Category Archives: Science

Shaping a Living World: Part 5

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.A Pagan Statement on the Environment (Italics Mine)

Hello again folks!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this is going to be a long one. But there is a lot to say on such an important issue.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, we are going to be talking about gender equality. This is a huge topic, and it includes both Women’s Rights as well as LGTB+ Rights. So before we jump right in to the deep end, let’s get a little bit of a handle on what we are talking about here. When I talk about equality, I am talking about basic human rights, as the UN site for Goal 5 points out;

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Providing women and girls (all people) with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” (Italics added are mine) (UN SDG Goal 5)

Now, this runs us straight into our first problem. While we cannot diminish the fact that goal 05 is primarily focused on women and girls, it also leaves out specific mention of LGBT+ people. This is a big problem, and it has been pointed out in several sources;

“….heads of state gathered at the U.N. this weekend to adopt this ambitious roadmap for achieving sustainable development on our planet over the next 15 years. Yet throughout the 35-page draft document there is no mention of the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” or of LGBT people.“ (HRC.org)

While the article points out that there are several of the SDG’s that could cover LGBT+ rights. Some of the examples covered include parts of Goal 10 such as;

“- By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

– Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard”

The article also points out that increased equality for women and could also benefit lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender women. However, the fact that the language that the LGBT+ community is not specifically mentioned all throughout the goals is more concerning. If we are talking about Gender Equality as the goal, then it makes sense that it should include ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lupa, a bisexual woman, drives the point home when she says;

I do wish there was more explicitly said about including QUILTBAG (queer, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) people in the sustainability goals. They’re already trying to show gender equality through improving the status of women, but they ignore how the oppression of QUILTBAG people (whether female or not) can scupper sustainability efforts in the same way that the oppression of women does. Not only are you keeping a big group of people out of play in finding the solutions for the problems we face and implementing them, but oppressing them also means they’re less likely to find help for other sustainability issues, such as poverty and disability. “ 

Let’s explore the specific targets in this goal in more depth shall we?

Sustainable Development Goals

Women and girls make up about half of the population, and we as a species are never going to make it if we continue to treat half of the population as an after thought. This goes well beyond just women as mothers and daughters, but gets to the heart of the fact that women are people too, and should be involved in the process of building a better world. As such, for this section I am going to comment on a selection of goals one by one to drive the point home.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere – SDG Goal 5 

This is such a huge topic that I am struggling on where to begin with this one. Women face discrimination in all parts of life; at home, on the job, and in the classroom. There is not a single sphere of social life in which women are not discriminated against, whether directly or indirectly, and with varying degrees of severity. It can range from microaggressions, to sexist jokes, to full on misogyny.

Discrimination can be legal or informal, and includes gender wage-gaps, social and economic opportunities, cultural biases, and dozens of areas at home and in public. It can be present in assumed gendered stereotypes (ie. the woman’s place is in the home/not in this place), or just straight up regressive or repressive policies. Some of these are discriminatory, some border on violence. Which leads us to our next point;

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation…

I want you to take a good look at the fact sheets from the World Health Organization here

I want you to notice that around 1/3 of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

I want you to notice that most (30%) of that violence is committed by an intimate partner.

I also want you to notice that up to 38% of all murders of women are at the hands of a male intimate partner.

It should be obvious that we can do so much better than that, no matter where we fall on the gender spectrum. I am especially talking to the men here, because we have to do better than this. How is it even okay that most women will be murdered by male intimate partners?

My friend Kathleen O’sullivan-Cook had this to say;

This goal should seem obvious, and yet still continues, and in many places in America people seem to encourage it, or at least do very little to stop it. Even here in Michigan which has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, little seems to be done to combat it. As for violence, particularly private “domestic” violence, there is despicably little done to punish those who perpetrate the violence. Even our own police forces find it difficult to sympathize with women and girls when violence occurs. And yet, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and hundreds of women die every day at the hands of their significant other.” 

The point goes without saying; that there is a great deal more work to do here. We must work to change our cultural attitudes, as well as our policies that allow such deplorable conditions for women.

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life

This one should be another obvious point, but it is not always the case. In fact, women are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to positions of leadership; whether corporate, educational, or government. This is especially true in the US, and you can see that from some of the information from Time. Of course, that comes with the caveat that this information was from the election last year. That said, I doubt things have shifted too much in the course of a single election. Women are still vastly underrepresented considering they are approximately 50% of the population.

As Kathleen points out;

The goals need to include making sure all women are no longer excluded from key influential systems that help raise them to positions of power, such as higher education “fraternities” that give shoe ins to members. They also need to be included in influential public roles, such as more governorships, religious figureheads, and other authoritative roles…

…This includes, employers, public spaces, educational institutions, and in the home. Without addressing the social psychological triggers that continue the current culture of “women domesticity” we can not move toward a more balanced system.” 

Let’s move on to the next point.

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

This target directly ties in with a similar target for Goal 3;By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This goal in particular is really important for the health of women as well as keeping the total population of humanity at a sustainable level. There are so many different facets to this issue; body autonomy, sexual autonomy, as well as reproductive, health, well being, and environmental facets. It is going to be impossible for me to cover all of this in any real depth.

With that in mind, Lupa has this to add to the conversation;

I would love to see all of their Goal 5 objectives met in my lifetime, but I’d be content just seeing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” come to fruition by 2030.

See, the thing is, no one wants to talk about the impact that having children has on women. It is absolutely your right to reproduce if that’s what you want, but it’s also your right to say no to reproduction, even if you want to keep having sex. There are women out there who had more children than they would have preferred to because they didn’t have access to birth control and/or because they were victims of reproductive coercion. The same goes for some women who really didn’t want children at all, but who ended up with them for similar reasons…”

One of the most sustainable things we can do is to give women control over both their health, reproduction, and their sexuality. There is huge amounts of data that show the strong correlation between universal contraception and much more sustainable birthrates. In addition, there is increased control over family planning, and a lower incident rate of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Lupa goes on to drive this point home;

The goal, of course, is to raise the standard of living for everyone, and a great way to do that is to have fewer people to divide resources among. Yes, we need to focus on using fewer resources per person and using what we do have more reasonably and efficiently, but even when you’re living in really sustainable circumstances every additional person increases the demand for basic things like food, water and space to live. It’s just a matter of math. In areas where people live on pretty meager rations you still get deforestation and other habitat loss as the population grows. Studies show that when women have universal access to birth control, the birth rate drops dramatically. That’s good for the planet as well as people. “

As Lupa points out, the two big factors of sustainability are resources use per person, and the number of persons overall. Even assuming a much more equitable distribution of resources, the number of humans on the planet is still something we must address. As with so many other things, you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

There is a great article on Vox that really details the population and affluence problem in greater detail. I highly recommend you check it out. The article gives a short formula to measure human impact on the environment;

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Which means that we need to look at all these aspects of our species, as all of them have been going up, as has our environmental impact. Over the next century, population might reach as high as 11.2 billion, with continuing increases in inequality of both affluence and technology. But as the article points out, we know how to tackle these issues;

Luckily, we know the answer. It is family planning that enables women to have only children they want and choose, and education of girls, giving them access to income opportunities outside the home. We know that women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families.

Those are the two most powerful levers to bend the population curve. They are also, in and of themselves, an enormously powerful climate policy. When Paul Hawken and his team investigated and ranked carbon-reduction solutions for their Drawdown project, they found that the combination of the two (call it the female-empowerment package) carried the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases later this century, out of any solution.” – Vox

We will get to the Drawdown numbers later, but the fact remains that the best way we can make the world more sustainable for everyone is education, universal contraception, and family planning resources.

All of these goals hit on the need to change our mindset as well as our sociopolitical reality. We need to look at Women’s Rights far more holistically, and implement and fund strategic changes in order to create a more sustainable world. More than that, we need going to need everyone at the table to figure out the best way forward, and that is women as much as it is LGTQ+ folks.

There are countries in the world that can serve as models of how to do that.

Social Democracy

Women’s Rights in the Nordic Countries

It should come as no shock that the Nordic countries are some of the most equal countries in the world when it comes to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2016, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the top four countries when it comes to gender equality, as it is measured by the report. The report considers many criteria to assign a value between 0 (inequality) and 1 (equality). Some of these factors include the number of women in government positions, women’s educational achievement, women’s health, and the wage gender gap. Those four countries come in at .874, .845, .842 and .815 respectively.

Denmark is the outlier, which comes in at 19th with a score of .75.

The United States by contrast comes in at 45th, with a score of .722.

The stats for all these countries obviously show that there is more work to be done, and I don’t think there is any kind of “utopia” world that would allow any country to get a perfect score.

The Nordic countries are notable for a lot of gains in Women’s Rights, but there are some drawbacks too. To highlight just a few of the positives; we turn to the Huffington Post;

– 99% – 100% literacy across genders

– A huge amount of women in tertiary (university/college) level education

Women as a majority in the high-skilled work force

Mandatory parental leave, included paid time off and quite generous leave benefits

– All Nordic countries are in the top ten for percentage of women in parliament (44.7% in Sweden)

Yet, as the Washington Post points out, the Nordic countries also have a higher than EU average rate of intimate partner violence for countries so high on the gender gap report. A few factors of why this might are considered in the article; a higher reporting rate of domestic violence, or possibly a back-lash against the position of women in society.

While I won’t go into any more depth on that topic, it is clear we all have more work to do.

LGBT+ Rights in the Nordic Countries

It is no secret that the Nordic countries are some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to LGBT+ rights. Here is just a selection from various Wikipedia articles for the various countries;

Denmark 

“The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Denmark are some of the most extensive in the world and a high priority.

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1933… Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships”… Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was entirely prohibited in 2004. Same-sex couples are allowed to jointly adopt since 2010,…Gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military.”

Norway 

“Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights and Norway became the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law that explicitly included sexual orientation within employment since 1981. Same-sex marriage, adoption, and IVF/assisted insemination treatments for lesbian couples have been legal since 2009. In 2016, Norway became the fourth country in Europe that passed a law allowing the change of legal gender solely based on self-determination.”

Finland 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Finland are some of the most progressive in the world. According to an annual ILGA report the Finnish LGBT legislation is among the most extensive and developed LGBT legislations in Europe.

Compared to fellow Nordic countries it ranks at the top outranked only by neighbouring Norway. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Finland since 1971 with “promotion” thereof decriminalized in 1999 and was declassified as an illness in 1981. Discrimination based on sexual orientation… was criminalized in 1995 and discrimination based on gender identity in 2005.”

Sweden 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944… Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.”

I don’t see much reason to go into any more depth at this point, though there is plenty more nuance that could be explored here. For now, I would like to look at how my home country of the USA compares to some of the Nordic countries.

How the US stacks up;

I live in the US, and frankly writing this article shows in stark relief how far we as a country still have to go when compared to many other countries. We have fallen behind on many significant measures, and nothing about the current political or administrative client gives me a lot of hope that will change any time soon. All along the way we are up against cultural, social, economic, and political obstacles.

I am not going to lie to you. If we want to change the direction this country is going, we are going to have to fight for every inch. We are going to have to fight embedded systems of repression and oppression on every conceivable level. Many of the powers that be are going to resist every inch, and we have to be prepared for that.

So let’s take a closer look at where we need to make changes.

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

From Wikipedia on Gender Inequality in the US;

Gender inequality in the United States has been diminishing throughout its history and significant advancements towards equality have been made beginning mostly in the early 1900s. However, despite this progress, gender inequality in the United States continues to persist in many forms, including the disparity in women’s political representation and participation, occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, and the unequal distribution of household labor. In the past 20 years there have been emerging issues for boys/men, an achievement and attainment gap in education is a discussed subject. The alleviation of gender inequality has been the goal of several major pieces of legislation since 1920 and continuing to the present day. As of 2012, the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 22nd best in terms of gender equality out of 135 countries” (Wikipedia Gender Inequality in the US)

There is a lot to say here, so it difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that Wikipedia cites the 2012 Gender Gap Report. Above we talked about the 2016 report, which shows that the US has dropped significantly. While the Nordic countries occupy the top spots on the report, the US has fallen over twenty spots from 2012 to 2016; now ranked #45 out of 144 countries. This not only shows that our progress on general equality has stalled, but has actually fallen a great deal.

We still have significant problems in, as is pointed out; in political representation, gender pay gap, and the fact that women often still perform the majority of household labor.

This has only been exacerbated since the 2016 election, when we have seen nothing but constant attacks on women’s health and sexual autonomy. Add in that unlike most major industrial countries, the US lacks a universal healthcare system, as well as no guarantees of decent contraception or family planning services. These too have been undermined repeatedly by primarily Republicans and religious organizations.

To make matters even worse, the US does not have any federal standards for paid parental leave. As the Business Insider points out;

Out of the world’s 196 countries, the US is one of only four that has no federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. That burden is placed on individual states and employers.” Business Insider

One of four countries. Really let that sink in. Also let it sink it that the health and well being of women is in the hands of individuals states and employers. Some of these entities have a long track record of not caring about women or their rights.

