facing climate change? (and random stuff.)

Sounds like the English might be taking climate change seriously.

Colin Challen, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, sets out the case for abandoning the “business as usual” pursuit of economic growth, which has been the basis of Western economic policy for two hundred years. Instead, he says, we must concentrate our efforts on putting a limit on the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power stations and motor vehicles that are causing the atmosphere to warm.

To do this, Mr Challen and his colleagues believe, carbon will have to be rationed, for companies, individuals and, eventually, for countries. And only a full cross-party consensus would allow such a departure to be implemented without being destroyed by the political process.

The article is well worth a read, and their progress will be worth following. Also of note to the last couple of posts here was Challen’s observation that

“We have to create the political space to address it,”

– especially as he is taking the unpopular real world route of bringing up the idea that we are going to have to make sacrifices.

(By and by the way, there’s four hours of climate change documentaries and talks at the Paramount tonight from 6:30pm.)

Meanwhile, Italian researchers have fused a microchip with brain cells.

And Stanislaw Lem died.

Dear Ethel, Or, What Is To Be Done (Part Two)

Part Two: Awareness and Political Will

We should distinguish first between two types of awareness: a general awareness and a useful awareness. A general awareness takes the form of just talking about Stuff That Matters™. It is by nature incomplete and grasping. There’s not a lot of analysis. Events appear discrete and unrelated. Most political discussion occurs on this level – pointing out things that an event is “bad” without an understanding of the range of circumstances which allow that event to occur.

As a side note, the mass media – which we will assume is the primary source of most people’s information about the world – specializes in this contextless informational now, eliciting sensations and emotions rather than understanding.

Stuff That Matters is fighting for your attention and space in your mind and thought along with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and many many things That Don’t Matter, which, however, a majority of us remain aware of. All this exists in general awareness; the amorphous blob of information we collect around us.

We are in an information age: the information we pay attention to is of huge importance; to an extent it defines us. McLuhan observed that modern electric media are extensions of our nervous systems; the information we are aware of is an extension of us. What you read on your computer screen instantly becomes part of you. (On another level, “awareness” relates to consciousness and our view and experience of reality. We’ll probably get there in these posts, but for now we should come back down to politics and awareness.)

So, in these terms, Ethel’s original point is that general awareness alone isn’t useful. General awareness is partial and fragmented. Collecting pieces is certainly necessary for a while, but they need to be arranged into a meaningful pattern.

By contrast, useful awareness also focuses on the connections between things, and context, to provide a fuller picture. Within a different frame of reference, the problem itself seems different; and when the problem changes, so does the solution.

(An whiff of systems theory and cybernetics here: when a situation is understood as a series of relationships between entities or events – and this is the world-view suggested by relativity in physics and epistemology in biology (*maybe using the wrong word: cf Gregory Bateson, anyway) – when a situation is conceived of as part of a complete system rather than a discrete event – then an effective point to make change in the system can be identified.)

Political Will

What we are willing to do politically depends on our awareness of the situation, as does our knowledge of what can be done and what needs to be done, and why. If it is a general awareness, we are unlikely to achieve anything. If it is useful awareness, we have the potential to achieve something.

The question of action turns on our awareness of the situation and our analysis of what the problem is. (This does not presuppose there is a correct view of the situation or what the problem is – we are all just spinning each other stories of the way things are, and it is a matter for the individual conscience to decide which story to believe in.) Effective action involves a goal or an aim. We need to know what we are trying to create, not just reacting and putting band aids on the world’s crises.

Raising awareness, particularly useful awareness, is a useful tool in the creation of political will. Yes, solutions should be a part of this raising in awareness. Another, better world, is possible. But the way we frame the problems will determine the solutions we seek. And useful awareness contains within it an understanding of what action is appropriate. (A good question contains its own answer. In this sense, useful awareness involves understanding the relations between parts enough to know how we want those parts to be related: an aim.)

Political will for pragmatic solutions (functioning as an example of a set of solutions, rather than presupposing they are optimal) does not exist because useful awareness of why those solutions are necessary does not exist among a majority. Among the politically inclined (a minority to start with), political will is fragmented between many partial understandings of the situation which generate different ideas about what the problem “is” and thus what the solution “is”. Creating widespread political will would require uniting fragmented understandings behind one useful awareness.

This seems possible (if not easy): to create a coherent useful awareness of the connections between the parts of the complex system we inhabit (and co-create) – one which, when the relations between parts are understood, where we fit into it, the actions required to “correct” or create desired change to the system, become clear. Which brings us closer to discussing overall worldview (as our definition of useful awareness has gradually crept towards world-view – close, but not quite the same). Because, after some reflection, it is an inadequacy in overall worldview which must lie at the root of the original question “what can I do?”; for if we had an adequate world-view, the answer would be clear and the question would not arise..

Next: The Nature of “the Problem” or “the Situation”. (Or maybe The Traffic Cone metaphor. I haven’t decided yet.)

Dear Ethel; or, What Is To Be Done? (Part One)

Part One: What Are You Willing To Do?

Ethel the aardvark makes a good point

I think what I’m trying to say is, please can people who are trying to raise awareness so things can get better follow the suggestion in the first paragraph, and raise awareness of what I can do to respond to an issue, not simply tell me an issue exists. Then it seems things will have an even better chance of getting better.

– which seems correct as far as it goes, but consideration of which raises many other issues. (Hence this is part one – please bear with me. There are complex and overlapping issues to unfold.)

In my experience of activism, and of people who seem to give a damn talking about things and trying to figure out what to do, the question “what can I do?” tends to actually take the form “What can I do, at minimal personal discomfort and effort, that will somehow be effective to counteract the global horror and alleviate my conscience, while fundamentally not requiring me to change my privileged lifestyle?”

Personally, in the past, I have exhausted myself trying to conceive of actions which fit this criteria. (It is entirely possible to provide a practical list of solutions which a person may be unwilling to carry out. Which is their right but not terribly useful to anyone as an exercise.) Even remarkably clever minimal-effort concepts like the hunger site and the rainforest site fall foul of this apathy. How many of us are still clicking every day?

Essentially, what are you willing to do? What does your conscience require from you to alleviate its pressure? How much are you willing to change yourself and your life? When you can answer that, the answer to “what can I do?” will be a lot clearer.

The kinds of things we are permitted to do within the system are in general safe for the system. If they were effective tools for change which challenged power sources and structures we would not be permitted their use. They are symbolic acts where real acts are required to make change. On the other hand, on another level, they have value and communicative power as symbols. However, those with power will do as they wish.

In purely physical, pragmatic terms, we have solutions to most issues. For example, there is food enough produced in the world that no one needs to starve. A pragmatic solution would be: get food to people in the short term, and give them whatever they need to become self-sufficient in food in the future. The point here is to emphasise that we have the physical means to achieve most things. This is a comparatively recent development. The question is why we don’t enact those solutions; or, rather, why we then choose to achieve the things we do. (Another post!)

Solutions involve doing things differently. The process stalls because humans resist these changes. They may be unaware of them, or the necessity for them. Or they may simply be unwilling to change. As noted in an earlier post about the Weathermen, once the threat of the draft and going off to die in war was removed, the protest movement lost a lot of its momentum.

Unless we are personally affected, it seems difficult to cross the threshold to perform the actions required for change.

A parallel can be seen with climate change. As the reports grow ever more dire, we watch with puzzled expressions and think we ought to do something. (This is a good example of Ethel’s point, by the way, of talking about a problem without giving a solution. A pragmatic solution exists: if humans are causing climate change, drastically cut back on the activities which add to it. However, this remains politically unacceptable. Which cues the next post.)

Next: Awareness and Political Will

Iraq: compare and contrast, 3 years on

Consider that in three years Iraq has gone from enduring a brutal dictatorship to electing a provisional government to ratifying a new constitution written by Iraqis to electing a permanent government last December. In each of these elections, the number of voters participating has increased significantly — from 8.5 million in the January 2005 election to nearly 12 million in the December election — in defiance of terrorists’ threats and attacks.

from Donald Rumsfeld writing in the Washington Post.

2. The constitution drafted by the elected parliament enshrines Islam as the religion of state and stipulates that the civil parliament may pass no legislation that contravenes the established laws of Islam. It hints that clerics and ayatollahs will be appointed to court benches. The constitution has brought Iraq to the brink of being an Islamic Republic, with potentially harmful effects on the rights of women, gays, Christians and others. Since the Shiite religious parties had won the January 30, 2005 elections, this outcome was predictable.

