Thoughts on the Cooking of Roots

For most occasions there is an ancient Chinese proverb. The gem in mind for his endeavor is: "Only those who can savor the most unpalatable of vegetable roots know the meaning of life." The angle of the dangle to be pursued focuses on the word "savor." The proverb can mean more than simply eating life's turnips when dished, but enjoying them. (Indigenous turnip lovers are encouraged to substitute their least favorite root.) Much depends on the cooking. Cooking, if the metaphor is allowed to be expanded on all sides, is that process which makes biological events human, cultural, and to varying degrees personal. Some recipes are tastier than others. The question becomes what is the best way to cook those unpalatable roots? What spice might suffice?

Let us examine a particularly nasty root which is generally served only two ways, with a garnish of barbed wire, or drowned and glazed in a thick sweet syrup. The root is human nature. First of all, what is it before cooking?

Biologically, what is the nature of a human being? A bipedal hairless ground ape, large brain, long dependent infancy, dexterous hands, social. Instincts? precious few. Infants seem to know how to suckle and are wired to learn walking and language. Good? Bad? Kind? Cruel? These are not biological questions. Can it be asked if a lion is cruel, or a honeybee is kind, or a hippopotamus is good?

The answer if given would depend not on the nature of the beast, but on the cultural sauce with which it is served. Is the chicken Kiev, or Caccitore? The answer tells nothing about chicken nature, which is okay in the context of deciding whether or not to attend an otherwise boring banquet, but decisions based on a platter of prepared human nature root, which will effect the content, spices, condiments, entrees and dessert of the banquet of life, ought to be given a more rigorous and caring examination.

One may begin with the most prevalent recipe in world cuisine and see how this taste effects the entire meal. The main spice has various names, one of the old favorites being original sin.

This bitter herb flavors everything with a sharp flaw. Human beings are by nature sinful greedy competitive murderous self-indulgent lusting power hungry lazy SOB's, who if not restrained by higher faculties and institutions would soon destroy everyone and everything within their power. To counter and mask this horrendous taste there are some marvelous and ingenious sauces which depend interestingly enough on the awful underlying taste for flavor and effectiveness. The sublime flavor of law would be empty and tasteless without crime.

Human nature may be criminal (in this cuisine,) but law gets to decide which behaviors in the available repertoire are crimes. The sauce in effect defines and counter invents the horrible flavor it seeks to mask and control. This is not to argue that law causes crime but rather that the two are insufferably linked in an over determined and self-stoking system.

That which we would now call crime has its historic roots in the accidental unequal distribution of productive and reproductive resources, the technology and talent to use those resources.

Although the current World culture has cooked up a stratified layer cake in which those lucky enough to control resources also get to control those who do not; this is not the only solution to maldistribution. There have been and still are, societies whose definition of crime, of the causes of conflict, was the person who tried to get ahead and control resources and thereby kin and neighbors. "The horse is fat which eats by night." Another Chinese proverb.

This is another barbed wire recipe often invoking sorcery instead of law, and preventing the formation of capital. The point however is not that it is better to be Dobuan or Mixtec, but that whichever way historic maldistribution is treated, it counter-creates its justification in root human nature, which in turn distorts distribution.

Example: The US bulges with surplus food. Farm commodity prices are depressed. The US and the world have no severe shortage of hungry people. Even if ownership payment transport and storage problems could be surmounted; and food is in the hands of putatively benevolent institutions, there are great culinary difficulties in distribution. Since humans are, in this recipe, lazy and greedy; it is necessary to have some filtering procedure to insure that no freeloaders get lunch. To achieve this goal clerks, paper, and policies are necessary. Clerks can not be allowed to make subjective judgments less they stuff their own and their friends larders. Therefore there must be rigorous standards of qualification: means tests, database searches for bank accounts in the applicants name as well as the names of spouses and progeny. Does the applicant own anything? If so, he or she must be decapitalized and the funds used for subsistence before assistance can be made available, etc. The resulting budget can be anywhere from thirty to ninety percent administrative costs, and it is nonetheless predictable that some will still manage to cheat the system, and far worse; many of the morally entitled will not meet the rigid criteria for qualification.

The sticky sweet recipe for the big root appears more on the menu than on the plate. The spice is Edenic and asserts that the species is by nature good kind loving generous and redeemable. The noble savage, corrupted by civilization, or knowledge, or Satan, or neurosis; can emerge washed clean of mucky stench by some belief, the blood of the bull; or by tinkering with governmental educational or economic institutions, or by migration to space, or drugs sex and rock n' roll, or shamanism, or communicating with dolphins, or psychotherapy, or some other praxis seeking to empathize the eschaton and bring on the golden age.

The problem with these visions of humanity is that they are equally untrue, and unlike the barbed wire cuisine they can not be cooked into a consistent meal. The bitterness always sneaks in.

While aficionados of the beastly nature (a slander of the beasts) of this planet's sentient beings can explain "good" behavior in a reduced scenario of economics or inclusive fitness, ideologies of the divine or pristine nature have difficulty explaining "bad" behavior without recourse to corruption or weakness, which brings the barbed wire back into the soup.

A Grope for a New Recipe

A combination of two old ideas. One from scholasticism, the other from the Gita. The fist is the concept of natural law which when debarred of the ecclesiastical, advances the proposition that ethics can be deduced from the natural world. The second is an argument by Krishna to Arjuna which proposes that an action must be performed and justified by its own qualities and not by its intent or the hypothesized consequences of short or long-term goals. First to natural law: The only overriding value in biological systems is equilibrium. The greatest equilibrium is obtained by buffering the basic energetic and chemical inputs to the system through the largest possible diverse and flexible biomass. Not so much a "greatest good for the greatest number," but rather the greatest complexity for the greatest biomass; an attempt at running all the possible phenotypic variations, fugues, figures, palindromes, and canons on the genetic themes available, given the chemo-energetic budget. On the species level and on the level of a sentient unit, the process is often served with the "nature red in tooth and claw" sauce while on an ecological level it taste more like a complex net of negotiated settlements. Stable ecological niches are deals cut and ratified by and with the biological community; deals which hold while variables remain within norms the system can equilibrate. The greater the number and complexity of the deals, the better the system can buffer and adjust to micro and macro changes.

The rain forests are fortunately a popular concern in these times. A prime example of the above rule. A rain forest is so massive and complex that it controls a large portion of its own chemo-energetic input. Given sufficient sun, water, minerals, and beginning genetic base, a climax stage rain forest not only controls its own water and nutrient cycle, but exports nutrients, fresh water, and oxygen to the rest of the biosphere and serves as a climatological buffer. Few things can bring a rain forest down. For a new ice-age to do it, it would have to be a whopper. If equatorial zones remain frost free, the reduction of sea level by water locked in glaciers would permit forest expansion. A real bang-up nuclear winter might do it, but the forests have suffered dinosaur bombs before and came back strong. A different community to be sure, but the flexibility and diversity was in place so that enough survived to put it back together. Perhaps the forest will figure out a way to cut a deal with the chain saw and the bulldozer.

The prescription to attach not to the fruits of action from the Gita ties systemically into biological values. Action, or inaction in the biological sphere while being in accordance with physical law in terms of mass and velocity and forces, are also messages and information in a vast system in which component parts and subsystem have their own interpreting coding and decoding priorities processes and history; their own hierarchy of logical typing, and their own errors.

Few inhabitants of this our verdant globe have not had the experience of having a message blow up; the off times small phrase or deed which while of benevolent or innocent intent is interpreted by another as a cause for major rhubarb, hurt feelings and retaliation. Information evaluation processing and transmittal is a major portion of all living events, yet the consequences of such events, especially new events for which deals are yet to be cut, are often only marginally statistically predictable, if at all.

Needless to say, this causes great problems both within the human community and within the biosphere at large. H. sapiens, with that marvelous capacity for abstraction and projection, is forever setting goals and making plans: the "of mice and men" phenomenon. The problem is that the words and acts go one way and the goals and plans another. If you get there at all, it is not where you wanted to be. Indeed the means, the actions designed to attain the goal preclude the goal because the context is not shared and means will be (I suspect correctly) interpreted by others as ends in themselves and meanings modified according to particular context. Anything which can be understood in one context, can be misunderstood in another, and even given a shared goal and context; the focus of action on an end dilutes the examination and evaluation of means so that actions which could not pass ethical muster on their own, slip expediently by, justified by the inflated context of the goal.

Of Gooses and Ganders

It can be hoped that the sauce with which you bathe the root, yours and others; will be the sauce by which your root by others is bathed. In formulating your recipe, endeavor to use those condiments which complixify rather than simplify. The many complex deals of humanity with nature are tastier than the war against nature. The war is an aberration, a temporary failure of diplomacy. Peace can be made incrementally and completely with small and particular spicing each delicious in and of itself while eschewing grandiose prepackaged mixtures. Let every act be a spice, and if the flavor seems wrong; if it reduces the flexibility and diversity of life including human life, don't do it and don't use it. Keep in separate bowls the refined and elaborate sauces and condiments by which intrahuman niches are stir fried baked and stewed. Use most sparingly only if life's flexibility and diversity would suffer without it.

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