• Dynamic Tension

    by  • March 4, 2013 • Everything Else • 17 Comments

    Although I spend a lot of time feeling powerless, I have more undivided, informed, concentrated attention on the affairs of the world than almost anybody. Because I’m self-funded (i.e. usually broke) and self-directed, I get to set my own agendas. There are very few actors with this kind of freedom.

    It also means that I can’t do anything without your help. Every hexayurt built builds another hexayurt, and makes the next two or four more likely. Every person using Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps on their own problems makes that language more widely spread. I spread my solutions to the issues by education, and prefer to educate by helping people to master crafts (building, mapping) than teaching abstract, theoretical knowledge. Even better, people pick up these tools, spin them round, say “yes, but you know…” and we get quaddomes, H13s and the new SCIM design language. These approaches to sharing knowledge and cooperating are not approaches that necessarily have deep theory behind them. These are aesthetic, rather than rationally optimized choices. And, in some small way, they work.

    The how is essentially improvisational. The why is very different: I do what I do because I believe it to be objectively necessary. I believe it to be necessary for three reasons:

    1. There’s a rational case to be made that the future health of the planet and survival of humanity is at substantial risk
    2. I had a very odd Monty Pythonesque religious vision in which some notional swamis tried to get anybody who would listen to help them save the world so that they wouldn’t have to do the end-of-planet form-filling paperwork (I shit you not)
    3. I keep washing up in weird situations where I can actually do something useful

    Somebody once told me not to worry – that at this level of concern, the nature of life on earth was self-correcting. That not only was this aspect of life, the existential struggle for the future, not something I needed to worry about, it was something nobody needed to worry about – an ego-driven dead end. Roughly, perhaps, equivalent to the Asuric realms of Hindu mythology.

    I thought about this for a long time. Was it possible that I was simply caught up in a long, delusional power trip?

    I might have spent a year wondering about it off-and-on, prying the truth out of the question. You need to be a pretty high player to ask me a question about my spirituality which takes me a year to answer, so I’m grateful for this particular quandary. I finally solved it a few weeks ago.

    “If it is self-correcting, it’s self-correcting with unacceptable catastrophic crashes in human quality of life.” Even if the system as a whole may self-correct (after all, we seem to get out of trouble again and again and again as a species!) the hell-on-earth we often create along the way is unacceptable. Consider the utter holocausts in South America, they may be the best single example of so much pain for nothing-but-gold-and-potatoes.

    So I remain in the game, attempting to manipulate human destiny to keep us out of hell and the mass grave.


    A lot of the work needs an infinite vantage point, like a vanishing point in perspective drawing. Without it, the threats are simply overwhelming imponderables, beyond all comprehension. Almost nobody spends their life fighting the infinite darkness without some conception of the infinite light, but it doesn’t seem to matter much whether it’s Humanity’s Destiny in Space, a visit from Space Aliens, a Star Trek like faith in Liberalism as manifest destiny, or some modernized, weaponized form of the Old Religion. I just don’t meet players without something even if the poor miserable bastards are clinging on to some mutated form of Christianity, theology popping rivets from the strain as they try to justify saving a world that their God will later hideously destroy. Even in the most unlikely places, human dignity wins out.

    I have come to the conclusion that there is no hope for humanity or our world if we do not violently tear down the old myths and preconceptions which plague our species with demon gods and imaginary karmic enslavement.

    The New Atheists are an obnoxious lot: they are right, in that these things do not exist, but in the Alan Moore sense, they are all-powerful masters of the human imagination.

    But the New Atheists lack wonder, and so cannot generate the infinite reference point which empowers people to act far above the ordinary human conception of limits. We cannot forego passion for reason and survive; we are not that far from the animals we issued from.

    What we need to do is yank people out of their context, like magnetized iron filings, and let each align to their own identity with the infinite. The form, as far as I can tell, matters very little. Then we simply need to get to work, gutting the old mythologies as fast as we can, and rebuilding something that works.

