Post # 2000. Intro to the book

The 2000 post seems like a landmark, though I remember the disappointment that moving the year from 1999 to 2000 was not so exciting.  To mark this occasion now  here is the introduction  to a book I am drafting, the intro is of course still a draft,

The working title is

GardenWorld and Civilization:
Its Politics economics and philosophy-
The drama of humanity

Click on link for pdf

intro aug 5

Here are the opening paragraphs..

Any politics which does not aim toward the humanization of its people and the gardening of the world is not an adequate politics.  – DC.


Since we all want to live in a vital combination of nature and civilization, why do’t we use our wealth to go there? Without a goal to enhance the globe and its nature we have embraced the blind path of killing it off. The goal was to develop technology so as to free people from work and to live in a beautiful world – but not to free them from income. The world we have, where technology, governance and infrastructure support the wealthy and their professional supporters, but not the majority of people, needs to be seen as a grand failure. There is a goal for the world, a mix of nature and civilization, what I am calling GardenWorld, that has a deep appeal to many and could possibly be a goal to which we can work. GardenWorld would replace the drive for growth and consumption that has benefitted the few and not led to a society we love nor can trust, that limits basic security and creates meaningless work and worse unemployment..
We can think our way to a better society rather than just being carried along like a semi out of control. Our society is not ready for autonomous driving (though the tech world is moving us there). We need a shared sense of what is happening and we need a goal to know what we are doing. “Without a vision the people are lost.” We are not
using our intelligence to furthering the well being of the species but to enhance favored individual lives. Early societies had elites that took the well being of the population through the complex process of food as crucial, and managed fairly well.
A return to thinking about how the human species and the natural environment can be interrelated is essential, to our survival. We are organized to favor increasing complexity linking money, innovation and markets rather than favoring flexibility to deal with breakdowns and misjudgments. Flexibility may even help us to a more delightful life. While we need innovation, we also need, as a balance, restraint and reflection on secondary consequences of innovative proposals. Proposals need to be consistent with society, with the human life cycle, as well as technical requirements. Learning to appreciate each other and others cultures needs to be the core of a new culture for humanity.
One lesson I hope we all understand: it is very important to be better educated: philosophy , history , anthropology. We tend to believe that we already know the outlines of what is important. This is not true. In fact we have built institutions that reinforce narrow thinking by creating narrow departments and a current practice that supports careers management, not insight .

post # 1998 How can we…?

We need to deal with large population, low quality of life, (because most people are too anxious and insecure, and threats loom large or have already arrived), no future path for making only things that fit climate change  (requires making things with less extraction and less energy use, over all and getting there fast)  and distribute  income.

we need to discuss

  • what needs to be produced
  • how it is produced – the organization off work (Roberto Unger’s stress on the benefits of an advanced mode of production that is too narrowly held moves in a very interesting direction)
  • how income or its equivalent  can be distributed
  • What to do about narrowly held assets, such as land,  that prevent .. just about everything for most people.
  • The militarization of social conflicts.



post # 1997 Economics gives no guidance

Provocation 147 Economics gives no guidance.
Surprisingly economics, the thinking about the use of resources to meet needs, fails to tell us anything about what resources to which needs. Under climate change pressures we should be shifting our consumption and our production to things that are helpful under new conditions. But economics has no guidance on what we should have been spending for what nor guidance on what to produce now that is truly useful (and attractive).

Why do we use a word like utility for meeting needs and desires? It is so ugly, resonating with basic usefulness such as electricity and water (utilities), but not with delight and taste. “What is the utility of the flowers on the breakfast table?” What conspiracy holds us in thrall to this terrible vocabulary?

Bentham, “Utility is the sum of all pleasures.” Marmalade on my toast? Utility? In whose language?

What economics would be helpful in a time of collapse and what economics would be helpful in a time of rebuilding?

post # 1996. Report, comprehensive

After the weekend heat and the NYT article on climate, we are about to be swamped by a tsunami of good and bad writing about climate  and society. Here is one that seems pretty good.

