Monday, 26 December 2011

Being Alive - Chemical Components and Consciencious Considerations

Either life on this planet has adapted phenomenally to the planet, or the planet has adapted to the life. I am inclined to think it is a combination of both, because in all such things, it is always, always, a little of both. Life itself is exceedingly and wonderfully adaptable, resilient, and creative - elements and cells in concert creating chemical cocktails that manage to build protein chains and DNA that somehow thrives within almost every environment you care to find it in. This is truly remarkable.

Human life is one of the more interesting examples of this - and not just because we, being human, are so very biased. As Bill Bryson puts it in his wonderful work 'A Short History of Nearly Everything,' if the earth was tectonically tranquil and perfectly, spherically smooth, it would be 'covered everywhere with water to a depth of 4km. There might be life in that lonesome ocean, but it wouldn't be football.'

We seem to have evolved adaptively to have an incredible chemical harmony with the world around us, and the building blocks that form and fuel it, and us. Consider what happens when you combine one of the most chemically unstable elements with one of the most toxic - you get ordinary table salt. Expose one of them to open air and it will explode; the other will poison you with prejudice. The ingredients in water, ironically, are two of the universe's more famously flammable elements.

What about elements that are not naturally more or less everywhere - including rarer naturally occuring ones, industrial pollutants, extraterrestrial and radioactive elements and so on? We react to these in what can only be called disagreeable ways. Again to borrow from Bill Bryson '(no amount of plutonium) is not going to make you want to lie down'

Life is insane, truly. Like a mad scheme that somehow pulled itself off here, but not, on say, Venus, or the moon, or Ceres or Neptune. This is not to say that among the trillions of other planets that this universe (or indeed, among the multiverse, if it or anything like it exists) contains, life does not, did not, or will not exist. But it will be of a different type. Perhaps we may be visited by a race of beings who are grateful for their plutonium spires, ammonium suplhate glaciers and their polished-marble-smooth planet with its absence of tectonic anything. How might these beings react to see us thriving in our air conditioned shopping centres and offices, largely ignoring our parks and oceans and natural beauty? How might they react to those natural (and unnatural) features we grew up in and on? Not to mention the obstinate and bizarre chemicals in the atmosphere that we breathe, and in and on the earth we walk upon.

I am aware that I borrowed more than just the quotations in this article from the book by Bill Bryson. I did so because I took his conclusion a necessary and important giant step further: almost all of us never invest the time to discover how truly rare, insane, beautiful, valuable and precarious is life, and our little planet's capability to produce and sustain it. For those who *do* this, there is a very real danger of being trapped in the magnificence of the knowledge.

This is twofoldly dangerous. First, as Slavoj Zizek so poignantly pointed out, such ideological posturing addresses very real things by mystifying them into something surreal. And second, the cosmos is quite obscenely, simply mind-blowingly vast, and our knowledge of this, the most important context to consider ourselves within - the universal, in every sense of the word - may be similarly infantile and stunted as a bull ant in my backyard's understanding of the tectonic and religious history of the Himalayas. Therefore, the extraordinariness we attribute to our existence may not be quite so fabulous after all.

And if it is not so fabulous, then we should waste no time sitting open mouthed like beached guppies about it.

Regardless how fabulous it is or is not, it is the only physical chance at living we will ever get. It can be taken for granted almost as much as the awesomeness of it can mesmerise us. This is to say, none at all. Especially now that, by our own decadent industrial obscenely over-consumptive hands, we are destroying the capacity of the planet to sustain us. Stop fucking around, people. Maybe you want to die (most of you act like it, nonchalantly, narcissistically naive about what is going on), but I do not. And unfortunately as it may seem, especially if you are offended at my abruptness, we are all in this together.

I am human.

I Am Human
J Ivory 25-12-2011

The capability and creativity of the human being
To spin shit never ceases to amaze me.
There seems no bound to what human minds can contrive
The spirit fabricate.
Potential is all too often subverted
By impulsive lusts for violent vapidity perverted.
We are creatures of insatiable appetites, of squalor and waste.
Usually of hate.
Dirty, self-deprecating, and all too often disgrace.
How can something so broken like the colossi
Inside time,
The world steward, the food chain stand astride?
But colliding astride these shattered titanic woes
Is the artisan's gift, the craft of artist and poet.
The human being is the idea of Christ
And the pungent shame-wracked dipshit on ice
And the middle-class bigoted have-me-not consuming the world
And the unwashed pot-fucked activist doing no good at all.
The 99% who claim they're fucked; the 1% who might be fucking you.
The all-like-sheep-that's-gone-astray, the philosopher caressing truth
The cashed-up bogan, the pretentious academic
The brimstone preacher spouting hatred and polemic
All of these and absolutely everything in between
These are all a part of human, you, and me, and of being.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Simple Paradox.

Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up...and there exists diminishing returns / receding horizons.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

On Christianity, Faith, and Where Our "Morals" Come From.

On Christianity, Faith, and Where Our "Morals" Come From.

There are so very many splinter groups, denominations and sects of christianity...all of them fractured and agreeing to a begrudging ceasefire with a handful of groups who are similar, in order to appear and to feel less like just another splinter group that has no credibility.

That is one facet of the face of christianity - and it, like all truth, never changes with time. So that being true, how can the believer say they are right, but the devout muslim, or the faithful mormon, or the earnest hindu, or the stalwart atheist, or the <insert christian sect here> are wrong? Their faith surely can't be any less - so how did they end up putting their faith in something else?

This is not about taking away what people believe in, what gives them hope, and what they kind of life they choose to create - we all (grudgingly admitted) have that right, and our minds are indeed powerful and beautiful enough to fabricate anything that we desire. But that is truly what religion is, a construct to enhance life and entrench ideologies. Sign up and be blessed with peace in this life, absolute assurance that you are right, and that your obedience and service in this life guarantees a place of honour in the life to come.

The first problem I find with that is it is counter-intuitive and actually inhibits the growth of humankind, which is based around the moral imperative of empathy, and not some scripture or charismatic machinations by 'founding fathers' and 'prophets.' 

Religion invariably leads to the creation of division, segregation, prejudice, and the 'alien other,' who is to be feared. Look to the shattered and divided face christianity presents to the world, for instance.

Faith is not required for human beings to do right by each other and themselves. In fact, fear of divine and eternal punishment and lust for divine and eternal reward are, in the theist's mind, always going to be among the prime motive forces that compel them. These influences, in short, corrupt, distort, and distract from (in the same way that one does not name one's doctor the beneficiary of one's estate) the empathic urge that is what really compels us to be moral and good and binding to and for each other.

Empathy is the true invisible hand. If there is a Divine Creator of All That Is, then Empathy is the name of his/her/its/their hand(s). Empathy is hard-wired into our neurological biology. This has been known to science for nearly twenty years. And thus, the laboratory, one of the great think-tanks of the current step of evolution of human consciousness is proving what most of us have always known deep in our bones - Empathy which is grounded in our knowledge that we are all in this together, this acknowledgement of death, the celebration of life, and therefore in rooting for each other to flourish and to be.

This is a 10 minute video that captures all of this, more or less, in one very epic nutshell.

~Joel Ivory

Monday, 22 August 2011

What is Heritage?

One of the first readings for one of my history subjects at University this semester was Graeme Davison’s “A Heritage Handbook”, pages 1-13. The chapter is entitled ‘The Meanings of ‘Heritage’’ and I found it filled its implied function rather well. Its focus is mostly on the modern Australian interpretation of the word as of its publication date – 1991 – and as such, suffers a certain Eurocentrism. That kind of thinking was much more prevalent back then – I was five years old at that time…twenty years is rather a long time. Much has changed, and so this narrowed and harrowed aspect of the focus in the article should be noted.
After this I noticed this article was chock full of unnecessarily pedantic hair splitting. At least to my raw senses it appeared so. About once a paragraph I felt a small bucket of rage inside me get rattled. It didn’t spill or explode, though – because I drew something awesome from it.
Plug the idea of heritage into the empathic model of the human narrative (championed by Jeremy Rifkin, as first, in my mind, among others), and what do you get? Empathy is the core driver of this narrative, and all of macrohistory’s big ideas weave into it. Humankind is transcending all the previous boundaries to communicating and empathising with one another. What about if we saw heritage, then, as empathy across not only tribal (local), religious (regional), nation-states (national), but even *temporal* borders? Heritage is an expression of globalised empathy, that transcends the temporal border, allowing us to empathise with our ancestors in a way that brings me a mental image of the hand of heritage to reach out and hold the hand of history as they walk off together into the sunset. Or is it the sunrise? J
So that’s a great idea. But it leads us straight back to the question “What IS heritage?”
The closest stab we can take at an answer is that it is an attempt to achieve an accurate representation, appreciation, and understanding of the cultural, traditional, and spiritual people, places, events and things that have shaped who we are today.
The operative word, there, is ‘accurate.’ The buildings that look clean and cool – er, I mean, are aesthetically and / or architecturally appealing – and the places where things happened in the light of day – ie. The things about ourselves that we are absolutely desperate to convince everybody around us that this is what we are. So my question is, why aren’t the brothels, the bars, the houses of drink and the houses of worship, ever on the heritage lists? Because I tell you, dear sojourner, that you will learn more about what it is that defines who we are than you will anywhere else.
Why do people, even the leaders of our politics, culture, science, emotion and thought, work so bloody hard to perpetuate all the farces about ourselves and each other?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

On Today's Flawed Ideology of Ecology

On Today’s Flawed Ideology of Ecology

This is where we should start feeling at home. Part of our daily perception of reality is that this disappears from our world. When you go to the toilet, shit disappears. You flush it, and it goes away. Part of you logically understands that it’s still there, in the sewer system, processing, and so on. But at your most elementary level of experience, it disappears from your world.
The problem is that shit never disappears when you look the other way. The ideology of ecology is the problem. Or rather, the way we approach it as the defining ideology of our day. I use the term ideology in the traditional sense of a collective way of thinking and perceiving reality. So why is it the problem? Ideology is not about dreaming of – or worse, hoping for – false ideas and even more false tomorrows and so on. Ideology addresses very real problems by mystifying them.
One of the elementary mechanisms of ideology is known as the ‘temptation of meaning.’ When something horrible happens, our spontaneous reaction is to search for a meaning. “It *must* mean something.” Take AIDS for example. It was, and is, a horrible trauma. Then the conservatives stepped in and decided that it is punishment for our sinful ways of life. When we interpret a catastrophe as a divine punishment, it makes it easier, because we know that it is not just some terrifying blind has a meaning. When you are in the middle of such force, it is better to feel that God punished you than to feel that it just happened. If God punished you, then it is still a universe of meaning. This is currently where the ideology of ecology ends.
 It is really the implicit premise of ecology that the existing world is the best possible world. In the sense that it is a balanced world that is disturbed through human hubris. I think this is problematic because the notion of ‘nature’ as harmonious, organic, balanced, reproducing – a living organism of its own – is disturbed, perturbed, derailed, through human hubris, and technological exploitation and so on. I see it as a secular version of the religious story of the Fall. The answer should be not that there is no fall, that we are part of nature, but on the contrary that there is no nature. Nature is not a balanced, sublime system which humans have disturbed. Nature is one big series of unimaginable catastrophes. We profit from them. Oil is our main source of energy today. Oil reserves in the earth are the remainders of an unimaginable catastrophe – it is composed of the remainders of plant and animal life. What kind of unthinkable catastrophe had to occur on earth to give us this oil?
Ecology will slowly turn into a new opium of the masses. What we expect from religion is some kind of unquestionable, highest, absolute authority. It’s true because God says it is, end of discussion. Today, ecology is more and more taking over this role. Whenever there is a new scientific breakthrough, it is as if the voice that warns us not to violate a certain limit is the voice of ecology. “Don’t mess with DNA, don’t mess with nature.” This is today’s ecology. An ideological mistrust of change.
Another myth that is popular about ecology – as a spontaneous mythology – is the idea that we of the west, in our technological, artificial, sterile environments are alienated from the immediate natural environment. But we should not forget that we humans  are a part of the living, breathing earth. We are not abstract veneers or theorists that merely exploit nature, but rather, nature is our impenetrable, unfathomable home. It’s the greatest danger not to see it as such. Think, for example, of a dreadful paradox – climate change. Whatever else you think of it, we all know what danger we are in, the effect we are having on the planet, so why don’t we do anything about it? It is an example of what is termed in psychoanalysis as disavowal. “I know that very well, BUT, I act as if I don’t know.” So you know about climate change, maybe you read a treatise on it, but when you go outside you don’t see the nice piles of human waste and garbage. You see nice trees, birds singing, whatever. So even if you know rationally what’s going on, what do you really do about it? Go to the site of a real ecological and human horror, such as Chernobyl, and see what you take home with you. How wired are we to actually allow such an experience to change the way we live?
What we should do to confront the threat of ecological catastrophe is not some wannabe new age druidism, back to nature roots and all society, but on the contrary to cut off those roots even more; more alienation from our spontaneous nature. We should develop a much more abstract sensibility and terrifying materialism, where we see the universe as a string of scientific formulae, mathematical , and yes, the occasional catastrophes that just happen, and finding our poetry and spirituality in that. If not to create beauty in that, then an aesthetic dimension in things like rubbish, catastrophe, and pain, because that is how to truly love our world.
What is love? It is not idealisation. Everyone who has truly loved anybody knows that you don’t idealise them. Love means you accept them and all their failures, stupidities, ugliness; nonetheless the person is the world to you, and makes your life worth living. You see perfection in imperfection itself, and that’s how we should learn to love the world. True ecology loves all of this:


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Importance of Being Human

My favourite author - and guiding light - is a fellow by the name of Jeremy Rifkin.

This is the RSAnimate short clip based on his latest (and greatest) book, The Empathic Civilisation: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis.

This book is my guiding star. I can't do it justice today as I should already have dinner on the table and be in front of the TV enjoying a White Collar Season 1 marathon. But just watch this clip, and let it sink'll need a little while to do this anyway, and so I, my TV, and my golden curry, am pleased to be able to give you this time.

Until next time, fellow sojourners!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Be your part.

I dredged this out of an old journal of mine from a little over a year ago. I know I'm only really displaying the personal, emotional, underbelly of World History, but I've just started the new semester at University and so need to re-discover the pulse of the scholarly / academic side of it. I've a stack of readings and videos and essays to trundle through, so expect to see that side of things very soon. Enjoy!

I’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking lately. Well…more so than usual, and also a great deal healthier than usual. Basically I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I know exactly what *I* want and exactly what I’m going to do to get it.

See when you spend more time than you feel you *want* to on other people, helping them, investing in them, whatever it happens to be…that’s not healthy. It’s unbalanced. And pointless, and hypocritical. At the end of the day there is a line in the sand where you must realise that people are the way they are out of choice. There are acute circumstances and situations that are exceptions to this, but think of people who are struggling – the single mothers, the friend who’s dating a filthy piece of refuse, the uni student over their head, the broken hearted friend, the grandparent that is drowning in their own complacency, waiting to die… how many of those actually take the hand offered them? Not many, right? That’s because they are exactly as they feel they wish to be. They choose their reality, just as you must choose yours.

So, if all your time is spent churning over everyone else’s “issues”, it suggests subconscious hypocrisy. Such ‘idealistic’ ‘care’ is often tinged with a sense of the frantic, of urgency. It smells unnecessary. And it’s certainly not healthy. What is it in yourself that you’re either deflecting or projecting? All this obsession with other people… are you not at least as valuable as them (as far as your own efforts are concerned)?

When asked in that light, it becomes quite difficult to argue against by any measure.

You’re the centre of your world. That’s how God, the Creator, Divine Spirit, anything and everything (or nothing) you know him / her / it to be, designed things. You are here, so you may as well be as amazing and beautiful as you can be. Enjoy your time and create the kind of life and existence that you want. Be your part of all that is, in all the ways you wish to be.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Exactly where we are supposed to be.

