Friday, 13 October 2017

Collapse Step by Step, Part 7: More on Political Realities, Continued

Lake Huron Surf, A Sunny Day in October

This post is just a continuation of Part 6 of this series. If you haven't read Part 6 it would make a lot of sense to do so now.

In Part 6, I addressed some of the comments a reader (BK) had made on Parts 4 and 5, explaining my thoughts on a slow and uneven collapse. And how while modern politics is trapped in a growth at all costs paradigm and cannot acknowledge the limits of growth, there are still varieties of politics that will do a better or worse job of navigating collapse in the age of scarcity.

(BK and I have quite a conversation going in the comments. Now that the initial misunderstandings have been cleared up, I think some real communication has happened.)

If you are new here, following the discussion below would be facilitated by going back and having a look at the last few posts in my Collapse Step by Step series.

In Collapse Step by Step, Part 3, I introduced the idea of laying out a spectrum of opinions about a particular aspect of politics, with the two ends representing opposing extremes, and most peoples' positions falling somewhere in between.

An example of something like this is the Political Compass, a website that takes two such spectrums (economic and authouritarian) and defines a plane on which there will be a point that defines your political position. For me that point is somewhere in the lower left, making me a "anarcho-communist" of some sort.

In order to gain an more nuanced understanding of politics, I have suggested using not just two, but six different spectrums to give a sufficiently nuanced view of that field.

In Collapse Step by Step, Part 4 I considered each of those six spectrums and identified what I believe to be the position on each of them best suited to coping with the challenges that face us over the next few decades.

In Collapse Step by Step, Part 5, after looking at today's political realities (growth must continue), I took a close look at how two different types of politics may fare during collapse. One of these might be called Right Wing Capitalism— an extreme version of the United States under a Republican government. The other I called Social Democracy—an idealized version of the northern European democracies when a left wing government is in power. And as you may be able to guess, I think the Social Democracies have a much better chance in the age of scarcity.

After reading that post, BK responded with, "you are stuck on the viewpoint that socialism will solve our ills. But what is the point of a viewpoint if adopting it requires jettisoning reason and deliberation at the first sign or trouble?" So, thinking positively about socialism requires jettisoning reason and deliberation? I really think not. But, in any case, a closer look at what I was saying shows I wasn't actually talking about socialism. The point I was making about Social Democracy versus Right Wing Capitalism wasn't to any great extent based on their positions on the Communist<—>Capitalist economic spectrum.

Communism (or socialism, same thing really), at the left end of this spectrum, has never actually been tried in the modern world, and probably wouldn't work on the large scale of most modern countries, or at least we currently have no idea of how to make it work. The so called communist regimes of the twentieth century ended up being just dictatorships practicing state capitalism. The people who started them (Lenin, Mao, etc.) were incredibly inept. Perhaps better men could have achieved more, or perhaps the challenge was just too great.

Social democracies occupy the space somewhat to the left of center on this spectrum, practicing a well regulated form of capitalism, with much of their vital infrastructure state owned for the sake of efficiency.

Countries which practiced ideal free market capitalism would be over at the very right end of the spectrum, but of course there really aren't any of them either. Some regulation is necessary to make a country work at all. Beyond that, capitalists don't like real competition and large capitalist concerns have power enough to avoid it. Even small businesses often voluntarily avoid getting into the kind of price wars that a free market can lead to. So Right Wing Capitalism occupies the space somewhat to the right of center on this spectrum.

What I am really doing here is comparing two political positions that both practice capitalism, just somewhat different types of it. The policies that really distinguish them are on a couple of other political spectrums altogether: Inclusive<—>Exclusive, and Fiscal Liberal<—>Fiscal Conservative. The Communist<—>Capitalist spectrum is a factor but the least important of the three.

OK, so how do these three aspects of politics work together to determine how a country manages during the age of scarcity? First let's consider the early stages of this period when there is still enough economic activity to support the operation of national and state (provincial) governments.

BK comments, "Northern European democracies lucked out in the historical roulette, with a combination of low population, resources and cheap energy/labour subsidising their particular version of overconsumption." The same could be said of many areas in the "new world" including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US. And I would agree that this was true in the age of abundance, when all these countries prospered through relentless growth fueled by cheap fossil fuels, regardless of whether their politics was a little to the left or right of center. But that's not the time period we're considering here.

The age of scarcity began for the US in the 1970s, when oil production in the continental states peaked and the economy began a long, bumpy slow down. And really, from then until the present day has been a troubled time for economic growth throughout much of the developed world. Recessions, bubbles, crashes, and growing debt have become commonplace.

OK, how does extreme right wing capitalism cope with these conditions? Its political position is "exclusivist", so its strategies are intended to benefit the rich and powerful—maintaining growth and funneling wealth to them, with little concern for the rest of the population. In the age of abundance this worked reasonably well for everyone, since workers were needed in large numbers and it wasn't too hard to get a job. This is no longer the case. When growth can't be maintained, the fall back is to ensure the rich receive a larger share of whatever surplus there is, with the rest of us left to get by on the ever shrinking leavings.

This political position is also fiscally conservative, so its main strategy has been to lower taxes on the rich and large corporations and to cut social programs and infrastructure spending. This has been justified by claiming that lowering taxes create jobs for the working man, who will then need less help. It's not true, of course. The only thing that makes a business hire more workers is increasing demand for their product, and to increase demand you have to get money into the hands of consumers. Leaving money in the hands of the rich essentially takes it out of circulation, since most of it will be invested in financial instruments that are not part of the "main street" economy where jobs are created.

Because of those tax reductions, funding for government is reduced, rendering it less effective at the work it needs to do. As is always the case for fiscal conservatives, tax reduction is much easier than cost cutting, so budget deficits increase and interest costs for carrying the accumulated deficit increase along with them, using up more of what little revue the government has.

All this results in many dissatisfied people, looking for someone to blame, and creates an opportunity for populist politicians. They claim to be on the side of the common man in order to get votes, while pursing many policies that actually hurt working class people. Dissatisfaction with the state of the country is blamed on immigrants, and religious and racial minorities, focusing attention away from the rich and powerful.

The right wing version of capitalism not as well regulated as those further left, and regulations are frequently relaxed even further with the excuse that it will stimulate growth.

The result of all this over the last several decades in the US has been increases in poverty, inequality, homelessness, self destructive drug use by demoralized people, distrust of the elite and social unrest. Educational, health care and infrastructure systems have been allowed to deteriorate due to lack of funds. In many ways, the US is now little better than a third world country. Unfortunately there is more to come, as economic contraction and climate change continue to pound away.

As the economy contracts still further and even the rich begin to feel the squeeze, governments in these societies will become more forthright about their attitude toward the lower classes, which is best characterized by the term "exterminism" (root word: exterminate). People who are not actively needed are simply cast aside, with no concern as to what their fate might be, as long as they stay out of the way. In the US, this works so well because many Americans, who are not in fact rich, feel they that are just temporarily embarrassed millionaires, and are distrustful of the other poor people around them, rather than feeling any solidarity with them.

BK says, "You accused me of believing that poverty is the fault of the poor, yet that isn't true. You also claim that this idea is leading America in a bad direction, yet the majority of Americans - including the elites, both liberal and conservative - don't seem to share it. All of them say they want to help the poor; they just differ on the method/s." Well yes, they do say that. But actions speak louder than words, and reducing taxes on the rich while cutting social programs leads me to believe the underlying intention is definitely not to help the poor. And just to be clear, that is aimed not at BK (who isn't an American), but at the Republican Party and the current President of the US.

Eventually, the government will have no choice but to abandon the worst affected areas. Parts of New Orleans have still not been built after hurricane Katrina, and a reasonable argument can be made that it would be a bad idea to do so, given the likelihood of further increases in sea level. It will be interesting to see how things go in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria this fall. Of course, that "abandonment" will not be official, but simply a matter of quiet neglect, due to a lack of resources to support and rebuild or even enforce the rule of law. This will start with just a few isolated areas that have suffered natural disaster or extreme infrastructure decay, and grow until the remaining governed areas become isolated enclaves in the abandoned expanses.

As the economy contracts, unemployment will grow. With cutbacks on social programs, unemployment will lead quickly to homelessness for a great many people. In the capitalist system there is no commons—no way for the poor to be self sufficient, no way for them to get away from a system that wants them to go away. The homeless will seek refuge in the abandoned areas, but with very limited resources and skills, they will have a hard time of it. Their general distrustfulness of each other will make things even worse.

My prediction is that, because of the waste inherent in funneling wealth to the rich (along with many other self destructive policies), rich wing capitalist societies will decline more quickly than Social Democracies. When they reach the point where nothing is left but small local communities, people will be left with very limited resources and will be unprepared for working together to the extent that will be required. Many won't even believe it is a good idea, much less a necessity.

So, how do Social Democracies measure up against the Right Wing Capitalists in the age of scarcity? To my way of thinking, quite well.

Social Democracies are inclusive, so their policies look out for the welfare of all their citizens. They are fiscally liberal, so they don't hesitate to tax progressively to finance their social programs, and are able to resource government at a level that allows it to do its job effectively.

There is less poverty, inequality, homelessness, drug abuse, distrust of the elite and social unrest. Those who are well off are happy to pay their taxes because of this.

Social Democracies are somewhat left of center on the communist<—>capitalist economic spectrum, so under these governments capitalism is better regulated, preventing its more unpleasant excesses. Much of the infrastructure is government run, eliminating duplication of effort, and waste in the form of unnecessary competition and profits.

Because economic surpluses are redistributed to where they are needed the most and will do the most good, economic contraction will proceed more slowly than in the Right Wing Capitalist countries, and its effects will be mitigated by the social safety net. It appears to me that surplus energy will be used more effectively and these societies can probably continue to function at a lower average EROEI than the Right Wing Capitalists.

Make no mistake, energy decline and economic contraction will still continue to happen in the Social Democracies and eventually reach the point where centralized government is no longer able to function and nothing is left but small local communities. But the fabric of society at that level will be in better shape and more resources and skills will be available. People, not having been taught that the poor are the enemy, will find it be much easier to work together effectively when they find themselves reduced to poverty.

I think there is also a good chance that as this point gets nearer, social democracies will admit what is going on and set up programs to help people prepare and adapt, where Right Wing Capitalists will struggle to support growth with their dying breath.

We can look at Social Democracy<—>Right Wing Capitalism as another political spectrum with the extreme versions I've just described out at the every ends. Of course, real countries are located somewhere along the spectrum, not at the extreme ends, and their positions will vary over time as left or right wing governments come into power. There is a tendency, as times grow harder, for politics to move "right", toward the Right Wing Capitalist end of this spectrum. From my viewpoint, this is sad, because it runs counter to the best interests of the very people who are casting their votes in that direction.

Indeed, one might say that that has been the purpose of this post—to make it clear why I think that in the immediate future we should not give up on the political process. Rather, we should be striving to oppose the movement to the right and elect governments who are closer to being Social Democracies. And, if in the process, we could get them interested in emergency preparation and collapse mitigation, it would be even better.

There are some hopeful signs. In Britain the Labour party has swung away from Tony Blair's neo-liberalism to a more traditional Labour stance and they did much better in the last election. Not a win, unfortunately. Here in Canada, in the last federal election, we voted out Harper's extremely conservative Conservatives and put the Liberal Party back in power. Their politics, on the Communist<—>Capitalist spectrum, are only slightly left of the Conservatives, but they are much more inclusive and fiscally liberal. They are also more liberal socially and they are not climate change deniers....

But enough for now about party politics. The subject of my next post will be some of the specific events that will likely drive collapse forward in discrete steps and how we'll cope with them, as centralized governments wither away and local communities become the focus of survival.

And once again, BK, be patient with me, more of the points you've raised will be addressed in that post, and probably the one after it....

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
Political Realities / Collapse Step by Step / The Bumpy Road Down


Unknown said...

Irv, once again you have informed me of the situation in a way that I could
not expect the mass media to do, great informative links- thanks
I still think you need to find a way to reach a larger audience.

Irv Mills said...

Thanks, Brian.
I've been doing more promotion of this blog and readership has gone up quite a bit over the last couple of years. Still lots of room for improvement there though.

Unknown said...

@Irv Mills, as I said before, I'm not interested in political discussions, but I guess I'll have to start one now to explain my perspective on the bigger picture.

"So, thinking positively about socialism requires jettisoning reason and deliberation? I really think not."

