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“Ideas Whose Time Has Come”
David Foster, Port Perry, Ontario
Look to the Higher Purpose
Kevin Page in early 2013 went unquietly from his job as head of the Canadian Federal Parliamentary Budgetary Office. He had been appointed to tell the members of Parliament and the public what might be amiss in the financial affairs or the fading morality of the Government of Canada. That event was very close to the departure of Scott Vaughan of the Auditor General’s Office, both positions established to make Parliamentarians fairly accountable to the public (both now made untenable by the current régime). Page spoke of the need to balance conflicting views. His bedrock was to always look to the ‘higher purpose’ to clarify the path among conflicting demands. And that gets in to ranking ’values’. Values like ‘beliefs’ are constantly shifting shoals. Where we stand at the moment is largely a compromise on how we evaluate different information from different sources.
To compare what is ‘right,’ take it back to the 16th century… what does ‘God’ want? Since that time we have created a maze of difficulty by ‘fixing’ decisions in ‘Law’. (A useful idea at some stages of life, but very dangerous when the ‘Law is an Ass,’ or the law violates common sense or ‘values held widely ‘in common’).
So Dr. Henry Morgentaler deliberately challenged ‘the Law’ over abortion and was found overwhelmingly ‘guilty’ in our court system, (however the jury, subject to its own sense of ‘right’ acquitted him over and over and so forced changes in ‘the Law’). Lawyers are now the dangerous ones, the ones who bully others through fear of Lawsuit and pedantic ‘procedures’ rife with logic traps. Their Highest Purpose is to make money and maintain power through fear. Ignore Gaia.
‘Science’ is the rational method of taking repeatable experiences, and measuring every conceivable dimension about them so as to be able to replicate them enough times to allow a reliable degree of certainty to our conclusions. Then science becomes useful. Natural Laws are the unpublished Laws of Nature that we must painstakingly discover over time. And over time we have to revise what we think were ‘Laws’ but were only temporary tenets. In such a mix, many competing theories can co-exist (and will until one indisputable body of knowledge emerges. It is a body of ‘peers’ in their prime who debate the case). The rest of us wonder.
In our history, it was the human problem of deciding when that point had been reached. Every King, Pope, Prophet, Potentate or Mathematical Philosopher was in competition to advance his own pet theory over others. Thus war and the competition for better weapons, ‘innovation’ to fight them that gave birth to our modern society, war even in commerce. War is what we could tolerate, even respect or Honour if we believed it was for the ‘highest good’. So Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus… or the symbols of any other inspirational leader. Who among us had knowledge of the Greatest Truth? The Hermit in a Himalayan cave? The scholar in a medieval cloister? The King at the head of his armies?
And then in short order we invented the cannon, the machine gun, poison gas, armour, and miniature robots that can manipulate secrets. ‘Intel inside’… (Do you really know what your computer is doing?) What it is telling someone else, what electro magnetic energies are doing to your very genes? What is a cellphone doing mounted on a belt 4 inches from a developing fetus in a young woman’s body…?
When I was born, there were no manmade electromagnetic energies. We invented them in order to ‘compete’ better. No one had wondered yet ‘what was the higher purpose?’ A lot of people began to ask that when we let atomic power loose, like the Geni from the bottle. 500 nuclear generating stations around the world and we still have no idea what to do with their spent fuel. We are poisoning ourselves to compete for ‘lower purpose’, commercial purpose. War. War is about debt and bankers making loans.
In the Space Race, some of our best scientists asked the question of what characterizes ‘life’ that we might look for on other planets? How would we make devices to recognize that? One team was lead by a Dr James Lovelock, a Brit. The members of his team together had initials ‘WACL’ (Lovelock being last). That seemed awkward, so they changed it to a real word ‘CLAW’, The Claw Team. But even that seemed without pizzaz. The team’s studies led to the realization that on Earth, both inanimate and animate processes interact with the energies from space to create an environment where blooms of life occur that butt up against each other and work out a sort of dynamic balance, the net effect being long periods of environmental stability. ‘Long’ meaning a hundred thousand or a million years or so. This can be seen across Space as variations in the light spectrum from a ‘dead planet’ compared to the spectrum of one with life.
