Catch-22: On New Year’s Resolutions


Question:  How serious is climate change and other aspects of human overshoot?
Answer:  Far worse than most can imagine. Your grandchildren and maybe your children are at risk. The evidence is obvious and everywhere, if you care to look.

Question:  What should we do?
Answer:  There is no “solution” to our predicament. But we can and should take action to reduce future suffering. Any effective response must include population reduction and reduced per capita consumption.

Question:  How many of earth’s 7,600,000,000 people have a New Year’s resolution to reduce their lifestyle and promote a one child policy?
Answer:  Almost zero. Most want a larger lifestyle.

Question:  How is this possible?
Answer:  The MORT theory explains that humans evolved to deny reality.

Question:  That’s profoundly important. How come almost no one discusses denial of reality?
Answer:  The behavior prevents us from acknowledging the behavior.

Question: I’m skeptical about the MORT theory.  What first principles support it?

Life is chemical replicators competing for finite resources to maximize replication.

Therefore all life obeys the Maximum Power Principle (MPP).

Therefore all life will go into overshoot if it evolves the means or discovers a windfall resource like fossil energy.

Any intelligence capable of understanding and mitigating its own overshoot would conflict with the MPP.

Therefore intelligence cannot (initially?) exist without denial of overshoot.

MORT is one mechanism evolution discovered to resolve this Catch-22.

Question:  Is it possible that everyone is acting rationally because they know someone else will consume whatever they give up?
Answer:  No. If this was true we would see elections where the Green Party says “We are in overshoot and need to put on the brakes, impose austerity and conservation fairly on everyone, and prepare a soft landing zone.”, and the Business As Usual Party says “We agree we are in overshoot but the best strategy is to maximize growth so we are the last country standing”.  The reality we observe is no debate, no discussion, and no mention of the word overshoot in elections, or anywhere else that matters.

Question:  If you’re right, what are the implications?
Answer:  Intelligence is probably rare and fleeting in the universe.

Question:  I understand. I must be a mutant.  What should I do?
Answer:  Savor every day you are alive and able to understand what you observe, and try to increase public awareness of our inherited denial of reality.

Seal Bay park, December 30, 2017.

16 thoughts on “Catch-22: On New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. “Question: If you’re right, what are the implications?
    Answer: Intelligence is probably rare and fleeting in the universe.”

    I would add….”because the possession of it will enable a species to dominate and eventually destroy the system , and thus intelligence will be selected against”

    Or something like that.

    What does Varki have to say about those of us who aren’t in denial (or complete denial anyway). Do we possess the mutant gene or not?


    1. “Depression is a more realistic view of our lives with self-awareness, says Varki. When the gloss of denial is removed, the pitfalls and existential angst of the human condition become apparent. ”

      ““This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the ever-clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressives, or as individuals who know what is known to the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that our species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.”

      ― Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

      “If truth is what you seek, then the examined life will only take you on a long ride to the limits of solitude and leave you by the side of the road with your truth and nothing else.”

      ― Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race


      1. Good find, thanks. I have added Charbonneau’s review to my page on Varki’s book.

        I disagree with Ligotti that reality is depressing. The more I learn about how rare and special our planet, our existence, and our ability to understand our existence is, the more inspired I become. I agree with Michael Dowd that we need a new reality based “religion” to guide us.

        But I also think we need to first confront our evolved denial. Through science we learned the reasons that nicotine and crystal meth make us feel good, and that they are harmful to our health and society. So we created laws to override our evolved behaviors. The results have not been perfect but they have moved the needle in a positive direction. We need to do the same with denial of reality.

        My guess is that Ligotti has not read any inspiring books like Nick Lane’s “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution” or “The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life”.


  2. Rob, a reminder that if you’re ever led to carefully read (or, better yet, listen to) Carl Safina’s “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel,” I would like to have a conversation with you about MORT, record it, and if we both agree, post the conversation as one of Connie’s and my “Inspiring Naturalism” podcasts:

    Also, perhaps separately, I’d love to hear your thoughts about William Catton’s book, “Overshoot”, which I’ve read twice, listened to multiple times, and consider the most important book I’ve ever read.

    I hold Bill Catton and Teddy Goldsmith the way you hold Varki:


    1. I am currently listening to your audiobook of Catton’s Overshoot, and reading Peter Ward’s Rare Earth. If you have not already read Rare Earth you will find it filled cover to cover with inspiring insights you could use in your new religious stories.

      Safina’s Beyond Words I hope will be the next book I read, and if I have anything intelligent to say about it will discuss with you. My expectation is that he will make the case that animals have many of the same behaviors as humans (love, compassion, empathy, sadness, anger, hate, revenge, problem solving, planning, etc.). There is no need to convince me on these points, I already agree. I will be looking for any evidence that another species understands it will die.


  3. You should check out Gregory Bateson and the psychology of the double-bind. On the one hand we want to protect our environment if for no other reason than it is the resource base our survival requires. On the other hand almost all human activity undertaken to promote survival and preserve our standard of living directly despoils the environment. It is no surprise most people respond to this conundrum with (1) denial, or (2) scapegoating.


    1. Thank you for the tip. I understand your point. What fascinates me is our inability to even discuss population reduction, austerity, and conservation. What would be so bad about a 1 child policy and a 1950’s lifestyle, as a start? It’s a lot better than the current reality we face.


      1. I agree – it is much better in my book – once one cope’s with the loss of everything that unconsciously helped them avoid the inevitability of their own death and the meaninglessness of their lives.

        If having a bunch of kids is what makes somebodies life feel meaningful then challenging that is essentially forcing them to face their own death, which they are unlikely to do. Many people would actually rather die for an empty illusion.


        1. I agree everyone has different priorities. The facts about our predicament are clear and stark, if you care to look. Where is the vigorous debate about what to do? We don’t even whisper about honest choices. Hence my interest in Varki’s theory.


  4. Catton’s Overshoot is indeed a masterpiece. The ecological predicament should be plainly self-evident to every sentient being out there but sadly (or not) that is not the case.
    The mass of humanity will probably never understand the process that will completely overwhelm them at some point but maybe that is not such a bad thing….the consolation and enjoyment of shadows dancing in a cave.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The author is a prominent figure in the biosophy movement. Biology is the very centre of his philosophy. Shared it due to the similarities in approach.


  5. Brexit was about overshoot. Unfortunately anyone who said that the UK population growth had be controlled was labelled a racist. As a second generation immigrant myself I found this offensive.


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