February 5, 2001
World economics, hence world society and world civilization is based in
resources. The polymorphous abstractions and convoluted multipliers of
contemporary economic/social interactions serve to obscure that simple
The histories of humankind on this planet are histories of resource conversion. The only sustainable economics, hence societies, are based in another simple actuality: local resources converted by local people primarily for local uses in ways which foster community and create economic surpluses for local reinvestment.
Today we are long past such simplicities, far beyond sustainable systems, devoid of community and bereft of surplus. We are sustained, if that be the word, by borrowing from tomorrow.
There are two basic forms of resource. The first is concentrated in the thinnest veneer of earth's surface, i.e. agriculture. The other is concentrated below, often far below that veneer, i.e. mining. Both are extractive of nature and in nature.
Whether fishery or forest, the great complexities of life forms evolved largely before humankind appeared. Mountains were worn to soils, soils became home to vitalities in myriad life forms. Waters fell and flowed and in flowing and falling picked up and held, seized and passed on compounded and concentrated elements forming the life blood and essential ambience of more myriad life forms.
Early humanoids were thinly spread over tiny areas of earth's veneer where they adapted to whatever conditions within which they existed. We call them "hunter/gatherers." Soon, however, by simple acts of gathering and natural processes of conversion, accidental and then purposeful concentrations enhanced and genetically altered, i.e. converted, resources.
Tools emerged and evolved in sophistication. A rock seen as capable of pounding something softer acquired a handle which provided leverage. Harder rocks found as chips and then chipped themselves became capable of working harder, bigger, broader realms of resources. Fire moved from a random acquisition to a converted and available tool. Seeds of plants found to be edible, dropped after eating, grew more edible plants where dropped. Dropping seeds in patterns at the right time of year and other human interventions in nature produced agriculture. Agriculture produced settlement. Settlement and more food produced more people. More people needed more food and more room. . . . Up to this point in human evolutions, all took place essentially on the earth's surfaces and along the fringes of water bodies.
Whether necessity is the mother of invention or invention the source of necessity would become a present and future conundrum. We can learn that all over this planet as there became more and more humans, more and more ingenuities led to more and more inventions. These inventions first concentrated on finding and utilizing natural resources, for the most part naturally occurring. Then, as one example only, poisonous plants and animals when taken naturally, were converted to nutritious foods when converted by often quite complex and multi-phased processing. All of these transitions still occurred largely on the thinnest veneers of earth's surfaces.
Whatever accidents came along that led to metals also led inexorably beneath earth's veneers. Ores capture earth at some vastly prior time when cataclysms, volcanoes and sediments, crustal shifts and aeons combined to concentrate compounds later to be known as ores. Once ores were understood as essential components of metals and once the utilities of metals were understood, rocks of particular characteristics were then understood as more important, more useful and then more valuable than others. In some places, ore nodules or fragments were found on the surfaces or in caves, exposed on hillsides or otherwise easily discoverable and accessible. Using ores, inventing metals, moved humankind from present time to past time and future time. Past time because ores were put in place by past events. Future time because conversion of ores to metals and then converting metals to products became abstracted processes outside present time. Agriculture moved also from present time gathering to future time sowing and harvesting/processing inevitably giving us Big Macs and Chicken Nuggets.
Early peoples didn't need a Gregory Bateson* to tell them to look for differences which made differences and patterns which connected. Early mines and cleared lands are found over much of the earth's surfaces where early peoples converged and then concentrated.
People at point A with many of the copper families of ores, found greenish and bluish stones which appealed to their aesthetic sensitivities. They also discovered that some of those rocks when heated accidentally and then on purpose, yielded a metal we call copper which could be formed, that is, controlled, into shapes and surfaces for which purposes were available or, being available, led to more purposes in turn convertible into needs.
Peoples from point B who had gone through parallel discovery processes with materials available to them and not available to people at point A, on encountering each other discovered first that they could trade, hence inventing export economics. Later, they also discovered that taking sometimes had more appeal than trading. War is invented thereby.
Settlement, agriculture and surpluses led to hierarchy and patriarchy. Resource control led to power dynamics.
Through billions of polymorphous abstractions, inventions and refinements of inventions, nearly ad infinitum (as we have yet to find endings to abstractions, inventions or refinements); we arrive at the Information Age, the Knowledge and Global Economy within which resides a New Economy incorporating various Old Economies beneath which and still controlling lies The Resource Base.
The most subtle and sophisticated bits or bytes or billions, whether M&M Peanuts, Cray computers or Bill Gates's lunch money exist solely and totally because they are derived directly and inescapably from resources of nature, whether base one or base two, converted by human interventions onto and into earth. Take away those physical resources and there go M&M Peanuts, Cray computers and Bill Gates's lunch money.
Humpty Dumpty fell long ago and all the King's horses and all the King's men can never put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The fall from Grace symbolized by Eve's apple urged on Adam persists in and remains, in terms of resource exhaustion, sin. Our collective suffering is founded in denial of The Resource Base on which all sentience depends.
