Life in a holarchy

Traditionally parts of the green movement have often appealed for people to reduce and cut down energy consumption, citing moral arguments. Here I suggest that we need to consider the real physical and psychological needs and desires of people first. It may be easier, politically and economically to provide alternatives than ask people to reduce their consumption by a large amount.

The philosophical background to this idea, I presented on Thursday on 'living in a holarchy*', with a 'two way contract'.
The basic argument is the following:
Smaller scale structures (e.g. individuals, nations) need to take account the correct-function of larger structures (e.g. nations, earth system) in order to have a suitable habitat to live in.
Larger scale structures (earth system, nations) need to take account of the survival conditions of smaller scale structures (nations, individuals) in order to exist politically.

I think the 'conventional' current of green thinking tends to only see one way of the contract: the need for smaller scale agents to take account of the whole, in order to have a habitat worth living in. But there is also, in my way of thinking a second direction, the need for the larger scale structures to take account of the survival needs and desires of smaller scale agents in order to /exist politically/.

In this context, I think it may be well be worthwhile to focus on a) proper global taxation of carbon based fuels, especially coal; b) new energy supplies.

Regarding (b), the cost of decarbonising our energy supplies (and similarly making each house energy efficient) can be considered positive in an economic crisis, because of the demand stimulation. For the UK, final energy consumption of 240GW at about £2bn/GW (e.g. for uk wind/ccs/nuclear/imported concentrated solar with accelerated learning) makes investment required about £440bn, or about £22bn per year for 20 years. This is less than military expenditure of c.£30bn/year; and current total capital formation (investment) £64bn/year. The investment to will pay back in reduced oil and gas bills in the future. Also having sufficient energy supplies is a crucial part of being human. Arguments over fairness may be difficult when confronted with real human desires: energy is freedom and power. How do you make it worth people's while to reduce emissions? Decarbonising the energy supply also de-links economic growth with emissions, and this is essential.

I do agree that per-capita is a good rule of thumb in determining an apportionment of our relative impacts on the natural world.
I think equality may suffer from an 'equality of what' problem. For example, you could say by contrast that every human should have a right to a house warmed to a certain level, and energy needs would differ. Work by Richard Starkey has indicated the lack of philosophical support for equal per-capita entitlements, despite it's usefulness.

We also need to think more in terms of management and prices than emissions quantities, because creating rights to quantities will lead to 'rent-seeking behaviour'. Institutional arrangements (e.g a world carbon bank) may be better than trying to assign per capita emissions targets to individual nations and people. If you create more property, there will be a fight to enclose it. We need to move from emitting CO2 from being something valuable to fight over to something not valuable that we need to get away from. Better to instead tax carbon heavily, and provide guarantees for investment in alternative energy sources.

* The word Holarchy comes from Arthur Koestler. meaning "a hierarchy of holons — where a holon is both a part and a whole". See

* Compare 'Panarchy'

* I'm indebted to Cormac Cullinan, who either provoked my interest in this concept or was thinking along the similar lines independently

Anatole Kaletsky - A good time to spend - or invest

Anatole Kaletsky writes
"Cameron may drown in his clear blue water"
With the collapse of their poll lead, the Tories have reverted to type and adopted a thoroughly bad economic policy

Broadly speaking, Kaletsky is arguing that recessions are not a good time to put up taxes, because that risks making the recession worse. Instead it is a good time for governments to borrow to invest. Governments should be trying to counteract the fickle emotions of the markets, not running with them. A disasterous counter-cyclical approach was what originally destroyed much of Britain's industrial capacity in the early 1980s. Trust is central:

At present investors and savers seem to trust nothing except bits of paper signed by governments, be they dollar bills, bonds or banks with government guarantees. At some point the world's savers, investors and bankers will presumably decide that assets of real economic value, such as houses, oil wells or shares in commercial enterprises are better stores of wealth than paper signed by governments. But when this happens the financial crisis will, ipso facto, be over, and inflation not deflation will again be the main threat.

That will be the time to hear from advocates of fiscal prudence - but until then the right policy will be to borrow and spend.

