Exponential economic growth is rapidly destabilizing the biosphere. Among the many factors that stimulate such growth is the human tendency to consume goods and services far beyond what is required to meet basic needs. We have to grasp what drives this tendency in order to manage it. The brain’s core circuits were long believed to stimulate us to seek pleasure—greedily and selfishly—while higher cortical circuits try to rein us in. Neuroscience now shows that the core circuits serve not pleasure per se, but efficient learning. When we obtain a reward that our frontal cortex values highly, the core circuit delivers a chemical pulse that we experience as satisfaction—so we repeat the behavior. Satisfaction is brief and diminishes as a particular reward becomes predictable. This circuit design works well for pre-industrial societies in which rewards are varied and unpredictable. But capitalism shrinks the diversity of possible rewards, leaving the remainder less satisfying, and making stronger doses, i.e., more consumption, necessary. The path toward sustainability must, therefore, include re-expanding the diversity of satisfactions.
The global nutrition transition, which embraces major changes in how food is produced, distributed and consumed, is associated with rapid increases in the prevalence of obesity, but the implications for diabetes differ between populations. A simple conceptual model treats diabetes risk as the function of two interacting traits: ‘metabolic capacity,’ which promotes glucose homeostasis, and ‘metabolic load’, which challenges glucose homoeostasis. Population variability in diabetes prevalence is consistent with this conceptual model, indicating that the effect of obesity varies by ethnicity. Evolutionary life history theory can help explain why variability in metabolic capacity and metabolic load emerges. At the species level (hominin evolution), across human populations and within individual life courses, phenotypic variability emerges under selective pressure to maximise reproductive fitness rather than metabolic health. Those exposed to adverse environments may express or develop several metabolic traits that are individually beneficial for reproductive fitness, but which cumulatively increase diabetes risk. Public health interventions can help promote metabolic capacity, but there are limits to the benefits that can emerge within a single generation. This means that efforts to curb metabolic load (obesity, unhealthy lifestyles) must remain at the forefront of diabetes prevention. Such efforts should go beyond individuals and target the broader food system and socioeconomic factors, in order to maximise their efficacy.
Video Presentations A Neuropsychoanalytic Perspective on the Hard Problem of Consciousness Why and How Consciousness Arises At our Feb. 5 Grand Rounds, Mark Solms, PhD, of the University of Cape Town, presented on how the metaphysical experience of consciousness relates to the physical brain—and why psychiatrists should care. Consciousness Itself is Affect: Felt Uncertainty in… Read More
Humanity, like all other species of Earth before and with us, is evolving — and evolution, for humans as for all species, is neither predictably linear nor solely Darwinian. Earth’s nearly four billion years of evolutionary experience reveals reliable patterns that give us hope, inspiration and valuable guidance for getting ourselves through the unprecedented confluence of enormous crises in which we humans quite suddenly find ourselves. Here we see the evolutionary Big Picture, including the amazingly complex lives of our remotest bacterial ancestors, who had Earth to themselves for fully half of evolution, and much of whose experience we seem to be mirroring now. They engaged in hostilities, generated global crises of hunger and pollution as great as ours today, and solved them without benefit of brain! Along the way they invented electric motors, atomic piles and the first World Wide Web of DNA exchange; then, in the greatest of all evolutionary ventures, formed cooperatives that became nucleated cells. These cooperatives were the basis for the evolution of our own hundred-trillion-celled human bodies, which role model amazingly sustainable economies. Learning from newly revealed problems and solutions in biological evolution, we too are finding out how to survive and even thrive into a better future despite — perhaps because of — our greatest challenges. That would indeed be cause for celebration.
There is a hidden war of value codes in the world today. On the one hand, there is the life code of value: Life → Means of Life → More Life (L → M of L→ L1). On the other hand, there is the money code of value: in its classical form, Money → Commodity → More Money ($ → C → $1). In its carcinogenic form, this sequence becomes: Money → More Money → More Money ($ → $1→ $2 → – $n). The latter money sequence of value is decoupled from any commitment to life function and is driven by the lending and investment cycles of banks. This paper demonstrates the carcinogenic properties of this sequence at the social level of life-organization.
The second part of the paper proposes a remedy. The first step consists in making the government-conferred privileges of banks – creating money by credit and lending others’ money stocks at compound interest – accountable to society’s life requirements. The second step consists in returning central banks to their constitutional mandate of lending to governments rather than alienating this function to private banks. The article concludes by arguing that the great obstacle to Canada’s and other countries’ economic well-being is the abdication by governments of their sovereign powers over society’s money supply, and the long cultivation of public ignorance on this ultimate issue of public policy and value decision.
Department of Philosophy
University of Guelph
Bank of Montreal Distinguished Visitor Lecture, Trent University, March 13, 1997. Read More
Published 2008-10-04 by John McMurtry
Science for Peace and University of Toronto Students Union Conference
Climate Catastrophe and Social Justice: Analysis and Action
October 4, Earth Sciences Building, University of Toronto
The destabilization of the world’s climate and hydrological cycles is a catastrophic effect of a more general disorder to which it is not connected — the failed global market experiment and its regulating money-value system which brings degradation and despoliation of human life and life support systems at virtually every level of life organization.
Philosophical reflections by John McMurtry and Martha Nussbaum are presented in this article qua projections of the capabilities approach to life that has been developing in the humanities and social sciences over the past twenty-five years. In particular, it is shown how both McMurtry and Nussbaum reveal that human life is under attack not solely because of the eco-biological collapse denounced by the world’s scientific community at its highest levels, but also in many of those socially evolved civil commons that contribute to the flourishing of life’s capabilities and, in essence, make life worth living. What is more, a common causal root is found behind this ongoing two-pronged assault upon life capabilities, that is to say, the defining search for ever-increasing profits of the global free-market economy.
The world is experiencing a twofold crisis. On the one hand, the global, virtualised economy is collapsing and, in its fall, it is bringing down significant sections of the real economy. On the other hand, the environmental collapse of the planet is also marching on, and there is no clear sign that this may stop soon, for the most commonly discussed paths for economic recovery seem to rely upon further spoliation of the Earth’s life support systems. In this book chapter, the reader is to encounter an account of this twofold crisis in light of the deeper axiological grounds that are causing it. To this end, the present author refers extensively to the theory of value developed by Canadian scholar John McMurtry, according to whom: “[F]inancial crises always follow from money-value delinked from real value, which has many names but no understanding of the principle at its deepest levels.”
0.0 Capitalism and freedom is not only the title of a 1962 book by Milton Friedman playing a pivotal role in asserting worldwide the neoliberal paradigm, but also the slogan that leading statesmen, politicians and opinion-makers have been heralding in recent years, in order to justify, amongst other things, the slashing of welfare states and the invasion of foreign countries…