Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Value of Things That Work

It Can't Happen Here

Researchers at Stanford University have long been interested in what archaeological conclusions could be drawn from a regression study based on modern forms of DNA.  Although there is very little material evidence such as bodies or camp sites available to provide the sort of clues usually employed for studies of our more modern ancestors, a fairly credible model can be derived by analyzing the nature of the changes to DNA revealed in the "latest chapter" -- that is, the most modern -- chapter of the story.

Put bluntly, DNA "had" to pass through several discernible stages to have developed into what we see now.
It is from precisely this that these researchers have pieced together a highly probable account of something which happened to humans just before the population began to expand during the early stone age.

From Zeitler Web, Human Near-Extinction

Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests. The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday. The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

Read the entire original article at this link:

"A Brush With Extinction" -- Modern Times

Well, MeanMesa could have effortlessly "jumped on the turnip truck" with the drooling, dirty shirt preacher who recently announced the "end of the world" for St. John the Divine fans, but that "piggy back" approach is too cheap even for MeanMesa.  Facing the constant danger of an overly dramatic "over reach," however, has never stifled the essayist blood in this little blog.

Instead, let's attempt a very ambitious over view which might "size up" both the prospects of a modern version of that extinction in comparison to the modern institutions which we humans have constructed to meet the challenge.

Looking for life -- rain, food and game (image source)

Those ancient humans who successfully responded to that prehistoric drought in Africa probably took a little time to figure out that they needed to pack up their spears and sandals and walk away from it before it killed them.  Importantly, there was no "central commission" for the cave men.  This problem was solved in "little groups," each one of which took the necessary action for its survival.

In our modern world, however, there are far too many people to make a similar response particularly viable.  For one thing, unlike the ancient African humans who finally immigrated to Europe, the modern world offers very few "new places to go" which aren't already well occupied with folks who already intend to stay there.

Teshuinat cave paintings (Libyan Soup's photostream)

So, rather than planning to take this minimalist, survivalist refuge in our "spears and sandals," we modern humans have, in a helter skelter sort of way, gradually established social institutions with the goal of "evening out the bumps" as we wandered forward to our own cultural -- and species -- future.  Now, when we face something unsettlingly similar to what confronted those ancient humans, we must look to these elements of our social culture for the tools we intend to use to solve our own, modern challenge.

In a previous posting on this blog, Managing Global Warming Solutions (, MeanMesa suggests that this over populated planet is now facing a "Malthusian correction" phase where the current, unsustainable population levels will be reduced by the sheer force of Great Nature.  Although we might, at first, consider such forces as famine, pestilence and great wars as the fundamental cause of such a problem, a current newspaper offers a somewhat simpler explanation.

The planet's water is moving from where it used to be to new places where it will be in our future..

Climate Change?  Watch the Water

As a more or less "closed system" when it comes to the amount of water on the planet, we can hardly describe what is happening as a drought.  There's is roughly just as much water now as there has been in our past and will be in our future.  The problem arises from the climate change we have imposed on the system.  The water is migrating.

We humans have invested mightily in the construction of the infrastructure upon which we currently depend.  Further, that infrastructure has been positioned in places already attractive to us because of the nearby presence of water.  This was the case with the civilization on the Nile, the Indus, the Tigris, Euphrates, and for the Biblically inclined, Eden's Orynx and Amu Darya (Pison. Gihon. Hiddekel).

Now, the water has moved, but the extensive infrastructure we have built in its old proximity has revealed itself as, well, not particularly portable.  Although we first think of harbors, hydroelectric damns and sea side villas, we must now add to that list such popular human amenities as productive  agricultural areas and flood prevention levees.  Further, all the stuff we have traditionally fought over, threatened with destruction, violently defended or simply stolen from each other in our previous warfare, is now suffering an almost incomprehensible reduction in value as it is left "way over there," high and dry, valueless, inoperative and irrelevant.

