Friday, December 30, 2011

Waiting to be Saved

To close out the year, I would like to tell you one of my favorite jokes:


A devout believer is trapped by a flood.  He climbs onto his roof and waits to be saved.

As the water gets close to the roof, a neighbor comes along in a row boat.  "Hop on," he says, "I'll get us both to safety."

"No, that's okay, you take care of yourself, God will save me," the believer replies.

The water keeps rising, almost to the top of the roof, where the believer is sitting.  A Coast Guard power boat comes along.  They yell out, "Come aboard, we'll get you to dry land."

The believer replies, "No, that's okay, go look for someone else, I have faith that God will save me."

The Coast Guard argues with him for a little while, but he steadfastly refuses, and they decide they do need to move on to save others.

The water keeps rising.  The believer is holding on the the chimney, with just his head above the water.  A National Guard helicopter comes along and spots him.  They throw down a ladder and yell through a bullhorn, "Quick!  Grab the ladder and we will save you!"

"No, this is a test of my faith, I know God will save me," he yells back.

As they try to argue with him, the chimney breaks off and he is swept away and drowns, and the believer goes to Heaven.

As he meets God, he says to Him, "I don't get it... Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be here, but I thought for sure you would save me.  Why didn't you?"



Faith is a very good thing, but we should take advantage of every blessing we are given on the Long Ascent.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Christmas Orange

Back in my youth (which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn't that long ago), my family would hang out large stockings for each of us on Christmas Eve.  We didn't have a fireplace, so we hung them on chests and curios in the dining room.  (Ironically, after my sister and oldest brother moved out, my parents did put a wood-burning stove in that room.)

I vaguely remember getting small toys and lots of candy in my stocking.  One thing that has stuck in my mind to this day was getting a fresh orange in my stocking, one that was just for me to enjoy; I didn't have to share it with anyone else.  My family wasn't poor, but fresh oranges weren't something they stocked regularly in the small grocery store in my hometown.  Apparently, though, enough people had the tradition of the Christmas orange that they were available at that time.

I still look forward to eating oranges at Christmas, since that seems to be around the time they start harvesting them in Florida and California.  They are so readily available, though, that they aren't as special as they were in my youth.

What does this have to do with the Long Ascent?  Well, the current state of affairs is representative of the Age of Profligacy.  As we come down off Hubbert's Mesa, eating foods from far away will become more of a luxury.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  Getting an orange for Christmas may again be a special occasion.

Sometimes on the Long Ascent, the joy is in the smallest details along the way.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Trapping Monkeys, Boiling Frogs, Training Elephants

Despite the title, this post is more about the behavior of humans rather than animals.  If you are familiar with the concepts, feel free to skip it.  The first two concepts are popular with environmentalists, the third is used more by political activists.

In the jungles of Asia, it is reported that the natives have an interesting way of catching monkeys.  They tie down jars with narrow necks and put the monkeys' favorite foods inside.  The size of the neck is large enough that the monkey's open hand will fit through but small enough that once they grab the food, they can't pull their fist out.  All the monkeys have to do is let the food go and they can be free.  The monkeys however are more focused on getting the food they want.  They twist and turn and struggle and try everything they can to get that food out.  They keep doing that until the hunters return and it is too late to escape.

When you put a frog in a pot of scalding hot water, it will immediately jump out.  (Actually, if you put it anyplace unfamiliar, it will still likely not sit still.)  If the frog is in familiar surroundings, and you just raise the temperature a little, the frog will adapt and not try to escape.  If you keep slowly raising the temperature, it will keep adapting as long as it can.  Once it has reached the point where it can no longer adapt, though, it no longer has the energy to escape, and it will be stuck there, even if the temperatures get to boiling.

In India, elephants have traditionally been used as beasts of burden.  They may raise them from babies, but even so, they need to bring in fresh blood every so often so the gene pool doesn't degrade.  Catching a wild elephant is very difficult.  They couldn't possibly expend that effort continuously.  So they train the elephant by tying it by the leg to the largest tree around with the thickest chain or rope they have.  They then stand back and let the elephant struggle all it wants to.  It may take a long time, but eventually the elephant gives up.  They then tie a small rope around the elephant's leg, and even though it could easily break free, it no longer tries to.  It associates having a rope tied to its leg with being trapped and helpless.

People also refuse to give up what they want, even when it hurts them; keep making small changes to adapt rather than trying to escape their bad situation; and let past experiences limit them, even when what held them back before no longer has the same power.  These are all behaviors which we need to change if we want to make any progress on the Long Ascent.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Glass is Always Full

Pour 8 ounces of water into a 16 ounce glass.

Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

If you say half-empty, people call you a pessimist.

If you say half-full, people call you an optimist.

I say, the glass is full: half with water, half with air.

If you pour out 4 ounces of water, or pour 8 more in, it doesn't matter, the glass is always full, only the proportions change.

What if you take the glass into outer space?  The glass is still full.  Even if you were to have a perfect vacuum with no matter in it, the glass still is filled with the electromagnetic field, and the gravitational field, and all the other fun stuff that inhabits "empty" space.

If you truly could eliminate everything from inside the glass, the forces on the outside surface would completely overwhelm any structural integrity and instantly crush the glass, so it would be no more.

As long as the glass is, the glass is always full.

This perspective will serves us well as we travel the minor dips and bumps on the Long Ascent.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No More Problems

One thing you will find over the coming weeks, if you haven't seen it already, is that I am a very much in favor of making careful distinctions.  One distinction John Michael Greer emphasizes is between problems and predicaments: problems have a solution; predicaments do not.  That distinction I am not so happy with.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is very useful to distinguish between things that can be solved and things that cannot.  My issue is with the connotations of the words he uses.  If you have math homework and you say you have 5 problems to solve, I have no problem with that.  Most of the time, though, both the words problem and predicament are very negative.  After reading Napoleon Hill, I came to the conclusion:

THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS, only opportunities.

Or to put it more humorously,

Opportunity knocks often.  Most people don't answer because it comes disguised as a problem.

Now, I have come to realize this isn't entirely true.  There are problems that are not opportunities, but they only happen when people are oblivious to them.  As soon as you recognize something is a problem, it becomes an opportunity to make a change and make things better.

Similarly, things we cannot change I prefer to call parameters, rather than predicaments.  We need to plan for things like mortality.  Fighting them makes no sense.

The language of opportunities and parameters will serve us well as we make the Long Ascent.