Are We Consciously Blind or Willfully Inactive?

What presumptions do you carry in your “natural faith” about the world — and which of these is likely to rise up and create a problem for you in the years ahead?

We all have a body of presumptions which we act upon without identifying and thinking about them. Indeed, this is hardly a bad thing: having to stop and work out the short- and long-term consequences of every individual act would find us, at bedtime, still metaphorically pulling on our clothes to leave in the morning, as Heidegger noted in Sein und Zeit.

Some of these presumptions are unprovable and are truly a matter of faith.

Lest you turn to the claims of rabid atheists that “the alternative is science”, I will merely point out to you that all Western science fails in two ways:

  1. it answers what, “all other things being created equal”, should be expected in situations of this type [not “what will happen in this particular case”, as Levantine/Islamic science tried to do]
  2. our “scientific laws” and “established theorems” make operational statements that manipulate terms which we use, but do not fully understand — consider whether we have anything other than the name to understand when we say “Strange Quark”.

All of us operate this way. We do have an implicit obligation to update our presumptions in the face of new information, but the “perfection” of “complete” knowledge is beyond us.

There are also statements that act as presumptions which we have taken in which are “unanchored” but taken as truths.

These may be the inherited pre-judgements, or prejudices, of others, and again the mix of home, school, friends and relatives are likely to see us, as young children, take one or more of these on.

Again, we have an implicit obligation to examine these as we discover them — as with all matters of memory, we “remember” because we are stimulated, our minds not being a filing cabinet with a cataloguing system opening up whatever category of ideas we search for and pulling up all relevant “hits” in response — and to update or replace ones found to be lacking after that examination.

For those who have read Plato, this is the point of Socrates’ injunction the unexamined life is not worth living, for this examination and updating was the living of the human life of theoria (learning, theory) and informed praxis (doing, practice).

Then, too, in our “natural faith”, are elements which are “detached” or “unhooked” from its other elements.

This is how you can (for instance) have radical dichotomies in a person’s thought: in full favour of human liberty and freedom of action in all cases except for a pet passion, such as “banning gays from marriage”, for instance.

We owe it to ourselves, once again, to either “connect” these, grounding them in a web of concepts and ideas properly worked into a systematic integration or to refine or replace those which cannot be so integrated when discovered.

Anything less indicates a desire to live not as a rational animal — the Aristotelian definition of the human — but as a rationalising animal.

That we will almost assuredly fall into rationalisation due to our natural faith as it exists at any point in time does not remove the obligation to become rational when presented with the evidence of the need of same. (We should, in other words, live up to the possibilities of our nature, not default to a lowest common denominator and scrape by.)

There’s a lot at stake. Here’s a number of warning signs of probable and serious inflections of change lie in our near futures. Whether any or all of them are likely to be true is not the point. The point is, how do you respond to them?

  • The demographic shift in the “developed” world means that the population bulge known as the “baby boom generation” approaches its “retirement” point, where those involved begins to want to sell assets — shares, bonds, real estate — in order to fund their elder years. Just as prices for financial assets rose due to this group bidding against itself as well as the generations that follow at the time of asset acquisition, so, too, the boomers will “bid against themselves” during the disposal, suppressing prices. Coupled with the poor state (in general) of pension funding where pensions apply, this implies a “new poor” just as …
  • The percentage of resources that come from sources easy to extract and process of all types, but especially in the area of liquid fuels, continues to decline, thereby reducing the energy returned (or resource returned) per unit of energy invested in the extraction and processing. Paradoxically, higher prices for resources do not spell a solution: economies are integrated systems where some parts’ price growth can make the products lose demand where other parts lack pricing power, or are actually declining. (We appear to be close to, if not at, this point now.) The hope is for technological breakthroughs and alternative sources, but …
  • Years of financial capitalism has put a premium on making “rents” from assets as opposed to developing them. The financial assets of a firm — its shares and bonds — benefitted from outsourcing knowledge and capabilities, locking in practices with lower labour costs overseas, while cutting investments in innovation, research, and development (relative to past years) and dealing with uncertainty by making structures and processes have less slack capacity and more rigidity in operations. This chronic underinvestment has not only hollowed out employment possibilities, but it also has led to the expectation that government should subsidize these activities (“innovation agendas”, “industrial policies”, etc.) in the national/provincial interest. Still …
  • Governments are essentially bankrupt. The global debt collapse — which has only seen its first wave — is eating into government “revenues” through taxes and fees at the same time that demands upon programmes has accelerated. “Stimulus” to avoid the deflation of a debt-based economy (which has at best “held the line”) has crowded out private activity, and global demand for capital to meet government deficits for the years ahead appears to be on the order of US$ 200 trillion for several years to come — or more than twice each year than the available capital pool. Waves of currency debasement and sovereign debt default will be required to wipe out this charge on the future, which will both show up as reduced or eliminated benefits and a lack of investment in the future and higher taxes, thus further impoverishing the economy. Add on top …
  • The usual round of “emergencies”, or, to quote Bugs Bunny, “typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes” (etc.); as these come along, along with longer-run ones like droughts or excess water, resources and monies must be diverted to try and patch things back together again. This is easy to do when there’s lots of excess and things are growing; hard to do (ask New Orleans) when there’s not; …
  • The pre-existing commitments and demands already made, each of which has its interest groups to support it; …
  • The concerns about urban regional transport, community building infrastructure, reduction of carbon wastage in economic processes affecting the ecology, and hundreds of further issues; leading to …

  • An inability of politics to maintain its institutions in the face of ever-more-raucous demands, leading to Warlordism and Caesarism, all of which will further collapse the value of assets and reduce economic activity …

and all this without questions of climate change, shifting military power, rogue states and terrorists, demographic decline in various countries, a new round of the “wars of religion” and many other factors which are longer-term in nature and not being met.

I don’t know — and you don’t know, you only believe you know — how many of these will come to pass, on what timeframes, and what the cascade effects will be.

I don’t know — and you don’t know, either, despite your beliefs — what to do about more than half of these and probably almost all of them.

Yet all of us — those with the power to act, and those who vote, and those who just try to carry on quietly — will be living through decisions and their outcomes.

This suggests, to me, that if there was ever a time to examine to dig out as much of our own natural faith as possible and subject it to examination it is now, so that we, as much as practical, do decide with reason and do act with reasonable consequences in mind.

Alas, for most of us, there is a sheer denial of the need for that.

Willfully, we often believe that “somehow”, “someone” will fix things, whether by technology, policy change, “taxing the resisters into submission” or forcing action upon people. We expect that the market will go up yet again, if only so that we can sell; that what we buy will turn a profit even when the long-term trend is against that; that we needn’t change our lives but yet the planet’s problems will be solved, etc.

Many more act unconsciously: knowing, for instance, that their city, province or nation is broke, they reflexively vote for more spending because “cake today” or “my passion satisfied” weighs larger than asking hard questions about “how” it will be done, “how” we will pay for it, and what the consequences are of these decisions.

We vote for politicians because we “like the leader” or “am of this party”; we detest others because “we dislike the leader” or “am not of this party”, instead of shifting our support based on the specific, conscious, rational path to the future we are working toward.

We sacrifice ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours and friends, in short, for the comfort of not disturbing our pre-conceptions.

Where in the past this might have meant a year or two of hardship, and then resumed “progress”, the price tag the real world is likely to impose on those who insist on being rationalising animals could be much, much higher. Affordable resource unavailability, for instance, can well show up as highly decreased food availability — and a corresponding reduction in numbers back to the carrying capacity of a planet operating at a much reduced rate of output.

Unaffordable pharmaceuticals bring back the former norms of early death from chronic conditions. Unaffordable repairs — perhaps “impossible repairs” (take a look at the final third of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and see Dagny Taggart try to keep things operating, shipping what’s left of her supplies from one region to another: a shortage of copper wire causes two thirds of a continent to fail in a cascade of simply “not having enough”) — and much needed infrastructure for water, transport, power falls away.

Will a debt-based economy built on endless consumption yields a dog-eat-dog destruction of individuals to maintain institutions one day longer, and will the lack of new employment opportunities financial capitalism created mean those thrown out into the street may never claw their way back?

Will it be your child who suffers in this possible world to come?

You get to decide. That’s the stakes you play with, when you decide to be unconscious or willful with your natural faith.

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