5. All three Sunni Arab-majority provinces rejected the new constitution by a sound margin, two of them by a two-thirds majority. The Kurdish and Shiite provinces overwhelmingly approved the charter. Iraq thus has a permanent constitution that is absolutely unacceptable to the country’s most powerful minority.

from Juan Cole’s Top Ten Catastrophes of the Third Year of American Iraq

One of the most important developments over the past year has been the increasing participation of Iraq’s Sunni community in the political process. In the volatile Anbar province, where Sunnis are an overwhelming majority, voter turnout grew from 2 percent in January to 86 percent in December. Sunni sheiks and religious leaders who previously had been sympathetic to the insurgency are today meeting with coalition representatives, encouraging Iraqis to join the security forces and waging what violent extremists such as Abu al-Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda followers recognize as a “large-scale war” against them.

from Donald Rumsfeld writing in the Washington Post.

9. Widespread hopes, fanned by the Bush administration, that Sunni Arab participation in the parliamentary elections would lead to a reduction in guerrilla violence proved completely untrue. The various Sunni Arab lists garnered 58 seats of 275. The Sunni Arabs have now adopted a two-track strategy, working in parliament to play the Kurds and the Shiites off against one another while its paramilitary wing continued to blow things up with unrelenting ferocity.

from Juan Cole’s Top Ten Catastrophes of the Third Year of American Iraq

Meanwhile, the former Iraqi PM tells the BBC that Iraq is already in the middle of a civil war.

We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more – if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is – Iyad Allawi

What could be better than invading Iran, too?

infinite weirdness and beyond

Apologies if recent postings have taken a serious turn to the weird. It’s the universe, I tell you. We’re kidding ourselves that we have a clue. A good way to get a feel for this is to go and read New Scientists’s special on Quantum Stuff, and come across this one, which talks about the possibility that parallel universes may be able to interact with ours in a highly destructive way.

“It could act like a big random fluctuation, like suddenly making the temperature of the universe become really high and boiling everything,” he told New Scientist. “Or it could be more peaceful, where you’re simply converted into somebody who remembers stuff from the large world, so the statistics would be those of the large world.”(moose’s emphasis)

Which reminded us of this speech by Philip K Dick* , (which is particularly worth checking out as in it he goes way further into weirdness than anything else I’ve seen by him), in which he relates his experiences of realising that in the course of writing one of his novels he had been retrieving memories of an alternate present which had been altered by interaction from outside of space-time and no longer existed, our world being the edited one – this was corroborated by a woman he met who interviewed him over a period of time before confirming that this was the case.

Anyway. Just connecting dots without number in patterns which amuse. Same as everyone.

Hah. in another window, reading an interview with Terence McKenna: a couple of nicely synchronous quotes:

Since I don’t work for any academic institution or feed at any government or corporate trough, I’m free to think anything I want about reality. […]I think people have a very narrow conception of what is possible with reality, that we’re surrounded by the howling abyss of the unknowable and nobody knows what’s out there.

(*Greylodge is back up.)

Empire reaffirms commitment to attacking anyone anytime anywhere for any reason

Bush releases new security strategy.

“If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack,” the document continues. “When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize.”

Oh, the Orwellian beauty of turning self-defense to mean unprovoked attack using weapons of mass destruction!
It must be amazing to live in a world where everything you say magically becomes true.
No wonder they don’t want to leave it.

You can read the whole thing here. But your head may explode if you’re a member of the reality based community.

crazy pantomime cow lady

Woman travels world for 15 years dressed as a pantomime cow, writes book about it.

The aim of the book is to inspire others to do something ridiculous for no apparent reason.

We of the dancing moose salute you, crazy pantomime cow lady.

censuring Bush

Senator Feingold’s attempt to censure Bush over the illegal wiretapping has stalled.

Many of Feingold’s Democratic colleagues agree that Bush abused his authority with the NSA spying program. And they know liberal Democratic activists are eager to see Bush censured, or worse. But they also know Feingold’s maneuver could cost them seats in GOP states. (my emphasis)

Argh. Stupid humans. Stupid power systems.

non terrestrial officers

Gary McKinnon is the British hacker who broke into the US Defence computers in the biggest computer hack of all time and ended up facing extradition and 70 years in prison.

