The Convivial Society: Vol. 2, No. 19
Martin, these short essays are very enlightening, even if they just contain numbered paragraphs. Do not wreck yourself in trying to make it all coherent. The world is a mess right now and I really enjoy your additions. :-)
Here are a few thoughts that came to me, expanding on your essay:
Would it be exaggerated to state, that for probably the few last millennia humans have shaped themselves and their societies to fit into the systems they co-created to ensure their survival.
That is different from “made for human nature“. I am not even sure whether the idea of “human nature“ is not a modern fiction. See below.
Systems here means cybernetic systems that encompass all the physical exchange of matter and energy (what we now call economics and ecology but without the distinction between the human and “nature”).
Co-cration means that humans were probably never fully aware nor fully in control of all the complexity of these systems. As in Yuval Harari asking whether grain domesticised humans in the agricultural revolution.
In all stages of human evolution some form of fiction represents the core patterns of the system (as in a map that represents the landscape). We call this religion or ideology and it can be understood as the mediator between the necessities for the system to continue working and the behavior of the humans who are part of it.
So both create a dual-layered hyper-system of matter and form. *[That is very much inspired by Gregory Bateson]
Modernity stands out, because (a) fictions like the separation of man from “nature” or “the autonomous subject” hide very important parts of the system from the map.
The human-built sustem of meaning even makes massive ideological efforts to hide certain parts of itself which are absolutely necessary for its own continuation.
And (b) if you really look at the whole system, you see that it has a lot of patterns which clearly work against the survival of humans.
So, the fictional system of meaning (the religion we currently call “capitalism”) makes humans behave in a way and shape their physical and social world in a way, that endangers their own survival.
It needed such extravagant individuals like Ivan Illich to observe these patterns 50 years ago, but now they are pretty obvious even to a teenage girl (I’m talking of my daughter, not of Greta Thunberg).
The question is: How do you get out of such a vicious circle?
I was camped with an old friend, a couple of weeks ago, on Tilted Mesa, along the Nankoweap Trail in the Grand Canyon. We could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. In the evening, Venus, Junpiter, and Saturn were blazing in the sky, and in the morning, Mercury was a tiny rose colored ball just above the line of the fast-rising sun. Sitting there, it struck me how strongly I felt I belonged to the Earth, rather than the other way around - not that I ever subscribed to the other way around particularly. To be honest, I felt a little like the Little Prince, on his little round ball of a planet.
I think it's amazing, and odd, and tangentially pertinent to your essay, that I would only feel such a strong sense of belonging, and almost of human beingness, in a place so relatively devoid of technology - to many people, I imagine, it would be like being in the midst of nothingness.
I certainly don't feel that sense of belonging and humanity sitting here at my desk at work, even considering the work I do is relatively good, in an objective sort of way. And I certainly don't feel that way bicycling in traffic.
My wife and I have tried to live as close to our values as possible, but the structure of society does make it difficult. We lived without a car for most of our children's childhood, for example, but there's always some compromise to be made, and occasionally, I find myself feeling angry that most people do not see it as a compromise, or see the actions we take as silly or extreme. (Our recent housesitter was unimpressed by our homemade, Joseph Jenkins' style composting toilet.) When our refrigerator wore out a decade ago, we had long discussions about whether to replace it or not. For a while, we considered trying to use a Zeer pot for keeping things cool, but, in the end, we relented to the technological environment and bought another refrigerator.
I'm often unhappy and conflicted about my compromises, but I do weigh and measure and consider decisions about what technology I use. I often get the feeling the majority of people don't even weigh whether they should have a car, or a refrigerator, or a cell phone. I do my best to "be the change I want to see in the world," and I fall far short of doing so, (and somehow, I get the feeling that even Illich was not traveling by metabolic power alone to all his engagements), but it can be difficult when it feels you are swimming against the tide and still being swept out to sea.
First, since I haven't had the chance to comment in a while, congratulations on your recent milestones. Can't wait to read the book. I think you've really hit your stride with the newsletter over the last year. Glad you're now beginning to get more support (and glad to see the return of the News and Resources, which I always appreciate).
Anyway, this post brought so much to mind:
- Lately, I've been particularly aware of how social media, on-demand streaming, forums, feeds, and other fixtures of our post-broadcast communications infrastructure have overburdened our sense of personal responsibility as regards the moral and ethical lexicon, which is provoking considerable anxiety. Groups and subcultures concentrate within echo chambers where they and their moral/linguistic codes become hyper-refined, which then makes them inaccessible to those without the opportunity or desire to be included. So, generally, it feels harder and harder to choose an appropriate register and lexicon by which to communicate in any channel open to (by today's standards) even modestly inclusive audiences. Venkatesh Rao has recently fielded the idea that a common and useful defense mechanism is "ghost protocols," which he defines as "a pattern of interactions between two parties wherein one party pretends the other does not exist." It brings to mind Lyotard, or the fight for "the right to be forgotten," or how we now notice a camera perched in the corner of a room or embedded within a device and then immediately ignore it out of either habit or necessity. Basically, we capitulate to being unable to control our communication in this environment, and instead increasingly adapt by protecting our consciousness from the consequences.
- Your closing comments on animals reminded me of an issue I had with Meghan O' Gieblyn's recent book "God | Human | Animal | Machine" (which I recommend if you haven't read it). Gieblyn recounts her interactions with one of Sony's "Aibo" robot dogs, but somehow never mentions a potential displacement of the human and (non-robotic) canine relationship (probably because she doesn't have a dog herself, as she does mention). It's the kind of thing your questions concerning technology highlight. I couldn't help thinking of dogs in shelters, and that fewer of them might be adopted were some people able to have a dog-like presence in the house that never made a mess and could be turned off at will.
I'm continually reminded by the Dismemberment Plan lyric, "If they can make machines to save us labor, one day they'll do our hearts the very same favor."