The Parable of the Cherry Muesli Bar (1996)

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Next American Revolution

A little something to remind people that some of these subjects were being discussed before blogs came into existence … recycled from the ecol-econ mailing list at Communications for a Sustainable Future (CSF), in Colorado, and, thanks to the wonders of the WWW, with pictures added.


Alan McGowan [Hi, Alan] writes:

… McClellan seems convinced that humans have opened a new chapter of evolution with technology, and he writes of technology as if it were as autopoietic as organic life. In fact all technology is dependent on humans to maintain it, and through humans, on the life support services of ecosystems. Technology is not a new form of postbiological life, it is part of the extended phenotype of human life, just as the beaver dam is part of the extended phenotype of beavers. It is part of biology — a fragile part, every bit as dependent on the maintenance of biological integrity and healthy ecosystems as we humans are — because technology is human behavior, human culture, human traits. …

And my commentary, after the fold

A computer is not a “technology”. The ability to make a computer, and to program it to do something, is “technology”. Techno Logos. Technique Words. Knowledge of Techniques. And so our technology is intrinsically social, since human capabilities are intrinsically social.

[Insert favorite wolf-boy story here]

We have to be careful of the difference between technology being under our control and imagining that technology is under our control. If the argument is that in the 18th and 19th centuries, technology was thought to be under human control, and now we can point to evidence that it is not, why assume that ‘they’ were right in the 18th and 19th centuries?

After all, the illusion that human societies in general — and technology in particular, which is an important aspect of human society — are under our control depends upon people’s perception that the rules of behavior that they are accustomed to are the “natural” and/or “right” ways of doing things. So, perhaps it is the accelerating pace of technological change that dispels the illusion that we are in control of our societies. If so, this is something we have been on the road to for quite a long while, since technological change has been accelerating for the last 5 millenia at least.

People that imagine that they can stop all of our societies from destroying irreplacable, essential systems in our material environment by being just a little bit smarter, more cooperative, better, wiser (etc., etc., and so forth), are, in one dimension of the problem, entirely right, and in another dimension of the problem, wildly wrong.[1] Our technology is what we know how to do, and so they are right: stopping it is not “out there”, but “in here”, among us. Right technology is simply one facet of right action. But changing what we know how to do is one of the hardest things there is to do, and it never turns out the way we expect it to, so they are wrong (assuming, of course, that they exist at all[1]).

BTW: the only deep ecology dream I could dream at the spur of the moment was pretty shallow: I walked to the local store, and bought a cherry muesli bar. Cherries, after all, were in season. I went back to work on the university computer, and that’s all, there is nothing else. To be specific: there was no garbage can in the office to throw the wrapper “away”, no hint of the notion that there is an away to throw thing to, and, therefore no wrapper; therefore no wholesaler; therefore no delivery truck; therefore no big meusli bar factory; therefore no surprise that the person who made them dropped them off on their way to Uni. Etcetera, Etcetera, and so forth.


[1] And it’s important to note that AFAIK these people have only

entered the discussion in the third person.


    • BruceMcF on February 5, 2009 at 1:16 am

    … start eating home-made muesli bars … the store bought ones are bad enough, but well made muesli bars are seriously addictive.

    • Edger on February 5, 2009 at 2:09 am

    It is said that humanity has evolved one-sidedly, growing in technical power without any comparable growth in moral integrity, or, as some would prefer to say, without comparable progress in education and rational thinking. Yet the problem is more basic. The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms- Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body–a center which “confronts an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

    This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.

    The first result of this illusion is that our attitude to the world “outside” us is largely hostile. We are forever “conquering” nature, space, mountains, deserts, bacteria, and insects instead of learning to cooperate with them in a harmonious order. In America the great symbols of this conquest are the bulldozer and the rocket–the instrument that batters the hills into flat tracts for little boxes made of ticky-tacky and the great phallic projectile that blasts the sky. (Nonetheless, we have fine architects who know how to fit houses into hills without ruining the landscape, and astronomers who know that the earth is already way out in space, and that our first need for exploring other worlds is sensitive electronic instruments which, like our eyes, will bring the most distant objects into our own brains.)

    The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events–that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies–and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.

    –Alan Watts

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