The White Swan: Beyond Occam’s Razor

“What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
”  Nassim Nicholas Tale

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite” ~ William Blake


The human race (Homo sapiens sapiens, as we like to call ourselves), is possibly the most extreme example of an invasive species the planet has ever experienced.  Perhaps 200,000 years ago, an infinitesimal number of us diverged from our parent species (Homo sapiens) and now seven billion of us swarm every landmass on the Earth.

The majority of this explosion in population occurred only in the last two centuries; from one billion individuals to seven billion individuals.  Five billion people were added in the last hundred years alone.  This geometry is a type signature of an invasive species, a species that has occupied an ecological niche in which it has no natural predators or other environmental checks to limit its growth.

That we are no longer subject to any natural predation is self-evident; we have become the apex predator of the entire globe.

How, then, have we evaded all other environmental checks to exponential growth, to the present tune of seven billion and accelerating ever further?

That shift in paradigm, to my way of thinking actually came about a little earlier, as expressed in the dawn of the Neolithic. . . a time beginning perhaps twelve thousand years ago.

The popular view is that mankind settled down from ragged bands of opportunistic scavengers, “hunter-gatherers”, to far superior lives as herdsmen and farmers.  We domesticated both plants and animals, mastered metallurgy and subsequently learned the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare to manage the enormous richesse gained from exploiting our environment in these new ways.  The first cities were built, and the first proto-nations were formed.  Man had discovered the extractive economy, and assumed the power of life and death over all he surveyed.  He became civilized.

The hunter-gatherers, those who were left of them, faded into the darkness outside the firelight of civilization.  They and their economy, the economy of symbiosis, withdrew into the hinterlands, the wilderness.

Now, the fundament of the extractive economy is that it assumes that the resources from which it profits are limitless and effectively free for the taking.  Oil, that geologic distillation of Carboniferous swamps, has no value and no price until we put a price upon it.  The act of possession becomes singly material, rather than relational.  The concept of abstract wealth as a mensuration of the material life enters here; two primary expressions of early metallurgy were weapons and currency; war and commerce.  The very land itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold, invaded and defended, as also do the people who live upon it.

The economy of symbiosis has no currency.  It lacks the initial and subsequent levels of separation in which the relational algorithm is separated into subject and object.  Value can neither be accumulated or lost, as it cannot be differentiated from the act of living, which itself is intrinsically a zero-sum entity.   It is fractal in nature: “As above, so below.”

The difference between these two economies is the result of something I can only identify as a cognitive mutation, a genetic fault line or discontinuity in the neural stratigraphy of the human mind.  The new man, this invasive subspecies of Homo, rapidly overwhelmed the old and became the dominant feature in any ecosystem he colonized.

And at the spiritual horizon, the symbiotic Shamanic worldview succumbed to the extractive Neolithic, the hierarchic imposition of Deity, Deified, and Profane.  William Blake’s doors of perception were barred and nailed shut; for all practical purposes, forever.

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Or so we thought.

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Another characteristic of an invasive species is that its population crashes just as dramatically as it expanded when it has consumed the relative overabundance of resources that were available to it in the environments it colonized.

To that species, this is a terminal Black Swan Event; life as they know it abruptly ends, as do the lives of most – if not all – of the population.

The world we are living in today, with its increasingly and violently erratic climate, ever more tenuous energy base and debased and poisoned lands, seas and atmosphere shows all the signs of a niche pushed past its limits of recovery by an invasive species.

Concomitantly, the arts of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare – the flowers of the Neolithic mutation – have proved barren and seedless and are rotting on the stem. As William Yeats noted in The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

The survivors will be the Shamans, those who have retained or re-learned the alphabet of symbiosis, both physical and spiritual.  The doors of perception will be opened and cleansed; the wing song of the first, impossible white swans will fill the air.


 wódr̥  copyright 25.11.11  

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