilization wouldn’t be mindlessly self destructing. i’ve just been trying to say that cultural and institutional dogmatism isn’t helping matters any, for dogmatists actively discourage free thought. sometimes quite forcefully and violently. but at any rate, the discussion is just a pastime at this point, for it’s clear events will soon snowball out of control and all such talk will be put aside.

  93. Tamnaa Says:

    Vera, the whole of your last comment is exactly right and exceptionally well put.

    ” those in bondage to the Machine think of plants and animals as their slaves, and do anything to them they wish, however horrendous.”

    It’s primarily mental bondage, letting the machine supply us with our ideas and values, then devoting our lives to serving the machine and letting it feed, clothe and house us, entertain and inform us, all for its own purpose, not for our benefit.
    This surrender to domination and control by the machine, participating as its slaves in further dominating, enslaving, destroying the living earth, has brought us to the doorstep of a kind of hell-world.

    But… “there is another way ahead”.

    Your way of thinking shows me that you’ve broken the cultural shackles. Each individual who accomplishes that makes it considerably easier for others to do the same.

  94. Tamnaa Says:

    As always at NBL, it’s been a lively and interesting exchange of views. I certainly appreciate having a chance to take part in it.

    Now, on to the next essay!

  95. vera Says:

    Tamnaa, thank you for inspiring us. — I tried posting on your blog but was foiled by blogspot… not the first time. Maybe if I sneak in as an anonymouse? :-)

  96. Tamnaa Says:

    Vera, I’ve been a little worried that people have trouble trying to comment at my blog even though it is open to anyone. A few people have managed to do it, though. I’m puzzled.
    Blogspot sometimes foils me too, in various ways.