While there are some laws that protect time off for new mothers, that time is often UNPAID, which forces women to return to work due to financial stress. While many of the European countries, and especially the Nordic countries, have extensive and comprehensive parental leave programs… This is one area in which the US falls quite flat, as it leaves the decisions in the hands of states and employers which often results in a patchwork of substandard policies.

If the position of women in the US needs a lot of work, this applies more so to LGTQ+ rights; as is pointed out by Wikipedia;

In addition to the inequality faced by transgender women, inequality, prejudice, and violence against transgender men and women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals and individuals who identify with genders outside the gender binary, are also prevalent in the United States.” (Wikipedia Inequality in the US)

The fact is, that just like many other issues in the US, there is no federal law that outlaws LGTQ+ discrimination. Once again, this results in a patchwork of laws that vary greatly on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. These laws runs the gamut from LGBT protections, to basically encouraging open discrimination. As the Wikipedia article on LGTQ+ rights in the US points out;

…the United States has no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide, leaving residents in some states without protection from discrimination, other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. Thus, LGBT persons in the United States may face challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.“ (Wikipedia LGBT Rights in the US)

The data on this does not paint a pretty picture, and that is when there is data available. It is clear that we have a huge amount of work ahead of us. This will include changes in spirit, changes in culture, and changes in policy. This is the kind of work that can take decades, and it is important that we keep pushing for more progression in these issues. We more than have our work cut out for us, but the impacts cannot be understated.

I would like to turn to Drawdown now to drive this point home.

Drawdown

It cannot be understated how much of an impact it will have when we empowered half of the population. While there are only three solutions in the Drawdown section on Women and Girls, combined these solutions represents the #1 way to combat climate change, and could help remove more than 120 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere.

That is more than onshore and offshore wind combined.

So let’s look a little bit closer.

Educating Girls 

As a stand alone solution, this one ranks as #6 out of 100, and has the potential to remove almost 60 gigtons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050. As Drawdown points out, the two factors that influence family size and environmental impact the most are education and family planning. By opening up more educational opportunities to women and girls, we can also help combat climate change and build a more sustainable world. This would have to happen at all levels, from preschool up through university level. We could certainly roll in universal education here, as many European countries do.

The fact is that the education of women and girls not only reduces the number of children in later life, but also creates skilled, resilent, and well educated people to handle the problems of the future.

Family Planning 

Right behind the education of women and girls, is family planning. This solution comes in at #7, and can help remove an additional 60 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050.

As Drawdown points out, high quality family planning services has benefits for womens health, welfare, and overall quality of life. It also will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The numbers are staggering. 225 million women in lower income countries want more control over their sexual autonomy, and want a say in whether or not they become pregnant. Even in higher income countries such as the US, some 45% of pregnancies are unintended. This is not helped at all by the constant effort by those in power to remove access from abortion, contraception, and family planning service to women across the country.

Health, welfare, and reducing our carbon footprint are all wins in my book.

Women Smallholders

I have already mentioned this solution before, but it needs to be mentioned again. Overall, this solution ranks as #62 overall, with a 2 gigaton reduction in C02 by 2050.

The fact is that women average about 43% of the agricultural workforce, especially in lower income countries. These women are often underpaid or unpaid, and lack the access to necessary resources to ensure productive yields as well as sustainable land management.

With better access to those resources, women throughout the world could help feed more people as well as reduce the need for further deforestation and reduce emissions.

I want to thank you for sticking with me through this article. I know it is a long one, but there is a lot to be said about Gender Equality, and much more to be done. I’ll give Lupa the last word here;

When we are all allowed to work together, instead of fighting with each other, we are more effective as communities and as a species. It’s really one of the most remarkable things about Homo sapiens sapiens, in just how intricate our social networks can be, and how deep our empathy may be rooted. By breaking down divisions and celebrating diversity, we are encouraged to cooperate and find joy in each other. We have more time and energy to put toward things that matter, instead of wasting it on hate. And isn’t that pretty damned sustainable?”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

http://ecopagan.com/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/rankings/

https://www.thelocal.no/20161028/norway-classifies-third-on-gender-gap-report-2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/10/the-best-countries-for-gender-equality-may-also-have-a-domestic-violence-problem/?utm_term=.f1001922abb3

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/saadia-zahidi/what-makes-the-nordic-cou_b_4159555.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Denmark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Norway

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Sweden

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/shaping-a-living-world-part-10/

http://www.passblue.com/2015/05/17/no-room-for-lgbt-rights-in-the-new-un-development-goals/

https://www.hrc.org/blog/op-ed-what-does-the-uns-agenda-2030-mean-for-lgbt-people

http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_inequality_in_the_United_States

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/9/26/16356524/the-population-question

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-b/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-a/

 

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Science Fiction Technology

(Image from CERN (modified): Here)

Hello again folks,

I’ve been writing a lot lately, and a fair bit of that has been on some pretty serious topics. As such I want to take a step back for a moment, and write what I will consider a “just for fun.” post.

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I am big time sci-fi buff, as well as a science fiction writer. Shameless plug; have you had the chance to check out my books? They are available on Amazon for Kindle as well as print for $2.99 – $11.99. You can also get them for $10 (includes shipping) from my Etsy Shop, and have them SIGNED!

Now that the plug is out of the way, today I want talk about some of the technology that inspired a lot of the ideas I use in my books.

Fusion Power

As my books take place in the the 24th century, the primary source of power for most cities, colonies, and starships is fusion power. For those that are unfamilar, fusion is a kind of nuclear reaction that fuses together smaller atoms into larger ones; and releases a crap-load of energy in the process. As the Wikipedia article on fusion power points out, it is the process that fuels stars;

The fusion reaction normally takes place in a plasma of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) heated to millions of degrees. In stars, gravity contains these fuels. Outside of a star, the most researched way to confine the plasma at these temperatures is to use magnetic fields. The major challenge in realising fusion power is to engineer a system that can confine the plasma long enough at high enough temperature and density.”

There is a few important points I want to highlight here, because they will be important as we go forward. The first is the fact that nuclear fusion takes place in a plasma, which is the fourth state of matter. Plasma is basically a highly ionized gas, and is found in nature as things like lightning, and stars. Neon lights are also plasma-based.

The other important part here is that, aside from gravity, plasmas can be shaped and contained by electromagnetic fields. This is the property that has allowed countless numbers of fusion experiments to take place on Earth.

Because some of these fusions reactors look really awesome, I wanted to just post a few of them here as examples;

NSTX Reactor, a tokamak style reactor;

(Image from Wikipedia)

Wendelstein7 Reactor, under construction;

(Image from Wikipedia)

I hope you can why some of these experiments inspired me. They look like something straight out of a science fiction movie! When I imagined the power reactors on my ships and planets, I pictured things like the NSTX reactor.

