Essays

An eclectic collection of posts on secular topics.

Lost in Politics

          There has been much angst expressed over the recent presidential election (November, 2016) arising from a variety of sources, including some sites promoting a non-dual perspective in their clients. Dualism in the world appears to be the product of what the late physicist, Niels Bohr, referred to as complementary pairs. Bohr established the Principle of Complementarity in quantum physics to explain wave/particle duality. A complementary pair is merely a particular perspective on an indivisible whole. However, Bohr thought the principle applied much more broadly and offered examples of its application to fields outside of physics such as psychology. Thus, it seems that the world of duality largely rests upon the operation of complementary pairs in structuring the world we live in.

Much of the public angst then appears to follow from the practice of dualistic thinking that predisposes one to commit to one side or another. Usually the sides in a political contest are grounded in ideology, which is an elaborated belief system (see The Problem with Belief. Committing to a particular political ideology then is motivated by the belief that it, for example, represents truth or goodness in contradistinction to deception or falsity or badness. Taking such a position ignores the complementary nature of dualistic pairings. One member of a complementary pair is never true in any complete sense because its complement is also a reflection of the truth embodied in the whole. This partial reflection of wholes is to be expected from a dualistic perspective and is what drives the continuous flux that we call change and from which experience arises.

By taking one side or another in a political contest, one is committing to the ideology or belief system of that position. This leads to expectations about what the results will be depending on which side prevails and with which side one is aligned. These expectations produce an attachment to the success of a particular candidate and the outcomes associated with that candidate. From a non-dual perspective one would refrain from becoming attached to one side or another in a political contest, because to do so is to become entangled in duality. This is not to say one can’t have a personal preference, which is a far cry from an ideological commitment and emotional attachment. Recognizing the complementary nature of the sides in a contest and exercising a preference does not require becoming attached to a specific outcome and the expectations associated with commitment to that outcome.

When one lives in a reality governed by dualism, it is virtually impossible to avoid participation in dualistic choices. The goal instead should be to stand above the ideology and attachment to outcomes and instead exercise personal preference with the intent of accepting whatever outcome manifests as necessary.

Climate Change and Global Warming (Revised)

          The geographer Harm de Blij points out, in his book Why Geography Matters, that we are in an ice age, which is a long-term climate condition that been in effect for about a 100 million years. Within this ice age there have been numerous glacial and interglacial periods (see chart below). We are currently approaching the apogee of one of the interglacial periods. The last interglacial period ended around 80,000 years ago. At that time, the temperature peaked at above current levels and sea level was 15 feet above current levels. In that most recent peak, there can be little doubt that humans had very little if any impact on the climate cycle. Further, there also appears to be a shorter-term cycle of approximately 1500 years, which is also currently moving toward its apogee. The bottom of this cycle was the little ice age experienced a few hundred years ago. In short, our current conditions are probably mostly due to the unfolding of natural cycles that have been going on for a very long time. If anything, human activity may speed the cycles up somewhat or even slow them down somewhat. It is, however, very unlikely that we can stabilize the climate. Of course, we should exercise caution in activities likely to affect climate. Unfortunately, natural variations in climate are often catastrophic and largely beyond our control.

Anyone who thinks we can stop global warming is operating from a static conception of climate and is ignorant of or ignoring the dynamic nature of climate throughout the history of this planet. We might be able to marginally slow down the rate of warming, provided everyone, including developing countries like India and China, gets on board with the program. A really concerted effort by everyone to employ methods advocated to slow global warming (e.g., Kyoto Protocol) would have an almost imperceptible effect. An atmospheric physicist, S. Fred Singer (Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service) estimates that such an effort would decrease the average global temperature by .083 (1/12th) of a degree by mid-century. The natural cycle seems to be that the warming phase triggers the events that contribute to the next cooling phase. One factor in this process may be the melting of the polar ice, which puts cold water into the oceans that change ocean currents and water temperature. Change in water temperature and currents are believed to affect weather cycles. The next glacial period in the climate cycle will make surviving global warming look like a picnic. Slowing down the rate of global warming buys a little time but doesn’t change the longer-term outcome. Even if the entire effect of human activity could be subtracted from the long-term cycle, it would only slow, not stop, the increase in temperature and rise in sea level. This cycle has been rising and falling for millions of years and human activity has only been a factor in the last couple of hundred years. To think that humans are the prime movers in this cycle is probably hubris.

One of the assertions that has been a problem for me is the proposed connection between CO2 levels and temperature increases often illustrated by the infamous “hockey stick” graph. This graph shows a strong concurrent correlation between CO2 levels and temperature increases. One thing that bothers me about this correlation is that it seems to be offered as evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship when anyone at all familiar with statistics knows that one cannot infer cause from correlation, only association. Another thing that bothers me about this proposed connection is the ice core data for the past one-half million years. The initial analysis of this data indicated a 800 year lag between an initial rise in temperature and a subsequent rise in CO2 levels. A number of climate scientists were not “happy” with this relationship and did additional analyses and finally reported they were able to tweak the gap downward to a 200 years instead of 800 years. It is nevertheless still a significant gap and one that has temperature increasing before CO2 levels.

Recently, I read a proposed explanation for the gap. The proposal is that in past cycles when temperature begins to rise, this ultimately raises the temperature of ocean water. The long lag found in the ice cores is likely due to the amount of time it takes to raise the temperature in a huge volume of water. It should also be noted that there was no explanation offered for what exactly causes cyclic increases and decreases in global temperatures, which no doubt is involved in the climate cycles mentioned at the beginning of this essay. However, the proposal goes on to indicate that as water temperatures rise this causes locked up CO2 to be released from the ocean. As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, it adds to the temperature increase that is already in progress and speeds it up since there are now, at least, two inputs. Thus, human produced CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide could very well represent a third input into this process. The additional input from human sources could conceivably increase the speed and the upper limit of the effect. However, assuming that you subtracted all the human input, the likely result would, at best, be a return to the underlying natural cycle, not a return of conditions to a hypothetical stable state.

As the table below indicates, the human contribution of CO2 is the largest contribution of the greenhouse gases generated by man. To flesh this out a bit, the estimated amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 400 ppb. The total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere accounts for 3.618% of the total greenhouse effect. The proportion of naturally occurring CO2 contributes 3.502% to the total greenhouse effect. Thus, the proportion attributable to human sources accounts for .117% of the total greenhouse effect. Note that the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect is water vapor, which makes a 95% contribution while the human contribution to water vapor in the atmosphere is minuscule, coming in at .001%.

Water vapor is the most significant greenhouse gas of all (see table at end). Water vapor is not usually factored into the computer models used to predict global climate at all, because it is too poorly understood and represents a very complex variable to model. It is roughly like trying to predict the peak price of wheat without taking into account the supply likely to be available when demand peaks. The principle way in which water vapor comes into play is through cloud formation. The more cloud cover there is the more sunlight is reflected back into space and the cooler the global temperature. Conversely, the less cloud cover the more sunlight reaches the surface of the earth and the higher the global temperature.

Recent research has shown that a significant factor in cloud formation is the interaction of cosmic rays with particles of water vapor. Thus, fluctuations in the amount of cosmic rays reaching the earth will have significant effects on cloud formation and cover. The largest source of cosmic rays is our sun and other suns in our galaxy. Short-term cosmic ray fluctuations are related to cyclic activity in the sun, which is affected by other planetary bodies in the solar system such as Jupiter. When large bodies of mass approach and recede from the near vicinity of the sun, its activity is affected. Long-term cosmic ray fluctuations are believed to be related to the movement of our solar system through its orbit in our galaxy. In the course of moving through this orbit, we enter regions where stars are more densely concentrated and where they are less densely concentrated. Since other stars like our sun are major producers of cosmic rays, one would expect that cosmic ray bombardment of the earth would increase in regions where star concentrations are more dense and decrease when they are less dense. There is some speculation that this may be a major contributor to long-term climate cycles mentioned earlier that have been going on for millions of years and can be measured in tens of thousands of years.

