If our children don’t learn much more than we can teach, our lineage is likely to expire.
The aggregation of complex systems in contemporary networked applications means that no single person ever sees the whole picture.— Bridle, James. New Dark Age (p. 43). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
The trouble … is that we are terrifyingly ignorant. The most learned of us are ignorant.… The acquisition of knowledge always involves the revelation of ignorance— almost is the revelation of ignorance. Our knowledge of the world instructs us first of all that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.— Wendell Berry, writer and Kentucky farmer, as quoted by Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems (p. 86). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.
We denizens of the World Wide Web have access to more information than ever. The trouble is that we often try to read it faster, hoping to take in more of it, or worrying that the next thing could be more worthy of our attention than what we’re reading now, so we should get through it as fast as possible. It takes a conscious effort to slow down and give the symbols a chance to connect with the time you’re living. But i think the effort also increases the humbling awareness that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.
I’ve noticed this especially while returning my attention to the early chapters of Turning Signs. It’s been over five years since i first published it, long enough to enable me to read it again for the first time (to steal a phrase from Marcus Borg). I’ve forgotten my authorial intentions well enough to be surprised by it, for instance by how much it’s perfused with systems thinking, which i consider crucial to the transition we are living in 2021. But i’m also surprised at the number of changes (improvements, i hope) that seem to be called for. (I’ve learned a few things since 2015 and have a better sense of how ignorant i am.) I’ve now revised the first four chapters. I might have to call it a second edition, or Turning Signs 2.0.
The online chapers are always up to date, of course, but it’s also occurred to me that some people might prefer to read TS offline. I’ve made it possible now to download the whole thing as a Zip file (a little over 3 MB) which you can extract to a folder on your computer or tablet and read with your browser, regardless of platform. You’ll find the download link near the top of the Table of Contents page. I’ll have to periodically update that Zip file on my site as revision continues, but it will always be the whole book, Obverse, Reverse, Universe and all. If anyone reading this wants to try it out, let me know (by comment or email) how well it works. Especially if you run into any problems.
Outlink of the day: The Social Dilemma. Everybody who uses social media – especially Facebook – should see this Netflix documentary. Thanks to my daughter Emily for recommending!
I’ve been busy exploring some of the information about the transition accessible on the Net now, especially from the Post Carbon Institute – more on that below – and looking into ways to enhance the resilience of my local community here on Manitoulin Island. But i’ve also been busy revising the last chapter (19) of my book Turning Signs.
I’ve been growing more dissatisfied with that chapter since i first published it in 2015, but not until now have i come up with a version that seems to work as a culmination of my whole 19-chapter argument. It’s called ‘Creation Evolving’, it’s online now, and i’d appreciate any comments on it from critical readers. (Since it frequently refers back to previous parts of the book, i’ve included lots of links back to the key concepts, but i don’t claim that it’s an easy read!)
This reflects my habit of going back and forth from a local focus on current practice to a more global contemplation of “deep time” and the deeper practices of nature and cultures. It’s like my other habit of alternating between silent walks in the woods and spells of wrestling with words. (The photo below was taken by Pam during one of our November strolls. Note the rare patch of blue sky reflected in the puddle.) I feel that the two practices enhance one another by alternating, somewhat like sleeping and waking. (After all, how can you wake up if you haven’t been sleeping?)
Anyway, this sort of back-and-forth seems to help me keep my balance in this Era of Upheaval. I’ve lifted that phrase from the title of a Post Carbon Institute book, The Community Resilience Reader: Essential Resources for an Era of Upheaval. You can buy this book from the usual sources, or you can get access to it online for free by registering with the PCI.
Another relevant book you can get for free, thanks to the generosity of the authors, is Your Post has been Removed: Tech Giants and Freedom of Speech, by Frederik Stjernfelt and Anne Mette Lauritzen. This new book delves into the roles of the ‘tech giants’ (especially Google and Facebook) in the current cultural/political upheaval. I’m halfway through it now, and although its main focus is ‘freedom of speech,’ it also throws light on the role of social media in the ecological/economic crisis.
As Stjernfelt and Lauritzen point out, ‘freedom of speech’ includes freedom of access to information, so it’s appropriate as well as fortunate that they’ve allowed open access to it. Like Turning Signs, it comes with a Creative Commons license. At this traditionally hyperconsumptive time of year, it’s good to see the Commons growing!
Finally i’m really happy to see the website of Local Food Manitoulin. This is the kind of community initiative that can address all four sides of the current crisis: ecology, energy, economy and equity. It doesn’t ask you to indulge in either optimism or pessimism about the climate emergency, because it can work (locally, of course) toward both prevention and mitigation of the worst effects of global heating.
At our latitude, we’re sinking into the darkest part of the year (for those of us who are solar powered, at least). But we have the winter solstice coming up in less than two weeks, and things are bound to get brighter after that. In the meantime let us carry on with the upheaval, or transition, or whatever we call it. And keep in touch with the Earth.
Last week i posted my reasons for dumping my Facebook account. Today’s National Observer has a report on the work of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News which gives some further insight into the workings of Facebook and other social media giants.
Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie was among those who addressed the Committee about major Silicon Valley firms and the way they exploit customers: “The current business model is the root cause of the problems you are trying to address. Its toxicity is unrelenting. It is not a coding glitch that a legal patch will fix. Data at the micro-personal level gives technology unprecedented power and that’s why data is not the new oil — it’s the new plutonium.”
A transition to greater climate justice will depend on reining in the political power of Big Oil, but it may also require reining in the power of Big Data.
One of the habit-sets we all need to rethink in these transitional times is our use of media (such as this one). Pam and i have both decided recently to close our Facebook accounts. Facebook has become one of the forces undermining our democracy, most obviously through its role in recent election campaigns (as documented in, for instance, the Netflix movie on Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack). Mark Zuckerberg apologized for that, sort of, and promised to “do better,” but we see no signs of improvement.
The problem with Facebook is systemic. It’s grown to its dominant position among “social media” by selling its users’ attention to advertisers, while leaving it up to the users themselves to provide the content that makes it worth paying attention to. We refuse to support that, even though we haven’t been targeted with a lot of fake news and political attack ads. If you are on Facebook, even though you are paying no money to it or to its advertisers, you are supporting it.
When we mention this to friends – I mean real friends, not Facebook “friends” – they protest that they use it to keep in touch with family and other connections. But there are other and less addictive ways to do that. Email is no harder to use than Facebook, once you get into the habit, and it doesn’t pull your attention in all directions when you write or read the same things you would see or say on Facebook. I refuse to use fb for the same reason that i refuse to “monetize” this blog: I consider your attention a precious gift that should not be abused.
OK, end of rant. And if you still find Facebook worthwhile in spite of its complicity in the decline of truthfulness, i will think no less of you. You make your choices and i make mine, and we can still be friends. Real friends.