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

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

  1. Sadly Krauss is backed by the skeptical evangelists who've corrupted philosophy, so he probably doesn't even realize what a buffoon he is:

    "For the last three centuries a certain metaphysical picture suggested by Newtonian or Galilean physics has been repeatedly confused with physics itself. (More recently, metaphysical pictures suggested by biology and by computer science have been confused with those subjects themselves, in much the same way.) Philosophers who love that picture do not have very much incentive to point out the confusion – if a philosophical picture is taken to be the picture endorsed by science, then attacks on the picture will seem to be attacks on science, and few philosophers will wish to be seen as enemies of science."
    -Hilary Putnam, Renewing Philosophy
     
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  2. David Eire

    David Eire New

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    Excellent interview and discussion Alex. Thanks to you and John Michael Greer.

    When I saw the title I thought it might be some kind of luddite or postmodern debunking of the reality of human progress.
    But it turned out to be a debunking of the myths that obstruct and obfuscate real human progress.
    Myths such as scientism and materialism; neither of which are scientific (or magical)
    Max Planck, who understood intimately what you were discussing wrote:
    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    Humanity is progressing, but that process has little relation to the myths of progress generated by successive generations of rulers and managers.
    Real scientists and magicians understand this, and they do as Mr Greer advises...do the best you can where and as you can.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2014
  3. David Eire

    David Eire New

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    Hello Don.
    Do you have a link to the text of Weyl's The Open World?
    Or any other of his works.
    Thanks
     
  4. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David

    A quick google search didn't turn up anything. I found the Standford Encyclopedia of philosophy entry on him, but on reading it, it seemed almost like a different person was being described compared to what I am getting out of reading Weyl.

    Unfortunately, it looks like you might have to resort to an old fashioned book!

    Best,

    Don
     
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  5. Sharon Rawlette

    Sharon Rawlette New

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    Rather than focusing on the biomass of a human being, I think it would be appropriate to consider the mass of all the things connected to an industrialized human's life: house, car, roads, stores, school, mono-cropped fields, power plant, sewage treatment facility, dead zones in rivers and oceans, electronics laced with heavy metals, etc.

    The problem is not the biomass of any one particular species. Many species (such as the trees you mentioned) have a great deal of biomass, but they use that biomass for the service of the entire ecological community. They draw minerals from deep in the ground and shed them with their leaves in fall, they capture the energy of the sun, they clean the air, they loosen the soil and feed soil microbes, etc. They are participating in a long-standing cooperative arrangement with great biological diversity. Humans, on the other hand, are inveterate disrupters of such systems. I don't mean to suggest that biological communities can't adapt to change, because of course they have a marvelous ability to do so. And some species have thrived on the wastes of human industry. But human civilizations have repeatedly left deserts in their wake. Once-fertile lands, teeming with diverse species have become barren, in the fashion of Mesopotamia and Greece. North America is vastly different, biologically, from what it was 500 years ago.

    You may say I'm silly to bemoan such changes, that change is a fact of life, just like hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. But as human beings we have the privilege of making conscious choices about the world we shape, or so we're told. We're told we're living in an age of great progress. But whether our present technological and social developments count objectively as "progress," I have to say that I'm not personally a fan. I'd much rather have a land of great forests and plains inhabited by great cats and buffalo. Maybe that preference is as arbitrary as any other, but I'm inclined not to think so. I'm inclined to think there is something objectively preferable about living in a way that cooperates with other life forms rather than extinguishing them.
     
  6. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    I don't deny that human beings have had an effect on ecosystems. There are definite negative ecological issues caused by anthropogenic activity of certain kinds, and I think that's what the environmental movement should be focussing on rather than CO2 production, which if anything is ecologically beneficial because it is increasing plant biomass at the moment.

