Saturday, August 1, 2015

No Free Ride in Nature

August 1, 2015

The laws of Nature, what we now call ecology, must be followed if our species is to survive on our little blue planet.
The basic principles are simple.   Nature wastes nothing; everything is “recycled”; and, there is no free ride.  Perhaps to word this statement more clearly: any action or machine created that makes like more comfortable or easier has a cost.  This cost is frequently hidden to our senses if our views of the laws of Nature are too narrow; or, we avoid looking carefully for the effects of what makes life “easier” or more “comfortable.”

Said in a more experiential language : “ if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” 

In our roles as caretakers of the Planet as the Native Americans describe it, if we are too “comfortable”, we need to look even more intently at the costs and risks of this comfort.

It is not our birthright to be comfortable.  Life itself is a great gift.
If we are negligent in looking for costs and risks, eventually  our lack of insight will (crudely put) “bite us in the ass.”  The bite will not be pleasant and the accompanying misery will be vast.  The unexpected events at Chernobyl and the recent reactor meltdown in Japan are good examples. These examples are spectacular and easy to see.  Many disruptions of the ecosystem are very subtle and difficult to see.  For example, DDT, the effects of which were the inspiration for Rachel Carlson’s book “Silent Spring” essentially launched the study of ecology.

Monsanto’s genetic engineering of plant crops was given a “fast track” through the regulatory system because of greed.  It is far too soon to assume these altered genes are benign. Signs are already starting to show that they are NOT.  It was recently revealed by a “whistle blower”, an employee of Monsanto, that Monsanto has a unit dedicated to produce smear campaigns regarding the validity of any scientist speaking out against the safety of Monsanto’s GMO products.  This was no news to the scientific community for many excellent researchers had been treated by this unethical practice.  However, for more na├»ve members of the general public this was shocking.

Television, a clever invention of engineers using new scientific knowledge, was embraced as a harmless source of entertainment.  One genius named Marshall McCluhan, an English Professor at McGill (a University of the prestige level of Stanford) in Canada even warned us in a very lucid manner that television would cause massive mental illness.  He was ignored after a brief period of interest by information technologists in the late 60’s, then he was forgotten.  I read his opus “The Medium IS the Message” in 1969 while studying Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas in Austin.  His prognostications made so much sense to me that I have not watched television since.  I know of no other person of my “baby boomer” generation that made such a commitment and held his work in such high regard.  Perhaps that is why I can see the effects of television on our cultures cognitive function more easily than others.

McCluhan died in 1980 with no recognition of the profound brilliance of his work, which came from his career long interest in linguistics. No investigation was done during his lifetime, but in the early 90’s cutting edge psychiatrists, neurobiologists and geneticists rediscovered his work and following his lead that television would cause a deterioration of our values, impair our critical thinking and be every bit as addictive as heroin.  One researcher observed that many heavy television watchers had behaviors almost identical to heroin addicts.  A senior researcher responded that he had read a statement like that before, and was able to recall it was in McCluhan’s work that he had read over twenty years ago.  A frantic search ensued, and there it was: almost word for word as the junior researcher had observed.  This profound bit of information connected to the other aspects of the mental illness McCluhan predicted and totally changed the direction of their work and by 2003, they had the mechanism by which this phenomena effected the brain down to the level of neuron to neuron communication by chemical messengers. Now, a half century later, it is clear to anyone who bothers to look, that television was far from benign. It has caused, in fact, such massive mental illness that our political system has been sabotaged by voters watching television and having lost their ability to think critically have voted into office sociopaths who have turned this nation to one consumed with money and possessions.  Lost are our human concerns to the degree that a recent Vice Presidential candidate was a one issue politician: get rid of Medicare.

We have also lost our sense of values (what is truly important in life) as well as our capacity for critical thinking. Because of this, and the addictive power of television we are hampered in our ability to see the harmful effects of television.  As those who work in the addiction rehabilitation arm of mental health care, like Alcoholics Anonymous and its several spin offs, the most difficult step is the first one: admitting that you are an addict.  Denial is huge in the well educated and prosperous portion of our population, and the latest Department of the Census reports that the average number of hours per day that Americans watch television is still increasing.  The more troubling the society becomes the greater the need to “escape” the barrage of bad news.  A “vicious circle” that will be hard to break, but our survival as a nation and as a species as the result of Global Warming are at stake.

Television is the despot’s dream come true : control over the mass population and a built-in characteristic that prevents the masses from seeing that they are being controlled!

The price of television is the unraveling of all the social systems that keep a culture glued together.  In place of this is the birth of consumerism, which now, through Global Warming, threatens the survival of our species. 

Could the cost of television have been any higher ?!

A gentleman and a scholar,

Austin, Texas