Expanding Our Moral Universe

April 4, 2012 | By | Reply More

Joy Merwin Monteiro
OurWorld 2.0

Energy is a fundamental necessity for life, let alone a vigorous society or civilization. This fact has been recognized by humans for a very long time — Sun, Wind, Fire and Water (in the form of rivers and waterfalls and rain), worshipped by most cultures, are manifestations of energy in one form or the other. The main difference between pre-industrial times and the present day is that we have restricted our worship only to Fire, neglecting the others almost entirely. Why this became the case, and as humanity again pays due attention to the other Gods again, what entities must again return into our moral equations, is what this essay tries to describe.

Sun, Wind and Water are, by nature, non-constant but rhythmic entities. The sun is up every day, but disappears during the night, winds change according to seasons, some rivers dry up in the summer and others flood during the rains and still nobody understands perfectly how the rains come and go.

Other important aspects of these sources of energy are that they are diffuse and not easy to store. Sunlight, wind and flowing water cannot be stored by themselves, but must be converted to some other form that can be stored. Such entities are normally called “fluxes”, and they are the most natural form in which energy is present around us. Even the purest form of energy that we know, electricity, is a flux and has to be converted to chemical energy in batteries before it can be stored.

The fact that these sources were hard to handle and diffuse (or not concentrated) was counterbalanced by the fact that they are, for all practical purposes, eternal. A European sailor planning to come to India to trade had to plan his visit to catch the monsoon winds, but he did not need to fear that these winds would stop some day. If today is cloudy, you can sun-dry your vegetables tomorrow. Pre-industrial society’s entire existence revolved around recognizing this variability and developing means to “harvest” this energy. Economic, social and cultural activity revolved around this ebb and flow of energy. Agriculture, wind/water mills were among the primary methods of harvesting this flux of energy, converting it into stocks of energy (in food grains) or using it immediately.

The main issue with these “gods”, as mentioned above, is that they are quite moody. Thus, those human activities that had to happen without break, everyday, like cooking for example, could not depend on them. It was Fire that came to our rescue.

Constant movement

Before moving onto the miracle of fire, it is necessary to analyse the moral universe of a person in a pre-industrial society. By necessity, a lot of objects in the world needed to be incorporated into her moral decision-making, the way she would decide something was “good” or “bad”. The rhythms of nature that manifest themselves in the movement of the sun, the seasons, flowering of plants, migration of animals, fruiting of trees were very important. Any activity that did not fit into this rhythm was not desirable. Restrictions on grazing, fishing, hunting, leaving land fallow, plucking flowers and fruits at certain times in the year are all indicators of the consciousness that humans depend to a very large extent on natural cycles over which they have no control. Therefore, any decision on the goodness or badness of any activity depended on the season, the time and the natural environment we found ourselves in. This was not due to altruism or an abstract love for nature, but due to sheer necessity.

Fire is unlike others in this pantheon. Rather than being energy in itself, it is a signature of a source of energy. Not only that, it indicates the presence of a highly concentrated source of energy. Sunlight in itself cannot become fire, but when concentrated through a lens or a mirror, it can become a very destructive fire as Archimedes discovered. Fire also yields easily to his worshippers, you can switch him on and off at will, once you have mastered the art. Therefore, it was but natural that those human activities that required constancy were built upon the foundation of fire. As long as there was fuel available, fire was there, regardless of time, region or season.

It is therefore not surprising that Prometheus, the one who gave fire to mankind in Greek mythology, is treated as a great champion of mankind. If gods are defined to be the masters of humanity, then fire, in giving us greater control over our own destiny, made us gods. The fundamental reason for this capacity of fire is that it depends on stocks of energy already stored and not the eternal fluxes that surround us at all times.

As humanity grew from being primarily agricultural to also indulging in trade and commerce, the prominence of fire grew very rapidly. The reason for this lies in the very nature of trade and commerce — it is the movement of things, people, ideas and cultures and all movement requires energy in one form or the other.

Controlling trade to some extent means controlling the energy that drives it. For this reason, initial trade (and, by implication, industry) was driven by animal and human (slave) power, firewood and sail boats. Mankind was making the move from harvesting energy to “mining” it from forests, animals and other, more unfortunate humans.

From the point of view of the enterprising businessman or trader, constant movement (of something or other) was required — movement implied trade and trade implied profit. Not only was constancy attractive to the trader, but also to every section of humanity: constancy implied security and it increased the natural capacity of humans to build upon their ancestor’s work. In this sense, it is a hallmark of civilization itself. This demand for constancy was at odds with what we had to work with — seasonal winds, disobedient labourers, lazy slaves and rapidly depleting forests that simply did not grow back as fast as we wanted.

