Nature, Darwin, natural selection

I’d like to begin this three-section mini-essay with the concept of nature. If we think about it nature, by our misconceived conception, really is a space where things interact without the human intervention or existence. Thus the definition is one of absence of the human. It is also one of binary and opposition. In this sense, then, to be human is to be unnatural. But at exactly what point does the nature end and the human begin? To be more precise this is not a question of where but one of when.

Some time in history, or rather existence, we became aware of ourselves and began to define the self as apart from nature. Thus definition of nature and man came into being simultaneously. What once was one entity is now two by the act of defining, and no more.

It would not have been easy for Charles Darwin to have decided to publish Origin of Species. He would have had the entire history of The Christian West to contend with. Even his family particularly his wife harboured doubts even though she was supportive. This proposal would not and could not have been taken lightly. The suggestion that humans are related to chimps and apes when until then we are said to have been the creation of the Creator, a discourse which unequivocally left little room for alternative possibilities. Such was Darwin’s time.

In essence Man (and it was mostly the male of the species who controlled the discourse) was the force behind the artificial rhetoric. This still-very-lost-gender of this species spends most of its time coming up with new versions of the story, the new paradigms. And this continues even today. For stories are necessary. The space must be filled, so to speak, with something other than a void.

The story of Nature, then, is one in which we are still separate from. But if we are indeed the continuation of the long march of evolution (note: another story) then we must be the part of The Story of Nature. Thus the destruction we reek upon the place we call home, the place we share and interact with the other life forms is as natural as it is possible. The story must mean we are like a cancer (more: another story) killing off what is weak only to make the system a stronger more resilient one for the future, whatever it may be.

Colourful and confusing

My mother is retired. She surfs the net daily for things to read. Before the advent of the internet she would read from the “dead tree media”. Her favourite magazines were Time and Fortune. While these two magazines had some worthwhile things to say they were somewhat biased and popular in their opinion. And being young and stupid back then (instead of now being old and stupid) I read them and was persuaded by their arguments. We all have a time or an age when we do not question.

Recently she sent me this article. In it the author had wanted to point out that there are other arguments for the cause of global warming. One of these arguments is that the sun’s natural fluctuation is the main cause of our present situation. She had wanted me to read this and be convinced by its argument. But as a son who knows his parents all too well I understood her agenda.

Sure, the IPCC has made some pretty “solid” claims, and that the article I have mentioned here points out its decision making and presentation of the report have been somewhat unorthodox. The article continues by presenting a number of scientists whose views differ from the mainstream sustainability critics.

It has a point, but I do not completely agree.

I have no doubt that the sun’s natural fluctuation can be a cause of global warming. But in all probability it may not be the only cause. This argument again works exactly the same way as in the opponent’s argument. To say that our own actions are the only cause to global warming may be as shortsighted as saying the sun is the only cause. So, to me, both camps are in the wrong.

I can understand why the “blame human activity” camp feel they need to make it so black and white – to make the problem seem more urgent. But also the “it could be the sun” camp may want to highlight that its cause may be elsewhere.

Coming back to my mother’s agenda I mentioned earlier, I have to say that she has never been very green. She brought me up to be also not very green. But as I began to live my own life I realized just what and how exactly the non-green crowd works. In taking up this article my mother had wanted me to believe that it really all the sun’s fault, that the IPCC are lying, hiding an agenda of their own. But need it be this black and white?

Sure the IPCC may have failed in taking into account of the sun, and that they may have deceived us in believing it is all us. But equally people who think they can (mis)quote the article to absolve themselves of responsibility are wrong. That is not to say my mother was irresponsible. She and most of her generation had been persuaded to believe that they were doing right by progress. They use the argument to convince themselves their actions had nothing to do the problem, by becoming sceptical optimists or do-nothing optimists.

Personally, I think the article is a good reminder of the types of hidden agendas each group puts forward to “defend the utter fragility of [their] delicately constituted fiction” as Earnest Becker put it. And because we live in an age of information overload learning to filter and make sense of it all is not quite so easy. And that sometimes living away from loved ones and seeing them or talking to them again after a break may help us see the real picture which may be not be black and white at all but colourful and confusing.

An Inconvenient Attitude

This month David Suzuki has kicked off a year’s schedule of talks across Canada. If you are fortunate enough to be able to get to one of the venues and hear him talk it is well worth the while. I saw a televised speech of his in Australia and I was changed by it. It is statements like this following one by him that made me understand what is wrong with the way we are living:

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each one with greater respect. That is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective. (From A David Suzuki Collection)

I think respect is the key word here. We simply do not treat the world with respect. He mentioned earlier in the same piece I quoted from that if we could see how the world has changed in four billion years to become a life sustaining planet for all life including ours then we will be humbled by what we have, and understand that is not for us to indiscriminately take as though we own it, but to share with all other life.

This week I also saw An Inconvenient Truth. It was a little late in coming to Japan (early this month, to my neck of the woods). I was also too busy with final reports to make the seventy minute drive to see it in town.

The film had stated much of what I already knew. So I do not think the film is there to convince people like me. But rather it was a film to preach to those yet to be convinced or have not heard the message yet. In that sense it is a necessary film. But why does it have to be from a former politician before we will listen? Anyone could have said it with the same evidence in hand. People are already saying it. People like David Suzuki have already said it. So it must necessarily say something about the culture of America, to whom much of it was aimed, that they will only listen if it is from someone important.

Mr Gore did make one point which I have always harped about here – that disinformation and deliberately confusing the public by false talk has prolonged the problem. We have not been playing on a level field when it comes to information dissemination. By scare tactics and other means the public has been split into two or more minds. And it comes back to the concepts of propaganda, advertising and commercialism.

So how do we deal with the agenda of others which are not the best for sustainability? In the West that is dominated by advertising, a kind of capitalist propaganda if you will, the highest bidder gets to persuade us that buying is good, not just their product but any product. This idea is therefore not about just one producer but about producers as a collective. I don’t want to sound Marxist but Karl Marx had a point. What scares me is not the fact we don’t have choices, but that we are only seemingly making free choices when we are not. So Capitalism is no better than Communism, if you look at it this way. Personally both systems fail. There are only two choices in our current paradigm so we must only choose between the two evils.

The pseudo-choice concept isn’t new of course, but it needs to be remembered or recalled. Those studies of the 1970s and 1980s on advertising have all but been forgotten. My favourite books from that period have to be Ways of Seeing by John Berger and On Photography by Susan Sontag. It has a lot to say about our use of images and imagery still relevant (if not more) to today’s advertising-polluted world.

And just a final note: the strategies used in Mr Gore’s “award winning” documentary also come from this same well-honed philosophical logo-technology (as in “logos” or “word”). It is slick, almost too slick, but you can notice its agenda if you look hard enough.

Gross National Happiness is, well… gross

In my last post I talked about “Tradable Energy Quotas” or TEQs and why I dislike the term. In a related conversation with growthmadness I mentioned why I like Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to such measures as TEQ, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP), but not its name. So I guess I better explain myself.

The problem begins with the name. Gross National Happiness is poking fun at GNP, where Product is replaced by Happiness. This seems fine, until you think about the suggestiveness of the gross national. These two words are used together as a set, and it has connotations of economy and economics. So any term which are used with it will be linked to this two-word set. And in the same manner, TEQ reeks of economist’s deodorant.

The environmentalists’ choice of Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and Ecological Footprint (EF) are milder terminology. Since progress has been enlisted into the Postmodern lexicon to have a negative meaning it has the ability to affect change.

GNH may need to be repackaged if it is to be accepted. The “karma” left by GNP must be exorcised. Apart from this Gross National Happiness is a great concept, one that may actually save us if implemented properly. The question is only, how?