Saturday, July 06, 2019


When I was an animal control officer, going door-to-door in answer to complaints about animals (barking, biting, pooping, cruelty), I used to joke that we ought to pass an ordinance that prevented neat, orderly, and quiet people from living next to slovenly, risk-taking, raucous people.  The powers that be ended up dividing people with "white" skin from people with "dark" skin.  This affected wealth, politics, and peace of mind.

In about the same period Ursula LeGuin was living in NW Portland while she invented "Earthsea", an imaginary place that looked a lot like the islands off the coast of Puget Sound.  Many of her books are based on a division between luxury-loving, high-tech, and rather louche cultures (often planet wide) and a contrasting context of ascetic, highly moral, intensely thinking people.  The plot was what happened if the latter somehow visited the former.  LeGuin's family had lived on the California coast which suggested the opulent luxury society.

Some said this was a veiled discussion of America vs. Russia.  Others thought it was Church of England vs. Puritans.  I suppose writing today it would be about the wealth mal-distribution, which will soon in reality be challenged by climate change, which we are experiencing as unlivable heat waves, drought, and floods.  The money-haven island nations will be underwater.

Someone tweeted a statement referring to "the Schelling model for geographical segregation of human communities."  Chasing the meaning and implications, which are related to "game theory", has my reluctant attention.  Schelling was actively involved in reorganization after WWII and still developing theories when he headed a commission for Carter in 1980.  Stanley Kubrick said reading Schelling prompted "Doctor Strangelove" (1964) but Schelling's second wife claimed his fav book was "Smoky the Cowhorse."(1929).  I presume this was about the negotiations between horse and cow, guided by the cowboy.  This is a man worth investigating.

Game theory is like chess, many small move patterns in service to a larger goal.  Sequences of specific moves acquire names so they can be spoken of conveniently.  The invented moral problems of today's psych majors, many of them impossible choices between disasters, intrigue some people but not me.  Yet ecosystems present need for a different sort of theory.  Given what has evolved from past conditions already, how long before a new being or system develops that is adapted to it?  We are currently trying to understand this in the most realistic terms.  The secondary consideration is what consequences will result from adding this adapted introduction?  

What consequences have resulted from the result of 500 years ago enslaving kidnapped Africans to use as human "machines" to create agricultural wealth?  Misery, death, and the dehumanization of the "owners."  What has resulted from PTSD-afflicted Vietnam war veterans taking shelter on remote Indian reservations?  A dilution of the indigenous genome?  An injection of political thought verging on violence?  Defining the divisions, describing the participants, judging the end-games -- it's all dynamic novel and movie subject matter.

A tweet from an English farmer, James Rebanks, suggests that fencing off squares where thorny scrubs can grow might create spaces where oak trees can also grow without being eaten by sheep.  This turns out to be highly controversial, depending on what sort of landscape one prefers and what consequences might result, depending on climate and the behavior of the enclosed life, both plant and creature.  These ideas come from BEING THERE and developing sensory attachment and experience.  The idea appeals to me deeply, because the much beloved farms of my aunts were at the southern toe of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, at that point full of oaks and sheep.  The place was totally changed by logging and prosperous Californians.  But in my childhood, South Deer Creek was my idea of Eden.  Luckily I had a backup Eden on the East Slope of the Rockies.

Part of the reason I rejoice over this kind of thought is that it takes into account the embodiment approach to the nature of humans that has begun to oppose the pyrex-and-stainless steel rationality derived from math or maybe hard sciences.  There were already challenges to this domination that emerge from the extraordinary discoveries due to drastic changes in scale: deep time, sub-atomic quantum behaviors, and genomic interacting multiplicities and inclusion/intrusion of totally other genomes due to pregnancy or absorbed twins in early gestation or blood transfusions.  Life is not all data.  There are so many surprises, often in the face of common sense.

Our basic assumption about life is binary oppositions, which is why the sharply contrasting cultures of LeGuin and the stark choices of psych people presenting moral dilemmas.  We've put very little thought into what alternatives can be found by taking a different point of view or by changing the situation.  Climate change is going to force us to do this.

The hardest part of pushing religion in the West away from the search for a hero and over into community interaction is not just that this Trinity of Big Guy institutions are based on hierarchy and hegemony, though that's serious.  The hardest part -- at least for me -- is giving up the emotional search for a hero, a daddy to make the way clear (more pressing since mine didn't), a gunslinger to get rid of the bad guys and then clear off.  Lovers are great, but the limerence wears away and -- if there's not a partner underneath -- they dissolve or leave.

Likewise, our ideas about leaders are always about One Big One, a chief, a hero, maybe descended from gods.  Why is there only one President of the United States, who is only a CEO but forgets that.  Why is there no COO?  Why is there no one with the power to hold a president accountable, even if he's a madman who endangers our lives and our country?  Even Putin is owned, secretly.  If Putin called Trump tomorrow and said, "George, I've been thinking about it and I want you to go over the nearest hospital and ask for a complete neurological workup."  Do you think Trump would do it?

No comments: