The Buddha suggested the middle way between extremes, to find a balance between hedonism and asceticism, but I’m not sure that statically staying in the middle was what was meant. The Middle Way can be seen as the middle point between extremes, or it can be seen as the way that encompasses extremes in balance. This reminds me of another saying: All things in moderation, including moderation.
The Earth’s last human / will observe their last sunset / and write a haiku.
What will life be like for the last human on Earth? That’s something I’ve sometimes contemplated.
The Earth has a lifespan and cannot go on forever. Like us, Gaia is mortal. The Earth’s ability to filter greenhouse gases to keep itself at survivable temperatures will reach its limit as the sun expands and grows hotter with time. But before then, human civilisation will come to an end as complex life becomes more and more a burden to Earth’s life-sustaining powers – the last organisms will be as the first: single-celled organisms. Here I’ll contemplate one possible future for humanity, as positive as this vision of the Earth will allow.
The last humans on Earth will be something akin to Buddhists, contemplating, quite appropriately, the impermanence of it all. With equanimity and perhaps a bit of melancholy, they may realise that enlightenment is not needed to “cease suffering,” but that entropy will eventually achieve this anyway. Some, who cannot face such an end, may take off in their rocket ships to colonise the stars or other dimensions, if at all possible, but not everyone will be able to achieve this, and not everyone will want to.
How do we reach that point?
If we do not destroy our habitat or blow each other up we will survive and resolve the problems that currently face us, and we will achieve a complex global civilisation based on sustainability, creativity, diversity, equality, peace and cooperation. Our technological capacity will increase as time goes on, making life easier and letting us concentrate on being free and creative entities.
Over time, as noted before, the Earth’s capacity to sustain complex life will become limited, so civilisation will have to face its own mortality, and its citizens, freely and peacefully, will understand this and dismantle civilisation so that it doesn’t have an abrupt and catastrophic end. In the end, a small community of people will remain, celebrating and affirming the legacy of humanity to the end.
In the past I have used the words “there is no society,” not realising their neoliberal connotations. They have been used to justify a hostile world where solidarity and mutual support are naughty words, where what matters is the efforts of the individual, and any sense of community or cooperation (social obligation) is an impediment to the individual’s freedom and success in life. In this mode of thinking, as private individuals, we owe each other nothing, and we can’t oblige each other to part with our property without consent.
My own use of those words couldn’t have been further from this idea. For me “there is no society” means there is no such thing as “collective identity,” that the cultural identities of the world are abstract things whose function is to serve human interests, not vice versa. I don’t resent their existence, but I do rather resent that the individual human is subordinated to their cultural identity, a mere “cog in the machine”. Do I serve my cultural identity or does it serve me? To paraphrase Jesus Christ, “Humanity was not made to serve culture, culture was made to serve humanity.”
Society is an emergent property of the interactions of many individuals, ranging from momentary interactions to more permanent relationships and institutionalised community; it can be identified by its traditions, customs, symbols, institutions, history, underlying principles/values, territory and population. As far as I’m concerned, these are tools “in service” to humans, and the world is upside down when these cultural features dominate human life instead of being tools for our development and liberation. That’s what was behind my “there is no society”.
But to be honest I don’t see why the absence of society should negate any sense of compassion, solidarity or duty with other human beings. Human solidarity doesn’t require shared identity (culture, nationality, ethnicity, class, etc.) or group belonging – it shouldn’t have to. It just requires empathy, which happens when you recognise the personhood of another human being, or even the sentience of other creatures. An authentically ” individualised” person will be aware of the social and ecological connections surrounding them, and the interdependence that upholds them and that they uphold – not so the shallow egoism that’s made to appear like mature individualism.
The societies of the future now emerging look more like networks than coherent groups, but we can’t let that prevent us from creating a more compassionate world – on the contrary, it is an opportunity to do so.
(what confuses and amuses me is that there are neoliberals that court ideas of nationalism and patriotism that, in my opinion, run contrary to the principles of rampant individualism – at some point profit and patriotism have to come into conflict, and “free market” sounds like a recipe for cultural homogenisation and the undermining of national sovereignty. It just seems ironic)
The image of a person whose form and nature are intrinsically meshed with nature (whether animal or vegetable) are the most compelling images of divinity for me. Spirituality and ecology always have been, in my view, fundamentally linked, almost identical.
