Links of the Month: January 29, 2015

new political map 2014

The enormous cognitive dissonance between our growing awareness of our civilization’s accelerating collapse, and the ‘news’ in the media and the subjects of most public discourse, continues to baffle me. Though I suspect it shouldn’t. We are all slow learners, preoccupied with the needs of the moment, with a preference for reassurance over truth. I often find myself, these days, at social and other events, at a loss for words, not saying anything, as a result. It’s as if I speak an utterly different language from the people I meet in my day-to-day life, so what’s the point of saying anything? Perhaps this is Gaia’s way of teaching me patience.

I continue to vacillate back and forth all the way from the humanist worldview (F. on the ‘map’ above’) to the near-term extinctionist worldview (L.), depending on what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with, or what I’m reading (Charles Eisenstein seems to best represent worldview F. and Guy McPherson best articulates worldview L., and I greatly admire them both). I’m happy with company anywhere along that continuum — they both speak my newly-acquired language, though with very different dialects. It’s sad to me that most people find collapse too terrifying to contemplate. I find it liberating. I guess that stems from what we each are invested in, and what we have divested.

Fellow existentialist (J. on the map, if you’re following along) and taoist Paul Chefurka has been reading about the nature of the human species, and seems to be shifting, a bit, toward the voluntary extinctionist (K.) camp. There’s an interesting tension between the two worldviews. Dark Mountain, I think, exemplifies the existentialist view and John Gray [thanks to Richard Saunders for the link] exemplifies the voluntary extinctionist view. Both views acknowledge, I think, the inevitable collapse of our civilization in this century and the futility of acting to mitigate its timing or severity, and both accept that humans are likely to survive, though in much smaller numbers and in a much more marginal role in the surviving web of life. Where they differ is in their fundamentally different (positive for J. and negative for K.) views of the essential nature of the human animal. Paul is finding, it seems, some comfort and solace in the negative view — that if we are an inherently violent and destructive species perhaps the world will be much better off without us, painful as the collapse process will be for all.

I continue to find more comfort and solace in the positive view — that we are an inherently caring and peaceful species that is simply suffering from the profound emotional ills of a deeply ‘dis-eased’ and stressful culture, and that the demise of that culture will usher in a new era in which, like Robert Sapolsky’s Keekorok baboons, the human survivors will live in a much more joyful, healthy and sustainable way. [More on this nature-vs-nurture debate, for those interested, in this interesting video].

We can’t know, of course, which is why it’s so easy, as we continue to ponder and learn and converse, to shift back and forth along the F.-to-L. continuum. Perhaps one way to think about it is to consider the current debate about pit bull dogs — some holding that they’re biologically dangerous and should be prevented from further breeding (a worldview K.-like stance), while others hold that they’re inherently loving and it’s the way we have trained them that has caused them to act violently (a worldview J.-like stance). The truth, of course, as for the truth about our true nature, probably lies somewhere in-between, or elsewhere along the continuum, or all along it at once.

But ask me again tomorrow.



adam and eve stevens

cartoon by Mick Stevens from The New Yorker

10℃ and Counting: Just one thing to add to what I wrote above: David Wasdell (a physicist, admittedly, not a climate scientist) has aggregated all the recent reports and projections of climate change from climate scientists, and written a technical but thorough and understandable synopsis that leads to a compelling prediction of a 10℃ rise by end-of-century, and a conclusion that nothing short of an implausible, immediate and radical reduction of carbon emissions can prevent runaway climate change and the end of a livable planet in this century. This jibes with Guy McPherson’s continually-maintained summary and analysis of climate news and forecasts. Not much more to say on the subject.



nothing under control

[from a facebook post by janene smith]

The Myth of the Self: A Buddhist reviews and summarizes Thomas Metzinger’s intriguing (but, in the end, overly optimistic, especially about our human evolutionary potential before civilization collapses) book The Ego Tunnel, in which he dismisses the self, free will, and time as ‘unreal’ mental constructs. Here’s part of the summary by the reviewer [thanks to John Ringland for the link]:

As a philosopher working alongside neurologists, Thomas Metzinger focuses on consciousness and the experience of the subjective self. His evolutionary considerations involve identifying a neural function in complex mobile organisms that allows them to successfully navigate through a changing and unpredictable environment. This environmental challenge he states, requires the internal sense of self-wholeness in order to anticipate and negotiate with events in the world. The constructed “phenomenal self-model within the world-model,” involves not only a sensory impression, but a mental image of a unified center, of a self residing in a world. This self-inwardness or ego, as an inside separated from an outside, characterizes the operation of the ego tunnel. The ego tunnel is a constructed impression that the ego or subject is directly perceiving and contacting a world.

This experience is a naive realism. If mobile organisms were privy to all of the countless neural and other “internal and external” interactive processes that occurred with the act of walking for instance, they could never function. Immeasurably complex events had to be reduced to representational images in order to make sense to the mobile organism. These representational images would of necessity, include a unified and independent subject perceiving a world separate from and external to itself. The feeling of looking directly into the world from the vantage point of a perceiving and cognizant me or self, is a neural representational process that is most convincing. We are not aware of this duality as an adaptive function, but view it as reality. Because we look past and see through the immeasurable neuronal activity involved in the production of an image-based reality, Metzinger refers to this process as a tunnel.

Out of necessity then, there is the appearance of an inward, embodied sense of a self or ego and consequently, of an attachment to this self in the form of mineness, of ownership, as in my thoughts, my feelings, my body, my consciousness, my experience. Selfhood is a function of the ego tunnel and not a reality, writes Metzinger, as there is no self, “no indivisible entity that is us” to be found either in the brain, in the broader neural network, or beyond it. Nor can there be contact with some true reality out there. What we see as truth or reality, is a representational model.

Fighting for the Right to Die: There are few areas where the state abrogates human rights more grievously than in denying us the right to die. Martin Manley asserted that right anyway, in 2013 at age 60, of sound mind and body. For that he’s been pilloried for being irresponsible, Yahoo took down his account, and several back-up sites have been hacked. Fortunately, at least one record of his story remains. Thank you, Martin.

The Value of Peer Interviews: My friend Nancy White explains how, by “interviewing each other”, we surface knowledge we did know we had, allow ourselves much-needed time for reflection, and fulfill our deep-seated need to be heard, seen and loved. A great practice to adopt. Nancy also has some great advice for dealing with the usually-abysmal Q&A sessions after presentations.

Transient Hypofrontality: That’s the new neuro-“science” name for Living in the Now. Achieving it, a new theory says, involves learning how to slow the brain down. [Thanks to Paul Chefurka for the link.]

Charles Eisenstein Rips Old-Story Structure: The usually well-behaved humanist decided to poke fun at what he saw as an overly-structured and old-style-structured conference. Some attendees and organizers weren’t laughing, but Charles, who last got into trouble by proposing a boycott of the forced-positivist TED conferences, didn’t back down.

Rent or Share, Don’t Buy: That’s the mantra of the millennial generation, for a variety of necessary and wise reasons. And it spells big trouble for an economy dependent on ever-accelerating consumption. [Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.] And millennial Nathan Schneider explains what this means for sharing-economy co-ops and non-profits. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

Calgary Tries a Bold Housing Subsidy Plan: The very progressive municipal government of the largest city in our least progressive province is subsidizing all but $2,000 of qualified new home-buyers’ mortgages. In return they get an equity stake in each house equal to their subsidy’s share of the total house price — so when the house is sold, they stand to make a profit if the house price rises. Fascinating.

Why Local Investment is So Hard: Michael Shuman explains how local investment benefits us, and why virtually all our investments are still in Wall Street and government, and then offers some workarounds. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link.]

The Power to Convene: Rob Hopkins explains why, instead of trying to do all the organizing of projects inside our own organizations, we would be better to first convene all the groups that share the passion or objective of the project, and let them collaborative organize it. [Thanks to Shasta Martinuk for the link.]



Leunig over

cartoon by Michael Leunig

Ukraine, Putin, Obama and China: What’s Really Going On: You may think oil prices have dropped because of market forces, that Putin is a rogue bully, and that there’s no ‘safer haven’ in these days of turmoil than the US dollar. Wrong on all counts. First read this analysis from Salon to understand the fall in oil prices. The read this analysis to understand Putin’s response, and his brilliant long-term strategy to collapse the US dollar.  [Thanks to Loren Schein for the second link.] Meanwhile, here’s more wisdom on falling oil prices from Automatic Earth’s Ilargi and Nicole. The Canadian economy is in tatters as a byproduct, with the (thanks to Harper) Canadian petrocurrency in free-fall. It’s going to be a rocky year for the economy.

Ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer Calls Canadian Government “Broken”: The mild-mannered non-partisan guy charged with reporting to Parliament on the fiscal responsibility of its budget and integrity of its financial reporting says that under Harper trust has completely broken down, scientists are being threatened and muzzled, and secrecy of government activity has become absolute. Sound like a government near you? He had to sue his employer, the federal government, to get the information he needed to discharge his responsibilities.

Corporations vs Communities: My friend Paul Cienfuegos is involved in the important but thankless activist task of helping communities legally enshrine and defend their values and rights against corporate abuses — the Community Rights movement. Corporations’ response has been, across the board, to sue and intimidate communities that enact such protections. [Thanks to my friend John Abbe for the link]

The Unsustainability of Renewables: Generation Alpha reposts an excellent review of the false claims about “renewable” energy. The only viable alternative, the authors conclude, is to reduce consumption.

Political Correctness Raises Its Ugly Head Again: Jonathan Chait describes the re-emergence of the most repugnant aspects of “p.c.” behaviour in academia and in progressive circles, and how it threatens to stifle discussion, debate and dissent in both arenas. [Thanks to Tree for the link.]

The Meekness of Modern “Innovation”: How corporate risk aversion and consolidation have stifled innovation for the past forty years. [Thanks to Toby Hemenway for the link.]

NYT Calls for Prosecution of Cheney: And in a decided departure from “politics as usual”, the NYT Editorial Board calls for Dick Cheney and others responsible for authorizing and carrying out torture in contravention of domestic and international law, to be prosecuted and imprisoned for their actions.



Tim Bennett cartoon

[not sure who authored this cartoon; anyone know? thanks to Tim Bennett for the link]

If Climate Scientists and Mainstream Media Told the Truth: A hilarious portrayal of that unlikely scenario on Aaron Sorkin’s fictional (?) series The Newsroom. [Thanks to my friend Janaia Donaldson for the link]

Tim Minchin’s Advice to Graduates: Awesome speech by the musician/comedian. His 9 points: (1) You don’t have to have a dream; (2) Don’t seek happiness; (3) Remember it’s all luck; (4) Exercise; (5) Be hard on your opinions; (6) Be a teacher; (7) Define yourself by what you love; (8) Respect people with less power than you; (9) Take your time deciding what to do with your life. Now go watch and enjoy.

The World’s Deadliest Diseases: A great infographic plots mortality against transmissability for the most common and dangerous human diseases. [Thanks to Liz McLellan for the link]

Best of Dougie MacLean: The amazing Scottish folk singer combines compelling folk melodies with sly, complex and poetic lyrics. My current favourites: Restless Fool, Resolution, and Turning Away. If you don’t know his work you’re in for a treat. Thanks to Tree and the Eugene Avalonians for turning me on to him.

Understanding Depression: A great Stanford lecture on depression by the aforementioned Robert Sapolsky.

Awesome Blues Guitarist: Joanna Connor plays lightning riffs that rival Hendrix, and even riffs off Hendrix.

Guessing Your Age By Your Name: Your given name is a huge clue on how old you are. See how your name stacks up. [Thanks to Nancy White for the link.]

Stefan Pabst’s Astonishing Portraits: The German artist paints precise portraits in about 40 minutes using a dry-brush technique and achieves almost hyper-realistic results.

A Sad “Best Books” List: The top 100 of 2014 list of the NYT revs up (for me at least) the cognitive dissonance: Only two books on the environmental and economic crises (Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, which is OK but could have been written a decade ago and is already obsolete and wildly overly-optimistic, and Naomi Klein’s equally-OK and equally-rose-coloured This Changes Everything, a call for a shift away from capitalism). The best book on the list by far is The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison’s unflinching study of human suffering, on a par with Derrick Jensen’s equally-gruelling but essential A Language Older Than Words. Most of the rest, fiction and non-fiction alike, is focused on, and hopelessly buried in, the past.

Senate Rejects Pipeline Plan That Would Have Created Thousands Of Climate Activist Jobs: From the Onion, of course.



From John Berger, on Language and Writing [thanks to Antonio Dias for the link]:

What has prompted me to write over the years is the hunch that something needs to be told, and that if I don’t try to tell it, it risks not being told. I picture myself as a stop-gap man rather than a consequential, professional writer.

After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them.

So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph.

From Gabor Maté, from When the Body Says No [thanks to Emily VanLidth de Jeude for the link]:

For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, Hans Selye observed. To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided…

Emotional competence requires (1) the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress; (2) the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries; and (3) the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past.

From Bernard Werber (my translation from the French) [thanks to Daniel Lindenberger for the link]:

The many possibilities for miscommunication, between:

9 ways

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6 Responses to Links of the Month: January 29, 2015

  1. Paul Heft says:

    The paper by David Wasdell does certainly give pause: how quickly might global temperature increase, based on historical data? I haven’t seen his calculations adopted by major climate scientists. How can one tell how credible the predictions are? (But even using more typical predictions, such as those from Hansen and Anderson, we’re screwed.)

  2. Jan Steinman says:

    You keep passing over option “I”! Why is that?

    I mean, even if plan “K” rules the day, at least if you go for “I”, you’ll get to enjoy the end with friends!

  3. I think the failure to adopt Wasdell’s calculations (so far at any rate) is that their unavoidable conclusion is well beyond the bounds of psychological acceptability – even for scientists. Hansen’s position at least allows him to keep up the activist fight with a straight face, for example. Wasdell’s does not.

  4. Sue says:

    I look forward to finding some time to follow some of the many links you’ve provided. I aspire to be an F, G or I, but living where I do (in the middle of coal country where desperate people hang on to a mythology they hope against hope will keep their communities from falling into the abyss of poverty and hunger) tend to find myself isolated and by default in J trying to summon up the energy and resources to be L.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Paul H — the answer to your rhetorical question is, of course, we can’t know, and probably most of us, even pessimists, don’t really want to.
    Paul C — exactly. When I talk directly with climate scientists they have two positions: one public and one private. Just look in their eyes and you can see which they think is closer to reality.

  6. John Graham says:

    Thanks for an excellent list, Dave.

    There’s plenty could be said about that brilliant Newsroom clip (I don’t think I can call it hilarious). It’s hard to believe it’s four years since I read [i]Requiem for a Species[/i]. It’s heartening that these things are thinkable in a relatively mainstream context. But boy that clip brings it home. Perhaps my best response – and the most ‘actionable’ – is to link to one of my favourite Crowded House songs, ‘Love this Life’ “Love this life, though you’ll never know why”

    ‘Voluntary Extinctionism’ has for me more than a whiff of Karpman’s Drama Triangle about it. It’s far from clear that ‘better off’ or ‘worse off’ means anything in a hypothetical world without humans. I struggle to express what I mean, but here’s one attempt. Either the non-human world is indifferent to our existence, or it’s not. If it’s indifferent to us, then it doesn’t matter and voluntary extinctionism is absurdly anthropocentric. Jellyfish and bacteria will do fine, whatever we do, and Jellyfish are pretty awesome as you have written. If the non-human world is *not* indifferent to our existence, then our view of nature needs substantial revision. It is certainly not appropriate to view “Nature” as the passive Victim, humans as Persecutors, and voluntary extinctionism as the heroic Rescuer.

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