[unrev-II] Regarding Several Critical Problems

From: Eric Armstrong (eric.armstrong@eng.sun.com)
Date: Thu Jan 20 2000 - 13:23:07 PST

From: Eric Armstrong <eric.armstrong@eng.sun.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.

1. Democracy
    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
   clearly critical.

   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
   to live."

2. Energy
   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
requires a
    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
of fuel
    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.

3. Medicine
    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
their level
    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
life span
   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
50% of
   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
fact, then,
   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

4. Nutrition
   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
   nutritional prevention.

   [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
together to
    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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