After four years of drafting, debating, rethinking, and revising, the IPSP report is finally published! This work represents an incredible effort from our 200+ authors all around the world.
Entitled “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century,” the report is available from Cambridge University Press in multiple forms: as a 3-volume set, as separate volumes, and as a Kindle e-book. Please visit the CUP website for information about how to get the book.
You can read the executive summary of the report here!

1995. Failure of policy recommendations – no common sense

From Bill Easterly

“The UN is not alone in producing action plans that nobody notices. The World Bank promotes itself as the “Knowledge Bank” for action recommendations. Yet a recent World Bank study found that 31 percent of the World Bank’s “knowledge products” full of such recommendations have never been downloaded, and 87 percent were never cited.”

Why are the policy recommendations of the Policy Institutions not more used? Because they are not useful?

Society needs ideas but the ideas that come from the Institutions are mostly riffs on current policies, or criticisms of current policies. But very little with recommendations for what to do differently.  The ideas remain within the current paradigm supporting those doing well in the current paradigm, climate and marginalized population treated as ignorable externals Some forward looking ideas fail common sense. For example, dealing with a housing crisis by proposing more housing that uses more energy to build and to run, and end up creating middle class priced housing as middle class jobs are disappearing. Or job creation that provides cheaper skilled worker to existing oligopolies thereby keeping the machine of wealth concentration running full time and full tilt. The point is that proposals that pass the common sense test for future directions are very hard to come up with. Much of society knows this, but the Institutions grind out proposals that are not adequate to the now widely shared view of what’s wrong. So the proposals are useless and unused. Society runs without leadership adequate to the situation.

A local wine and cheese shop that does tastings was visited by public health. “You can’t dry wine classes with a towel, you need a $4000 machine that will dry them to 197 degrees.” A friend wants to redo the windows in his house. Finds there are really only two suppliers. Why cant he find a local shop? Because windows have to pass tests for energy compliance that require expensive testing equipment. Guess which companies can afford the Equipment? All local window manufactures are long closed.

Yesterday I drove through Redding and the Carr fire area. Suburbs surrounded by dry brush. The houses are built on prime farmland and the hills, where the houses should be, grow brush.

1994. Trump and cold war.

David Graeber on twitter

“I’m not sure which i find more entertaining, Trump’s still somewhat random efforts to dismantle the American empire, or Cold War liberals special shock & outrage about pretty much the only good thing he’s doing.”

I agree. an opening of friendship to Russia and China is good statesmanship. When Trump came to the presidency Russia was a minor player on the world stage. Trump, probably with echoes form the fifties and sixties in New York, assumed Russia was a big deal. This was a big mistake because a world divided between China and the US areas of influence is much easier to manage than a three part (or 4 given Europe., but less important geopolitically as time goes on.)

But having raised Russia in the world’s eyes, and its own, getting out of the cold-war mentality is still a very good idea, now ruined.

Trump seems to want to play king of the mountain and like the idea of just one mountain, ours, Too bad because he too cannot be trusted with his own impulse to treat the rival street gang as a somewhat friend.

1993.Not facing issues leads to megacide.

The goal of recreating the Garden of Eden (as nice a life for humans as we could achieve) has long been replaced by turning it over to bankers and developers. The result is a megacide. This is an economy issue. We are not managing the estate well, we are exploiting the land and the people. Economics should be about how to manage the planet, for the good of people. (The nomos part of economy comes from early Greek meaning equal distribution.)

But without a clear sense of goal and necessary steps to get there we are playing the game with blank cards. We don’t seem to be able to make tough arguments and think them through to their implications.The people and the policy makers need us to be doing this thinking and sharing it widely.

The use of oil for transportation for example must be drastically cut IF we are to limit global warming. Do more than a handful of people really disagree? (Global warming is only one part of the megacide. The biomass of all fish falling by half or sea birds by 2/3 is not primarily climate. driven. )

Have any economists modeled out what would happen if gasoline use were to be cut enough by Jan 1 to reach the goal of no more warming by 2020?