    The reason I think this is necessary is very simple: there are very few effective agents of change without some kind of internal spiritual gyroscope. Most of them are flying by the seat of their pants, and assume that all versions of the infinite at the same when correctly understood – that the infinite is a single point. This is a sort of folk religion of the new age, “it all converges.”

    But in truth one can place that infinite reference point anywhere – one, two or three point perspective – with very little functional distinction in results. Yes, indeed, wherever you put the perspective points, it looks like the lines all converge – that’s why they call it perspective. But the points are not in the same place.

    You can draw the world in perspective. That you have in common with others who have discovered the infinite somewhere, in love, in wonder or in beauty. But not every point of perspective is identical. This error must be expunged for us to find true common spiritual ground. There is convergence, but not because things are the same.

    It’s a bit like GPS – it doesn’t matter which satellites you are locking on to, you can navigate. You have the infinite, you get perspective.

    The belief systems that people cook up around their pet infinity do not have to be fungible, they just have to provide a wide-enough frame of reference not to fry like a bug on the magnitude of the task at hand. Even bloody dialectical materialism might do in a pinch, although god help us if it ever catches on widely.

    We are fucked without lighthouses. When our challenges were about large scale social organization, on the model of kingdoms and then nations, centralized authoritarian bureaucracies were enough. Now we’re a long, long way beyond that model – in less than a lifetime of years we’ve been propelled into an entirely different universe, starting with nuclear weapons and living, right now, through climate and heading into nanobio and the great unknowns of our high tech future. Our old lighthouses are failing: the Church is the world’s largest (?) paedophile ring. America is raising a generation for whom America has always been the world’s great fascist power, no recollection of their brave stand against the Nazis and the Soviets will go undiminished. Yet we still march to the beat of these memes.

    You need to pry the old crap out of your own head. You can’t really get moving when the old crap is in there: you see the world through dead eyes.

    Everything in western culture, and increasingly global culture, dead-ends in Capitalism, Colonialism and Christianity. Everybody’s language and mindset have been shaped by these forces, usually to make the victims completely invisible.

    Witness the trouble Occupy has developing a global politics: they’re so attached to the idea of being The Oppressed they can’t even see the Chinese and the Africans. The fixity of ideas is on all sides.

    You can’t build a coherent politics without a coherent geography. Seven billion people, headed for at least nine. Global warming, global ageing. You draw that map, and the bleating of nation state level political actors is like a brass band of chimpanzees.

    They’re not even wrong.

    They’re right in a way which is so limited it completely destroys our ability to survive.

    What do you mean we can’t have global agreements on climate because angry chimps with nuclear weapons say they want to keep the SUV viable?

    I’m not saying you should just pretend these things aren’t there. What I am saying is feel free to stop believing in them.

    It’s much easier to just saw off the entire branch, than to go leaf-by-leaf cataloguing errors.

    You must rebuild your politics from scratch pretending you are a citizen of a fair world government oppressed by a bunch of imposters trying to make you believe in various nation states. These liars and thieves conspire to hide the true geography and true history of the world behind farcical distractions and petty affrays – sports with terrible death-tolls – and all trace of the real news is buried or marginalized in the egg-head sections of the broadsheet papers.

    You just tear up the medieval map in your head, and replace it with a real one.

    Buy a globe. Teach yourself to think on it. Put the physical object beside your computer, put stories from the news on maps.

    Strafe the terrain in Google Maps.

    Every time somebody quotes a statistic, put it on a reference frame against global averages. Then consider it against means, not averages.

    It doesn’t matter where you cut the branch. You cut once. The easiest place is geography and history, but you can do it anywhere: cosmology, religion, philosophy, even politics.

    But once you shove the nation state, and all that went with it, out of the window of your mind as a medieval fantasy which now constrains us as much as religion once did, you can start to find your way.

    We have to get to climate in time, and nanobio shortly thereafter. We may have to crush a lot of dreams on the way. But let’s start with the fantasies and illusions of the past: nothing to lose there at all.

    Once you start to deal with the states deprived of all legitimacy, as historical mafias with completely control over given turfs, we can admit we might need those mafias to play ball in the short term to get anything done.

    But never again do we fall under the spell called politics.


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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