Alright, it is a little old; this was before the two weeks of bus strikes that prevented me from getting to University at all...and prior also to my moving house the week before that. It's been frenetic to say the least, a Macro-minded (can I even say that?) whinge is probably coming soon.

But I wrote this for you. You need to read it. Enjoy (:

I am sitting here in my University’s brasserie, eating a delicious half-price burrito. They are freaking amazing – packed lunches, lamb shanks, and even free student guild BBQ’s are immediately forgotten if it’s Burrito Day at the Brasserie. Blaring obnoxiously behind my left ear is an American female newscaster on the TV. I have to catch the bus in fifteen minutes.
I have just come from an appointment with the campus’ resident philosopher. They pay him as a counsellor, but mainly we have conceptual discussions – sociological trends, enlightenment and how to get there, mindfulness, the how and the why of the stupid things we do. It connects with me (I’m not there to discuss anyone else am I?) and my life when I connect the dots and figure out “hey, this applies to my situation like <so>.”
Today I realised something profound. Yes, it does have to do with Macrohistory – there are no rules in the big picture about which part of the picture you paint, and that’s what I love about it.
I am in a situation that has enough in common – circumstance, gravity, emotions  - with much of my past to trigger a reaction in which I lurch out of the moment and bring the sadness of the past and the fear of the future crashing together. When I am not in that state I can look at the situation and think “Well, yeah, it’s awful, but I know what I am doing, and why, and I know I can handle it.”
So why do I freak out? I know I can’t change anyone who doesn’t have the will to change themselves. I know that my voice is important, even / especially when raised in justifiable anger – the person does a lot to piss me off! I understand what is going on and I know I am strong enough to do what I need to do, to be there, and stay there, and not play the game this person doesn’t even realise they’re playing.
So, why, indeed? I talked and thought and pondered and we came to this conclusion – sadness and depression exist only in the past. You can’t be sad about something that’s happening right now unless you attach right now to an object of sadness in the past. In the same way, fear and anxiety only exist in the future. The only way a person can occupy any of those states of being is if they are not in the moment – if they, as I do when I freak out about this thing, thrust themselves into the past and / or the future.
As Yoda said “Never his mind on where he was, hm? Never his mind on what he was doing. Hm.”
Our little green, surprisingly lithe, friend, had a point, you know. Whatever we are here and now, is what we are, and it’s got to be enough. If it can’t be joyful and positive, it has to at least be enough. You are there because it’s where you want to be, and that’s all. There’s tremendous power in being able to take a deep breath and whisper to yourself “I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
So keep your mind on where you are, and what you are doing. Your heart will follow, in time – everything worth doing takes practice. And your life is definitely worth it.
There’s far too much to do and see and think and taste and touch and feel and smell and love in life, to waste time fighting the demons inside your head. They’ll never go away, and so the trick is to acknowledge them, to sit with them, to just let them be. Don’t rail and push against them. Render unto you what belongs to you, and unto the devil what belongs to the devil.

You are exactly where you are supposed to be.


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Welcome to My MacroHistory - Part 3

However, whatever can be said of its merit, the complexity model can - even though it should not - be seen as an exercise of philosophical navel-gazing; it enables the justification of humankind as a race, but it does not consider how our potential is exercised in terms of morality, efficiency, or efficacy (as the reasons for the human decision to ignore thorium attest); it gives no measure for the worth of our worth. Therefore, while it is a tool of progression, in its current incarnation it is too conceptual to use as a tool to actually progress. This proliferates tension when compared to the temporal-spatial contexts we have traditionally justified ourselves by, because this view has served us well enough so far. If, in the face of the future humankind is facing, the complexity model desires to supplant the temporal-spatial model, it had better become a more useful tool, quickly.

