22nd June 2008 | Draft
Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge
of fundamentally inconvenient truth
- / -
Learnings from variants of shunning
-- Shunning by religious groups
| Political shunning
| Moral shunning
| Experience of shunning
pain and suffering
Learnings from denial
-- Socio-political denial (and taboo)
| Individual denial
Sustaining a consensual reality
-- Faith communities
| Academic peer review
| Premature closure and groupthink
-- Emperor's new clothes
| Stone soup
| Elephant in the living room
Seeking the key
-- Countermeasures: camouflage
| Not seeing the forest for the trees
on the psyche
| Non-proliferation treaty
The "unsayable" and the "unsaid"
Systematic analysis of incommunicability
Strategic "cloaking" by surrogate problems: weapons of mass distraction
Transformative pressures: emergence of "new thinking"?
"Sustaining growth" as a Ponzi scheme?
Emergent psycho-cultural mirroring?
This is an exploration of the possibility that the phenomenon of shunning,
historically of great significance to the integrity of religious faiths, has
effectively become omnipresent and fundamental to the maintenance of
the integrity of the dominant socio-political worldview. However, rather than
being focused on individuals and their behaviour from the perspective of religion,
is it now to be found as a dynamic vigorously sustained with respect to conceptual
analysis of the global problematique and any remedial possibilities? As such
it might be expected to be inhibiting any effective coherent response to the
The question is how cognition can be "ordered" -- in both senses of the term
-- so as to avoid individual and collective exposure to that which is intuitively
sensed to be threatening. How can cognition be "ordered" such as not to see?
Specifically what can be learnt with respect to recognition of the challenge
Learnings from variants of shunning
Shunning by religious groups: Shunning may be described
as the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping
away from, an individual or group. There is a well-documented array of techniques
employed within various faiths, sects and secret societies, that can be related
in some way to the process of shunning:
Shunning, possibly associated with physical exclusion or threat, has notably
been applied against those deemed to be "unbelievers" in the preferred
worldview. For the Bah'ai, this is framed in terms of covenant
treatment of oath breakers divulging secrets, as in the case of Freemasonry,
is frequently cited.
Of relevance to the following exploration, the associated formal declaration
of anathema pertains
to the necessary avoidance of views held by those who may or may not be shunned.
The Islamic equivalent is haraam
and that in Judaism is cherem --
both may lead to some form of shunning.
Whilst these processes were more widely recognized in the past, they continue
to play a very significant role within modern faith communities and are considered
significant to their integrity and identity (see Alexandra Alter, Banned
From Church, Wall Street Journal, 18 January 2008; Committee
on Religious Shunning). Curiously however, the backlash from sexual
misconduct by clergy has resulted in parishioners being dewcribed as shunning
the Catholic Church (Robert Anglen,
Catholics shunning church, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 August
The question here is how are these processes are applied in relation
to secular worldviews and collective identities -- especially as they impact
on recognition of strategic priorities and options?
Political shunning: The formal secular equivalent is
of course the declaration of persona
non grata as commonly defined in diplomatic practice --
an equivalent of anathema. In the current context the question is whether
a fundamental challenge like overpopulation has been effectively declared
to be problema
non grata by
a process of which few are aware. Appropriately
one of the rare uses of this term is with respect to the problem of the unconsious,
as analyzed by John Fizer (The
Problem of the Unconscious in the Creative Process as Treated by Soviet Aesthetics,
1963), citing W. B. Yeats: The
more unconscious the creation, the more powerful.
As remarked by the former Permanent
Head of the Department of Science of Australia, John L. Farrands (Don't
Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear, 1993):
In 1992 perhaps the largest collection of government representatives ever
to assemble in one place met at Rio for the United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development. Known commonly as the Rio Summit... it was intended to address
environmental issues of global concern. Effort was concentrated on so-called
greenhouse emission gases by the developed world and the preservation of diversity
of species, mostly in the Third World. Whatever the practical outcome, it is
noteworthy that for whatever reason, religious or cultural, the problem of
population was not addressed. Unbelievable. (p. 176)
Top European leaders, including the bulk of Europe's royals, will not attend
the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. The human rights controversies
have caused many leaders to keep their distance. (European
Royalty, Politicians Shunning Olympic Games Ceremony, Deutsche
2 July 2008).
At the time of writing, an editorial in The Economist (How
to get him out,
28 June 2008) suggests with respect to the problematic president of Zimbabwe:
How to finish him off: The first and easiest act is to refuse to recognise
any administration led by Mr Mugabe. The European Union, the United States
and much of the rich world will ostracise him. Now is the time for Africa,
especially the influential regional club of 14 countries known as the Southern
African Development Community (SADC), to follow suit.
Is ostracism of this form effectively taken by such bodies with respect
to problematic issues like overpopulation ? What other issues are ostracized
in this way -- those that are "classified"?
On the other hand concern is expressed that voters are increasingly shunning
politics itself, as argued by Gill Hoffman (Shunning
Post, 12 June 2008):
When politicians are unpopular that's their problem, but when polls show
that the public is increasingly estranged from the political system itself,
it's everyone's problem. Think of "the system" as including all
the variables associated with political life - institutions, players, even
values. Yet no matter how serious the dissatisfaction, a political system's
legitimacy is best judged by its ability to respond to citizen frustration.
When too many people feel it doesn't deliver the goods and doesn't have the
capacity to repair what's broken, legitimacy is at risk.
Public shunning: In the light of the previous comment,
the manner in which public opinion shuns inconveneint truths -- like overpopulation
-- is well illustrated by the following quote regarding the shunning of the
embarrassment of 9/11.
great communal act of wishful thinking and purposeful amnesia?
(Jonathan Raban, How
US politics got personal, The Guardian, 14 July 2008)
Deep into 2007, people still lived in the "post-9/11" world.
Now, by a great communal act of wishful thinking and purposeful amnesia,
we seem to have willed ourselves into the period of post-post-9/11....
The stream of bad news about the sub-prime mortgage mess, job layoffs
everywhere from Starbucks to General Motors, the crumbling dollar, the
plummeting Dow Jones index, and the inflationary effect of the oil-price
crisis on just about everything on the shelves of the local supermarket,
holds our attention. Yet, whatever their political colours, Americans appear
weirdly reluctant to talk about the most traumatic national event in living
memory and the chain of world-altering actions that flowed from it -- actions
that have hugely contributed to the rocketing price of oil and the grim
state of the economy.
As the networks pull their correspondents from Kabul
and Baghdad, the news from that part of the world is growing faint, almost
to the point of inaudibility. You have to keep your eyes and ears peeled
in order to pick out of the static the whispery information about suicide
bombers killing scores at a time, assassinations, political stalemate,
the insolent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and
the interminable resurrections of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, despite successive
announcements of its final defeat.
Media shunning: Attention in the media to a shunning process
in relation to population has focused on immigration policies. One example
is that articlated by Tim Murray (The
Shunning of Immigration Critics by the BBC, ABC and CBC, The
Voice, 28 February 2008) who asks:
Is there something endemic in state broadcasting in the Anglophone world which
makes the population question taboo and the pro-immigration stance the default
position? Is there an intrinsic bias, and if so, where is it coming from? The
journalists, the presenters, the researchers, the producers or the higher-ups?
Is state media more captive of political correctness than the private media?
What might be said about the process whereby the overpopulation challenge
is shunned? What issues is it sought to shun through asserting state control
of media, even in countries that pride themselves on their democratic principles
-- as with France in 2008?
The case is made with respect to the factors inhibiting response to the current
food crisis by William Blum (Food
Riots, Spies, Duopoly, and Media Shunning of a 'Third
Dissident Voice, 2 May 2008).
Moral shunning: Concern has been expressed in the USA regarding "sexual
(Scapegoats and Shunning, Counterpunch,
4-5 March 2006):
By the early 2000s, pedophile had become morphed with the still broader "sex
offender," with even mainstream media free to refer to the feared and hated
class as "pervs" and "perps" and "deviants." This scapegoating also requires
public exposure and shunning, even of those who dare defend the civil liberties
of pedophiles and sex offenders or challenge attacks on them... Nowhere is
censorship and shunning greater than against those who would describe or
depict childhood or adolescent sexuality, or mere nudity...The full force
of this shunning and scapegoating is aimed at those who can be labeled pedophiles.
On the other hand, the extent of shunning is raised from a contrasting
perspective by Jonathan Falwell (Society
Shunning Morality, Newsmax, 1 February 2008).
shunning: The transformation of religious ethical
principles into human rights has been one factor in promoting a form of
shunning against offenders. As noted by Patrick Keenan (Financial
Globalization and Human Rights, Columbia
Journal of Transnational Law):
This reputational approach, often referred to as naming and
shaming, has long been the primary mechanism of enforcing human rights norms.
Shaming was sometimes accompanied by a form of economic shunning, with countries
who violated human rights norms finding it more difficult to find trading partners
in the developed world.
of shunning: Beyond formal description of the shunning process,
of great interest is the actual experience of that process from both sides:
- how one engages in "not seeing", whether in the case of someone
declared by one's community as to be shunned, a person of a "lower"
class (or a servant), someone of an unrecognized ethnic group, or a person
visibly challenged by a disability -- or "losers" of all kinds
- how one experiences "not being seen", as in
any of those cases -- of being "invisible" and merely "part
of the scenery" -- as exemplified by the experience of women down the
centuries (cf Elise
The Underside of History: a view of women through time,
Shunning pain and suffering: There are
many examples of failure to recognize the pain of others, whether deliberately
or inadvertently (see Algosphere).
These include those suffering physically, socio-economically, and psychologically.
It is most obvious in the indifference to the "collateral damage" of
military intervention and the acceptance of collective violence under certain
circumstances ("just war" etc). Violence is shunned from an early
age in attitudes towards bullying, domestic violence, rape and street violence.