Lovelock as a Brit had studied the Greek Classics, and was struck by the duality of how human family behaviors were used by the Ancients to characterize natural phenomena. There were ‘mortals’ and ‘heroes’, and there were the ‘immortals,’ gods who had the inside track on everything from sex to the sea. Who could do magic and defy Nature. And the one in charge of the Earth itself was called ‘Gaia’. The life giver. The home. Mother Earth. Kill it and you all die.
Of a sudden ‘the ‘higher purpose’ for all became obvious… You must understand what keeps the Earth within its healthy balance, animate and inanimate, or it will find a way to eliminate you as it changes itself.
So I put away my other values, ambitions, service to the ‘gods of my fathers’, and realized they had never met Gaia. The members of the CLAW team had, and so CLAW became Gaia. I became a Gaian. If keeping Gaia’s health is the Highest purpose, then it becomes a series of puzzles as to how our day-to-day behavior should come together to make Gaia the best of all possible worlds. How should a family work? How a Bank? A farm? A river system filled with fish? Or is it still partially filled with acid wash from a pulp mill? There are no ‘externalized costs’ with Gaia… only unrecognized costs that we had better recognize pretty quickly and give names and values to, and remediation. ‘Gaia’ has both scientific and metaphorical appeal. The Earth as a whole is a blend of living organisms that tend to keep it relatively stable for the benefit of most existing organisms. Yet our whole earlier philosophy was built on a far different and less inclusive basis.
The corollary is that the phenomenon reinforcing that ability, can be seen as being of ‘higher’ value than those that detract from that ability. (That would include ‘consumerism’ and competitive Commerce in a single dimensioned accounting system… money). For me then, a wide knowledge of what makes Gaia ‘tick’ is needed, so-called ‘General Systems study’. Try to understand how it all fits together, and do much to enable it to keep its dynamic balance. Ensure there is little to disturb it out of balance. So ‘Gaia’ becomes my God. To ‘know what God wants’, is to study the effect of systems as they interact. Science. Intelligence. Disciplined Measurement. Peer Review. A growing library of what is known, made available to everyone who cares to learn. That then to me is the basis of all morality. The Higher Good. I am a new breed of creature, a ‘Gaian’.
Then we have to break out of the Money straight jacket. Money is called ‘currency’ for a good reason… it is meant to ‘flow’ from place to place settling obligations, to keep it all in sustainable balance. There is a moment of trust each side of every money transaction. Even the money itself is only a token of trust. Money accumulating is not ‘treasure’… it is evidence of imbalance. Trouble will follow. Money can not be the measure of all things… a new vocabulary is required…
Is a Maldive Island worth (say) $2 billion in tar sands still in the ground? Does it change ‘value’ if it is used to transform global climate systems? Warming?
Environmental degradation needs its own vocabulary… One ‘Maldive’ might become a new measure of value (for unwelcome rise in sea levels). One Exxon ‘Valdez’ is another measure of value (for a polluted Arctic Bay). An extinct giant Dodo bird is another measure of value (a squandered genetic experiment). Each is really a measuring stick in its own environment… land in tropical climes, ocean water capable still of supporting life. A species of no particular ‘use’, equated with other extinct ‘ornamental’ creatures.
The dodo lived on an island where early sailors came to replenish their food, done easily by stealing the eggs from dodo nests. The way you could tell which eggs are fresh, is to break every egg already there, and then wait for the birds to lay more. Then you know those are fresh and can be taken. (How many visits by sailors do you think the island’s dodos could stand following that strategy?) Is a sailor’s need for food a ‘Higher value’? We have to probe further back as to why the sailor was on his voyage, and what were more sustainable sources of food available?