It is from this point of view that the shift to coal (and later to oil) must be seen. It reduced the necessity to include the multitude of objects that previously entered our moral equations. Mankind could finally look inward and achieve magnificent progress without too many worries about what was happening in the non-human world. This was the era in which both the pessimists and the optimists, when discussing the future of the world, were simply discussing the future of the human species. Nature did not matter, for sooner or later we would completely conquer it anyway.

Fossil fuel-based transport, electricity to drive industries and homes, pesticides and fertilizers, which made agriculture less of a gamble, all combined together to provide the constancy we wanted and ensured a period of unparalleled prosperity and population growth. A mining civilization had more or less replaced the harvesting one. Fire was now our one and true God.

With fire came a profound shift in the way we worked and viewed the world. Farmers who could previously grow certain crops only at certain times of the year, could now grow them all around the year. People who previously aligned work and leisure with the sun and seasons now relied on casual leave, medical leave and government holidays. We began to work all year round, eat strawberries all year round and live in houses that were maintained at 27°C all year round. Corporations set up branches all over the world, so that the sun never set on their empires, forcing people to stay awake when they are supposed to sleep and vice-versa. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, we had to keep running to stay in the same place. Constancy was showing us that it was not all great, after all.

The severe jolt

It is therefore not surprising that, gradually, what was “good” and “bad” was decided by taking ever fewer objects into consideration, the logical conclusion of which came to be enshrined in the Homo economicus. To be fair, a life driven by coal and oil does not provide one with the time to do otherwise. Nothing but a severe jolt to the sensibility of humans could shake them out of their breathless but optimistic race towards an ever-receding perfection.

One by one, every resource that humanity has mined over the past few hundred years has either withered away or stood up in revolt. The first signs came when the humans being mined for their energy and skill revolted under the banners of communism and socialism. The frenetic movement that characterises our era moved diseases, plants and animals to places where they were not known, not always with good results. Agriculture is currently under siege by stubborn insects that simply refuse to be eradicated, no matter what is thrown at them. The oceans are nearly empty of fish, and the sky full of gases that threaten to heat our planet beyond the capacities of our best air-conditioners. When you play with fire, it is unlikely you won’t get burnt.

Slowly but surely, and somewhat reluctantly, humanity is beginning to realize that an inward looking civilization simply cannot survive forever. Those unsightly trees and insects will always have to be part of our culture, no matter what we do. The first few steps towards this consciousness have been taken (somewhat ironically) by identifying the rhythms of the Sun, Wind, Water and Life itself. Scientists are mapping out what are the best places to harvest solar energy, what areas of the world have high wind energy potential, hydroelectric potential and what places have large biodiversity. Modifying crops to suit local circumstances, using biological control for pests, understanding the response of ecosystems to our activities are under way. In essence, what was known before, and conveniently forgotten, is being painfully relearnt in a more “scientific” manner. Our moral universe is slowly but surely being reclaimed from the wasteland to which it was condemned for the past few hundred years.

However, as we are making this shift, a very fundamental contradiction arises — our civilization, still predominantly a mining one, wants to be driven by technologies that belong to a harvesting civilization. We demand the constancy that we have been used to for many generations, and which we idolize as the epitome of civilization, but we hope this constancy will be driven by technologies that are moody, uncontrollable and unanswerable to anyone.

This contradiction is manifesting itself in many contemporary debates and concerns: Can organic farming feed the world as it is designed today? How can solar thermal plants run round the clock? How can we design an electricity grid that is smart enough to provide constant power supply when connected to solar and wind installations? How can we design newer batteries and fuel cells to shelter us against the vagaries of the Sun, Wind and Water? What are the “sustainable” pollution levels that our skies and oceans can tolerate?

That we can go back to a completely harvesting society is a pipe dream, similar to the nineteenth century dreams of infinite progress and complete social equality. But it is equally apparent that unless our moral decision-making does not encompass at least a larger part of our natural and social environments, we cannot achieve what we cherish and aspire toward. The energy industry has always sought to modify consumer behaviour through prices. However, given that the largest consumers are those that are also the most affluent, it is questionable how effective this strategy will be in the future. It is unlikely that a person living in a house with an A/C, goes to work in an office with an A/C and travels in a car with an A/C will even relate to the symptoms of global warming.