But you might be wondering to yourself, why fusion? Not only is it a staple of science fiction, it gives a rather efficient means of creating energy on a starship. All of my ships and cities require electrical power, and fusion represents one of the best way to do that.

Can you imagine the power of small star to power a city or a ship? I can, and that’s why I went with fusion. Plus, many of my ships I also imagined would have supplementary solar panels and others means to create power as well. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Power Plant Design

Alright, so we established that fusion reactors are at the heart of my ships and colonies. These systems create all the power and energy my ships and cities need to thrive. But let’s take a closer look at how they do that.

Like our own Sun, a fusion reactor would create two very important resources; light and heat. The heat is probably the most notable of the two. But how do we turn a sustainable fusion reaction into electrical power? The answer is in steam turbines, just like nuclear (fission) power plants use on Earth.

(Image from Here)

I want you to look at the image above, and imagine that this is a fusion reactor instead of the fission one pictured. The reactor core would be pretty similar in function, and still create quite a bit of heat. The rest of the cooling and electrical system would work pretty much the same way. The heat would be ran through a coolant, which would create steam, which would turn the turbine in order to make electrical power.

But instead of the electricity going into a city, it would be fed back into the ship. That electricity would be distributed via an inner ship electrical network, and probably also stored in some kind of battery system.

Another important aspect of the function would be the cooling system, which could also be hooked into the water circulation systems. That way, you could have things like on board plumbing, and hot water too. I imagined these systems would be a lot like what we see on modern ocean cargo ships.

(A system for liquid natural gas.)

Hall Thruster

Alright, with power systems out of the way, I want to talk a bit about what inspired my designs for propulsion in my books. The short answer is the technology behind both the Hall Thruster, and the technology used at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. We will start with the Hall Thruster.

(Image from NASA)

So, you saw the picture of the thruster above, but you might be wondering how exactly a Hall Thruster works? For that we turn to Wikipedia;

In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate the ions to produce thrust… “ 

In short, Hall Thrusters function by accelerating an ionized propellant as exhaust to create thrust. Most of these ionized propellants are in the forms of plasmas, often from noble gases such as Xenon. You see, I said that fusion plasma thing would be important.

In addition to creating power for ships in my books, the fusion reactor is also the source for ready-made plasma. This plasma, being heavily ionized, is then accelerated through a futuristic version of a Hall Thruster in order to create thrust.

However, it must be said that current Hall Thrusters are relatively weak in thrust department. There has been a lot of improvements over the years. For example, the recent work into the X3 thruster has produced the highest thrust level to date.

All that said. I had to imagine something more advanced (about 3 centuries), and a little bit bigger. That is where the inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider comes in.

CERN

(Image from CERN, found here)

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and is found at the European research complex at CERN. The accelerator itself is huge, at 27 kilometers in length. It is “big science” in every sense of the word, and has cost billions of dollars from sources across the globe.

The purpose of the LHC is to accelerator particles to nearly the speed of light, and smash them together. It’s designed to probe the deepest mysterious of our universe, and is a sheer monster of scientific discovery and engineering. It should come as no surprise that it inspired the propulsion systems in my universe. Hey, if you want to power everything from small fighters to huge interstellar battleships; you have to go big.

While their function is not exactly the same, both the Hall Thruster and the LHC use electromagnetic fields to accelerate either ionized plasma, or elementary particles. As such, assuming three centuries worth of innovation and plenty of writer liberties; the LHC and the Hall Thruster provide the inspiration for my propulsion systems.

In addition to requiring a lot of electrical power (courtesy of the fusion reactor), those systems would also be funneling extremely heated plasmas. That means all my engine systems have extensive coolant and heat dissipation methods. These are on full display in my fifth book; Of Origins and Endings.

Do you want to know what other technologies inspire my fiction? Feel free to ask!

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.space.com/38444-mars-thruster-design-breaks-records.html

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

https://home.cern/about/engineering/pulling-together-superconducting-electromagnets

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-fusion-power-limitless-energy.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall-effect_thruster


Shaping a Living World: Part 2

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women. “ Pagan Statement on the Environment (http://ecopagan.com/) (Emphasis mine)

Today I want to talk about the second Sustainable Development Goal, as put forward by the UN: Zero Hunger. There is quite a bit to discuss here, and inevitably I am not going to be able to cover every aspect that goes into this. There is so much data and information, and so much to say on this topic. Many others have said it way better than I can. There are some great resources out there in internet land, and I encourage you to seek those out. This is a collective effort after all.

Before I get into the real meat of this post, there are a few notes I want to put out there before we go deeper. As is pointed out in the quote at the beginning of this post, these issues are all intertwined. Sometimes it is hard to separate all these different topics and discuss them discretely. These are holistic topics, and one often informs all the others. I think that is a good thing in the long run. It just means we have a lot of work to do.

Just as an example, you will notice that both population and food systems are mentioned in the opening quote, as well as women’s rights. Population and agriculture especially are very much intertwined, especially since the industrial revolution. Agriculture alone gave us the option to reliably sustain a stable population. But even so, the total population of the world has exploded since the industrial revolution.

One of the biggest things we can do is to help is stabilize our population growth, in addition to ensuring everyone has enough to eat. While these issues will be discussed more in future posts, one example covered above is providing access to universal voluntary birth control.

This alone has all kinds of issues with it, because more people means more mouths to feed and more resource use. But, population  alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As the article linked points outs;

Citizens of more affluent nations leave a much greater footprint on our planet than people living in poorer countries – although there are exceptions. Copenhagen is the capital of a high-income nation – Denmark “ – BBC

That means those of us in the US. We have a huge footprint compared to many other people across the globe. That will have to change, but that is a topic for another time. As the UN has pointed out, we could be pushing 10 billion people on the planet by mid century, and that means we are going to have to face the challenges created by that.

There are a lot of facets to this, which I will cover in later parts of this series. For the purpose of this post, we have to figure out how to feed our current population with sustainable food system, as well as plan for the future as well. With guidance from the Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Drawdown, we can start to see how we might handle these challenges.

Sustainable Development Goals;

I encourage you to visit the UN site about these goals linked below. There is much more there than I have the space to cover here. But as a brief selection, the SDG’s provide this general outline on how to shape a world that does not have to worry about hunger.

– By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round

– By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons

– By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment

– By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality”

The SDG’s are often considered to be very ambitious, and it certainly is a possibility that we may not be able to reach these goals. But having a goal to shoot towards I think is just as important as whether or not we succeed or fail. It means we are trying, and that counts in my book.

