From: Eric Armstrong <email@example.com>
Repost of message sent to the org after the first session.
This message deals with several of the critical problems that
were identified at the first colloquium.
-------- Original Message --------
Thoughts on some of the "critical problems" facing mankind.
One of the disturbing questions was "How to introduce
democracy in places where it is not present?" That question
rests on the assumption that democracy is the ideal form
of government. But is that necessarily a valid assumption?
It has long been held that a "benevolent monarchy" is even
more effective than a democracy. The problem, of course, is
one of succession and difficulty of guaranteeing continued
benevolence. If such guarantees could be achieved, might not
that be a better system?
Arguably, what has made the American system so great is
*not* it's form of government but a) the resources available
here, b) the amount of freedom given to individuals to pursue
their political and economic interests, c) the separation of
church and state, and finally d) the many checks and balances
that tend to keep one branch of the government from treading
too drastically on any of those advantages. Is democracy
necessarily the only (or the best) way to achieve those freedoms?
(Serious question. Not rhetorical.)
[Note: One of our "checks and balances" is a free press. But
perhaps that one has gotten to where it needs a check of it's
own? Another significant check is the availability of legal
In truth, all of the advantages listed above are important. But
which are the critical advantages, and how are they best
ensured? Possible avenues of investigation include comparison
of existing political systems, simulations, and social experiments.
If instituting a particular form of government is seen as an
important part of the overall solution, then that investigation is
Along those lines, it is important to recognize that our system is
*not* completely ideal, as will be seen momentarily when we
investigate some of the impacts that have resulted from our failure
to separate business and state. In addition to the direct impacts
noted below, we also have to deal with an environment in which
government is virtually powerless against a tide of rampant,
advertising-induced consumerism, and a lifestyle in which "living
to work" is the norm, instead of the European ideal of "working
The sobering point was made that we have 25 to 30 years of oil
reserves left, because oil is being used for energy, as well as
and lubrication. The question must be asked, however: How much of
that problem results from the policies, regulations, taxes, and
that prevent oil from being more costly, and from making alternative
sources of energy more appealing? Is this another case where the
chickens are running the hen house? Would separating business
from government put an end to it? (Not a rhetorical question. It's
a complex problem. I ask the question in all seriousness.)
One misconception was fostered by the presentation, though, when
it considered oil as an *energy supply* and compared it with wind
and solar energy supplies, which of course have the problem of not
being available when you want them.
In point of fact, oil is not an energy supply, but a form of *energy
storage*. In essence, it is a battery. The energy supply is the
decomposition of organic matter which, as was indicated, proceeds
too slowly to consider oil anything but a non-renewable resource.
Considering oil as a "battery", rather than as a direct energy
has at least one important consequence: ALL cars should be
electrical. By that, I mean that the power train and other
of all cars should run on electricity. That produces a more modular
design consisting of the energy-storage system, the
system, and the energy-utilization system.
Deciding on a standard energy-utilization system like electricity
a design where a tank of gas (the energy storage system) is
in an engine (the energy conversion system) to produce the energy
needed to run the car.
The advantage of such a modular design is that the energy-storage
and energy-conversion modules can be swapped out as newer
non-polluting, renewable technologies become feasible.
For example, the engine might be replaced with a hydrogen-canister
conversion system, and the gas tank replaced with hydrogen
Both might be replaced by batteries, with solar panels on the roof
good measure. Maybe on windy days, windmills will be seen on the
cars in the parking lot. Or maybe one of the hybrid systems will
most effective. Gas stations would become energy-storage
that stock a variety of energy supplies. The hybrid vehicle would
use whichever was available, fastest, and/or cheapest.
Alternative-energy possibilities become a lot more feasible when a
standard energy-utilization system is adopted, which in turn
modular design. The inefficiencies inherent in such a system are, as
Forrester pointed out in his systems theory years ago -- counter
intuitive. At first, the inefficiencies increase the short-term rate
usage. But as a result of motivating and enabling alternatives, the
term consequences are greatly reduced fuel utilization, not to
a drastic reduction in noise pollution.
