Can Humanity Move to an Eco-Paradigm?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, February 9, 2020

Humanity has gone through a number of major paradigm shifts. Probably the most famous is the Copernican revolution when we realized Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. I’m guessing the biggest recent shift was in the 20th century when we realized women were not inferior to men. But as you can see from this map of when women became eligible to vote that a paradigm shift is slow and doesn’t hit all at once. (Source.)

When women could vote

We need to shift to a new economic paradigm where capitalism protects the environment. Many environmentalists feel we need to jettison capitalism to save the Earth, but I don’t believe that’s possible. Capitalism is how humans survive, how they feed, clothe, and shelter themselves. Current capitalism is killing the Earth, and will eventually make the planet uninhabitable for ourselves and other species.

The present paradigm assumes the Earth is a storehouse of consumable resources for the taking. Our basic drive, which comes from our reptilian and mammalian portions of our brain pushes us to take and not give. We struggle for resources, mates, and raising our offspring. It’s quite natural. The greed we’re seeing in conservative political movements around the world is a natural survival mechanism. Everyone is programmed to grab all they can before its gone.

It really is survival of the fittest on a vast scale. Under the existing paradigm, the strong will survive with abundance while they take everything from the weak who won’t. Like I said, it’s the way of nature, it is natural — if you consider humans are animals. But can we transcend our animal nature? Can we use our neo-cortex to become something different? Moving to an Eco-paradigm means transcending our animal nature.

For our species to survive will require moving to this new paradigm. Some have called it Lifeboat Earth. That’s an apt metaphor, but most people don’t like its grim connotations. Probably a better term to promote would be Eco-Capitalism. That’s why we’re hearing so much about the Green New Deal.

My liberal friends and I are becoming philosophically depressed over current trends in American politics. Conservative American politics means many things, but to me, it represents a rejection of the new paradigm. Conservative philosophy has always been backward-facing, stay-the-course, return to the good old days thinking. To protect its beliefs, conservative philosophy has become anti-science, and anti-environmentalism.

I see the U.S. 2020 presidential election as a referendum, with two choices on the ballot. Keep the old paradigm, or move to the new paradigm. I’m sure most voters will see it in terms of their own special interests.

The reason why I wrote my last essay about cognitive tools we used to work with reality is to understand how people think about this referendum. The Republicans have clearly defined what they want, but the Democrats haven’t. Most liberals just want to replace Trump, but obviously, Republicans will do anything to get what they want, including following such a repugnant leader. Democrats are arguing over who should be their leader, and not what they want. They are under the illusion they are fighting Trump, but what they are fighting is what the Republicans want. And what the Republicans want is not to change.

The world seemed to be moving to the new Eco-paradigm but then conservative movements around the globe emerged. My philosophical question of the day: Can humanity move to the new Eco-paradigm? I’m not asking will we, but can we.

When we look at the map of women’s suffrage and see that it took a hundred years to change (and it’s far from finished), that I have to wonder if it will take any less time to move to the new eco-paradigm. (And do we have the time?)

The Atlantic is running “Why Men Vote for Republicans, and Women Vote for Democrats” that provides some additional data for my conundrum. It appears that women are a driving force in liberal politics. We are changing, but are we changing fast enough? And like the backlash against the Equal Rights Amendment by conservative women, many women have chosen to maintain a conservative path.

I’ve been reading more and more articles about political burn-out. That old adage about not letting the bastards wear you down has new relevance. I know that I and some of my liberal friends are being worn down. This makes me feel we won’t make it to the new paradigm.

The 2020 election will give me exact numbers on how my fellow citizens feel. We still have ten months of political turmoil. Who knows, lots could happen. Liberals want it to be a vote about Trump, but I’m starting to see that’s an illusion. The Republicans have clearly defined what they want. The majority of the conservatives want a world where they can grab all the can, keep all they can, have no regulations on the grabbing, and spend the least on fixing up the nation or helping the needy. A minority of conservatives want to fight for certain religious beliefs that challenge liberal values.

The Democrats don’t have a clear goal. To the Republicans all the Democrats want is to give way their money. The Democrats haven’t made a Green New Deal their primary goal. They spend a lot of time talking about the environment and immigration, but they appear to make expensive social programs their deciding issues, and some of those issues don’t even have universal appeal to liberals. Republicans know their key desires and vote in lockstep.

