Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Idea of Sufficiency

My Native American friend Xbox (not his real name, and anyway he’d rather be called Indian) talks about the idea of sufficiency. He does a lot of obscure reading and is a mine of unusual information and original conclusions. Anyway, he’d observed that when a tribal people were largely wiped out through disease or whatever, they would often return to their original numbers quite quickly, and then stay at roughly that number. It was like they would collectively have a sense of what was enough, what number could be supported by the environment. And from that came his idea that humans have a sense of sufficiency, of what is enough. Like when you’ve had enough to eat.

In a way the idea seems obvious and very sane, but our culture has lost sight of it. We no longer have any collective sense of there being enough people, or enough wealth, or having done enough work, or whatever. Prosperity no longer means thriving, it means greed.

Sufficiency is a Saturnian idea. A healthy Saturn sets appropriate boundaries and regulates the proper measure of everything. An unhealthy Saturn is empty inside, and endlessly compensates through ‘achievement’ and hard work and wealth.

It has become central to our collective sense of well-being that the economy is growing. It doesn’t matter so much that it should adequately provide for everybody. No, what matters is that it should be growing, so we are told, and we believe it. This is the negative Saturn at the heart of our culture. Things are bad in the UK at the moment because we are in a recession. No-one says well we’ve all still got enough to eat and a roof over our heads – and we could easily cater for those who haven’t – so what’s the problem?

Working long hours is part of the same thing. We feel good about ourselves when we’ve been working, which isn’t altogether a bad thing. But it is more than that, it is a moral thing, we feel like we are good people because we have been working, and we want others to know. I know a small farmer who will often watch kids TV in the day, and then at night he’ll get in his tractor, put on the lights and start working, and it looks to the neighbours like he is this incredibly hard-working farmer who is at it even in the evening. This over-identification with work is also negative Saturn.

Sufficiency is different to sustainability. The problem with our current western way of life, as we see it, is that it is not sustainable, due to climate change, limited resources etc. That’s a good start, but it’s not the real issue. Because awful things can be perfectly sustainable. The early USA slave culture was perfectly sustainable. Some wars seem to go on and on, they seem quite sustainable.

The reason we have reached a point of unsustainability is because we have lost sight of sufficiency. What we seem to be looking for collectively with all the climate change stuff etc is an economy based on sustainable greed rather than unsustainable greed. As I said, it’s a start, but it is paradoxical, because an economy, a way of life, based on greed always wants more, and so eventually becomes unsustainable.

So I think that the political buzz word needs to be sufficiency rather than sustainability. It takes the pressure off in all sorts of ways, morally and psychologically, as well as materially. But I think it is a mind-set way too far to be accepted, simple as it is. Perhaps Pluto in Capricorn will help, although it could just as easily mean more power (Pluto) to the banks and other financial institutions (Capricorn). Maybe we have to wait for Pluto in Aquarius in 14 years time, which will empower (Pluto) the progressive thinkers (Aquarius).

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sabotage from the Future?

The Large Hadron Collider is almost back in commission after its accident last year. It is the biggest atom smasher in the world and it is not American. It has been designed to discover the Higgs Boson, the current fundamentalest particle of all. For the super-conducting magnets which contain the stream of particles to work properly, it has to be very cold, and it has just been announced that it is now colder than deep space.

The quantum world does not obey the usual rules, and Niels Bohr, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, said that if you are not shocked by the laws of the quantum world, then you haven’t understood them. In this world, for example, certain events can only be explained by time going backwards.

I haven’t got too much of a problem with that, because if you look at neuro-pathology, you start to realise that the 3-D ‘external’ world, together with time, are created by the brain to create order out of our sensory input. As a model, it works pretty well, but that doesn’t make the external world real in a hard and fast way. Astrology also works, a lot of the time, at any rate. But it’s just another model, which is why it doesn’t always work. Just like our senses aren’t always reliable. And even if they are reliable, if you ask 2 people to describe the same event, you’ll probably get different accounts.

Anyway, the Large Hadron Collider. It was just starting to get up and running last year, amid a lot of publicity, when it had an accident. There was a liquid helium leak and it’s taken over a year to sort. And 2 physicists have seriously suggested that the damage may have been caused by Higgs Bosons (which of course have yet to be discovered) travelling backwards in time from a future experiment.

I doubt it is the true explanation, but I liked the idea that real physicists were suggesting it. Of course, the LHC doesn’t ‘know’ that it is going to be used to discover Higgs Bosons. Otherwise it could just as well send back some other particle. Which means that human intention must also be playing a part in creating this future that has not yet happened and from which Higgs Bosons could be travelling back in time to upset our plans.

I don’t know if the scientists are thinking that way. But it makes complete sense to me. Because so much of what we call reality is the product of people’s imaginings, if not all of reality. There is a deep way in which the world is a product of consciousness. Our culture, for example, gradually developed the idea that reality is material and follows empirical, rational laws and sure enough, reality obliged and we find ourselves in such a universe. Some ancient cultures developed the idea that there is a relationship between the movements of the stars and human affairs and sure enough, reality obliged and we find ourselves in an astrological universe.

I don’t mean all this in a superficial way, like reality is simply what you think it is. It’s to do with the imagination. The imagination seems to connect what is ‘in here’ with what is ‘out there’. So that when an idea about how the universe works stirs our imagination, it is because it is in some way real, and it’s probably hard to say which came first, reality or our idea about it. The fact that quantum physics is, properly understood, shocking, says a lot in its favour. If it is shocking, then it touches us, and that gives it reality.

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