We have become “disconnected” from our ecological roots by industrialisation, urbanisation, and values that see life (human or otherwise) as an object for plunder. In this day and age spirituality cannot be about transcending the material realm or leaving it behind for another; it must be about connecting to it, incarnating into it, becoming more deeply involved with it and the other beings we co-exist with. Spirituality must connect us with the Web of Life of which we are a part so that every aspect of our lives and society participate creatively in the Earth’s ecosystem, which we depend upon for our lives!
Humanity is an expression of Nature, and everything we call “human” (culture, economy, society, spirituality, etc.) are also expressions of nature. They emerge out of the ecological matrix and then weave back into them, adding extra dimensions to the Web of Life. We don’t have to make a “return” to older ways that we perceive as somehow more ecological, but we should take the political and technological advances we have made and reintegrate them into a broader ecological context – the continued existence of our species and civilisation depends on this.
If there’s is anything I have firmly believed in over the years, it is this, and if there is ever a symbol that represents this, it is the Green Man, of whom I am a firm devotee, whether I have known it or not.
I’m taking a break from all those philosophical and political blogposts and doing something somewhat lighter(!). Spelling reform is something I’ve talked about here before, and though it interests me, I don’t see much future for it, though I still appreciate it as a aesthetic exercise. This blogpost is just an excuse to discuss it and share some reforms I’ve worked on.
English spelling can be quite tricky, enough that there’s a whole poem about it (The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité). If you look on Wikipedia for any language’s orthography page (such as French or Spanish), you’ll find a nice table that matches letters with their corresponding sounds. There was a time that there wasn’t one for English orthography – I’ve recently seen they’ve added one, though it’s understandably complex.
I remember when I was a boy the frustration of learning a few regular words, then learning that many words are quite irregular. Later I discovered there’s groups dedicated to reforming English spelling, and I thought yes! this is for me. English spelling needs an overhaul; it would make it easier to learn if it were more phonetically consistent. [compare this paragraph with the two spelling reforms below]
But the obstacles to getting it done are great. Can you imagine teaching everyone familiar with English a whole new spelling standard and republishing everything it it? That’s a huge logistical problem, not to mention it would face huge cultural resistance. I sometimes contemplate introducing something in my own writing, but fear that it would put a lot of readers off.
And what dialect should we base it on? Being pragmatic, I’d just use the dictionary standards, the UK’s Received Pronunciation and the US’s General American, and leave them open to adaption for other regional accents as necessary. I base my reforms in RP, but adapt them to my accent where they diverge.
The only way I see a spelling reform possible is if a regional dialect diverges so far form the standard dialects that it’s necessary to create it’s own orthography – even more so if there is a political purpose behind it, with a nation or region that wants to create its own identity distinct from others. The other way I imagine it happening is changing one spelling convention at a time (Spelling reform 1: bread>bred, thread>thred said>sed – though it makes me wonder about says: seys? ses? sez?), but Australia tried this and even this didn’t quite catch on.
Generally speaking, there are two styles of reform: romic and glossic. Generally speaking, romic is any reform that uses Latin as a base for reform, and glossic uses traditional English spelling conventions and regularises them. Below I offer two spelling reforms I’ve invented, one romic and the other glossic, based on one of the paragraphs above.
Romic (roumik): Ai remémber hwen ai woz e boi dhe frûstration ov lûrning e fyu regyeler wûrdz, dhen lûrning dhat meni wûrdz ar kwait irègyeler. Leiter ai diskûvered dher ar gruups dedikeitid to refórming Inglish speling, and I thoot yes! dhis iz for mi. Inglish speling niidz en ouverhool; it wud meik it iizir tu lûrn if it wer mor fenétikly kensístent.
Glossic (glosic): I remember when I woz a boy the frusstraishon ov lerning a few regueular wurdz, then lerning that meni wurdz ar quyt irregueular. Laiter I discuvverd thair are groops dedicaitid tu reforming Inglish speling, and I thaut yes! this iz for me. Inglish speling needz an oaverhaul; it wud maik it eezeer tu lern if it wer mor phoneticly consistent.
We don’t need a “reason” to live or want to live. Reason is of the intellect, which not all creatures are endowed with – they don’t need it. What they do have is vitality, instinct, life force or will to live. Call it what you want, but it is present in all living beings, and if you need a “reason” to live, then this basic impulse of life has become repressed or inverted against itself.
When we have run out of “reasons” to live, we are left with the will to live – pure, biological, instinctive. And if we find “nothing” under that pile of intellectual reason except apathy, doesn’t that mean we have become disconnected from life itself, and that our perception of it has become too abstract?
