Mod+ 258. JOHN MICHAEL GREER ON OUR MYTH OF PROGRESS

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by alex.tsakiris, Nov 11, 2014.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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  2. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's questions at the end of the podcast:

    1. Are we so conditioned to the myth of progress/technology/innovation that we can't see some of the ways we aren't progressing?

    2. Are our societies on shakier ground than formerly?
     
  3. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    This was an unusual podcast and I'm not at all sure I was entirely sympatico with Michael Greer. Maybe more on that later, but as regards Alex's questions:

    1. Are we so conditioned to the myth of progress/technology/innovation that we can't see some of the ways we aren't progressing?

    Well, I'd say that we've never been able to see fully how we aren't progressing in the only way that really matters, viz. spiritual evolution as individuals and as a species. A particular focus at the present time is innovation and technology, but there's always been a focus of some kind that tends to get in the way of making spiritual progress.

    I'm not sure that we haven't reached a critical point in human history, at least in the West, where a higher proportion of people than ever are focussed on spiritual issues. I mean, so many of us have more than we need in material terms, and never before have we been in the position to see so clearly that it doesn't bring much satisfaction. In the past, one had to be really well off to come to the conclusion that material possessions didn't hack it; most people had to concentrate on managing to subsist and lived short and brutal lives: as they still may do, of course, in the Third World.

    Moreover, in that world, they are in much more need of technology, which is one reason I don't like the political aspects of the AGW farrago. The agenda, conscious or not, in effect risks acting to stop undeveloped countries improving their lot. Luckily, I don't think it's going to work.

    Thing is, the world isn't homogeneous. There's no one approach that can be applied across the board, but one general aim would be to bring all nations up to a certain decent standard of living. If that applied generally, I tend to think that the worst excesses of war and injustice would be overcome, and population growth would likely stabilise or decrease.

    2. Are our societies on shakier ground than formerly?

    No, I don't think so. They've always rested on shaky ground, and times have been even worse than they are at the moment. We have to accept that human beings aren't now, and never have been, perfect; that progress (however one defines it) has always happened in fits and starts; and that civilisations have come and gone and probably will continue to do so for a while yet.
     
  4. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I might listen to this podcast again, because I was a little distracted in places, but I was disappointed that he never seemed to go into detail about magic. He seemed more comfortable discussing political/ecological issues, where he seemed to argue in both ends of the stick regarding AGW and waste recycling.

    We have probably discussed AGW enough, so on to waste recycling, I am very much with your views, Alex. I think the green movement would have been much better focussed on some combination of:

    1) High grade recycling - e.g. you take your empty olive jar back to the store and get it refilled, rather than discarding the jar into recycling.

    2) Reducing the amount of packaging and food waste in the first place, and making goods last longer and be more repairable.

    It seems to me that it would be helpful to discuss the actual value of the recycled products. For example, if a glass jar costing say 1$ is recycled into road fill worth 1/10 as much, then that is 10% recycling. If we costed the collection of material with those huge trucks, I don't think it would make any sense at all.

    David
     
  5. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    This is so obviously the right thing to do, but corporate capitalism is all about built-in obsolescence and about using advertising to get us to buy more and more things we don't really need.

    And yet if people ever do successfully ban corporate advertising, or if there is an education system that produces critical and informed citizens capable of seeing through the corporate advertising, the system will come to a grinding halt.
     
  6. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    I'd like to know whether Greer is familiar with the work of the British philosopher John Gray. In books like Straw Dogs and Black Mass, he argues that while progress in science and technology is real, moral progress is a myth.

    Gray points out that many believers in moral and political progress seem to think that once some evil has been prohibited (e.g. slavery, the subjugation of women, torture), it will STAY PROHIBITED and will never come back, and so we can move on and work on other things. In this way, believers in progress think we're slowly but surely building on past victories and heading for some kind of utopia.

    But Gray argues that these things can and do come back, as political and economic circumstances change, and so this idea of gradually progressing towards a utopian world is just impossible.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the interview with Greer. He was an excellent guest and I'll go and read some of his stuff.
     
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  7. I'd say yes to both, for reasons similar to Greer's. I think the myth of progress is the driving force behind the religion of skeptical/materialist evangelism. There's this idea that if the world got rid of all spiritual sentiments reason would prevail and a rational, technological utopia would result. Of course, if the reality is more akin to the peak oil, long descent scenario Greer argues for than the entire idea that universal atheist materialism leads to secular humanism is incredibly questionable as it seems to me the rational utopia requires technology to provide security if no one believes in free will but everyone still behaves. In a time of chaos, everyone thinking they are biological robots designed to mate and then die doesn't seem like a good narrative with which to preserve civilization.

    As for whether our society is on shakier ground, I do think there are a variety of problems both extant and on the horizon. I think Kripal's description of the paranormal as a potential vehicle for the sacred beyond rationalist and fundamentalist abstractions is something worth looking into. Treating our planet & ourselves as sacred might help us from killing ourselves via either materialist nihilism, religious fundamentalism, resource depletion, and/or pollution. That said, I don't know if the long descent from peak oil is coming now or later, nor do I know if any solution might be found in the interim. I do think we should enact some changes at the individual level to slow the depletion of resources but not sure how to balance that with the varied economic concerns.

    What's amusing is that you'd think skeptics would be at the forefront of figuring out who in the peak resources debate has got the right answer, but I guess harassing parapsychologists and sitting on Wikipedia articles is more important. ;-)
     
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  8. John Maguire

    John Maguire New

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    I read Greer's Long Descent at the end of 2010 during a time when I was seriously, for the first time probably, pondering the meaning/underpinnings of "civilization" and my place in it. I think his work is indispensable in many ways, particularly because he focuses on the often neglected topic of "cultural narratives" and the myths we use to guide our direction as a collective (and even as individuals). This emphasis on the fact that humans live, and basically create their own problems, according to the stories they tell themselves, was a revelation for me. I suppose it gave me a lens (and a little bit of added courage) to start analyzing all sorts of "stories" I saw around me, and judging the integrity (or lack thereof) of any particular one based on my own research/analysis, . By doing this, one soon finds that you're completely surrounded by mostly bullshit & bullshit artists. I think Greer's way of thinking (i.e. his process), and not what he thinks (i.e. his more concrete opinions), is what people should take away from his work most of all. Just my two cents.
     
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  9. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well Real Green would certainly tread on the toes of a lot of powerful organisations, but IMHO the current Green movement - Pretend Green - that we have right now is a total sham. It wastes resources and makes countries much less resilient in vital resources like electricity.

    Yes, capitalism would need to change, but probably not quite as much as all that. I don't even think advertising need be banned - it does serve a useful function to publicise new products - but it would obviously help to curtail it.

    Dominic, capitalism wouldn't collapse, it would adapt to changing demands on it. It wasn't as it is now - when communism was a threat, it was forced into presenting a somewhat kinder face. Capitalism is fine if it is properly constrained. If we use less resources and more people (e.g. to repair or recondition stuff) there will still be money to be made out of those processes.

    Pretend Green upsets me, because it finds pretend problems and/or pretend solutions to the World's problems, and then seems to not even care if they work, or that continued population growth can quickly overwhelm any improvements it does manage to produce. AGW and many of the supposed correlations between traces of chemicals and illness are good examples of pretend problems, and recycling of rubbish is a good example of a pretend solution. All this masks the real problems, such as:

    1. Nuclear weapons proliferation, and the proliferation of weapons in general.

    2. Overpopulation.

    3. Destruction of the rain forests.

    4. Food waste.

    5. High level nuclear waste.

    etc.

    David
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2014
  10. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    David, re: rainforest destruction, check this out:

    http://heartland.org/sites/default/files/heartland-import/pdfs/23162B.pdf

    One rarely reads anything that indicates the issue might be exaggerated.

    Re: overpopulation, check out also:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/...fallacy-behind-the-fallacy-of-global-warming/

    Malthusianism is alive and well and at the bottom of much pessimism and despair. It's a major sin in the West these days to be an optimist, and in my view a lot of that is due to the increase in materialism. Ironically, many who aren't materialists are buying into this pessimism. It seems that many people can't do without some severe existential threat.

    I'll agree that we could do without nuclear weapons and I'm all for not wasting food: in fact I'm a fanatic about that, because I consider it immoral in a world where some are starving. But they're not starving because the earth can't produce enough food, apparently: it can produce more than enough for everyone. It's more to do with politics, corruption, wars, and all the rest.
     
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  11. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    If this has been exaggerated (and exaggeration seems to be par for the course!) that is all to the good, but I'd ideally like to see no further reduction in rain forest.
    Well ultimately, there is the question of where to house an ever growing population. I don't think we should fill the earth to bursting point with people, even if we can manage to produce enough food for them. Models that show the population explosion abating as people become Westernised, rely on predicting people's behaviour, and that isn't really feasible.
    We very rarely throw any food away, but I sometimes worry that if I buy and eat a sandwich, I am nevertheless encouraging an industry that clearly results in a lot of wasted food.

    Nuclear weapons are an ever present danger (unless we have been somehow tricked, and they don't really exist.........) and the World seems to have forgotten what these could do - maybe just because of a technical accident.

    David
     
  12. Alex

    Alex New

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    I think this is his main point. so we might not line up with him on the AGW stuff, but I think he offers some cool ideas that remind us of a different perspective.
     
  13. Alex

    Alex New

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    I suspect never. this is an economic issue. innovation/technology/market-forces will take care of it... like burning trees or whale oil in the past.
     
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  14. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Well, as the article says, the entire world population could fit into the state of Texas with 1063.4 sq ft (98.79 sq m) per person. Averaged over the entire earth's surface, that would be 72,314 sq m per person.

    In such a large area, on average there is an enormously greater biomass (microorganisms, insects, plants and other organisms) than there is in one human being. Just one average tree would have a larger biomass. I don't hear anyone complaining about the utter piggery of other organisms when it comes to hogging the earth's resources!
     
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  15. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    It's by no means certain that all oil/gas is biogenic. Moreover, switching to nuclear power (preferably thorium as it wouldn't be as easily weaponisable) could readily cater for all our energy needs and would emit hardly any CO2 in the process (not that that actually matters).

    However, the green blob, true misanthrope that it is, won't countenance that: it wants to save our grandchildren, apparently, by killing the maximum number of folk possible right now, preferably the poor and the old: anyone except its own acolytes. How I despise the hypocritical bastard.
     
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  16. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    [quote="Michael Larkin, post: 44344, member: 8"

    However, the green blob, true misanthrope that it is, won't countenance that: it wants to save our grandchildren, apparently, by killing the maximum number of folk possible right now, preferably the poor and the old: anyone except its own acolytes. How I despise the hypocritical bastard.[/quote]

    Right - I do agree with this. The pretend greens have no regard to the consequences of their ideas. They don't care if people freeze in their homes because power is too expensive, and I don't think they really care if all those waste recycling schemes waste more resources than they save. The whole thing has become a religion.

    However, ultimately human population must hit a limit - the only question is when, unless we acquired a technology to move vast numbers of people somewhere else that is hospitable. That is awfully hard to imagine - though not, I suppose impossible. Also, the larger the population becomes, the more we will get huge tragedies because people will live under volcanoes, or in earthquake zones.

    David
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2014
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  17. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    David, you might be interested in this critique of the mainstream environmentalist movement by the writer Paul Kingsnorth.

    Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist
    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6599/

    As for capitalism, I want to quote a passage from the essay 'Consumption' by Mark Sagoff in the Blackwell Companion to Environmental Philosophy.