Moral decision-making must include a notion of duties towards other beings, human, non-human and even non-living. Some actions must be performed simply because we consider them to be our duty towards others. Our moral universe must not be one forged in Fire, but also kissed by the Sun and caressed by the Winds and Water. Most importantly, as these elements come together in the glorious phenomenon called Life, the survival and prosperity of all life must be embodied within our notions of justice. Our happiness and survival depend on an intricate web of causality that encompasses everything from simple molecules to the well-being of the vast oceans. May it never be thought of otherwise.

This article was first published in the inaugural issue of Dimensions, a new publication from the UNU International Human Dimensions Programme.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Agriculture, Business, Community, Culture, Earth, Environment, Evolution, History, Ideas, Inspiration, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Society, Technology, Time & Space

Leave a Reply

Must Watch Videos

Open Source Plans for Modern Tesla Free Energy Generator Released to Public

Open Source Plans for Modern Tesla Free Energy Generator Released to Public













Terence Newton, Staff Writer
Waking Times

In a world of problems and solutions, few ideas spur both immediate hope and skepticism as the idea of free energy, and, on the brink of ecological disaster, nothing may be of greater importance to the human race.

The story of Nikola More

April 14, 2014 | By | 17 Replies More
Neuroscientist Exposes Dangers of Electromagnetic Fields

Neuroscientist Exposes Dangers of Electromagnetic Fields













Kevin Samson, Guest
Waking Times

Neuroscience has come under scrutiny for its involvement in an array of mind control initiatives and other ethically questionable research. But at least one neuroscientist from Sweden has gone on record to caution against the increasing dangers of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on human beings … More

April 14, 2014 | By | Reply More
On the Eve of Construction

On the Eve of Construction













Zen Gardner, Guest
Waking Times

I love the sound of construction. I always have. Not the industrial sound from the kind of massive, offensive structures made with other-worldly looking machines, but the intentional, gentle kind. Small structures going up, improvements on homes, road repairs, even tending to gardens whether … More

April 13, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More
Are You Inadvertently Investing in Monsanto’s Toxic Legacy?

Are You Inadvertently Investing in Monsanto’s Toxic Legacy?













Brandon Baker, Eco Watch
Waking Times

Monsanto didn’t achieve $11.8 billion in sales and 404 facilities in 66 countries all on its own.

The company is valued at $60 billion in the marketplace with 525 million shares outstanding, but the three largest mutual fund shareholders, Vanguard, Fidelity and State Street, … More

April 10, 2014 | By | Reply More
7 Ways Our Children Are Being Brainwashed

7 Ways Our Children Are Being Brainwashed













Gregg Prescott, M.S., In5D Guest
Waking Times

From birth, virtually all of us have been brainwashed through various outlets that encourage materialism, ego, subservience, control and conformity. But where do the origins of mind control begin and what can we do about it?

1. Religion

As children, the brainwashing begins … More

April 9, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More

Activism Works

The Truth About Fluoride Becoming More Widely Known

The Truth About Fluoride Becoming More Widely Known













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

Fluoride is a poisonous substance added to many municipal water supplies across the US, Canada, and elsewhere without the permission of the residents. Is there a model that communities can follow to remove it from their water supply? The short answer to this question is yesMore

April 1, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated By The Food Industry

6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated By The Food Industry













Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet
Waking Times

While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, breeding animals into mutants and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.

The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—”forget it’s an animal” says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward … More

March 28, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More
Our Respective Journeys Into the Valley of Reason

Our Respective Journeys Into the Valley of Reason













Michael T. Winter, Contributor
Waking Times

The Internet awakening has given birth to a worldwide multitude of people that are disengaging from the programmed paradigm created for us, and awakening to the reality of the dangers we face. The web has supplied a platform for writers to take a crack … More

March 26, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
13 Ways Foodies Are Changing The Food Industry

13 Ways Foodies Are Changing The Food Industry













Heather Callaghan & Jeffrey Green, Guests
Waking Times

A major shift in the consciousness of food consumers is forcing the industry into a competitive race to become more natural.  The market is telling food producers that they no longer want so-called factory food because of its many harmful effects on … More

March 25, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
American Agriculture May Eradicate the Monarch Butterfly Unless Swift Action Is Taken

American Agriculture May Eradicate the Monarch Butterfly Unless Swift Action Is Taken













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

You may be aware that bees are dying in large numbers across the globe, courtesy of the ever-increasing presence of toxins in our environment. But did you know that the monarch butterfly is also becoming endangered, and for the same reason?

As reported by the New More

March 22, 2014 | By | Reply More