• Managing the Wrath of God – a Primer

    by  • August 28, 2011 • Everything Else • 5 Comments

    For years, my primary spiritual practice was Achalanatha, who in Buddhism is rendered as a protector of the right of women to become enlightened, although I was trained in a Hindu lineage, where such a right is not even conceivably questionable, by an extraordinarily ferocious female teacher, a Grandmother from Hell if you will.

    Anyway, this is an aside. If you look at the face of that particular deity, it is the face of implacable rage. I’ve worn that face in places you would not believe. I have been, at times, the embodiment of the Wrath of God, or at least as close as 20 years of spiritual practice can get you in a pinch, which is close enough for government work.

    So I know how to get angry, and yet retain the cutting edge of my intellect in the midst of rage. It’s a very, very scary combination, and not something that I unleash for less than 1% mortality, generally speaking. It’s a weapon of last resort.

    I want to explain why I’m not using it.

    People sometimes ask me why I haven’t thrown my weight behind protests or revolution. The answer is simple. I don’t know what to do next.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

    I’m angry. I’m angry enough to kill, if it would solve the world’s problems. That’s a problem, and its a fact. The problem is there is no target. I’m angry enough to kill, but I’m mentally clear enough to know that it will not and cannot help. I don’t know if Gandhi was angry and had resolve, or simply did not metabolize anger into violence, or was not angry, but nothing makes my real state of spiritual development as clear to me as my disposition towards violence. Carrying such anger is a spiritual function, perhaps someone has to do it, but the very high, very clear people do not; ergo I am not one such. Yet even as I look at the economic genocide and the ecocidal nature of the civilization we are in, I do not go Derrick Jensen.

    I want to explain why not. Right now, violence won’t solve anything. The threat of violence might compel change or protect green shoots of change in some instances, but we don’t have problems which can be solved at gun point. We have global problems, and nobody has a big enough gun. It may well be that the Gandhian insight is that violence is never the answer, but if that’s the case, I have not realized it for myself yet. All I know is that right now violence is going to be intensely counter-productive, and we should not commit it. It may well be that I’ll always feel that way, because the situation will simply never be right, and that would be an engineering approximation to Gandhi’s insight.

    I am on the side of peace, even wrong, unjust peace, for the time being.

    I don’t know if that will ever change. Perhaps if I lived in a genocide zone, and it was outside my door. Perhaps if there was a revolution who’s values I completely believed in as a genuine, deep, permanent solution to the problems of industrialization and ultratechnology. There are a lot of perhapses. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, I remain a murderously angry man of peace.

    It’s not an easy position to hold, but if anybody is looking for a navigational steer, particularly in the context of possible large scale political violence in America in response to (for example) perceived electoral fraud or Constitutional challenge, that’s my steer.

    No violence that cannot be committed with a completely clear head, evaluating the costs and benefits in a fair-minded manner. Practically speaking, that may become a very close approximation to no violence, ever if one is mentally clear enough.

    I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

    You don’t have to be a good person to practice non-violence. You just have to refuse to pick up the gun when the opportunity to become that kind of a part of history is passed to you. As Timothy Leary once said, when asked about Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign

    “It should be ‘Just Say No Thank You’! It’s terrible how they don’t teach good manners any more!”

    We need a global cooperative solution, not the ecological and social justice versions of Baader-Meinhoff, urban guerillas playing into reactionary hands. We need to design a feasible one-planet lifestyle for everybody (see), and until that is designed, prototyped and implemented on a fairly wide scale, no amount of kicking against “the system” is any more than sawing off the branch we are all sitting on: it’s stupid and dumb, and could destroy the resources we need for a global cooperative resolution to our world’s problems.

    I’m speaking more about concrete politics, rather than my more abstract previous work, because I sense than in the next year (or, given my typical prescience, later this decade) these kinds of issues are going to matter. I want you to know that I’ve been giving them deep thought now, and this is my conclusion.

    Violence which will not solve the problem is stupid, needless killing.
    Right now, no path exists by which violence can solve the problem.
    Therefor, and possibly always, violence remains stupid and needless.

    (*refer to that link if you want to understand why I term Gandhi “Emperor” – it is partly humorous)

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


    5 Responses to Managing the Wrath of God – a Primer

    1. Joe
      August 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Well said. But I also think that is close to the position Gandhiji himself took – not that violence was unethical as such, just massively counter-productive.

      I’m from a different spiritual heritage, but wrestling with similar issues (largely, OK so wtf do we do now/in the meantime?).

    2. August 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      This is wonderful stuff.

      I’m just thinking about my sermon for this year’s Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement ) service. The reading from the Bible is Moses and his anger. He challenges God – he’ll go no further unless he understands more. The heavens open up to him and he glimpses the backside of ultimate reality (?God? – whatever.)
      Then he goes down from the mountain and smashes the 10 commandments because the people are cavorting in front of a golden image of a holy cow. People are killed.