However, that kind of design is realistically unachievable until and
unless there is a separation between business and state.
One problem with an almost entirely wrong-headed approach was
in the field of medicine. The claim was that we are seeing a huge
resurgence in drug-resistant, infectious diseases that pose a major
hazard to life and limb. The solution, as these folks would have it,
is to produce more and better drugs.
My god. The drug and medical establishment seems virtually incapable
of realizing that it is in an escalating war with life itself! On
the one hand,
you have a handful of drug companies and doctors. On the other hand,
you have uncountable trillions of bacteria and virii, all doing
best to survive, and operating in a pure Darwinian environment that
in a matter of years brought the medical establishment to the brink
recognizing it's hubris -- except that it refuses to look into the
and see it's own reflection.
It is undeniable that microbes are the causative agents in many
infectious diseases. However, attempting to kill the bugs is
*manifestly* a self-defeating proposition, as the medical community
should now be admitting.
In fact, it is plausibly argued that the really great advances in
subsequent to the discovery of microbes have nothing to do with
medicine! Plumbing, garbage removal services, housing codes,
sanitation laws, food safety laws, and the organizations for
the regulations have undoubtedly had a much more dramatic effect on
prolonging human life than antibiotics.
Vaccination programs and hospital sanitation have also had a
noteworthy effect in reducing infant mortality and hospital-induced
diseases, two advances the medical community *can* take credit
for, however adamant they were in rejecting the notion of washing
their hands after surgery until their noses were practically rubbed
in the underlying science. (But vaccination, like antibiotic drugs,
also responsible for creating it's own multi-headed hydra.)
But if attempting to kill the bugs is a lost cause, what is the
The answer would seem to lie in increasing the resistance of the
human organism. That resistance is mostly likely to be influenced by
the *nutritional* approach, rather than the medical one. In addition
to improving resistance to infectious diseases, the nutritional
provides important other benefits.
The fact is that the most pressing health conditions in the
nations are largely nutritional in origin. Heart disease accounts for
the deaths in this country. (I personally, do not count simple heart
failure in this category. I do not believe the statistics do, either,
I am not totally sure. The difference is between a heart attack and
the simple heart failure that took Bing Crosby while he was walking
along on a golf course -- a beautiful, wonderful, natural way to go
that *I* want, at his age or later, when my time comes.)
After heart disease, the number one killer is cancer, which accounts
for another 25 or 30% of the deaths we experience. As will be
discussed more fully in the next section, "Nutrition", the
environment is the major cause of these conditions. Medicine is
currently fighting today's war with yesterday's weapons. They are
the drugs that worked so well at the turn of the century, seemingly
oblivious to the fact that the major problems they are trying to
stem from completely different causes!
A large number of the remaining 20 or 25% of deaths can also be
traced to the nutritional environment in which we live. In point of
infectious diseases are a truly minor problem compared to the other
issues we face! The really significant problems stem from our
environment. As Kelly Brownell, director of Yale's Center for Eating
and Weight Disorders stated, "Americans live in a toxic food
The science now exists to explain how the industrialized processing
foods and its impact on the Essential Fatty Acids has set the stage
for heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and most of
other diseases that are endemic to industrial society. At the same
time that are food supply is robbing us of essential nutrients, many
the foods we eat are detrimental to the bacterial organisms that keep
us healthy -- organisms that produce essential amino acids, essential
fatty acids, and essential B-vitamins, like B-12 -- organisms that
kill harmful organisms before they have a chance to infect us, and
produce lactase and other enzymes that prevent allergies and make our
digestive tracts function optimally
But why is that science so far removed from setting policy? Once
again, we must point to the failure to separate business and state.
Drug companies make huge profits from drugs. They fund research
and medical education. The results are self-serving. Nutritional
alternatives go untested and uninvestigated. Doctors are taught to
disdain any approach other than knives and drugs. The drugs they
prescribe then contribute to the bottom line.
