We Can’t Get There from Here

There is much wisdom (and also satisfying foolishness) in the country lexicon: “If you can’t get there from here, then you better get started early.” Another that I saw on the counter of a little country store in West Virginia summed up much of my life experience: “If you need a helping hand, look to the end of your arm.” We, all the things that require a stable biosphere, are needing a helping hand to get to a place that we can’t get to from here.

There are enough details in our political, economic and social world to keep us entertained forever; just as there are enough species of composite flowers or ants or bacteria that they can be swum in for a lifetime without ever getting out of the taxonomic waters. Yet, it is seeing the whole image, the details in motion, that lets them be made sense of. The concepts of evolution organize taxonomic thinking and allow the millions of details to be subsumed into comprehendible process. Evolution and social adaptation, as general principles, can bring the details of human complexities into perspective.

Humans have become, over the last 10 thousand years, a dominating biophysical force on the earth. Our numbers, our energy consumption, our conversions of one chemical species to another, our digging and our redistribution of soil, rock and water are all changing the stability of the biosphere. (note: biosphere is not a ‘new age’ term; it only refers to the thin layer of the earth’s surface were life is possible.) We are now competing with the great physical and biophysical forces of volcanism, earthquake, ocean currents and climate forces as change agents. And like these forces, it appears that we cannot stop.

If tectonic plates collide in such a way that forces uplift mountains and generate bands of volcanic activity, the actions go on until the pressures are spent. If a species evolves a new, powerful and uninhibited adaptation, it will expand into all niches and regions of possible influence until the species can no longer sustain itself.

The human adaptation is the Consciousness System of Order, with the properties of imagination and belief, and with the essential cross-generational tool of ‘story.’ And unlike almost every other powerful adaptation in the history of life, ours came upon our species so rapidly and without sufficient forewarning of its power that there evolved no complimentary inhibitions. For example, the long evolving teeth, claws and body form of the big cats are the most powerful close contact killing designs in the biological world. The big cats evolved instinctual inhibitions right along with full expression of their power. If they had not, everything near them would be in constant mortal danger.

Humans have controlled the power of the Consciousness System of Order with a variety of ad hoc devices based in belief (belief is a function of the consciousness order and thus allows self-referencing), but never for very long. It is important to note that I am not using the term “consciousness” as equal to awareness, but as a new system of order in the universe creating its own region of possibilities. This system of order can create, and clearly has created, arrangements of matter and energy that would not exist without it. (For a more complete discussion of consciousness order see my blog.)

This has to be the beginning of our understanding of our species, our con-species relations and our relations with the biosphere. The more typical details of our experience, how we act, who we do what to and the immediate consequences are absolutely important, but they all occur in the context of a species acting out its behaviors. We understand the need for species context without question when studying a mouse, a dolphin or a baboon, but, because we are what we are, we see our actions as right or wrong, sanctioned or denied. We tend not to see our behaviors for what they are: (1) part of the sustaining actions of a species or (2) behaviors forming from self-referencing designs of an adaptation that can and has escaped the direct arbitration of The Real.

There is a long list of human activities in our present world, literally tens of thousands of major actions, upon which the continued existence of our present cultures depend; what we have come to call “our way of life” (as though those very words justify how we live!). A growing number of observers have been pointing to specific behaviors from these many thousands as damaging to the biosphere. It is at this point that a maddening cacophony begins. There is no other description more useful than to say that many if not most of the contributors to the noise are guided by Madness – which can be defined as the failure to act and reflect in response to Reality.

A short list of some of the things that we do (and create) that are contained in the bubble of Madness based designs, behaviors that we see as normal and essential to our way of life, actions that are ultimately destructive of the biosphere: Fossil fuel based agriculture, all forms of monetized investment, mining, all fossil fuel based activities, cities, chemical industry, geometric expansions of all sorts (e.g., population, consumption, wealth and more), most of our entertainments and the majority of our beliefs that value and support the foregoing.

I know. If these are the things that the human species has to give up or drastically change to survive, then “we can’t get there from here.” A quick look at the ‘important issues of the day’ includes little or nothing from this list. We are concerned with an anthrax killer (and what a joke the Feds are making of that “investigation”), the politics of Iraq, the human rights record of China, the price of oil: in other words, the messy top layer of the Madness that we call “our way of life.” Deep down underneath the headlines and the challenges that we recognize is the listing in the foregoing paragraph.

Huge, politically impossible fixes don’t even reach the level of band-aids for the wounds our actions are inflicting on biophysical stability. “Returning to 1990 levels of pollution by 2020” may sound like some grand plan, but it is like a 450 pound person returning to 425 pounds and claiming some gain in health.

The human species, in the largest context, needs two things that are synergistically related. Individuals need to live in greater communion with primary biophysical Realities including the work required to maintain and sustain living and health. Societies need to be the functional units of environmental interaction, interactions that support and protect the biosphere from direct destructive action and excessive perturbation.

We have used our Consciousness System of Order adaptation to create the Reality-free self-referenced Madness of our present world by confusing our imaginings with Reality; “It is time to pay the Piper.” comes to mind. If we can imagine the designs of Madness and implement them, then we can rediscover and imagine the designs of a sanity based in Reality. We truly can’t get there from here as a society, but if we start early enough we can get there as individuals in communities. And perhaps we will have to begin with the hand at the end of our arms, but soon enough there could be more hands to help out.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success. Email him at: jkeye1632@gmail.com. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Arch Stanton said on August 14th, 2008 at 11:47am #

    “Blind men and women have been the motor of modern history and the source of endless misery and destruction. Aspiring leaders of great powers can neither understand nor admit the fact that their strategies are extremely dangerous because statecraft by its very nature always calculates the ability of a nation’s military and economic resources to overcome whatever challenges it confronts. To reject such traditional reasoning, and to question the value of conventional wisdom and react to international crises realistically on the basis of past failures would make them unsuited to command. The result is that politicians succeed in terms of their personal careers, states make monumental errors, and people suffer.”

    –Gabriel Kolko from The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World

    “Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate even praiseworthy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits, in the classic formulation.
    Now it’s long been understood very well that a society that is based on this principle, will destroy itself in time. It can only persist with whatever suffering and injustice it entails as long as it’s possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create, are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.
    In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may well be essential to survival.”

    –Noam Chomsky from Manufacturing Consent

    “We are doomed historically to history, to the patient construction of discourses about discourses, and to the task of hearing what has already been said.”

    –Michel Foucault from The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

  2. Donald Hawkins said on August 14th, 2008 at 7:42pm #

    In this possibly terminal phase of human existence. Possibly is the word and being stuck on stupid will take us to that terminal phase. Last night on Fox someone said climate change is a hoax. I could write a thousand words to try and make sense of this madness but how about there is a war going on two sides one wants to use knowledge for the betterment and survival of the human race the other side wants to keep using stupid as the answer it’s the money and who will win on this path, nobody.

  3. Giorgio said on August 14th, 2008 at 8:14pm #

    The little guy in this world commits a crime, eg. murder, and promptly get capital punishment or at the very least life emprisonment.
    Al Capone did not killed a soul himself; his foot soldiers did the dirty work for him. So he was never charged for murder.
    Another big guy, eg. GW Bush, commits mass murder and so too he gets off scot-free.
    This simple TRUTH is at the kernel of humanity’s problems.
    Accountability is inversely proportional to power. The more powerful the less accountable. This simple.
    As more and more power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals so expect more and more of the same,ie. more mass murdering…

    So my own personal wisdom to “If you can’t get there from here, then you better get started early” and “If you need a helping hand, look to the end of your arm.” is to get started early and use what is at the end of my arms and build my own NUKE SHELTER and pray to God for it’s later than you think….and only come out when the above truth is reversed, ie. the bigger a guy, the more accountable he becomes….
    Again, it’s this simple!
    And forget ALL that intellectual rhetoric! I piss on it!

  4. bozhidar balkas said on August 15th, 2008 at 11:42am #

    at certain stage of our panhuman development, psychos begun to use panhuman trust (one of our greatest wealths now and a mn yrs ago) to gain prominence/wealth/power.
    until that time it was mostly one for all and all for one and each word used had full symbolic value.
    if the order had been like today we humans wld have perished long time ago.
    if 100td yrs ago a tribe had just 10 young women all were looked after equally.
    nether the looks nor the brains mattered; only their health and life.
    it can be assumed that 200td yrs ago there was no interhuman warfare.
    and then cam psychopaths….. thank u

  5. Walt said on August 22nd, 2008 at 7:48am #

    Hmm, evolution was a observational thought by a man (Charles Darwin) not a scientist. It is a dead science at best, laughable in context of true science. Beating a dead horse never won a race. Please for those of you who believe this foolishness, look at Louis Pasteur’s studies, look at “Red Shift” in Cosmology.

  6. James Keye said on August 23rd, 2008 at 1:39pm #

    Walt,
    You seem to be suffering from a rather deep confusion. I would be interested in hearing how you came to the positions that you present in your comment on my essay.