The Wealth of People

Exploring Implications for Work and Identity in the Digital Environment.

Friday Thinking

Foraging for Curiosities in the Digital Environment of-for-by The Curious.


Creative Play with ideas and languaging.

Future Afford-Dancing

A future tab - hovering in the field of adjacent possibles.

Monday, September 30, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 4 - Metaphors for generative growth

Metaphors for generative growth

There is another condition arising in the 21st Century adding dimensions accelerating the enactment of the digital environment. The emergence of a digital sensorium (constituted by the nervous system of the Internet-as-Platform, Social Media, the Internet-of-Things, ubiquitous sensors, AI and so much more). This retrieves (as McLuhanesque has noted for the electronic age) a sense of village including: the rumor mill and gossip of tribal cultures but on an unprecedented scale. 
Whereas the 20th Century retrieved the glory of centralized Empire monopoly as cultural resonator via the broadcast media of ‘manufactured consent’ - the 21st Century democratized the individual voice. 
While voice is democratizing - some, maybe many, think otherwise. There is lots of evidence that platforms are the new colonizing force of rent-seeking monopoly. This is a paradox - the barriers to entry to communicating have reduced to what Clay Shirky noted for publishing - simply pushing a button, clicking a mouse. But the publishing platforms have become the new East India Tea Company. 

The ease and democratization of publishing mean many more voices are able to join an exponentially expanding wellspring of knowledge and opinion. Many believe that we have lost our capacity for common consensus - as voices are experienced not simply as a cacophony chaos but that we have also entered a ‘post-fact era’. 

David Weinberger has so wonderfully explored the phenomena of the acceleration of knowledge “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room The sense of fragmentation is a natural ‘hangover’ from becoming habituated to authoritative knowledge that broadcast media, hierarchical organizational architectures and the related engendering of dependence on Leadership have architected.

It’s not just the fragmentation, the globalizing digital environment has also produced a sort of disorientation associated with the unprecedented connectivity.  The fear of an increasing ‘responsibility’ presented to enact our freedom, is matched by the corresponding ‘response-ability’ required by accelerating change. This disorientation can leave ‘people yearning for a more secure past - a pervasive nostalgia. ‘The twenty-first century is not characterized by the search for new-ness’ wrote the late Russian-American philologist Svetlana Boym, ‘but by the proliferation of nostalgias . . . nostalgic nationalists and nostalgic cosmopolitans, nostalgic environmentalists and nostalgic metrophiliacs (city lovers) exchange pixel fire in the blogosphere’. 
The consequence is “‘Restorative nostalgia’, which strives to rebuild the lost homeland with ‘paranoiac determination’, thinks of itself as ‘truth and tradition’, obsesses over grand symbols and ‘relinquish[es] critical thinking for emotional bonding . . . In extreme cases it can create a phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill. Unreflective nostalgia can breed monsters’. 
It is conceivable that the real challenge facing us in the form of Climate Change is not a technological problem, nor a political problem. It is a crisis of consciousness. The challenge of Climate Change is easily grasped as a metaphor of an accelerating tsunami of change. But this change cannot be solved by enacting a ‘restorative nostalgia’ but rather we need to embrace a creatively generative orientation - an attitude to enact a flourishing society in a blooming healthy-vital evolving world. 
We face tectonic shifts in our cultures and our social-economic structures and processes. The digital environment is enacting an equivalent form of Social climate change. A looming transformation of social climate, far more profound that the changes enacted by the industrial society. The evolution of embodied knowledge that is the digital environment is enabling unprecedented information and creative knowledge flow. Part of the crisis arises from what Clay Shirky brilliantly phrased as Institutions and organisation seek to preserve the problem to which they were the solution.
Marshall McLuhan noted that the earth and life on it has become the responsibility of response-ability of the human project - which he considered was now an art project. This also emphasizes an emerging crisis of consciousness where humans must grasp themselves as a single species evolving in a single evolving environment. A huge challenge since both species and climate are ‘hyper objects’ so massive and so distributed that no single individual can grasp them.
This is how McLuhan preciently understood this situation:

For the first time the natural world was completely enclosed in a man-made container. At the moment that the earth went inside this new artifact, Nature ended and Ecology was born. "Ecological" thinking became inevitable as soon as the planet moved up into the status of a work of art.
Marshall McLuhan Unbound, p.4. 2005

McLuhan saw ecologies as a total field of simultaneous processes that included the communication systems enabling awareness of the system itself. In biology this is called homeostasis - the maintaining of viability among innumerable constituents of any living system-environment complex. The implication for concepts of causality is that ‘everything causes everything’.
The simultaneity of co-creating processes can have other implications for understanding the human construct of culture versus nature. All living systems contribute in some way to niche creation, maintenance and building. All living systems are in some way depend on some form of ‘built environment’. 
How we understand our co-creation of our niches (ecologies and environments) can be structured by the metaphors we use
The metaphors we use for the Earth, he proposes, influence the way we frame problems and, therefore, affect our actions. Whether Gaia can regulate itself, Mother Earth will take care of us, or Spaceship Earth needs a mechanic, depends on which metaphor is part of your worldview. Larson’s wish is that metaphors can help us recognize our place within nature and our interconnectedness with other species.

Another example is the complexity involved with the metaphor of continuous growth - often considered a key problematic concept of contemporary economics. Growth is linked to success and lack of growth implies stagnation and the oxymoron of growing smaller suggest a loss. The question of limits to growth can be challenged by asking when can living systems stop growing - if ever? In the case of a finite area then what is the limit to niche density?
There are other examples of how metaphors can combine to create integrated cultural realities. For example, references to ‘Mother Earth’ ‘Mother Nature’ ‘Gaia’ become easily entangled with metaphors of ‘motherland’ ‘fatherland’ and associated with metaphors of the national family. This in turn becomes easily associated with ‘Strict Father’ and leadership hierarchies that aim to shape the governance of nations and organizations. Governance structures become emulations of natural order - parent-child emulates leader-citizen and so on. The evocation of citizen-as-child shapes a more dependent citizen seeking to be protected and saved by parent-leaders. 
Let’s think of the metaphor of generativity. Generativity - is an adult responsibility and response-ability.  The evocation of creativity also brings to mind the capacity for ‘response-ability’. The challenge we face as a global species is one of our transformation from childhood to adult. 
But adulthood also encounters mortality and another dimension of sustainability involves a sort of eternity that denies death in the face of the fear of death.The unwillingness to meet one’s own death - the paradoxical shadow behind both the meme of sustainability and that aspect of the “technological singularity” that yearns to extend life indefinitely - to achieve a sustainable life. As Ray Kurzweil has noted the longer we live the longer we can live. 
The idea of sustainability also promises a sense of certainty in a nostalgic retreat to time as a cycle rather than a forward evolving pattern of change. This nostalgia makes sense has a hangover of the 20th Century. John Higgs has written a fascinating account of the 20th Century in his book “Stranger Than We Can Imagine”. He provides a compelling argument that the developments in science and culture shattered the pillars of many sources of human certainty. 
The de-centering of the traditional paradigms of ‘certainty’ included the possibility of ‘a universal objective frame of reference’ (Einstein's relativity); a unified consciousness (Freud, Jung, et al illumination of the unconscious); the inability to predict even fully deterministic systems (Chaos theory and sensitivity to initial conditions); the unpredictability of complex systems and emergent qualities; the human leap into space; the sexual revolution; all manner of postmodernism and more. Higgs’ account is well worth the read. He sets up our current situation of Global Warming as a crisis of consciousness. 
Edgar Morin was very eloquent in summarizing the cultural and other challenges we faced with the end of the 20th and the approaching new millennium. 
Modernity had been and still remains a civilizational complex animated by an optimistic dynamism. However, the problematization of the triad [science-technology-industry] that animates this dynamism rendered modernity itself problematic. Modernity harbored the ideas of individual emancipation, the generalized secularization of values, and the distinction between the true, the beautiful, and the good.  However, individualism henceforth no longer only meant autonomy and emancipation but also atomization and anonymization. Secularization meant not only liberation from religious dogmas but also loss of foundations, anxiety, doubt, and nostalgia for the great certitudes. The distinctiveness of values led not only to moral autonomy, aesthetic exaltation, and the free search for truth but also to demoralization, frivolous estheticism, and nihilism. 
There has been a general consciousness that we are not in the next to last stage of history,awaiting the day of fulfillment. There has been a general sense that we are not heading toward a radiant, nor even a happy, tomorrows. However, what has been and is still lacking is the consciousness that we are now in the Planetary Iron Age - the prehistory of the human spirit.
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth, p. 58
Morin goes on to note that all evolution requires leaving a past behind, that there can be no creation without simultaneous destruction. 
One must understand that, as everything that lives if bound to die, each culture is worthy of living but must know how to die. We must also maintain the necessity for a planetary culture. It is true that the multiplicity of cultures, with their marvellous adaptation to local conditions and problems, stand as obstacles to the attainment of the planetary culture. Yet can we not extract from each on and generalize the richness of what each has to offer? How then can we integrate the values and treasures of cultures in the process of disintegration? Is it not too late? We therefore have to come to terms with two contradictory injunctions: to save the extraordinary cultural diversity created by the human diaspora and at the same time, to nourish a planetary culture common to us all. 
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth, p. 62
The complexity of co-creating living systems means that there is no single priority - no ‘first problem’ to which all other problems must be subordinated. Rather there are many vital interdependencies, antagonisms, crises, uncontrolled processes, in addition to the general crisis climate change. The future has always been uncertain - but the 21st Century challenges us to face and dispel the illusions of certainty. The positive shadow of uncertainty is the corresponding openness of the future to unknowable possibilities.  
However, to grasp the possibilities of an open future - a creative flourishing generative future we must embrace a paradox: Cultures must be both protected and opened to change. This is ancient wisdom - all culture have encountered others and assimilated new customs, practices, language, knowledge. Any approach to a flourishing future that is not shaped by paradigms of complexity is bound to suffers an inability to be proceed with realism. And ‘real realism’ does not provide us with a security blanket of certainty. This same paradox is applicable to all ecologies and to climate itself. 
What is required for guidance is less related to the precautionary principle but rather what Kevin Kelly called a vigilance principle. Such an approach enables us to enact what Morin calls an ‘ecology of action’. Which means that we must make ‘bets’ aware of risks and with a deep strategy focused on ‘response-ability’ - in order to modify or cancel any action. 
As Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikado have put it: “The reductionist approach, which consists in relying on a single series of factors to regulate the totality of problems associated with the multiform crisis we are currently in the middle of, is less a solution than the problem itself.”
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth. 1999, 128.
A simple metaphorical question can give us a sense of how to compare the power and promise of framing efforts to create a sustainable future versus a framing our efforts to create a future that is creatively generative? 
Would your spouse be enthralled and enamored if you described your relationship as ‘sustainable’ - ‘We have a sustainable marriage.’ Or would your partner be enamored and inspired with a description of your approach to relating to each other as -  ‘Our relationship is a creative and generative work of art’. 
In a world that continually evolves survival can only be ensured by creative and generative adaptation.
Thus we are faced with profound responsibility to enact our response-ability. We are living through an age of deep transformation and our choices are about how we can move forward. I will finish this last of my four part exploration with a suggestion by David Grinnspoon in his Aeon article - Welcome to Terra Sapiens:
I propose that we call this time we’ve been living through so far, the age during which we’ve been accidentally tinkering with planetary evolution, the ‘proto-Anthropocene’. We can regard this phase as a first step in realising our lasting role on Earth. It might be a necessary prelude to the mature Anthropocene, when we fully incorporate our uniquely human powers of imagination, abstraction and foresight into our role as an integral part of the planetary system. The ‘mature’ part of the name differentiates conscious, purposeful global change from the inadvertent, random changes that have largely brought us to this point.
Viewed this way, the Anthropocene is something to welcome, to strive for.
Even changing global climate and initiating mass extinction is not a human first. Photosynthetic bacteria did that some 2.5 billion years ago.
Until now, the people causing the disturbances had no way of recognising or even conceiving of a global change. Yes, humans have been altering our planet for millennia, but there is something going on now that was not happening when we started doing all that world-changing.
To me, what makes the Anthropocene unprecedented and fully worthy of the name is our growing knowledge of what we are doing to this world. Self-conscious global change is a completely new phenomenon. It puts us humans into a category all our own and is, I believe, the best criterion for the real start of the era.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 3 - The New New Prometheus

The New New Prometheus.

The psychological concept of  generativity was developed and made popular by Erik Erikson. His intention was to highlight the challenges involved in achieving both full maturity and full humanness. The challenges that were especially important, included a need to nurture and guide their own capacity enable their own children and all younger people to in turn care for and nurture others (the sense of it takes a village to raise children).

In essence, generativity encompasses the need to care for others who are dependent as well as to ensure that the larger social systems can also enable and care for its members. Creative generativity provides a more powerful metaphor with which to engage and make sense of an unfolding, unpredictable, uncertain future - a challenge to be ever-creative while simultaneously ever caring - to create new life forms and nurture them with care.
The challenges of generativity may sound straightforward - of course we must all care for our children and be generativity towards our world. The challenge is not simply in caring - but in caring for all of our creations. But enacting generativity to the new, the novel, the foreign can surface deep fears about change and our own uncertainty of the future. Exploring a few myths and narratives can be helpful in illuminating the fears that can foreclose our generative capacity.
The story of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, has become a key myth, meme, narrative of post-modern times. However, few people have actually read Mary Shelley’s story - most encounter the story created by the dreams of Hollywood.

In the Hollywood version - Dr Frankenstein creates a ‘monster’ that he ends up fearing. Dr. Frankenstein’s creation seems to have not met his aesthetic framework (he recoils in a sort of ‘insight of revulsion’), and that he is simply unable to control his creation.

This myth is applied by many to humanities advances - advances that seem to indicate that we are on the edge of creating an uncontrollable monster. This is the frame of the story of Frankenstein. Evoking in most minds today, a reasoning applied to Artificial Intelligence or Genetically Modified Organism. A fear that we are creating something beyond control and perhaps because Dr. Frankenstein grasps that his creation can exceed the capacity of its creator. 

In Mary Shelley’s original version Dr. Frankenstein - Victor, creates a new life form - surpassing in many ways his creator. It is when Dr. Frankenstein - revolts in horror (not disgust - but perhaps self-disgust) over what he created and abandons it completely. The creation-creature is now with no generative source of learning, and reasonably reacts with fear and rage for the abandonment and rejection he has been subjected to. 
To this point the story sounds very much like the one we all think we know. But from here on the novel takes some surprising turns. One evening Victor Frankenstein does bring his artificial man to life. He sees it open its eyes and begin to breathe. But instead of celebrating his victory over the power of nature, he is seized by a rash of misgivings. ‘Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. And what about the newborn ‘human’ back in the laboratory? He is left to his own devices trying to figure out what in the world has happened to him. Quietly he walks to Victor’s bedroom, draws back the bed curtain, smiles, and tries to speak. But Victor, in the throes of a crisis of nerve, is still not ready to accept the life that he brought into existence and simply panics. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the daemonical corpse to which I had so miserably given life
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.306

Langdon goes on to further explain.
The next morning Victor leaves the house altogether and goes to a nearby town to tell his troubles to an old friend. This is very clearly a flight from responsibility, for the creature is still alive, still benign, left with nowhere to go, and more important, stranded with no introduction to the world in which he must live. Victor’s protestations of misery, remorse, and horror at the results of his work sound particularly feeble. It is clear, for example, that the monstrosity of his creation is in the first instance less a matter of it physical appearance than of Frankenstein’s terror at his own success. He is haunted henceforth not by the creature itself but by the vision of it in his imagination. He does not return to his laboratory and makes no arrangements of any kind to look after his work of artifice. The next encounter between the father and his technological son comes more than two years later. 

An important feature of Frankenstein, the feature of the book that makes it useful for our purposes, is that the artificial being is able to explain his own position. Fully a third of the text is either ‘written’ by his hand or spoken by him in dialogue with his maker. After his abandonment in the laboratory, the creature leaves the place and enters the world to make his way. 

The argument presented emphasizes the perils of an unfinished, imperfect creation, cites the continuing obligations of the creator, and describes the consequences of further insensitivity and neglect.
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.309

The creation’s response is chilling and anyone who remembers the original movie “The Blade Runner’ will recognize this scene (Roy Blatty meeting his ‘maker’).
‘I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, that which thou owest me.’

‘You propose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.’ 

The monster explains that his first preference is to be made part of the human community. Frankenstein was wrong to release him into the world with no provision for his role or influence in the presence of normal men. Already his attempts to find a home have had disastrous results. He introduced himself to the Swiss family, only to find them terrified at his grotesque appearance. On another occasion he unintentionally caused the death of a young boy. He now asks Frankenstein to recognize that the invention of something powerful and novel is not enough. Thought and care must be given to its place in the sphere of human relationships. But Frankenstein is still too thick and self-interested to comprehend the message. ‘Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! … Begone! I will not hear you. There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies. Begone, or let us try our strength in a fight, in which one must fall.’ 

Despite this stream of invective, the creature continues to reason with Victor. It soon becomes apparent that he is, if anything the more ‘human’ of the two and the man with the better case. At the same time, he leaves no doubt that he means business.
 Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.310

Eventually after an arduous experience and Odyssey the creature 
...finds him and pleads for Victor to hear his tale. Intelligent and articulate, the Creature says that his encounters with people led to his fear of them, driving him into the wilderness. 
The Creature demands that Victor create a female companion like himself. He argues that as a living being, he has a right to happiness. The Creature promises that he and his mate will vanish into the South American wilderness, never to reappear, if Victor grants his request.
Frankenstein - Wikipedia - 04 Aug 2016 

Victor procrastinates for a long time before beginning the work of creating a second creation. In the middle of this work he starts thinking of the possible consequences. His creation had sworn to ‘quit the neighborhood of man and hide himself in deserts’. But this new creation - she had not. 
she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation.’ The artificial female would have a life of her own. What was to guarantee that she would not make demands and extract the consequences if the demands were not properly met? Then an even more disquieting thought strikes Victor,  What if the two mate and have children? ‘A race of evils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.’ I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps of the existence of the whole human race.’ Recognizing what he believes to be a heroic responsibility, Victor commits an act of violence. With the first creature looking on, he tears the unfinished female artifact to pieces. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.311

Is the ‘New Prometheus’ Dr Frankenstein or his Creation? 

Victor Frankenstein is a person who discovers, but refuses to ponder, the implications of his discovery. He is a man who creates something new in the world and then pours all of his energy into an effort to forget. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.313

There is another dimension of the Frankenstein myth that is vital in our thinking about new knowledge (as embodied know how = techne-ology). And that is every emerging form of knowledge enables a form of forgetting.
there is a sense in which all technical activity contains an inherent tendency toward forgetfulness. Is not the point of all invention, technique, apparatus, and organization to have something and have it over with? One does not want to bother anymore with building, developing, or learning it again. One does not want to bother with its structure or the principles of its internal workings. One simply wants the technical thing to be present in its utility. The goods are to be obtained without having to understand the factory or the distribution network. Energy is to be utilized without understanding the myriad of connections that made its generation and delivery possible. Technology, then, allows us to ignore our own works. It is licence to forget. In its sphere the truths of all important processes are encased shut away and removed from our concern. This more than anything else, I am convinced, is the true source of the colossal passivity in man’s dealings with technical means. 
Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology:
Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. p.315

I think part of the power this narrative has in the popular mind, harkens to an even deeper narrative - that of Cronus:
Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. (Cronus also fathered Chiron, by Philyra.)
Wikipedia - 03 Aug 2016 - 

Through these narratives, we see some of the deep mythic challenges that are the shadows of creativity woven into the fabric of human experience. An experience of the fear of becoming that is displaced and outdone by one’s own creations - a fear that forecloses the successful accomplishment of creative generativity - a fear of life leaving us behind. 
To paraphrase Umair Haque’s blog piece on the Myth of Prometheus, the ‘stealing of fire’ was actually the grasping of the spark of creative will - ‘to dream, act, imagine, create, challenge, love. According to Haque - when Prometheus claimed this spark it was not just fire but freedom. Suddenly, humans had greater possibilities than before a freedom that was greater than power.  And that was why the gods became angry. 
The lesson of this myth is that with freedom comes the need to make choices and to embrace choice requires courage, wisdom, grace. Our sentence of suffering (lashed to the rocks by the gods - and our own ego, selfishness) is our condemnation for giving that spark of possibilities away.  Why should we share this power of freedom? Haques says, “The spark is there to illuminate what is truest in each and every one of us. If we don’t steal it, there is no suffering. We stay machines, slaves, but can never become truly free. And that is the truest emptiness of all.”
The possibilities inherent in our freedom to make choices are a greater gift than the entailing suffering inherent in the inevitable impermanence of our existence - because one can also find joy in suffering arising from choice. In fact, to avoid the responsibilities and response-abilities of choice is a way we fail to embrace the journey of living - the finding of joy in the embrace of our living. 

Two challenges are illuminated by Haque’s short exploration of the Myth of Prometheus. One key lesson is the challenge of making a genuine and honest choice with all its risk and uncertainties and suffering. Another key lesson comes from the gods from which Prometheus had to steal the spark the fire of freedom and choice - the challenge of sharing that freedom. The shadow of freedom for oneself is embracing the freedom of others or of the freedom or our own progeny - of our creations.
This mythic fear is evident in a great deal of the discussions related to artificial intelligence (will robots and computers become humanity’s masters) and biotechnology (e.g. Frakenfood as genetically modified organisms). And while there are many issues involved with the development of these technologies as there are and always have been with all technologies - our fears tend to concern the potential of our creations - whether they are in the form of robots smarter, more capable than humans or new forms of humans turning us into the next Neanderthals. 
As deep and complex as our challenges are - they are also the mother of our inventions and innovations. These in turn are our progeny. All of our creations grow to have their own life - every action soon engenders consequences outside of original intentions. Every evolutionary success was an answer to change - in conditions, in niche opportunities - which in turn generated new challenges, changes in existing conditions. Every evolutionary failure served as an exploration of the fitness landscape. As Turner made so clear, there is no life without challenge nor is it possible to live without dying - there is no way to live forward without creative generativity - the challenge of sharing freedom and power with others. 
The challenge of the gods sharing the freedom of power (via Prometheus) with humans also suggests an aspect of the shadow in the ubiquitous meme that glorifies leadership as the pre-eminent human solution to our challenges. Leaders are only effective when they are able to marshal hordes of followers and that they are lucky enough to be right for long enough. 
Under this meme - Followers are required to wait for great leaders. All too easily the leadership meme enacts versions of our gods, gods-as-kings, leadership-by-divine ordination - management as the whimsy of a particular leader. 

Chronos anticipates the jealousy of the gods of humans who are ready to steal the fire of freedom - from authoritarianism the pre-eminent ideology of leadership. All these leadership shadows of the fear of anyone-everyone ‘grasping’ the challenges of responsibility / response-ability of freedom of choice and the consequent of creative generativity.
Adding complexity upon complexity - our challenges arise not only as a consequence of our past - but also arise with our own creativity and creations - our response-ability to current contexts-situations - our improv-ability. In the common narratives about the arising of humans, is the overlooked fact that humans also became human in the midst of climate change. 
Human survival has included the challenges of a number of planetary homeostasis shifts (allostastic adaptations)  in the boundary conditions that determine larger climate patterns - including the most recent ice ages. What this means is that this is not the first time humans have had to face planetary scale challenges. 
The first surprise is that it takes constraints on the release of energy to perform work, but it takes work to create constraints. The second surprise is that constraints are information and information is constraint.
Stuart Kauffman –in Deacon (2012).
It is time - let’s just get over the blame and accept responsibility that climate change is a natural consequence of our own behavior on the planet. However, there is no simple solution - no easy equation or formula - no idyllic past to restore. There is no way to know the long term ‘good’ or ‘bad’ result of any action - no way to know how small a difference will eventually cause a big difference or how large a difference will in the long term make no difference. All action creates unpredictable affordances that are likely both simultaneously challenges and opportunities. All solutions create new problems - all problems beg for solutions - it’s turtles and the way up and down.
By taking responsibility for inaugurating the current episode of climate change we accept the fact that humans have been in the process of geoforming - that humans have in fact turned the planet into a human made environment - however we proceed, there is no possible way to reverse what has been done even if we were to remove all humans from the planet - we have changed the conditions of evolution - humans have changed the fitness landscape. 
A predominant focus of most efforts to awaken ourselves to the responsibility of climate change has been on production of greenhouse gases - and an entailing focus on mitigating the production of these gases (including more recently the need to more actively capture them). Finding a solution to greenhouse gases is of course vital - but in other ways this focus is like believing by eliminating the symptoms of a problem we’ve dealt with the problem. 
The problem is less about the production of greenhouse gases then it is about human population and human development. This is a very complex issue with many entailing and vigorous debates and many focuses on dimensions of human existence - most often in its current form. 
Economic, political, bio-socio-cultural, ideological-religious, technological and more domains contain any number of debates and perspective regarding the source and cure of our problems. Too many to even begin to enumerate - as perspective continue to bifurcate. The key point however, is that without a focus on the human dimensions - we are not likely to be able to solve the greenhouse gas causes-effects of climate change - nor are we likely to simultaneous adapt our societies to the changes already inaugurated. 

At minimum a way forward to continued human survival is of course the survival of life on the planet - but also of creating conditions for human well being. Conditions where humans can experience a just world, able to stabilize population size and find meaningful ways to live. For that we need education for everyone, available birth control for everyone and meaningful work (ways to create meaningful value) for everyone. We need these basics because the trajectories of our technology and science also enable the development to provide ever more ways to enact through conflict. unprecedented forms of destruction and devastation.
The necessary conditions include those where humans can experience a just world, able to stabilize population size and find meaningful ways to live. For that we need education for everyone, available birth control for everyone and meaningful work (ways to create meaningful value) for everyone. We need these basics because the trajectories of our technology and science also enable the development to provide ever more powerful ways to enact through conflict as well as enabling every individual to access unprecedented forms of destruction and devastation.
However these same trajectories of technology and science also carry unprecedented means to create conditions of global flourishing - although they will not likely be yesterday’s ecologies or today’s domesticated gardens.
People need to feel the have a stake in a flourishing future in order to embrace the constraints and conditions of civilization. Our future requires enabling people to embrace a creative generative capacity - not in order to retreat to an imagined nostalgic past - but to embrace with confidence the response-ability of an unimaginable future. 

As McLuhan noted we now have the human responsibility-ability to transform the planet into a natural work of art - art that imitates life and life that imitates art.
I would like to end this piece with a few various quotes.  
The computer abolishes the human past by making it entirely present. It makes natural and necessary a dialogue among cultures which is as intimate as private as speech. While bemoaning the decline of literacy and the obsolescence of the book, the literati have typically ignored the imminence of the decline in speech itself. The individual word, as a store of information and feeling, is already yielding to macroscopic gesticulation.
McLuhan -1968 - War & Peace in the Global Village p.90

It may be simplest to say at once that the real use of the computer is not to reduce staff or costs, or to speed up or smooth out anything that has been going on, its true function is to program and orchestrate terrestrial and galactic environments and energies in a harmonious way. 
McLuhan -War & Peace in the Global Village p.89

Consider climate change. "The vaunted scientific consensus around climate change," notes Sarewitz, "applies only to a narrow claim about the discernible human impact on global warming. The minute you get into questions about the rate and severity of future impacts, or the costs of and best pathways for addressing them, no semblance of consensus among experts remains." Nevertheless, climate "models spew out endless streams of trans-scientific facts that allow for claims and counterclaims, all apparently sanctioned by science, about how urgent the problem is and what needs to be done."

The ongoing digital revolution, the globalization of cultural information, and the coming age of empathy are pressures likely to lead to structural modifications of mind and self, by which I mean the modification of the very brain processes that shape the mind and self.
Antonio Damasio - Self Comes to Mind p.193

What is certain is that history has again taken up its riotous march and is heading toward an unknown future as it strives to return to a vanished past. 
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth. 1999.

The next and final part of this series of explorations, will meander around the idea of  earth as on open system and thus not as finite as current thinking wants us to accept - as well as an ongoing evolution. The shadow that evolution casts is a notion of Eden as a restorative nostalgia for an imagined past.

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 4 - Metaphors for generative growth. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 2 - Earth as co-creator of a human-made container

Earth as co-creator of a human-made container

I want to remind ourselves of McLuhan pithy aphorisms:
When Sputnik went around the planet in 1957 the earth became enclosed in a man-made environment and became thereby an “art” form. The globe became a theatre enclosed in a proscenium arch of satellites. From that time the “audience” or the population of the planet became actors in a new sort of theatre. Mallarmé had thought that “the world exists to end in a book.” It turned out otherwise. It has taken on the character of theatre or playhouse. Since Sputnik the entire world has become a single sound-light show. Even the business world has now taken over the concept of “performance” as a salient criterion.
“Roles, Masks and Performances” New Literary History 2:3 1971
When we put satellites around the planet Darwinian nature ended. The earth became an art form subject to the same programming as media networks and their environments. The entire evolutionary process shifted, at the moment of Sputnik, from biology to technology. Evolution became not an involuntary response of organisms to new conditions, but part of the consensus of human consciousness. Such a revolution is enormously greater and more confusing to past attitudes than anything that can confront a mere culture or civilization.
The planet is now the content of the new spaces created by the new technology. Instead of being an environment in time, the earth itself has become a probe in space. That is, the planet has become an anti-environment, an art form, an extension of consciousness, yielding new perception of the new man-made environment.
Marshall McLuhan Unbound, p.10. 2005

The Earth become surrounded by a man-made container. Bruno Latour almost 50 years later frames the situation in the following way:
Humans have always modified their environment, of course, but the term designated only their surroundings, that which, precisely, encircled them. They remained the central figures, only modifying the decor of their dramas around the edges.

Today, the decor, the wings, the background, the whole building have come on stage and are competing with the actors for the principal role. This changes all the scripts, suggests other endings. Human are no longer the only actors, even though they still see themselves entrusted with a role that is much too important for them.

What is certain is that we can no longer tell ourselves the same old stories. Suspense prevails on all fronts.
Go backward? Relearn the old recipes? Take a new look at the age-old wisdom? Learn from the few cultures that have not yet been modernized? Yes, of course, but without lulling ourselves with illusions: for them, too, there is no precedent.

No human society, however wise, subtle, prudent, and cautious you may think it to be, has had to grapple with the reactions of the earth system to the actions of eight or nine billion humans All the wisdom accumulated over ten thousand years, even if we were to succeed in rediscovering it, has never served more than a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million human beings on a relatively stable stage.
Bruno Latour. 2018.  “Down To Earth: Politics in a New Climate Regime” p.45
Technology is not about the thing-as-noun, but rather it is a form of knowledge - as described by Greek thought - as know-how - Techne. And most often tacit embodied knowledge.
All life forms embody knowledge-as-know-how and therefore actively work to shape their environment - birds build nests, insects build colonies, mushrooms create an inter-plant mycelial network of exchange.
Each individual, each species and each ecology is a world - built by relationships. Often these relationships are made invisible by a perceptual orientation that separates wholes into atomistic, isolated parts. From a holistic approach we can ask whether the bee is the flower’s technology for fertilization or whether the flower is the bee’s technology of food production?
Embodied know-how is deeply entangled with living in relationships within evolving ecology-environments. Some species embody know-how for living in specific species-environment conditions - other species embody know-how enabling survival and/or flourishing in many environments. Ultimately, survival requires the embodied know-how for evolving with changing environments. Perhaps, humans could be called terra-sapiens.
Apprehending evolving environments for any species, is beyond anticipation - simply because so many important variables and scales of change are beyond the perception of species. Timothy Morton discusses what he calls ‘Hyperobjects” - objects so massive and distributed that they remain beyond the grasp of perception.
Climate is a hyperobject. While weather is somewhat graspable - extending weather over seasons takes time and good memory (and record keeping) to establish seasons with basic local precision. But climate is beyond local and regional weather/seasonal change (but influences the local/regional). It has taken humans many decades, tens of thousands of scientists and others, vast technologies (including sensors, recorders, satelites, computational capacities and more) to grasp climate (including ozone holes and acid rain).
The earth is also a hyperobject and like climate, we are still in process of growing our understanding of it (for example, the theory of tectonic plates as a conventional wisdom, is only a few decades old). There is a growing awareness of ‘spaceship’ earth and certainly we are becoming aware of human action on the earth. However, humans remain far from having developed a concrete sense of the earth as a single environment. Overwhelmingly humans as individuals grasp their home in the local situation - the particular urban or rural ecology where they live and the geography that is the foundations of their national identities.
For the purpose of this discussion, a final hyperobject is related to our earth as a single environment. How does a single species in a single environment grasp a collective existence and agency? Such 'grasping' is more than the current general acknowledgment that all humans are in fact members of the same species (it is a sad reality that even this realization is not universally accepted). What it means to be a species-as-hyperobject is a sense of conscious grasping of how all members of the species ultimately act as a single agency in relation to the-species-in-environment. The recent memes about collective intelligence may be weak signals of a possible emerging of consciousness of earth as a whole - a living entity with humans action as a new co-creative force of its evolution?
While McLuhan saw this challenge of human consciousness emerging as a weak signal in the revelation of Sputnik’s moment - the need to awaken terra-humans who had the know-how to live anywhere and everywhere. Bruno Latour has advanced McLuhan’s insight in his recent book  “Down To Earth: Politics in a New Climate Regime”. Latour explores an understanding of the earth as an agent with an agency for its own becoming.
As long as the earth seemed stable, we could speak of space and locate ourselves within that space and on a portion of territory that we claimed to occupy. But how are we to act if the territory itself begins to participate in history, to fight back, in short, to concern itself with us - how do we occupy a land if it is this land itself that is occupying us? The expression ‘I belong to a territory’ has changed meaning: it now designates the agency that possesses the possessor?

we need a term that encompasses the stupefying originality (the stupefying longevity) of this agent. Let us call it, for now the Terrestrial, with a capital T to emphasize that we are referring to a concept, and even specifying in advance where we are headed: the Terrestrial as a new political actor.

If the Terrestrial is no longer the framework for human action, it is because it participates in that action. Space is no longer that of the cartographers, with their latitudinal and longitudinal grids. Space has become an agitated history in which we are participants among others, reacting to other reactions. It seems that we are landing in the thick of geohistory.
Bruno Latour. 2018.  “Down To Earth: Politics in a New Climate Regime” p.40
The challenge he proposes is a shift in our analysis of the earth from a system of production toward an analysis focused on a system of engendering.
The two analyses differ first of all in their principles - freedom for the first, dependence for the second. They differ next in the role given to humanity - central for the first, distributed for the second. Finally they differ in the type of movements for which they take responsibility - mechanism for the first, genesis for the second.
Bruno Latour. 2018.  “Down To Earth: Politics in a New Climate Regime” p.82
In his book, Latour outlines the reaction of many of the new libertarian-techno-utopians as a drive to abandon the pretense of a common future and prepare to find a new home elsewhere (from gated communities to the ‘offshore’ flight to Mars). While others continue to orient their organizations toward investment in local values and the protection of national and ethnocentric borders as others continue the pursuit of hopeful techno-globalization.
Latour argues that another attractor - one that is orthogonal to the local-global axis. The task is to shift our efforts to define our politics toward the Earth - to belonging to the terrestrial. This is what is - most in need of rethinking and careful redescription; learning new ways to inhabit the Earth is our biggest challenge. Bringing us down to earth is the task of politics today.
Shadows of Change
Timothy Morton in his book “Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence” explores some of the undercurrents that shape the shadows of adapting to the new conditions of human existence highlighted above by McLuhan, Latour and others. He argues that the paradox of the anthropocene is the mobius like relation of humans-as-nature-vs-nature - a mobius loop of self-as-other as non-self-as-non-other. This two-dimensional-one-dimensional conundrum is imbued in the logistics of agricultural society that has not only colonized history but is a root cause of the Anthropocene.
Morton calls this the agrilogics which implanted a epistemological seeds that shaped the aesthetic framework of our knowledge. A foundational axiom agrilogic is the law of non-contradiction and the ‘excluded middle’. Essentially stating that if something is P then it can’t also be Not-P.
Morton argues that it is agrilogics that directly leads to global warming - Vilem Flusser in Post-History, arguing in a very similar line of thought, states that agrilogics reached in ultimate fulfillment in Auschwitz - as the complete objectification of the human.
But the fundamental nature of what Morton calls ‘dark ecology’ is the rise of an uncanny and radical self-knowledge. The 21st century is collapsing the certainties promised by agrilogics and forces us to embrace the mobius over the excluded middle. Humans must accept the reality that other is deeply imbued in self - whether it is as a microbial ecology, a mosaic psychology, or a species-in-environment ecological being.
This realization has a profound consequence - the objective self suffers a melancholy and negativity of not only coexistence - but of other within. Morton offers hope however by pointing out this depression is the first stage of an evolving into a playful and anarchic beingness.
This realization has a profound consequence - the objective self suffers a melancholy and negativity of not only coexistence - but of other within. Morton offers hope however by pointing out this depression is the first stage of an evolving into a playful and anarchic beingness.
Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence
Paradox may be a bug in all systems of formal logic - but in may be a key feature in any living system. Every light casts shadows - as Morton points out. As we grasp our co-creative co-existence with evolution we find a sense of self that is both an ecology including ‘other’ deep within and a form of unity. One can argue that this dilemma is as old as we have human records. But certainly with the birthing of science as a new way of knowing the sense of encountering ‘otherness’ - the sense of becoming displaced, seems to have accelerated.
Everything nowadays is ultra, everything is being transcended continually in thought as well as in action. No one knows himself any longer; no one can grasp the element in which he lives and works or the material that he handles. Pure simplicity is out of the question; of simplifiers we have enough. Young people are stirred up much too early in life and then carried away in the whirl of the times. Wealth and rapidity are what the world admires…. Railways, quick mails, steamships and every possible kind of rapid communication are what the educated world seeks but it only over-educates itself and thereby persists in its mediocrity. It is moreover, the result of universalization that a mediocre culture become common [culture]....
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - 1825 - Goethe’s Letters to Zelter.
Quoted in Geoffrey West’s - Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies. p238
Vilem Flusser was a McLuhanesque writer. Writing in France in 1983, in Post-History,  discusses the sense of displacement from ‘Our Dwelling’ He argues that we are undergoing a profound change comparable to the onset of the Neolithic (the birth of agrilogic in Morton’s sense). Now we are abandoning the agricultural sedentary life and as individuals and groups we are on the move.
However this new mobility is not the retrieval of another nomadism.
Gypsies are not on the move; they are rooted in the tribe. To dwell does not mean to sleep in a fixed bed, but to live in a habitual setting. The home is not a fixed place, but a place of support that deserves trust. To have lost a home does not mean to have abandoned a place, but to have to live in a non-habitual place, therefore uninhabitable. Or to have to live in a place where we do not recognize ourselves. We are on the move, because our world has been so radically transformed that it has become unhabitual and uninhabitable. We do not recognize ourselves in it. And we cannot habituate ourselves to that.
…. The habitual is imperceptible. Habit is an opaque covering that conceals the environment. Within our home-landscape, we only perceive events and not the foundational structures. If the foundational structures are currently that which is shocking for us in the environment, then it is because there has been a structural transformation.
The new apparatus of technology, culture, politics, has made our world uncanny and unfamiliar. Tectonic shifts have uprooted us - we are all refugees from our own childhoods. We have become distanced and now assume either a critical or a restoratively nostalgic viewpoint toward our environment - we are as foreigners.
But as Kant used to say, critique or doubt, is not a dwelling. The reason for our critique is the longing we feel. Due to our radical alienation, we are reactionaries, anti-reformists: we no longer dwell.

….We are all on the move. It is not only the Hindus in London that have lost their homeland: Londoners have also lost theirs. And it is not only the Nordestinos that have lost theirs, in Sao Paulo: Paulistanos have also lost theirs. That is because London and Sao Paulo have become unhabitual and uninhabitable. The current migration of peoples has shuffled history and geography. The Hindus’ mystical time and the Nordestinos’ magical time, have become synchronized with the Londoners’; and the Paulistanos’ historical time. We are experiencing Sao Paulo and London with a kind of quad-dimensionality of shuffled space-time. Historical categories are not enough in order for us to grasp this. And this is turning such cities unhabitual and uninhabitable. We no longer recognize in them the products of our history and therefore no longer recognize ourselves in them.

….This situation is unhabitual: that we have the future at our backs. That nowadays ‘to progress’ does not mean to demand the future, but to avoid the past. That, in the case of an apparatus-like progress, it is no longer the case of opening the field for the future, but to ‘resolve’ the problems created by the past ... That our progress, is a method to avoid being devoured by the past that chases us. This is unhabitual: that progress has become a form of reaction. That we are reactionaries precisely for being progressives.
A half century after Flusser wrote this, it is clear that there is no ‘going back’ to a pre-digital world. The majority of humans now live in urban environment and the largest minority in domesticated agriculturally built environments. What most humans experience as nature today, is already domesticated - parks (national and otherwise) and agricultural lands. Very few of us actually have spent time in primordial wildness and even fewer without some form of technological safety line (including gps, maps, fire, advanced equipment of some form). In achieving success in efforts to mitigate and stabilize our climate - we will have attained the knowledge of some broader order of planetary governance. The environment is and will continue to be radically transformed. There can be no ‘sustaining of what was’. Our challenge is to enable continual creative generativity for future flourishing of life.
The aim of this post, was to establish a possible sense of a broader ‘zeitgeist’ of our times that may contextualize some of the human reactions (including many reasons for denial) to the challenges involved in facing climate change. The 20th century has shattered the sources of certainty - whether they were religious or scientific. It also introduced an acceleration of change that is itself an unprecedented challenge and finally with the advent of the digital environment we are facing unprecedented and unpredictable new challenges. For the human species we are perhaps more displaced than ever before - facing new uncertainties, fears and a deep sense of homelessness feeding a sense of loss of our identity and dwelling.
The next post will explore the concept and challenges of generativity.