Awakening to the creative force of life
I bet that after today's interlude you all will miss my slow and meandering journey through history. Just joking. So why don't I just write about the here and now. My answer to Giancarlo's comment tried to put to rest those concerns. But other friends' emailed me pointing in the same direction. After thinking it through a more in-depth presentation of the aim of my writing is warranted that justifies an interlude in the natural progression of the transcription of my thoughts.
At the turn from the 19th to the 20th century throughout Europe art and philosophy were looking for answers to the questions arising from radical changes in thinking due to the spread of rationality and science and radical changes in living conditions due to industrialization and modernization. Everywhere there was a struggle being waged in order to advance modernity. The exuberance of that period was given a name: in art circle it came to be called Modernism and economic historians called that period High-Modernity.
What questions is art trying to answer today in Late-Modernity?
What is already a certainty is that the changes we experience today in our living conditions are immensely more radical than those experienced during High Modernity. We are indeed observing signs of profound disruption coming simultaneously at us from all sides and all at once:
1. the economy:
- technology is like a diamond that shines in the distance. But are we meant to ever reach its shining splendor or is technology going to fall well before that under the weight of multiple collapsing ensembles within the complexity of our societal systems?
- decreasing incomes are unleashing increasing poverty in the West and also in most other countries. Historically such a pauperization always ended in violence. Sometimes such violence is driven by a positive revolutionary vision of a better tomorrow but it looks like in Late-Modernity this violence is not driven by a vision to create something better. It looks more like the violence of angry men toward an existing state of affairs that they reject. The trouble nevertheless is that they are not having any clue of a viable alternative to fight for and this does not project a happy ending. Credit Suisse recently informed us that the richest 1% of the world's population now control 48.2 percent of global wealth up from 46 percent last year. If such a growing inequality were to proceed at last year’s rate the richest one percent would end up controlling all the wealth on the planet within the next 23 years. This is not going to happen. Something will have to give long before that.
- financial sector escalating asset price inflation is enriching the 1% while the real world economy made of productions meant to alleviate real needs is suffering from deflation, high unemployment, and decreasing income levels. Capitalist wealth does not come from real production of goods and services any longer. It is now generated from asset price bubbles that are being financed by an apparently indefinite extension of money creation and near-zero interest rates. This temporarily keeps the financial markets from imploding but this only delays the day of reckoning. It is indeed, figuratively, no more than keeping a terminally-ill patient on artificial life support. A reduction in the volumes of money creation or an increase in interest rates can no longer be avoided. The patient is indeed asphyxiating under levels of oxygen that are killing him. But reducing the volumes of money creation or increasing interest rates means taking away the life support from the terminally ill patient. In both cases the patient soon dies. Momentarily the economies of most capitalist countries are hostage to the banksters who want always more oxygen to speculate at no costs to them. They seem not concerned by the misery their financial speculation is inflicting on the 99% whose wealth is being sucked out of their pockets.
- as a result anxiety and anger are everywhere on display and that is shaping two societal trends: popular violence and its response totalitarianism that is creeping in all aspects of political decision making. Populations are now the subject of repeated lies, manipulation by the media, spying on people's daily lives,... and voter turnout hits record lows. In the just concluded elections in the US two-thirds of those eligible to vote did not even bother to take part in the polls. If this mass abstention shows anything it is a massive loss of trust in the institutions of the country. How long before the people turn against the political elites and their puppet-masters? Are the political elites and their puppet-masters not endangering their own specie? You bet that they are.
2. world population:
A graph pictures better the absurdity of the present situation than a thousand words.
The extraction of conventional oil had reached a plateau of some 73-75 million barrel a day around 2005 while the industry has not been able to make any big discoveries of economically extractable reserves. The nervousness among energy players was thus reasonable. But then came the fracking miracle.
Fracking has been touted these last few years as an energy revolution that soon will secure the US its energy independence. In reality fracking has been losing money for its operators since its inception. Fracking has all the characteristics of a ponzi sheme in the definition that Wikipedia gives of the term: "A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.