I believe the young are more concerned with the new eco-paradigm, but I’m afraid too many of them have completely given up on political action.

Right now, I don’t believe we’ll make it to the new paradigm shift. I suppose if we suffered some truly catastrophic natural disasters, way larger in scope than the present disasters, we might start pulling together. But that might only cause more fighting in the lifeboat.

Readers might think I’m psychologically depressed because of this essay. I’m not. I might be philosophically down, but not personally down. I have a stoic existential psyche. What happens is what happens. We all want reality to be what we want, but our reality is what is. I’m just trying to guess where humankind is going. I want to imagine what the future might be after I die. But guessing the future is next to impossible. Yet, it amuses me to try.



19 thoughts on “Can Humanity Move to an Eco-Paradigm?”

  1. James, you make an interesting point about capitalism. As soon as we can convince the fat-cats that there is money to be made in saving the planet, they will start seriously investing in solutions. The questions is, will that realization come in time?

  2. Capitalism is surely destructive to the environment, as the capitalists don’t care what they have to do to the natural world to make money. It’s a paradigm for greed and being uncaring. Ecology however, should be a paradigm that is beneficial to the natural world. That would mean a lot of changes to society though that won’t please everybody, so perhaps eco-capitalism would be a better paradigm to balance the needs of capitalism and ecology.

  3. Curiously, that map doesn’t show the first country in the world to extend suffrage to women – New Zealand, in 1893! But yes, it’s going to take a while for humanity to shift its attitudes to exploiting the environment, and as you say, likely we haven’t got that much time. My worry is that the way we exploit environments until destroyed seems to be hard-wired into humanity; I suspect it was a survival technique back in hunter-gatherer days. Back then, of course, there was always ‘another’ environment over the next range of hills. Now there isn’t. And yeah, we’ll keep on fighting each other as the resources run out. It’s what humans seem to do. Depressing, but history tells me it’s how things usually go.

  4. Hey, James….
    I read your piece. My first thought was, “Well, damn. He is simply re-asking one of the first questions asked in the Bible: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'”
    There are only two direct answers, of course: “Yes.” “No.”
    Once the question is asked, however, two more questions demand to be asked: “Why?” Or, of course, “Why not?”
    Here in 2020, people are content to answer it in convient, ambivalent way: “Sure, well maybe, okay, some of my brothers some of the time.”
    It is the torturous path from Religion (those “Dark Ages”), in which the answer was “Yes,” to “science” and the Enlightenment, i.e., evolution, in which case the answer is indeed “No,” to where we are now and people want the conveience of having everything both ways, meaning the Politics of it all.
    James, you do have a penchant for jumping into bottomless rabbit holes, don’t you?

    1. Individually, we cannot be responsible for everyone else. But collectively, we might pull it off.

      If we lived in an open, infinite system, it can be every person for themselves. But we don’t. We live in a finite system. Everything interrelates and interconnects. We’re all butterflies causing hurricanes.

      If there was a God it would be God’s responsibility. If there is no God, then who will step up? As far as I see, there’s no God, and it’s just randomness in charge. If we want to beat entropy then we have to do so consciously. I just don’t know if our race is capable of conscious decisions.

      Yes, I do.

      1. Hey, James…
        As I do so often, I have to begin with, “Well, damn….”
        In this case, it is because I just, a while ago, finished another lengthy reply. Had I read this reply, yours to mine, first, I wouldn’t have bothered ’cause you said it all:
        “I just don’t know if our race is capable of conscious decisions.”
        You drew that line in the sand…”conscious” decisions v “intelligent” ones. Now, add to that those pesky emotions and feelings, that “other” half of the brain and yep, you did it again: Another rabbit hole….
        Stay safe and be well….

  5. It does seem a tall order doesn’t it? Perhaps with constant public pressure that then translates to the voting booth? Yet as you say, these paradigm shifts take time. Maybe we should add “soon enough” to the Eco-paradigm question?

    So far, all the environmental protests, marches and heart-felt speeches have accomplished little. The powerful wealthy corporations that influence government will be a very tough nut to crack indeed. Then like you’ve stated, you’ve got human nature to deal with: self-interest, long-held political affiliation, opinion swayed views on climate change science and on and on.

    This leads me to believe (like you?) that the hope lies not in the same-old-same-old common voters constituency but in our youth. Perhaps a voters paradigm is needed here first?
    Can we change our leaders into a more Eco-friendly constitution? Perhaps with time? Will it be soon enough to avert climate change disaster? That I believe, is more unlikely!

    1. Corkywk, I think we need to maximize democracy. We need to develop a bullet-proof voting system so we can have referendums on just about everything. Cut out the middlemen, the representatives. But a winning majority should be higher than 50%. We should start with 66%, although I think we should aim for 75%.

      It’s impossible to make everyone happy, but we should be able to create laws that make at least two-thirds, to three-fourths of the people happy. This would also eliminate the need for political parties. No more coalitions of special interests. One law, one referendum. And make the referendums clear and simple. For example: Should marijuana be legal? If 66% of Americans (or 75%) vote yes, then it’s passed. No more arguments for 10 years. Sure, most issues are way more complicated, but they could be simplified by a series of referendums.

      We should have a referendum: Is climate change a manmade threat that should be legally solved? If the designated majority vote yes, then we have the next referendum on the first law to enact.

      By raising the passing majority percentage will force us to compromise and cooperate. By dealing with one precise law at a time, political shenanigans should be greatly reduced, if not eliminated.

      1. Sounds good James! Though to accomplish this, wouldn’t you first have to blow up the almost entire corrupt political system now in place and not just assume they will willingly allow changes that will take the powers they hold from their self-interest greedy little hands. I can’t see them willingly consenting to an absolute power change via referendum, even in the face of massive public pressure. (ie the huge environment protests that have changed little or nothing.)

        It seems to me that corruption is embedded now too wide and too deep for significant change to happen including bending to special interests. Other than a complete system overhaul. Yet how likely is this to happen? (Though I do agree — it should!)

        If say, special-interest lobbying was officially abolished today (which it certainly should be) isn’t it likely it’d still continue under the radar? Wouldn’t they simply buy enough votes to vote-down their proposed referendum inclusion? That said, how likely is it that the NRA would allow a referendum on Gun Control, or the wealthy powers of oversized corporations allowing a pro-environmental vote, or any existing powers that be to risk loosing their profitable bottom-line.

        I’m not disagreeing by any means. The public should have way more sway in the outcome of government decisions. I’m just wondering, at least here in the west, if that doesn’t entail sweeping away most of the long-held political systems now in place. And how feasible accomplishing this, really is? But wouldn’t that be great! Perhaps the first baby steps to erasing racism, poverty, enviro abuse and on and on! Great discussion James!

      2. Okay, I’ll play along:
        “It’s impossible to make everyone happy, but we should be able to create laws that make at least two-thirds, to three-fourths of the people happy.”
        So it is a simple numbers game. That’s all well and good but who are the people, the groups, that decide what exactly should be the next “referundum”? Am I, a lowly, retired, white, southern, heterosexual male ever gonna get to decide that referendum…or am I allowed only to vote yea/nay?
        The word that enters the discussion here, of course, is that ever-popular “diversity”.
        And that’s where the whole house of cards crumbles because this country is way past the point of governance to, again, your words–“…make at least two-thirds, to three fourths of the people happy”–to now it is about what is best for “this” group and “that” group. To hell with thinking of people as “individuals” and what might be in the best interest of…the individual…but what is not only “best” for those groups but what exactly are they “entitled” to.
        And now I’ll just be blunt:
        Why in the hell should I care how “happy” anyone else is?
        It is an old, old saying here in the south: “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.”
        James, this is THE reason I avoid political discussions:
        The framers of the Constitution screwed the pooch big-time when they wrote of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
        And what do people really look for in life? Is it “happiness” or is “meaning and purpose”?
        Oh, sure, “everyone” says, shouts, screams from the rooftops, march in the streets carrying their precious little signs, that it is “happy” that they want. “They” would all be “happy”…if. Then fill in the blanks. “If only” “they” would (01) lower MY taxes but (02) raise taxes on “those” people, I’d be “happy”. “If only” “they” would raise taxes on those cigarettes…but don’t you dare touch my booze…then we can save lives and reduce health-care and…blah blah blah.
        It always reduces to “my” happiness” and…to hell with everybody else’s…well, until it is fashionable to be part of “social justice movement” and even then, that reduces to little more than, “Look at me. I feel so sorry for ‘this group’ that has been treated so badly….”
        And then, poof, as if by magic, that becomes the “meaning and purpose” in life, that we should all, what, “love” each other, “care” for each other…”the need of the many outweigh the good of the few”.
        And yep, here we are, at the bottom of the rabbit hole of these discussions which is where every single one of them should begin: Beliefs in the origins of life on this planet.
        You wrote it this way:
        “Like I said, it’s the way of nature, it is natural — if you consider humans are animals. But can we transcend our animal nature? Can we use our neo-cortex to become something different?”
        So the question you’re posing is “What can we do to make life better…for everyone?”
        The real question is “Why should anybody give a damn about anyone else?”
        I.E., suvival of the fittest, the natural order of things. If evolution is the truth of the origin of life on this planet, there is no “Why,” period, end of discussion, no “Why” in either that “big picture” and none in the stuff of daily life, either. We’re here. We eat. We breed. We labor. We fight. We kill. We die.
        Welcome to earth.
        But then, the most amazing damned thing happens.
        After having kicked “God” to the curb…in just your and my lifetime–humans continue to want to talk about, demand, and hell, even make it matters of politics–that we all “be nice to each other,” that we “love” each other.
        And poof, just like that, a system of belief, of scientific certainty, that there is absolutely no reason at all for humans to be on this planet suddenly wants to discuss what we can do to be nice, to be kind, and in the most amazing of all coincidences, they come up with what is little more than the same “moral code”…found in the Bible: Be kind to each other, love one another, feed the poor, etc.
        And then the story simply repeats: Regardless of society or religions, it is always about those at the top, the rulers, those damned “authority figures,” and…and everyone else.
        So then I try to imagine a bunch of the rednecks I’ve grown up with having that “control” and “authority”. Yeah, wouldn’t that be pretty. You think it would be better with a bunch of “inner city” black guys? Yeah, me, neither. And hell, my entire lifetime has been watching how those “well-educated” men and women, those armed with those college degrees, have done. They’ve certainly proven, beyond any doubt at all, that the human animal is indeed easily educated way beyond their levels of intelligence.
        Rodney King said it best, I think. Poor ol’ Rodney King. Drunker’n a monkey, got the whoopin’ he deserved for being a total moron, and then he asked the question that no one has yet to answer, at least not publicly: “Can’t we all just get along?”
        That answer is “No,” we can’t. Some 6,000 years of recorded human history has proven that beyond any shadow of a doubt. People wage war “in the name of” religion(s). They fight and kill “in the name of” justice, freedom. They rape, pillage, and plunder “in the name of” Communism, Socialism. THAT is the human animal. Remove from the equation any consideration of “Why” humans are on this planet and THAT is the only answer you get to have.
        And that is to go full-circle. This country successfully did with “people” with what they did to “God”. They kicked the very idea of the “individual” to the curb and replaced him with what group he best identifies with. And now the best way to say the thing is it is tribal warfare. And each tribe wants to be the ruling class.
        And this discussion could go farther down that rabbit hole. All I mean is do you want to consider “cities” v small town and rural America?
        So have a referendum…and every single eligile voter, votes…and the majority agrees that effective immediately, everyone MUST carry, at all times, a handgun. How is that going to go over? Or that same majority agrees that anyone and everyone not born in this country is to be rounded up and shipped outta here? How will the “minority” react to that? Or maybe a referendum that, okay, fine, you got pregnant. You didn’t mean to. Here’s your food stamps, welfare, etc. But then…wait. What? Another kid? You want more freebies? Hell, no. Send her off to have an abortion ’cause taxpayers didn’t take her to raise. Will that work? Is it “fair” or “right” that a man who plays a damned football game makes millions of dollars a year but the guy who picks up trash makes a few dollars an hour? Or are things like “professional sports” and “entertainers” and “actors and actresses” somehow “exempt” from these considerations of “fairness,” “equality,” and “social justice”?
        The system sucks. I agree. But the systems suck because, well, people suck. And people suck because yep, that want to be “happy” instead of being responsible for themselves, of having “meaning and purpose” in their lives.
        But people do seem to get the government they deserve because when the proletariat finally “raise up” and take over everything, they will always become the bourgeoisie, the Ruling Class that, hell, just the day before, they hated.
        Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
        It gets painfully boring…which is why I avoid these topics.
        So the country, the “United States,” I was born in is already a matter of history. I’m just watching to see what’s going to replace it. One thing is for sure: “Life” and “liberty” might remain but ain’t nobody gonna be “happy” with whatever it is because those days, that thinking, are dead and gone. People do not want to be “happy”. They want power and control…and not over themselves and their own destinies, but over others.
        And that, again, is to complete yet another circle. “They,” all those other convenient “groups,” set out to get, win, achieve their “equality” with those white guys who started it all, And I will be damned if they did not succeed completely because they have become the “same” as the white guys who, if I am to believe the “political” discourse in these matters, were so mean, so evil, that they did not care about anyone…but themselves.
        And here it where the whole discussion just turns comical as hell.
        So with, apologies for buttin’ in where I wasn’t invited and as always, James, you stay safe and be well.

