Monday, November 30, 2009

The Grinch that stole Copenhagen...

I guess I'm a contrarian, but the words "global consensus" kind of give me the chills.  I've been thinking a bit about Copenhagen, and global warming, and I'm not really comforted by the thought of the world coming together on some sort of agenda for action. I could probably get behind a treaty of non-violence (non-action?), a global agreement not to mess with other peoples business. But I don't like the thought of large numbers of people - entire countries - agreeing to engage in some action. As a contrarian, I love discord, disagreement, debate, and I can't stand to see the Whos down in Whoville singing their happy songs in unison! Maybe my heart is just a few sizes too small? Or maybe, just maybe we need to step back and think about what we are doing here. Global warming is a statist's dream- an opportunity to centralize power at a global scale. I don't want to sound like one of those right-wing nuts screaming about the New World Order, but let's just make sure we understand what we are giving up for the possibility of slightly reducing the expected magnitude of climate change. Is 350 really worth it? Might we do something better with all this youthful passion for saving the planet? How about this: rather than placing our faith in some global consensus, each of us expresses our love for the planet spontaneously and willingly, in our own way...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Freedom and the Central Limit Theorem

This may sound dorky, but I think we need to retain maximum degrees of freedom in society, in a statistical sense. The more degrees of freedom we have, the more the law of large numbers - the central limit theorem - can work its magic.  The central limit theorem is a buffer against tyranny.  In the absence of force lies true normality.  Under the law of large numbers, humans and society itself will tend toward its natural mean. Variance is important to our system. In variance lies our societal resilience. Inter-personal variance is the source of innovation, new ideas. But without the large numbers, the degrees of freedom, the sample mean can easily become biased from the true mean. When the law of large numbers breaks down, the mean becomes subject to increasing random drift. The more governments or large institutions control the people, the more correlation among people, the lower the effective population size and the effective degrees of freedom. At the extreme, we become a society of ants, in which we are so inter-correlated that we are in effect one superorganism- a sample size of one.

But we can feel it already- the subtle clamping down of inter-personal variance that occurs every day in our society. Before we can have power over ourselves and our family, we need to convince those already in charge that we are ONE OF THEM. We need to don suits, or (more importantly) close our minds to certain possibilities that we are not supposed to consider. The pressure to conform is real, and it causes our opinions to correlate with dominant opinions (which may or may not be the "normal"). It reduces the effective population size.

We are a social species. We like to copy others and we will always emulate and copy, but that’s why it’s dangerous to have highly centralized social political structures. To have diversity, we need localism, we need freedom to diversify. We need the power to act on our convictions, even if it differs from the dominant view. When we talk about freedom, we need to make it clear: freedom does not mean the freedom to escape poverty, the freedom to have a secure job with health care benefits. Freedom is a function of the total effective population size: the number of independently acting, free human beings in the system. Freedom is the amount of power that is in the hands of independent human individuals. The more we talk about self-reliant, independent people, and not countries, or institutions, the more we are free.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Each of us is in some way trying to retrieve something that was lost- either from childhood or maybe from our deeper evolutionary past. Art, poetry, and song are means of losing one's rational self so we may (re)experience a sense of pure emotion, perfection. The artist and the bird-watcher- even the alcoholic- seek a return to the wilderness- a return to a time when there was no scarcity of food or drink- only orgasmic pleasure, adrenaline rushes, burning hunger, exhaustion.  When humans were wild things, when our emotional, animal nature was all there was. A time when time itself was beyond perception, when pure pleasure - perfection - existed in each moment and each moment reached to infinity. In the real world, we don’t thrive in “wilderness”- “wilderness” can't meet all of our real needs. Wilderness is an abstraction, an esthetic, a figment of our deep subconscious. If it ever really existed. And we didn’t destroy it with our technologies, through wanton exploitation and persecution.  And it wasn't our exploding population that killed the wilderness. We destroyed it with our own emergence into human consciousness. Wilderness was destroyed by our own evolution, by our own coming-out as human. But we continue to try to re-gain our wilderness- sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. Sometimes we fall into drug addiction. Sometimes we put ourselves in mortal peril, recognizing that wilderness lies deep beyond our own humanness, our own physical bodies. But these are the misfits- even the well-adjusted man seeks his wilderness. We all need passion and mystery- we need wilderness, and all men will be led astray. We are all sinners.

This is a poem I wrote down a couple days ago, based on conversations with other members of the Syracuse area underground philosophy society, "Fugue".  Recreation (re-creation) is, in a sense, a form of returning to our primal origins, re-enacting the creation of ourselves, the earth, the universe.


Prepare to disrobe, pupa-like, from your human trap-pings.
And ask: Where am I? Where are we?
What does the One look like? You know,
The universal hum that we heard over the mountain.
The giver-of-life,
The first invitation, the yawning womb
Long before the earth smelled of love and mushrooms

I try… we try… we are trying…
To stretch our telescopic eyes
To the end, maybe catch the big bang or something.
Or, turning our fiber-optic eyes inward toward some dark bodily interstice, in hopes of
Re-enacting our own gastrulation.

Better late than never!
Everything, every little thing was upside-down, mis-placed, mis-taken
And now we return, shell-less,
Our bones inter-coursing with the rocks, wet with the mist. Or maybe tears.
We are brothers and sisters to Australopithecus! Saber-toothed cats! Trilobites!
Pre-cellular protoplasm!
Extruded, one from the other, like sea-foam.

Lost for words. What words?
We fall down, back in time, blindly, willingly,
Hoping for… 
Some kind of recreation

Just another political/environmental/philosophy/science/poetry blog...

In this blog I will critique the modern environmental movement generally, sometimes harshly, sometimes lovingly, but always respectfully I hope. My arguments will spring from many different fields, including (gasp!) politics, philosophy, poetry, and science. So just to start, here is my basic creed :

Act Locally!
What is an environmentalist to do in the land of the free? Why not follow the old motto of the environmental movement: “Think globally, act locally”. Except forget the “global” part. Just act to protect what you love. Don’t meddle in other people’s business. Don’t force your values down their throats- they are living, breathing, adults just like you are. Practice kindness and respect. Be modest. Don’t pretend that you speak for the animals, the trees, or anything like that. You don’t- you speak only for yourself. Don’t forget that you are only human. Relax- everything will be OK, as long as power isn’t concentrated in the hands of the few.