As I see it, life comes first, and our abstract “reasons” or “motives” are secondary to this. The body contains an energy that transcends the mind’s need for reason.
There is a time and place for pre-modern, modern and postmodern thinking. They all come with their advantages and disadvantages and they are all tools in our cultural toolbox – we just need to know how to use them.
Pre-modern (traditional) thinking gives society continuity and coherence, a cultural narrative to make sense of things, but its prescribed social roles can be extremely oppressive.
Modern thinking has its standardised criteria and gives us structure and direction with which we can mark progress, but this focus on progress and standards can be too narrow for everyone to conform to – cultural diversity and personal idiosyncrasies aren’t its top priorities.
Postmodern thinking relativizes perspective and frees us from any particular one, so we can experiment with and understand multiple perspectives, but this lack of direction or structure gives us no practical means to make decisions or define our lives and society.
They can all be useful in the right combination.
There are two competing worlds: a centralised one that is peaceful and cosmopolitan, cooperative and universal, but comes with a price of political hegemony, colonisation and cultural, economic and ecological homogeneity. The other is a decentralised one that is culturally, economically and ecologically diverse, with political autonomy for each nation and tribe, but which suffers from parochial thinking that shades into competitiveness, belligerence, xenophobia and bigotry.
I hope these aren’t the only two options, but I sometimes feel that they are, and that there is a thin path to tread between them, enjoying the positives of each one and keeping the negatives at bay.
There has to be a balance between centralisation and decentralisation, between independence and coordination. The answer, I believe, lies in federalism, that allows autonomy of local levels, and allows for coordination and cooperation on national, continental and global scales.
International institutions like the EU and UN are essential is today’s world, to avoid parochial thinking and promote peaceful cooperation between peoples, but their potentially “imperialistic” tendencies have to be offset by retaining sovereignty at local and national levels.
I hope, with a graded sovereignty from local to global levels, unity can be ensured without loss of diversity, and diversity can be preserved without a loss of unity.
Facts are facts and cannot be manipulated. However, we can manipulate the order in which and frequency with which they are presented. We can prioritise the presentation of some facts, and “casually” remain silent about others. We can play slight-of-hand with facts, redirecting focus so only what we want to be seen is seen. We can embellish and decorate facts, and infer things from them that might not be factual by leaving “gaps”. The medium through which facts are communicated and the social and psychological contexts into which they are introduced have fundamental affects on how we perceive them, leaving in doubt the objectivity of facts!
The human mind, limited by time, space and personality, is not omniscient and must painstakingly work through bits of information one at a time instead of all at once – an intuitive and holistic perception is a rare gift and may sometimes be too easily conflated with our biases. A list of facts doesn’t suffice for our understanding; we must have something else. We must have story and narrative, metaphor and analogy if we are to learn and grow. “Humanity cannot live from facts alone.”
Presentation is everything; narrative is everything. Human behaviour may be more motivated by narrative than fact. We may not be “free” from the need for narrative (and I’m not sure I would want to be), but we are free to choose from the multitude that exist, and even to create our own. We are artists as well as scientists, and though it can be tricky and even dangerous, we add creativity and colour to our reality that might otherwise be uninspiring.
Alongside this creativity we should strive to develop an “intuitive and holistic perception,” as well as stand firmly by the facts we have garnered, so as not to get lost in our own creations.
On its surface, personocracy looks a bit like anarchism, there is a de-emphasis or outright rejection of hierarchical institutions and an emphasis on the freedom and power of the individual, but where anarchism rejects government, personocracy sees power as essentially indissoluble. Making decisions about the structure and direction of the society we inhabit is unavoidable and necessary, whether it is done from institutions, the communities we inhabit or in the day-to-day choices we make as individuals. “Government” cannot be abolished, only re-envisaged.
But since the human is a social animal, power must be shared and/or coordinated with other people. Individuals must become “federated”, organising themselves through common principles and values, from personal relationships, through local communities to mass society. We may talk of “federal personocracy” or “democratic personocracy” – they are the same, describing a society of sovereign individuals who, by necessity, must enter into agreement with one another and organise themselves as groups or networks.
Finally, human society is inherently ecological and must be envisaged as part of planet Earth’s ecology. Humans are interdependent with each other, but also with the worldwide ecosystem in which we live. How power is organised and shared is as much about our relationship with other organisms and the ecological resources we use as it is about our relationship with other human beings.