      That is now, everyday, and it is not.

      That is a story, a myth, a legend. Must not be concretised (which is what fundamentalists of all religions do.)

      And yet, there is a way forward, an answer, which is contained in your longer earlier piece: as you say – you just have to go out and take the blessed next step. Each of us.

      Together – and individually.

      What do I say to a middle class congregation of nice people (incidentally, your comment on the military is exactly right)? I have to help them make sense of what is going on and help them confront it.

      Should be fun!

      You’re on a roll – keep it coming!

    3. Pingback: The Bucky-Gandhi Design Institution › Templars of Earth

    4. Nathan Koren
      August 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Reading this makes me realise just how much of a non-revolutionary I have become. Or rather, how I have come to believe that the revolutions revolutions we need cannot be reached via the path of socio-political revolution.

      You are absolutely right: we’re killing the planet. Or more accurately (since the planet has survived far greater catastrophes than Homo Sapiens) we’re killing our ability to live on the planet. Seven billion people living in a world powered by oil is not sustainable. That situation is going to end, and many of the ways it could end are terrifying.

      But here’s the thing: seven billion people living in a world powered by oil is bad, but seven billion people living in a world powered by wood would actually be worse. In the developing world, three billion people moving into cities and buying cars and condos is bad — but three billion people staying in agrarian villages where they’ll have six kids apiece would be worse. The future we’re currently creating is unsustainable — but so is the present, and the past. Short of an apocalypse which destroys civilisation and kills a few billion people, there is no way back to where we came from.

      So we have to go forward, which means figuring out how to live as sustainably as possible, while also figuring out how to reduce population levels without coercion or genocide. It may not be possible for civilisation to be sustainable in the long term at current population levels, but the world may have enough resources in reserve to see us through the 9-billion-person peak that we should hit in about 2045 before it begins declining. If we continue to ephemeralise our technology as we have been for a couple of decades, then peak resource consumption will occur slightly prior to that. Obviously this peak needs to be as small as possible, but reducing that resource footprint should not come into conflict with the need to reverse population growth.

      It seems odd that these two objectives should be in conflict with each other, but they absolutely are. Agrarians have smaller ecological footprints per individual — and so if you’re looking at this as an individual mandate to adopt a one-planet lifestyle, then that’s the easiest way to do it. But agrarians also have WAY more babies per individual, and that’s ultimately a much more difficult problem to address than an individual’s ecological footprint.

      Apart from famine, genocide, or forcible coercion, there’s only one proven way to reverse population growth: urban technological civilisation. If this is accomplished using hugely wasteful and polluting technologies, then this cure can be as bad as the disease. However there are many ways in which urban technological civilisation can make itself more sustainable: LEDs can replace incandescents, nanosolar can replace coal, PRT can replace cars, arcologies can replace suburbs, maybe the fusion problem can be cracked…

      These are the revolutions that we need, in order to have any chance of surviving the squeeze through maximum population. But to accomplish these things requires serious investment, which in turn requires a stable and predictable political, economic, and legal environment. And that’s exactly what a socio-political revolution would disrupt — virtually ANY socio-political revolution, no matter how nobly intentioned. Screw up the the markets for a decade, and we’re not going to get nanosolar, PRT, arcologies, fusion, or most of the other innovations that we desperately need — not in time to make it through the bottleneck. This is why I believe that between now and the 2040s or so, a stable investment environment will be one of the most critical factors in human survival.

      And that’s why I’m not a revolutionary.

      Of course the investment environment has done a pretty damn good job of destabilising itself in recent years, without help from any outside revolutionaries. But my rallying cries in response to this is: “Better regulation of financial markets and corporate governance!”, “Disciplined counter-cyclical spending and taxation regimes!”, “More progressive taxation regimes so that the ultra-rich have less incentive to take absurd risks with other peoples’ money!” Etc. (Not the catchiest slogans, I admit…). While it’s true that none of these incremental fixes go to the heart of the problem with our civilisation, they will enable the investment in technologies which actually DO resolve fundamental issues. Those investments actually ARE happening right now, of their own accord, and it’s critical that they not be disrupted.

      So: we can have a socio-political revolution, or we can have a technological revolution, but at this point in history we don’t have sufficient breathing room to go for both. Which is more likely to save the world?

      If we don’t get it right, then our next revolution could be our last. I know how I’m casting my vote.

    5. August 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      Nathan, quick point – the high birth rates are associated with high infant mortality, not with rural/urban living – see the Swedish data that Hans Rosling talks about.

      We’ve yet to see a sustainable urban model, we don’t know if it can be done. But we have sustainable rural models. They’re not very nice, but we could make a good sustainable rural model with much more certainty than an urban model.

      Ivette Perfecto’s work on speed-of-light organic food production is enlightening too – 80% more food than we’re currently growing. But it does require massive human resources to do.

      Interesting terrain, for sure. V>

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