Among the things he claims to have discovered and be able to remember (he did a lot of hacking while stoned) was a list of “Non-Terrestrial Officers” and a list of ship names which didn’t correspond to anything the US officially has. Now, this idea strikes the moose as quite delicious – and I’m strongly considering forming a band under that name 😀 – and weirdly it has been re-inforced recently by some much odder stuff.

Gpod has an interview with a guy who claims to have been receiving information from an anonymous source detailing a top secret exchange program of twelve US military personnel to Serpo, a planet of Zeta Reticuli, between the years 1965-78.
Which is pretty wild and should be approached with a certain amount of scepticism.

On the other hand, the raw data provided, particularly the parts which claim to be transcripts of the team commander’s log on the alien planet, are pretty fascinating.

The delivery is really interesting. If it’s a hoax it’s remarkably cleverly delivered – the paranoids seem to think a normal hoaxer would have done a better job. 🙂

It seems unwise to draw too many conclusions – especially since the Serpo developments seem quite recent and are far from over. Simply, it remains a fascinating mental puzzle; a cosmic what if. Which of our conceptions would change if this were true?

death of the ethnicity question

Despite it being done to death lately, here are some thoughts:

The confusion arises because three separate issues have become conflated.

First, there is the census. Questions asked on the census are irrelevant to anyone who does not rely on that data to make decisions. While the census question sparked the discussion, the underlying issue has no relevance to the census itself. Thus all discussion revolving around the role of the census seems confused. Any issue with the census itself can be resolved by asking different or extra questions to remove any confusion.

Second, identity. And third, language.

Taking language first: there is implicitly no agreement between parties arguing about what any of the words (ethnicity, identity, pakeha, even New Zealander, etc) mean. This equals confusion. Before continuing the debate in any form it would be useful to clarify those abstractions in a way that people can agree on.

The underlying issue seems to exist around identity. Something is happening within New Zealander’s identity – the census question spark is a symptom of that. Its symbolic value can be read however you like – that is another source of confusion, because there are many possible interpretations of any symbol.

Essentially, the way we think about ourselves is changing. Silly arguments seem like an unfortunate part of the process of growing up as a nation, or however you want to say it. 😉 “For you may measure social confusion by how loudly large numbers of people feel compelled to insist upon what used to seem obvious,” as Michael Ventura once said.

As a result of that change in thought and self-awareness, the abstract words which attempt to define us fit less comfortably. And so we argue about words.

An interesting analogy can be made with defining species. For example, at what point does a population of birds who have found their way to an island and stayed for generations become a separate species from the original population of birds? Now, a whole lot of complicated stuff goes on in terms of trying to determine species, but simply put: it all depends on how you define species. (There are broad rules like saying the point at which the species can no longer interbreed they are separate, but that isn’t always good enough because some “obviously” “separate” “species” seem to be able to breed. Anyway.) Living creatures (and frankly, reality itself) inhabit a continuum which we carve up according to our whim. We later perceive these lines in the sand as existing independently of our perception.

Distinctions become more complicated with humans, since we have complex cultural identifiers. To stretch the above analogy: if the birds on the island begin to sing different songs and learn different behaviours, and say they are different birds from the original population, at what point are they?

This is a bit of a trick question: the point of the species example is that it is impossible to point at the moment speciation occurs. Which illustrates my essential point: whatever seems to be happening in the way we think about ourselves is a process. Attempting to define what “is” in the middle of the process seems doomed to fail (while, oddly, may be part of the process.) Words are abstractions which cannot capture even concrete things, let alone evolving processes.

While our generation is the first to ask these sorts of questions, they will be even more germane to our children and grandchildren. And as our demographic nature changes over the coming decades, the way this process moves will be important for our future. Won’t it be fun coming up with a new label for the Maori/Pakeha hybrid majority in a few decades? Maokeha? Pakaori? Or New Zealander? 😛

Essentially, what is the meaningful difference between a pakeha or a maori, or a New Zealander, or a whateverlabel? We are people living close to each other. Whichever of these labels is deemed to apply to you is of far less importance than what words and deeds you perform, because our future and identity emerges from our actions not our taxonomy.

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