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It is a powerful and intoxicating machine; this experiment set in motion thousands of years ago.  Or was it millions of years ago? I don’t know enough about it to determine when or how it started. I only know I am living my life deep within the laboratory designed by our collective actions. Actions directed and designed to maximize the sustenance, comfort and convenience of the lucky ones who rise to the top in response to the experimental treatments applied to all of us.

I didn’t design this laboratory. I didn’t design the parameters of the experiment. I only know I was born into this machine and I will die a part of it. And I know that, somehow, even though I am not personally at fault, I am a necessary and vital part of what is happening. I am one of billions of lab animals and at the same time I am also one of billions of experimenters. I push the levers and turn the switches; yet I am also responsible for the continued functioning of those levers and switches.

I have tried; indeed, I have made it one of my life’s goals, to come to some understanding of how this experiment came about. There are numerous, enormous, overwhelming fields of active research working on this problem. The more I read the more I come to feel, as Jacques Ellul eloquently put it, I am "caught in a web of facts I have been given … the mechanisms of modern information induce a sort of hypnosis…”

I am able to grasp that this experiment has something to do with big brains, opposable thumbs, agriculture and technology and it seems to have taken place over a vast sweep of historical time. And it seems to have been an inevitable process. I also know that, thanks to the accident of my birth in a privileged corner of the laboratory, I am well cared for. I am not “food insecure.” In fact, in my corner of the laboratory 96 billion pounds of food are thrown away every year. Half of the food produced here is never eaten and becomes garbage. And in the other far corner of the laboratory millions of children starve to death from lack of food.

But that’s all part of the experiment. An experiment I struggle to understand and come to terms with. It is as if a great weight of inertia smothers me under a blanket of attractive, soothing, manipulative images and I continue to pull the levers and flick the switches. I am well taken care of. I am enticed away from my uneasiness and anxiety, my grief and despair. Mmmmm… chocolate truffles, from Switzerland.

Max Weber said “the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief…” What is it that so commands my obedience to this experimental regime?  I know this experiment is devouring everything I hold dear, yet I continue to obey.

I know that this typing I'm doing right now is my declaration of obedience to a system that values electrical power over the survival of salmon that can no longer navigate the rivers because of the dams that send me this power. Yet I love wild rivers and am deeply saddened by the plight of diminishing wild salmon. The car I drive is my declaration of obedience to a system of manufacturing, road-building and urban design which values conveniently running errands  over the very fabric of the web of life which is being destroyed by CO2 and other polluting externalities. The fabric of the web of life is far, far more important to me than any automobile. Yet, I still turn the key and pull the gear shift lever; my obedience continues in spite of my noble feelings and intentions.

I mouth words about my concerns. I denounce the sociopathic behavior of corporate malefactors. I urge shoppers to pound their shopping carts into plowshares and turn highways into gardens.  I am a good person. I grow some of my own food. I raise chickens. I have a small ecological footprint. I buy local. I write letters to politicians. I vote.

Nevertheless, my obedience continues. For I believe, if I did not obey, I would be exiled from the laboratory. And I am not a wild animal. I am a lab animal. I would die in the wilderness.

Originally posted to grains of sand on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Someone needs to intervene. (4+ / 0-)

    Other ways of living are possible.  We know that because millions do it--live to a ripe old age, enjoy off-spring and creating things without pumping wastes into water and air.
    We can harness the wind and the waves to derive energy without effluent.  But, that would contravene the ambitions of people who have no skills but their ability to convince us to act against what's best for us.
    They need to be disabused and displaced.  We can do that.  We have the advantage of competence over their incompetence.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 02:23:48 PM PST

    •  I wish this could be so: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat
      They need to be disabused and displaced.  We can do that.  We have the advantage of competence over their incompetence.

      It sounds so orderly and tidy.  

      I fear the only thing that will disabuse any of us, competent or incompetent, from the track we share is a crash of all we depend upon.

      In the meantime, some of us try to do the right thing and not be part of the problem...but we are not yet the many.

      I read your writings with great interest, hannah.

      And diarist...thank you for a thought provoking diary.

      •  imho it's not going to be a "crash" so much as (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        trinityfly

        a long, stumbling decline. How that decline is managed may be influenced by those of us trying to do the right thing. My fear is that since our history shows us to have never been a peaceful species, Otto von Bismarck may have got it right.

        The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.

        muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

        by veritas curat on Mon Jan 16, 2012 at 01:30:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  It is obedience to the Alphas who are only (8+ / 0-)

    concerned with satisfying themselves at everyone elses expense. And there are enough of us to make it different. And we often succeed by passing laws that restrain thier worst excesses. When we repeal those laws the only FREE people are the ones who have no self restraint on thier greed and need for power to use others however they want. I see them now not caring about promoting consumption but rather reducing income to actually reduce it. But not for some intelligent care for our species but rather to ensure that they will have more and more to consume by themselves.

    This is not class warfare... it is a battle between the greediest, neediest, scaredest, most unempathetic and most amoral of our species to have more and more like some damn video game. We should be planting a garden of humans who will help think and experiment and devise new ways that are better then those that are failing us. The conservative clings to that which worked for them, choosing to ignore the pain it caused and the damage that it ensures.

    We can choose to live in ways that recognize the interconnectedness of all species and all peoples. Differences between living standards have to be cognizant of limited resources if you DO NOT WANT to damage our world beyond redemption for not only our species but all species. Partly we need to take a new look at our social systems and culture. I read about all the different cultures and they all have really good things and really self destructive things... A kind of incompleteness theorem of social organizations.  I am convinced that killing off species other than our own will lead to our destruction down the road.

    Fear is the Mind Killer

    by boophus on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 03:01:08 PM PST

  •  I thought you were writing about religion (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, martini

    In the past few months I've heard a couple sermons in church about "obedience"--just abandoning logic and social responsibility and doing what one is told.

    Obedience is a buzz word.

    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

    by MrMichaelMT on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 07:02:21 PM PST

  •  Excellent. Solid Gold Imagery (3+ / 0-)

    We wear the lab coats and we are also the lab rats.

    Would that our documentation efforts had been better in the earlier stages of the experiment, we might have better answers to the pesky variables you lay out here.

    Do we have a control?

    Wakeful people make better democracy. Anybody else want some coffee?

    by Hammerhand on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 07:22:58 PM PST

  •  We err in thinking we have a "system" (5+ / 0-)

    If we actually had a system, we would behave FAR less chaotically. The more you dial up the granularity, the more you see that we have one or more partial sets of rules, varying wildly in their degree of strictness or laxity, and we bump and carom hither and thither and over and yon as individuals and as populations.

    Our individual notions of authority and obedience stem in large part from our experiences as helpless infants; and many of the factors that contribute to our "obedient" tendencies are genetic and/or wetwired herd/tribe/community behaviors. This is, at least in part, why humans have devoted tens of thousands of years to the mysteries of how to handle individual and community power.

    •  Makes me think of rd laing: (0+ / 0-)
      From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful. By the time the new human being is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world. This is normality in our present age.

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Mon Jan 16, 2012 at 01:38:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  When (0+ / 0-)

    parasites lose their supply of whatever they were consuming, in a flurried panic, they seek out another host.

    You wouldn't believe how dearly I hope it's you.

    Just so you know how it feels.

    To take up the mantle of womanhood, is to not live or die by men's good graces.

    by Maori on Mon Jan 16, 2012 at 07:21:45 AM PST

  •  You had me reeled in from sentence one to (0+ / 0-)

    the whole #$$%@&^ reminder about electricity and salmon.

    Hey, there's hope.  We have a wild river right here, highly productive salmon river, only twenty miles long, a narrow valley between glacial mountains.  It's called Chilkoot.  We're fighting tooth and nail to keep Alaska Power and Telephone's hydro-proposal off of it.

    You can read the community comments in ferc.gov e-library under project P-14229

    We will NOT obey.  And then there is "Occupy".  Here we call it "We the People."

  •  This diary reminds me that (0+ / 0-)

    there are very few choices available that rise to any level of significance. It is difficult in most places to choose not to drive, but oooh! you can have a blue one or a red one or new or used... but you must drive, and you must drive on roads that are subsidized to the detriment of better modes, and salted in the winter to the detriment to things aquatic, and you must purchase fuel and tires from corporations you probably would not be friends with, and you must therefore trail a plume of chemicals poisonous to living things with lungs, and participate in the nano-technology of climate change.  It is difficult if not impossible to choose not to do this.

    This might be the deep definition of "culture". To live in a culture is to breathe it in so deeply your boundary dissolves. That doesn't mean the culture we've created is right or correct - but it does probably mean that like plants in a garden we are so entangled with the soil that it is very difficult to imagine ourselves anywhere else, and even more difficult to move there. And like gardens, culture is slow work.

    Plato's cave and shadow thing was just brilliant, don't you think?

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