(You probably already know that if we were to cut fossil fuel use by 100% global warming would continue to increase because existing co2 will continue to trap heat.)
We would need to look at some rough numbers as to how big the cut would have to be. And, as a first conversation starter, we could model out what would happen if we (sic) cut gasoline use in half by Jan1? (I am not sure that would be enough to prevent the suicidal bullet we have launched at ourselves from reaching its target.) What would happen to existing cars and their use, how would people and institutions cope,
reconfiguring the tasks the cars are used for, and the existing loans that have supported the purchase of the cars? Many loans would default because people won’t pay for cars they can’t drive. That brings down banks. The beginning of chaos. Is this so chaotic that we can’t begin to model the consequences of such a necessary action?

Why don’t we see this kind of conversation? My guess is it is taking place, but I haven’t found it.If you know of such, please let me know.

1992. More on Trump

The US that trump attacks is the US that in fact has been in many ways the enemy of the people who voted for him, or support him now. The country was run for the benefit of the 1% and the professional class and is most associated with the Clinton’s, Obama and less well known, Geithner and Larry Summers.

If we are to recreate the country as a good place to live we must take on this issue, which requires recognizing the legitimacy of Trump support in the concrete details of what was happening to the majority prior to Trump’s announcing his candidacy.  As we know, peple were losing out, incomes down, social mobility less, and – let’s give people some credit – climate change  not being addressed, hence not serious.  Remember, a support in politics always is in the context of the alternatives. The Democratic party has not been presenting itself as – well, as anything. Not a good alternative.

I am reading The Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715 by Pail Hazard, It contains the wonderful

“Spain alone had dimmed her radiance. We will not say that even now she did not fling over Europe some rays of a light that could not be extinguished; but it is a hard task for a nation to go on indefinitely keeping ahead of her rivals. It means she must never falter, never exhaust her strength, never cease to keep bright, and to diffuse around her far and wide the radiance of her pristine glory. But by this time Spain had ceased to live in the present. The last thirty years of the seventeenth century, and, for the matter of that, the first thirty of the eighteenth, were with her well-nigh completely barren. Never before, throughout her whole intellectual history, says Ortega y Gasset, had her heart beat so feebly. Wrapt up in herself, she presented an attitude of lofty indifference towards the rest of the world. Travellers continued to visit her, but they did not conceal the disdain with which she inspired them. They harped on her defects—a populace wallowing in superstition, a court sunk in ignorance. They enlarged on the decay of her commerce and spoke contemptuously of the sloth and vainglory of her people. As for her writers, he foreign critics repeatedly gave instances of their pretentious and affected style.. people were begining to say not only that Spain had lost her power and influence, but that she was a traiter to her wn genius  Her romantic spirit, her national pride, her nice sense of honour, her love of justice, her complete unselfishness—all those qualities which had been her particular pride and glory, Cervantes in his Don Quixote had held up to ridicule. And the Spaniards by applauding Don Quixote had belied their nature and disowned their birthright. Absurd as it was, this idea was not more absurd than a host of other reproaches with which nations competing for leadership have sought to give the coup de grâce to their already weakening rivals.”



1991. Progress vs cycles. Implications for us.

Provocation # 143Progress vs cycles. Implications for us

The current state of society brings into question the necessity, even the likelihood, of progress. But is progress actually so wonderful? Paul Valery wrote in 1900, “We later civilizations, we too know that we are vulnerable.” This was a shock to me when I read it in high school. It has continued to put an edge to all my thinking. My current thinking about “progress” is pushed by recent research on the quality of life – better diet, few working hours – of hunter gatherers, and their obvious resistance to settlements (James C. Scott, Against the Grain).

We of course are too formed by the goods of modern society to be able to become cooperative foragers, and the world is too crowded to escape the needs of technological supports, but that doesn’t prevent us from looking at other lives as preferable, even if not for us. We do not know the extent of changes in living that will be demanded of he next generations, but they may be extreme. It is our opportunity to be helpful by pointing out things that may be positive in these forced changes. Aristotle wrote “We can have growth without development and development without growth.” Instead of struggling to get more which has led to inequality and climate damage, a rearrangement of what we have. Intriguing, as we are looking for clues to what, in difficult times, we can do.

There have been two main views of the structure of history: progress and cycles. The West is strongly committed to the perspective that history is a progression: if we can just keep going, things will continue to get better. We have accepted the idea that there is “progress”: fire, electricity, railroads, smartphones. And yet there is concern now that progress may have stalled. Most societies outside the West seem to have held on to a belief in the dominant role of cycles. Rome believed that emperors came in cycles – good, mediocre, bad, good mediocre bad. I think China had a similar sense of emperors coming in cycles. Christian culture has only one: from God’s creation of the world to his ending it. This is a true suicidal wish for a society. The Christian view of dominating the earth and the needs of the mission made growth seem essential.

Our Western civilization is very materialist and technological. Often we hear that a new tech can save the situation. But the human side of history is largely ignored by our dehumanized culture. All societies made of humans show people in roles of leadership, follower-ship, dominated and submissive that are easy to recognize.

Proposition: while material culture changes and some sense of “progress” can be discerned (though nuclear war, surveillance culture, iatrogenic diseases, our inability to cope with climate and population should lead us to question this), the range of human types does not. The inter-generational and cross class dynamics are easy to understand in all societies. Stephen Greenblatt’s new book Tyrant is about how deeply Shakespeare explored these moments. (And its resonance with Trump is constantly present in the book but not stated.)

Put differently: however radical the shifts in technology, the human repertoire of responses remains constant. The benefits of materialism may be seductive but illusory if the quality of lived life of humans with each other is the goal.

All civilizations go through a rise and a fall. Anthropologists explore how the rise starts and writers like Joseph Tainter have explored some of the aspects of the Fall In his Collapse of Complex Societies as does Castells in his book about network induced collapse,  Aftermath. Toynbee in his Study of History uses civilizations as the unit of analysis (he discusses 23, most of which I had never heard of).

As a first approximation lets look at empires (civilizations) as having three phases. (This is of course arbitrary, and much is still to be said about how the phases move from one to the next. Eric Voegelin has written extensively about the mythic structure of three part histories) The three phases are start, middle and end, or rise, stability and decline.)
The major human repertoire within all society are the recognizably the same. In the phase of rising: euphoria and awe and thanking the gods mixed with fear of change and loss of the old; a feeling of stability and smugness and superiority during the middle phase, and fear, dread and scapegoating (see Rene Girard on imitation of desire) during decline. The phases are long enough that people and intellectuals come to accept the quality of the phase as the way things are. The transitions between phases are long and chaotic. Cycle-minded societies, such as the Aztec or classical Greek have ready explanations for change, but the linear minded West, mostly through Middle Eastern influence, has held on to progressive explanations even through bad times. The current mood in the West assumes progress is normal and asks why we are stalled. Asking to speed up progress might actually hasten decline.

As decline begins to be noticed elites restructure law so they continue to benefit at the mid phase rate, but since there is actual decline they must extract more from the poor in order to maintain the illusion of progress. This speeds up the decline. In all societies we can say that there has been progress on the material side (though the collapse of the environment, wars, plagues should put even this in question.) But on the human side the emotional philosophical and political feelings and thought are fairly much the same for every culture’s phase in the cycle. The culture of the phase tends to be perceived as human nature by the people living it. This is actually a barrier to imagination about human possibilities. We get for example books with titles like Religion in Human Evolution (Robert Bellah), assuming evolution and hence progress. (The word evolution implies the un-folding of predetermined structure.) The unit of thought is the species, not empires or civilizations.