    Marx recognized the paradox: since capital including technology causes production ever to increase, "needs" must also grow, to consume all that is produced. Imagine what would happen to the economy if consumers were all like Socrates, who, when looking at the mass of objects for sale, would say to himself, "How many things I have no need of!"

    So for me it's not very important whether we call the economy capitalist, post-capitalist, socialist, capitalism with a human face, or whatever. The key question is, what would happen to the economy and society if people had a deep understanding of human well-being, consumerism, advertising, our place in nature, the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything, and so on?

    Maybe the corporations would just stop bothering trying to play on people's fears and make people feel bad about themselves because they don't have the latest gadget or because they're not keeping up with the latest fashions. Maybe they wouldn't even try to encourage conspicuous and competitive consumption any more.
     
  18. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi Everyone

    Thought I would pop in and stir the waters.

    Isn't science magic? What is this about magic? I've read Golden Dawn, read Crowley. I do not know if you are all aware, but the definition he gives of magic is that given by Aleister Crowley: "change in conformity with the will". I've read Crowley. The Book of Lies is really good. But the magic books are, IMHO, lame. What he describes as the effects of magic are the same effects as practicing yoga. The difference is, everything is laid out very clearly in yoga. Western magic obscures otherwise simple issues about the nature of the mind and consciousness.

    But back to the point. Here is something I wrote years ago in Beyond The Physical:

    Just replace "occultism" with "magic".

    There is a direct historical lineage from the alchemical attempt to convert lead into gold and the ability to convert lead into gold inside a nuclear reactor.

    Anyway, overall, I thought it was a really nice interview, but this distinction between science and magic makes an artificial dichotomy by my reading of history.

    Best to all!

    Don
     
  19. John Maguire

    John Maguire New

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    Nice points about the false dichotomy Don. Clearly Scientific "practice" at it's most fundamental & Alchemy/Magic/Ritual are all just sides/permutations of the ancient rite of "dialoguing with nature". The main difference is that the hardline "secular" practitioners of modern scientific mysticism (including such vaunted anti-philosophers as Hawking & L. Krauss) are in a ridiculous amount of denial about what they're doing and "who they are"; it's both hilarious & tragic at the same time, for everyone involved.

    I think Prigogine spoke rather eloquently on the subject of "dialoguing with nature" in his classic work Order out of Chaos (though it does mostly focus on elucidating the differences between Newtonian vs. General Systems perspectives).
     
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  20. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Great points, John! Yeah, Prigogine was pretty cool, even if he was a materialist. At least he respectfully acknowledged other views . People like Krauss are, IMO, simply degenerate. I've been reading Herman Weyl. He's not super famous, but he is perhaps the most important person in 20th century physics. He invented the math that is behind the standard model of particle physics. That puts him ahead of people like Weinberg who used Weyl's math to formulate the standard model. People like Krauss are nowhere to be found on this level of intellect.

    Weyl is a trip. Every other word out of his mouth is "God". He wrote an essay The Open World. I strongly recommend you check it out if you have never seen it before. He actually puts Nicholas of Cusa WAAAAY up on a pedestal. I mention Nicholas and link to his book in Experience. Anyone who thinks Nicholas of Cusa is cool is WAAAAY cool in my book. It is just beyond the current crop of degenerates in physics to even understand this stuff.

    It is easy to read Weyl as describing the source of magic in the world. He doesn't call it as such, framing it instead in more conventional religious AND mathematical (!) terms, but still, he describes it, explains how it is the basis of science, and exposes what a mystery it really is. That's why he calls it an "open" world. Open to the infinite possibilities.

    Not that I want to diverge too much, but having now read Weyl (greater than Einstein), Schrodinger (who formalized quantum mechanics), and Leibniz (invented calculus and dynamics), and seeing that all 3 were open to God, it just amazes me what an utter crop of nincompoops have taken over in physics today.

    You nailed it: both hilarious and tragic at the same time.

    Thanks, John! Nice to hear from you!
    Best,
    Don
     

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