The situation is changing, but it is changing very slowly. One reason
is the amount of influence that drug companies have over the FDA.
The USDA, which has much more realistic approach to the issue
of drugs, has it's own problems with pressure from industry
to promote the use of genetic engineering, radiation, hormones,
antibiotics, pesticides, and insecticides. All of these factors have
severe impact on our nutritional environment, and they are killing
Fortunately, there are signs of change. The recent legal victories
against the tobacco companies have established the principle that
corporations are financially responsible for the long term harm that
their products do. Although I was expecting it to take 10 or 20
years before that principle was extended to food suppliers, there
are signs that a bright crop of lawyers and social activists have
already seen the efficacy of that approach, and are preparing to
engage on that front.
One really interesting possibility in that regard is the opportunity
for a bit of "social judo". In Asia, several studies have revealed
no correlation between lung cancer and smoking. Possible
explanations include manipulation of nicotine levels, the bleach
used to whiten the paper of American cigarettes, and the
overall nutritional environment. Lending weight to the importance
of the nutritional environment are studies cited by Johanna Budwig
that show rats impervious to cancer when their diet is high in
the Omega-3 (super polyunsaturated) fatty acids, along with the
provable harm done to the fatty acids during commercial food
The possibility for "social judo" presents itself in the form of
tobacco companies who may well be motivated to invest portions
of their huge profits to shift the blame to food producers, who
may ultimately be held responsible for a wide variety of health
conditions that go well beyond simple lung cancer.
In general, though, the problem of cleaning up the nutritional
environment is one of separating business from state. We need
government sponsored research into herbal remedies and
nutritional cures, but mostly we need an environment that fosters
[The impact of the nutritional environment became clear to me when
I observed a Russian friend putting down a bit of candy because
"it was too sweet". I marveled at that, and wondered what on earth
it must be like to find something "too sweet". I realized then that
all the chocolate frosted sugar bombs I grew up on for breakfast,
and all the white-flour bread and sugary desserts my well-meaning
but under-educated parents had fed me while growing up, had
more or less "addicted" me to sugar -- a situation which, if it
a generally-held truth -- could have as powerful an impact on the
food industry as nicotine addiction had on the tobacco industry.]
5 Genetic Research
Another area that clearly needs to be disengaged from business is
genetic research. Given that fruit is the most healthy and most
of all foods for our species, genetic research should be aimed at
producing fruit trees that grow wild and produce abundantly over a
growing season, making food freely available to large segments of
Instead, however, genetic engineering is devoted to producing trees
that deliver uniformly large, green fruit all at one time, so it can
harvested and shipped without spoiling -- regardless of it's
content. It aims at producing a tomato that will be resistant to
strong insecticides, so they can be sold more widely, instead of a
wild tomato that will grow anywhere and taste great straight off the
In short, our science should be devoted to creating a Garden of
where fresh food is widely and freely available. Instead it is
on maximizing profits. Which leads to the issue of....
6. Reintroducing ethics into decision making
It was most interesting to see this one given as one of the critical
problems that confront us. It clearly is. But how do we do it?
Separating business and state is one possible avenue that might
help to do that. I've said enough about that already.
Another possible avenue is reestablishing a sense of "community".
After all, if one is well-connected to his community and feels a
sense of caring for, of being cared for by, and of concern for one's
fellow beings, then one is much less likely to act in ways that
are contrary to everyone's best interests.
My own particular mantra came to me from an elderly Asian
gentlemen who saw me indulging my predilection for picking up
litter whenever it makes sense to do so. (I try to pick up one
piece of litter each day. I go by the slogan,
"Pick a Little Litter, Every Day".
Even made up a little song to sing.) After observing and talking
to me the gentlemen said,
"If we were all you like you, we'd all be better off."
That was a really proud moment. But more importantly, it gave
me a usable rule for ethics:
"If we all did this, would we all be better off?".
This rule does not solve all dilemmas, of course. To use the example
of the cuban boy who's father wants him back, it is unclear how the
rule would be applied. In many other cases, though, the rule turns
to be useful.
