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Goodness me!

No, I disagree so much! (with Oli in SustainableCultures)

Ok, let's try to list very quickly where I see the problems.

First, this close-to-nothing measure of sustainability in terms of surviving in a 100 years time span is at least mediocre; I expect more than that. How do we survive? Are we getting better (healthier, more fed, more ethical, more compassive, more justified) as a whole, that is, as a network of interrelated cultures? I think our society is not really a model for any idea of sustainability and liberal democracy is far from being a bedrock for anything.

Second, we are NOT doing a "imagine a culture X or Z". We are rather saying that the talk of instincts is really an excuse to make us think (based on no argument) that our society is after all ok (because it can survive for (other?) 100 years in a superoptimistic projection). The talk of sustainability maybe should be expanded to involve a talk about happiness (of course, the fans of this Darwinism-à-outrance would then say that happiness is subjective and their measure of sustainability is taken to be part of the world. I don't see that they can have an argument there, but they can try...).

Happiness is about, for instance, not having to kill people around because your leader (or prime-minister, or controversially elected president) ordered you to wipe out unsustainable pacifist cultures (or rather useless unsustainable civilians). Now, what is better, to kill around and eat what you find for other 10 years or to live a more dignified life for more 6 months? I guess Darwinian-à-outrance answers would be: live longer. I find this bizarre; it's like bad science replacing thinking about values. And I do think we can argue about that and there is truth of the matter.

Third, what are you going to do with those that live their lives based on more complex, non-adaptationist-à-outrance values? Ignore them? Wipe them out? My diagnosis is of course that people find the appeal to instincts (an appeal that is to me still completely unintelligible - how can they influence my thinking and action, how?) useful because it convinces them that their way of living is, if not justifiable, natural (unchangeable). Without instincts, they would have to find justifications, that is reasons and not only exculpations that would entitle them to say: God, or the instincts or whatever, ordered us so.


I think sustainabillity is not the same as making people happy - they are just two different things. We can talk about one or about the other, but TalkingAboutOneAndThinkingAboutTheOther is a bit misleading.

Another point: if 100 yars is not enough for you, than take 1000 or 2000 years. Is it the same culture? Well - it depends, but after all we do change nearly all of our cells every 7 years and still we believe we are the same men. So how about a culture that is changing?



Zbigniew has a good point here. Sustainability is only one of the virtues we may want from a culture. And it may be BecomingConservative to prioritise it above all else. A culture should also aim for continuous improvement in terms of welfare, freedom, rights etc.

You hint as much when you say "maybe should be expanded to involve a talk about happiness" But happiness isn't an extension of sustainability at all. It's an oblique issue.

Now I agree that Oli's optimism about the sustainability of our culture isn't all that plausible. But there's a version of Oli's thesis I could agree to. We probably are the most succesful "learning" culture in known history. We allow and encourage freedom of speech and thought. We pursue knowledge both for it's own sake and for practical purposes, through a variety of institutions ranging from VentureCapitalists to state-sponsored universities. If any known culture is likely to survive shocks such as the end of oil, it's ours. (As a contrast, try to imagine a replacement energy / technology / way of life coming out of well funded research labs in Saudi Arabia. It's not lack of money which makes the probability of that infinitessimal.)

Why is that important? As Zbigniew points with the body changing it's cells, what counts as sustainable depends on how big a rupture counts as a failure. Maybe avoiding a Roman-empire style collapse is an important hallmark of sustenance.

I think your intuition is to lump a number of different issues together : "healthier, more fed, more ethical, more compassive, more justified". But of course, treating these as part of a discussion of "sustainability" itself smacks of a kind of Darwinist thought : that failure of any of these is a threat to "survival".

But as you pretty much suggest that, if forced, it's better to chose the moral than the long life, really "sustainability" can't be the real issue :-) (Actually I really hope to have a serious run through both the Darwinist / HumanNature question and the moral discussion, over the next few days, but I think they're going to need a few pages of their own. )


Hmm, so (some of) it comes down to the question.. can a culture that is inherently progressive remain the same? The most sustainable culture, in accordance with all of the definitions so far, is one that is unchanging, for whatever reason. For a sustainable culture, I (personally, YMMV) would probably choose the Egyptians (4,000 years, and nothing changed too drastically - not, say, as much the West in the last 500 or so) as a decent example of a lifestyle that managed to survive a fair amount of time (please call my bluff if you have detailed Egyptian history knowledge).

However, I think there's another question buried away in the current "sustainability" climate. And that's "does the attitude of our culture threaten the sustainability of other cultures?" Until now, nations and cultures have fought and merged with each other in unending circles, but the disputes and effects have, for all purposes, been contained, and internal. The problem we face now is that the "unsustainable" practices of one culture or another have global effects, infringing upon people who would otherwise have no real contact with the culture(s) in question. When people think of a sustainable culture, they associate it with environmental technologies.

Is this about sustainable culture, or a sustainable place to live?

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of a non-progressive-yet-sustainable culture. I am a scientist, I love progress. And yet I am also a simplisticist (I made that word up) - I don't think that progress and technological improvement are fundamental to establishing a balanced culture. Unfortunately, I also now believe there are simply too many people here :)

Just remember, dinosaurs were around for hundreds of thousands of flamillions of years, largely unchanged. They had no opposable thumbs and very small brains. Coincidence?


Hilan, would it be too wild to phrase what you're saying as CommittingSuicide? Because I think many people are talking intense stuff happening in 100 years. But even if it is 2000 years I find it unacceptable. We need to work towards a thought pattern and decision making while using what native peoples in the North American Continent called SevenGenerations. Basically, every decision that is made is thought through seven generations in the future. I do agree what the others are expressing. These are exciting times, dangerous times. But we have grown a lot, and I hope that we can grow to be a PeacefulSpecies. – Best, MarkDilley