Jun 21, 2010

The Energy Descent Future; Visionaries and their Types

During the past year I have spent a lot of time studying and thinking about the issues of energy, climate change, environmental issues in general (soil degradation, deforestation, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, etc. etc.), and the prospects of industrial civilization. I am now familiar with the ideas of a number of influential thinkers and have solidified my own views on the subject. In this essay I'll discuss energy descent visionaries -- people who have recognized underlying trends much earlier than the general populace -- different typical responses to these realities, and the types of changes that are likely to take place in society, from a socionics perspective.

It is very likely that peak world oil production (so-called Peak Oil) occurred in July 2008 at 74.82 million barrels/day, when prices also reached a historical peak of $145 a barrel. This probably triggered the world financial crisis. From now on production will fall because the remaining oil is increasingly costly to extract, and the economy flounders when oil prices rise above a certain level, since oil consumption is an integral part of every significant production process.

What next?
There are 4 basic lines of thinking on what will happen next, among those who are aware that something significant has happened. These were described by David Holmgren and are portrayed in the following graph.

1. "Techno-Explosion" - Human inventiveness, technological progress, and the invisible hand of the market will ensure us continued progress, economic growth, and new sources of cheap energy.
2. "Green-Tech Stability" - We may experience a small drop in economic output as we transition to a more sustainable economic model where alternative sources of energy come to replace fossil fuels and ultimately allow us to continue our modern lifestyle and current level of societal and technological complexity.
3. "Creative Descent" - As the economics of production and distribution fundamentally change, incremental decisions will be made at the individual level, resulting in a gradual retrofitting of much of our existing infrastructure for useful purposes in a new, increasingly sustainable society with ever less energy at its disposal.
4. "Collapse" - The end of economic growth will trigger financial collapse, followed by economic collapse, political collapse, and the disintegration of society.

Predispositions to various viewpoints

It seems that one's views on this subject tend to be heavily influenced by 1) one's position in society and 2) one's temperamental disposition (personality). Views #1 and #2 are prevalent among those who control capital. After all, scenarios #3 and #4 leave little role for big capital. The vested interests of those who have political power and financial capital predispose them to see the future as either scenario #1 (Libertarians and Republicans) or #2 (Democrats and Independents). Even if these people have personal doubts about the possibility of these scenarios, their practical interests lead them to publicly promote one or the other.

Vast disinformation campaigns are funded by groups with vested interests in scenario #1 to discredit destabilizing information such as climate change research, Peak Oil, and the environmental movement. The mainstream environmental movement is also well-funded and generally fights scenario #1 and promotes #2, while making use of science that actually suggests #3 or #4. Almost no one is interested in funding campaigns related to #3 and #4 (for the reason stated above), so they stay out of the mass media, out of the public eye, and out of political debate.

People who are at the fringes of society and are part of various subcultures may be predisposed to views #3 and #4. They have already internally rejected mass culture and lifestyle in some way or another, and so it is hardly a leap for them to suppose that the powers-that-be will not be in power for long, and that people with lifestyles and views more like their own will prevail. In general, people tend to paint a picture of the future where people like themselves are more successful than average.

From a type perspective, it seems to me from my limited observations that types with extraverted sensing may tend to support scenario #1 or #2, possibly because it is often hard for them to imagine a life much different from what they have now, their active nature often puts them in a position of material influence where they derive gain from the status quo, and because they tend to be somewhat more territorial about their current position and possessions.

Types with extraverted logic tend to place a lot of stock in technological progress and can't imagine that people would choose to give up technological advancements. They tend to be experts about one or two things related to energy and technology and are absorbed by the trends in those areas alone. I find a lot of people with views #1 or #2 among them.

Types with extraverted intuition tend to see situations holistically (and often, but not always, superficially), change their expectations of the future quickly, and are less psychologically attached to the current socioeconomic system. Therefore, upon learning some facts about the situation, they easily jump to view #3 or #4. If optimism dominates melancholy in their temperament, then #3.

Types with introverted intuition seem to naturally be aware of problems; telling them that things may get worse is hardly news. Many seem predisposed to think that everything is going down the tubes and that nothing can be done about it (view #4). However, some have a strong contrarian streak that leads them to debunk whatever views they perceive to be dominant.

Types with introverted sensing tend to feel at the sidelines of society more often than those with extraverted sensing. Criticism of modern civilization among these types is common, since industrial society devalues their natural strengths in many ways. These types seem predisposed to views #2 and #3, but not to the extreme pessimism of #4, which requires a great degree of imagination.

I have nothing to say at the moment about other socionics functions and how they may predispose one to a particular view of the situation. Of course, it is not only one's personality that influences one's views, but also one's position in society (what, if anything, is at stake), as well as cultural factors that are perhaps too diverse to classify.

Some energy descent visionaries and their types

As to be expected, when we talk of the trends of the future we find that more intuitive types have influential and well-articulated views on the topic. Take these typings, as always, with a grain of salt. Many of them are open to discussion. This is just a sampling of those who hold influential views and is not meant to be exhaustive. Representative videos are provided where possible.

Joseph Tainter (ILI) authored an influential book, Collapse of Complex Societies, where he hypothesized that societies collapse when they obtain smaller and smaller benefits from additional investments in complexity. I would not categorize him as an activist of any kind, but rather a scholar and theorist on the subject of complexity and collapse. He focuses on history and economics much more than environmental issues.
Tainter answers some questions

Jared Diamond (IEE), geographer and ecologist, authored the other well-known book on collapse, called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Here he examines how societies respond to environmental problems that inevitably arise as a result of population growth and habitat exploitation. Diamond is outspoken on the environmental problems that modern society must solve over the next few decades in order to avoid collapse. His books and numerous public lectures have a human touch and tend to inspire activism.
"Why Societies Collapse" TED presentation

Ted Kaczynski (SLI), aka the "Unabomber," was a math whiz who severed his ties with modern industrial society to live a peaceful life in the Montana woods. When his peace was disturbed, he began a terrorist mail-bomb campaign against people who he felt represented the "Establishment." His manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, published in 1995, contains many psychological insights relating to industrial society's negative influence on the individual, but it shows a lack of awareness of numerous objective issues, notably the myriad environmental problems of our time, and Peak Oil.
Industrial Society and Its Future

According to another viewpoint, Kaczynski could be a paranoid LSI who believed sweeping revolutionary change can be effected by attacking basically random people who are representative in some way or another of negative societal forces.

Dmitry Orlov (ILI), a popular blogger and author, compares the collapse of the Soviet Union with the impending collapse of the U.S. He lays bare the foolishness of U.S. leadership and the folly of mankind in general.
Explaining why America will collapse

Richard Heinberg (IEE), ecologist and author, focuses on Peak Oil and how society must change to deal with it. He focuses on societal paradigms and adaptation to a post-Peak Oil future. His presentations have a human touch and suggest personal and community applications.
On our post-carbon future (note his criticism of Schwarzenegger's (LSE) faith in technological progress)

Bill Mollison (ILE), naturalist and co-originator of the concept of permaculture. Developed a design system for land use that is fully sustainable and can improve degraded land in a matter of years. Spent years traveling around the world helping set up permaculture systems and spread knowledge. Permaculture is a whole new system of living, not just a new agriculture method.
Permaculture in the tropics

David Holmgren (LII), ecologist and co-originator (with Mollison) of the concept of permaculture.
Permaculture & Peak Oil: Beyond Sustainability

Geoff Lawton (IEE), prominent permaculture designer and consultant. Has a warmer and more personal touch than, say, Mollison, while at the same time seeming somewhat less scientific and more enthusiastic.
At the Permaculture Research Institute

Al Gore (LII), politician, businessman, and climate change educator. Gore's type may predispose him to scenario #3, but his financial and political interests probably influence his promotion of a scenario that looks more like #2.
Gore's new thinking on the climate crisis

Bill Gates (LIE), business magnate and philanthropist, is wedded by wealth to scenarios #1 or #2. Any proposed solutions must therefore involve big business and centralized government. Furthermore, his personality leads him to focus on technology development and logistics, problems which seem entirely solvable.
Bill Gates on energy and climate

Afterthought: my personal views
My personal views are along the lines of the permaculturalists -- a extraverted intuition dominated field (even though it focuses heavily on food production!). In my opinion, these thinkers have best been able to lay bare and tie together all the different factors and problems facing society and propose a realistic solution. They seem to have the best scientific support (and little industry support). Scenario #3 seems the most realistic and, at the same time, is sufficiently positive to inspire individual action. Proponents of scenario #4 have less to offer and seem to have less understanding of agriculture and ecology. Scenario #1 is impossible; if it were possible, it would already be happening, because all the economic incentives are in favor of taking that direction. Scenario #2 is potentially inspiring, but naive. See, for instance, Richard Heinberg's detailed report on the limitations of all important forms of energy. It will quickly become apparent that there is no complete replacement for fossil fuels.

The future - from a socionics standpoint

Cheap energy and ease of transportation promotes the concentration of capital and the growth of centralized power. Using abstract socionics language, this favors extraverted sensing over introverted sensing. As oil becomes scarce, some trends of the past few centuries will be reversed. Instead of being drawn into a complex economic system where each person has a narrow function and only 1 or 2% of people produce food, people will retreat from the global integrated economy and begin producing more and more of their own food. There is no way to avoid the re-localization of agriculture and economic decentralization in the U.S. and other countries. This will favor a value shift towards introverted sensing. Whether society takes a more "Alpha" or "Delta" direction is hard to say. If existing societal institutions are basically preserved, then we might have a Delta situation. If not, then probably Alpha. Those who stand to lose most from this turn of events are large corporate and power structures who run our lives today. If these power structures collapse, new ones will eventually appear (the extraverted sensing blind spot of today's permaculturalists). Permaculture philosophy is terrific for establishing sustainable human activity, but it gives little attention to the possibility of nomad raiders and the eventual establishment of a feudal system of governance where individual farmers and tradesmen must pay tribute and suffer some degree of servitude.

Jun 15, 2010

The Dynamics of Temperament

After a year-long hiatus I have resumed reading Neurodynamics of Personality. The chapter titled “The Dynamics of Temperament” was quite interesting. Here I will post some excerpts with my comments below.

Psychological theories of temperament view it as a biologically based set of personality traits, present from infancy, that forms a sort of template for the development of personality... It is ordinarily thought to include such traits as extraversion or introversion, “neuroticism,” activity level, level of arousal, emotional reactivity, predominant mood, speed and capacity of information processing, ability to regulate one’s own behavior, and the capacity to deal with novel situations.

While research on personality traits as dimensions of temperament has been productive, we believe that it may be useful to shift the emphasis somewhat from traits to the subcomponent neural processes that determine those traits...

(This is what I have come to think about socionics, too.)

Temperament has a strong biological component, reflecting heritability and early developmental influences (including intrauterine and perinatal factors). At the extremes of temperament (e.g., marked shyness or gregariousness), it is likely that constitutional factors so dominate the picture that, barring exceptional experience, certain predispositions will have a strong and decisive influence on behavior and character that endures throughout the life of the individual. However, experience may modify certain aspects of the expression of temperament, and experience certainly accounts for much of the variability among persons with essentially similar temperamental styles. For example, research has demonstrated the importance of “goodness of fit” between the temperament of the child and the environment provided by the parents.

The text goes on to summarize how successful personality development depends on an adaptive interaction between the individual and parents who are able to successfully deal with the child’s temperament, and on an adaptive relationship with the world at large, particularly as the child moves through school and into the adult world and must adapt to different environments that are more or less compatible with his or her temperamental characteristics. More on this below.

Temperament and dynamics

Temperament acts as a fundamental organizer for emergent psychological experience by affecting the probabilities associated with the activation of various neural networks. We are in fundamental agreement with Zuckerman’s (1995) conclusion that “we do not inherit personality traits or even behavior mechanisms as such. What is inherited are chemical templates that produce and regulate proteins involved in building the structure of nervous systems and the neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones that regulate them. We are not born as extroverts, neurotics, impulsive sensation seekers, or antisocial personalities, but we are born with differences in reactivities of brain structures and levels of regulators” (pp. 331-332).

Temperament as a process is always undergoing modifications and shifts (albeit often subtle) as ongoing adaptation occurs... Many different streams of processing contribute to the expression of temperament at each moment...

The probability is greatest that an individual’s temperament would occupy a more or less predictable region of the temperament phase space -- a shy child is likely to be shy most of the time.

Temperament may be more “noticeable” among those in one of the tails of the distribution, but temperament (or, more precisely, its subcomponent processes) influences even those who lie closer to the mean, whose expressions of temperament do not have a visible or defining “signature” such as hyperactivity.

Temperament and environment

This section talks about how one’s environment can interact with temperamental styles to contribute to the development of more or less adaptive personality traits.

[Speaking of a boy diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)] Parents, teachers, and peers may find him exasperating, and the behavioral style he acquires in turn may lead to the development of a conduct disorder or antisocial personality. If his parents and siblings are able to deal with him in a positive, adaptive manner, the outcome may be positive, but an active, agressive, energetic style is likely to dominate his personality. In the same way, the biologically shy child is likely to remain shy. If raised in a stern environment or exposed to physical and emotional abuse, such a child may develop a very avoidant personality style. If a child like this is treated sensitively and manages to avoid being traumatized, he or she may show a very successful adaptation in life.

Temperament, because it influences the probabilities of behaving in certain ways, can lead to a significant shapin gof the environment. Thus, temperament can have a significant effect on one’s learning history. A corrolary is that temperament not only affects the kind of environment the person encounters, it also affects how and what a persona learns from his or her experience. Distractability, for example, may lead one to overlook the details of certain transaction and may interfere with learning from those encounters. For the shy person, a single experience of interpersonal failure may provide an education that lasts for a lifetime. To a natural extrovert, the same sort of interpersonal failure may have little or no lasting effect.