Toynbee’s unit of analysis – the civilizations, shows a different approach criticized by most historian who do not want to think outside the boundaries of the single civilization of which they are a part. We get for example the very good history The Rise of the West, by McNeill, made confusing by his sub-titling it A history of the Human Community. Gibbon’s famous history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by focusing on one phase (or Is that two?) makes it easier to not see that there is a whole cycle. I remember in school that the book was treated a fairly irrelevant since the Romans made mistakes leading to their decline but we, having had the Enlightenment, were not going to make similar mistakes and so we had nothing to learn from Rome. Toynbee’s view takes on more relevance as we begin to question the possibilities for Western Civilization now. Can we imagine we are at the end? Many people think so and having a hard time with it. Westerners who study Asia can more easily deal with cycles for empires as in the very interesting book, Strange Parallels by Victor Lieberman ,which actually compares rise and falls in the West with those in Asia.

Deep thinking says don’t get hysterical about the phase we are in as though continuous progress were possible if we would just do the right thing. For Example, the push for more innovation that just happens to be owned by corporations that are helping to concentrate wealth. Realize that the management, leadership, and cultural tasks shift with each phase. We should face where we are, and respond realistically
The shift to the next phase in the cycle can probably be hastened or delayed, but not overcome Human consistently respond with awe and delight in the beginning, self satisfaction and narrowness of theory in the middle, fear and blame as decline sets in. Leadership tends to share participation (everyone is needed) in the beginning, but starts to maneuver for advantage in the second, and abandons the society in the third.

This whole dynamic of human response is not part of physical nature but a blend of human cognitive, emotional and cultural capacity. “Education” is an attempt to overcome this dynamic but each generation, each person, starts to slowly wake from the dream of their own life into an awareness of the historical moment, and a new generation takes over before he process of education has gone very deep.

The proposal here is that for empires the way people are thinking and the felt quality of their life is determined by the phase they are in . “Progress” is understandable as a way of seeing the world as their society is in the rise and into the stability phase, just as fear and despair and blame are understandable as necessary reactions to decline.

People being what they are and organized into classes, will vary in their response since the poor will feel the effects (though maybe not the awareness) of decline first and the rich last, just as the rich will feel the effects and opportunities of the rise long before the poor (who will suffer even in an upward “progressive” era. Though a rise in expectations tends to draw in more participation from the poorer because of the increase in constructive activity requiring workers. This happened after the plague of 1340’s when the die off of workers led to a rise in wages as rebuilding required more effort.

This view, that progresses is limited to a phase in the life of empires, and that human nature shows itself in similar ways in all societies, has implications for leadership and policy.

The task :
1. Recognize the impact of empire rise and fall. Recognize that the cycles overlap and describe some segments of society but they are not all in synch. Decline can begin in one part of society while another part is still on the rise. But note the emotional reactions of people are fairly consistent with the phase their whole society is in. Contagion and imitation are powerful across a whole empire, even the globe. People across class lines are part of the same culture and there is a homogeneity to the emotions released by the phase the society is moving through.

2. Understand that the year does not come with a label as to where in the cycle we are. It is a question of comparing narratives, being intuitive, doing lots of reading and traveling, and still maybe getting it wrong. But we can do well enough that it is worth the effort.
2. Try to avoid the negative impact on the poor of the shift of society from one phase to the next. A major opportunity for serious thinking can happen as one empire gives way to another: Macedonia to Rome or Feudalism to Industrialization as examples. The tendency is for class interest to prevail through such transitions. Raymond Williams in The Country and the City describes how many country landholders became urban industrialists in England’s 18th and 19th centuries.

3. Design new institutions and governance, as well as infrastructure for flexibility because static “permanent” structures are actually frail under conditions of real change. Most of the world elites’ large estates were built with the idea of dynasty and continuity of inheritance across at least a few generations. In the US most of those became schools, institutes or condos within a generation as major changes were constantly at play.

4. Realize that lives have to be lived now , children born, food to be eaten sociably, sleep to be secure, building and participating should be encouraged and rewarding. Encourage belief in the value of coping in the rolling present (a few years back and a few years into the future.). Self development and social development should work together to make the best of what might be a bad situation.