The implications of violence are notably shunned in the case of the institutionalized,
especially where this is known to involve torture or execution. Structural
violence evokes the subtlest forms of shunning -- effectively dissociating
observers from any need to empathize with those who suffer -- or to act out
of that experience.
Shunning pain extends to that associated with hunting and
slaughter of animals for food or pleasure. It might be understood as a culturally
cultivated indifference. The phenomon is the focus of a study by Stanley Cohen
of Denial: knowing about atrocities and suffering,
2001). The most general assessment of its nature is to be found in the understanding
of ahimsa by Hinduism,
Buddhism and Jainism, as discussed elsewhwere (Varieties
of Terrorism -- extended to the experience of the terrorized, 2004).
|Their lofty souls have telescopic eyes
Which see the smallest speck of distant pain,
While at their feet, a world of agonies
Unseen, unheard, unheeded, writhes in vain
(from The Ranter,
1830, by Ebenezer
aka Corn Law Rhymer)
Discrimination: These examples highlight the extent to which
some form of shunning is fundamental to the "art" and practice of discrimination
-- and to the pain it may engender. It is indicative of the manner in which
issues, rather than people, may be rendered "invisible" and widely
treated as such -- a motivation for the problem profiling in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential.
Of particular interest is the "visibility"
associated with VIPs -- in contrast with the "invisibility" of others
"nobody" is declared to be present.
Many of these processes are addressed in concerns regarding "discrimination".
Unfortunately efforts to alleviate "discrimination" do little to address the
challenges of "discernment" with which they may be associated. In fact measures
against discrimination may distract from efforts to increase discernment
and the critical
thinking required to elicit new thinking in response to the
challenges of the times (Web resources: Critical thinking
vs. Specious arguments,
Learnings from denial
Denial has been much discussed in recent years in relation to global warming.
What can be learnt from this in relation to the challenge of overpopulation
-- for which the degree of denial is rarely discussed?
Socio-political denial (and taboo): Whether from a more secular
perspective, or as cultural norms strongly influenced by faith-based communities,
people and behaviours may be declared or treated as taboo.
In overtly secular societies, denial may
be institutionalized through censorship --
whether as moral censorship, military censorship, political
censorship or corporate
censorship. Typically this is done to ensure that
there is no public exposure or consideration of issues deemed destabilizing
to the collective worldview. In this sense it is a direct analogue
to the practices adopted by faith-based groups. These may of course also develop
distinct practices of religious
censorship, as with the Index
Librorum Prohibitorum maintained until 1965 by the
Whether or not there is any explicit or formal articulation of such taboo,
the challenge to society is evident in the ongoing debates relating to blasphemy
Especially relevant to the current exploration is the socio-political
significance of "extremism" and recent efforts to conflate it with "terrorism"
the Global Struggle against Extremism: "rooting for" normalization
vs. "rooting out" extremism? 2005). Perhaps even more challenging
are the forms of denial in which those of the pro-environmental movements engage
in condemning any dissent from their perspective -- in a mode and language
almost identical to those they oppose (Brendan O'Neill, Greens
are the enemies of liberty, The Guardian, 15 July 2008).
Academic denial: This phenomenon is evident in debate regarding
what disciplines or fields of study are to be considered acceptable and "serious"
in contrast to those deemed to be "outside the mainstream" as necessarily
dubious "fringe" preoccupations and disciplines. This is evident
in debates regarding the potential dangers of alternative and complementary
medicines. The process is notably to be seen in relation to creationism and
The phenomenon is fundamental to the challenge of interdisciplinarity --
when many disciplines view other disciplines as "marginal" and problematic
in some way. It is as characteristic of the encounters between representatives
of different schools of thought as it is between those of different faiths.
Potentially much more directly problematic is the extent to which the existence,
severity or implications of problems is repeatedly questioned by academics
-- as is evident in the recent debate regarding climate change and the manner
in which the scientific objectivity of such questioning and denial is itself
Especially interesting is the manner in which efforts to analyze
the evolution of the world problematique, as pioneered for the Club of Rome
in 1972, are themselves undermined in an academic context. As shown by Graham
Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,
CSIRO 2007), the original study provoked many criticisms which falsely stated
its conclusions in order to discredit it. Despite the repeated substantiation
of its conclusions, including warnings of overshoot and collapse, recommendations
of fundamental changes of policy and behaviour for sustainability have not
been taken up. One of its principal areas of focus was population.
Individual denial: This is a phenomenon widely documented
by the psychotherapeutic professions whereby an individual systematically avoids
consideration or acceptance of realities recognized by others in their community.
Sustaining a consensual reality
Is shunning the challenge of overpopulation essential to sustaining
the consensual reality of the current global civilization? The following cases
are indicative of ways of considering this possibility.
Faith communities: Despite decades of effort in relation
to inter-faith dialogue, it is difficult to detect any alleviation of the attitudes
that continue to sustain the many conflicts between religions in support of
the integrity and identity of their belief communities. As is evident with
respect to the symbolism of the hijab and its use in secular societies, the
problematic dimensions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours are central
to modern society (Politicization
of Evidence in the Plastic Turkey Era al-Qaida, Saddam, Assassination and the
Academic peer review: The process of sustaining an academic
consensual reality is highlighted by the gatekeeping function performed by
peer review, notably with respect to funding applications and journal publication.
In the context of an open world wide web, the significance of the process
has notably been challenged by a debate recently instigated by the Financial
|Clive Cookson and Andrew Jack, Science
Stifled?: why peer review is under pressure,
Financial Times, 12 June 2008
|Drummond Rennie, Journal
of the American Medical Association, 1986, November, 256(27), pp.
(cited by Cookson and Jack)
|Surendra Kelwala, Peer review is sadism at its best,
Financial Times, 17 June 2008
(arguing that Rennie "had it backwards")
|There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial,
no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology
too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and
too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular,
no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax
too offensive for a paper to end up in print.
||There is no study too exquisite, no hypothesis
too brilliant, no literature citation too exhaustive, no design too elegant,
no methodology too pristine, no presentation of results too accurate, no
analysis too clear, no discussion too magnificent, no conclusions too
straightforward, no language too simple for the peer reviewers to attack
it with total savagery if the paper happens to be from a third world
writer with limited command of the English language, or if the paper threatens
to shift fundamentally the prevailing self-serving approaches in doing
science in that particular field
The question this debate raises, after many decades of science, is to what
extent emergent themes and insights (potentially vital to any appropriate response
to the urgent challenges of the times) are subject to both the problematic
processes (highlighted by scientific peer review) and by any subtle analogue
-- of which the latter provide such a striking model.
The institutionalized "shunning" of emergent insights, ironically
of such concern to the Financial Times, is exacerbated by the well
documented phenomena of: product-promoting research (characteristic of the
medical sciences), politicized research (characteristic of post-9/11
American academia), defence research priorities, and faith-based research (characterized
by creationism and intelligent design).
In the USA, the challenge has been highlighted by controversies associated
with the American
Council of Trustees and Alumni originally co-founded by
Lynne Cheney, wife
of the Vice President. This notably undertook an aggressive attack on academic
freedom seeking the elimination of ideas and activities that placed 9/11 in
a historical context, or critical of the so-called war on terrorism (Roberto
J. Gonzalez, Lynne
Cheney-Joe Lieberman Group Puts Out a Blacklist, San
Jose Mercury News. 13 December 2001). Many of those blacklisted are top
scholars in their fields, and it appears that the report represents a kind
of academic terrorism designed to strike fear into other academics by making
examples of respected professors. As noted by Gary
in class, The Guardian, 4 April 4, 2006), university professors
are denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics;
and students encouraged to report on their tutors.
To what extent does this contribute directly to shunning of the population
Dynamically-gated communities: As discussed elsewhere (Dynamically
Gated Conceptual Communities: emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge
society, 2004), increasingly social groups, typical of the diversity
of civil society, might be usefully understood as forming into psycho-social
analogues of the "gated communities" that are now emerging in affluent
suburbs. Whilst in the latter case it is for security reasons to sustain a
particular lifestyle, in the psycho-social case it would appear to be a question
of sustaining a particular belief system or worldview. The process is being
reinforced by the rapid commercialization of the web and the creation of exclusion
zones -- gated communities in cyberspace -- accessible only to those who can
afford access to them and therefore explored as viable business models.
Premature closure and groupthink: The problematic relevance
of such gated-communities is well-illustrated by the "groupthink"
associated with the intelligence disaster that gave rise to the duplicitous
arguments in support of military intervention in Iraq, as argued elsewhere
the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale -- missing the link between "freedom
fighters" and "terrorists", 2002).
In this exploration there is case for considering a complementary process
that might be termed "group nonthink" -- to highlight
the extent to which a group invests in non-consideration of an issue or a phenomenon.
Of great interest is how group nonthink can be deliberately induced -- possibly
by media processes such as "dumbing
As explored below, it is fruitful to assume that there
may be issues that are so fundamental that they have been subject to an unsuspected
form of shunning and denial. The question is how to begin to think about
what cannot -- of necessity -- be adequately described. Of great interest is
the reaction of anyone presented with a topic or situation which habitually
triggers a "shunning
of denial. Metaphorically it might be argued that "their eyes glaze over".
Conceptually they "slide around" the issue, accompanied by appropriate
Is this how the response to overpopulation should be understood?
The challenge of
the above processes is how best to give a sense of them in order to raise
the question of what may be subject to institutionalized shunning without
any individual capacity to recognize it. The following metaphors may be helpful.
Emperor's new clothes: The much-cited, classic
fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (The
Emperor's New Clothes, 1837), together with its various adaptations,
offers an illustration of the extent to which socio-cultural systems "buy into"
a developing consensual reality that is totally disassociated from that which
is perceptible to innocent "unbelievers".
