Quantity vs. Quality

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited – Part 2

Click HERE for Part 1

Crowds of people wait in the check-in ar

In the highly populated world we experience today along with 7.7 billion human beings, what are the effects of over-population on human health and well-being, democratic political and government institutions, and overall quality of all life?

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley suggests that by failing to do anything systematic about human breeding, we insure that our expanding population is of inferior biological quality. Since we strive medically to make sure that everyone lives to reproductive age, we are also insuring that all genetic predispositions to disease and infirmity are preserved and spread throughout our gene pool.

As my ecology professor told me some 50 years ago, “Someday everyone will wear glasses and have diabetes.”

Huxley also suggests that in addition to a decline in general healthfulness, we are experiencing a decline in average IQ. Looking about our world as it is, one might think that, but, of course, I would never say this. Such thoughts would be hopelessly politically incorrect, harking back to the eugenics movement, which has, seemingly forever, forestalled any rational discussion of purposeful management of human development.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, at the same time George Orwell was crafting 1984, and Aldous Huxley was continuing to critically examine human society, leading to Brave New World Revisited ten years later, B. F. Skinner was writing Walden Two, a novel about an experimental Utopian community based on his own ideas about behavioral engineering.

There was considerable recognition of the path modern civilization is taking, with regard to the relationship between Homo sapiens and the natural world, prompting a search for alternative lifeways that might ease the burden of human presence on the planet. I flirted briefly with the Intentional Communities movement in the 70s and early 80s, but drifted away when I found it was largely a spiritual rather than a science-based pursuit.

the-concept-of-overshootOur biggest problem as a species is that we have no predators to keep us healthy and strong, and we are incapable of rationally controlling our own breeding to keep our numbers in check to prevent environmental overshoot and resultant collapse. Overshoot occurs when a population temporarily exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

As a consequence, individually and as a species as a whole, we are becoming increasingly unhealthy, decreasingly intelligent by any measure, and decreasingly fit to the prevailing environmental conditions. We are so dependent on our constructed environment and cultural support systems, that we can no longer function in the natural world without them.

More importantly, our constant population and economic growth is rapidly changing the natural world, destroying natural habitats, extirpating species and making a wasteland of what little natural world that remains.

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The result is an escalating spiral down the porcelain parkway to oblivion, at least for humans and what we refer to as civilization, that is, the totalitarian domination of the entire planet, above ground, below ground, on the oceans and even unto their deeps.

Fortunately for all life, two things work against this seemingly unstoppable trend: inescapable evolution and unavoidable natural processes.

Despite overweening hubris, Homo sapiens is still subject to the processes of natural selection and evolution. Though we pretend to have substituted culture for evolution, the reality is that we are evolving (see the above mentioned diabetes and poor eyesight), though most likely not in ways we will appreciate in the long term. The culture we prize so highly is singularly out of step with the natural world and the preservation of conditions to which humans have accommodated for the past several thousand years. As those conditions change, the rigid cultural expectations of the dominant culture may be incapable of accommodating the new ecological regime.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, and Mother Nature is stepping up to the plate. Natural processes will out in the end in the fullness of time, and Homo sapiens, if we have not already joined the Sixth Great Extinction Farewell Party, will evolve and acculturate to the new conditions, fewer in numbers, greater in physical health and cultural diversity, and living in greater harmony with the many other species and ecosystems.

 

21st Century Libraries – Books or Programs?

Downtown library-2018

Recently I’ve been intimately involved in the efforts of our local Santa Cruz County library system in planning the use of funds from a county-wide property tax measure to maintain and renovate library buildings in its ten-branch library system.

The flagship of the system is the downtown Santa Cruz library branch, pictured above, which functions as the headquarters for the entire system, with other smaller branches placed in local neighborhoods throughout the county. In 1968 the city demolished the original 1904 Carnegie Library building and replaced it with the current building, now 51 years old.

The plan put forward by the City of Santa Cruz is to abandon this building in the city’s civic center and build a new library in the ground floor of a five-story parking garage in a location three blocks away.

Proponents of the proposed building project cite a need for a “21st Century Library,” following the lead of the American Library Association’s Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) which was focused on monitoring and evaluating trends in technology and society to assist the library community (the ALA program was “sunsetted” in 2014). It’s important to note that this policy emphasis in library services is entirely internal to the professional library community and is not in response to trends in library patrons’ needs or expressed desires.

The technological focus of the 21st Century Library movement is, of course on computers, internet access and digital and digitized materials. This reflects a wider social trend in the embrace of computer technology and the ubiquitous presence and use of “smart” cell phones. The perception communicated by proponents of this view and policy is that the technological and social trends cited mean that libraries should no longer be chiefly regarded as repositories of physical books and materials, but should be more service oriented and provide programs, events, learning opportunities and entertainment to their patrons.

At a recent meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council Downtown Library Subcommittee, the question was asked by the moderator: “If cost restraints on renovating or building a new library become reality, what would you be willing to give up?” Shockingly three of the eight professional and volunteer participants in the room stated they would be willing to give up books and printed material collections and keep digital access and programs.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, What the 21st Century Library Looks Like, Shannon Najmabadi ponders these recent trends in public and academic library philosophy and policies.

“Libraries have reported spending less on print materials and more on electronic resources, including online journals and databases.

“As books are moved off-site, a question remains: What happens to the body of knowledge they contain? Irene M.H. Herold, a recent president of the Association of College & Research Libraries, says a downside to removing books is that patrons won’t be able to stumble on interesting material just by perusing library shelves.”

In addition, in my experience, thumbing through printed material to find something specific is infinitely different from searching for it on the internet. The serendipity factor is eliminated in a computer search, and, thus, any unforeseen opportunities to learn and incorporate something entirely new and unexpected are foregone.

Research suggests that digital reading results in lower comprehension and retention than reading physical books and printed materials. This, coupled with the emphasis on programs and events in libraries, many of which are noisy and obtrusive to otherwise quiet library spaces, further reduces the utility and effectiveness of digital library holdings.

From my perspective as an incipient 70 year-old, these recent professional technological and social library trends serve to reduce public literacy, critical thinking skills, and cultural and historical understanding of youth and adults alike. These skills and social awareness are absolutely necessary for functioning as a contributing member of our democratic society.

Hearkening back to the Library Committee meeting where three of the eight participants immediately expressed a willingness to get rid of books, I feel as if I’m shouting in a crowd of silent onlookers in a dark public square, watching jack-booted thugs hurl armloads of books onto a roaring bonfire.

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited

BNWRIn 1931, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, the dystopian novel of an over-populated world dominated by a highly organized state that uses genetic engineering, hypnopaedia, promotion of sexual promiscuity, hallucinogenic drugs and organized entertainment to control and subdue the general population.

In 1948, George Orwell published 1984, the dystopian novel of a Communist inspired totalitarian oligarchy in England that uses information control, fear mongering, intimidation, and total surveillance to control and subdue the general population.

In 1958, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World Revisited, comparing Brave New World and 1984 with each other, and with events and trends from 1948 to 1958.

Let’s compare Orwell’s observations of the social world of 1958 with the world we see around us today some 35 years later.

Part 1 – Over-Population

In 1931, global population was just over 2 billion people. By 1948, population had risen to only 2.5 billion, and to 2.9 billion ten years later in 1958. Today, world population is 7.7 billion and increasing by 1.07% per year. The rate of world population increase peaked at 1.85% in 1987 and has been decreasing since then. Though the rate of increase is decreasing, world population is still growing by some 80,000,000 people per year.

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley points out that death control has been systematically provided by benevolent societies through increased sanitation and medical intervention, while birth control requires the cooperation of all citizens, and is limited by cultural (mostly religious) sanctions.

In Brave New World, birth control is achieved through state control and management of human breeding, restricting the global human population to around 2 billion people. In this fictional world society, the human population does not threaten natural areas with excess resource exploitation, allowing some areas to return to wild states.

Huxley concludes that, in the real world, absent any form of effective birth control, “... that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse still, it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable.

We see today the outcome of Huxley’s darkest vision: democracy on the block, up for sale to the highest bidder, homeless camps in every city where the mentally handicapped and drug addicted citizens are turned loose among the populace, to support themselves and their habits through petty thievery, murder and general social disruption. Meanwhile, the over-organized and bureaucratized social agencies and local governments tie their own hands with “progressive” rules and regulations that defy any sane and effective solutions to these ubiquitous social ills.

Our Huxleyan problems are compounded by Orwellian despotic and imperialist governments, fomenting invasion and war in sovereign nations that have the misfortune of harboring large oil deposits beneath their sands, while at home graft, corruption, and malfeasance have become the norm and go unpunished, at least for those dispossessed of economic and political influence.

Huxley concludes his chapter on Over-Population with a warning:

But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a county that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government. And permanent crisis is what we have to expect in a world in which over-population is producing a state of things, in which dictatorship … becomes almost inevitable.

Sound familiar?

“O brave new world, That has such people in it!”

 

 

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Ed Abbey sunset

Today is the 89th anniversary of the natal day of Edward Paul Abbey, author, curmudgeon, social critic, lover of women and other wild living things.

He bared his soul in Black Sun, Fire on the Mountain, Desert Solitaire, and Fool’s Progress, set many of us on the path to defense of natural habitat and wilderness, confrontations with overbearing authorities, monkey wrenching, tree-spiking, survey stake pulling and other forms of socially and environmentally responsible activities.

If Ed were alive now, he’d be glad he died while there was still something left of the wild.

Soar high, Ed!

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”
Edward Abbey

"What would Ed Abbey think about the world today?"

Every now and then, someone raises the ghost of Edward Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Desert Solitaire, The Brave Cowboy and other subversive literature, asking the question, “What would Ed think about the world today?”

Ed was pretty caustic about the state of the world in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. How are things these days?

Well, they’re pretty much the same, only more so.

Since Ed’s time the powers that be have learned much about thought control, access to information, how to funnel dissent into harmless diversions. The President has become a figurehead for the corporate oligarchy, pretending to offer difference while maintaining the status quo. Democracy has been forestalled. Governments are directed by policy promulgated by an entrenched, well-compensated professional staff.  Politicians learn very quickly the source of their campaign funds, and kneel down in obeisance to fiscal realities.

Big Green has joined the corporate world and traded grass roots activism for political and economic power. In an attempt to be “relevant,” to human desires at least, environmental organizations have become tools of social engineering, concentrating on environmental justice at the expense of biodiversity, critical habitats, pollution and conservation.

The facile mindlessness of “global warming” has blown away all awareness of environmental activism, concentrating on appeals to central governments and quasi-governmental organizations to “reverse climate change.” Meanwhile, corporate toadies and government sycophants rub their hands in Glee at the prospect of unlimited “Green” profits.

The clearest path seems to be to turn our backs on the whole sorry mess and walk away, mumbling to ourselves. And yet, on the local scene, habitat must be saved, developers thwarted, city councils educated. Democracy, such as it is, must be cultivated hereabouts, as the only means of maintaining a semblance of rational government, despite all evidence to the contrary.

We do what we must do, each in our own place. We change the only world we can change, that between our own ears, and we provide the example for our neighbors to work on theirs.

Life goes on.