Ponzi schemes occasionally begin as legitimate businesses, until the business fails to achieve the returns expected. ... Whatever the initial situation, the perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new investors to sustain the scheme."
Digging one well costs between US$ 8 and 12 million. By the end of the 1st extracting year that well will have lost 60% of its initial extraction capacity and by the end of the 3rd year it will have lost 90% of that capacity. New wells have thus to be dug every year to sustain the industry's extraction figures which is typical of a ponzi sheme. So the only question of interest here is when does this bubble burst?
Petroleum Geologist Art Berman on Shale Oil and Gas
Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913
Emmanuel Saez (UC Berkeley)
Productivity continued its ascension but real term wages went down. Where did the workers' higher productivity go? It was hoarded by capital and the managerial class.
Check the following graphs. The biggest hoarders were the 0,1% that means 1 on thousand hoarded what normally would have been distributed among all who participated in the production.
The availability of very cheap fossil energy is what powered the industrialization of the West over the last 200 years. But the West and its geographic extensions represent no more than 10% of the world population. What happens when the rest of the world wants to share the goodies they see daily in their window-tv on the world and the energy price become so high that everyone feels they are an unbearable burden? Worse still what happens when the energy stops to flow? Again a few graphs are better than a thousand words. Hey the power of the visual.
4. Climate change:
Humanity benefited from a relatively stable climate along the last 10,000 years which by all account is extraordinary when viewed at the scale of the history of our planet.
Oil Statistics. The energy Sceptic
Current consumption 2010.
Chinese per capita oil consumption will never reach the level of US per capita consumption for the very simple reason that the fossil energy reserves (coal, oil, gaz) still awaiting to be extracted :
- are peaking in the case of coal and oil which means that the total quantities annually available will be decreasing. Gaz use will continue to increase in the years to come and for a certain time shall compensate for the reduction in coal and oil but:
- climate change very soon will impose in the minds of all the consciousness that fossil fuels have to be abandoned if humanity wants to survive (already some financial actors are dis-investing from companies active in the field of fossil fuel). But no other source of energy will be available in quantities sufficient to replace fossil fuels.
This indicates that total available energy, at some point in the future, shall fall dramatically which will impose a radical change in our ways of living. Technology changes nothing to this predicament.
This long period of stability is what allowed societies to evolve to their present level of development. Temperatures fluctuations were never higher than +0.5 or -0.5 degrees C. Without such stable climate conditions societal evolution would never have erred so far. Humans can only survive, to say nothing about thrive, in a very narrow band of temperature averages. So moving the averages up or down 2 or more degrees C is an extraordinary feat that reduces drastically the chances of our specie's survival. Modernity's drive toward possessing always more stuff has unbridled humanity and thus created the very conditions of our species' downfall. But confronted to the scientific evidence of our playing with fire our political elites find nothing better than to support end-times environmental policies like the ponzi-sheme of fracking that poisons the underground water tables and releases enormous quantities of methane in the atmosphere. It is as if they wanted to accelerate humanity's demise. How crazy is that? This is all being hidden by the establishment controlled noise machine that works unsparingly for more Wall-Street bailouts, wars to hoard the remaining oil reserves and guarantee a stable income for arms manufacturer and ‘outsourced’ military interests.
Climate crisis: Why we’re on track for 7°C (12°F) warming or greater by 2100
Notice at the extreme right end, the colored lines fanning out to the edge. Each of the colored bands is a temperature projection based on various (and different) assumptions, published by the IPCC in 2000.
Since 2000 many science papers came out showing that the IPCC had erred on the optimistic side. Most studies now show that real measurements since 2000 indicate far worse results than any of the projections of the pre-2000 climate models that were used by the scientists working for the IPCC. Many scientists now believe that average temperatures will increase by more than 7 degree C before the end of the century.
To have an idea about what means an increase of average world temperatures of the order of 7 degrees C check the graph that follows. It shows temperature variations over the long history
Geologic temperature record
An increase of average temperatures of 7 degree C would be higher than anything the earth has witnessed over the last 40 million years. Remember that our ancestor Homo Erectus, yes the one who started the line of our own specie, starts only 2 million years ago!
5. the psychological trauma resulting from the loss of real social bonds.
The disintegration of any remaining shred of shared worldview is atomizing societies and when the individual feels he is on his own in the societal maelstrom he loses his marbles. Many retreat in themselves, psychopaths are driven to exercise power or dream of themselves as some world saviors, those who can't subdue their anger are driven to violence and... The "me me me" meme that results from societal atomization is perhaps Modernity's black swan. How, amidst the delusion of the "me me me" meme, can the energies of the individuals be mobilized to solve the chain of problems that is assailing us? That's perhaps the scariest thing of all because it could simply mean that there will not be an awakening to the necessity to act collectively.
Those 5 points are sufficient to paint a picture of the "real" reality that confronts us in Late-Modernity. I'll pass over the following other crisis that are not less frightening:
- the effects of polluting air, water, and land
- the present process of life extinction that risks to dwarf the impact of past extinctions
- the acidification of the oceans that is slowly killing most marine species
- the poisoning of our human bodies by industrially produced food that unleashes epidemics of obesity, IBS, diabetes, and so on
- and in a classic downward spiral each of these problems interacts with the others thus reinforcing the effects of each of them.
As I finish sketching the side-effects of Modernity a question pops in my mind "what is it that awaits humanity in the coming years and decades".
Overly complex systems are very fragile and seen the level of disruption that I just enumerated the most plausible outcome is the collapse of ever more nation states into failed states. Collapse does not mean that life stops. It simply means that the quality of life changes and decreases rapidly. Last Wednesday I was reading John Michael Greer’s "Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy". Greer's point is that an increase in societal complexity corresponds to ever more intermediaries between producers of real goods and those who demand such goods. Those intermediaries produce nothing that is really needed but are sucking the juice out of the fruit of other people’s daily labor and thus provoking ever diminishing economic returns that in the end are gradually forcing those intermediaries out of a job. Greer thinks that this mechanism was at work in all past collapsing societies like in Rome for example and that this always ended in a renewed form of societal feudalism. In his view we are slowly entering a new dark age or historical era of 2 social classes learning to co-exist: the "haves" and the "have not". In other words, in Late-Modern societies, the distance between the 1% and the other 99% is going to affirm itself to such a point that the 99% will have no other alternative in order to survive but to bow in front of their masters the 1%. By that time nearly all intermediaries shall be gone and the 99% will have to produce, by themselves for themselves, the needed goods for their families to survive. They will then gladly transfer a portion of those goods to their master in order to secure his protection from outside violence and also to ensure a minimum of order within the community. Welcome to our new Middle-Ages where technology's memory will fast be fading away.
Think whatever you want about Greer's view. Fact is that the increasing inequality observed in Late-Modernity renders his scenario all the more plausible and the multiplicity of crises enumerated here above as well as their interactions solidify the plausibility of that scenario even further. Now observe that previous fear-mongering was based on the doomsayers' interpretations of religious texts. In contrast today's prophecies of societal collapse are based on careful scientific consideration of all the evidence and it is only the naysayers that rely on religious interpretations to deny the very real problems that are plaguing humanity. Intriguing is it not?
These are no ordinary times. We are no longer in a situation that can be solved by a revolution. What revolution? To do what? All people who have a minimum of curiosity and interest about how their families are going to cope, not to mention the faring of humanity, clearly feel anxious at what they observe. There are no longer any narratives describing workable answers to the immensity of Late-Modernity's self inflicted traumas. One Nation-State after the other falls in the category of "failed state". Disorder, chaos, seem to become the new normal and given some more time no state is immune to such an ending even not the USA. It was long considered that Western industrialized societies were so successful that history had come to an end. But, oh irony, it now appears that Late-Modernity could spell the ending of the history of Western societies. The rest of the world is definitely in a better shape to absorb the coming shocks. Most of their populations are still living from the land and those living in the cities are still remembering what rural life is all about. Not so in the West. How many Westerners would indeed be able to survive a collapse of the world financial system? How many Americans will be able to survive the desertification of the US? The easy answer is to say we'll all be moving... but where and how could those who are indebted, for their houses their cars and the rest, be able to pay for their move? Are we to believe that only 1% of the people will be able to move? That opens the door to another possible scenario. The 1% could indeed be uninterested in a master's status at the local level in their existing societies. They could eventually prefer to run to the islands of plenty where they presently invest all the savings they suck from the pockets of the 99%. This scenario has the potential to surpass Greer's scenario in the barbarity of its outcome. Aargh...