Are the various world governance initiatives to be understood as forming the
court of the Emperor in the last days of the current human civilization? Are
they each to be seen as competing to acclaim the quality of the cloth with
which the Emperor is variously clothed at major events in response to the
challenges of the times -- courteously offering for consideration other designs
and models of even higher quality (and even less substantial)? Clothed in
an invisible tissue of half-truths, the Emperor proceeds blithely on with the
greatest of dignity and gravitas -- despite the total disconnection with the
processes engendering the problematique the court collectively and arrogantly
claims as its responsibility.
Stone soup: In contrast to the tale of the Emperor's clothes
-- where "something" is
revealed to be "nothing" --
the tale of the Brothers
Grimm regarding "stone
soup" concerns the process
whereby "nothing" is revealed to be "something", after
Does this metaphor point to the poverty of insight -- essentially an unnourishing
stone carried in an empty
vessel -- that is brought to world governance gatherings? The
skill of the bearers of such a vessel, as initiators of the gathering, is in
being able to induce participants each to contribute a modicum of their own
insight to the pot to ensure, through such "cooperation", the nourishment
of the bearers. Despite satisfying the immediate needs of the initiators and
ensuring a "feel good" factor
for the participants, the question raised by this metaphor is whether such
nourishment is sustainable and adequate to the longer-term challenge. The answer
is indicated by the quality of the vows, pledges, promises and commitments
made in such gatherings -- as durable as the
solemn marital vows ("until death do us part") promoted as the appropriate
framework for engendering children that exacerbate population overshoot.
The implication of both tales may be further explored in the light of the
challenge of sustainability understood as an elusive condition where time stops
and nothing matters (Where
There is No Time and Nothing Matters: cognitive challenges at the Edge of the
Carp pond: It has been reported that
traditional Chinese farms usually had a small carp pond, often for a single
carp. The problem is that a single carp in a small pond positions itself in
the middle of the pond and seldom moves. Without any exercise its condition
rapidly deteriorates. The simple traditional solution is to place a rock in
the middle of the pond. The carp then has the visual illusion that it is in
a stream and that by swimming (between the rock "wall" and the other
visible "stream bank"), it is continually advancing towards some
fruitful goal. This suggests that by identifying a suitable "rock" and
positioning it appropriately in an otherwise static environment, an individual
can be encouraged to engage in what is perpetual, and therefore
sustainable, movement for her/his own health. In so doing the individual (or
a group) will be sustained by the illusion that he/she is moving towards some
fruitful goal. It is not obvious that this pattern need be consciously used.
As discussed earlier (Metaphoric
Entrapment in Time: avoiding the trap of Project Logic, 2000),
it is consistent with a feeling of frustration experienced by many,
without being able to articulate it. There is a sense that the socio-political
system has conned them into a pattern of activity that is essentially going
nowhere -- although offering insubstantial promises that things will get
better. The analysis discussed below offers a systematic understanding
of how such a "rock" functions
in terms of communication within complex institutions.
Elephant in the living room: Use of the expression an "elephant
in the living room" refers to an obvious truth that is being ignored
or goes unaddressed by a gathering or community of any kind. The expression
helpfully illustrates the possible dimensions of the challenge of overpopulation
-- that it is so easy to ignore in common discourse.
The political implications of such a challenge in the USA have been variously
explored. As a cognitive scientist, George
Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: the essential
guide for progressives, 2004) argues
that much of the success of the Republican Party could be attributed to a persistent
ability to control the language of key issues and thus position itself in
favorable terms to voters. He outlines in detail the traditional American values
that progressives hold, but are often unable to articulate. Columnist Ryan Sager
Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control
the Republican Party, 2006) uses the metaphor to discuss the conflict
for control of that party.
The metaphor has been differently used by Paul Bailey (Think
of an Elephant: combining science and spirituality for a better life,
2007) to show
that individual perception has its own potency, namely that individual
consciousness has its own charge, and such awareness has its own power of connection.
In this sense
observation actually does have its own power, its own energetic influence.
Seeking the key: There is a well-known
tale regarding the person who searched at night for a lost key -- under
a lamp light, because it was convenient to look where they could be seen --
even though the person knew that the key had been lost beyond the lighted
area. Technically this approach may be associated with forms of "tunnel
vision" and "silo
As a metaphor this tale illustrates the tendency to focus on seeking solutions
to global problems in those areas where a solution may be readily envisaged,
even though the key to the solution of the problem is known, unconsciously
perhaps, to be found only beyond what may be conventionally envisaged -- in
the shadows. The focus on
"carbon emissions" as a solution for climate change is of precisely
this nature. The challenge of overpopulation, which will continue to aggravate
that problem, lies beyond what is conveniently envisaged. Being in the shadow,
it cannot be "seen" -- and anyway it is inconvenient to attempt to
The metaphor is especially relevant in the case of climate change, because
the convenient focus is on solutions in the short-term (in the "lighted
when the implications of the challenge are far greater in the longer-term
It is in the "unlit" longer-term -- in which population increases
undermine any short-term solutions -- that sustainable solutions need to be
sought. This is equally true of other resource-related problems for which short-term
solutions are essentially temporary palliatives.
consideration of overpopulation may be seen as governed, to a significant degree
by prudery -- through its
overt concern with decorum and propriety and the consequent discomfort with
sexuality, nudity, alcohol, drug use and the like. As a result the sexual
processes through which the population increases can never be placed meaningfully
on the negotisating table -- although most probably a prime focus
of recreational activity during the course of
conferences on "climate change" and other crises. Such "under
the table" processes are assisted by the
provision of "adult movies" to conference hotel rooms in addition
to various forms of "collective entertainment". The situation is
even more curious in that one of the religions primarily responsible for blocking
any consideration of overpopulation has been been recently devastated by
the degree to which sexual abuse over decades by its clergy (as symbols of
decorum and propriety) has been systematically denied and covered up.
It is perhaps most tragic to recognize the incapacity of eminent scientists
and politicians to address the issue of overpopulation other than through the
use of euphemisms such as "demographics" and "demographic change" -- as though
the topic was conceptually radioactive.
Metaphorically this highlights the manner in which
the underlying process whereby a fundamental problem is "engendered" cannot
be considered within conventional processes -- however much it is a prime
daily preoccupation by those who collectively avoid its
recognition. Ironically, in an era of faith-based governance blithely ignoring
the manner in which Freudian metaphors are implicit in its discourse and
actions, it is perhaps to be expected that the remedy promoted for population
growth is yet more "drilling" and "pumping" -- especially "off-shore".
Is it appropriate to compare the shunning of overpopulation with the manner in
which authorities have shunned the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, or the
extent of covert homosexuality amongst those debating overpopulation? Is there
a case for "outing" those who covertly recognize the challenge of overpopulation
-- but fail to do so in their official capacities?
Airline weight reduction: As a direct response to rising
fuel costs, and partially presented as a means of reducing carbon emissions,
airlines over the past year have engaged in radical initiatives to reduce excess
weight. These range from reducing, if not eliminating, newspapers and brochures,
to replacement of glassware. to Aircraft construction is being reviewed to
eliminate the smallest dead weight items, including redundant wing lights,
as well as using lighter materials in contruction and seat design. Some airlines
now charge customers for a second bag. "The pressure is immense" to cut weight,
said John Heimlich, chief economist for the Air Transport Association of America,
an industry trade group. "Every penny more per gallon adds $195 million to
the industry's expenses per year".
This intense effort with regard to minutiae offers a striking insight into
shunning. There has never been the slightest suggestion by airlines that
passengers themselves should pay by personal weight according to some formula
-- even though airlines have for some time required exceedingly large passengers
to purchase two seat tickets, against much public outcry. The attitude towards
overpopulation can then be seen in terms of refusal to even discuss the cost
in non-renewable resources of the "collective obesity" of humanity.
Countermeasures: camouflage and decoys: A more proactive
approach to shunning is by camouflaging that which is to be avoided -- or by
the use of decoys or
distractants of some kind. In wartime decoys have played a significant role
-- whether to mislead enemy observers or the automated guidance system of their
missiles -- by simulating some physical properties of a real target. Chaff has
notably been used as a radar countermeasure which either appears as a cluster
of secondary targets on radar screens
or swamps the screen with multiple returns. Currently use is extensively made
of flare and infraread
countermeasures to mislead missile heat-seeking homing devices. Electronic
countermeasures (ECM) are also used to trick or deceive radar,
sonar, or other detection systems.
As a metaphor, such techniques point to the possibility of designing strategic
decoys to prevent appropriate detection of information regarding a priority
crisis. It might be asked to what extent the priorities accorded
to the "global warming crisis", the "food crisis", the "energy
"terrorism" are designed to function as "flares" or decoys
-- with the complicity of those who find them to be technically (and therefore
profitably) soluble challenges (Destructive
Weapons of Mass Distraction vs Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction,
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance,
2002). Shinned issues may therefore be imagined as effectively hidden from
awareness, whether deliberately or inadvertently, by a constant spray of
secondary initiatives that become the intense focus of acclaimed vigorous
action -- as is the case with the many worthy responses to carbon emissions.
This metaphor accords with the unchecked explosion in the use of "chaff"
(as in e-mail spam) and in the tendency to generate "flares" to
disguise investigative efforts in response to the information "heat"of
genuine crises. In the specific case of "overpopulation", one approach
combining both techniques is to ensure the population of cyberspace with
articles on topics such as "overpopulation of pets" so as to ensure
that they are highly ranked by search engines.
The more sophisticated development of such technology, and presumably the
metaphor, is to be found in so-called stealth
technology, whereby aircraft
are rendered invisible to electronic detection. Metaphorically such an approach
is partially recognized by the phrase "under the radar". The question
is however, notably in relation to overpopulation, whether some form of "stealth
is used within information systems in order to deflect any efforts to detect
or "lock onto" the challenge they represent. In its simplest
form this manifests as "classification" of documents as "secret" and "restricted".
Not seeing the forest for the trees: This
widely-cited phrase highlights the tendency to focus on detail without according
attention to context. This is a fundamentally asystemic perspective. Indeed,
in the case of population, the tendency is to focus a totally disproportionate
amount of media coverage and public debate on isolated individuals and singular
cases (a kidnapped child, a tragic disformity, a dangerous murderer, etc),
deliberately avoiding any reference to the larger numbers of individuals in
that condition -- especially if they are in distant countries. The argument
defending that policy is that people identity with individual human drama and
have no way of relating to the generality of similar suffering.
In the case of overpopulation, the drama of individual families, with 5, 10
or 15 children in need of public support, evokes little criticism -- and even
less analysis of its wider and longer-term implications. After all the children
will grow up to be voters, consumers and parishioners -- probably with families
of similar size.
There is a further irony to the metaphor in relation to climate change in
that people tend to become incensed at the prospect of a single tree being
cut down in their village, but remain indifferent to the cutting down of whole
forests -- as in the Amazon basin.
Taxation on the psyche: With respect to certainty in psycho-social
Franklin is frequently cited: "In
this world nothing is certain but death and taxes". Whilst religion is
especially concerned with appropriate responses to the existential fundamentals
of death, a widespread preoccupation with the response to taxes offers a valuable
metaphor for this exploration.
Whereas taxation is typically the prerogative of institutional government,
it is also a feature of other kinds of institution: religious taxes (including
tithing), community dues
(membership subscriptions), organized crime (protection
rackets), etc. The question is whether a belief system, religious or otherwise,
configures itself in relation to its believers in a manner that might be considered
a form of "taxation" on their "psychic income" -- however that might be understood.
Would the elusive "taxing" nature of such a relationship evoke responses
that might be distinctively described in terms of analogues to:
- tax avoidance as the legal utilization of the tax regime
to one's own advantage, in order to reduce the amount of tax that is payable
by means that are within the law.
- tax evasion as the general
term for efforts, by illegal means, to not pay taxes
Are the challenges of overpopulation a subtle tax on the psyche -- to be avoided
or evaded by means it is wise not to discuss in public?
Non-proliferation treaty: The arguments
relating to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty offer powerful insights in the light of the
threats to the world claimed by those of its signatories (already in possession
of such weapons) in the event of proliferation of nuclear weapons to other
countries. This is evident in the case of major tensions relating to potential
acquisition of such weapons by Iran and the concerns about their acquisition
by North Korea. Curiously it is those possessing such weapons, permanent
members of the UN Security Council, who claim the greatest capacity to
act responsibly (in the spirit of the UN Charter) with respect to their
use -- especially with regard to any commitment to nuclear disarmament,
rather than rearmament. Despite this claim, all have announced
they are prepared to use their weapons pre-emptively -- except China, the
only one to adopt a non-proliferation one
child policy. More curiously, only
four recognized sovereign states are not parties to the treaty: India, Israel,
Pakistan and North Korea. Of these, two have openly tested nuclear bombs.
Israel has a policy
of deliberate ambiguity regarding its own nuclear
weapons -- estimated to number 60-80 bombs -- to which the UN Security Council
assiduously avoids any reference. (see George Monbiot, We
lie and bluster about our nukes -- and then wag our fingers at Iran, The
Guardian, 29 July 2008)
The attitude of the UN Security Council on this matter offers an excellent
metaphor of institutionalized shunning of population proliferation. In this
case it might be argued that the most influential religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc) effectively
constitute the "permanent members" of the global ethical "security council"
-- promoting the belief in their inherent capacity to act responsibly -- especially
given that this is done with the authority of holy scripture. Curiously however
they are totally complicit in shunning any serious discussion of the implications
of population proliferation. None of them is of course prepared to consider
any form of "disarmament" to reduce the threat of population overshoot. Most
are in fact concerned about "rearmament" to maintain their competitive advantage
in response to the dire threat of fertility differentials. There is of course
no question of a Population Non-proliferation Treaty.
Mortgage financing: A mortgage is
the pledging of a property to a lender as a security for a mortgage
loan. As such it is evidence of a debt whereby the interest in real property
is transferred from the owner to the mortgage lender, on the condition that
this interest will be returned to the owner of the real estate when the terms
of the mortgage have been satisfied. The totally unexpected, but financially
catastrophic, sub-prime crisis of 2007-8 arose from the complicity between
gullible borrowers (eager to acquire housing with inadequate resources), and
their encouragement by imprudent financial institutions engaging in subprime
lending (namely lending at a higher rate than the prime rate). Only since
the crisis have there been suggestions that the time has come to ensure that
the entire financial system, including hedge funds and investment banks, become
subject to much stricter regulation (Kenneth Rogoff, End
of Financial Triumphalism? The Guardian, 4 August 2008).
This offers the most devastating metaphor of the challenge of overpopulation.
Imprudent religions encourage unchecked production of children by gullible
parents -- when the possibility of sustaining their ecological footprint is
increasingly risky. Parents are effectively deluded into "financing" this
endeavour through a form of "ecological mortage" guaranteed by those
religions (acting in the name of divinity). Populations are being encouraged
to borrow non-renewable environmental resources beyond their probable means
to repay -- or that of the generations they are thereby enabled to engender.
Like the finanical institutions (prior to the sub-prime crisis), these religions
offer ever assurance that all will be well -- and deprecate arguments to the
contrary. Given the moral authority of those religions, and the support they
elicit from voters, governments are also discouraged from questioning the quality
of the "financial packages" so offered. The quality of those "instruments",
in ecological terms, therefore goes totally unquestioned and unchallenged.
The metaphor offers a final twist in that the mortgage pledge only ceases when
the obligation of the borrower dies (hence "mort") -- either
when the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure.
Presumably it will be Gaia (acting in the name of divinity), as the lender
of last resort, who will foreclose -- ejecting humanity from its environmental
home as being ecologically uncreditworthy. Of particular interest within this
metaphor are the meanings that might be attributed to "prime
rate", supposedly the rate of interest in lending to favoured customers.
In environmental terms, might it be understood as the rate appropriate to healthy
system renewal -- to sustainability -- as opposed to the "sub-prime"
rates at which populations are encouraged to borrow? When will the era of "population
triumphalism" be challenged -- or by what?
|From the most respected and influential periodical
for the financial and business community
(see alsoThe Economist Covers (light version) by Roberto Rodrigues [30 Slides])
|Purported cover of 27th September 2008
in response to the scale of the collapse of the global financial system
(based on an economic model that The Economist had uncritically
over many years)
|Cover of 31st October 2009
on the basis of an
interpretation by The
for a new economic model suggesting that
"the population problem
is solving itself"
|Who is kidding whom this time
around? A "toxic argument" being sold to the credulous?
Or is the latest cover title an implicit appeal to heed the earlier title?
remedial injunction to ensure "business as usual" into the future?
The "unsayable" and
Irrespective of censorship in whatever form, it is appropriate to recall the
vast quantities of documentation deemed secret and requiring "classification"
-- accessible only to those with appropriate clearance. Scot Shane reports
that some 15.6 million documents were
classified in the USA in 2004 (Increase
in the Number of Documents Classified by the Government, New
York Times, 3 July
The purported danger of such documents to the integrity of psycho-social
systems is repeatedly cited -- notably presented as an honorable desire to
"protect national security" and to avoid "public
panic" or "personal
The challenge of such material bears a curious resemblance to that of radioactive
waste and its disposal -- being "too
hot to handle".
As with the latter, such dangerous "psychoactive
waste" might be said to have a "half-life" of 60 years
or more. Storing poses problems that are systemically analogous to those
of radioactive waste -- especially when it may be processed into an "information
bomb" as dangerous to society as a nuclear bomb.
More generally, the "unsaid" exists in many domains and sectors of society
of the "unsaid" in sustaining psycho-social community, 2003). It
necessarily has unexplored implications (Global
Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid" From myth-making towards a "wisdom
Does the challenge of overpopulation form part of the "unsaid" --
as have been the processes through which children are engendered? Is the threat
it constitutes -- as a "population bomb" -- to be validly compared
with the dangers of a nuclear bomb and its fallout? What then might be the
population analogues to the arguments against the threats posed by nuclear
proliferation, as in the case of Iran? Are there analogous arguments for sanctions
and even military intervention?
The unsaid may perhaps be most fruitfully explored through the well-recognized
cultural reluctance of Japanese to say "No" as originally documented by Keiko
Ueda (Sixteen Ways to Avoid Saying 'No' in Japanese, 1974; Masaaki
16 Ways to Avoid Saying No: an invitation to experience
Japanese management from the inside, 1982). These may be summarized
|16 Ways to Avoid Saying "No" ... to
Vague and ambiguous 'yes' or 'no'
|Lying (equivocation or making an excuse -- sickness, previous obligation,
Criticizing the question itself
Refusing the question
'Yes, but . . .'
|Delaying answer (e.g., 'We will write
you a letter.')
Internally 'yes,' externally 'no'
Internally 'no,' externally 'yes'
Equivalent of the English 'no' -- primarily used in filling
out forms, not in conversation
As in the concern
of politicians and religious authorities to maintain good relationships with
the population, avoidance of "No" reflects a concern for maintaining good relationships.
The more experienced
or sophisticated the person, the wider the repertoire of techniques used. Has
global policy with respect to overpopulation been imbued with a Japanese culture
style -- in order to maintain good relationships?
The above context cultivates question avoidance to a remarkable degree, as
argued elsewhere (Question
Avoidance, Evasion, Aversion and Phobia: why we are unable to escape from traps,
to which Many deserve Answers, 2000; Questionable
answers, 1995). Presumably the lack of curiosity or concern about
overpopulation can be understood from this perspective.
Question avoidance is perhaps most strikingly evident at the time of writing
in the response of the European Commission, and the political leadership of
its members, to the Irish "No" vote on the referendum regarding the Lisbon
Reform Treaty. As
with earlier negative votes in other countries, the response has been to avoid
understanding the justification of such views and simply to seek ways to oblige
the Irish to think again in order not to inhibit the progress of European
integration. There is absolutely no question of proactively eliciting questions
and insights from any source regarding possibilities that might reframe the
challenge of European governance. The widely exploited "open source" technologies
of the emergent knowledge society are held to be irrelevant to the pursuit
of such a rigid agenda. Necessarily the political leadership of Europe cannot
be wrong, irrespective of the unsolicited views of their electorates.
The irony is that such deliberately blinkered progress is claimed to be in
the name of a democracy -- one that has done its best to avoid democratic referenda,
even when promised in election manifestos. The consequence might be appropriately
described as formally initiating a period of "Bulldozer Democracy" to
achieve "Market Development" irrespective of the implications for
"Quality of Life". For the UK, the process has been well described
by Jackie Ashley (It's
no longer populist to put jobs ahead of the climate, The Guardian,
23 June 2008):
The government wants to hand over powers to give planning go-ahead on major
projects...to an unelected commission.... It wants the new system to speed
through projects that have been stuck for years in the slow (but democratic)
planning system.... in short, this isn't primarily about climate change at
all. It is about business and national growth, and projects that will often
run completely counter to environmental needs.
What are the terrifying questions that political leadership is desperate
to avoid in seeking a higher degree of undemocratic integration -- purportedly
to achieve a more coordinated response to terrorism? Are the consequences of
population overshoot to be considered in this light, especially when this may
translate into widespread social unrest? Is it absolutely "vital" to conceal
the nature and degree of dependency on growth in a society that might otherwise
be compared with resource vampirism -- in its dependence on oil for that growth
Civilization of Vampires: Governance through Demons and Vampires on Spin,
It is already foreseen that governance
of the future may need to be more autocratic in order to respond to such difficulties
-- confirming Plato's understanding of the decay of democracy into tyranny
The Failure of Democracy; On
Plato's Criticism of Democracy).
If such is the case, should the autocracy not focus to some degree on the underlying
process exacerbating conditions expected to give rise to social unrest -- and
to the oversimplifications from which vital new thinking will be much challenged
Curiously many strategies are elaborated to "stop" some process
considered inappropriate -- without asking questions as to what
is sustaining that process, how that might be addressed, and what might more
appropriately substitute for that process were it to be successfully "stopped".
Smoking offers the simplest illustration -- with the strategic focus being
placed simplistically on "not smoking". Into what was the desire
to smoke transmuted?
Rather than avoiding questions that challenge the problematic "consensual
reality", how would a "poly-sensual reality" enable new strategic options?
Vision vs Poly-sensual Engagement, 2006; Using
Disagreements for Superordinate Frame Configuration, 1992).
Systematic analysis of incommunicability
Although not his focus, potentially the most insightful, systematic exploration
of the communication issues relating to shunning is that of Ron Atkin (Mathematical
Structure in Human Affairs, 1974; Combinatorial
Connectivities in Social Systems; an application of simplicial complex structures
to the study of large organizations,
1977). His insights have also been communicated in more accessible form (Multidimensional
Man: can man live in three dimensions? 1981).
The implications for incommunicability were summarized in an earlier
Insights (Annex to Comprehension
of Appropriateness, 1986) which was later presented as Social
organization determined by incommunicability of insights in
the context of the Global
Strategies Project. The argument is summarized here to highlight its
implications for an understanding of shunning.
Modelling the communication problem: The perceptual significance of
Atkin's approach is well-illustrated by visual sensitivity to colours resulting
from the three primary hues (red, green and blue). These may be represented
on a simple triangle. Here the vertices (O-simplexes) represent the primary
hues, the sides are twofold combinations (1-simplexes), and the combination
of the three hues makes the central white (2-simplex).
--- Red, Green or Blue
--- Yellow (=Red/Green);
--- Purple (=Red/Blue); or
--- Turquoise (=Blue/Green)
--- White (=Red/Green/Blue)
Now to be able to see all the colours, including white, a person's vision
needs to have the ability to function within the triangle as 2-dimensional "traffic" on
that geometry, moving from location to location adjusting to the complexity
of the geometrical structure which carries the visual traffic. If the person's
vision is 1-dimensional, then white could not be perceived because the visual
traffic of seeing is restricted to the edges and vertices only.
If the person's colour vision is O-dimensional, then it is restricted to the
vertices. It can only see one vertex colour at a time and never a combination
(as represented by an edge). If vision was 3-dimensional, it would allow traffic
throughout the geometry, but would perceive other colours as well, calling
for a fourth vertex (forming a tetrahedron) in order to contain the full range
Dimensions of comprehension: If the geometry represents problems or
concepts (or modes of socio-economic organization) instead of colours, then
it would be expected that some people, in relation to that set, would have
O-dimensional comprehension (i.e. sensitive to isolated primary problems only).
In this sense there is an irony in the way that opposing political factions
each tend to identify with a particular primary colour as a symbol. Others
may have 1-dimensional comprehension (i.e. only sensitive to binary combinations
of primary problems). The latter would be unable to maintain attention to three
problems simultaneously in order to perceive the threefold combination (the
central, integrated or underlying "white" problem).
The threefold problem may then be termed a 2-hole in the pattern of communication
connectivity amongst those involved. For 2-dimensional traffic however, the
problem complex is coherent, comprehensible and well integrated. For the 1-dimensional
traffic, it feels less secure as a whole, since the whole complex may only
be experienced sequentially through a succession of experiences ("around
the edges"). The shape of the whole may then be deduced but not experienced.
For O-dimensional traffic, the underlying problem does not exist, since experience
Social action as traffic in a geometry: Generally speaking it seems
that action (of whatever kind) in the community can be seen as traffic in the
abstract geometry. This traffic must naturally avoid the holes (because it
is impossible for any such action to exist in a hole). The holes therefore
appear strangely as objects in the structure, as far as the traffic is concerned.
The difference is a logical one in that the word "q-hole" describes
a static feature of the geometry, whilst the world "q-object" describes
the experience of that hole by traffic which moves in that geometry.
Problems as comprehension inhibitors: This suggests new ways of
comprehending the nature of a problem.
As an "object" this phenomenon is an obstacle to communication and
comprehension and obliges those confronted with it to go "around" in
order to sense the higher dimensionality by which it is characterized. Communications "bounce
off" such objects. As a "hole" this phenomenon engenders, or
is engendered by, a pattern of communication. It appears to function both as "source" and "sink".
Atkin suggests that, in some way, which is not yet fully understood, object/holes
act as sources of energy for the possible traffic around them. From the initial
research it would appear that such objects/holes are characteristic of communication
patterns in most complex organizational systems. It seems highly probable that
they can also be detected in any partially ordered pattern of communication. "Societal
problems", "human needs", and "human values" merit
examination in this light from the perspective of different languages and modes
of socio-economic organization.
Traffic in an organizational geometry: Very concretely, Atkin has investigated
situations in which the "vertices" (which
could themselves be n-simplexes in a multidimensional geometry) are individuals
or offices linked together through various committees. They could also be governments
or disciplines. There will then be a lot of O-traffic and 1-traffic within
and between offices due to the details of their intra-and inter-office (bilateral)
This traffic will circulate around the holes/objects which they constitute.
Any n-level traffic can only be accommodated, or be brought to rest, by an
(n+1)-level body (e.g. an executive or a committee). If the latter does not
exist, such traffic will continue to circulate around the q-objects in the
structure and, according to Atkin, may be defined as noise. An "empire
builder" (or any elite), for example, in such an organizational system
will carefully create many q-holes underneath him (at the n-level), so that
subordinate bodies answerable only to his appointees, are trapped in the flow
of noise between them.
Atkin notes that even though the geometry may not have been rendered explicit,
such structures generate the feeling throughout a community of some "power
behind the scenes" acting to outwit the formal structure. The special
value of q-analysis is that it can clarify why action/discussion in connection
with (development) problems tends to be "circular" in the long-term,
however energetic it may appear in the short-term. As such it shows how social change
is blocked by the way in which conceptual traffic patterns itself around
any core problem, which is never confronted as such because the connectivity
pattern is inadequate to the dimensionality of the problem.
This would explain why so many problems go unresolved and why the process
of "solving" problems becomes institutionally of greater
importance than the actual "elimination" of the problem. Atkin
analyzes much more complex situations in exploring information flows through
the committee structure of a complex organization. He is especially concerned
with how information on substantive issues gets moved around
through appropriate committees without it being necessary to confront
core issues or bring them into focus, namely the bureaucratic technique
of handling information overload by avoiding use of that information.
Constraints on movement of communicable insights: Q-analysis gives
precision to the recognition that traffic of different degrees of content connectivity
finds (or creates) its appropriate level in any psycho-social communication
complex, presumably including a language. Communicable insights
are level-bound, especially where they are of high connectivity. In other
words, at the level within which it is possible to communicate, problems cannot
necessarily be anchored unambiguously into terms and definitions which "travel
well". Precision introduces distortion which is only acceptable locally
within any communicating society - although "locally" must be interpreted
in the non-geographical sense in which all nuclear physicists are near neighbours,
Human impoverishment and reduction of dimensionality: Such considerations
suggest the power of q-analysis in clarifying approaches to human and social
development in general. Reducing the dimensionality
of the geometry on which a person (or group) is able to live is an impoverishment
associated with repressive forces. Expanding the dimensionality
induces positive, attractive forces through which a sense of development and
enrichment is experienced. Q-analysis seems to be a valuable new language through
which precision can be given to intuitive experiences and their communication,
particularly since it provides an explicit measure of obstruction to change.
Disempowerment of response to problems: In the case of social development,
it is probable that most continuing
societal problems should be seen as holes/objects, especially given the
well-established record of unfruitful action in response to them - however
vigorous and dedicated. Typical examples are: peace/disarmament, development,
human rights, environment, etc. Q-analysis could then provide understanding
of why any action tends to be drawn into a vortex of futility, however
much it satisfies short-term political needs for visible "positive" action.
The participants in the action find themselves "circulating" around
a central concern of which they are unable to obtain an overview due to the
geometries of the overlapping conceptual and organizational structures through
which they work (or which they somehow engender).
Provided the dimensionality of discourse can be lowered, such that participants
are forced to circulate around a hole -- such as overpopulation -- the analysis
makes it clear how avoidance can be designed in. It would seem that this is
precisely what has been achieved in the case of overpopulation, namely how
the issue is effectively shunned in a complex institutional geometry.
might then be fruitfully asked how the dimensionality got diminished in this
way and why communication within the institutional geometry find this acceptable
The above-mentioned analysis by Ron Atkin raises fundamental questions as
to the degree of intellectual dishonesty that is associated with the emerging
knowledge society. Ironically Atkin's basic research was done on the communication
processes within and between the academic committees of his own university.
It identified the manner in which such communication circulated around core
issues without ever addressing them -- or even recognizing them. Communication
circulated around the "elephant in the living room" -- perhaps fruitfully
recalling the traditional Eastern tale
of the blind men and the elephant. He pointed to te possibility of judicious
placement of carp-pond-like "stones" in academic communities in order to "manage"
them without arousing their objections.
Is overpopulation to be considered such an elephant? Curiously analysis of
major crises, reporting of them, and recommendations for their solution, systematically
avoid reference to the burgeoning challenge of exploding population. This is
despite the attention drawn to such matters in systemic terms by the classic
report to the Club of Rome (Donella H. Meadows, et al. Limits
to Growth, 1972) and the many subsequent
refinements of "global modelling", notably under the auspices of the International
Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), or from a more topological
Global modelling perspective).
Current analyses, and
the proposals based upon them, can therefore only be considered as intellectually
dishonest -- reinforcing policies that are consequently profoundly dishonest
in failing to respond to the factors engendering the problems to which it is
more politically convenient to endeavour to respond. As such they might even
be considered by the future, in the light of their consequences, as crimes
An interesting and rare exception, indicative of the challenge, is that of
a declaration of the Egyptian President (Egyptian
president says unrestricted rise of the population affects the quality of life, International
Herald Tribune, 17 March
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Monday that the
unchecked rise of the population would wipe away all the returns of the
country's economic growth. Mubarak's remarks came during a Cabinet meeting to address the acute
shortages of subsidized bread that have hurt millions of the nation's poor
as well as a lack of housing to meet the rising demand. "The unrestricted
growth of the population is a national issue that affects the quality of the
citizen's life and the nation as well," the president was quoted as
saying by his spokesman Suleiman Awwad.
The challenge in Egypt is that birth control for fear of poverty, or to prevent
conception permanently is unlawful under Islam, according to a fatwa (Family
planning: vasectomy and tubal ligation, Islam
Online, 2006) -- as discussed by Will
family planning to avert a population crisis, Egypt runs into resistance, International
Herald Tribune, 2 July 2008 -- published
online under the amended title Egypt
fights to stem rapid population growth).
Under such circumstances, which other president or world leader would dare
to make such an explicit statement? But then who would accord it any attention
in practice? Like the incidence of corruption, it was only very late in its
own development that the World Bank chose to give official credibility to this
challenge and its implications for development programmes -- previously skillfully
Another clarification of the challenge is offered by the analysis of Thomas
Homer-Dixon (The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity,
and the renewal of civilization, 2006). This is based on very
extensive analysis of the burgeoning energy needs of the Roman Empire and the
manner in which inability to respond to them was fundamental to its collapse
-- at a time when its population was a fraction of what it might now be. His
analysis focuses on the central dependency on the energy needs required to
sustain the empire -- and especially its highly centralized administration.
That epoch has given rise to the expression "All
roads lead to Rome". In response to the need for energy transport to
the centre at that time, the road system (considered one of the
greatest engineering accomplishments) had some 50,000
miles of paved road radiating from the centre of Rome to the limits of the empire.
Of course it was primarily designed to facilitate the movement of troops to
ensure delivery of energy to the centre, but nevertheless it enabled use
for other purposes.
An argument may be made that any systemic analysis of the global system and
its problematique would show that it is effectively designed, like the roads
of Rome, in terms of flows required to sustain (population) growth as the central
ruling activity of human society. "Sustainable development" might
even be understood in terms of sustaining the growth of the human population.
As with populations beyond the borders of Rome, other flora and fauna of the
planet are of value only to the extent that they sustain that process. But,
as with the Roman Empire, this view can only be considered implicit in policy
options rather than being otherwise rendered explicit.
In commenting on the 2008 annual Global
Attitudes Survey by the Pew Research
Center, Philip Stephens (Saving
the planet will be difficult, but do not despair,
Financial Times, 20 June 2008), notes that denial remains a big problem.
The good news is that majorities in 14 of the 24 countries covered by this
annual poll see global warming as a very serious problem. The bad news is
that those countries with the smallest concerned majorities are the ones
that are also contributing most to the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Less than half - 42 per cent - of people in the US think the
rising temperature of the planet is a serious problem. In China, the figure
is a mere 24 per cent.
Given the lack of effective solutions to the global warming
problem as framed, more problematic is the lack of focus of such a "global
attitudes survey" on the implications of rising population. Such a survey reinforces
the general tendency to avoid recognizing the issue by itself avoiding the
introduction of that possibility into the survey.
In a separate survey of attitudes
in the USA (A
Deeper Partisan Divide Over Global Warming, 8 May 2008), the role
of population increase might be said to have been euphemistically encompassed
by the phrase "human activity" -- but presumably free of all sexual
The lack of conviction there that humans were exacerbating global warming is
echoed in the UK (Juliette Jowit, Poll:
most Britons doubt cause of climate change, The Observer,
22 June 2008).
Is there any doubt that the problematic effects
of climate change on human society would be dramatically reduced if the world
population was 10 per cent of its present size -- as provocatively explored
of Nonviolent Population Decimation,
|A G8 removed from the real world
Climate, oil and food crisis - it's no longer business as usual for world's
Larry Elliott, The Guardian, 7 July 2008
(on the occasion of the G8 Summit
in Hokkaido, 2008)
In the build-up to the summit, it has been clear that the individual
members of the G8 have been tempted to concentrate solely on the problems
facing their own economies and to defer action on the issues that have
dominated these events over the past five years...
...it would be a profound
mistake for the G8 to adopt that approach. For one thing, it is impossible
for any country, no matter how big and powerful, to insulate itself from
developments in the global economy. And even if they could, it would
still be stupid since in the long-term the stability of every country
in the world will require energy security, action on climate change and
the spread of economic prosperity to the billions living on or below
...there is no lasting solution to the world's macro economic problems
that does not include a solution to where we are going to get our energy
from, and how we marry strategies for growth with strategies for environmental
|But no consideration by the G8 of the process
that engenders the inexorable
increase in those problems?
As remarked by the former Permanent Head of the Department of Science of Australia,
John L. Farrands (Don't
Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear, 1993):
Population growth is the fundamental problem you should panic about, the problem
which will make all our palliatives about resources, peace, the environment,
the conservation of cuddly animals come to nought. (p. 151)
Overpopulation is not an insoluble problem, but it is a very difficult problem.
It is also a problem that, considering its nature, will take time to solve,and
that time is running out. While we are addressing the much less important
topics that I have taken as case studies in this book, the nations of the
world, singly and separately, are merely nibbling at the edges of this one.
They must not be allowed to get away with it. Action requires pressure from
a public which understands the scientific, social and economic aspects of
the problem. That means you. PANIC! (p. 167).
The combined problems of population growth and economic growth demand that
we apply more intelligence to their solution than we have shown to date in
our global environmental and economic planning, or we shall just be like
the frog in the slowly boiling pan of water who never identifies the point
of discomfort level beyond which it is fatal to stay. The frog is boiled
alive, every time. (p. 176)
Some responsible analyses of the global problematique already argue that the
momentum and acceleration of the processes leading towards some form of collapse
are now such as to preclude any effective rational policy solution. This is
not to say that "Gaia" will not engage systemic processes to resolve
system destabilization -- notably at the painfully violent expense of overpopulation
default global governor of "last resort"? 2008).
Given the prevalent intellectual dishonesty, and the
policies it sustains, it is no longer remedies to the population challenge
that are significant and worthy of study or comment. "Population" is
such a political "hot
and "no go area" that the consequences of its neglect can only
develop as it may -- perhaps as the most rapid means of achieving a systemically
Of greater significance for the future of humanity and the viability of its
environment -- and any other extraterrestrial environments that humanity
may activate in the future -- is therefore to elicit learnings from the manner
in which such a fundamental process is so systematically
denied and "shunned". Arguably, as explored by Jared
M. Diamond (Collapse:
how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005),
it is such learnings which humanity needs to render conscious and explicit
to navigate the roller coaster of the adaptive
notably as promoted by the Resilience Alliance.
The precautionary strategic
importance of resilience has recently been stressed in the synthesis by Thomas
Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization,
2006). The development of the concept is summarized by Aura Reggiani, Thomas
De Graaff and Peter Nijkamp (Resilience:
an evolutionary approach to spatial economic systems, Networks
and Spatial Economics, June 2002). The need for such collective consciousness,
in the light of its present inadequacies, has been extensively argued by John
Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995).
"Population issues" and "demographics" have been explored
in ways that have been proven to be strategically sterile and impotent -- ironically
appropriate metaphors (but without any compensating concern for "policy
aphrodisiacs"). Whether or not designed to that end, more
fruitful would be the exploration of how these issues are avoided and evaded
in the promotion of strategies claimed to be more relevant. There
is considerable scope for:
- tracking development of past issues and exploring the dynamics of how avoidance
of population issues was ensured
- engaging in experiments purportedly seeking to address population issues
and observing the manner in which such experiments were undermined -- a form
of "sting operation" in which the experiment is primarily designed
to determine how the significance of the experiment is neutralized
Both approaches are consistent with substantiating, with respect to this central
issue, what was defined by management cybernetician Stafford
Beer as an institutional adaptation of Le
Reformers, critics of institutions, consultants
in innovation, people in sort who "want to get something done", often
fail to see this point They cannot understand why their strictures, advice
or demands do not result effective change. They expect either to achieve
a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the premises.