Most of these goals speak for themselves, and will require a great variety of local, regional and global policy to meet. They will require a hard look at ourselves, and a lot of global cooperation. The first two goals are pretty straight forward, make sure all people are fed; especially marginalized or impoverished people as well as children. Malnutrition is a huge problem, because it stunts growth, and also is a big problem for pregnant women as well.

The third and fourth goals are more relevant to our purpose here, and more directly applicable through the solutions proposed by Drawdown. Under current projections our population is expected to grow, and we will need to be able to feed that population across the globe. While I think it is just as important that we stabilize our population growth, we also have provide for the needs of the people. The third goal really centers the importance of small-scale producers, which are often women and indigenous people. Their skills and knowledge in sustainable agriculture are necessary and important for a sustainable food system.

The fourth goal above is an important one, and can be addressed with some of the solutions from both social democracy as well as Drawdown. Let’s explore those ideas in a little more depth shall we.

Social Democracy;

Combined, the Nordic countries were the 6th largest donor to WFP in 2014 and among WFP’s top multilateral donors. “ – UN World Food Program 

The Nordic countries are doing their part to alleviate world hunger, but this is not the whole story to be sure. Just as an example , the USA is the single largest donor. This kind of funding goes into feeding people across the world, especially in low-income countries in the global South. It is also noteworthy that the World Food Program has a office in Copenhagen, which has been ranked as one of the greenest  cities in the world. That is surely a model worth exploring.

Such efforts are important and should be encouraged, but there is a lot more work to be done. Just as an example, overall the USA lags well behind the Nordic countries and Europe.

Based on the data available, though, the report finds that Scandinavian countries — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland — win the honors. Sweden was already “84.5 percent of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals],” the report found, ranking number one in the world – and receiving a corresponding score of 84.5. The other three Scandinavian nations then filled out the top four slots, followed by many European nations. “ (Washington Post )

The Nordic countries in particular, and Europe more generally are well ahead of the curve on building a less hungry and more sustainable world. How did the US fair?

The United States, in contrast, ranked 25th, with a score of 72.7. It fared considerably worse than a comparable neighbor, Canada, which ranked 13th, with a score of 76.8. “ (Washington Post )

The logical follow up question is why?

These poor rankings were doled out because (among other things) the U.S. has too many people below the poverty line, too much adult obesity, too little renewable energy, too many homicides and people in prison, and so on and so on

the poor score of the United States underscores that while we’ve done exceedingly well economically, we’ve neglected the social and the environmental dimensions of progress — issues ranging from equality to ecosystem preservation.” (Washington Post )

Right there gets at the real heart of the matter. While the USA is a powerhouse of an economy, and the largest military in the world, we are behind the ball in many important measures. We are not doing nearly enough as a country to take care of our poor, our hungry, and to provide access to nutritional food either. We have not had a great record so far on social or environmental issues, and there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s look at some specific solutions that not only help to alleviate hunger, but also go a long way to fighting climate change and create sustainable food systems.

Drawdown;

The applications for Drawdown here are immense, because we need a radical change in our food systems, not only to combat hunger, but also to live sustainably. Pretty much the entire “Food” sector could apply here. As such, I am limiting myself to the some of the most impactful solutions.

Food ;

Reduced Food Waste

#3 Solution 70.53 gigatons CO2 reduction by 2050

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions… Beyond addressing emissions, these efforts can also help to meet future food demand.”

Especially in the US, we throw out a ridiculous amount of food. As the above quote points out, this is a waste in a whole lot of ways, of time as well as energy. Plus, in many cases, perfectly good food is thrown out, food that could just benefit some of our most vulnerable. In addition to contributing to climate change, reduction of food waste could go a long way into combating hunger as well. As the page on Drawdown points out, there is a lot of nuance in why food goes to waste. We need to take a hard look at these aspects and see where we can do better.

Plant Rich Diets 

#4 Solution 66.11 gigatons C02 reduction by 2050

Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

There is no real getting around this one. How we raise and tend our livestock in industrial factory farms is absurd, from just about every level you can think of. CAFOs are often inhumane, and contribute huge amounts of emissions and pollution. I can’t go into all that here, but suffice to say there is a quite a bit of work to be done.

I’m not advocating veganism or vegetarianism here, though these are noble goals to be sure. I’ll confess straight out that I’m a happy little omnivore. That being said, my family is doing all we can to eat less meat, and that is a start.

Regenerative Agriculture

#11 Solution 23.15 gigatons C02 Reduction by 2050

Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture. “

There is so much that could be said here, and alas I don’t have the space to detail all of it here. There are so many ideas and options out there that we seriously need to explore, of which Regenerative Agriculture is just one. It is vitally important to our environment and our water ways that we reduce synthetic chemical and fertilizer use. Such chemicals often leads to toxic algae blooms, and the declining health of our water systems.

Conservation Agriculture

#16 Solution 17.35 Gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plows are absent on farms practicing conservation agriculture, and for good reason. When farmers till their fields to destroy weeds and fold in fertilizer, water in the freshly turned soil evaporates. Soil itself can be blown or washed away and carbon held within it released into the atmosphere. Tilling can make a field nutrient poor and less life-giving.”

Large mechanized industrial farm systems have really done their fair share of damage, and it is well past time we start rethinking those methods. So much harm to our environment can be prevented if we change how we do so many things, agriculture is just one. Conservation Agriculture spares the plow, and in that way protects the health of both the soil as well as increasing resiliency.

Tree Intercropping

#17 Solution 17.2 gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050

Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land. “

It should go without saying that planting and growing more trees will help in the work ahead. Trees are often removed on farmland, and agriculture since it’s invention is responsible for mass deforestation. Bringing back some of those trees can help by creating carbon sinks, wind breaks, and overall benefits to the health of the soil.

There is so much more I could talk about; composting, permaculture, urban forests, urban gardens, the whole works. Sadly, this piece is already longer than I had expected. As such I will wrap this up and I hope you join me next time when we explore the third goal; Good Health & Well-Being.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

http://www.drawdown.org/

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

http://un.dk/un-in-denmark/wfp

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/21/a-new-report-rated-countries-on-sustainable-development-and-the-u-s-did-horribly/?utm_term=.d33e3e80a675

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160311-how-many-people-can-our-planet-really-support

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

https://www.ecowatch.com/top-10-greenest-cities-in-the-world-1881963132.html

https://www.wfp.org/funding/year/2016


The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

(My neck of the woods, from space. NASA composite image)

Hello again folks!

When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t expect this to have a second part, nor did I expect it to warrant a response; especially a three part one. As such, I give a hat tip to my friend Sarenth over at his blog, and his response from the first article I used in my original piece here.

I wanted to address a few of the points he raised, and add on a lot more to the original piece. There would appear a lot more to say on this matter. First off I will start with a couple of points, as a response to Sarenth. This is to clarify my own position, more than it is to argue with his.

Overall, Sarenth is very critical of the ideas of the first article, and the ideas within. That is within his right to be so, and you are welcome to check out his thoughts for yourself. For the record of this series, neurology, science, specific definitions of the soul, and transhumanism are outside the content of this series.  That is not what I am here to talk about, as this series is more philosophy than anything. But there is one point I do wish to address. Sarenth says;

“Certainly, if we consider the the soul “as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?” then my hugr,my munr (memory) and possibly my lich, my body, would be all that I am.  It denies the other parts of the Northern Tradition and Heathen Soul Matrix.  

This boils down the soul itself to a purely materialist concept, dispensing entirely with the numenous.  It may make the concept of the soul more palatable to ‘modern’ people, but it is poor theology.  It is like saying “All I am is my cells.”  While strictly true in a physical, materialist sense, it belies the creativity with which I write, the life I lead.  “What of my mind and my individual will?” for example, is a concept poorly explained in such a system.  If indeed we have any notion that we are other than living in a mechanical, purely material universe, then this notion ignores our will, and the mind itself.  If the concept of the soul merely boils down to “You being you is merely the result of your genetics, and the way your brain is formed and wired”, then it not only neuters the understanding of the soul, it outright destroys it.”

I do want to make clear, that in no way am I personally suggesting that the sum-total of our material bodies is all that we are. Nor is redefining what “soul” means of any real interest to me (with the exception being the immortal part.) All I am is not my cells, or my material and energy cycles. That is nearly precisely the opposite of what I want to talk about here.

In fact, per the original NPR article, what I really want to frame is this quote here from Gleiser;

“Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you” 

The real point I want to make is not the brain, or its neurology; but of emergent properties. The mind, all that we think and feel, emerges from the connections in our brains. The (human) soul, as I currently like to think of it, is an emergent property of the sum total of the connections between the cells and material in our bodies. Trillions and trillions and trillions of connections of matter, energy,  and complex systems interacting.

As I imagine the soul, it is what emerges when all those connections are considered. Like trillions of little “spiritual filaments” connecting everything in our mind and body, and which is greater than our individual material selves. I envision it like a really complex mesh of trillions of little glowing filaments it a more or less human shape. That is my essence, my spirit, my soul. Without those connections, all I am would cease to be. (Which is more or less what happens at death, but now is not the time.)

All in all, drawing from Sarenth’s post, Soul Matrix is a great word for this. A complex network from which something else develops. Meshing, Matrix, Network, Wiring; all of which I will use to describe the emergent property I currently think of as the soul.

As far as terms like Hugr and Munr are concerned, they can be used as a “spiritual shorthand.” Frankly, smaller numbers of “parts” are a lot easier to communicate than “a matrix of a trillion trillion light filaments.” Both have their place, I think.

However, moving beyond the individual, we are connected to pretty much everything else on this planet. Some of these connections are tangible, like matter relationships with our food. Some are not nearly as tangible, like the words we exchange with one another. When we extend these connections, these “filaments” beyond ourselves; things start to get really interesting.

As I have said before, I am a big fan of the concept of emergent properties. As you network and connect a greater number of parts, synergies start to happen. Synergy here is defined as “the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”, and not as some bad corporate propaganda. Two oxygen atoms connect with a hydrogen, and water happens; which has characteristics of neither. You get enough water together with other molecules and some self-replicating proteins, single celled life happens. When evolution experiments with enough arrangements of different forms of life over the long flow of time; humans happen.

In short, the sum is greater than the sum of the parts. At each new level of organization, new properties emerge that are not predicated by the lower levels. This has fascinating implications from an animistic point of view, which is all about creating relationships.

Enough plants, animals, rocks and rivers together and you get an ecosystem. You get enough humans together together and you get a society. When you experiment with enough societies, you get more complex and larger forms of networked humans.

(Note, both evolution and social development are non-linear processes. There are failures, successes, stops and starts.)

Yet, what happens when you get a “critical mass” of human societies networked with other systems on a planetary scale? Something interesting may be emerging indeed… Here I turned to an article from the BBC;

“In Ancient Greek mythology, the Earth Goddess Gaia had nine titan sons, who attempted to control not just the Earth, but the entire Universe. I’d like to introduce another. It’s a new creature who emerged only in recent decades. But it’s a creature who is already as influential over life on the planet as the phytoplankton or forests that regulate global temperature, the weather and the air we breathe.

That new creature is us, or more precisely, what humanity is becoming. The entirety of our species, Homo sapiens, is evolving into a superorganism; I’ll call this new life force Homo omnis, or ‘Homni’.

We have now become the dominant force shaping our planet. Some say that because of our actions we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of man. Homni is a product of this age, a product of human industrialisation, population expansion, globalisation and the revolution in communications technology, and he is immensely powerful.”

The idea of the superorganism is an old one, and here it is used more as an analogy than as a literal truth. Herbert Spencer was one of the first to propose the idea in the social theory. Here is a excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Spencer explored the holistic nature of society as a social organism… For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, that is, human beings. ”     

Still, the idea has gone through many thinkers, and many different variations. When thinking about an increasingly networked world, the superorganism becomes an interesting analogy. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; we might want to think about looking a lot harder at the parts we each play. Such a worldview would favor greater collaboration, greater integration and networking, and a life centered approach. The whole of it all would be one part humanity, one part technology, and one part ecology.

We would need to look at the world through a much more holistic lens.

I give the last word here to the BBC;

“And here lies an interesting paradox. Humans may have evolved through a process of natural selection – essentially outcompeting rivals to death – but as palaeontologist Tim Flannery says, this has led not to a “dog-eat-dog world”, but to a cooperative society. He believes we are in the process of forming an interdependent global society with a set of shared beliefs – a “civilisation of ideas” – that will transform Earth into a more equitable and ecologically curated planet. It’s an optimistic view of Homni, based on the fact that most people want to get on with each other and look after their neighbourhood environment. Whether, or to what degree, Flannery’s altruistic view of humanity bears out is the big question.”

 Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

BBC – Superorganism

Collective Intelligence

Superorganism

The Technium

The Hobbesian


The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence

Hello again folks, hope you are all doing well!

Today I want to talk some about some recent pieces that I have read recently. The two pieces in question are really fascinating to think about in the context of an animistic practice.

Both of these pieces come from NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. If you are not familiar with it, I would highly recommend checking it out. There are some great writers over there.

The first piece is by Marcelo Gleiser, and is entitled Is Neuroscience Rediscovering the Soul? To frame this discussion, I start out with a quote from the article;

“The idea that neuroscience is rediscovering the soul is, to most scientists and philosophers, nothing short of outrageous. Of course it is not.

But the widespread, adverse, knee-jerk attitude presupposes the old-fashioned definition of the soul — the ethereal, immaterial entity that somehow encapsulates your essence. Surely, this kind of supernatural mumbo-jumbo has no place in modern science. And I agree. The Cartesian separation of body and soul, the res extensa (matter stuff) vs. res cogitans (mind stuff) has long been discarded as untenable in a strictly materialistic description of natural phenomena.”

I have to admit, I had the same kind of reaction when I first read the title. The world really is a fantastic mix of matter and energy, but these things are interchangeably and so far science has not found what might be called a “spirit particle” or anything of the sort. From what we know of this world, everything is pretty much matter or energy.

Still, as an animist there is definitely a spiritual component to all the work that I do. I do think I have a spirit, a life essence, a life force; if you will. But I don’t think that my spirit is at all separate from my body. In some cosmologies, the spirit is not one piece, but a whole collection of different “spirits” in one body.

I take a similar view; but on a much more biological scale. My body is the collective of countless numbers of individual cells, individual spiritual persons. Together, they make something much greater than the sum of the parts. (We will come back to this later in this piece.) Yet there is something in there, a sum collective of all my energies and processes that is distinctly me. My body and my spirit are so deeply integrated and networked, that it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins.

Gleiser says it this way;

“But what if we revisit the definition of soul, abandoning its canonical meaning as the “spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal” for something more modern? What if we consider your soul as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?

Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you.”

Reading that made my skin crawl in a rather wonderful way. I especially love the bit where he says “For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium, but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration…”

Remember that part about emergent properties and integration, we will be coming back to that.

The thing I refer to as my “self” is really more of a collective of individuals than a single being. All the trillions of cells in my brain and body working in conjunction across masses of networks. That is my body as well as my soul. The Norse concept of hugr, a form of the spiritual “self” is a rather nice fit here. The hugr is considered to be the sum total of the mental life of an individual, and that is exactly what I think Gleiser is talking about.

Our stories, our environment, and our own makeup interacting and coming up with this thing we might call the spirit. That is just wonderful in so many ways.

Before I harp too much on that, I want to turn to the other article that I read recently. It is by David Haskell, and is titled Life is the Network, not the Self.

In talking about a maple leaf, Haskell says;

“By eavesdropping on chemical conversations within the leaf, biologists have learned that the life processes of a plant — growing, moving nutrients, fighting disease, and coping with drought — are all networked tasks, emerging from physical and chemical connections among diverse cells. These leaf networks are dynamic. “

I told you we would come back to emergent properties and networked integration. When we consider our own bodies, we see huge networked complexes working together in both conflict and cooperation. Bacteria in our guts are working to help us digest our food, networked neurons are working to process the information from our senses, our heart muscles are working in a constant beat to keep the blood, nutrients and oxygen moving through our bodies.

As Haskell points out, this kind of integration expands well beyond the individual human, but to maple trees, ecosystems, and the entire biosphere of the planet. Every collective being on this planet is networked, and from that networking new and fascinating forms emerge. Over the long course of evolution, individual cells have been experimenting with different collective networks, and that has given rise to every single living thing on this planet.

As Haskell says;

“Living networks are ancient, perhaps as old as life itself. Models and lab experiments on the chemical origin of life show that interacting networks of molecules beat self-replicating molecules in a Darwinian struggle. Many of the first fossilized cells of life on Earth lived in integrated bacterial stacks called stromatolites. Today, all major ecosystems — forests, coral reefs, grasslands, ocean plankton — are built on conversations between interdependent partners. Cut these conversations and the ecosystems fall apart. The first artificial cells also have a networked character. When scientists organize chemical reactions into arrays of tiny, interconnected compartments, life-like properties emerge: cycles of protein production, gradients of signaling chemicals, and the ability to maintain a steady internal state. Without the network, the homogeneous chemical soup lacks any tang of life.

The fundamental unit of biology is therefore not the “self,” but the network. A maple tree is a plurality, its individuality a temporary manifestation of relationship.”

If we consider the soul to be the sum total of all these connections, in our bodies and with our environment, something rather fascinating and terrifying starts to emerge. As I have explained many times before, animism is concerned with life living in relationships with each other.

Consider our relationships well beyond ourselves. Think about the sum total of all of our technology and the natural world around us. Take a look at our cities from space and ask yourself, what is emerging from our relationships with other beings on this planet?

[Credit: NASA/Suomi NPP VIIRS/Miguel Román/Joshua Stevens]

Thanks for reading!

References/Sources;

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/05/522738015/is-neuroscience-rediscovering-the-soul

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/04/522011396/the-key-to-life-is-the-network


End of Nations? Part 3

Here, we diverge from the idea of the Nation-State, and into what a Post-Nation world might look like. The article points to the European Union as a potential model, a federation of smaller units.

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

Zielonka agrees that further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But he says Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead he sees the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations. Sound familiar? Proponents call it neo-medievalism.“

This brings up some interesting points, which I would like to explore more in later works. However, I did come across some thoughts recently that highlight a little more what this kind of world might look like. Here are a few excerpts from An Anarchist FAQ

“The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralized, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighborhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves.

[…]

The key to that change, from the anarchist standpoint, is the creation of a network of participatory communities based on self-government through direct, face-to-face democracy in grassroots neighborhood and community assemblies [meetings for discussion, debate, and decision making].

[…]

Since not all issues are local, the neighborhood and community assemblies will also elect mandated and re-callable delegates to the larger-scale units of self-government in order to address issues affecting larger areas, such as urban districts, the city or town as a whole, the county, the bio-region, and ultimately the entire planet. Thus the assemblies will confederate at several levels in order to develop and co-ordinate common policies to deal with common problems. “

Now, I don’t consider myself an anarchist by any sense of the word, but that does not mean there are not interesting ideas to be found in the context of a post-Nation world. We are in fact talking about here the greater integration and networking of numerous scales of organization. Self-government is definitely one of the ideas I support with democracy, and it is curious that there are interesting parallels between this think and several democratic Nations throughout the world, notably the European Union and the United States.