On the “goodness of fit” between child and environment:

[Quoting Thomas and Chess (1980)] [This] goodness of fit results when the properties of the environment and its expectations and demands are in accord with the organism’s own capacities, motivations, and style of behaving. When this consonance between organism and environment is present, optimal development in a progressive direction is possible. Conversely, poor fit involves discrepancies and dissonances between environmental opportunities and demands and the capacities and characteristics of the organism, so that distorted development and maladaptive functioning occur.

An infant’s temperament expresses itself in interaction with an environment that is first and foremost on interpersonal environment... It is an infant’s caretakers who first experience their child’s termperament and whose responses will influence how and in what way this temperament is brought into some sort of alignment with the demands of the environment.

The authors go on to discuss how a fussy baby’s temperamental development may benefit more from a relaxed, unanxious mother than from an anxious one.

Children who are temperamentally biased in one way or another may require more active engagement with caregivers to help compensate or correct for their innate dispositions... Different temperaments make different demands on caregivers, and different caregivers will show considerable variability in their aptitude and motivation in responding appropriately and adaptively to the child’s temperament.

Temperament can also be influenced to some degree by the child’s developing capacity for reflective self awareness. Thus, for instance, a shy person can deliberately behave in ways that stretch her behavioral repertoire or at least minimize its influence. Presumably such learning across time can, in some cases, become stable enough that the temperamental influence recedes in large areas of behavioral functioning. Nonetheless, under stress, one might expect the basic temperament to be more visible in such people. The disorganized, distractible child can develop neural networks associated with organizational habits if given adequate support in doing so. The establishment and activation of these networks over time changes the likelihood of their subsequent activation. Thus, procedural learning may shape the expression of temperament.

The fit between child and environment is never perfect. Winnicott (1960) suggested that this is not a bad thing, because a hypothetical “perfect fit” between an infant and its caretakers (where “perfect” is defined as total maternal attunement and adaptive responsiveness to her infant’s needs) would undermine a child’s spontaneous exercise of its adaptive capability (apart from being impossible). Within limits, imperfect fit leads to the exercise of these capabilities providing much of the scaffold for subsequent personality development. Thus Winnicott was led to observe that what was necessary to support normal developmental processes was a “good enough” fit between an infant and his or her parents.

Temperament can lead to psychopathology when a child has unhelpful or incompetent training experiences (bad fit). The shy child who is ridiculed or unsupported by the parents may go on to become pathologically shy, whereas another equally shy child who is supported and encouraged may develop an adaptive behavioral style.

...In some cases the constitutional imperative associated with a given temperament may be so pronounced that there is an increased likelihood of psychopathology. Temperament in such cases can be considered dynamically as leading to psychopathology by reducing behavioral plasticity.

Psychopathology also can result when an individual’s temperament is somehow not adequately and constructively accommodated by his or her life structure. Thus a distractible person who becomes an accountant or air traffic controller may experience stresses that could lead to pathology. Similarly, a gregarious person who finds him- or herself working alone may suffer as a result. Life structures that don’t conflict with pronounced temperamental variables are likely to be less pathogenic.

Finally, if a society is unable to provide appropriate niches that can accommodate people with varying temperaments, psychopathology can be the result. A border collie bred to walk great distances while herding sheep will develop neurotic symptoms if forced to live in an apartment in the city. Similarly, highly active children may become symptomatic in environments requiring long periods of sustained attention. Different societies are more or less successful in providing the variety of niches within which diverse temperaments can find expression.

Temperament and a bit of socionics (my comments)

Temperament (as described in this article) and socionics are clearly related, but not equivalent. Different people of a single type seem to share a certain general temperament footprint, but specific levels of traits differ from person to person. Some people carry one or more “extreme” type traits, while others seem to have no pronounced temperamental style. Extremes are more common among males.

Variation in temperamental traits is essential to homo sapiens and other advanced species. It seems to me that the more extreme the trait, the greater the risks and the potential rewards to the individual. They remain in the gene pool because historically they have provided reproductive dividends. Some traits may be associated with higher rates of suicide, homicide, accidents, etc., but also with high reproductive success if the individual survives into adulthood, or with higher reproductive success of the person's relatives, who are likely to be carrying genes for the trait as well.

Human populations need scouts, impulsively aggressive types, loners and independent thinkers, melancholics, hyperactive types, and of course large numbers of generally conservative people who easily become attached to the conditions they grew up in and are resistant to change. Take away too much temperamental variation, and societies become inflexible, static, and vulnerable to change. Most of the time what the scouts and explorers have to say is not very important, but occasionally it is very important. Most of the time violent types are a pain to live with, but they sure scare the hell out of your enemies. And so on.

Feel free to discuss the quotes and any connections to socionics or personal development.