Wednesday, 30 September 2015

29. Crazy, warming world

Confronting with the reality of failed states, the consequence of the Iraq war, the raise of ISIS and the situation in Syria and how it is all exacerbated by to climate change, I started to wonder about the issue of structures and the difference between freedom and anarchy. 
Interestingly enough, I found a related article by historian Timoty Snyder in the Guardian, entitled: "Hitler's world may not be so far away" with the caption: Misunderstanding the Holocaust has made us too certain we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1940s. Faced with a new catastrophe – such as devastating climate change – could we become mass killers again?.

I'll approach the question from much more unconventional angles, but coming back to entwine some of the points I found interesting from this article. 

The brain as a predictive machine

Neuroscience tells us that our brain works as a predictive machine, remembering and forgetting, constructing, de-constructing and re-constructing memories constantly.

How does your memory work? Horizon documentary - BBC
(original page no longer available - by BBC)

In this sense the time question is central to our humanity. How can I avoid any life-threatening future? To answer this question, both our memories and our imagination are crucial. In our own experience, our family's and/or culture's, we find a vast bank of resources with ready-made answers to this question. If none of these are good, we use pieces from this experience and available information to create something new. Without memories we cannot predict or create a future.

Going back to the article: even though reading Hitler in a title might not be very encouraging, the article makes very interesting points. Firstly, it links the high food prices of the 30s with the current challenge that climate change brings:
On the one hand: "Science provided food so quickly and bountifully that Hitlerian ideas of struggle lost a good deal of their resonance – which has helped us to forget what the second world war was actually about. In 1989, 100 years after Hitler’s birth, world food prices were about half of what they had been in 1939 – despite a huge increase in world population and thus demand." And then adds "After two generations, the green revolution has removed the fear of hunger from the emotions of electorates and the vocabulary of politicians."
"Hitler specifically, and quite wrongly, denied that agricultural technology could alter the relationship between people and nourishment." and then explains "Hitler’s alternative to science and politics was known as Lebensraum, which meant “habitat” or “ecological niche”. Races needed ever more Lebensraum, “room to live”, in order to feed themselves and propagate their kind." 

The following video explains how this choice of going back (and looking solutions in our reptilian brain) or moving forward (looking for creative solutions in our pre frontal cortex) works in our brains.

Nowadays, climate change is putting pressure on agriculture again, either stopping altogether or threatening the predictability of food supply, affecting disproportionally certain communities: "During the hot summer of 2008, fires in fields led major food suppliers to cease exports altogether, and food riots broke out in Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. During the drought of 2010, the prices of agricultural commodities spiked again, leading to protests, revolution, ethnic cleansing and revolution in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria began after four consecutive years of drought drove farmers to overcrowded cities."

These reflections are important. Being able to recognise a past global experience must help us create a different future. If the "political eye" of Nazi Germany only looked back to History seeing what old empires had done ie finding a solution to food supply through territorial expansion, a self-declared racial superiority, colonisation, identification and elimination of competition- we should be able to look back now to see that these ideas belong to the pastWe should focus our science and technological efforts to address both the emergencies and the core challenges that communities' self-sustainability face in the context of climate change.

“State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita to the New York Times, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

In this sense, the administration of ourselves (and/or of a anything we may need to manage), is first anchored to our view of the world. This view is the one that informs us if the structures we have and the processes we follow are suitable.  But when our eyes fail to see the challenges of today as new ones, we stick to obsolete responses and rely in old tools instead of looking for new solutions for new problems. This is essentially bad government. 

Freedom to create 

As moving into the future requires the ability to create the future out of the elements of the past, I'll touch upon the creativity process.

"Draw anything you like", can be a scary command. We may face a blank canvas panic. This amount of freedom may give us a sense of chaos and paralysis. Nothing comes to mind. Ideas appear and disappear. To kindle the fire of creativity, it is probably easier to start with more limits. "Draw an elephant". That's easy. The action gets going. We draw very badly at the beginning, it's all too literal or too childish. We let go, we continue, we learn, we improve and become more confident, until  we find the elephant premise too restrictive and we draw a cat, saying that this is a very creative elephant. And we feel smart by having challenged the premise. And then we continue outside the animal kingdom and really start to draw what we want. Until we feel that the black pencil is a restriction and we use colours. Then the paper becomes a restriction, and we find a canvas or do an animation or a sculpture, and we add music and people dancing...

Restrictions may seem to be the opposite of freedom. In this sense, our understanding of freedom enters anarchic territory, where there are no restrictions, no structures, no limits. But creativity is a self-restricting act. To create, we make choices otherwise nothing would happen: the possibilities would keep floating in the air without ever materialising. At each stage of the creative process of the example, all the restrictions played a double role: enabling and disabling. Creating and destructing. Restrictions are in fact, intrinsic to creation, they become its structure, and this structure is in itself content.