Sometimes death among humans is best for Gaia’s future. Indeed, the Jews to this day will not run hospitals for the sick in other cultures the way Christians do, because among their ancient knowledge is that the life you might save becomes your responsibility to provide for. Don’t save the 15 % who die in Africa from foul water, (because if you do, the population will double in eight years, and who is there to feed them?) And it will double again. Decades ago Paul Ehrlich called our attention to that in ‘The Population Bomb’.
You need to understand the difference between simple growth and the astounding difference from compound growth. The latter needs a lot more death so as to make room for the newcomers. War. It is still all about War. We can make more people, more weapons, more food, more of everything except more Gaia. Therefore Gaia comes first. Then consider people and other creatures living from Gaia’s bounty. And last, Commerce and the shuffling of materials from one hoard to another. (Banking, Trade). We ‘Gaians’ have to re-invent the ‘economy’ to represent the ‘whole household’.
Enough said. That is my ‘value system’. It supercedes the laws of Abrahamic religions in which Mankind supposed himself to be at the centre (along with a supernatural being). But it is hard to work with the supernatural. Those ‘Ten Commandments’ of Moses were all about mankind’s relationship to traditional mythical origins and other men. What are the ‘commandments’ of Gaia? Do we know them yet? …Caution and slow change… long periods of observing what new causes effect what changes. Measure it. Record it. Take a picture for posterity.
And that then creates a new set of Values to educate people about in every aspect of their lives….
There is a sort of ‘teeter totter’ balance bar leaning this way or that in our preferences, (depending on what is the latest information you have heard). ‘Belief’ is not an absolute… it is a constantly shifting evaluation by degree. Disbelief at the one end. Full belief at the other. To ‘not believe’ is just a range of wonder in between.
Another way to express it is in percentage of confidence. 80% probability of rain today. It is not a question whether I believe in rain or not. I do, fully. But how does that affect me today, my behavior and what rain will mean? Today. Bring a raincoat.
And then there are ‘The Decade Suitcases’. Think of the boy who dared point out that the Emperor wore no clothes when everyone else was conditioned to doubt their own eyes. It takes daring to swim against the stream. We leave home at age 15 to 25 with a sort of ‘suitcase’ of things we have learned, values and habits, even tools our parents have given us. It is almost all ‘theory’ (since we have lived so little of real life). That which is ‘real’ is really in an unreal environment… school). So we pack the extra socks along with Mom’s prejudices about cooking, and our religious ‘beliefs’ they want us to take with us, and Dad’s ideas of ‘assertiveness’. The images we have in our minds are from our limited real and second hand experiences. In that first decade of adulthood we open the suitcase, often to take out what we think we need, and sometimes finding there is nothing reassuring there. Little of it has our full conviction because we haven’ yet tested its validity in real life, our own real lives.
In the next decade (25 to 35), we have dealt with the disruptions of sex and the madness it induces, and we have thrown out some of the baggage we left home with. We must pack another suitcase for the next decade, more and more the new additions being products of our own real experience. The family formation years, the daily work career.
The next decade gets into health concerns, and competitions for advancement in career or society… the deeply competitive years. A need begins to rise as to ‘what is really my ‘Higher Purpose’?’ Can I do what I do and not damage Gaia? This generation now is the first generation to actually ask that question.
You can believe most deeply in the accumulation of your own experiences. That for ‘success’, is 10,000 hours of applied discipline as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out. We have to puzzle through the wishful thinking of ‘democracy’ and the harsh facts what those ‘bell curves’ of comparative competence reveal about ourselves in relation to others. Surely we could be ruled by the best of the best, the benign Benevolent Dictator. Or the Oligarchy of Nobles. (Well, they too have to re-pack their ‘decade suitcases’. In fact the evolution of Kings, from Arthur to Elizabeth is about the public accepting that the Monarch has the right mix for the next decade in the next ‘suitcase’). The appeal of Monarchy is that kings have to be in it for the long haul. No one will frack the grounds of Windsor castle. Kings can’t buy and sell worn out real estate. Lose it and is gone. Then you’ll be only a bum on the beach.
