Childhood influences

Question of the Day, August 29-30 2015 ~ The Environment You Grew Up In

How much do you feel the environment you grew up in influences the way you live now compared to what you’ve experienced since becoming ‘independent’?

Glad to see independent in quotes ;).

So many levels to this, so many aspects.

I’ll try and give a bit of a hint at some of them.

I spent most of my youth in small rural communities, and I had a couple of years in a town purpose built to build and operate a power station.

For the first 5 years I was tongue tied, and could not make an R sound, and after the flap of skin under my tongue was cut, it took me several years to learn how to make an r sound consistently and I never did work out how to whistle or sing in tune.

A few family stories that had a deep influence on me.

One story was from my father’s paternal grandfather, whose story went that he refused to “doff his hat” to the lord of the manor, so at age 15 his yeoman farmer father paid for an assisted passage to the colonies, where he went to get as far away as possible from that class based system of status based upon birth rather than any sort of merit. Story goes that after a sea voyage of almost 5 months he arrived in Auckland New Zealand with 5 shillings to his name and the clothes he wore. So there was great value placed upon independence of action, and evaluating people on the basis of actions in reality rather than happen-stance of birth or circumstance.

From my father’s maternal grandparents came a different story. They had been very wealthy in England, and had lost most of their fortune in the stock market crash of 1860. Rather than declaring bankruptcy and saving most of the family money, they had paid all debts, and bought a parcel of land in the colonies to start again. What they had no idea of until they arrived was that the land was covered in forest, with a 300 ft high canopy, there were no roads, no housing. The grand piano they bought with them spent 4 years in a tent. The hardships of that life broke the spirit of some in the family, but not others. There was a determination from my grandmother that by the 6th generation they would be back.

My maternal grandfather was a sea captain. He was born in Camberwell in London (a cockney), the third generation of his family to rise to the rank of captain aboard sailing ships. So many stories from that side about adventures at sea. He arrived in NZ as captain of a sailing vessel, liked it here, and decided to stay and run coastal traders in NZ.

My maternal grandmother was of German extraction, from a small town about 80 miles south of Berlin, whose family escaped persecution in the 1860s to go to a new land where freedom had a better chance.

For each of those and the generation that followed, life in New Zealand was tough. A long way from the centres of technology and culture that they were used to. There was a real need to be able to do whatever needed doing, because it took too long to wait for something to come from Europe by ship. So there was a strong tradition of questioning everything, examining everything, being able to fix anything that broke with whatever was available, and being able to make anything that wasn’t already present.

My dad labelled himself as a “jack of all trades and master of none”. At various times in his life he worked as a butcher, a builder, a shepherd, a farm worker, a farm manager, a farmer, a forester, a lumberjack, a dock-worker, a taxi driver, a truck driver, a shopkeeper, a boiler-man, a fisherman (crayfish, whitebait, eels, flounder, and anything he could catch by setting nets).

Dad and mum were both heavily involved in community affairs. One or other of them was out at various committee meetings most nights of the week.

Both my parents were from large families, mum had 8 siblings and dad 7. At one point I had 46 first cousins that I knew, and lots of second cousins, great aunts and uncles etc. One family reunion on Dad’s Howard side drew 450 attendees and that was about a third of those we knew of.

So family was at least as important as community, and often larger.

We might be just the five of us for dinner one night, and 40 the next. Large gatherings could happen on short notice.

I spent most of my childhood on farms. So by age 4 I was driving tractors. By age 8 I was driving tractors, bulldozers and 4WDs. By age 12 I was driving every vehicle on the farms, and spending 12 hour days on tractors alongside the men during hay-making season, and doing the 10 mile drive along back country roads to feed out to the young-stock when dad was busy on the home farm (even though the legal driving age was 15). I learned the first rule with any law, if you need to break it, don’t get caught.

I was first allowed to use a gun at age 7. By age 10 I was allowed anywhere on our farm, and by age 13 I had free range of all the neighbouring farms as well – giving me about 2,000 acres to roam over after school and before dark – looking for anything edible, rabbits, hares, birds.

Dad taught me to question everything. If something wouldn’t work, then what assumption(s) are you making that leads you to an invalid conclusion, how can you test it and replace it with something more useful?

Dad also taught me how to look after animals, how to learn their ways, how to respect them, and how to butcher them when required.

Mum taught me how to cook and sew and tend the garden and the fowls (we kept several varieties of hens, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl and quail). By age 9 I was making dolls clothes for my younger sisters using the old Singer treadle sewing machine.

If anything broke on the farm, and dad was too busy, he would usually let me have a go at fixing it, and sometimes I managed to get it going again.

So there are several threads in here of a deep disrespect for authority, a deep belief in my own ability to work anything out given enough time, a willingness to “give it a go”, and a deep commitment to society and to justice (as distinct from the law).

I don’t know that I ever have become independent.

I have certainly always been keen to extend my capabilities, and in doing so, I have always been aware of just how much more I don’t know than I do. It has been 60 years of: the more I know, the more I know I don’t know and the less certain I become about many of the things that once seemed certain. So even the idea of truth is now extremely suspect to me, it seems to be essentially a childish illusion.

When I left home I bought the house next to my parents.

I stayed there until my dad died and my mum decided to shift in with one of my sisters.

And while I continue to study new things every day, I am acutely aware of how dependent we all are upon the work of many others for society to function. And for all the successes of markets and capitalism, the limits of that system are now very clear to me, and I am confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that markets and monetary thought now cause at least as much misery and injustice as they prevent, and that is going to get worse. It is a mode of thought and social organisation that has past its peak of societal utility and needs to be replaced sooner rather than later.

I guess, in a very real sense, I didn’t become independent, I became sufficiently aware to see that independence is an illusion, for all the fact that my skill sets and resource base make me appear independent to many – I know that for the illusion that it is.

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Emotion and spirit

Emotion and Spirit

Andrew Ask:
Please explain whether or not you believe emotion is anathema to spirit or, put another way, what are your thoughts regarding whether it’s possible for a person to be under the influence of their emotions and ‘spiritually minded’ at the same time?

Hi Andrew

I align with Deb’s first post, not so much the subsequent ones.

It seems clear to me that emotions are a fundamental part of being human (tools sculptured by evolution over deep time, that bring much power in some situations), and there is no escape from them (nor does such escape seem desirable). What does seem to be desirable and useful both from a personal and a societal perspective is to escape from the absolute domination of emotions.

What seems most powerful is, as Deb wrote, to bring a balance between all the different aspects of being that we develop – a sort of internal consensus politics. And if something really is a matter of time critical survival then there can be a necessary domination of one aspect of being over the others, and such times seem to actually be quite rare. So most of the time, consensus within is not only possible, but desirable.

In this sense, spiritual development is, for me, developing the tools to facilitate the ongoing development of consensus and preparation, and the development of abilities of each level that emerges within me. The most effective way to do that seems to be to develop agreed policies and responses to likely scenarios well ahead of needing to deal with those situations, and to practice them.

Developing and testing the levels of awareness that deliver the most reliable determination of the context within which we find ourselves can be critical, and often that can be very dependent on the level(s) of awareness present (and sometimes our low level genetic systems can take over that determination if we are caught by surprise). Often the threats and opportunities present in any specific situation are very much a function of the level(s) of awareness present in the individual, as often people react to different levels of awareness very differently. Often the level of awareness one expresses (or conceals) is a major factor in the risk/opportunity matrix that develops in that interaction.

And for me, the idea that there is any sort of purpose other than the purposes we each bring to existence doesn’t make sense; and I can understand that it might seem sensible to others, and it seems extremely unlikely to me (much less than my chances of winning lotto, which given that I don’t buy lotto tickets is quite low, but not zero because occasionally people give me them as gifts).

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

I think emotion had a very important role in my surviving cancer, in the sense of a deep emotional determination not to be beaten, to be able to say I gave life every chance.
I have this real issue with authority. If someone tells me not to do something, and I can’t see any good reason in what they are saying as to why not, then I’ll probably do it – just because I hate anyone else telling me what I can or cannot do.

You might say I’m a bit of stroppy SOB, but in a way that I will help anyone who asks for it, and I work for the long term security and freedom of everyone (whether they want me to or not ;) ).

I rely on that deep emotional strength to keep going in situations that most people would have given up long ago. Though I use that strength to apply the tools of science and logic.

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Reading, writing, …

Reading, Writing, and…

In addition to reading and writing, what’s the single most important thing you learned in school?

Hi Laurie

If you are going to break rules, don’t do it in crowds. As soon as a crowd starts to form, leave, because the authorities are attracted to crowds. So often I was guilty of breaking school rules and doing interesting things, and others would start to notice, as soon as more than two people noticed I would quit and leave, and inevitably the group that formed behind me, doing something I had started, got into trouble with the teachers.
I could never quite figure out why they kept doing that.
I learned that lesson at about 7 years old – crowds attract attention. If you don’t want attention, avoid crowds.

Libraries can be safe and interesting places. Some of those people from long times ago had some interesting ideas, and some of the newer ideas are even more interesting, and mixing them all up and seeing what comes out can be great fun.

Sometimes it is useful to learn several different ways of doing the same thing.

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A roadmap to sustainable abundance

Anticipating 2040: A roadmap to sustainable abundance?

Hi Richard,

What I have done is actually to look at things from a systems point of view.

Taking that view to a second order abstraction, one gets to see what the systemic incentive structure of the current market based system seems to be. When one looks at that, it is clear why we have the demand structure we do in the market systems we have.

From this perspective, it is clear that if money is a major factor in decision making, then the resulting systemic incentive structure does not deliver low risk profiles long term.
Such a system delivers structural poverty where none need exist.

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NZRFC essentially non-functional

Message from President Ted Howard.

The NZRFC is essentially a non-functional organisation at present.

Since Geoff resigned and as vice president I became president, I have been unable to get a quorum to attend any meeting of the executive.

Some of us have continued our advocacy roles, yet the organisation as such is not functioning.

I have been unable to get a list of member organisations.

I have attended 2 meetings of the Crayfish Science working group in Wellington, and 3 meetings of the Marine Amateur Fisheries Working Group in Auckland, and one meeting of the NRLMG CRA5 review in Blenhiem.

I have over that period attended the regular monthly meetings of the Kaikoura Boating club (as president), the irregular monthly meetings of Te Korowai o te Tai o Marokura (as treasurer), and the 3 weekly meetings of Our Fishing Future (occasionally as convenor and acting secretary). All of these roles are voluntary, and take significant time.

It seems that most of the energy that is available from the volunteers involved is going into other bodies which we are all active in. The NZRFC put a lot of effort into setting up the Future Search process, and into the body that emerged from that “Our Fishing Future”.

In 2014 the AGM of the RFC failed by 1 to reach a quorum of 26.

In 2015 three attempts by me to create a meeting of the executive to call an AGM failed to raise a quorum, so we could not even call an AGM, let alone achieve a quorum at one.

The secretary has resigned (which I fully understand – thank you Bruce for your efforts), and while I see great need for a functioning democratic coordinating body to represent the interests of ordinary recreational fishers nationally, none such exists at present. I have democratic mandate from the Kaikoura Boating Club for my role, but little more.

There are many issues.

The snapper 1 situation around Auckland demonstrates the almost total lack of integrity present.

It seems that most people would rather pretend fictions than deal with realities (that is usually the way in complex situations).

People keep pretending that there is a reasonable chance of the average fisher catching a bag of snapper. That is clearly untrue.

The recreational catch needs to be constrained to about 5,000 tons per year. That is about 9 million 600g fish. With an acknowledged half million people out there trying to catch a fish at least 3 times in any one year, and many of them much more frequently, that means that on average there are only 18 fish per fisher per year. If we ever have abundant fish in the inshore, even a bag limit of 1 fish per person per day would not be low enough to constrain the catch within available limits. Active fishers would need to accept a limit of around 20 fish per year. If half the population decided to go fishing, that limit might need to come down as low as 5 fish per person year (not per day, per year).

The move to a 30cm minimum legal size was a way of ensuring that most of those who fish from shore would rarely be able to catch a legal sized fish, while those who could afford big boats and lots of fuel would be able to continue to catch lots of fish out deep.

Somehow, that just doesn’t seem fair to me. I certainly never saw it stated as such.

The other major pretence is that fish don’t interact with each other, and can be managed separately.

On land, farmers manage stock units. Any farmer knows that if you have a paddock that can support 10 dairy cows, it will probably support about 12 beef cows or 70 sheep. If you try and put 10 dairy cows and 12 beef cows and 70 sheep in the paddock, after a little while they will all be looking a bit skinny, and a while later most of them will be dead (you might have one or two animals survive, the rest will starve to death).

Government has recently approved an expansion of mussel farming to a harvest of mussels that is about 10 times the total take from the Gulf of all other species of fish combined. Somehow, these people have been able to keep a straight face and mouth the fiction that it will have no impact on other species. This I fail to comprehend. But then what would I know. I’m only a guy with a degree in marine ecology, 17 years experience commercial fishing in the Hauraki Gulf, and 50 years experience as a recreational fisherman throughout the country.

The real irony, is that having been told over 5 years ago that I was terminal cancer, and that there was nothing known to medical science that could extend the probability of my survival, I started looking really closely at what data is available. Actually there is a lot of data that says if you have more than 10% of your calories coming from animal products (that includes fish, they are animals) your cancer risk is high. I went struct vegan, and high dose vitamin C, and I have been tumour free for 4 and a half years. I was a hunter and a fisherman for 55 years – eating meat and drinking milk most meals. I am now clear that animal products and refined foods (including and added sugar) in our diet is responsible for most of the cancer, heart disease, and diabetes we have in society.

But we have a dairy industry and a beef industry and a fishing industry that really don’t want people knowing that eating animal products really isn’t good for health. The interests of money are clearly far more important to government than the interests of the health and well-being of individuals in the population.

We live in a system where the interests of money trump everything else.

I want to live in a system where the life and liberty of every individual are the highest values. The evidence is clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that valuing human life means eating a diet that is at least 90% fresh fruits and vegetables, with as little pesticides as possible.

So I don’t even eat fish any more.

And I certainly did, for a long time, until I was faced with rapidly growing cancer and 6 weeks to live.

I really wanted to live. I gave up all my favourite foods, all added sugars, all animal products. Not easy, and I am far healthier as a result.

Sometimes it is very strange what actually happens to us in life.

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Genetic Talent

Question of the Day, August 23-24 2015, Genetic Talent

Is Talent Genetic?

Interesting question and answers thus far.

It seems that the answer to the old nature nurture debate is that it is both, in about equal measure in most cases, and there is considerable diversity in some cases (inherent variability at all levels).

And it seems that there are many forms of “talent”, perhaps infinite.

I love that Einstein quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I am also clear that all knowledge of “reality” is based on heuristics (useful approximations to something vastly more complex), and most of the heuristics available to modern science are less that 50 years old.

And all physical and most intellectual skills improve with practice. And few of us actually know exactly what it is we do, we just do it (that is one lesson that 30 years of automating systems has taught me, listen to what people say certainly, but watch what they actually do even closer).

So it seems we all have genetic dispositions that give us advantages in particular areas, and we can improve any aspect of our capacities with consistent practice, and specific training to extend our abilities.

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Dilemma of human enhancement

The dilemma of human enhancement

Choice TV

We’ve been here a lot before.
For me, I can imagine living a very long time – millions of years. I’ve been able to do that since 1974.

The logic is clear, all life alive today seems very probably to be part of a continuum of cellular life some 4 billion years old. So indefinite life is the cellular default – it is what our germ line cells do. It is only the somatic cell lines of complex animals like ourselves that show age related loss of functionality.

Given the exponential growth of knowledge, we need to live on, or we will reach a ceiling of human wisdom able to be integrated over a human lifespan.

To me life extension is required for all sorts of reasons.
Personal survival.
Social survival – we actually need to have a reasonable chance to live with the long term consequences of our choices to give us personal incentive to make those choices wisely.

It seems logically clear that the machinery for indefinite life exists in our cell line. I expect Calico to find it quite quickly.

Then we get to other risks.

For the large low frequency risks, we need serious engineering capacity in orbit (enough food reserves for 12 billion for 5 years delivery to earth without return). Another Toba event would take us out right now – we’d be down to a population of a few tens of thousands in underground nuclear facilities, not enough to maintain technology. We need to get replicating machines in orbit asap.
We need life extension for everyone, asap.
We need to remove money as a major factor in political decisions, and require all decision makers at all levels to consider the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions, and to mitigate the risk to the life or liberty of anyone and everyone – asap.

All of this is achievable, and it will never be the natural outcome of anything remotely resembling a free market system.

The experience of being human could be one of choice and empowerment for everyone.
For most people it is a very long way from that – though most have little conception just how far.

Top Priorities:
Life extension
Full automation of means of production
Life and liberty as highest governance priorities.

[followed by]

Me too.
Sticking all the elements together in a way that actually gives us a reasonable probability of achieving that seems to be the real trick!!!

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