    Additionally, the measures being taken to combat the highly exaggerated issue of anthropogenic CO2, supported by the Green Movement, are contributing to environmental problems. WRT the plant monocultures you bemoan, these days that is in large part due to the cultivation of biofuel sources, which has led to significant forest clearing and doesn't actually do anything to address the putative issue of anthropogenic CO2 production. This is something that some of the more enlightened Greens are increasingly recognising. Even Al Gore has admitted that this policy has been a mistake. The planting of biofuels has also led to reductions in land available for planting food crops, which has in turn raised food prices, most affecting the poor.

    What about the mining of Neodynium for the magnets in wind turbines? This has had disastrous environmental effects in China. Wind turbines themselves have led to a lot of habitat destruction: they require extensive concrete foundations and kill millions of bats and birds, including rare raptors.

    I could go on and on. What quite a lot of so-called environmentalists don't realise because they don't do research in areas that the Green Movement prefers to sweep under the carpet, is that the whole CO2 farrago might have been designed expressly to screw up the environment. The movement is in denial about the fact that it has come to promote the opposite of what it claims to stand for.

    People want for us to have a healthy environment? Good. So do I. Then they should take a critical look at the heavily politicised Green Movement and recognise that it's ignoring the important issues and causing more harm than good. The real issue it's pushing isn't the environment: in the end, it's the redistribution of wealth.

    Personally, I think that morally speaking that's a laudable aim if pursued in a sensible way. All indications are that the wealthier countries are, the less they tend to damage and pollute the environment. To become wealthier, they need copious affordable energy. The most effective way to provide that at the present moment is probably through thorium-fired nuclear power (though that may not always be the case: it's possible that there will be a breakthrough in some other area, such as LENR). But guess what: the great green blob is ideologically opposed to nuclear power as well as conventionally mined oil, coal, and gas.

    It wouldn't be so bad if wind and solar were practical alternatives. But actually, they're pathetic and unreliable sources of energy that don't even succeed in reducing CO2 emissions. They have to be backed up by conventional power generation because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. These inefficiencies offset any benefits they are supposed to bring.

    Finally, a more philosophical point: human beings are natural organisms no less than any others on earth. They have effects, some positive and some negative, and the same can be said for all organisms that exist or have ever existed on earth. Around 2.5 billion years ago, so the current story goes, there was the great oxidation event, when the dominant chemotrophic organisms were severely affected by ones that could generate oxygen through photosynthesis.

    If I'd been an intelligent chemotroph back then, I'd have bewailed the disastrous effect of these newcomers on my environment. They completely overturned the status quo, and many events since then have continued to radically change ecosystems. Human beings are natural, and unlike any other organism we know of, are capable of having conscious regard for other organisms. They aren't perfect in this respect, and some of them love to beat themselves up (or maybe the "others" whom they tend to blame without looking in the mirror?), but what other organism would even be capable of questioning its own motivations and effects?

    I believe that, lying behind a lot of the angst is an unhealthy degree of hatred of humanity: and that may well be just a stage in the evolution of human society that we need to overcome. In one way or another, balance will be achieved; the earth will carry on regardless and is immensely bigger and more influential than we can ever be. Let's stop being so pessimistic and have a little more compassion for our own species.
     
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  7. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I think the point is that human beings do like wild spaces and animals - we don't really want to live on a planet that consists mainly or entirely of urban space and agricultural areas. Even if we could stand that, we would always know that our children or grandchildren would have to change their ways or face disaster.

    Like Michael, I am convinced that the CO2 'problem' is essentially bogus. It is a tragedy if this stupid idea has been invented as a way of restricting population, because it can only restrict the population by making things go wrong and basically killing people.

    I also think that the CO2 scam is just one of a number of outrageous examples of organised science misbehaving. People are used to the idea that their politicians, bankers, heads of large corporations, etc have feet of clay. I think the next big discovery will be that science has become equally corrupt. I am not sure if the world was always quite as corrupt as it is now, possibly the endless obsession with money has made the world what it is now.

    I think that compassion for our own species would include effective birth control. Even if we lived on an infinite plane, and could expand forever, do we really want to condemn women to a long string of pregnancies, with the health problems that will produce?

    Maybe the links that Michael has given really do point to the origin of the CO2 scam, but I think we should not taint the idea of trying to limit population with the immense harm that the CO2 scam has done. In the end, it will have damaged the authority of science, because it will be seen to be bogus.

    David
     
  8. fire

    fire Guest

    I think the planet is very capable of taking care of itself. But maybe you are talking only about the human species?
     
  9. Super Sexy

    Super Sexy New

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    Why do people talk as if humans are not part of nature? Whatever humans are doing is what nature is doing to itself. We all abuse our bodies, surely.

    Many deserts result from a lazy and/or incompetent beaver population. Many fertile zones result from busy beavers.
     
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  10. Sharon Rawlette

    Sharon Rawlette New

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    Totally with you. I don't see how anyone who truly cared about the environment could have ever thought biocarburants were a good solution, or even a solution at all.

    Again, totally with you on this. Also, I don't know a great deal about the manufacture of solar panels, but I suspect they don't produce any net environmental benefit. Much better to reduce your electricity consumption than to worry about powering your home with solar electricity.

    BUT. I am certainly not with you when it comes to nuclear power. Talk about a way to poison the earth millions of years into the future....

    Interesting hypothesis, though I'm not sure I've run across that attitude in anyone I know personally. I don't feel any hatred for humanity (at least not consciously). I simply wish we had a culture that would making living cooperatively with other humans and other species easy and natural.[/quote]

    Agreed. I guess I'd just rather be part of the solution than the problem. Not that I have any good ideas about how to go about doing that.
     
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  11. Sharon Rawlette

    Sharon Rawlette New

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    Can you explain some of the data you're referring to here? In what way do you see each American citizen producing less environmental damage than each citizen in a significantly poorer nation? Because I see us consuming much more energy and producing much more waste (toxic and otherwise) than folks who can't afford enormous houses, personal automobiles, and new electronic gadgets every six months, even if we're rich enough to distance ourselves from the effects of these things.
     
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  12. David Eire

    David Eire New

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    Hi Michael
    Apologies if I have missunderstood, but I presume the comment about the "piggery of other organisms" is tongue in cheek?
    ..or not?

    Also, in fact the countries with the highest economic activity and wealth are the highest polluters
    China & the USA lead the pack. So the idea that it is the poor couintries that pollute is propaganda.
     
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  13. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Just my two cents on the ecological debates, but I think George Carlin said it best:



    Don
     
  14. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    I appreciate the reasonable tone of your responses, Sharon. By all means, let's have a civil debate. I hope you will also have noticed that nothing I said in response to you was couched in personal terms.

    With regard to the issue of Malthusianism underlying the ethos of the Green Movement, I would point you to this:

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

    That should give you an entry into the kind of thing I have in mind. There is a great deal more on the Web relating to this topic if you care to undertake more investigation.

    The fact is, the whole AGW issue has strong ideological and political underpinnings. Key proponents of catastrophism have admitted, in effect, that even if the alarm is unsupportable, it is something that helps them achieve political aims they deem vital. These aims owe a lot to Marxism, which seeks to overthrow Capitalism.

    I ought to say straight away that I'm not myself a political animal, and in any case, outside the goldfish bowl of the USA (I'm a Brit), which is heavily polarised between Republican and Democrat viewpoints, there are more nuanced views of the world. I tend to focus on spiritual aspects of human nature (and science) rather than politics, but the fact is that key proponents on either side of the AGW debate are politically or ideologically motivated.

    For the catastrophists, AGW is a Trojan Horse that provides them with a powerful weapon to do what they really want to do. They're using it to manipulate the sensibilities of well-meaning people with a genuine concern for the environment, but a lot of these latter aren't detecting the manipulation. I speak with some personal experience here, because before Climategate happened and started me on my investigation into AGW, I myself had been so manipulated, and more or less totally bought into the AGW memeplex (see: http://wearenarrative.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/cagw-memeplex-us-rev11.pdf).

    I'll also add that there's something to be said for the critiques of Capitalism, particularly in respect of international banking, which undoubtedly in one way or another is responsible for much human misery. My view is that we need to do a lot more to restrain the rapacious greed of financial corporations. If we don't, sooner or later the whole financial system is going to collapse, and we've already come pretty close to that in the recent past. However, I don't think the solution lies in oppressive state control, which we've already seen the dire effects of in Communist regimes.

    The only long-lasting solution, in my view, is a complete shift of perspective that is driven by a genuine global awakening of a more spiritual viewpoint. Which, if one thinks about it, would allow for a much greater concern for uncovering the truth not only in spiritual matters per se, but in all matters, including mundane ones.
     
  15. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    On your particular point about nuclear power, Sharon, some prominent Greens themselves are in favour of it. If what Greens truly want is to reduce CO2 emissions (even though I believe it's a complete red herring), then it's what is currently the most effective route to take. Believe it or not, Chernobyl and Fukushima notwithstanding, civil nuclear power has the best safety record. Personally, I can see a case for nuclear power to be abandoned, but if we do that and at the same time abandon oil, coal and gas, then current alternative power sources won't suffice and possibly billions of people, mostly the poor, will be badly affected. The death toll would be severe, but that would be in accord with Malthusian aims.

    As a general point, we can't look at long-term energy issues based on current technological capacities and understandings. For all we know, in a comparatively short time, we may discover a way of rendering harmless civil nuclear wastes, not to mention coming up with new energy sources that don't produce such wastes, and which are more reliable than current alternative sources. But I'll bet my bottom dollar that whatever we might come up with, if it proves efficient and effective, the Green movement will be against it. They're automatically against new-fangled stuff that actually works because they hanker after a mythical idyll that has never actually existed.

    What has been the effect of scaling back nuclear power in Germany as a result of the knee-jerk reaction to Fukushima? I'll tell you: it has been to swing towards increased reliance on coal in that country, so that its CO2 emissions are increasing. But that's just a drop in the ocean compared to what's happening in China and India, which are ploughing ahead with exploitation of their coal reserves. So as I've indicated, Green policies are proving completely counterproductive if what they really want to do is reduce CO2 emissions.
     
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  16. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Here's a fairly well-balanced view of the Kutznets curve:

    http://www.macalester.edu/~wests/econ231/yandleetal.pdf

    Look at a simple case. If we were to ban all fossil fuel use tomorrow, as well as civil nuclear power, then people would still need fuel for heating and cooking, because alternative sources don't currently supply anywhere near enough power to provide for the shortfall.

    The obvious source of that would be wood and/or animal dung. Increased deforestation would be one result, and air pollution, another. Broadly speaking, the Kutznet curve indicates that on the way to industrialisation, pollution increases, but at a certain point, it starts decreasing because nations become rich enough to deal with their pollution.

    It's more complicated than that, as the PDF discusses (it might also apply to poorer countries where its citizens have sufficient political influence, i.e. a correlation with democracy rather than income). Whatever, one can't presume that the richer a nation, the more degradative effects it has on its environment. This latent assumption underlies much alarmism. In the PDF (see conclusions section), it specifically mentions CO2, which it takes to be an exception, but that is based on unquestioning acceptance of the conventional AGW alarmist narrative. If anthropogenic CO2 is in fact not a major issue, then that strengthens the case that richer countries cause less pollution in their own back yards.

    Ironically, if the AGW alarmism is unwarranted, then the developed nations, by seeking to interfere with the development of third-world and developing nations through international climate treaties, are in effect doing the opposite of what they ostensibly want to achieve: they are increasing the likelihood of environmental degradation and pollution. Which once again, fits in with the Malthusian narrative.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2014
  17. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    I'm not personally against birth control methods that prevent conception, though do have moral reservations about abortion or coercive state policies like they have in China. People tend to have large families in places where poverty is an issue, because large families are one way to help ensure that one gets looked after in old age, and family members are needed to contribute to subsistence farming, etc. Even in Britain in the fairly recent past, large families were much more common than they are today, because we hadn't yet come through the industrialisation phase, and childhood mortality rates were much higher also.