In conclusion, I would say that, yes, we are experiencing climate change related to a warming trend, but there isn’t anything new about that. Climate has been going through cycles of warming and cooling since long before man came onto the scene. Thus, it seems to me impossible to seriously argue that human activity is the cause of climate cycles. Could human activity be contributing to existing climate cycles? It seem likely that human activity could be a contributing factor. Trying to protect the environment from degradation seems like a reasonable goal regardless of its impact on climate. In addition to trying to reduce human emissions of CO2, there seems to me to be other initiatives that could be taken.

One initiative might be to develop methods for extinguishing underground coal fires. There are hundreds of these unintentional fires burning around the globe. These fires can last for decades to hundreds of years before they consume all the available fuel. One of these has been estimated to have been burning for 6000 years. It has been estimated by one environmental group that such fires contribute approximately 2-3% of all the carbon emissions in China where around 20 million tons of coal is consumed by such fires each year. Another initiative might be projects to reverse desertification. It is well known that desert areas are increasing around the world. When foliage dies off and large areas become deserts, a huge carbon capture process is destroyed. One researcher has argued that if we could regain the carbon capture lost through desertification, then atmospheric carbon levels could be reduced to pre-industrial levels without doing anything else. Third, initiatives are needed to stop the huge problems caused by chemical runoff from agriculture. This runoff is producing large dead zones in rivers, lakes and oceans. These dead zones have large impacts on the balance of greenhouse gases, not to mention fishing and the health of the planet in general. Further, consider that the population of the planet has increased approximately 800% since 1800 (see first chart below on population growth). This roughly corresponds to the period of industrial development and pursuit of expansive economic growth. Think of the possible effect on climate, not to mention the environment in general, of this huge expansion in population, with its demands for food, energy, housing, infrastructure and so on. I think the species is facing a very serious and escalating crisis about which most of the population is clueless. If a demographic implosion didn’t already appear to be in the making, probably beginning at the end of this century, one would have to be created (see second chart below on rate of population growth). Clearly, an initiative needs to be undertaken to plan how to keep population and the demands on the environment at a sustainable level once there is a significant decline in world population (Note, this is discussed in greater detail in “Is Economic Growth a Viable Long-Term Goal?.” Finally, I think belief that we can control the climate is hubris. We should never forget that once such a project is begun, unintended consequences are possible and they aren’t always good. I do think that reducing our impact on climate and the environment may be possible and a worthwhile goal.

 

Is Economic Growth a Viable Long-Term Goal?

         To begin, let’s distinguish between economic activity for expansion, economic activity for maintenance and economic activity for sustainability. Expansion is how the standard of living in a country is increased. In short, when economic activity exceeds what is required to maintain a baseline level for a population of a given size, the result is greater affluence per capita in the population. Think of affluence as that portion of income that can be devoted to discretionary spending beyond meeting truly basic needs. On the other hand, maintenance merely keeps up with population growth, or lack thereof, and maintains the status quo. Depending on where you live this could be well beyond or below basic needs. Sustainable economic growth would be economic activity that for a given population size and life style could be continued indefinitely. An economic model that could continue indefinitely would require a lifestyle that rests upon a sustainable draw on resources and waste generation that can be absorbed and processed by the planet.

Presently, a minority of the world population enjoys an affluent lifestyle that was generated by the expansion model and depends upon an unsustainable draw on resources and waste generation. Many such developed economies are having difficulty, for various reasons, with expansion and may be reluctantly trying to hold to a maintenance model by default. There are a number of impediments to economic activity based on expansion. These impediments open up an opportunity to consider the possibility of developing an alternative model, which should focus on sustainable economic activity. It may be possible for sustainable activity to also maintain some level of affluence, given a small enough population, or significant improvements in technology and its application.

Several factors currently depress expansion of economic activity, especially in the developed economies, which are responsible for a major portion of the world economy. In no particular order of importance, the first of these is debt. Almost all of the developed world’s economies are heavily in debt, both public and private. Heavy debt is also widespread in the developing world. In January, 2017, Reuters News reported that total global debt had reached 325% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and rose by 11 trillion dollars in the first nine months of 2016 alone. The report also indicated that approximately half was public (government) and half private debt. Few embrace the implications of this situation, but it seems obvious to me that a sound economy cannot be built upon a foundation of burgeoning growth in public and private debt. Generally, debt is most defensible when it is put to productive purposes. The underlying premise of capitalism is that capital is accumulated through saving surpluses and then lent to productive enterprises that will yield sufficient return to, at minimum, repay the debt plus a reasonable return on the loan. The developed economies have drifted so far from this view of debt that to call them capitalist economies is laughable.

The second factor is birth rates (see Figure below). Again, virtually all developed countries are at or below the replacement rate for their population, which is on average 2.1 children per adult female of reproductive age. This has two obvious consequences. The first consequence is that the size of the population in developing countries is either no longer expanding, is static or is declining. For example, according to data reported in Wikipedia, as of 2005, the fertility rate in Europe was down to 1.41, in North America down to 1.99, in Japan down to 1.5 and in China down to 1.6. When population is expanding in developed countries, it is almost always due to immigration. The mere shifting people around doesn’t, in itself, affect total world population to any significant degree. It does, however, increase the demand for resources as immigrants move to developed countries with the expectation of being able to improve their lifestyle, a goal that they often achieve. This could have an effect on total population because there is a close relationship between improvement in lifestyle and lower birth rates. Lifestyle, of course, includes more income but also includes other factors such as better health care and greater personal sovereignty, especially for women. The decline in fertility rates is a global phenomenon illustrated by a worldwide fertility rate of 5.02 in 1950 and a rate of of 2.65 in 2005. It is estimated that the worldwide rate will be down to 2.05 by 2050. This rate is slightly below the projected replacement rate of 2.1. Even so, large portions of Africa and the Middle East are projected to remain above their replacement rates.

The second consequence of the decline in birth rates is to increase the proportion of older people in the population. An examination of spending by age cohort indicates that spending begins to pick up for people in their 30s as a result of career progression and family formation. Peak spending occurs in people in their 40s and 50s. People moving into their 60s and beyond, as a group, make fewer purchases in the consumer economy than do younger people. Thus, as a population ages and becomes progressively older, on average, there is a reduction in demand for consumer goods. As the demand for consumer goods falls, this further suppresses the potential for expansion of the economy.

A third factor is the proportion of the working-age population that is employed. It is obviously difficult to be a consumer of any consequence if one has little if any discretionary income or perhaps no income at all. Governments are prone to manipulate economic statistics such as unemployment rates so this problem is a bit difficult to appraise. However, an independent estimate from Shadowstats for the U.S. put the true unemployment rate at approximately 23% in 2016. At the same time, U.S. government statistics suggest that unemployment in 2016 was 4.7%. This discrepancy is due in part to Shadowstats including discouraged and displaced workers in its estimate while the government only counts individuals actively seeking employment within the past four weeks. If you’re unemployed and haven’t sought employment in the past four weeks, you aren’t counted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as unemployed. Whatever the true figure, it is clear that declines in economic activity will further increase unemployment.

To add fuel to this already bleak outlook, a recent estimate put the loss of jobs to automation, worldwide, at over one million per year, with acceleration likely going forward. This will have its biggest impact on older workers who are less able to retool for alternative employment. This is due to time constraints relative to remaining working life, existing financial demands and lack of resources to pursue such training. Many of those unemployed now and not counted because they have given up seeking employment probably belong in this group. Even for those older workers fortunate enough to retrain for alternate employment, they will be facing new careers at the entry level that seldom provides the income and benefits lost. This is not a solid basis for expanding economic activity.

A fourth consideration is resource limits. The World Population History site defines ecological footprint as the rate of consumption of natural resources and the generation of waste, together with the planet’s ability to replenish those resources and absorb the waste. Carrying capacity is an estimate of how large a population can be supported by the available resources and their replenishment, along with the capacity to reabsorb waste. The Population Institute estimates that the human species’ ecological footprint is currently between 140% and 150% of carrying capacity. Further, they estimate that before the population expansion stops and begins to decline, the total population will be between 9.5 and 11 billion people (see Figure below) and will be at approximately 300% of carrying capacity. In short, to maintain the status quo now requires the resources and capacities of 1.5 planets and will soon require the resources and capacities of 3 planets. Obviously, this is not sustainable. Perhaps the load can be reduced by greater efficiency and new technologies, but if not we may be in a race. A race to see which line we cross first — an ecological or a population implosion. If the latter comes first then the former might be avoidable. If the former comes first the latter may be far greater than expected from a decline in fertility rates.

Fred Pearce, in his book The Coming Population Crash, offers a couple of interesting statistics. First, the figures he presents indicate that the ecological footprint of the average U.S. citizen is just shy of ten times that of the average Indian or African. He further compared the world’s wealthiest one billion people with the remaining people and found that the ecological footprint of the wealthiest is 32 times that of the remaining population. If you, as an individual, have an income of at least $12,500 (just above the U.S poverty criterion for an individual), you can count yourself among the top one billion. He offers the following illustration.

 A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will do less damage and consume fewer resources than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota, Manchester or Munich.”

In short, the suggestion was that a decrease in the number of affluent persons would do more to reduce the ecological footprint of the human species than to merely decrease the size of the overall population. Perhaps this will be accomplished independently of any policy initiatives or programs. A demographer recently pointed out that demographic trends, especially in the developed countries, foretell an impending world population implosion. He thinks this could begin as early as 2050 while others think 2100 is a more likely date for population declines to begin. Fortuitously, the leading edge of the predicted decline will be in the developed countries with the most affluent populations. Longer term, the trends will impact the overall world population. The critical question is whether or not this population decline and lessening of the demands on the environment will be large enough and occur soon enough to save the planet from ecological disaster.

Given all the factors potentially contracting economic activity, especially in the developed countries, one must consider whether the goal of expansive economic growth is truly a viable concept except perhaps temporarily for the most impoverished countries. Over the last decade there have been massive attempts by governments in developed countries to stimulate economic growth through lowering interest rates and by infusing money into their economies, which has been “borrowed” through various mechanism and thereby further increasing levels of government or public debt. The premise that lies behind these moves is that lower interest rates and more money available for lending will result in more borrowing and spending for consumption. The hypothesis is that this increase in spending using borrowed money will in turn stimulate economic activity. The simple fact is that private debt is already excessive. If this strategy yields any positive effect on discretionary spending, it is likely to be limited and of short duration. One technique that is invariably turned to under such circumstances is to lower credit standards to stimulate borrowing. This often has the desired effect short-term but makes likely further undermining of the economy through subsequent credit defaults.

It would appear that it is past time for the developed countries to wake up to the fact that expanding growth economies based on consumption simply can’t be sustained. Where resources should be focused is not on how to bring back expansive growth but rather on developing a new economic philosophy that is not consumption and growth-oriented. What is needed is an economic philosophy that is oriented toward a sustainable standard of living. Such a philosophy would, on average, result in a lower standard of living in developed countries and a higher standard of living in developing countries. This clearly will not come about under an economic model that emphasizes consumption and expansive growth. Whatever form such an economic philosophy might take, it will likely meet with massive resistance on many fronts. There are billions of people who aspire to an affluent life- style, many of whom will not be happy to hear that it is not possible. There are many hundreds of millions of people who enjoy affluent lifestyles who will not be happy to hear that it cannot be equitably justified nor environmentally sustained. In addition, there are huge vested interests in the business community, government and social institutions that will fight change to the bitter end.

At present, economic thinking holds that the goal should be to raise the standard of living in economically depressed countries to one approximating that in the developed countries. However, it seems highly unlikely that the resources exist to make this a viable goal. Even should it be accomplished, the demand on resources would, in all likelihood, result in an environmental collapse. Even if the environment proves more robust than believed, the current and anticipated future consumption of resources isn’t likely to be sustainable.

Presently, it is estimated that between 800 million and one billion people live lives in which hunger is a regular experience. In a recent article (March, 2017) in the New Scientist magazine, it was suggested that enough food is being produced now to meet the needs of those people short of sufficient food. All of the food necessary to feed the hungry is lost through waste, according to the author of the piece. However, the problem isn’t simply to stop wasting food, because there are coincidental factors such as infrastructure, distribution and payment for the food even if made available. It is estimated that to meet the growing needs moving into the middle to the end of the century will require an increase of 70% over current agricultural production levels.

One major problem area going forward is Africa. Africa presents a special problem for several reasons. The two most critical problems are robust population growth and failure of the green revolution, that has ended hunger in other parts of the world, to penetrate into Africa to any significant extent. However, it is time for green revolution 2.0. The first version of this revolution has relied upon intensive agriculture employing manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, new crop strains, massive amounts of water for irrigation and mechanization. All of the components comprising green revolution 1.0 pose problems that need to be addressed in version 2.0. According to the New Scientist piece mentioned above, one solution is to develop an intensive and precision-based approach to agriculture. This would include new types of food crops relying on things like algae and genetically modified crops that require less use of pesticides, fertilizers and water. Further, such crops should not require expansion of the amount of land under cultivation. Version 2.0 should also employ technology to provide precision amounts of pesticide, fertilizer and water only to the plants that need it and only in the amounts needed (see an example of precision agriculture). Finally, while 2.0 needs to be adopted throughout agriculture, it especially needs to be implemented in the areas where the need is greatest and by the people in need. To do this successfully will require overcoming political, cultural and attitudinal obstacles.

Another area that will surely become more problematic as we move deeper into this century, with growing population pressures, is farming animals for meat. This practice is a highly inefficient method of producing food. Animal farming uses more energy and water than growing crops like wheat or potatoes. Further, it puts significant amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. The US DOE estimates that there is three times as much man-made methane as man made CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Sooner or later, efforts to reduce greenhouse gases will have to come to bear on methane and that means on animal farming. The worst offender is beef. Of popular meats probably the best environmental choice is poultry. If you want to make a personal contribution to reducing greenhouse gases, perhaps the best contribution you can make is to become a vegetarian, at least until cultured meat becomes viable.

We do not presently have a sustainable economic model, especially in the developed world. Keeping everything as it is now leads to projections of a doubling of the demands above equilibrium by the end of the century or earlier. We may somehow manage to meet the needs of a world population that is expected to expand, at least until mid-century, if not to the end of the century. However, it is unlikely that we will reduce resource consumption to a sustainable level, even if we manage to cut in half resource consumption through greater efficiency while demand doubles or even triples. Likewise, it seems unlikely that we will be able reduce pollution of the environment to a sustainable level given the needs and demands of an expanding population. Perhaps, abundant additional resources can be obtained and processed off-planet. That would reduce pollution and lessen the strain on this planet’s resources and still permit a high standard of living for everyone. A scientist and science fiction writer, Ben Bova, wrote a book, The High Road, outlining such a plan several decades ago, but it did not garner much interest. Critics think this approach is not truly viable at present and they may be correct. However, plans exist to begin exploiting asteroids for resources. If not viable, then there is always the hope of salvation by new planet-based technology.

Assuming that we manage to survive until world population goes into decline, the next big problem is to determine what would be the most realistic economic model that would permit sustainable economies. I am not an economist and won’t even hazard a guess as to what such a model might be (an alternative model). I’m just an observer commenting on things as I perceive them. However, I think the model would need to accomplish at least three things. First, it would need to adequately meet the material needs of everyone, which I would define in terms of providing a level of resources necessary for good health. Second, it would need to provide the opportunity for everyone to have a constructive role in society, which could include what has traditionally been viewed as work but would not be limited to such activities. Third, there would need to be enough opportunity for flexibility in lifestyle to provide for individual differences and freedom of choice without placing unsustainable demands on the environment. A model of this sort is probably not a realistic goal for a world population anywhere near its current size and expanding. Thus, the model would need to be implemented to coincide with the low point in the predicted population implosion. Some estimates put that low point at a worldwide population of approximately five billion, which would be about half the maximum of 10-11 billion projected for the end of the century. Some studies suggest that the upper limit on population, consistent with attaining sustainability, is about 7.5 billion. The goal would be to hold population, once down, to between 5 and 7 billion people. A population that stays within this range is probably the best hope for a sustainable economy and a healthy environment.

The second big problem is to get a large enough buy-in to such a model that it can be successfully implemented. On this point, I will hazard a guess that, when proposed, it is highly unlikely to be freely embraced by a majority, especially in the developed countries. In my view, for such a model to be freely embraced would require a significant shift in attitudes. For this to happen, I think there would have to be a change in the prevalent philosophy underlying the thinking of a significant percentage of the world population. The current philosophical underpinning of thinking for many people is materialism. While this has been a productive way of looking at the world for science and technology, it has a significant downside. Implicit in scientific materialism is the view that the universe and life within it came about accidentally and has no inherent meaning or purpose. At the level of the average individual, this leads to the bumper sticker philosophy of “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” In short, the average person, especially in developed countries, derives meaning and purpose from consumption and accumulation. As long as this is how many people find meaning and purpose in their life, there is no hope for acceptance of a model for a sustainable economy and healthy environment that ultimately depends more on cooperation rather than on competition.

If a sustainable model isn’t freely embraced, which doesn’t seem probable, then when circumstances reach a crisis level sufficient to make it clear to most people that there is no alternative, except the collapse of civilization and perhaps extinction, then an alternative model might be embraced. Such a crisis might be sufficient motivation, but species-suicide is not off the table. Leaving aside “crisis motivation” as the solution, what are the other options? I will answer this in terms of my own value system, which places a high value on individual sovereignty. One can use force, threat or intimidation, contrived incentives or persuasion to influence people’s behavior. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with the principle of individual sovereignty. Albeit more subtle, the third method is also coercive. The use of contrived incentives to influence a person’s choices is an effort to manipulate the person and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method, persuasion, may be the only method that is consistent with individual sovereignty and is fully acceptable to me. However, this is an approach that takes long-term thinking and planning and cannot be implemented quickly.

The mostly likely approach that I think governments will take, if they act at all, will be coercion by “police” action broadly applied and possibly leading to what might become a military dictatorship. Such an approach, I think, would require coordinated action by most of the world’s governments. It seems to me this would be very difficult to bring to fruition. There would probably also be massive resistance, overt and covert, to a broadly coercive approach. Whatever your position is on “climate change,” it serves as an illustration of how an activity requiring restraint that has to be implemented worldwide can generate resistance on many fronts. Widespread resistance would probably undermine the imposition of a sustainable model. Further, the stronger that governments become, the more susceptible they are to intellectual, economic and political corruption. Even if a strong arm approach should be initially successful, I think it would be eventually doomed to failure.

Economist Steve Keen is optimistic about the final outcome, with a caveat, “Ultimately I believe we’ll work out a means to live sustainability on this planet and, in the very distant future, to live beyond it as well. But to do so, we have to understand our current situation properly. There is no chance to move towards a better future if we misunderstand the situation we are currently in.” See the Addendum at the end of the essay for a perspective on the current situation.

I am not at all optimistic that a workable solution can be found and implemented in a successful manner quickly enough to save the planet and save Western-style civilization. I am reminded of a comment by Terrance McKenna, a commentator on culture, who described technological civilization as a cultural temper tantrum. This brings us to the most basic question of all and one that many might avoid — does it really matter whether we save the planet and ourselves or not? The quick and thoughtless answers is yes. However, consider two diametrically opposed ontologies. One has already been alluded to above — scientific materialism, which sees reality as having an independent existence, external to ourselves. The reigning paradigm posits that the material universe came into existence as a random event. As luck would have it, it just happened entirely by chance, to be organized in such a way that it would unfold with the necessary conditions present for life to evolve. Finally, again by chance, the random interaction of elements in the universe combined in such a way as to yield living cells. These living cells evolved through mutation, adaptation and reproductive fitness into ever more complex biological structures until self-aware and intelligent life arose and eventually became us. The crowning achievement of chance.

Under the materialist scenario, I think humans are a species without purpose and therefore without meaning beyond the existential meaning that each of us can wring for ourselves from our brief existence. As individuals and as groups, we weave narrative stories that give our lives meaning but only within the context of the narrative. These narratives are, after all is said and done, just stories. We are a species in a habitat subject to extinction at any time by a cosmic roll of the dice. Without belaboring the point, I suggest that you consider recent examples of some past events that without much ramping up could, under today’s conditions, have a civilization-ending impact, if not extinguish the human species. As relatively recent examples, consider super volcanic explosions such as Krakatoa in 1883, coronal magnetic ejections from the sun like the Carrington event of 1859 or incoming space debris such as the Tunguska explosion of an asteroid over Siberia in 1908. If you’re unfamiliar with these, look them up and then consider their potential impact on modern technological society. A catastrophic result would be even more likely should the event be much larger like some that have occurred farther back in the past. Then there is always the possibility that we’ll follow one of our narratives into a blind alley and destroy ourselves. We have many options for self-destruction among which we can also count the effects of nuclear weapons, weaponized biology and environmental overload and collapse. Of course, even should we survive all rolls of the dice and suicidal behavior, science predicts that the universe will eventually end. The nature of its termination is not certain but it could expand until it exhausts itself, grows cold and dies with a whimper, or it might contract, implode and die with a bang.

The second ontology and counterpoint to scientific materialism is what I have written about as panentheism and others as monistic idealism. One contemporary proponent of this worldview is Bernardo Kastrup, whose several books (amazon.com) and papers (academia.edu) I recommend to you. He has a short video summarizing monistic idealism (see links page). If one looks at the the two ontologies as pyramids, they look very similar but hold radically different implications. Before describing the pyramids, recognize that all ontologies make assumptions. If there is only one base assumption, it is termed an ontological primitive. Such a base assumption is necessary because you can’t go on indefinitely explaining one thing in terms of another (e.g, where does X come from?, from X1, where does X1 come from?, from X2, where does X2 come from?, from X3 and so on ad infinitum). The “buck” has to stop somewhere and that is at the ontological primitive or base assumption. The materialist pyramid begins at the base with the assumption of space/time, which reminds me of Einstein’s remark, “Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.” Moving up the pyramid toward the apex, we come to energy & matter, then atoms & molecules, then chemistry, then biology and finally mind. The pyramid for idealism is almost identical except that it begins at the base with the assumption of awareness or consciousness and then moving toward the apex comes space/time and so on. Everything moving up the pyramid is derivative of the base assumption nx times removed.

Briefly, the big shift with this change in base assumptions is that now instead of thinking of reality as something “out there” it is something “in here.” That is, what you take to be an external reality actually is a manifestation in consciousness, and you likewise are a manifestation in consciousness. By way of analogy, think of reality under idealism like a virtual reality, computer game. If you don’t have any experience with these games, it may not be a good analogy for you. If you want to explore this analogy further, one source you might look into is the book My Big T.O.E. (theory of everything) by Tom Campbell. An analogy that has been used for millennia is that of a dream with which you probably do have some experience. However, whether you are in a dream or a virtual reality game, everything would seem real to you. The game runs under a set of rules and if the rules won’t allow you to walk through walls, you will be deflected by a wall should you walk into one. It would seem like a “real” wall but it is actually just an illusion created in a “computing” space by a computer. Essentially, the same applies to a dream, except it is being created in your consciousness by mind. In fact, some have suggested that one function of dreaming is to remind us that consciousness can generate “realities” and thereby serves as a hint for recognition of the actual nature of our perceived reality.