On Disagreeing

I found this on the web about how to disagree...
There are seven 'Disagreement Hierarchy' levels from the worst method to the best.
DH0. Name-calling.
DH1. Ad Hominem.
DH2. Responding to Tone.
DH3. Contradiction.
DH4. Counterargument.
DH5. Refutation.
DH6. Refuting the Central Point.

I guess its probably unproductive to do anything below level 4.
And level 6 is best. Here is what is said about level 6.
The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

Even as high as DH5 we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone's grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one's opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:
The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:

But this is wrong for the following reasons...
The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author's main point. It's enough to refute something it depends upon.

However, is it productive even to disagree at all??? Of course, avoiding disagreement maybe looks aloof, but disagreeing is often extremely time consuming and doesn't necessarily create positive alternatives. Disagreeing in detail often requires an obsession to a task which may be unhealthy.

Anyway, I have the following summary:

  1. Spend time understanding the central point of your interlocutor
  2. Paraphrase this point and even comment yourself. If you have the time to read something, you have the time to comment on it
  3. Suggest positive arguments yourself in the area that really matters, although not necessarily in the same post

There is a danger of all of this 'directed' advice, that danger is that your interlocutor may see this as a 'war' and this war will induce an 'arms race'. You need to move to a more cooperative state; or at least a state where there is some degree of cooperation over shared goals or rules of the game. In general, we need to focus not on how to win the argument, but on the arguments themselves. Truth and reasonableness are higher goals than momentary victory.

Online Bibliographies

Today I've been looking at systems to manage bibliographies. 
I found two that look good: and

  • is a plugin to Firefox. It's open source and has lots of nice features but sharing is not yet developed.
  • is a web-based interface that allows open sharing of pages.
I think Citeulike is the way forward for scholarly colaboration. 

However, it exports only in RIS (e.g. for Endnote+Word) or Bibtex (for Latex). What should I use if I want to use OpenOffice or just html for my documents?

Create a new Citeyoulike group for each document, and to simply link to that at the end of each online document.  When a paper needs to be finalised one can export the list into a completed Endnote file, and thence to the format required in the paper.

Zizek and the ideological role of eastern thought

This article has links to my own life (self-awareness/self-criticism) more than it has links to the rest of the blog. Nevertheless some people may find it interesting:

It concerns the possible ideological role of 'eastern' ideas especially in the context of 'future shock':

One should mention here the well-known concept of "future shock" that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary "cognitive mapping."

Here is the conclusion:

The difference between the authentic fundamentalists and the perverted
Moral Majority fundamentalists is that the first (like the Amish in the
United States) get along very well with their American neighbors since
they are simply centered on their own world and not bothered by what
goes on out there among "them," while the Moral Majority fundamentalist
is always haunted by the ambiguous attitude of horror/envy with regard
to the unspeakable pleasures in which the sinners engage. The reference
to Envy as one of the seven deadly sins can thus serve as a perfect
instrument enabling us to distinguish authentic fundamentalism from its
Moral Majority mockery: authentic fundamentalistsdo not envy their neighbors their different jouissance.

Envy is grounded in what one is tempted to call the "transcen-dental
illusion" of desire, strictly correlative to the Kantian transcendental
illusion: a natural "propensity" in the human being to (mis)perceive
the object which gives body to the primordial lack as the object which
is lacking, which was lost (and, consequently, possessed prior to this
loss); this illusion sustains the longing to regain the lost object, as
if this object has a positive substantial identity independently of its
being lost.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is a simple and radical one: Moral
Majority fundamentalists and tolerant multiculturalists are two sides
of the same coin: they both share a fascination with the Other. In the
Moral Majority, this fascination displays the envious hatred of the
Other's excessive jouissance, while the multiculturalist
tolerance of the Other's Otherness is also more twisted than it may
appear—it is sustained by a secret desire for the Other to remain
"other," not to become too much like us. In contrast to both these
positions, the only truly tolerant attitude towards the Other is that
of the authentic radical fundamentalist.

My Talk on Wednesday

To answer the questions posed in my last post, I gave a presentation at the Land Economy seminar series on Wednesday. I had a warm reception and kind feedback from my talk. I publish my slides here for your reference.