Exaggerated?  Pakistan is flooding, Moscow is burning, China is flooding, the Eastern US is flooding while the Southwestern US is burning.  Tornadoes, typhoons and hurricanes seem to have "changed their faces," at least increased in their ferocity.  As these changes progress, the "big picture" suggests that these previously desirable spots on the planet are becoming, well, significantly less desirable, and all the mushrooming implications of such changes are becoming material.

Water, that is, rainfall, has brought profound flooding to places where infrastructure was never designed to handle such volumes.  Left behind, areas where vegetation previously flourished with abundant rain are now "drying out" to explosive, incendiary conditions as the old vegetation gradually (or, rapidly) dehydrates to become fuel.

Just as the present planetary conditions are showing the migration of water, the correction -- if we survive it -- will be a manifestation of an entirely new understanding of values when it comes to infrastructure.

Taking Refuge in Our Institutions of Civilization?

As we humans march into this uncertain future, we naturally look to the cultural institutions we have laboriously prepared over the millennia in hopes of mitigating such developments.  What we find at hand, however, is a troubling collection of such societal constructs which have fundamentally changed from their old, effective configurations to new, artificially valued, irrelevant replacements.

Let's take a look at a few of the "big picture" items on the list, each one a modern departure from the "sandals and spears" of our brave forebears, each one elevated to a state of necessity by our reckless proclivity to overpopulate our home world.  In the most general possible way, these are the things to which we look for solutions to what lies ahead.

These are the things upon which we will be forced to rely for our survival.  As humans, we have invested so much into these "institutions" of society and culture at the exclusion of other investments in other areas which we might have made, areas which might have been both more durable and more useful, that we now find ourselves facing our fate with these specific tools in our kits and no others.

However, as we return to analyze an overview of these "tools" of ours, we find them in a horrible state of dysfunction.  Whatever their more organic functions might have been as they were being developed through the course of our civilization's history, we have, more recently, indulged ourselves in a reckless transformation of their old utility into all sorts of essentially useless things.

Rather than launching out on a wandering tirade which could include too many editorial comments from MeanMesa, we shall attempt to formulate the information which might be presented to a student of future history in each of the five cases selected for our review.  We can, briefly, generalize the current state of each of these cases, then compare that to what might have been a far more beneficial condition, given what we now face as a species.


Wealth, considered generally, is of interest because it represents what we have bought with the fruits of our human energy.  Further, it's not simply what we have bought recently, either.  We can include the farm lands of ancient Ur, laboriously cleared of stones by centuries of misery by faceless Sumerian slaves.

Perhaps more importantly, we can consider wealth as a commodity defined by what we, as humans, have valued through all this time.  For centuries after the "near brush with extinction" noted above, wealth maintained a track which was closely associated with precisely the things we humans will need the most as we proceed into the dark uncertainty of the coming Malthusian correction.

Of necessity, real wealth will include all the resources dedicated to weapons, irrigation systems, transportation in all forms, education and research, food production and a myriad of similar amenities social culture has found necessary through the centuries.  Coveted items such a gold and jewels might have temporarily joined the "outskirts" of the list, but, in general, cash money has largely served only to complicate matters.

CDO derivatives, securitized mortgage bundles and corrupt stocks and bond markets may seem like wealth at this moment, but their days are numbered.  Likewise, grotesque prosperity may elicit an infatuating attraction in these final days of the "old world," but its continuing, intrinsic value is doomed.

After all, we're headed to a "correction."  In our dreams of survival, wealth -- if it had actually been wealth -- would have served an important role in the outcome.  Instead, wealth has turned its value into itself, serving primarily as the mechanism to protect wealth.  The "correction" will very rapidly, and rather painfully for some,  dissolve artificial values.

The nature of the "wealth" which currently makes the "wealthy" "wealthy" cannot by used to pay for the work lying ahead -- even if the "wealthy" were to ever be interested in helping humanity on the project.  All that "old world" wealth has no value when value is measured by the utility of transforming our world.

By the way, many aspects of "wealth" are founded on the current value of infrastructure.

Most likely, the work ahead, rather than being something which might be bought or traded, will instead turn out to be far more similar to the removal of the Sumerian rocks.


Following naturally after the discussion of the nature of wealth, the general nature of planetary economies must be handled separately.   The reason?  Economies produce outcomes beyond wealth.  Economies represent, in a much larger view, the global mechanisms and processes hosting human cooperation.

Homo sapiens sapiens is a creature with a fundamental reliance on cooperation.

Granted, specific economies have widely varied traits, but this general, common feature is universal.  Further, this conclusion "begs" a few others.  Although encompassing a wide spectrum of activities, this posting views economies as one of the social/cultural structures upon which we humans will have to rely.  As we consider this reliance in the human effort to survive the approaching correction, it becomes a structure upon which we must rely very heavily.

Current economies will dictate the application of resources to our preparation for the changing conditions.  During the correction, the remnants of present economies will determine the allocation and availability of necessary resources.

MeanMesa suspects that once the correction has taken its course, the fundamental concept of the term "economics" will permanently change to a quite new form which reflects the difficulties we have had with the old form. Hindsight will provide compelling evidence for an essentially uncontested rehabilitation for the whole idea.

Modern, overly artificial factors of economy, and, for that matter, wealth, have moved far away from these elemental descriptions of both.

Social Unity

Although volumes might be written about the current demise of unity in general, what is meant here might better be called species unity.  Examples of social division are plentiful ranging from the conflict between Rome and Carthage to the religionist slaughter of the Crusades and finally to the current state of "ideological" separation between nations and, within them, between citizens of a single nation.

At some point between the "brush with extinction" and the present day, individual priorities which included a general, collective value for group cooperation have shifted toward a state more accurately described as opportunism.  Social trends have managed to place the old cooperative impulse at odds with individual prosperity.  Planet-wide, the "cooperative" ideas have been made ideological, and as such, discretionary.

In every case of the resulting divisiveness, an ambitious individual or group has benefited. After those who then suffered from such division have, once again, staggered to their feet, the benefactors quickly reconciled their avarice with whatever form of externalized morals might have, otherwise, been in the way.

However, faced with the approaching "correction," we find our human indulgence in such practices to be especially disadvantageous.  We have enjoyed this foolish acceptance of such a non-human trait while the planet functioned, at least regionally, in a surplus of sorts.  Soon, absent the "plenty" of the passing epochs of that indulgent surplus, humans will realize that the old "opportunity from division" has vanished along with all sorts of other things we cherished.

Not only will we face the challenges of the meeting the difficulties of the correction, we will necessarily have to overcome centuries of division before we can even begin.  The planetary problems cannot be met by "little groups."  If that is the best we can muster while sustaining our sub-human inclinations for such divisions, the horizon darkens.


Much can be said about technology in general because our present world is filled with so many examples.  Further, the examples around us are potent improvements, the kind which promises to be a constructive influence in meeting the future.

However, just as is the case with other items in this list, prevailing conditions in the social/cultural reality of humans leaves that bright promise out of reach.  Once the initial "bite" of the correction engages, some of these synthetic restraints may be lifted, but then again, maybe not.  At least not until much later, that is, after great pain has been endured during the delay.

Two examples may suffice to explain what's meant here.

The first is the promise and result of technologically increased food production.  The technology at hand includes improvements in irrigation, fertilizers, pest control, education, hybrid genetic seeds and other things.  However, in each of these fields, the value of increasing food production finds itself "shoehorned" into all sorts of cramped limitations for reasons derived from the list so far:  wealth, economy, social unity and so on.

Very few are interested in adopting the larger goal of simply increasing food production.  The possibility of that high borne ambition is mired in opportunities sought from land ownership, politics, commercial equipment and supply sales and the like.  If food production increases as a side effect, the concern becomes one of falling prices.

Humans, generally, have managed to confidently accept the prospect of a family starving to death on the road in front of a commercial warehouse filled with food.  We have been led to quietly presume that such accepting behavior is an organic underpinning of our humanity.  We may have been able to "live" with such profound contradictions in past times of plenty, but, once again, conditions are changing.

The second example is not far removed from the first.  In it we see the imposed dilemma confronting any sort of beneficial new direction in energy production and management here in the United States.  It's no complicated secret that we need to stop burning coal, create a new power distribution system, eliminate gasoline and diesel transportation and so on.  However, our social/cultural instinct toward self-preservation are stymied by synthetic elements of the prevailing culture.

We have managed to prevent ourselves from solving our, more or less, common problems.  The mechanism we have employed and the goals we have pursued are both profoundly culturally irrational.


Aggravating the grave dilemma we face, the contributions of  modern forms of medieval religions which have retained values from that dark past cannot be under stated.  When these ancient mythologies were at each other's throats, reckless population increase became a strategic necessity.  Those old family habits were eventually codified into dogma, and more recently, into the latest , dangerous, grotesquely hybridized forms with only the most tenuous anchors to their alleged origins.

Nonetheless, we see vast areas of the planet where six or nine children are the norm for a family -- even one which fully accepts the likelihood of great difficulty in providing for them.  In the United States we see a fully fabricated religionist abhorrence of abortion, homosexuality, contraception and even divorce.

These admonitions may have been, somehow, suited for the religionist wars of the Dark Ages, but now we find them -- and their lingering damage to our possible preparation for the correction -- to be essentially treasonous to the species.  There is currently no inclination to direct the fervor to any more useful vent.

Worse, the violent ambitions of the religionists breathe deeply even in modern affairs.  Regardless of the particular mythology which drives it, each of these social/cultural phenomena covet control over their respective flocks sufficient to persuade them to sacrifice in battles for strictly adolescent prizes.

A final note concerning the burden of these monstrosities from the past addresses likely events in the time in the midst of the correction.  For all sorts of structured "reasons" ranging from the prospects for salvation and conversion to raw, guilt driven altruism, these religions have inspired both those who follow and those who watch to consider the vast destruction of humans as unacceptable.

Soon, faced with the inevitabilities of a Malthusian population correction, all these indulgences will become both unavoidable and spiritually devastating.  The inclination to intercede will almost certainly continue longer than reason would dictate, all the while allocating scarce resources to "lost causes" and tormenting the believers with what they perceive as the unceasing savagery of the process.

Surviving the correction will not be accomplished by the timid or, perhaps more importantly, the superficially pious.

The Value of Things That Work

Humans are model makers and problem solvers.  We improve things, and we measure that improvement by what it can add to our survivability.  Having solved that basic problem (Planetary Imperative) either robustly or "just barely," we seem to immediately begin a further process which both indulges our fancies and undercuts the fundamental progress we've just made.

The list of examples which are included above in this lumbering post could be fifty instead of just the five.  They are presented here as the modern equivalent to the "sandals and spears" of our brave African ancestors, but in terms of utility, the comparison may well stop there.

Considering the list, we humans have invested mightily in these developments through the centuries of our time here.  Viewed in the larger picture, we might presume to say that we have done all this work to solve problems and increase the prospects for our survivability, but just now, on the cusp of our  species' approaching test, we begin an unsettling new suspicion about the actual, material value of the "tools in our kit."

In the cold light of day, we now must face the fact that much of this stuff simply doesn't work, at least, work well enough to have a value which corresponds to price of its creation and maintenance.

It may have, more or less, worked when the challenge was not so grave, but since then, our indulgences and desires have diluted the purpose of these "labor intensive" efforts into a final condition which hardly promises to offer much assistance at all.  Inebriated by our "progress," somewhere in the past few centuries we homo sapiens seem to have forgotten the non-negotiable fundamentals of the world around us.

We humans have not been tricked or deceived by supernatural forces.  What we face now is the result of our simple lack of interest in developing the quality of the being part of being human beings.  We have, long ago, ceased investing any of our human capital in a feeling of responsibility for our role as humans, and now -- or at least, soon -- we will find ourselves cast as pitiable ninnies amid the litter of our unexamined existence, bewildered by the incomprehensible difficulties we have "suddenly" encountered.

There are moments when the indignities of old age -- now a constant companion to MeanMesa -- seem to comfortably reconcile themselves with one's expectations.

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