Sunday, November 29, 2015

Discretionary Time

I have accumulated and discarded a lot of stuff during my nearly fifty-six years. It is a pattern that I attribute to shifting goals, needs, and dreams about what I might do with the rest of my life. While some of it has had sentimental and entertainment value, the vast majority – including a large library of books – have been viewed as tools: tools for meeting basic needs such as shelter; tools for learning and exploration; tools for creating things; and tools for communicating with others.

With likely no more than thirty years of life left, I feel the need to seriously evaluate what I can and should accomplish during that time, and to manage my stuff accordingly, especially since I don't expect to ever retire. This means, for one thing, strongly resisting the urge to buy impulsively, and to avoid influences that make it feel like a duty – such as the armada of advertisements and pervasive social cues that accompany the annual Season of Gluttony that (at least here in the U.S.) is more aligned with its historical origin in Saturnalia than the celebration of the birth of hope for salvation and universal love (Christmas) that has formally defined it.

Thirty years seems like a lot of time, but only about five of them (one-sixth, or four hours per day) are discretionary – that is, not used for sleep, eating, working, and related activities. Discretionary time, and the stuff used during it, can be split up among many activities, such as maintaining relationships with family and friends, housework, entertainment, and personal development such as education and hobbies. If we're lucky enough to be able to do what we want for work, up to ten years can be added to this category.

Much of the "stuff" I've acquired for personal development is more suited to what is normally considered "work" than what many would consider "discretionary." Creating has always been more fun than consuming, and I enjoy looking for what I think of as the hidden picture in the "jigsaw puzzle of life," a collaborative understanding of the past and future of humanity along with its environment and values. I don't pretend to have any more special insights than anyone else, but I feel an obligation to do my part, which includes communicating the parts that I see uniquely, helping others share the unique parts that they see, and making a case for my preferences in deciding the future. My stuff of choice, not surprisingly, includes aids to learning and communicating.

Over the past thirty years I came to understand that the current configuration of the puzzle has some serious flaws that need to be corrected soon in order to decrease the chance of horrific global casualties over the next thirty years and beyond. This has made my feeling of obligation even more urgent than what was already triggered by advancing age. In my blogs and books, I've shared my curiosity, my insights, and ideas that might inspire creative thought and exploration by others that can hasten assembly of the puzzle. Concurrently, I have sought to entertain, and to fictionally represent my research along with some suggestions and warnings based on imaginative extrapolation of behavior, knowledge, and technology.

A civilization like ours that is designed to maximize happiness without regard for longevity (except through continuous acquisition and processing of ecological resources) can be expected to resist any attempts to challenge that design goal and the cultural infrastructure that supports it, even as evidence mounts that the resources it depends upon are dangerously scarce and degraded. Only that which directly and efficiently serves the customization of personal environments will be rewarded. I know this, and yet I cannot, in good conscience (service to the value of life) or by nature, keep from challenging it, even when doing so severely limits options for customizing and maintaining my own environment through work and discretionary activities.

Like many people, the probability of maintaining or increasing my current lifestyle over the next thirty years is low, even if I vigorously support our happiness-based economic paradigm and global conditions don't change the way I think they will. Attempting to do so through art (as I recently rediscovered) has a much, much lower chance of success over that period, especially if it doesn't play to people's hopes and desires for experiences better suited to their wants than their current existence.

Unless we make major changes to our society, living will rapidly get more difficult over the next decades, and I expect discretionary time to practically disappear for all but the ultra-wealthy, even if the demand for it increases exponentially in response. Such a development would make much of the present discussion moot, because my thirty-year planning horizon would likely drop to something closer to ten years, yielding maybe one year of useful discretionary time left. One year interestingly coincides with the amount of time I've calculated we have left before reaching a critical ecological threshold that will make large global casualties practically inevitable, which is less than I (and everyone else) would have available if both work and discretionary time was used to try stopping it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Evil and Understanding

In my Idea Explorer post "Group Interaction" I discussed in abstract terms my analysis of what could happen when two isolated groups first interact, and vaguely referenced current events it might apply to, along with my assessment of how it relates to the world' reaching critical environmental limits. Here, I will be more explicit and personal.

The current context is, of course, the occasion of savage terrorist attacks in Paris late last week. I consider them acts of evil that cannot, and should not, be excused, despite my attempts to understand them. Based upon my valuing all human lives equally, the only acceptable reason for intentionally killing people or increasing their chance of dying is to keep them from killing someone else, and only when the threat is direct, imminent, unambiguous, and all non-lethal options have been exhausted. Clearly, the attacks do not meet that test (nor, incidentally, do most acts of war).

Curiously, I had a much more visceral reaction to a news story I saw while on vacation a few days before. The pastor of a church, attended by presidential candidates, was ranting about the evil of homosexuality and advocating that gays and lesbians be killed if they didn't repent. It was the most vile speech I have ever heard, and reminded me of my most lasting reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001: that there are people among us who are willing to kill others so they can have a better chance of going to heaven. If heaven is their reward, then it must surely be indistinguishable from hell.

These were the events I recalled as I was using my model of group interaction to examine the "threat" to cultural purity that a small group could expect from a large group it came in contact with, a threat that included the possibility of physical and cultural extermination. For a group unwilling to surrender its uniqueness (cultural or in terms of personal characteristics), the most practical option is to reestablish isolation, which is realistically not practical at all. To someone who accepts the existence of a supernatural world that can be accessed after death, practicality is irrelevant, and the irrational options of dying or trying to kill large numbers of the larger group will come under serious consideration.

I understand that my perception of their actions (attacks) and preferred actions (assassinating homosexuals) as evil stems from my thinking of all of humanity as just one group, with differences that do not rise to the level of deserving death, except where they lead to death (based on the high value I place on people). I can therefore accept cultural diversity as long as it does not increase the rate of death, now or in the future, especially through the consumption patterns and values that I modeled as "culture."

Through this lens, my native culture is extremely unacceptable, with its emphasis on excessive consumption, competition that devalues the lives of those we compete with, hubris that dismisses the wisdom of other people and cultures that may contribute to common survival and happiness, and willingness to kill people without proof of a direct and existential threat. I choose to try influencing it to change within the limits of my values, through discourse like this, and altering my own lifestyle (which includes avoiding support of actions I find offensive). While I respect the humanity of everyone, I reserve the right to be angry about gross violation of my values by others, and to make their lives uncomfortable enough to question their own values and perceptions as I have continued to question mine.