What is the ‘higher good’? ‘Higher and lower’ need some sort of measure to compare by. We measure fortune, luxury, happiness, in social strengthening within Gaia’s bounds.
So after the needs of Gaia, we have to consider the people. The citizen classes… the aboriginals, (beaten out of their own cultures and land and at the bottom of the heap). The ‘Sacred Aboriginals’, (the people who have lived long on their own land and not destroyed either it, or their culture). And the rest of us, mere migrants who exploit the land and move on. We must understand the options in the variety of life in working the farm or the fishery (as opposed to the stultifying repetition of every day doing the same thing in factory work). The factory worker learns to keep his sanity by shutting down his wider mental processes. It is more Natural for us to experience changes every day, variety with the seasons. Make change slowly. Be aware of the Value of the Farmer, and also the dangers he imposes, endures. Understand his part in the food chain, (and in the ‘destruction chain’ that causes harm to Gaia).
Last is the idea of luxury, as jobs, in ’economics, ‘assets’ of banks. Remember the clear sighted little boy and the Emperor claiming as our politicians do that the city is a ‘sustainable’ culture. It relies on raping a hinterland, on slavery and its substitutes… Oil, natural energies consumed in vast quantity, with no meter showing rates of use and increases in cost relative to what Gaia can stand. We took a long apprenticeship up to 1930 without any electromagnetic or nuclear interference at all. It hadn’t been invented. Now we should be unsure… it is the phenomenon of the loons still calling long after they actually became sterile. Things are often not what they seem. Measure. Understand. Think. Argue. Do it some more. Prudent Caution.
‘Innovation’ is usually bad in the long run. We are too lazy or too cheap to measure its real effects and be forewarned. ‘Innovating’ is so much ‘fun’… a whole value system of its own practiced by ‘geeks’ who won’t think beyond the box’s borders and see what it does to Gaia.
So First is concern for Gaia, (Nature). Second is concern for people, socially, politically, happily cooperatively. And third is the economics of how to share wealth equably so that war doesn’t destroy our ability to plan to ‘Higher Purpose’. You will see it all quite differently, depending on the contents of your current ‘suitcase of values and skills’ (and where you get your information from).
Behind all this is our changing perception of ‘wealth’. In each decade and stage of our lives our appreciation of ‘wealth’ is slightly different. Both Government and the Financial Establishment would like to pretend ‘wealth’ is simply money, and that there is no way to place a value on a sunny Spring day. Well… yes there is… It depends on how scarce your own piece of it has been. We value least that which we have in abundance. And from our abundance it is easiest to give to others because it doesn’t diminish our core store of ‘wealth’. Think about it. There is wealth that can be transferred and exchanged. There is wealth that can’t. We are just very bad at defining what is wealth, and how to create and conserve it. It is a difficult subject to talk effectively about (we have been so overwhelmed with Commerce’s idea of ‘wealth’). Some say wealth is ‘love’. If so, then can it be measured, stored, exchanged? Is it ‘marketable’?
Something to think about… when you have a full stomach and a warm place to call home. But what comes after that? What do you have to exchange for more personal ‘wealth’? ... Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And then there is the subject of Communal Wealth… different again… So I think of things that should be mulled over with others. Real people, ’persons in fact’ as opposed to ‘persons in law’ (The Corporations that somehow got control when we weren’t looking, guiding, disciplining).
The best job in the world is to be one of the three anonymous persons in a Free Trade Tribunal, cutting deals behind closed doors. With the Chinese… inscrutable. Inscrewable. And we are the ones being screwed.
David Foster, Port Perry, ON, August 2013
[Email: david.foster2 (at) powergate.ca]
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