Under the idealism scenario, there is meaning and purpose, which for brevity’s sake I’ll just say is Awareness’ way of generating experience for itself and the opportunity to evolve. Put another way, we and our world are illusions within an infinite, eternal,  intelligent and creative Awareness or Consciousness exploring itself. Thus, the illusion, like a virtual reality game, once set in motion plays itself out according to the defining ruleset governing it. Should, for example, the evolution of the universe, under the ruleset, happen bring into our orbital path a large asteroid or engage in a nuclear war and life on this planet is extinguished or even if the entire planet is destroyed, it doesn’t really matter in any fundamental sense because Awareness or Consciousness goes on and you are a thread within it. It is like failing the fifth grade — embarrassing but not fatal. There will be a new game or dream on a new planet, perhaps even in a different universe.

 

Addendum

“The standard run represents a business-as-usual situation where parameters reflecting physical, economic, and social relationships were maintained in the World3 model at values consistent with the period 1900–1970. The LtG standard run scenario (and nearly all other scenarios) shows continuing growth in the economic system throughout the 20th century and into the early decades of the 21st. However, the simulations suggest signs of increasing environmental pressure at the start of the 21st century (e.g., resources diminishing, pollution increasing exponentially, growth slowing in food, services, and material wealth per capita). The simulation of this scenario results in ‘‘overshoot and collapse’’ of the global system about mid-way through the 21st century due to a combination of diminishing resources and increasing ecological damage due to pollution.

“The comprehensive technology approach attempts to solve sustainability issues with a broad range of purely technological solutions. This scenario incorporates levels of resources that are effectively unlimited, 75% of materials are recycled, pollution generation is reduced to 25% of its 1970 value, agricultural land yields are doubled, and birth control is available world-wide. These efforts delay the collapse of the global system to the latter part of the 21st century, when the growth in economic activity has outstripped the gains in efficiency and pollution control.

For the stabilized world scenario, both technological solutions and deliberate social policies are implemented to achieve equilibrium states for key factors including population, material wealth, food, and services per capita. Examples of actions implemented in the World3 model include: perfect birth control and desired family size of two children; preference for consumption of services and health facilities and less toward material goods; pollution control technology; maintenance of agricultural land through diversion of capital from industrial use; and increased lifetime of industrial capital.”

Turner, G. M. (2008). “A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of  reality.” Global Environmental Change 18(3): 397-411.

The Problem with Belief

          This essay defines “belief,” as commonly used, to be an idea held and acted upon as if it were a fact. A fact is defined as an assertion that is supported by evidence while a belief, as used here, is not supported by evidence.

Evidence is experiential and is of two types. The first type is what might be called objective, external and public. Evidence of this type is often experimental but is not limited to experimental evidence. The second type is what might be called subjective, internal and private. Evidence of this type is always experiential. Both types of evidence can establish something as factual. However, in some cases the fact is public and in others the fact is private. Public facts and their evidence can be communicated and accepted as valid by members of the public. Private facts and their evidence cannot be evidentially communicated to members of the public. Communication, however, between persons who share a similar experiential base might be possible. Public facts can be objectively contested but private facts can only be contested by a consensus of person having similar experiences to those upon which the fact claim is based. The phenomenon of quantum entanglement is a public fact. The unity of All-That-Is could be a private fact. God is a supreme being who resides in heaven is a belief. In short, a belief is an unsupported idea asserted as a fact and taken on faith to be true.

Lying somewhere between beliefs and facts are assumptions. In this essay, assumptions are defined as ideas tentatively taken to be valid for the purpose of logical argumentation. Usually, assumptions are things that have, at least, the potential of being established as public facts, except for a special class of assumptions know to philosophers as ontological primitives. One can build a rational explanation for something beginning with an assumption. The logical explanation might lead to investigations establishing public facts that directly or indirectly support the assumption. Making assumptions is at times unavoidable, however, assumptions, as defined herein, are not beliefs because the truth attribution made for each is different.

Beliefs as defined herein are not factual in either manner discussed, nor are they assumptions as defined. They are merely ideas which can under some circumstances become elaborated into ideology and dogma. To be clear, I am not belittling these unsupported ideas, for they can have powerful influences. In general, I consider beliefs to be problematic. The problem with beliefs is that they lead to expectations about how things in the world should be and how people should think and act. These are expectations that are frequently not met. Unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment, rationalization, scapegoating, delusional thinking, anger and even violence. In the worse case, there is an effort to coerce or force the realization of the unfounded expectations. I read, in a book by Leonard Jacobson, an expression that described people invested in their beliefs as “lost in their minds,” which is a polite way of saying that they are out of touch with the actuality in which they exist.

Thoughts on School Reform

          If schools desire well behaved and motivated students, involved parents and community support, these constituents must perceive the curricula options as appropriate. There is no one curriculum that is right for every student. The varied abilities, interests and goals of students require more than a single curriculum. Examination of traditional, public-school curricula show that they emphasize preparation for college. Elementary school curricula prepare students for the secondary curriculum, which then prepares students for higher education. Some school systems claim to offer alternative curricula, a few actually do, but the college preparatory curriculum prevails. Further, legislators and others concerned with public education want to strengthen the traditional curriculum. Increasing the requirements in the traditional curriculum may be proper for students with college as their goal. However, such efforts can make the curriculum less flexible and less relevant for students who do not intend to go to college. This latter group accounts for most of the students in the public schools.

In the U.S., estimates suggest that about 25% of the students who enter school will drop-out before graduation. Drop-outs are students who vote with their feet. They choose to get out of what they perceive as an aversive environment. Of the remaining 75% who finish high school, about 50% go on to college. Of those that go to college, about 50% graduate. Thus, a college preparatory curriculum only meets the needs of about 20% of the public school population.

Some will argue that the proportion of students entering and completing college should be higher. They might say public schools aren’t doing their job and academic requirements for high school graduation aren’t rigorous enough. Unfortunately, the only way there can be a significant increase in college attendance is to lower the curricula standards in colleges. Only students who, intellectually speaking, are bright-normal or above can benefit from a college education. Given a normal distribution of intellectual ability, only about one-quarter of the population is college material. Further, not all students with the ability want a college education. Thus, there probably isn’t much room for improvement in the proportion of the population graduating from college without altering the nature of a college education.

Completing high school or even some college often does not prepare one to make a positive contribution to the adult community. The rate of unemployment for young adults is several times higher than the rate for the general adult population. This would not be the case if most young adults entered the work force with a proper education. Leaders in business, industry and public agencies all lament the level of functional skills in young people seeking employment. Students need functional skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Skills for problem solving, critical thinking and independent learning are needed too. There are many life skills such as parenting skills and managing finances, that are deficit in our youth. Work skills such as taking directions and cooperation that are critical to success are lacking. Finally, there are the skills needed for employment in specific occupations. All of these needs can and should be met by public school programs.

Curriculum

What is a proper curriculum? The curricula options available in public schools are important for students, their parents, and the community. There is wide variation in the needs and goals of these constituencies and within each of them. Therefore, no single curriculum is likely to be proper for every student. Only diverse curricula will meet the wide ranging needs and goals of public school students. Consumers must have input into what curricula will meet their diverse needs. Decisions about curricula matters should not be left solely to professional educators. Students, parents and representatives of the community need to participate in the decision process. An outline of a diverse public school curriculum follows. It is not a proposal but an example. It is simply a stimulus for thought about what a diverse curriculum might look like.

The curriculum example has three levels: Readiness, basic literacy and advanced options. The curriculum is uniform at the first and second levels. It becomes more diverse at the third level. It rests on several assumptions.

1.          The delivery model used will promote flexibility in the choice of teaching materials and methods. Such a model will make it possible to adapt to different learning styles and rates.

2.          The curriculum represents a continuum. Placement in and movement through the curriculum depends on the mastery of objectives.

3.          The curriculum will be open and movement between options available any time a student chooses. The offerings at the upper level are not age restricted. That is, older individuals wishing to return to school and pursue a different option can do so at any time.

4.          The curriculum is appropriate for most students, including those with mild disabilities and learning problems. Special adaptations and modifications would be necessary for students with moderate to severe learning problems.

The readiness curriculum (see Figure 1) would serve children during the early childhood period. It lays the foundation for basic literacy. There are four strands in this curriculum. First, the language strand would focus on developing language skills including both vocabulary and syntax. It would emphasize interpersonal, language stimulation activities. Second, the developmental abilities strand would focus on gross and fine motor skills and social skills. It would employ stimulating activities involving movement and peer interaction. Third, the psychological abilities strand would focus on various prerequisites for efficient learning. It would work on abilities like visual and auditory attending and memory and problem solving skills. Fourth, the pre-academic strand would lay the foundation skills for reading and math instruction. It would teach skills such as letter and number discrimination, letter sound relationships and number and quantity relationships. Mastery of the readiness curriculum would be the prerequisite for moving on to the basic literacy curriculum.

The basic literacy curriculum (see Figure 2) would serve children during the middle childhood period. It would provide basic literacy skills at a functional level. That is, the essential skills generally needed to function in the everyday world. Delivery of this curriculum would be through classroom instruction with extensive use of both simulated and real-life application experiences. In short, instruction would focus on developing functional academic skills.

This curriculum would also have four strands. First, the language arts strand. This strand would have three sub-components: Oral expression, reading and written expression. Second, the math and science strand. This strand would have three sub-components: Arithmetic, physical sciences and biological sciences. Third, the citizenship strand. This strand would also have three sub-components: U.S. history, civics and current events including geography. Fourth, the career development strand. This strand would have three sub-components: Social skills for daily living, occupational awareness and leisure skills. Minimal competency in this curriculum would be a prerequisite to move on to the advanced curriculum options. Minimal competency would be at about third to fourth grade level in traditional terms. Mastery would be competency at about fifth to sixth grade level in traditional terms.

 

The advanced options curriculum (see Figure 3) would serve students in late childhood, adolescence and occasionally adults. The curriculum would have two major strands: College preparatory and vocational. Entry into the college preparatory curriculum would require mastery of the basic literacy curriculum. Entry into the vocational curriculum would depend upon the strand entered. Entry into the technical and business strands would require mastery of the basic literacy curriculum. Entry into the arts, trades and service strands would require minimal competency in the basic literacy curriculum.

The college preparatory curriculum would have three sub-components. The arts sub-component would be for students interested in pursuing higher education programs in such fields as art, music, literature, history or religious studies. The science sub-component would be for those interested in pursuing higher education programs in such fields as biology, physics, computer science or mathematics. The professional sub-component would be for those interested in pursuing higher education in fields such as education, medicine, law, business or engineering. This curriculum would have two parts. The introductory phase would emphasize advanced instruction in a broad range of academic disciplines. Advanced instruction would concentrate on the core curriculum in higher education programs. In addition, there would be career development activities for daily living skills, social skills for employment and career exploration. The specialization phase would emphasize advanced study in the disciplines related to a student’s specific career goal. This would also include career internships in appropriate settings.

The vocational curriculum would have two parts. In the first phase, the students would focus on career specific development of applied academic subjects. This would include career development programs that address daily living skills, social skills for employment and career exploration. In the specialization phase, the emphasis would be on vocational preparation and supervised work experiences. The vocational curriculum would have five strands. Entry into strands one and two would require mastery of the basic literacy curriculum. Entry into strands three through five would require meeting minimal competency in the literacy curriculum.

The first strand would be the technical strand. This strand would be for those individuals who desire careers in technical fields. Technical careers would include laboratory technician, electronic repair and maintenance work, and communications media. The second strand would be the business strand. This strand would be for individuals interested in careers in fields such as office management, commercial sales and information management services. The third strand would be the arts strand. This strand would be for those pursuing applied careers in commercial art, graphics, and entertainment. The fourth strand would be the trades strand. This strand would be for individuals seeking careers in areas such as construction trades, home appliance repair and equipment operation. The fifth strand would be the services strand. This strand would be for those interested in careers in service occupations such as retail sales, personal grooming and child care.

Comfort and Safety

The school environment should be a comfortable setting. There should be adequate provision made for a comfortable level of space. Every classroom should have adequate space for the students and the class activities. Adequate space certainly means providing ample room for seating. It also means providing room for specialized functions such as small group work, learning centers, and individualized programming. Space requirements include storage space for each student and for the storage of instructional materials and records. Teachers also need suitable space for non-teaching duties such as planning, conferences and record keeping. In addition, teachers need an area where they can get away from the classroom to take a break. Finally, there must be suitable space for functions such as eating, recreation, discipline, administration and toileting. Furthermore, the physical facility must have good lighting, ventilation, heating and cooling.

Safety begins with a well maintained physical facility that is adequate for its purpose. In addition, safety depends on having a good discipline policy and following it. Safety is an issue throughout the school and not just in classrooms. Safety is also important in bathrooms, the lunchroom, recreational areas, and hallways. Safety concerns include the school grounds and transportation services for students as well. Discipline policy and support programs must satisfactorily address all of these areas of concern.

Parent Involvement

A positive school climate is much more likely when parents are supportive of the school and involved in its program. Educators frequently complain about the lack of parent interest and involvement in schools. There are at least two reasons parents fail to become involved. First, if parents’ perception of the school climate is negative, they will probably be either passive or active resisters. Second, parents seldom feel that they have any constructive avenues for influence available. Traditionally, the only role for parents has been as a member of a PTA or PTO or as a volunteer worker. Parent organizations seldom amount to more than cheer leading squads. These organizations do not provide an opportunity for meaningful input into the educational program. With two-income families being the norm today, few parents have the time for activities that don’t make constructive use of their limited time.

Since parents and children are the consumers of our educational programs, they need to have a significant role in the program. Parents need to have a voice in decision making. Every school should have a democratic parent organization that has a voice in the management of the school through an elected advisory committee. The advisory committee should represent the majority and dissenting views of parents on a wide range of matters, including discipline policy, curriculum, and program evaluation. A parent organization should serve as a vehicle for parent- initiated changes. It should also provide a forum for criticism of existing policies and programs. In addition, there should be an advisory committee that represents parents on a system level. A system-wide committee might include the chairperson for each of the school-level committees. The system-wide committee should represent the views of parents to the superintendent and school board. Educators must provide for this type of input and incorporate it into the decision-making process.

If parents have a mechanism for constructive participation, their interest and involvement in the schools will improve. Apathy is, in large part, a product of feeling powerless. Create a process that values parents and makes them feel effective and apathy will decline. Real participation by parents requires that educators recognize the need to share their professional power with the consumer. If educators want parent involvement, they must not be defensive but open and inclusive. Parent participation in education will increase support for public schools and lead to improvements in the schools and their programs.

Community Involvement

A quality educational program not only needs the involvement of educators, parents and students but also the community. Community resources are very important for the support programs discussed earlier. The community is also a consumer of public education and needs representation in the decision making process. Representative members of the community should sit on school advisory committees along with parents. There are many constituents in the community that need an opportunity for input into public education. These include local businesses and employers, public service agencies and organizations, colleges and universities and vocational and technical schools.

A Libertarian Philosophy of Education

          Most libertarian discussions on education focus on promoting private schools. Advocates for private schools do not go far enough. They assume that a system of private education would be consistent with libertarian principles. However, private schools can be as oppressive or even more oppressive than government schools. Private funding does not necessarily result in schools that respect the personal sovereignty and individuality of each student. Libertarians need to promote libertarian principles for all schools.

The foundation for a libertarian education requires recognition of both personal sovereignty and individuality. A sovereign individual is a free agent engaged in self-determination. Free agents set their own goals and choose the means to achieve those goals. Further, a community of unique individuals represents a diversity of goals and of methods for reaching those goals. The only limits libertarians should accept on personal goals and the means used to achieve them would be prohibition of the use of coercion or force to prevent the exercise of personal sovereignty by another. The purpose of education is to help an individual acquire knowledge and develop skills. This is a noble objective, but it does not justify the use of coercion or force in its pursuit. The choice to seek an education and the nature of that education is a matter of personal sovereignty.

The education of children raises an important question about personal sovereignty, what is the extent of personal sovereignty possessed by a child? In principle, no difference exists between the degree of personal sovereignty possessed by a child and an adult. Practically speaking, however, dependence on adults limits a child’s sovereignty. Childhood dependence implies a degree of immaturity and a limited capacity to employ reason in making choices. Thus, a parent or parent surrogate has a right to be involved in the educational choices of a child. However, there remains a question about the nature of that involvement.

Parents or others can attempt to influence educational choices by a child in several ways. One can use force, threat or intimidation, or use contrived incentives to influence a child’s educational choices. Finally, one can use persuasion to influence a child’s educational choices. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with libertarian principles. Albeit more subtle, the third and fourth methods are also coercive. The use of contrived incentives or deception to influence a child’s choices is an effort to manipulate the child and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method, persuasion, may be the only method that is consistent with libertarian principles. Persuasion, properly conducted, appeals to the reason of a child. Successful persuasion convinces a child of the correctness of a particular choice. Persuasion is not coercive but educational and contributes to the development of a child’s reasoning ability. Teachers function as surrogate parents. Thus, a persuasion-based approach to education should also extend to teachers. A teacher can best exercise persuasion through a cooperative alliance* with a student. In such an alliance, a student’s participation and cooperation in the educational process is essential. The only way that a cooperative alliance can be formed is for a teacher to develop a positive, supportive and therefore a personal relationship with a child.

Thus, education should be a persuasion-based process that is consistent with personal sovereignty and free choice. The most obvious educational practice that is contrary to this view is compulsory education. Compulsory education, whether imposed by law or parental fiat, should be the first target of libertarian efforts to reform education. Libertarians should focus on the repeal of compulsory attendance laws and promote the principle of persuasion as the basis for education. Compulsory school attendance and the authoritarian atmosphere it promotes often leads students to engage in counter control behavior. Counter control is behavior intended to neutralize or overcome external efforts to manipulate a person. Counter control in students can lead to withdrawal from participation, disruptive behavior, vandalism, truancy and dropping out. In short, it produces many of the maladies that affect schools.

The second foundation for a libertarian education is individuality. Individuality is a natural product of diversity. First, people are biologically diverse. Biological diversity produces a range of abilities and predispositions that are highly variable at the individual level. Thus, part of our individuality is a natural consequence of our complex genetic heritage. Second, people exhibit cultural or social diversity. Different cultures have adopted a variety of values, goals and means. Biological diversity interacts with cultural diversity to produce a complex bio-social individuality. The only limitation a libertarian education should accept on the expression of individuality is on the use of coercion or force to prevent the exercise of personal sovereignty by another individual.

A pervasive focus in education that disregards the individuality of children is a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Obviously, given biological and cultural diversity, schools can offer no single, best curriculum for all students. An educational program guided by libertarian principles requires a diverse curriculum that reflects the biological and social diversity of a student body. Such a curriculum needs to be diverse in both content and teaching methods to maximize choice. When schools maximize choice, a child’s natural interest can be engaged. An education program that respects a child’s individuality promotes personal responsibility and self-determination. A sufficiently diverse curriculum would not need to use coercion or bribery to motivate students. Thus, a second focus of libertarian efforts at educational reform should be directed at promoting recognition of individuality and its implications for educational programming.

One can apply the principles of a libertarian education to home schools, non-profit private schools, for profit private schools or to government schools. The principles may be easier to implement for some schools than others, but the principles are appropriate for them all. Libertarians who are interested in educational reform should promote adoption of libertarian principles in education. Adoption of such principles has the potential to transform both government and private schools.

The Looking Glass

This piece was adapted from a post by Fred Davis

You are always awake, but you are not always consciously awake.

What matters is simple recognition [that is, of when you’re consciously awake], because however you display yourself to yourself, you’re almost surely going to have to come back to fresh conscious recognition over and over again. This is the discipline part. This is the process part. Awareness colonizes the body one bit, one seeing, one unconscious pattern at a time.

In every moment that you ally yourself with thinking, which includes every activity of the mind, you are voting for thinking. It’ll take some work to shift that default position. It’ll take a lot of willingness. Thinking isn’t a bad thing, it is just that most of us do too much of it when it isn’t necessary. When your car is stuck in mud, you need to think about how to free it but when someone cuts you off in traffic there is nothing to think about.

Again and again, as you touch truth through actual experience–as you discover truth through continuous inquiry–that touch will bring a longer, stronger, more profound experience of what you always already are–that which knows what you are. Your true essence is pure awareness of what is now, not what you think about it.

Be relentlessly aware of and skeptical about your thoughts. You won’t always have to take your thoughts through a process of formal inquiry. In the beginning inquiry is necessary to purge your mind of pointless chatter. Ask yourself again and again, “Is what I’m thinking really true, or is it a belief, an opinion, a judgment or even a delusion? Even if what you’re thinking is true, do you really need to be engaged in this line of thought right now? The veil of thought arises, it’s questioned, penetrated, and it parts. Repetition is the mother of clarity. Eventually, the inquiry becomes less formal and more spontaneous. Life itself becomes constant inquiry. Like everything else, you don’t have to do a thing. It just happens effortlessly.

You may tell yourself, “It can’t be that simple.” It is.

Liberation is all about right now, this moment.

Freedom is now or never, here or nowhere.

[Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9]

A simple demonstration exercise follows below:

 

Exercise

This exercise based on a Buddhist meditation practice called rigpa (being aware of awareness).

Find a quiet relaxing spot where your visual awareness can be spacious. Examples of the type of setting that I have in mind might be sitting or standing on a peak gazing out across a beautiful wooded valley, sitting on a dock in the early evening gazing out across the waters of a quiet, undisturbed lake or whatever works for you. The essential feature is the relaxed mood the setting evokes, not the setting itself.

Now, just enjoy the feeling of relaxation that the scene evokes in your body, take in the spacious view before you, listen to the subtle sounds arising from the scene, feel the air move about your face and body, smell any odors carried by the air you breathe. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the totality of the moment. When you are fully settled into the exercise you will be acutely aware but your awareness will be free of thoughts (i.e., words and images) but full of sensations and feelings — pure experience. Fully present.

This is you as an awake consciousness or in your natural mind. It is always available. It can be brought to any circumstance under any conditions. You merely need to learn to stay in this state of consciousness as your normal or habitual way of being. Practice the use of thinking as a tool for accomplishing a specific task and then put it away and become present with your immediate experience.

There is probably no end to the depths of this state of awakened awareness but you first have to learn to live in it before it can flower.

Why I Am a Philosophical Libertarian

          Libertarianism is a political philosophy that rests upon the principle that the only moral justification for the use of force, including coercive tactics such as threat, is to defend against an assault upon life, liberty, or property. This principle applies equally to individuals, corporate entities and governments.

A corollary of this principle is that each individual is entitled by natural law to the right of self-determination. Further, implicit in the right to self-determination is the necessity that one be responsible for oneself, which requires the exercise of free choice subject only to limitations implicit within the principle stated above.

In support of the above principle, libertarians oppose the use of force as a means of achieving political or social goals. By implication, the accepted method of achieving political and social goals is rational persuasion.

Libertarians, generally, are opposed to our worldwide military presence, income taxes, entitlement programs, and criminalization of behaviors such as homosexuality, drug use and prostitution among other things. This opposition is directly derived from and justified by the underlying principle stated above.

By contrast, libertarians would argue that almost all other political philosophies believe that the use of force and coercion is acceptable in the pursuit of political and social goals. Further, libertarians would argue that such a belief is logically inconsistent with a belief in self-determination, personal responsibility and free choice.