Most people have a vague feeling about the severity of the situation that awaits us but have no clue how to make the first step to secure a better outcome for their families.
What about artists?
Modernity brainwashed us to think that artists had been given the extraordinary gift of sensitivity that predisposes them to feel what is coming our way. Are artists really more sensitive than the majority of the people? Watching the productions the artworld is shuffling down the throat of our societies nowadays it does not look like these productions are infused with any sensitivity at all for what really happens around us. It looks like most of the artists that are part of the artworld (Kuspit's definition) somehow lost that sensitivity along the path to adulthood or is it possible that most of them did not have such a sensitivity to begin with? This all begs the question "what about those creations that are not being taken in consideration by the artworld"? The web enables us to surf on the present waves of creativity at the scale of our earth and, to me at least, it appears that artistic production has been inflating dramatically these last decades. Most of those creations don't make it to the artworld. They stay in their creators' local environment. I have to add that some of the works there are astonishing in quality (form and content). Bells are ringing ringing ringing. Does this not evoke something I spoke about in my last post? Low and high? The artworld pushes creations in the realm of power but nowadays this is an empty power; the only thing left is the memory of power and the art that serves power has lost any semblance of substance and esthetics. In contrast the street does not push it creations in the face of anybody. The street lives with its creations. Is this not somehow reminiscent of what went on in tribal societies? More disturbing yet. Is the tribal societal practice of the arts not mostly probable in the societal scenarios I evoked here above?
I feel that the loss of a shared worldview since High Modernity and its ensuing societal atomization in Late Modernity has imposed a tremendous amount of confusion within all societies and in the minds of most individuals. Clearing that confusion is the most pressing task now. But is this even in the realm of the possible? I have not much hope left on that front. I nevertheless feel the adventure one is guaranteed to experience by entering such a process gives substance and sense to one's endeavor and one's life. That's what keeps me up at night writing these posts. It helps me clarify my ideas and acts like a medicine which has the therapeutic effect of quietening the mind. I hope this medicine also helps some lone reader who makes it till this point of the writing.
I'm one among the many. I'm a normal person but starting in adolescence, in the sixties, I observed things that should not have been what they were, at least, if I had to believe what I had been told and taught in family, school and church. That attention gradually sharpened my appetite for understanding what was really going on around me and that's how I have been busying myself, over the past 50 years observing the working of societies in Europe then in China and later in the US, and all the while painting to keep my sanity. Observing how societies and individuals behave from continent to continent taught me some valuable lessons. The first thing that jumped to my attention was how humanity behaves in an utterly infantile way and I soon concluded that humanity must be the most stupid living specie on earth. What other specie destroys its own habitat without a thought for how this is going to impact the lives of its descendants? Recently George Mobus showed me another way to look at this. Humanity according to him has not evolved sufficiently far and as a consequence the brain of its individual atoms can't possibly act responsibly. In other words humanity's level of sapience has not followed its capacity to alter its environment which explains why it acts so unwisely. Humanity's unconscious passage to agriculture de-multiplied its powers and from then on it has been slipping gradually into more and more power over everything moving in its environment to finally become the top tiger in the food chain. I tend to think that if there was an evolutionary shortage it was not a biological shortage but a shortage in the realm of culture. The agricultural process of empowerment has been everything but conscious. First women stumbled upon agriculture by accident or by climate necessity and unknowingly unleashed, against themselves, all the violence accumulated over the last millena of hunting in the coding of man's genes or brains. This turned societies from matriarchies to patriarchies. Sure had women been conscious, about the ultimate outcome of their practice at selecting seeds, they would have stopped the emergence of agriculture in its track. But they were not conscious of what was going on. The same can be said of all of us today. We are unconscious of what we are generating collectively. We don't understand what is going on. We don't have a clue about the direction of the path we are shaping for our children. But we are nevertheless so arrogant that we can think our species is the center of attention of the whole universe and that the whole of earthly nature is at our disposal.
I firmly believe that to clear our generalized state of confusion we have to act on the formation of our culture in order to give priority to:
- the intellectual effort to uncover the roots of the mechanisms that drive the working of our societies
- the intellectual effort to uncover the deep mechanisms that drive human behavior and how that situates each of us in his society.
Trying to reason about our behaviors in the present without having mastered the whole process that conducted to us being here as we are today is, in my mind, no more than stirring up a nest of wasps. Not only do we start unproductive waves of anger in society but the conclusions of our thinking remain entirely in the realm of the subjective without any bearing on the real. This does not help us to understand wasp behavior nor does it help us to understand why we are stirring up their nest in the first place. These should nevertheless have been the only really interesting questions to begin with. Go figure what help is all the philosophical verbiage assembled so painstakingly by rows after rows of intellectuals in the university tables.
The content of my answer to Giancarlo's comment on Google+ makes a perfect match with what should now follow. So I'll just re-edit what I wrote and add it here.
The conditioning power of societies moving forward, over the minds of their citizens, is very powerful indeed and as a result we all end up being brain washed. A gigantic personal effort at deconstructing the manipulation is then necessary to avoid ending up brain dead which is unfortunately the fate of most adults. Deconstructing that manipulation implies uprooting the mechanisms by which it operates. Those mechanisms have not been imposed on us just now. They are very old mechanisms (a lot older than capitalism and modernity) but we have somehow lost trace of their existence and their actions on our minds. In other words we are generally unconscious about their existence and their operation.
My hope with this series is to grasp through reason how the working of that manipulation acts onto the working of our societies and on the minds of the citizens. Such a grasp by our minds fosters the integration into our consciousness of a crystal clear knowledge of the mechanisms of that manipulation. This knowledge then gives us the faculty to observe ourselves and our actions and to SEE how our behavior is being driven by the 'ideological flow of societies moving forward'. In that sense consciousness is what sets us free to possibly orient our behavior outside of the path set by the manipulation and it gives us also the strength to be our own and to accept with grace our difference with the others in the group.
But I feel that there is a price to pay in order to succeed in that task and that price is the necessity to dig at the roots of human culture in order to understand its evolution to the present day and how our minds have been locked in blindly following an ideological flow that we are totally unconscious of.
The conscious knowledge of that 'ideological flow' frees us of all daily trivialities. The liberation of those trivialities, that poison our daily lives and the working of our societies, is the preliminary condition to possibly move freely forward by awakening in us the creative force of life. That's what I had in mind when I concluded my last post by saying that "Rats jumping overboard always was a sign that the ship was going under. Power preparing its exit is one sign among many that Modernity is sloping down toward its end. At some point the new era that comes after Modernity emerges and then it will slowly slope up to its unfolding. This is when optimism will set in and fear will vanish. But before I write about that most exciting prospect I have to lay out a little further the intellectual foundations upon which rests our possible understanding of the coming revival".
The awakening in us of the creative force of life is what generates optimism and destroys fear which are the necessary first stepping stones on the stairs leading to the real freedom to live in the knowledge imparted to us by our consciousness.
Video of the week.
One of the great videos I watched this last week
A new post is being added in this series every Thursday morning.
I installed DISQUS the n#1 commenting platform. It allows to insert links, pictures and videos to your comments and you can subscribe to receive updates to the thread. Comments are open after registration.
You can help me to refine my thinking by sharing your critiques and comments. You can also debate with your friends.
This is an open forum but, to avoid harassing trolls, I reserve the right to delete comments that contain: