Friday, February 24, 2017

This is your reality now, and mine.

"....By the time I was 19 years old, I came to view awareness not as a gift, but as a curse." - Guy McPherson, ecologist and revolutionist.
The theme of this blog over the more-than decade it has existed is reality; the realities that exist, that overlap, and those realities in which we choose to exist.

Reality is like multiverses; there are many. One of the past, one of the future, and the combination of these which is the present. Is there one reality? Yes and no (the typical biologist's response to questions).

A reality exists that is outside of our body and minds. Some may call this the 'truth', but that's not exactly accurate. Some may call this 'nature' or 'science', but those are just names we apply to what we really may not know. Or what we think we know.
"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”- Mark Twain
Hey, but Reality is all that is factual, right? Sometimes, sometimes not. Mark Twain understood what facts really are. Yes, facts are schizophrenic. There are facts whether or not anyone can prove they’re true. Facts do not generally depend on our beliefs or desires. They exist whether or not anyone thinks about them, proves they’re true, and so on.

The law of gravity exists whether or not anyone knows about it, thinks about it, proves it, or believes it. We know this because the fact about gravity is a testable statement, and it has been tested multiple times, over and over. We experience it every day. Thus, as a society, we have labeled it a 'fact'. Evidence we have collected by rigorous testing as a society has been put forth to a collection of people that has accepted it as a 'fact'. However, there are many 'facts' we don't know about. Yet.

Facts, including the word, are used loosely in our language. They can be considered and used in several forms of realism: physical, scientific, epistemic, and moral. In the latter, some facts depend on thoughts, beliefs, and proofs (to some extent). Those are facts about what people think, believe, or prove. Some may not exist in any of the other forms of realism. It is here where Mark Twain saw humankind.

As a scientist, my beliefs center on facts, as they exist in all facets of realism. Often, especially in recent times, this has not been an easy process to reconcile between conflicting evidence and reporting. In the realm of moral realism, sometimes evidence and facts are presented as statements that align with prevailing or personal beliefs. It is the explosion of this type of realism that challenges myself, and everyone of us, to think more critically in what we acknowledge as being factual, despite that it exists or does not.
"Sometimes people just dispute the validity of specific facts. But we find that people sometimes go one step further and... they reframe an issue in untestable ways."- Troy Campbell and Justin Friesen, Why People Fly From Facts. 
The increasing numbers of people choosing to disbelieve, or ignore, evidential and tested factual information continues to astound me. When challenged with tested facts, and providing evidence, people choose (consciously or subconsciously) to accept or not accept both the evidence and the fact. Observations of discussions with people have made me aware that, even when presented with tested or testable facts, they will not change their beliefs, which are tied into their desires. This has been tested and studied, with the same conclusions. Personal bias is the strongest realism that sometimes will trump any that is substantiated by physical, scientific, and epistemic processes.
"Unfortunately, we’ve also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep belief protecting toolbox." - Campbell and Friesen.
 The predominant collective reality is based on not science, not the physical, and not epistemic processes, but personal bias. It is the new disease. And this is what prompted me to run away from The Empire (coined by Guy McPherson) and embark on a life of simplicity, and a mission to help preserve and conserve the environment and wildlife. This is what has kept me awake at night off and on for the past six years, but recently more pronounced. And it is this which I try to reconcile my hope in our species, and the reality of what is happening at the national and global scales.

A comment appeared on social media in response to a column appearing in the New York Times, "The Death of Compassion". Author Charles Blow traces the beginning and sanctions of this country's rampant loss of compassion, from Ronald Regan and now to the Trump administration.  The comment to this reminds me of our choices of reality; "Cultural anthropologists say that empathy is "programmed in" to the human consciousness, or we would not have evolved or be here as a species today. A lack of it may end the long journey..."

This statement sums up many events and struggles occurring in our country and around the globe. Yes, there are still small pockets of compassion and altruism. But they are shrinking fast.

We are seeing today an acceleration of a collapsing civilization, similar to the the process in overpopulated groups of animals faced with increasingly limited resources (population dynamics). Animal species and groups have their own inherent checks and balances, but when that fails, they fight and kill each other. Mice will even eat their babies. Observing that as a child was my first lesson in population dynamics.

A few historians and sociologists recognized this, speaking out and publishing in academic and public media on societal collapse as far back as 2009: "....we now live in an era when multiple, large-scale, interconnected structural crises have pushed the global system to the threshold of catastrophic collapse" (Kuecker and Hall, 2011). In his book,
The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Erlich warned of the consequences of overpopulation and limited resources. Like most of the general public, even some scientists called Erlich a "Doomsayer".

Some sociologists predict that small communities are the most resilient and most likely to survive (Kuecker and Hall, 2011). We have seen this cycle before throughout human civilization, but not on this scale around the world (Childs, 2012). Several biologists and ecologists increasingly join the conversation and offer evidence of collapse (McPherson, 2011).

It seems that only those people that are aware of this speak out. Several predicted our current situation and dysfunction. Many of these people are educated. But they have been discredited as Doom and Gloom Sayers. And ignored. I, too, discounted them. But no more. 
 "The world looked insane to me, but nobody else seemed to notice, so I buried my thoughts, and muddled on. Deep inside, this was tearing me to pieces."  - Tim Bennett
Most people are too caught up in the developing chaos to be aware and acknowledge it, and thereby contribute to the process. Many scientists are torn between taboo emotion or gagged by their institutions. The Empire is falling and the power struggle is on full-bore.
"The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still." - Unknown
America is no longer the "land of the free". It is playing 'the game', internally and abroad. We are not immune, and we have ourselves to blame for allowing this to happen here.
"With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when we encourage people to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking, and reject strict ideology. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, and not from society. But we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts."  -  Campbell and Friesen.
Now is the the time to be a Warrior. The facts, the realism -the physical, scientific, epistemic, and moral- have all coalesced into one Reality. This is our world now, and we must shape it otherwise. Or someone else will shape it for us.

For many scientists and activists, gloom is building. We have "stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself." (Dark Mountain Manifesto, Paul Kingsnorth, longtime climate activist and novelist). If we don't act, we can add the Gloom to the Doom. Time is overdue to act.
"Trump is a cancer on this country and resistance is the remedy. The Trump phenomenon is devoid of compassion, and we must be closed to compromise. No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute. This is a culture war in which truth is the weapon, righteousness the flag and passion the fuel." - Charles Blow.

  •  Bennett, Tim. What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, movie by VisionQuest Pictures.
  • Blow, Charles. 2017. "The Death of Compassion," The New York Times,  Feb. 23, 2017.
  • Campbell, Tony and Justin Friesen. 2015. "Why People "Fly from Facts"", Scientific American. March 2, 2015.
  • Childs, Craig. 2012. Apocalyptic Planet, Pantheon Press.
  • Kingsnorth, Paul and Dougald Hine. 2009. Uncivilization: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, self-published. 
  • Kuecker, Glen David, and Tomas D, Hall. 201. Resilience and Community in the Age of World-system Collapse. Nature and Culture, 6:18-40
  • McPherson, Guy. 2011. Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. PublishAmerica, Baltimore, Maryland.PublishAmerica, Baltimore, Maryland