Thursday, February 28, 2008

A sustainable culture begins with a healthy, sustainable attitude

What I fear is that some writers are trying to inspire a movement to actively cause a hard collapse

That's the beginning of one of the observations that grabbed my attention in Ran Prieur's recent essay, Beyond Civilized and Primitive. I think he sees something important, something hidden below the tip of an iceberg. Prieur goes on to explore one consequence of actively seeking a hard collapse. He writes about coercion as a strategic mistake, which indirectly suggests one answer to a question I posed a while back:

How would we live if beginnings justify means?

Over the years I've encountered a number of people who tell me (over and over!) that they're working for the greater good, but their consistently demonstrated behaviors look a lot like something else. Their behaviors look like they're trying, first and foremost, to fulfill their own personal wants and needs. A need for attention. A need for approval. A need for affirmation. A need to be "right". A need to have a crowd of followers who provide attention, approval, affirmation, and an award for absolute, universal Truth. (You know, with a capital T. The Truth.)

Thing is, for all the talk about big ideas and grand plans, what I notice, what a lot of folks notice, what we respond to, is consistently demonstrated behavior. Show me, don't tell me.

When I look around and find healthy, mature people who interact in healthy, stable social groups, I don't see a lot of attention-seeking behaviors. I don't see guys jockeying for position in the pack. I don't see competition to be declared smartest. Nor loudest. No one-upping. No tantrums. Nor do I see people who try to drag everyone around them into a black pit of despair. When I see healthy, mature people interact with each other in healthy, stable social groups, I see people who seem to share and appreciate a sense of community. I see people who become energized by mutually supportive, win/win, interactions. I see people who can see beyond themselves.

Of course, some big ideas and grand plans do overlap with attitudes and values that result in real, beneficial pro-social behavior. I'm happy to support those ideas and those plans. I strive to credit folks for imagination and innovation. But I refuse to endorse egotistic behaviors that cause harm to others. I refuse to endorse obnoxious behavior even if it's affiliated with someone's good idea. I refuse, because authentic, sincere prosocial behaviors actually create a healthy society.

Show me, don't tell me.


Some additional pieces that may fit:

Beyond Civilized and Primitive, Ran Prieur

Ideas, wrapped in behaviors

Circle of observers

Two questions

Being a good person despite bad outcomes

Tip of the iceberg

To be wise is to see

Arithmetic allegory #4

(links open in a new window or tab)

Some readers may recognize elements of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" throughout this essay. I'm borrowing rather casually, and I haven't found an online resource that concisely associates Maslow's ideas about individual needs to prosocial behavior. Perhaps you can suggest something?


Anonymous said...

What I like about the Ran Prieur essay is his pointing to a way forward that is neither primitivist nor blind technological optimism, neither a retraction from science and technology nor business-as-usual. Most of all I like his requirement that "the totality of biological life on Earth must be better off with us than without us." That's something all technological and social innovations must be measured against.

And I agree with you, etbnc, about those actively seeking a hard collapse or using obnoxious/dangerous attention seeking behavior to "alert" others to a coming collapse. Just recently we may have another Earth Liberation Front (ELF) action, the burning of four empty expensive homes near Seattle, and if so that's certainly at the extreme. To me, that's mental illness at work. We all have strong angry feelings, but we don't all act on them irrationally and destructively.

I love the last two paragraphs of your post about healthy mature people and your refusal to endorse "egotistic behaviors that cause harm to others."

About Maslow's "hierarchy of needs". Can't help with resources there, but am wondering if you are familiar with Chilean ecological economist Max-Neef's list of fundamental human needs? It's an different structure, flat rather than hierarchical.

etbnc said...

Thanks, Trinifar.

I'd say "priority" and "urgency" of needs might give us a better framework to think about the ways that needs can motivate behavior. I do like the way Max-Neef's career and his comments that you've cited at your blog reflect the ideas of priority and urgency of needs. Thanks for that. Maslow's hierarchy is pretty well known, which makes it useful to me here as a starting point for conversation. (Most models are wrong, but some are useful.)

The suspicious house burning incident you mentioned may well be an example of one kind counterproductive behavior that Ran Prieur and you and I wish to discourage. I see many other subtle examples that don't make news, but do cause harm. It would worry me if we only noticed the occasional extreme examples without seeing the more common, ongoing problematic behaviors, including the behaviors manifest in written words.

Words matter. Words create consequences. If we bloggers, newspaper columnists, magazine writers, and other commentators really wish to influence the behavior of other people, it seems to me we need to be very, very careful about the examples we set with our own behaviors.

Thanks again, Trinifar, for your contribution to productive conversation.


Anonymous said...

I like your emphasis on words and how they matter. That's something so easily lost these days with everyone shouting over one another to get attention.

etbnc said...

Shouting to get attention?

Do you mean, like the noisy little boys at these playgrounds?

John Wilkins, about Richard Dawkins
P.Z. Myers, about John Wilkins

etbnc said...

I should be more explicit about my opinion of the links in my last comment.

From what I've read during several months, John Wilkins consistently demonstrates mature behavior. That other blogger? Not so much.

And their commenters? Yikes!

Anonymous said...

:-) I agree with your take on the likes of Wilkins and Myers as well as the commentors at Pharyngula. I've stopped reading that site unless I see an interesting reference from elsewhere.