The enlightened consideration of Christian's beauty of complexity brings us tantalisingly close to the reality of our worth and purpose as humans, as the most sublime expression of the awesome creative potential of the universe that we have thus far encountered. It is a tool for positivity and progression. We are very special indeed.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Welcome to My MacroHistory - Part Two

Physicist Eric Chaisson defines complexity in terms of a thing's intricacy, interconnectivity and its quality of having many different functioning aspects and components that integrate with one another to form a quantifiable structure. Christian highlights the consequent rarity of such complexity, and also asserts that complexity gives us a 'benchmark against which we can measure this universe's creativity, its capacity to generate complex things.'
Energy is defined as being the fuel for everything that exists; the capacity of a physical system for doing work. It stems etymologically from the greek ἐνέργεια, which means 'activity or operation.' The concept of energy is expanded upon in the laws of thermodynamics, in particular the second, which Christian uses to establish a critical link between energy flows and complexity. This link measures the density of energy flow through an organism or object in order to define its complexity; the more dense the energy flow – or, the more energy required to sustain and develop (in the case of humans, through collective learning) it – the more complex it is. On this heirarchy of complexity, human society trumps the energy use of our sun by a factor of 250,000.
Christian answers the question of how we alone amongst the measured universe can achieve such a feat by bringing in the third member of the symbiotic trinity: collective learning. Collective learning is quintessentially that which makes us getting better at the job of staying alive. Human consciousness is a meme machine and is responsible for making us human. It is also the means by which we have developed speech, script, the arts and sciences, the phenomenon of cultural memetic evolution and every other demonstration of our complexity that has enabled us to extract the energy we need to continue to flourish and exist.
The story of thorium is a potent example of the relationship between collective learning, energy and complexity. Discovered in 1828, it was overlooked as a candidate for use in the rise of nuclear energy, despite being a superior fuel in every way; reactors are much safer, 1% the size, require no precautions to avoid meltdown as they self-regulate their temperature, and produce 250 times more energy for the quantity of fuel used, for 0.0002% the monetary cost. Thorium's rejection came about because the nuclear energy industry is a by-product of the Manhattan Project and subsequent nuclear arms race, and thorium cannot be weaponised. But the phenomenon of collective learning has caused us to reflect on the recent meltdown fears the Fukushima Daiichi uranium reactor in Japan has suffered, and the thorium discussion has finally begun. The complexity of the structure and technology - and indeed, the dialogue - required to construct a working thorium reactor displays an example of these ideas of complexity and collective learning, and the worth of humans is seen in the initiation of this mammoth step forward in the energy journey of humankind.

Welcome to My Macrohistory!

Hello everyone!

I'd like to kick this off by giving you, over the next week or two, in several parts a series of my reflections on David Christian's article "World History in Context".

David Christian is the erstwhile father of this discipline of World History, and while I could start by telling you how I found it, why I love it, and what I want to do with it, that doesn't seem the right context at this time.

Righto, let's go!

Humankind has always sought to define itself. The desire to draw a line between us and everything else – to be special – has shaped every level of human thought throughout the centuries. The premise that we are the centre of the universe in temporal and spatial contexts was enough, until the recent inexorable tide of knowledge we have attained chiefly through astronomy and cosmology all but washed this false conclusion away. Yet the drive to mean something did not go away. A powerful example of this drive is found in Christian's article from 2003. It presents a revolutionary new way to measure human worth.

He unwraps so eloquently a model of the significance of humanity, which I like to call 'the beauty of complexity', and its three core elements, namely complexity, energy, and collective learning, and especially the relationship between them.This setup of his is remarkable and I hope to be able to do it justice in my explanation.

Christian plainly states at the very beginning of his article 'world history is all about context'. He acknowledges that world history has no context of its own, and that the broadness of its scope makes giving it one difficult. He perceives that the efforts of cosmology, (evolutionary) biology, and astronomy that have undermined the traditional 'specialness' and led to decentralisation and devaluation of humanity leaves a question that he and I both feel is our calling, as world historians and fellow sojourners, to answer. Using data and theorems drawn from many fields (one of the strengths of the broad scope and collaborative nature of world history) we illuminate the relationship between complexity, energy, and collective learning, and with them draw a map of human worth. These are traits humankind displays in a unique way, and when viewed as a symbiotic trinity, viola! We have found what sets us apart from the rest of (what we know of) the vast and ancient universe.

Until next time, fellow travellers!