Libertarians recognize the enduring truth in the following observation made in 1790 by George Washington: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force…It is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

What is Science?

Note: In my PhD program, I was prepared to be a researcher. I have conducted research and published research. I have taught research. I have supervised research done by doctoral students. I have evaluated research as a consulting editor for a number of professional journals. In short, I know something about a scientific approach to doing research. Perhaps not everyone qualified to speak to this topic would agree with what follows but it is, in my opinion, a valid description based on my experience. I think I can, at the very least, posit an informed opinion.

          Science should not be confused with technology. Technology is very often derived from scientific findings but may also be the product of trial and error by artisans who haven’t a clue about any underlying scientifically established principles. An iPod is not science. A prosthetic device is not science. An antibiotic drug is not science. A space shuttle is not science. All of these may be artifacts or by-products of science but in the final analysis they are simply technological artifacts because science isn’t a thing or a product it is an investigatory process. It is a process that is limited to areas of investigation in which the objects of investigation can be operationally defined, observed (directly or indirectly) and measured. If these conditions can’t be met, then a subject is outside the scope of scientific investigation. Just because something falls outside of the scope of science doesn’t no make it irrelevant to human life.

First and foremost science is a process employing systematic methods. Initially, science is a process for establishing relatively objective and observable facts about some aspect of experience that is subject to direct or indirect observation and measurement. Once a sufficient body of related facts are established a scientific theory or theories are proposed to account for those facts. In other words, an explanation or explanations are proposed that the proposers think best account for the related facts. Science is not, for example, chemistry. Chemistry is one area (or discipline), among many others, of investigation that is characterized by a widely agreed upon set of facts, integrated by an explanatory theory and focused upon validating that theory and expanding its scope through scientific investigation. Essentially, the same statement applies to all areas or disciplines that employ the scientific process.

A scientific theory is not “just a theory” in the sense of “one guess is as good as another” or merely speculation. A scientific theory must offer a reasonable accounting for the related facts it is intended to explain. A theory can be called into question by significant facts coming to light that it cannot explain. In such a case, the theory must be reformulated to explain the new facts or it must be rejected and a new theory sought that can explain all the established facts. It is not the case that a theory that appears to account for the established facts is correct. To be a scientific theory it must be a plausible explanation that is capable of yielding testable hypotheses.

The scientific process depends upon an evolving body of systematic methods used to test hypothesis or predictions derived from theory. When those hypotheses or predictions are validated by well designed and carefully conducted research using scientific methods, the findings add support to the theory from which the hypotheses tested were derived. If they are not validated by the research then they call into question the theory. Replication is the repeated testing of a particular hypothesis by independent researchers. Replications that confirm the initial results add further support for the theory and confidence in its validity. When a large number of hypotheses have been tested and replicated, a theory becomes established as the preferred explanation for a particular class of phenomena. Theories must be revised or replaced when facts inexplicable by the theory arise or tests of critical hypothesis derived from the theory fail.

Scientific theories are always considered to be merely approximations or models of reality, not descriptions of reality. Thus, a theory is never true in any absolute sense. It is only a tentatively held approximation that is often useful in practical ways. When scientists come to believe that a theory is True and rationalize away contradictory facts or experimental results that fail to support the theory, it is no longer a scientific theory but scientific dogma. It has morphed into scientism and its advocates are no longer scientists in the proper meaning of the term.

A scientist is someone who adheres to the scientific process and is committed to the tentative nature of scientifically validated facts and the theories explaining them. Scientific methods and theories evolve within a paradigm (see A Brief Comment on Paradigms), which is a set of guiding assumptions about the nature of phenomena and how we can understand them. Failure of theories can but seldom call into questions the underlying paradigm in which they evolve.

A Brief Comment on Paradigms

          Paradigms are conceptual models that serve an umbrella function for theories in diverse areas of study. For example, the current paradigm in science (see What is Science?) is scientific materialism. This paradigm serves an umbrella function for theories about such things as physical process, biological processes and behavioral process. This paradigm has its origins in the scientific revolution inspired by the scientific thinking of Nicolaus Copernicus in the sixteenth century and Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century. Scientific materialism as a paradigm assumes that everything is comprised of physical particles (principle of physicalism; i.e., the root assumption of the paradigm) governed by cause and effect relationships (principle of causal determinism), that change is continuous (principle of continuity), that phenomena occur within a finite space and over finite periods of time (principle of locality), that phenomena have objective existence independent of observation (principle of strong objectivity) and can be understood through reducing phenomena to their essential components (the principle of reductionism), which implies that phenomena are assembled from the bottom up, piece by piece. All theories falling under the umbrella share these basic assumptions. See Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy (Part I) and Goswami’s Philosophical Alternative for more detail.

One tenet of science as a methodology is that it holds to certain principles about the nature of knowledge. One of these principles is that our knowledge consists of models of reality and are not elucidations of reality itself. In other words, what we know is always considered to be an approximation never truth. Another principle is that what we know is held as tentatively valid until shown otherwise. How we know is through creating explanations for what appear to be related observations or facts about phenomena in the world. These explanations (a.k.a. theories) are then used to derive hypotheses that can be experimentally tested. Successful tests of hypotheses derived from theory increase the confidence that we can have in the explanation or theory. Confirmation of an hypothesis is sometimes possible by successful prediction of an outcome, such as the prediction of planetary motion based on a theoretical model or explanation of the forces governing such motion. In other and more confounded cases, confirmation of an hypothesis is sought through statistical testing in which a conclusion is reached based on probability calculations. The typical standard in such cases is a p. <= .05, which means the observed result would be expected by chance only 5 times in 100 or 1 time in 20. Standards such as this can, of course, result in some false positives but is considered an acceptable error rate for theory testing (see “What is Science?“)

The flaw in this system is that a paradigm can come to be so central to the scientific process that it begins to be viewed as Truth. Once this happens its assumptions acquire the status of dogma. When this occurs, theories subsumed by the paradigm become inoculated against accepting results that are contrary to dogma, which also means contrary to theory or theories grounded in the paradigm. Once this happens, science has become scientism. It appears that contemporary science is grappling with the problem of scientism. With the advent of quantum mechanics in the early twentieth century the basic assumptions of scientific materialism were challenged. Experimental evidence refutes or strongly questions the validity of the principles or assumptions of scientific materialism enumerated above. Resistance to this challenge has been evident in a variety of fields that have simply ignored the challenges and continued to act as if nothing had changed. This is especially true in the cases of biological and behavioral sciences. Many physical sciences have found ignoring the shifting paradigm more difficult. However, even in the physical sciences the tendency has been to attempt to limit the shift to effects occurring at the micro level and preserve the paradigm at the macro level. Unfortunately, experimental evidence is accumulating that demonstrates quantum effects can also be detected at and thus have effects at the macro level.

Another source of challenge to scientific materialism that became evident during the twentieth century was the results from psi experiments (e.g., see Spirituality and Religion). One early body of experimentation was that done by J.B. Rhine at Duke University. Rhine produced evidence that certainly should have caused some serious questioning of the adequacy of scientific materialism, he and his results were widely rationalized away because they were inconsistent with the prevailing paradigm suggesting that the assumptions of the paradigm had become dogma. Later in the twentieth century a large body of research was accumulated under the leadership of Robert Jahn at Princeton University in its engineering anomalies laboratory. This work too was rationalized away to maintain the integrity of the paradigm or if you prefer to preserve the dogma of scientism. In both cases, the correct scientific response should have been intense investigation rather than out-of-hand dismissal.

There are of course researchers that continue to pursue investigation into these challenges to scientific materialism (e.g., see Society for Scientific Exploration). A large group of open minded investigators have formed an organization (Academy for the Advancement of Post-materialist Science) dedicated to finding a new and better paradigm. Whether or not a new paradigm is justified, careful investigation of challenges should be applauded, not ridiculed as is often the case from those wedded to scientism.