I am not saying that these democratic structures are anarchic in any way, and I am sympathetic to many of the critiques of those systems. For example, especially in the United States I do feel the governmental structure has become quite self-serving and top heavy as hierarchical institutions. I for one would love to see it reworked to allow for not only greater direct democracy, such as has been outlined above, but also better representation. The idea of “mandated and re-callable” delegations has a certain appeal to it. My own representative government here in Michigan has flouted the will of the people in many important issues, and made no attempt to hide that. And yet, we the people have little recourse to deal with something like that.

I return here to the idea of better intergrated and interdependent networks; in the NewScientist article;

Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, which analyses global problems, thinks such networks must emerge. He believes existing institutions such as UN agencies and the World Bank are structurally unable to deal with problems that emerge from global interrelatedness, such as economic instability, pandemics, climate change and cybersecurity – partly because they are hierarchies of member states which themselves cannot deal with these global problems. He quotes Slaughter: “Networked problems require a networked response.” “

I cannot stress that last part enough. Networked problems require a networked response. As we face more and more problems on a global scale top-down institutions lack the flexibility and adaptability to deal with really complex problems. As the article points out, hierarchy requires the person at the top to get their head around the whole of the complexity. That is nearly impossible as the world grows entirely more complex. Things such as climate change and habitat loss require a much more adaptable and integrated response.

I return to the article here to further expand on this point;

Moreover, says Dani Rodrik of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the very globalised economy that is allowing these networks to emerge needs something or somebody to write and enforce the rules. Nation states are currently the only entities powerful enough to do this.

Yet their limitations are clear, both in solving global problems and resolving local conflicts. One solution may be to pay more attention to the scale of government. Known as subsidiarity, this is a basic principle of the EU: the idea that government should act at the level where it is most effective, with local government for local problems and higher powers at higher scales. There is empirical evidence that it works: social and ecological systems can be better governed when their users self-organise than when they are run by outside leaders.”

A government should act at the level it is most effective. I think there is a fair bit of truth in that. Yet, it comes to the point that we have to admit that most of this is just future speculation. It is an idea for one possible way forward for our societies. I for one think it is a decent idea, as I want to see us become a more globalized and integrated people. I want us to continue to push ourselves to become a planetary society (Type I on the Kardashev Scale), and that will require more networking and integration. Yet, as the article points out; how we get there (if we get there) is anyone’s best guess;

However, it is hard to see how our political system can evolve coherently in that direction. Nation states could get in the way of both devolution to local control and networking to achieve global goals. With climate change, it is arguable that they already have.”

Now, this article was written in 2014, back before the Paris Climate Agreement. Still, Nation-States consistently create problems and obstacles to further integration. Here I give the article the last word;

Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries. But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.”

Yes, time to start imagining.

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/

Anarchist FAQ

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secI5.html


End of Nations? Part 2

We begin today where we left off last time, the article from NewScientist has this to say about complexity;

Complexity was limited by the energy a society could harness. For most of history that essentially meant human and animal labour. In the late Middle Ages, Europe harnessed more, especially water power. This boosted social complexity – trade increased, for example– requiring more government. A decentralised feudal system gave way to centralised monarchies with more power.

But these were still not nation states.“

Are you at all familiar with the Kardashev scale? This scale was developed back in the 1960’s, and ranks a civilization based on the energy at its disposal. Currently there are five classes on the scale, and currently our society doesn’t even register. A decent overview is at Futurism. We are still a type 0 civilization, and have a long way to go before we are even type I. For reference, a Type I civilization is able to harness all the energy of a neighboring star. Can you imagine solar power on that kind of scale? Here is just an excerpt from Futurism;

Essentially, to measure a civilization’s advancement (awesomeness), the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (whether it populates a planet, galaxy, or an entire universe)…

Type 0: Subglobal Culture—This civilization extracts its energy and raw-materials from crude organic-based sources such as wood, coal, and oil. Any rockets utilized by such a civilization would necessarily depend on chemical propulsion. Since such travel is so pitifully slow, a civilization at this level would be (for the most part) confined to its home planet. Unfortunately, this is about where we are. We haven’t quite made it to Type I yet.”

Moving back to the article, as was pointed out through most of history, there was a relatively low amount of energy available to us. That started to change as the world industrialized.

By then Europe had hit the tipping point of the industrial revolution. Harnessing vastly more energy from coal meant that complex behaviours performed by individuals, such as weaving, could be amplified, says Bar-Yam, producing much more complex collective behaviours.

This demanded a different kind of government. In 1776 and 1789, revolutions in the US and France created the first nation states, defined by the national identity of their citizens rather than the bloodlines of their rulers. According to one landmark history of the period, says Breuilly, “in 1800 almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French. By 1900 they all did.” For various reasons, people in England had an earlier sense of “Englishness”, he says, but it was not expressed as a nationalist ideology.”

As the industrial revolution took hold, it brought more energy into the equation, and this brought with it the need for more complex systems to regulate the new reality. There were a lot of different reasons for this.

Part of the reason was a pragmatic adaptation of the scale of political control required to run an industrial economy. Unlike farming, industry needs steel, coal and other resources which are not uniformly distributed, so many micro-states were no longer viable. Meanwhile, empires became unwieldy as they industrialised and needed more actual governing.

That meant hierarchical control structures ballooned, with more layers of middle management. Such bureaucracy was what really brought people together in nation-sized units, argues Maleševic. But not by design: it emerged out of the behaviour of complex hierarchical systems. As people do more kinds of activities, says Bar-Yam, the control structure of their society inevitably becomes denser.”

And as the article points out, this lead to a whole host of new processes that brought the nation-state to the forefront of modern politics. The number of beurocrats per capita expanded, and numerous processes of nation building, which bring the people to identify with their nation. the identity of the people went into play. In addition, through governmental forms such as democracy, the nation granted its citizens a stake in the nation, and they started to feel it was “theirs.”

Yet, even nationalism has it’s limits. Nationalism and Globalism and both two edged swords in many respects. As the world grows increasingly global, this brings with it a tribal tendency to dwell into isolation in one’s nation. Returning to the article helps expand this point.

According to Brian Slattery of York University in Toronto, Canada, nation states still thrive on a widely held belief that “the world is naturally made of distinct, homogeneous national or tribal groups which occupy separate portions of the globe, and claim most people’s primary allegiance”. But anthropological research does not bear that out, he says. Even in tribal societies, ethnic and cultural pluralism has always been widespread. Multilingualism is common, cultures shade into each other, and language and cultural groups are not congruent. “

I do not think I need to belabor this point too much, as I think the point has been pretty clearly stated. Nation-States create within themselves a “national identity”, which often ignores the reality of multiculturalism in pretty much every Nation in the world. As this article has clearly shown, the Nation-State is a fairly recent phenomenon.

This is where we are going to leave this part of the series, and next time we explore more of what a Post-Nation world might look like.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/