25 April 2021

Narrative disjunction

After about a hundred and fifty years of effort, it's about slunk into general political understanding and widespread thought that you can't have a just patriarchy; that the idea of enacting a patriarchy is itself unjust.

Not a universal awareness; not controlling, in any political sense.  But actually meaningfully politically there.

Climate, though, climate hasn't had -- and hasn't got! -- a century and a half.  About the best you can get are scattered voice saying "everything has to change", meaning that human institutions must be altered to prevent disaster.

That's wrong; it is in fact not the case that everything must change; it's hard to find a human institution that even pretends to agree that it needs to change, and everything is discussed in terms of future choices and options, rather than pressing present necessity.  What we've got is a situation where change has come to everything.  There will be more; we do not know with confidence how much, only more than; the floor is vaguely predictable, but not the ceiling.

(The folks pushing adaptation are generally a mix of "don't inconvenience me", "this isn't important", and refusing to think about the scale of the problem.  They're still imagining something like our present industrial society.)

Agriculture flatly requires a combination of sufficient soil, sufficiently predictable rainfall, and sufficiently predictable weather in general.  That's going.  Even the IPCC  can't imagine it continuing to exist past 2050. It'll come back, but it'll come back on a time scale of millenia, when people need to eat every day.

The entirety of our industrial capacity rests on fossil carbon; adhesives, insulators, seals, coatings, and lubricants are involved in everything.  All of those derive from fossil carbon sources.[1]  Air-source carbon can in principle be substituted, but to a first approximation no one is doing it.

The entirety of our financial system rests on fossil carbon; money gets created through making loans.  Oil exploration loans, housing loans, car loans, and consumer credit between them focus the entirely system rigidly on a fossil carbon status quo.  Nothing is going to change without fixing this part of the problem, and the minimum fix for it is "new economy, new politics".

Which in turns means a new construction of social status -- taking people who have the greatest social standing, agency, and power, and reducing them to a lesser state -- and that, historically, is where heaps of skulls come from, because being really rich causes brain damage; you stop being able to think "you know, I don't need to be the richest; I could just be quite comfortable and busy and well-liked".  You tend to insist that nothing is allowed to change if it affects you.

Which, well, that appears to be about where we all are, in the narrative.

Reality is indifferent to narrative.  Reality is not something with which we can negotiate.  Reality does not contain much in the way of excess capacity.

Everything is changing.  The Last Normal Year is in the past somewhere.  The future is hungry.

[1] I have a can of hyper-organic hemp-oil wood finish.  The coating lining the can is from a fossil carbon source; likely the paint in the label is, too.  Never mind the lubricants in the machine that made the can, the insulators on the electrical conductors, seals in the hydraulics, etc.


Brian Ballsun-Stanton said...

Absent a trivially discoverable email address, there are some interesting conflicting narratives between folk I'm reading -- and I'm hoping to prompt a few interesting exchanges of ideas.

First, do you have a good condensed version of the swamp discussion of "keeping us in the better future?" and the arguments for "good is fragile?" I find myself trying to use those pages outside of their narrative context and the necessary framing I have to do rather distracts from the discussion.

Secondly and in this vein, I was reading a response to stubborn attachements that is in many ways an "Open questions in the field of progress studies and which solicits discussion around the morality of wealth as satisfying many values. As you assert above that, "You tend to insist that nothing is allowed to change if it affects you," I was hoping to email you to contribute a response to the discussion around "The Moral Foundations of Progress."

As a philosopher of technology (with the floppy hat and everything, though no one actually cares to employ me as such) I'd also be delighted in collaborating on such a response, though the invitation to collaborate is distinct from the request of summing up the swamp moment in a more easily citable form and/or responding to the open questions article. Happy to chat more about either of these topics if they are at all vaguely interesting.

Graydon said...

+Brian Ballsun-Stanton

Well, thank you, but if I could produce more compact written version I would!

You could start with Stafford Beer's Designing Freedom and Platform for Change, Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival, and Donna Meadows' Thinking In Systems. (Also, and much more obscurely, Paul bauschatz's The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture. This is a reconstructed world view in which there is past and not-past, rather than past-present-future, and I think this is generally conceptually more useful and more accurate to material processes than the past-present-future construction.)

Somewhere there's a review of the Commonweal which opines "I think the author might be a consequentialist"; this is accurate. I consider morals of doubtful utility at individual scales and actively harmful at social-system scales. So I try not to say much about moral philosophy!