But an ultrastable system (like a social institution)... has no need
to react in either of these ways. It specialises in equilibrial readjustment
which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring no actual
alteration in the macro-systemic characteristics that he is trying to
do something about. (The Cybernetic Cytoblast: management itself.
Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetics Congress, September
The central learning is presumably to be found in discovering by what humanity's
sustaining cultural myth is so fundamentally terrified -- beyond the judicious
oversimplifications of "terrorism" (Promoting
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance,
|Ending the "Stultifying Silence"
in a "Broken Society"?
(Allegra Stratton, Don't
be afraid to say what's right and wrong --
The Guardian, 8 July 2008)
David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative Party, called for an
end to the failure to distinguish between good and bad behaviour -- and
"a mandate to call time on the twisted values that have eaten away at
our social fabric":
have not found the words to say it sensitively. Then I realised, that
is the whole point: we, as a society, have been far too sensitive. In
order to avoid injury to people's feelings, to avoid appearing judgmental,
we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long
erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect
for others, of deferring gratification instead of instant gratification."
"We talk about
people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it's as if these
things - obesity, alcohol abuse, drug addiction - are purely external
events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances... have
a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices
that people make."
|... but what of the behaviour engendering
and of those who reinforce it -- at any cost?
Strategic "cloaking" by surrogate problems:
weapons of mass distraction
How then is the systemic causative process of exploding population so effectively
"shunned"? How is the process strategically "cloaked" --
to employ a term familiar to science fiction enthusiasts and their military
emulators? Indeed, from a military perspective, the issue is how to camouflage
issues such as to render them effectively invisible? What indeed are the analogues
to stealth technology in
a socio-political context? How do these relate to "image management" and to
subliminal communication --
as employed in "public relations" and propaganda?
The approach taken in the Roman Empire was then summarized as "panem
et circenses" -- subsequently widely cited as "bread
and circuses". Then
as now, "bread" is increasingly a challenge -- and appeals to Marie
"let them eat
cake" are as politically naive now as then. On the
other hand, as then, huge resources are now devoted to "circuses" in
the form of media facilities, notably gory virtually gaming beyond any horrors
practiced in Roman stadia.
Whereas these practices are considered appropriate to many, strategically
greater sophistication is required in cloaking the challenge of population
increase in which the population is naturally enthusiastically engaged.
The question is how preferred strategic options -- surrogate problems -- are
used as "weapons
of mass distraction", as vast exercises in cognitive displacement (Destructive
Weapons of Mass Distraction vs Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction,
- "war on terror": the manner in which terrorism
is promoted as a prime distractive strategic focus is
discussed elsewhere (Promoting a Singular Global Threat
-- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance, 2002)
- climate change crisis: this is now presented as the fundamental
challenge for humanity's immediate future (Al Gore, An
Inconvenient Truth, 2006),
assiduously avoiding any reference to the manner in which population increase
will rapidly undermine any remedial action (as recognized, above, by the
- food crisis: now recognized as tragically dramatic for
many in developing countries, again assiduously avoiding the question of
how population increase would rapidly undermine any remedial measures
- energy crisis: already giving rise to social unrest in
industrialized countries, again without any reference to the future impact
on energy demand of population increase and rising expectations for products
requiring energy. Intellectually dishonest responses to the energy crisis
through promotion of biofuels are only recently recognized as impacting dramatically
on the food crisis.
Curiously the extensive resources allocated to these "crises" --
and others being promoted, such as the threat of asteroid collision with Earth
-- all focus narrowly on technical research and solutions consistent with existing
corporate business models -- effectively on "silver bullets". Seemingly there
is little relevant expertise, or resources, for complex social challenges such
as the regression of city environments to the conditions prior to industrialization.
Huge efforts are deployed to disarm those in Afghanistan and Iraq, with questionable
success -- but without any significant capacity to disarm those in city centres,
such as London or Washington.
Avoiding any reference to population as a causative factor,
a front page headline of the Financial Times (Carola Hoyos and Javier
fears over food and fuel crisis,
21 June 2008) argues:
Western countries have upgraded the food and fuel crisis into a national
security concern as they fear record high energy and agriculture commodity
costs are destabilising key developing regions of the world.
What is curious is the variety of "virtual wars" now recognized
as strategic fronts calling for the allocation of resources (Review
of the Range of Virtual Wars: a strategic comparison with the global war against
terrorism, 2005). Almost
no effort is devoted to determining the consequences of "winning" any
such war and "stopping" the phenomenon considered undesirable --
or of the manner in which these processes impact on each other. The use of
the military metaphor strangely echoes the battles staged in Roman stadia
-- by sponsors seeking popular political approval. More curious is that strategic
options are typically articulated using "bullet
points" without any sense of how the
"targets" for such bullets will respond to receiving the bullet intended
for them (Enhancing
Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors,
What calls for exploration is how these seemingly eminently respectable strategies
"cloak" psycho-active realities that are cognitively and politically "too
hot to handle". Echoing the tale of the Emperor's wardrobe, these cloaks
are now the focus of awards and the highest honours, as with according the
Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore -- an appropriately worthy award within its own
context. Indeed the award for enabling widespread recognition of climate change
might be seen as an award for a degree of collective "uncloaking"
of the systemic issues -- a process of conscientization. Recognition
of that "under-cloak" might more fruitfully be seen as merely
a step towards removing further layers in order to expose the naked reality
of the underlying issues and processes that the cloaks are designed so effectively
and elegantly to conceal.
Nakedness is both problematic to faith-based ethics
and a prime focus of individual preoccupation (intimately related to both consumer
marketing and population increase). In such a society, perhaps this process
of uncloaking might be fruitfully understood as a political "dance
of the seven veils" --
with all the attractions and perversions with which it is conventionally associated
in human civilization -- the truth being variously and seductively visible
beneath and between the veils.
Part of the challenge lies in correcting the methodology of any such exploration
of population increase for the kinds of perverted curiosity with which the
reports on human sexual activity were associated and for which they were criticized
(Alfred Kinsey, Sexual
Behavior in the Human Male, 1948/1998; Shere
Hite, The Hite Report on Female Sexuality, 1976/2004). Beyond
Gore's use of the term, there are other challenges to any exploration of "an
inconvenient truth", as argued elsewhere (An
Inconvenient Truth about any inconvenient truth, 2008).
The Abrahamic religions have
been central both to efforts to avoid the population issue as well as to sustaining
continuing cycles of interreligious violence (Root
Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic
faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth, 2007). There
is therefore a need for careful exploration of the manner in which religion,
population and terror are intertwined.
Richard Kearney (Thinking after Terror: an interreligious challenge, Journal
of the Interdisciplinary Crossroads, 2, 1, April 2005) goes some
way towards exploring the relationship between religion and terror. In a commentary
on his argument (Thinking
in Terror: refocusing the interreligious challenge from "Thinking
after Terror", 2005 in the same issue), the following point was
Kearney positions his reflection in time as "thinking after terror".
This temporal displacement has unfortunate cognitive consequences, effectively
favouring a preoccupation with a terror-focused variant of Post-Traumatic
Stress Syndrome -- focusing on the terror as trauma after the
event. There is nevertheless a strong case for "thinking in terror" -- within the
actuality of the moment when terror is experienced. This may be the continuing
lived reality for many. Religions may even be said to emerge as a response
to terror of the unknown and inexplicable -- to be nourished by it, especially
in nourishing terror of the afterlife...
Religion and terror have always been intimately associated and it is not surprising
that it is faith-based regimes that have been the primary promoters of the
various facets of terrorism and the war on terror. As further argued:
There is a challenge offered by
terrorism from a spiritual perspective -- and by the scientific innovations
offering ever more horrific means of causing terror. The challenge lies in
whether the theoretical advances in the fundamental sciences regarding the
nature of reality offer cognitive guidelines and templates through which
dialogue can transcend the dualism separating religions. Pointers are, for
example, offered by physicist David Bohm (Wholeness and the Implicate
Order, 1980) and his subsequent deep involvement in dialogue processes
or by mathematician Ron Atkin (Multidimensional Man; can man live in
3-dimensional space?, 1981) [more].
People might thereby be carried into the "fabric of reality" -- into "the
stones" -- through a process that may hold a key to the "invisible" character
of the ubiquitous "unspeakable, inexplicable, unlocateable terror" to
which Kearney refers.
Is there a sense in which religions have served as vehicles
through which to mediate collective exposure to the terrifying nature of
the underlying reality to which desperate reproduction is a comprehensible,
But has this role now been assimilated into the political
processes of world governance and into the academic processes that sustain
them? Is this the
role and nature of secular "orthodoxy" as a cultural analogue to
Given the ill-considered, asystemic nature of the responses to this undefinable
terror, is it appropriate to ask:
"False understanding" of "Go
forth and multiply"? (Genesis, 24:2)
Gospel According to Mark (2002), James R. Edwards (discussing Mark,
7: 17-19) notes the imperviousness
of the disciples to the truth. He argues:
Their failure to understand is not the fault of stupidity, nor are they
in need of enlightenment by means of esoteric instruction, as in Gnosticism.
Their lack of perception is related to a false understanding of "this
parable"... A parable cannot be understood from the outside but only
by entering into it and seeing the reality it depicts from within. The
disciples are like a dog looking at the pointed finger of its master
rather than the object to which the finger points.
Transformative pressures: emergence of "new thinking"?
It might be hypothesized that the accelerating processes and increasing pressures
described above, and the questioning that they evoke in individuals -- if
not at the policy level -- are a characteristic of collective cultural development.