For example, we are morally obligated to obey traffic laws.
The morals (rules) say to stay a stoplight until it is green, and
we are all better off when each of us does so. However, in
the middle of the night, with no around, are we really better
off to observe that rule? A sense of ethics tells us that we are
better off to break the rule in that instance -- and that we would
all be better off if everyone did. (However, once must be
prepared for a moralistic interpretation of the rules on the part
of a policeman that disagrees with one's sense of ethics!)
In a fundamental way, then, a sense of ethics depends on a sense
of what is good for others -- for all of us -- as well as what is
for ourselves. One way to improve the sensitivity to others
is to foster a sense of community...
7. Music and Community
A sense of community fundamentally depends on shared experiences,
and the interactions that result from them. In fact, "community"
probably be measured as the frequency and duration of interactions
among members of a physically adjacent group.
Our loss of community results from the lack of interaction with our
neighbors. Even more important than the fact that people are
moving all the time is the fact that we have no interaction with
while they are there next to us.
There may well be several kinds of activities that build a sense of
community. The more kinds of activities there are, the greater
the frequency and duration of interactions, and therefore the
stronger the community that will result. But one activity that has
huge potential in this regard is music and dancing.
The major trouble with music today is that it belongs to a musical
"elite" who do the performances, while everyone else is just a
spectator. But communities are built by people informally
themselves, as around campfires of old. Fortunately, at least one
model exists that shows how it can be accomplished.
The model I speak of (and happen to be familiar with) is Irish
Irish music has several of traditions that build a sense of
One is the "sessuin" (sesh-oon), the Irish word for session, in
players get together and play tunes. Unlike band and orchestral
which requires a pre-arranged setting and coordinated practice, the
focal point of Irish music is the melody. Since everyone plays
the same melody, a hundred musicians can get together and have
a great time playing together, even if they have never seen each
Another tradition is the "Ceili" (kay-lee), in which people come
dance. Typically, live musicians come together to make the music,
one or more people will teach the dances, and the everyone else
joins in the dancing. In a really good Ceili, there are breaks
the dances in which individual performers may sing a song, tell a
story, play a slow air, or show off a dance step.
The final tradition is the "Feisch" (fesh) in which players and
compete with each other for prizes. That activity improves the
quality of the music and dancing over time.
The major point in all this is that *everyone* has a "party piece"
-- some song or poem or story or dance or tune that they are capable of performing, when called on. Often, it will be the same piece, and
they do it once a year or so for their entire lives!
Some things that make sense to pass on that tradition and help a sense of community then are: a) Go out and learn some tunes and/or dances b) Start holding dances and/or sessions at a local community center or club house c) Make it easy for others to learn to sing, play, or dance.
With respect to making it easy for others to learn tunes, I'm working on a program that helps people learn to play a tune by ear. The goal is to make music into a "language" that people become fluent in -- a language they can use to engage in a musical "dialogue" with others. (In the Irish tradition, there is no one "correct" form of a tune. Each written transcription is merely a rendition of many possible variations. It is in varying the tune that each player gives it his own particular flavor, and in changing the variations that the player makes even multiple repetitions interesting.)
In general, I suspect that it is the slavish adherence to playing music off a page that prevents a musician from hearing what they are doing, paying close attention to what others are doing, and varying what they are doing in response to inner promptings and in response to what others are doing. It is these activities that make music into a "language" and that make playing with others into a "dialog" -- and those activities can best be learned when playing "by ear". (Which also means that people can teach tunes to each other, rather than requiring a professional musical educator -- which lowers the cost, increases the fun, and leads to further interactions of the kind which produce a sense of community.)
Putting more musical instruments and more music into the hands of everyone has more than one benefit. Since playing music together is primarily a cooperative enterprise, it builds social skills and a sense of mutual cooperation. But fundamentally, the music and the dancing that goes with it builds a sense of community. That leads to an improved internalization of ethics and to caring what others think of what you are doing, all of which tend to favor more responsible, ethical decision making.
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