In the example, however, we are free to transcend the limits imposed to us, as we decide to do so. However, there is always a tension between the power of disobeying and the set limits. On the one hand, regulations and restrictions are there to be respected but at the same time, power can modify them. It is here, where the need of plurality and decentralisation of power emerges: in order to keep both "law that restricts government" and a "government with a power to change the law" in a healthy, slowly moving tension.

Collective creation (co-creation) requires collaboration, relations of trust, institutions to create, activate and regulate processes and to manage resources. Only through collective entities, rights emerge as a protective layer of the individual against the others and against the collective. In anarchy, there is no order, no structure thus there are no relationships, there is no collective and no creation but destruction (even if destruction is not the end in a life-death-life cycle). 

Where there is anarchy there are no rights

At this point I go back to the article: it points out that "all major German crimes took place in areas where state institutions had been destroyed, dismantled or seriously compromised.". By pointing out that most of mass killings happened outside the borders of Germany where states have been destroyed ie where there were no rights, it draws parallels with the destruction of states by civil wars and invasions, sending a warning to Syria. In fact, this is true for South Sudan too. Of course, we can argue that there are no many rights under authoritarian regimes. They do, however, maintain a minimal co-habitation code where people are not killing each other in mass numbers (through centralising the power to decide who should be killed, though). But in such low levels of social development, the rigidity of the regimes can also be a direct representation of their fragility. If Putin wants to build a clear picture that the regime change in Syria will destroy the state and bury the country under the anarchic and apocalyptic forces of Isis (hiding his own interest in the region), Obama is clear that there is a need of a political change and a government that can respond to the challenges of self-sustainability their people are facing (and obviously continuing the geopolitical game of the region). If we add to the equation the right of self-determination, and the aggressive actions of Assad against Syria's people (the majority of the refugees declare they are fleeing from Assad), we end up with a plural game with very delicate tensions and balances, where all current structures are being destroyed and no structures to sustain and protect are being built.

Beyond Syria or Iraq or Libya, in Western countries the question of the relevance of the state and state regulation is being constantly challenged. We only need to look at Volkswagen bypassing environmental regulation, the terms of TTP that have been agreed or TTIP agreement that is being discussed or the ever increasing lobbying power of private interests. The regulators appear to be more negotiators than actual regulators. In this article from James Dyson, he shares some insights about how regulations are agreed mostly following the lead of the dominant player. In this video, Senator Elizabeth Warren questions banking regulators and their avoidance to do anything beyond negotiating settlements. 

In this context of ever more self or laxed regulations, it is also important to recognise that a extreme liberalism of markets will end up being an anarchic force that erodes states, and with them our rights and our ability to respond to collective challenges. Private enterprise may have a lot of executive power, but it is exclusive (not inclusive) and tends to shy away of medium and long term investments. The state is the only entity that can act on behalf of the collective.  

Creating the future, a process of self-awareness and self-mastery

The creative process has been described symbolically in many ways. The most simplistic puts it in terms of the material integration of female and male principles ie idea and purpose, circle and arrow, science and application, knowledge and enterprise, egg and spermatozoa, imagination and decision, in the example before, the blankness of the paper and the pencil.

But if the brain is a predictive machine, the time question plays a role and therefore integrating the past is part of the creative process too. In the creative act we project into the future, based on the elements of our past. But for this act to be truly creative, we should've completed our individuation process, the one that allow us to stop repeating and reapplying old solutions (beliefs, patterns) without critique and come up with something new. 
On the issue of integrating the past, Timoty Snyder article adds: 
"A final plurality has to do with time. The state endures to create a sense of durability. When we lack a sense of past and future, the present feels like a shaky platform, an uncertain basis for action. The defence of states and rights is impossible to undertake if no one learns from the past or believes in the future. Awareness of history permits recognition of ideological traps and generates scepticism about demands for immediate action because everything has suddenly changed. Confidence in the future can make the world seem like something more than, in Hitler’s words, “the surface area of a precisely measured space”.
Individually and collectively, we need to become self-aware and master:
  • our resources to satisfy our basic needs
  • our emotions to build healthy relationships, 
  • our will and self-discipline to create and transform our reality, 
  • our thinking, to set priorities and make decisions to keep balance, 
  • our truth, our story and contribute to the creation of the collective wisdom.
Can we become mass killers again? That seems to be the default solution if we fail to really address the multidimensional crisis we are going through, truly integrating our collective past and consciously embarking in creating new, more plural, smarter solutions.


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