Sir Francis Bacon: “The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called “sciences as one would.” For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.” — [Author’s note: If Bacon had been a Buddhist he might have cautioned us take the next step: “we must formally but whole-heartedly practice the discipline of looking into our own minds to see how true this is”.]
Game On: The odds of getting governments to act aggressively enough to effectively address the Climate Crisis don’t look good. It’s team Climate Action against team Business-As-Usual, and these are the battles we currently seem to be hopelessly losing:
Strike 1 — feeding a preferred vision works: We need national and international legislation to bring fossil fuel dependency under control. But leaders in the most industrialized countries are chosen by citizens who don’t really want their lives disrupted by the radical policy changes needed. Like all human beings they see only what they want to see (we must look within ourselves to see how true this is), and so the more comfortable citizens will choose business-as-usual, and the less comfortable will choose a ‘return to conditions we remember as good’ — post war economic growth and prosperity for the middle class perhaps?
All that is required is that normal human beings be presented with any argument (and these are initially framed by those who have vested interests in the status quo) which casts even the slightest doubt on the need for real change; which casts doubt on the direction needed for real change; or which casts doubt on the degree of change needed or the speed at which change must happen; and there will be no real change.
Strike 2 — our vision must be better: In order to offer voting citizens a reason to choose radical change, we must present a vision of the future that seems intuitively better than their idealized past, or their business-as-usual present. This criterion has been powerfully expressed by Alex Steffen: “Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism” [published on Worldchanging.com on March 25th, 2008] The problem here is that the Green Dream we are offering seems to be built on another idealized past, but one that is even more remote, and that has, in the minds of a majority of voting citizens, been ‘superseded’ by the more recent idealized past they are familiar with.
This more remote idealized past we are drawing upon for inspiration (with variations mostly to do with the role of technology) involves humans living in ‘harmony’ with Nature. Why is this not satisfying our “great optimism” criterion for radical change? Is it really only because the ‘simple life’ ideal, associated as it is with zero economic growth and therefore smaller profits, is being relentlessly denigrated by powerful vested interests in the fossil carbon economy; and are we then to conclude that if this were not the case, a majority of voting citizens would embrace it? Or is the environmentalist dream really not ‘better’, for some deeper, yet to be acknowledged, reason?
Do we so-called ‘environmentalists’ somehow know, if only at a gut level, that humans and authentic ecosystems just don’t mix? And so, rather than accept the immediate (though possibly erroneous) defeatist implications, we fall into the same trap as the deniers: we let our own Golden Age bias take over? (Hey! I saw that! Now you also must look within yourself, and quickly, to catch these fleeting impulses, for denial and superiority, as they reject such ‘foolishness’ even before your rational objections kick in!)
I have become familiar, whether by looking within myself during silent meditation (I have been practising in the Soto Zen tradition for twenty years), or through talking with my fellow activists during a protest, with a kind of futility associated with this back-to-Nature vision. Many cynics, and even some of us in the climate activism community when push comes to shove, will opine that Humans are in fact a disease infecting Nature. In any case, we can all agree on one thing: “We need Nature but Nature doesn’t need us”. This last bit, the “Nature doesn’t need us” bit, is true! But it is a scientific reality that has not yet upset our innate biases: our inborn animal entitlement, lately belied by human technology.
Strike 3 — Ground truth: Even though we climate activists call ourselves ‘progressive’, we too see only what we want to see. (We must look within ourselves to see how true this is.) Yes, the present human population can be supported with known technologies, and with ecologically efficient energy and dietary choices, but ecosystems can never be truly authentic, in other words inherently stable, if they must adapt to fast-changing technology and human political caprice. We must look not just to history, and to prehistory, but to evolutionary science, in order to see how true this is.
The vision of a future that is better than an idealized past, or a business-as-usual present, has not yet been offered; if it had, we would not be at the mercy of a voting populace that is poised, once again, to choose between going backwards or holding to a suicidal course. Let’s not be deceived; we are facing this suicidal trajectory, because confirmation bias is a primitive human set point (we must look within ourselves to see how true this is), and it works within progressives and conservatives alike. We must want a future before we build it. It must be a globally believable future. And it must be expressible as a “statement of great optimism” for real change to happen.
The voting public is being offered three choices: business-as-usual, return to an idealized agro-industrial economy, or return to a (technologically up-graded) harmony with Nature. The mechanism of confirmation bias is simple: among familiar options, we will accept any argument that favours the one we like. And it can therefor be very alarming (if we have indeed looked within and seen the truth of Bacon’s “sciences as one would”) to simply see, without wishful thinking, that most people are still not choosing the third option — the future currently being depicted by environmentalists.
So is it, ‘strike 3, and we’re out’?
Mulligan — We look at our own biases: “Throughout history, we have wanted to know more about ourselves. That’s, if you like, the very juice of religion—faith, origins. The certainty of what we are and how we came to be is something that we need, that we’ve always needed.” — Richard Leaky, in an interview with American Scientist, January-February 2020 issue.
What if we just decide that human beings are not so much a disease as we are a misunderstood novelty? What if we unite behind the science in all its uniquely unbiased power? Here is something we might see: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/about-extremophile-choice/