Thinking positively about anything, especially a political worldview, requires jettisoning reason and deliberation. Likewise for thinking negatively about anything. And to reiterate, the statement you quoted was my *response* to your unfounded *accusation* that I want to "get rid of the poor".

But I digress. In a few small, rich, developed European countries, social democratic ideals work *today*, within a larger, *global* system where they don't. In a way, the labour of those countries enjoys privileges that are subsidised by the labour of the rest of the world, which doesn't enjoy those very privileges for that very reason. Lenin would have called this system a "labour aristocracy".

Now imagine a world where the globalised supply chain doesn't exist, and therefore neither does the labour aristocracy. Is labour in the aforementioned countries likely to enjoy the same privileges that it does today? Based on what we know about similar crises in the past, it is not likely.

"The age of scarcity began for the US in the 1970s, when oil production in the continental states peaked and the economy began a long, bumpy slow down."

You are equivocating two different usages/definitions of the word "scarcity". The scarcity that began in the 1970s is not the same as the one you go on to talk about in order to make your point about political systems. The former refers to the point in history when extracting oil started becoming increasingly more expensive than it was before. The latter refers to an actual *shortage* of resources vital to an industrial economy, or indeed any economy.

In my view, this is your argument in a nutshell:

"A handful of small, rich, developed European countries survived the end of the short era of 'cheaper than free' fossil fuel energy without losing their social democratic governments, and this means those governments will also survive the end of profitably extractable resources, cheap food, energy and industrially manufactured products, global turmoil and so on. This system can also work anywhere else, regardless of other conditions that have nothing directly to do with economic systems or governments."

Furthermore, I can't agree that the US economic system is "extreme right-wing capitalism". It directs *substantial* resources towards healthcare and social services and welfare. Many advances in social reform and welfare in the US began during Republican presidencies. It's also wrong to assume that the political system of the US can operate or evolve in the same way as that in countries like Switzerland, Denmark etc. Furthermore, you can't use the example of Trump or his antics to encapsulate the US political system. I despise Trump as much as the next guy, but let us not pretend that his enemies are fundamentally better than him.

I also don't consider left-aligned capitalism to be *less* wasteful - ceteris paribus - than its right-aligned counterpart. Wastage and consumption that is evenly distributed isn't more sustainable than that which is unevenly distributed.

Overall my impression is that you are trying to convince both yourself and others that your political ideals fit into what is essentially a black box - the progression of global industrial collapse.

Irv Mills said...

I'm finding this a little frustrating, but I'll try to stay civil, and address what I see as our major understandings.

1) Thinking positively or negatively about things. Certainly one should look into things without preconceptions and try to judge them on the basis of the facts. Having done so, however, one tends to form a positive or negative opinion based on those facts. And that's what I mean when I say "thinking positively" about something.

2) I disagree with your two definitions of scarcity. To me, it is various degrees of one thing. As soon as oil peaked in the continental US, the economy started to feel the strain of importing foreign oil. In capitalist countries we use "rationing by price", which hits the poor first. Things start to cost too much and you can't afford them. But there is lots left for the rich folks.

3) The first part of your nutshell summary of my position is mistaken. I don't believe that any of our present governmental systems will survive "the end of profitably extractable resources, cheap food, energy and industrially manufactured products, global turmoil and so on". Only that areas governed in a more "Social Democratic" fashion will have a better time between now and that end point. And it seems to me that we have a quite a period of decline to go through before we reach that point. Those in power have a huge vested interest in the current system, and after it falls apart I expect they will patch things back together and carry on until the net time things fall apart, rinse and repeat unto the shampoo bottle is really empty. This will take a long time, getting more ragged on each iteration.

4) As to the second part of your summary, I probably should have said "present day Republicans". There was a time in the past when the Republicans were indeed the more progressive of the two parties, but they aren't today. And yes, the present day US has a legacy of social welfare programs that they are still spending a lot of money on. But current Republican policy is to reduce that spending significantly and I believe that their policies will get harsher as time goes on. Just to be clear, I'm not all that keen on the Democrats either.