No technologies yet to be invented can escape the actuality that those future technological marvels designed to free us of dependence on unrenewable resources already consumed will also be dependent on other resources with a nearly one-to-one probability that they too will be consumed or the consuming of which will alter further some of the critical balances essential to maintenance of life forms on planet earth, humankind included.
And, therefore, attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly. We continue to buy today at the expense of tomorrow.
Back in 1988, John Seed, an Australian, put out a little book, Thinking Like a Mountain,* collecting some of his understandings available at that time along with those of Joanna Macy, North American, Pat Fleming, North European, and Arne Naess, a farther North European. Together and separately they evolved a kind of process, Council of All Beings, which addresses core issues and stimulates possibilities related to, and yet perhaps beyond the sillinesses of resource depletion. From another context, the wisdom of The Heart Sutra* urges us to go beyond, beyond and beyond.
Rupert Sheldrake, Northern European, in his numerous works, also addresses beliefs, mindsets and short termed "traditions" which are better surrendered to get beyond sillinesses. Sheldrake explores what he calls "morphic resonances" by which we and all sentience co-mingle our beings, co-evolve rather than impose and dominate as is our wont -- to date. There is a logical possibility that a butterfly fart in Asia determines weather in New York.
James Lovelock, North European, has offered us The Gaia Hypothesis, too. Dolores LaChapelle, North American, has written from her core understandings books such as Earth Wisdom.
However, it is not books that we need. We need connections with earth (the actual earth), with ourselves and with all sentience. Let's blow off alienation, anomie and ennui and move toward a Council of All Beings.
* According to Michael O'Callaghan of Global Vision.org, Gregory Bateson (1904 - 80) was a brilliant and unusually eloquent scientist with a poetical turn of phrase.
He was a biological philosopher. Born in England and educated at Cambridge, he carried out early anthropological work on pattern and communication in New Guinea and Bali. He then did research in psychiatry, schizophrenia, and dolphins. He played a major role in the early formulation of Cybernetics, and helped introduce Systems Theory and Communications Theory into the work of social and natural scientists.
His influence is most strongly felt in the fields of education, family therapy and ecology. He was married to the anthropologist Margaret Mead for many years; sat on the Board of Regents at the University of California; and was Scholar-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
[If you want to further investigate the work of Gregory Bateson, please check the "related External Links" below]
* Thinking Like a Mountain, towards a Council of All Beings
John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming and Arne Naess
New Society Publishers, P. O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC ,V0R 1X0, CANADA (and East Haven CT USA), 1988 - ISBN 0-86571-133-X pbk
* According to Brian Ruhe, The Heart Sutra is an important chant in Theravadin Buddhism and even more so in Mahayana Buddhism. 'Sutra' literally means 'from the mouth of the Buddha'. The most powerful line of all in the sutra is the mantra, which is chanted many times: OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA. This literally translates as "Gone gone, gone beyond, gone far beyond, awake, so be it." (http://home.istar.ca/~bar/Heart.html)
Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.
Related External Links
Gregory Bateson - by Alexandru Anton-Luca of Indiana University
Short Bio from The George Washington University
The Pattern That Connects the World Situation to Our Own Way of Seeing it by Michael O'Callaghan of Global Vision.org
OIKOS and Gregory Paterson
To learn more about Gregory Bateson, check Google
Population Zappers An amazing compendium of useful statistics about population and the environment (Highly Recommended)
Related Internal Links
Letter to my Unborn Child - by Alma Hromic
Biocracy - by Michael W. Stowell
Conservation Is Not Enough - Compiled by Michael G. Hanauer
A Reformist View: Business as if the Earth Matters - by Joe Kresse
The Imperial Conservation Crusade - by Gilles d'Aymery
Mesmerized by the Weapons Mystique - by Mac Lawrence (Posted in July 1997, this piece demonstrates once more that we are not learning from the past. At a time when we are again increasing the U.S. military budget, this piece documents how immensely bloated this budget already is.)
The Wilderness Into Which Crying is Silent - by Milo Clark (Posted in September 1996, this piece shows the hypocrisy of conservation efforts through "responsible tourism.")
Do as I say... - by Gilles d'Aymery (Posted in May 1996, this piece shows with some humor the insanities and contradictions of our consumerist policies.)
It's Spring: Time to Drive - by Gilles d'Aymery (Posted in May 1997, this short piece shows the inanity of producing ever more vehicles.)
News Watch - by Gilles d'Aymery (Posted in December 1997, the first paragraph provides a few notes about Global Warming, in particular emission of carbon-dioxide by various countries.)
Useful Guide to Understanding Where All That Stuff Comes From - by Donella Meadows (Posted in April 1998, this book review shows the behind-the-scene of consumption. For instance, you'll learn that the manufacturing of your 55-pound computer generated 139 pounds of waste and used 7,300 gallons of water and 2,300 kilowatt-hours of energy.)
Adam Smith is on Our Side - By Milo Clark (Posted in May 1996, this piece on Adam Smith is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how incorrectly Smith is depicted in the main media.)
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath