Human Values

“The struggle between order and disorder, between the angels and devils, is still with us.”

Everything and anything that takes place on earth involves a flow of potential energy, provided primarily from the sun, as it streams toward a pool of dispersed or expended heat. The pathways of the stream are shaped by a hierarchy of directive forces that have evolved under nature’s laws as by-products of the stream. These directive forces include wayside storages of energy in the material patterns and dynamic circulations of the earth’s substances, including all the elements of the biosphere from the earliest and most primitive to the latest and most civilized or spiritual elements of human feeling, thinking, and behavior in the arts, sciences, and religions (Odum, 1977, p. 110).

Disordering Pulse MTB Lecture 7  from Odum, Zygon, vol. 12, no. 2 (June 1977)

Many aspects of the human system of generating choices use disorder, which makes possible faster adaptation and evolution than in the more rigid biological mechanisms. Alfred E. Emerson and Ralph Wendell Burhoe show the features of human systems, such as freedom, that lead to effective adaptation. Order is often associated with angelic ideals and assigned high value. Much of humanity is concerned with using energy sources to generate order to keep up with disorderly tendencies of storages. Disorder is sometimes associated with the devil or other representation of the random, the hot, and the unorganized. If both order and disorder are required to maximize the creativity, flexibility, circulation, and flow of energy, then both are of value and either may be of short supply in a real situation (Odum, 1977, p. 114).

Although most humans in the recent century of rich and rising energy have lost awareness of environmental responsibility, the role of humans is one of service. Humans provide complex control and management actions back to maximize the main power and survival of the whole system (Odum, 1977, p. 117). . . A general hypothesis is that culture evolves to fit the energy pattern( p. 128). With high-energy flows there is more disorder. When there is more disorder there are more choices. All patterns become fluid. Times have been ripe for spending energy to develop new, high-quality spiritual values. There have been a great variety of trial patterns, mixing of ideas, and uprooting of old patterns. Now with the reduction of energy again (Japan now has to buy fuels at high cost) the creative period must decline and there become fewer patterns of religious control and, for individuals, fewer types of souls. In due time one may expect an emerging new pattern that fits the new regimes of lesser energy. Symbiotic roles that control the landscape will maximize values from the energy of renewable resources (Odum, 1977, p. 131).

The mores of culture, religion, and even politics are our cultural DNA and are the tools by which civilizations self-organize. Values are a group response to reality, and our society is experiencing limits for the first time in many decades. Values for descent will be different from values that developed during growth, which related to larger size, greater speed, and competition.Those growth values emphasized the person and the competitive marketplace as the basis for molding human values.  Do we need a new religion to guide descent, that values smaller size, efficiency and cooperation? Or can we resurrect the old values of living within nature from the religions that we have? Is spirituality a part of the science of descent, and if so, how? How does the nature of equality and freedom change over time within cultures operating with surplus energy, versus those with less energy? Is capitalism a feedback loop that maximizes empower during periods of surplus energy?

Developing common goals shared by people and their leaders requires large energies in the political process. How will the current political process erode and adapt to a lower energy world? How will political institutions change? How will social responsibilities relocalize, away from governmental responsibility?

The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.  The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination–an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as Communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask our rulers: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars (Arundhati Roy, 2011, p. 214).

From David Holmgren’s Money vs Fossil Fuels lecture 2010

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 19

Ten Commandments of the Energy Ethic for Survival of Man in Nature

  1. Thou shall not waste potential energy.
  2. Thou shall know what is right by its part in survival of thy system.
  3. Thou shall do unto others as best benefits the energy flows of thy system.
  4. Thou shall revel in thy systems work rejoicing in happiness that only finds thee in this good service.
  5. Thou shall treasure the other life of thy natural system as thine own, for only together shall thee all survive.
  6. Thou shall judge value by the energies spent, the energies stored, and the energy flow which is possible, turning not to the incomplete measure of money.
  7. Thou shall not unnecessarily cultivate high power, for error, destruction, noise, and excess vigilance are its evil wastes.
  8. Thou shall not take from man or nature without returning service of equal value, for only then are thee one.
  9. Thou shall treasure thy heritage of information, and in the uniqueness of thy good works and complex roles will thy system reap that which is new and immortal in thee.
  10. Thou must find in thy religion, stability over growth, organization over competition, diversity over uniformity, system over self, and survival process over individual peace (Odum, 1971, p. 244).

Information Born of Mother Nature’s Energies; the study of universal laws can be spiritual. The scientists of Avatar were having spiritual experiences as they explored the universal laws on Pandora.

“Art and literature are powerful amplifiers as shared information generating common images that generate unified action” (Odum, 1987).
Ten Spiritual Lessons from Avatar (James Cameron)

Too much of everything, both good and bad. How do we handle surplus energy, and what happens when we have less? Eventually relocalized, equitable societies will be viewed as progressive. Perhaps we need to look to societies who have sustained life while living as People of Nature with less surplus energy.

The core values of the Iñupiat

Avoidance of Conflict
Hunting Traditions
Knowledge of Language
Family and Kinship
Respect for Elders and for Each Other
Respect for Nature

Big Miracle

The movie Big Miracle as a parable about the soul of our economy, with environmentalists and resource extractors squaring off amidst the lands of sustainable indigenous tribes. Environmentalists and big technology save the day in the movie, leaving questions about media, environmentalism, heroic efforts to save symbols of Nature, and our place in Nature. Hans Rosling talks below about wealthy countries and equity with the rest of the world. Where do we draw the line on the level of prosperity that everyone will share that can be supported sustainably by our biosphere?

Energy System Ethics for All Scales (Odum, 2007, p. 329)

  • Seek satisfaction in useful contribution
  • Help maximize real wealth (empower)
  • Reinforce environmental sources
  • Treasure genetic and cultural diversity
  • Adapt to natural hierarchy
  • Minimize luxury
  • Minimize waste
  • Adapt to system rhythm
  • Share information
  • Optimize efficiency
  • Circulate materials
  • Circulate money
  • Fit the earth
  • Reproduce only as needed
  • Have faith in self-organization

Our civilization can thrive in a future where we live with less