5) I spent most of my life working for the power transmission and distribution utility here in Ontario Canada and had the opportunity to compare private contractors to the organization I was part of. Their operations had as many if not more inefficiencies as ours, but at the end of the day we weren't obligated to make a profit for stock holders or the owner. Just to break even while providing a service. The private guys were often more concerned with making a profit than providing the service, and ended up providing less service at a higher cost.

The blog post I am currently working on covers much that is not a direct response to your comments but it does mention a couple of them:

1) the inevitable slide back to "harsher times". It may be that I am misunderstanding what you mean by this, but I don't think we can really go back to any sort of previous times. We're starting from a different place, with different people. So the results will be different. I'll go into much more detail in that post.

2) the idea that native human compassion works only in small groups. On this I actually agree with you, and I expect that when governments no longer have the resources to function, we will be living in much smaller groups, and that in the process, our overall population will have declined, by a factor of 10 (very approximately), so our population density will be lower as well.

Unknown said...

Irv, I don't want to frustrate you. I'm just pointing out errors in your reasoning as I see them. Indeed you haven't even addressed the crucial point I made about labour aristocracy. A genuinely socialist system cannot depend upon a nationalist-capitalist system.

My position on the other hand is that human nature and its relation to scarcity determines how humans behave. The industrial revolution has revolutionised scarcity but not human nature. Unless human beings learn to transcend their selfish desires, the cycle of scarcity->exploitation->abundance->compassion will continue as it always has in one form or another. Taking away the reasons for being selfish and greedy won't eliminate selfishness or greed. They will just manifest in other ways, and new reasons will be found, which while perhaps less dangerous or destructive than the old ones are no less potent or deep-seated. Eventually, when the new forms of selfishness can't be sustained, people will revert back to the old forms. Unless, of course, those people themselves change for the better, regardless of politics and economics.

In a way we are arguing past each other, because I don't want a political debate, and you don't want a philosophical one :) That said, two of the points you made needs a little clarification:

Firstly, my distinction wrt scarcity. I agree we are living in the age of scarcity, but the degree of scarcity hasn't had any drastic effects on the global economy besides the exportation of labour from the developed to the developing world. I also agree that the onset of scarcity accelerates the growth of economic inequality, but this has happened on a global as well as a national scale. Rich nations are maintaining their standard of living because the cheap labour of poorer (per capita) nations is carrying the cost of doing so.

Secondly, I am aware that you don't think an exact replica of the current system will survive, but I was pointing out the uncertainty in your prediction that the current system in specific countries will *resemble* their post-collapse system without the conditions that support the current system. This is not just my opinion, but a fact. You are only speculating when you say that Scandinavian socialism for example will continue in some form after or during the collapse, and with an inherently universally benevolent modus operandi.

44bernhard44 said...

Hi Irv,
I agree with you on at least one point: it would be benefitial for all of us living in industrialized countries to have governments leaning toward what you call social-democratic governments: the more evenly wealth is distributed the better that society will fare in almost any collapse scenario. Unfortunately that is not exactly what happenened here in Germany in the last election.
Results of the German election 2017:
Percentage of votes:
26,8 %
(2013: 34,1 %)
20,5 %
(2013: 25,7 %)
12,6 %
(2013: 4,7 %)
10,7 %
(2013: 4,8 %)
9,2 %
(2013: 8,6 %)
8,9 %
(2013: 8,4 %)
6,2 %
(2013: 7,4 %)
5,0 %
(2013: 6,2 %)
Seats in parliament:
200 Seats (2013: 255),
(2013: 191)
153 Seats (2013: 193),
(2013: 58)
94 Seats (2013: – ),
(2013: – )
80 Seats (2013:  – ),
(2013: – )
69 Seats (2013: 64),
(2013: 4)
67 Seats (2013: 63),
(2013: 1)
46 Seats (2013: 56),
(2013: 45)
A few explanatory remarks:
-The CDU (Christian Democrats) and the CSU (Christian-social Democrats) are a twin party that is treated as one unit in German parliament; the CSU is the bavarian ´´twin´´.
– German electoral law is rather complicated, so I would have to do research to get the details right, and it would probably bore any non-German to death and some Germans, too, coming to think of it. But the main part of it is proportional represantation: If a party gets 20 % of the votes, it gets roughly 20 % of the seats in parliament. I say roughly because there is a limiting rule: a party has to get more than 5 % to achieve representation (although there is a backdoor for very small but locally very popular parties – as I said, it´s complicated).
-CDU and CSU are the conservative party, the SPD is the social democratic party (not that you would recognize it by their policies, and there´s no German Corbyn in sight), the FDP is the liberal party (mostly neo-liberal these days, though they promised to do better social justice-wise after a 4-year absence from parliament), the Left are what you probably could call ´´real social democrats´´ (not communists, they have their own party which has sunk into the obscurity of the ´´others´´ in the statistic), the Greens are supposed to be environmentalist and progressive and the AfD is, to put it carefully, a mix of people with different political opinions who are all concerned about current immigration and the resulting problems and the EU as an organization; ´´this party is politically more right-wing than the CDU and CSU, but less so than the Neu-Nazi party NPD, which did not get into the Bundestag´´ as another user put it – I hope that was an almost neutral description.
– Parties in Germany routinely have to built ´´coalitions´´ to put together a majority for government: very rarely does one party have the necessary more than 50 % . This involves talks and negotiations
between the parties that want to form a government, and it´s not always the two biggest parties who do: This time, for example, there is talk about a coalition between CDU/CSU, the FDP and the Greens. If the parties cannot resolve differences enough to form a coalition government, the election is repeated (which hasn´t happened so far).
Frank from Germany

Irv Mills said...

Well I'm finally back. We spent a week in Ottawa visiting our daughter and granddaughters. Then I had surgery to repair a hernia and haven't felt much like sitting at the computer typing until now. My apologies for taking so long to respond to your comments.

Irv Mills said...

@Blaise Korma
I do agree that we tend to argue past each other, since we are indeed talking about different things. But let's keep trying. This time I have a couple of replies to what you just said, and a couple of questions.

One comment first, though. I grew up in a family where politics was a frequent topic of discussion. My wife and I continued this in the family we built together and all three of my children have further continued the trend. In my last few blog posts I think I have done a good job of explaining why politics is still important. While I probably indulge in a certain amount of philosophy myself, I am very suspicious of that endeavour. I've seen so many people using logic to "prove" absolute nonsense because their basic assumptions do not correspond to objective reality. Indeed, philosophy seems to deal mainly in those areas where science has not yet yielded us a clear understanding of that reality. I am not directing any of this specifically at you, but just to show why I am not so thrilled with philosophy in general. Where I am guilty of indulging in philosophy, it seems some of my conclusions don't agree with yours.
The idea that selfishness and greed are inborn and inescapable human failings sounds very Christian to me, and thus I am pretty suspicious of it. The systems people live in have a lot to do with how people behave, and our present system glorifies greed to the point where we can't imagine any alternative. But I must admit that I am not at all sure what you mean by the "cycle of scarcity->exploitation->abundance->compassion". So rather than comment further on this, I'll ask if you could please clarify what you mean by that.

While increasing scarcity has certainly driven globalization and a race to the bottom, it has had other effects as well. Increased debt, increased inequality and the rise of right wing populist politicians come quickly to mind. Fossil fuel depletion is the main driving force behind economic contraction--there has been no real economic growth since the 1990s, despite clever adjustments to the way that GDP is calculated making it look otherwise. And scarcity of sinks for various pollutants is having numerous environmental effects.

But I do expect that that over the next decade or so, we will begin to see scarcity have effects that are much less subtle.

I haven't actually said yet what I think things will look like politically post collapse. When I actually do get around to that, I suspect you will be surprised, so don't jump to any conclusions. I have said that the political and social circumstances that people find themselves in currently and as collapse moves forward will influence their response to it. As it happens, I don't think the end results will necessarily "resemble" the origins, in many cases just the opposite.

You are also jumping to the conclusion that, because I have said social democracies are the lesser of evils, I must think they are a good thing. I assure you that this is not so. Of the six political spectrums I've been discussing the first and most important is acknowledgement vs. denial of the limits to growth. None of our present political systems can acknowledge those limits because all those systems are based on growth. Labour aristocracies are as bad as capitalist ones and I am not sure socialist systems are any better. Certainly not if they don't offer a way out of continued growth in a finite system.
One more question. I have reacted negatively to your statement that collapse must inevitably lead us "back to harsher times". That type of thinking irritates me. I definitely agree that people will be living with much less in the way of the conveniences and comforts that we have grown so attached to. That's not what I am objecting to. But I should really give you a chance to explain what you mean by "back to harsher times" before I say any more.

Irv Mills said...

@ 44bernhard44
Well, clearly German party politics is more complex than the Canadian equivalent.
Not long after your recent election I listened to a representative of the AfD being interviewed on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) Radio. His talking points seems to be the typical right wing populist ones: too many immigrants and refugees, not enough jobs for native Germans. Hard not to sympathize, but history makes me nervous that this is a tactic to gain support for a group that later will prove to be much father to the right.
What do you think on that score?
As collapse progresses and supply chains break down, I think we'll be forced to relocalize and globalization will be less of an issue. But I expect there will be even more refugees and less resources to help them out.

Unknown said...

"Indeed, philosophy seems to deal mainly in those areas where science has not yet yielded us a clear understanding of that reality."

It seems you are confusing philosophy with theology or apologetics (or perhaps occultism and such?) so it's no wonder we're arguing past each other. Philosophy deals with absolute truths and deductive logic. Science is a system of tentative guesswork about the empirical world intended to meet specific goals of convenience, based on the philosophical principle that the empirical world can only be understood through the use of reason. Any science which isn't firmly grounded in philosophy is nonsense, pure and simple. It is Star Trek. So within my context, your definition is a red herring.

"The idea that selfishness and greed are inborn and inescapable human failings sounds very Christian to me, and thus I am pretty suspicious of it."

This is another red herring. It doesn't really matter what the idea *sounds* like. Even your idea about inherently benevolent communities *sounds* very Christian. Context is paramount, and in this case the context is scarcity brought about industrial collapse, not some kind of eschatological narrative.

"The systems people live in have a lot to do with how people behave, and our present system glorifies greed to the point where we can't imagine any alternative."

The way people behave is itself a part of the system they live in. The specific political-economic systems created by human beings for their convenience are, likewise, part of the same larger system that they live in. There is no independent process by which such systems are created apart from how human beings behave or how the environment affects them.

"But I must admit that I am not at all sure what you mean by the "cycle of scarcity->exploitation->abundance->compassion"."

Human beings will try to exploit other human beings when they feel they need to do so, and will show compassion when they lose nothing by doing so. The creation of human systems of governance is influenced by that basic dynamic, not the other way around. Eliminating that dynamic requires changing those aspects of human nature which depend upon it, like selfish desires.

"You are also jumping to the conclusion that, because I have said social democracies are the lesser of evils, I must think they are a good thing."

No, my conclusion has nothing to do with your stance on specific political ideologies. It has to do with the fact that *all* political systems are nothing more or less than the sum of their parts, and none of them are inherently better or worse than any other. The perfect political "system" therefore is one that suits the needs of its inhabitants as a whole, and one that doesn't require the manipulation or ignorance of reality to succeed. Currently, social democracies in the west require an enormous amount of *both* of the above in order to function.

I can't remember the source, but a recent study found out that when people's political opinions or biases are challenged, they react in a similar way to trauma victims. Politics has become a religion in western nations. Just like there are many different religions, there are many different ideologies. And just like all religions, all political ideologies assert the existence of causeless causes; only in the latter case those causes involve material prosperity.

Irv Mills said...

@ Blaise Korma
Absolute truths and deductive logic? No wonder I have so little use for philosophy. The idea that there are absolute truths and that deductive logic can lead us to them is where most of the nonsense people believe in comes from. This includes what you think about human nature, which simply isn't born out by the facts. You've got the relationship between science and philosophy backwards--real science has been chipping away at erroneous philosophy for centuries and will continue to do so.

But now that I know where you are really coming from, I can confidently say that there is no point in any further discussion. Go ahead and have the last word if it makes you feel better. I have nothing further to say.

Unknown said...

Well this escalated pretty fast. But I'll have the last word anyway, for the sake of clarity if not anything else.

"The idea that there are absolute truths and that deductive logic can lead us to them is where most of the nonsense people believe in comes from."

Are you seriously claiming that religious beliefs are based on deductive logic!? The entire scientific method - identity, verification, falsifiability etc. - relies on deductive reasoning viz. absolute truths. Religious beliefs do not. Besides, even the idea that absolute truth doesn't exist is an absolute, *philosophical* claim about the whole of reality. You clearly don't understand science, logic or philosophy very well.

"This includes what you think about human nature, which simply isn't born out by the facts."

It isn't, if by "fact" you mean "whatever I want to believe". For example, you just falsely accused me of being religious and believing in absolute truths about human nature. I am an atheist, and I don't believe in absolute truths about human nature. More importantly, nothing I said would imply the above. The fact (by my definition of that word, i.e., reality) is that you cannot deal with criticism rationally.

"You've got the relationship between science and philosophy backwards--real science has been chipping away at erroneous philosophy for centuries and will continue to do so."

That's because real science is based on real philosophy. The latter was chipping away at erroneous philosophy since long before the former existed in its current form. Even the claim that science is *not* based upon philosophy is philosophical, not scientific, since it posits the nature of truth. And it is erroneous, since it contradicts itself. If you want to see what happens when science is based on such philosophy, take a look at the academic publishing industry, the corporate research industry, the scientists and engineers claiming that growth can continue forever, etc.

You've invented a conflict between two huge, complex and multifaceted fields of endeavour just to discredit what I say by portraying me as some sort of evangelist. That is a logical fallacy, but I'm sure you would call it "scientific". Not surprising given that you don't even care about logic by your own admission!

J Michael Sullivan said...

Wonderful series Irv. Much more approachable than the "ArchDruid" et al. Please keep the momentum going and try not to get stuck in endless BK banter. You have some excellent insights, in particular the dire need for us to develop and invest in many different types of "commons". To your point: our current political climate prevents us from having a cogent conversation on the subject, what with "socialism" being considered by many as a pejorative term.

Irv Mills said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, J Michael. I was just looking back and saw that I had never responded to your comment. The holiday season was busy indeed.
But I did see your comment and was energized by your advice. I've published two more posts recently and have a couple more coming along nicely.
You are in no small part responsible for that--I was getting pretty discouraged arguing with BK.

Anonymous said...

While the general insights on the 'bump road down' i share and agree with, saying more or less the same thing myself for years, i have to ask, what is with the preoccupation with the artificial 'right' versus 'left' distinction? On the one hand an idealized dreamy appraisal of 'left' power structures being benevolent and honest and inspired to do good, and a cynical appraisal of 'right' power structures being singlemindedly bent on bleeding everyone to profit a small elite - but the labels seem totally arbitrary here. I don't see _any_ altruistic dreamy idealistic power structures anywhere on earth, for one. Further, all the supposed 'left' power structures, both those which most of the people i hear diving the world into left vs right seem to agree are 'left', as well as those theoretical proposed 'left' power structures i hear dreamers talk about as their ideal future, don't appear to me to differ one bit from the cynical power structures those 'left' dreamers slap with the label 'right' as some kind of mark of disgrace. The whole distinction of 'left' verus 'right' to me instead seems to be a religious exercise on the part of those who label themselves 'left' to call some saints and others sinners. Their actual behaviours though don't differ one bit. All those 'left' power structures are also monstrous bureacracies bent on shoveling power and privilege (even if they dont always like to use the accounting mechanism of money to tally it up) to a small elite, and they seem just as preoccupied with their own power and privilege as any other elite now and throughout history. They use the same mechanisms as the 'right' labeled ones, too- theyre all industrial age socieities who try to monitor and micromanage everything people do and take the lions share for themselves, suffocating everything else, all the while justifying it all with a barrage of propaganda backed up by a thought police that tries to control all human communication. the labels and terminology they all put on these things might differ but really theyre _all_ power structures whose function is preservation of themselves and their elite, at the expense of all else - other humans, other living things, the earth itself.
can we get over this ideological block?

Irv Mills said...

@ Anonymous
Yes, I did get rather distracted in parts 6 and 7 of this series. I let a commenter get under my skin and wasted some time trying to convince him of some things that are quite clear to me, but which were completely opaque to him. Oh well. I have since gone of to greener pastures, as you will see if you check out some of my more recent posts.
The distinction between right and left lumps together a bunch of different political things and as such isn't too useful. Have a look in part 3, 4 and 5 if you're interested in hearing more of what I mean (but I guess not...).