Is there a sense in which these processes are bringing people to an awareness
of the nature of the psycho-active terror from which religion overtly seeks
to protect them (as an "opium") but with which covertly it seeks
some form of transformative existential engagement? This could of course be
framed as a fundamental betrayal and perversion -- potentially of a scale
far greater than that recently uncovered in relation to systematic denial
and cover-up of sexual abuse by priesthoods.
It would be logical for this transformative focus to be linked with instinctual
reproductive pressures and their association with individual and collective
identity. But the essence of the transformational possibility might be hypothesized
to emerge into conscious awareness -- whether individually or collectively
-- only with the kinds of pressures and conditions noted by Jared Diamond.
For others it is framed as a singularity -- associated by some religions
with collective rapture.
Will such pressures lead to recognition that the instinctual pressure to
"reproduce" genetically is to be understood as a case of mistaken
concreteness -- perhaps even a deliberate misrepresentation? In an emerging
knowledge society great emphasis is placed on creativity, dematerialization
and virtualization. Does mistaken concreteness "cloak" the
sense in which it is "memetic
reproduction" that is a more realistic key to carrying identity through
the death for which religions strive to act as gatekeepers? Is it this that
is intuitively understood by those concerned with their "legacy"?
Is this a way of reframing and refocusing reproductive pressures -- especially
appropriate to a knowledge society? The French reflexive verb "se
although used pejoratively, is an indication of this understanding. Do other
languages offer valuable clues?
The millennial challenge of religions is typically articulated through the
dualism of "good" vs "evil" -- with which the terror in
question is so closely associated. This duality is reflected in the processes
of reproduction -- defined as a God-given "good", if not an obligation.
Any problematic consequences of overpopulation -- evoking the Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse in some form -- are to be associated with "evil".
From this the individuals concerned are necessarily dissociated, as seemingly
having no systemic responsibility. Any responsibility has been collectively
framed as deniable -- a perspective quesioned elsewhere (Universal
Declaration of Responsibilities of Human Intercourse: a draft proposal,
|Population bomb 'ticks louder than climate'
(Rosslyn Beeby. The Canberra Times, 22 July 2008)
|"Climate change is one of a number of stresses
we're facing, but it's overshadowed by global population growth and the
amount of water, land and energy needed to grow food to meet the projected
increase in population. We are facing a world population crisis." (Professor
Shahbaz Khan, UNESCO chief of sustainable water resources development,
"Sustaining growth" as a Ponzi scheme?
It is most curious that the fundamental model for the economic sustainability
of human civilization is entirely dependent on growth -- despite its challenges
(Fred C. Ikle, Growth
without end, amen? -- conservative policies and the need to assess economic
growth for the sake of growth, National Review,
7 March 1994). According to conventional thinking, if the economy does
not continue to grow there is no way that the viability of society can be ensured.
The point is made with regard to the analysis by one of the world's most influential
Jeffrey D. Sachs (Common
Wealth: economics for a crowded planet, 2008) by Martin Wolf (Sustaining
growth is the 21st century's big challenge, Financial
Times, 11 June 2008):
If economic growth halted, conflict among the world's people would
risk becoming unmanageable. If the environmental consequences proved overwhelming,
the costs of growth would become unbearable. We are the masters of our planet
now. The great question for the 21st century is whether we can also become
masters of ourselves.
The seemingly naive "fix-it" optimism of analyses such as those
of Sachs -- as for climate change -- completely fail to take into account
the track record of failures with regard to fix-it strategies of past UN "development
and development goals ("health for all", "food for all",
etc). Such optimism is only justified by success in narrowly defined, closed
system, technical initiatives -- as in aerospace or military intervention
Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering process,
In the case of open
system challenges, and humanitarian (peace-building) initiatives,
the failure of this mindset is being currently exemplified by what history
will no doubt define as humanity's most ill-conceived, disastrous and costly
initiative. As argued by a London East Ender, how is it that unprecedented
resources are so enthusiastically and unsuccessfuly deployed in Afghanistan
to neutralize the Taliban, whereas it has proven impossible to disarm the
teenagers in London schools?
The optimism has been justified in the USA by
reducing the complexity of social systems -- resulting in the incarceration
in penal institutions of the anti-social (a greater percentage than in any
other country) and of their potential victims in gated communities (also
a greater percentage than in any other country). Presumably emerging patterns
of autocratic governance will seek a similar degree of oversimplification (Emergence
of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the
How is it expected that the necessary "new thinking" relevant to such challenges
will emerge from the groupthink by which such psycho-social systems are currently
sustained? (cf Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth
Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008).
More curious, in the "marketing" of such proposals, are the parallels with
Ponzi schemes ("pyramid
selling schemes") that are so entirely dependent on
growth and productivity for their viability and in order to avoid collapse.
A growth-based civilization is only sustainable to the extent that the possibility
can be "sold" to a gullible, ever burgeoning market. Belief in the possibility
might be compared to promotion of perpetual
motion machines or squaring
the circle -- denying proofs to the contrary. One might ask whether
the kinds of collapse studied by Jared
M. Diamond (Collapse:
how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005) are due to the failure
of various kinds of "selling schemes" intrinsic to different belief systems.
For the individual, the fundamental significance of growth to personal identity
and self-esteem is intimately related to sexual activity and reproduction.
This is not only evident in the social esteem with which capacity to produce
large families is held. It is also evident in the existential angst associated
with capacity and endurance in sexual intercourse -- made only too evident
by the proportion of e-mail spam concerned with such matters. The economic
preoccupation with size is curiously echoed in that domain -- seemingly "size
Emergent psycho-cultural mirroring?
It might however be hypothesized, following from arguments by various authors
(Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: a necessary
unity, 1979; Henryk Skolimowski, The
Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe,
1994; Werner J. Sattmann-Frese and Stuart B. Hill. Learning
for Sustainable Living: psychology of ecological transformation, 2007)
that there is a degree of implicit mirroring to be collectively discovered
as the key to genuine sustainability. It is possibly through such mirroring,
however it becomes conscious, that appropriate global remedial strategies might
emerge, as argued elsewhere (My
Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development
That commentary pointed to an elusive sense in which the major governance
challenges most discussed offer metaphors of powerful learnings it may be fruitful,
if not essential, to explore. In that sense those challenges may indeed be
"surrogates" -- mnemonic catalysts -- for the learnings vital to
- food and malnutrition: by what does the population of
a knowledge society need to be nourished? How is the conventional framing
of the challenge undermined by the huge preoccupation with "substance
abuse" and the considerable value associated with other forms of psycho-active
nourishment (ironically invisible and meaningless to science)?
- unemployment: what is to be understood by meaningful employment?
Why has identity-enhancing employment been commodified, commercialized and
- energy: what is the energy required to "oil" the
processes of society? Why the dilemma between "natural" and "nuclear" options,
both pointing to unconventional ways of engaging with reality (cf Enactivating
a Cognitive Fusion Reactor Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8) 2006)?
- economic growth: what psycho-social processes underlie
conventional understanding and dependence on economic growth? What is it
that needs to "grow" in a knowledge society and how is that to
- global warming: to what extent does this point to a degree
of isomorphism between economic overheating (inflation), overheating of debates
between different belief systems, and the generation of "hot air" and
more noxious "emissions" in contexts where dramatic challenges
are discussed? Is this indicative of a fundamental need for a change
of climate? (cf Playfully
Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor
of effective global governance, 2005).
The dangerous indecisiveness of current global governance, especially given
the degree of denial, suggests the advantage of considering the pattern of
debate on such issues in the light of meteorlogical models -- as "whether"
patterns rather than "weather patterns" -- with denial and "fix-it" optimism
as complementary "cyclones" and "anti-cyclones". The current
parallels between the patterns of denial regarding collective crises of learning
-- whether the role of women, global warming or those regarding overpopulation
-- are indeed striking (cf Jeff Jacoby, The
coming population bust, The Boston Globe, 18 June 2008).
There is a peculiar irony to the population challenge in that it is engendered
through a process termed "intercourse", also used metaphorically
in reference to dialogue with any "other", notably the environment
that is exploited and stressed by increasing human numbers ("Human
Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other",
The distinctiveness of the human species, justifying its exploitation of
other species to its own ends, has been notably defined in terms of a mirror
test (or a mark test). Also termed "mirror
self-recognition" (cf J B Asendorpf, 1993; M
W De Veer, 1999; Julian Keenan, 2003; Sue Taylor Parker, 2006; Theresa Schilhab,
2004), such recognition in an ordinary reflecting mirror is a common
psychological test of both intelligence and of maturity. Particular importance
is attached to observer self-recognition capacity -- exemplified by the
capacity to act on that recognition by noting the presence of a mark (hence "mark
test") placed where it can only be perceived in the mirror image. From
an Abrahamic religious perspective, it is tempting to consider that any such "mark" test
is in some curious way related to the "Mark
of Cain" and the associated curse.
As discussed elsewhere (Self-reflective
Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion
of species maturity? 2008), the
challenge of extra-terrestrial "intelligence" and
the seeming failure of such civilizations to enter into communication with
a species as intelligent and mature as humanity, might be explored in the
light of an analogue to the human mirror test of intelligence
- rather than self-recognition in a conventional mirror, the standard
of maturity may be the capacity of a species to recognize its reflection
in its environment as a whole.
- rather than "intelligence", maturity may be framed as the
capacity to integrate such reflection meaningfully and to engage with others
in the light of the recognition of how they mirror oneself.
- rather than the capacity to recognize the existence of a mark on one's
face in a mirror, it may be more a capacity to recognize how
a problem in the environment is a reflection of one within one's own awareness
-- from which the problem emerged and by which it is sustained.
Is imminent population overshoot then to be understood as a significant
mark on the collective face of humanity -- which it is as challenged to recognize
as it would be for some immature species?
Is such unconscious recognition the reason for institutionalized shunning of
the challenge of overpopulation -- in anticipation of the painfully transformative
consequences of systemic negligence? Cui
|If we cannot understand how we are part of
we cannot understand the nature of the solution required
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