Saturday, October 25, 2008

Musings: Magical Thinking

While walking up the mountain trail about sunset time last evening, with Koko running fast and free, birds singing gleefully all around, shafts of sun shining on the jagged Kauai peaks and the ferns and grasses blanketing the Earth in green, I figured out one of the things that’s wrong with the world:

Humans make far too many important decisions behind closed doors. And I’m not talking about the ones that are deliberately slammed to exclude us lowly humans from the back room wheelings and dealings, but the ones that regularly and consistently shut out nature — the real world, the place you can’t reduce, with any justice, to a video clip or a piece of a paper.

So many meetings — nearly all, it seems — are held in climate-controlled rooms where you never feel the breeze or hear an animal sound or sit with your back pressed against a tree or squint your eyes against the light. And that’s why we repeatedly make wrong decisions, because we forget so much of what’s around us, what supports us. In our insular little conference rooms and meeting halls it becomes all about us, and the heck with nature.

For example, you would not applaud the state’s new energy plan, which calls for, among other things, “sending wind energy from Maui, Lana'i and Moloka'i to O'ahu via state-of-the-art undersea cables,” if you had ever walked among the pohaku at Lanai’s Keahiakawelo — Garden of the Gods. The silence and splendor of this sacred wilderness would be destroyed forever by the wind farm that Castle & Cooke plans there.

And why? So Oahu, primarily, can continue to suck down electricity excessively. The entire time I was in Honolulu I was cold, except when I was walking and in my own hotel room, where I used no AC. Every building was cooled to an extreme, its chill often extending into the street. Yet when I skimmed through the energy plan, while I saw plenty of glitzy and expensive new technology, I did not see one word about conservation. Isn't that where it all should start? Cut to the bone, and then see how how much energy we really need?

I’m so tired of hearing about “green energy” when the truth is, the only “green energy” is the energy you don’t use. Otherwise, it ALL has an impact, primarily on the earth we are supposedly trying to save before our asses can no longer survive on it.

Later, I was reading a New Yorker brief entitled ”Wiz Bucks, that made this very astute observation:

Over the past thirty years, Wall Street has honed the art of creating and selling financial products with an increasingly tenuous connection to reality. It has been an extraordinarily creative period—a modernism of money, with an equivalent trend toward abstraction. Relatively simple derivatives evolved into ever more arcane contrivances. The risk and the leverage piled up, and, in the short term, the billions rolled in. This is over now.

One problem is that the contrivers mistook their art for a science. A pre-modern money manager explained last week, “They looked at it all as a science experiment.” They tested each new product—each hypothesis—against a bunch of historical precedents, running computer models to see how the product would fare under the conditions of various bygone catastrophes. “The problem was, they didn’t have any historical precedent for when it all melts down. The historical precedents they used are not relevant.”

In fact, it wasn’t science at all. It was more like what anthropologists and psychologists call magical thinking—the tendency to believe that wishing it so makes it so.


It struck me that this sort of thinking applies as well to our quest for alternative energy. If only we can get the wind, solar, geothermal, etc. up and running, we won’t have to make any fundamental changes in our wasteful society. Meanwhile, we’ve tapped into the magical thinking that all these alternatives won’t produce any waste or toxins, or demand any extractive processes from the Earth, in their manufacture, transport and inevitable retirement.

This sort of thinking also seems to explain our fascination with genetic engineering, our bizarre acceptance of the idea that we can create these new patented life forms and release them out into nature with no consequences. In truth, folks, this is another giant science experiment. And just like what’s happening with these new forms of failing financial products, we won’t have any idea what to do when it all goes wrong and the dominoes start falling.

But when you really look at all these schemes, there’s a common thread running through that isn’t at all magical. In fact, it’s one of the vices oft-cited in religious doctrines, and that’s greed. No matter how much folks try to put a green or humanitarian spin on it, it all comes down to one thing: the desire to make not just a profit, but a killing, with no desire to accept responsibility for the true costs.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now that you've identified the unchangable root cause...and it is unchangable on a mass scale...it behooves us to learn the least costly way to accomodate it.

Accomodating what can't be changed is responsible behavior. Finding "green" methods to generate the energy we require (forget about "need", that frankly doesn't matter) is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

> ...But when you really look at all these schemes, there’s a common thread running through that isn’t at all magical. In fact, it’s one of the vices oft-cited in religious doctrines, and that’s greed. No matter how much folks try to put a green or humanitarian spin on it, it all comes down to one thing: the desire to make not just a profit, but a killing, with no desire to accept responsibility for the true costs. <

Bingo. It was put pithily in, of all places, the film Jurassic Park: when the money-driven developer boasts of what his scientists have done, the chaos theorist protests, "But your scientists were so busy thinking what they could do, they never stopped to ask if they should."

Ed Coll said...

It's the absence of the sacred that drives the engine of consumerism creating psychological wants which can never be fulfilled (as opposed to providing for real needs) begetting a delusional world view of continued and everlasting growth is not only possible but desirable. This socially accepted mass psychosis induced by mass media is destroying the finite planet on which we all depend at an exponentially accelerating rate. It's now the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and mother nature is up at bat. The only law that cannot be broken without penalty is the laws of nature. To do so is death squared.
---
Mortality, bodily death = the second death
Drastic reduction of mortality
= death of the second death
= death squared
=(death)2
(Death)2 leads to dissolution of social organization
=death of the establishment
Death of the establishment leads to spiritual death =loss of capacity to engage in behaviours essential to species survival
=the first death
Therefore:
(Death)2=the first death.

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. All her paths lead to peace. (Proverbs iii.13, 18 and 17, rearranged) by John B Calhoun MD, Section on Behavioral Systems,Laboratory of Brain Evolution & Behavior, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20014, USA)

For the complete study see Kauai.net

Larry said...

I somehow am not at all thrilled with the agreement that the state has with HECO. For one thing, it is wind, which will meet with community opposition (there are other alternatives, such as wave, or Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) ). For another, it is with HECO.

Elsewhere, states are struggling with creating power grids independent of generating utilities, and with certain characteristics such as rapid reconfigurability.

Anyway, everyone else is cheering, so I need to do some research on this to see if my gut feeling has any sound basis in doubt.

Anonymous said...

The only socially accepted mass psychosis resulting from massive affluence and wealth is that we actually pay liberal arts professors to blabber blabber nothing all the time. Such professors are one of the luxuries our affluence brings us. Otherwise those guys would have to be out growing food or killing animals or something. Instead, they get to just hypothesize all day. Ya da.

Katy Rose said...

I love these guys who complain about the "liberal professors." (There's a trend of sounding the alarm on the leftist domination of academia.)

What's so silly about it is that it comes from the same folks who elevate "success" in private enterprise as the highest social acheivement. Naturally, few rightists are compelled to stay in academia, but are instead usually anxious to get the hell out of there and so they can start making some money.

Meanwhile, liberals and leftists are more likely to choose an academic career because of their philosophical inclination away from materialism and toward public service.

If the right really cared about academia, they'd quit abandoning it in droves.

Anonymous said...

And if they don't become liberal arts profs, they become ACLU lawyers. Another blight on the land.

Ed Coll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Anonymous October 25, 2008 10:23 PM said...
The only socially accepted mass psychosis resulting from massive affluence and wealth is that we actually pay liberal arts professors to blabber blabber nothing all the time.

If the above was directed at me I would note I am not a liberal arts professor, but teach for the Science and Math department. Also I did not write "socially accepted mass psychosis resulting from massive affluence and wealth", but rather was "mass media induced".

Perhaps Anon could improve his critical thinking and reading skills by consulting a good liberal arts professor, and then take a science and math course in logic to learn about what an ad hominem fallacy is thus avoiding such attacks in the future and contribute more than bile born of ignorance to a conversation.

Ed Coll said...

The clear up any confusion the post October 26, 2008 9:27 AM was from me (Ed Coll). It was posted anon because I was inadvertently logged out.

Anonymous said...

> There's a trend of sounding the alarm on the leftist domination of academia. <

Ditto in 1930's Germany.

Anonymous said...

"The only socially accepted mass psychosis resulting from massive affluence and wealth is that we actually pay liberal arts professors to blabber blabber nothing all the time. Such professors are one of the luxuries our affluence brings us. Otherwise those guys would have to be out growing food or killing animals or something. Instead, they get to just hypothesize all day. Ya da."

October 25, 2008 10:23 PM

...eh, feel free to reconcile that with several thousand years worth of societies – of various degrees of wealth and having a myriad of political structures – deliberately seeing fit or otherwise just having around all sorts of ~ “good thinkers.” Examples of this – and exceptions to your contention – come from Greece, Italy, Mexico and elsewhere (some of them were “state” sponsored, some had individual patrons, and some lived hand-to-mouth….in any event, the forerunners to “liberal arts professors” as you call them have been around for a long time, sorry).

Anyways, replace “that we actually pay liberal arts professors to blabber blabber nothing all the time” with ~ “too much credit” and you might start to have something.

Anonymous said...

...eh, feel free to reconcile that with several thousand years worth of societies – of various degrees of wealth and having a myriad of political structures – deliberately seeing fit or otherwise just having around all sorts of ~ “good thinkers.”

You're calling the following "good thinking"? Sorry but it doesn't quite cut it...Nice try though

Ed Coll said...
It's the absence of the sacred that drives the engine of consumerism creating psychological wants which can never be fulfilled (as opposed to providing for real needs) begetting a delusional world view of continued and everlasting growth is not only possible but desirable. This socially accepted mass psychosis induced by mass media is destroying the finite planet on which we all depend at an exponentially accelerating rate. It's now the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and mother nature is up at bat. The only law that cannot be broken without penalty is the laws of nature. To do so is death squared.
---
Mortality, bodily death = the second death
Drastic reduction of mortality
= death of the second death
= death squared
=(death)2
(Death)2 leads to dissolution of social organization
=death of the establishment
Death of the establishment leads to spiritual death =loss of capacity to engage in behaviours essential to species survival
=the first death
Therefore:
(Death)2=the first death.

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. All her paths lead to peace. (Proverbs iii.13, 18 and 17, rearranged) by John B Calhoun MD, Section on Behavioral Systems,Laboratory of Brain Evolution & Behavior, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20014, USA)

Ed Coll said...

October 26, 2008 6:42 PM said "You're calling the following "good thinking"? Sorry but it doesn't quite cut it...Nice try though"
To call the conclusions of a study done by the National Institute of Health (which has been extensively peer reviewed), "not good thinking" without explaining why is no more convincing than saying, "thinking bad, me no like."

Anonymous said...

Which part of that rambling blather are you claiming is the conclusion of a peer reviewed NIH study? Site the study. Show how your comment is in any way a fair representation of its conclusions. Maybe you should quote that part of the study you refer to. I doubt you can.

Ed Coll said...

Anon October 26, 2008 7:24 PM wrote;

"Maybe you should quote that part of the study you refer to. I doubt you can."

Your doubt is misplaced and you did not read carefully. Here is the link (once again) to the complete study:http://kauai.net and here is the quote (once again;
---
Mortality, bodily death = the second death
Drastic reduction of mortality
= death of the second death
= death squared
=(death)2
(Death)2 leads to dissolution of social organization
=death of the establishment
Death of the establishment leads to spiritual death =loss of capacity to engage in behaviours essential to species survival
=the first death
Therefore:
(Death)2=the first death.

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. All her paths lead to peace. (Proverbs iii.13, 18 and 17, rearranged) by John B Calhoun MD, Section on Behavioral Systems,Laboratory of Brain Evolution & Behavior, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20014, USA)

For the complete study see Kauai.net

October 25, 2008 5:00 PM