    It's disputed of course, but there's a fair body of opinion that on current trends, the human population will stabilise, especially if industrialisation proceeds as it has been doing. Obviously, there are limits to the number of human beings that the planet can sustain, but there is currently more than enough to feed everyone, and starvation has much more to do with politics and war than the practicalities of food production.

    We are constantly increasing agricultural efficiency so that less land can produce more food, and GMO crops could help significantly in this. But of course, the Green Movement, once again, is ideologically opposed to that. I'm not 100% sure about GMO technology, but I'm not ideologically against it: we should be alert to any possible problems, but so far, I'm not persuaded that any significant ones have arisen, and the potential benefits of things like Golden rice could be enormous.
     
  18. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Yes.
    Obviously, all other things being equal, more people will produce more pollution. China is a much worse polluter than the USA or Europe, and not just because it has as many people as both combined: it's because it hasn't yet progressed enough in a technological sense.

    However, it isn't automatically true that the countries with the highest economic activity and wealth are the highest polluters. This is a narrative that the Green Movement likes to spin in furtherance of its underlying misanthropy and Malthusianism.

    You should read the PDF about the Kutznets curve that I mentioned in my response to Sharon.
     
  19. David Eire

    David Eire New

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    At this time, given the form of industrial consumer capitalism, which dominates in our world, there is an almost direct correlation between economic activity and pollution. It is not absolute since economic activity is not always, or in all rich nations, industrial. But at this time China and the USA and Japan and Germany etc are at the top of the list.

    There may be some truth in the Kutznets curve hypothesis; and there may not be. I mistrust it personally. I can see how it might be used by neo-classicists to justify free market ideology. However, at a time when America was certainly the most advanced and rich economy in the world (1960s to today), income and wealth inequality in the USA have increased steadily, especially since the 1970s.

    I agree that the Malthusian hypothesis is incorrect. I dont support it at all. The issue of pollution is not primarily a matter of how many of us there are, but rather how we live. In my opinion we need new systems of production and distribution; not less people. But I think the market is the worst possible mechanism to manage this issue (a major reason I distrust the K-curve hypothesis).
     
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  20. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Imagine that we had the population we have today, but we didn't have our technological societies. Would there be more or less pollution and environmental degradation? One could take the view that technology, at a certain point, helps minimise the deleterious effects of large numbers of people. In addition, the kinds of societies we have in the West provide legal infrastructures that help regulate crime and injustice, and at least some degree of equitable distribution of wealth and resources. It ain't perfect, but what could improve upon it? In the end, I think that would require large-scale change in human behaviour: principally, a more widespread individual focus on spirituality. I think that has to naturally evolve: it can't be forced.

    I think that a free market is a good thing; it would be nice if we actually had one. But in practice, there are all sorts of special interest groups that influence markets, Greens included. Look, for example, at subsidies for wind and solar power: they wouldn't be needed if the technology was actually effective and efficient. Look also whose pockets the subsidies line: generally it's the rich at the expense of the poor. All over the world, politicians and land owners promoting Green issues are benefiting financially from it.

    IMO, the Green movement is trying to impose a certain viewpoint on humanity, seeking to demonise, even criminalise, those who question it. One only has to look at how it operates in influencing governments. Prominent green spokespeople who want to tax the hell out of people typically jet-set all over the world and are more rather than less profligate than average folk who are just trying to survive from day to day. It's a movement led by liars and hypocrites, but unfortunately, many well-meaning sympathisers just can't see it.

    We can agree on that.

    IMO, the systems of production and distribution are pretty good. It's not the free market that screws things up, but the political interferences within it: they make it anything but free. Instead, it's become a mechanism for satisfying special interests, most often those of the rich and powerful. If you get rid of such free markets as we have altogether, you'll end up with some flavour of totalitarian control, and all indications are that these lead to much worse influences on the environment and on the lives of people. It's an old adage, but nonetheless a true one: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
     
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