        1. Why should you care if other people are happy? If we all lived alone it wouldn’t matter. If I could live self-sufficiently on an island I wouldn’t think about the rest of the world. But we live in a society that’s completely interrelated. Why shouldn’t I want the people who grow my food, make my clothes, build my house, bind the books I read, cure my ails, directs the movies I watch, compose the music I hear, etc. to be happy?

          But even more than that, shouldn’t we allow people to be themselves? I’m an atheist, why shouldn’t I want all those congregations of all the churches across the globe who believe something different from me not to be happy too? It doesn’t hurt me if they believe in God and Heaven. We’re all here in this reality struggling to make sense of it. Why shouldn’t we help each other to get what we each want? It’s very far out to exist at all. It’s also a struggle. Shouldn’t we try to make it easier for one another? Especially if it doesn’t take much effort or cost?

          Shouldn’t we try to maximize our potential in this reality? We should fight each other when we could cooperate?

          The thing is, yes, we’re animals and have animal natures of greed and selfishness, but does it need to be that way? If we can change, shouldn’t we? If we can’t, we won’t, and that’s it. But if there’s a chance, shouldn’t we work to achieve a higher nature?

  6. Corkywk, I agree completely. The corrupt system we have now won’t allow such a change. My idea was mainly a what-if solution. We have a minority rule now, basically a plutocracy. They have all the money and power. And they won’t give up no matter what. They’d have to be totally overrun by the current voting system, and that depends on what the young will do in the future.

  7. The 2020 primary elections give America choices: socialists vs. capitalists, those for environmentalism vs. the pro-coal crowd, etc. The Bottom Line is our planet is damaged and when are we going to fix it? We are all in the same Life Boat. Conflict vs. cooperation needs to be resolved…soon.

  8. James in support of your “Why we should care if others are happy” — Because with almost 8 billion of us now (and ever rising) and most living in crowed major cities and with trending integration there is no-avoiding each other anymore. So today, getting along happily with each other has become a social need for our species.

    Allowing this to work is our sense of empathy towards each other. We don’t need a God to tell us we should get-along, evolution has empowered us with the beneficial insights to do this on our own. Today’s modern societies provide us with our basic needs, so now using empathy we stretch our hope for happiness in our fellow man (mankind) and seek to want their comfort and happiness as well.

    We also have learned lessons from long ago, back in our days of clans then tribes and now nations that the best way to stay cooperative in large groups, is to ensure “everyone’s” happiness. When the grouping gets too large then we try for the majority. Thus democracy. It is in our own interest as an individual that happiness is a state held by all. Without it, just our own personal happiness, is self-defeating.

    The trouble is, because of the grand scale of our Nation populations today. The word “fair” is being used more and more in place of happy. Yet that consists of different undertones all together?

    1. When I was growing up in the 1960s I read an article about a science experiment where they forced rats to live close together to simulate human overpopulation. The results weren’t nice. Our cities are destined to grow larger. If we don’t want to tear each other apart like rats, we need to find ways to reduce the social pressures. Making sure everyone has equal opportunity will be essential. The wealthy believe they can live in enclaves and ignore the poor. We know from history that it only works for so long.

      There’s no reason why we can’t create a fairer society, a happier society, and steal leave room for the greedy to pursue their dreams too.

  9. I for one am less hopeful than I once was. I devoted my latest . . blog post to one of the main obstacles we face in finding the answers we seek………the Great Political Divide that has brought our great nation to a sad and unproductive moment in its history.

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