The Last Potato – Thought Experiment: Humanity’s Calling.
Not many years ago, friends of mine and I explored differing answers to a ‘thought experiment’ question: “If so far as you knew, all food permanently disappeared from your reach, and all you had left was one average sized potato, what would you do with it?”
Most of us are now “seniors”. We were mature enough to know the question was not totally frivolous. It was then, and is now, possible to imagine a “day of the last potato”.
“High spirited and socially involved” in our general attitude to life, not one of us said we’d arm ourselves behind barricades to drive off hungry multitudes that might want a bite of our treasured potato. Can’t remember – maybe we resolved this by giving everyone, everywhere, a ‘last potato’.
Nearly every one of my friends enthusiastically said: “I would eat it! Right there, on the spot! .. No, maybe I’d take time to set up a ‘farewell’ celebration, maybe cook it “just right”, round up some tasty trimmings.. then I’d eat it, with gusto and cheer!”
Not me! This writer said she would slow down the process of eating her last potato. I would eat it raw. I’d start by using my teeth to scrape small amounts into my mouth. I’d chew ever so slowly, and be slow to swallow. I’d continue eating the potato in this way – making it last as long as possible. I would feel a ‘reverence’, but would not want “overt, noisy, celebration”. I’d want “thoughtful, deliberate, ‘celebration’ of the situation, of all that had been before this ‘end’.
That my plan was so ‘directly opposite’ to the others’, added to the entertainment. From that time on, among ourselves, we used the phrase “last potato” to mark other differences in approach to life we noticed among ourselves and in other people.
Psychological interpretations could say the “celebratory fast consumers” were most optimistic – perhaps they could not help but believe “something would turn up” to change the threat of starvation. “So why worry?” On the other hand, my “slow deliberate consumption” can also be seen as “optimistic”. By extending “time” as long as possible, I could be said to “allowing” that whatever might turn up to “save” us, might take a while! (I do not say I ‘worried’, I only say my plan for eating my last potato was very different.)
I have vague memory we agreed it wise to take a small piece of potato that had an eye and plant it, “just in case” it grew, and let us escape our predicament.
Sometimes, like many others, I think of the “frog in slowly warming water” story. (I like frogs, a lot, so don’t use the story much – don’t like to think about “that” frog and what’s happening in the story!)
The frog in the water does make a point, and is meant, of course, as a ‘wisdom’ story for humans to consider.
I’ve also thought recently of what it must be life – in real human situations where deep and pervasive starvation strikes a people – what it must be like as the situation builds to that terrible inevitability. First, stored food is eaten. The food was stored for just such an eventuality. This is hoped a temporary necessity. When no replenishing abundance develops, people cannot re-build stores. So they begin to eat what is “on the vine”. Hope continues, because the ‘vine’ may produce and provide until conditions change for the better.
The vine, its fruit constantly stripped, cannot keep up. Eventually it is necessary to eat the stems and leaves of the vine. Always, the effort is to keep the vine growing. But eventually the vine is reduced to only its root. The root is dug and eaten.
By now there has been much suffering and life lost. Animals have been eaten or died – they, too, were treated first as ’emergency’ then selectively harvested to keep the herd viable. Until the herds were gone.
Those who are able have tried to migrate out of the region. Some have made it to where food is more plentiful, but the new region already had people . There may be fighting, more loss of life.
It sounds as if I am about to talk on ‘overpopulation’. It would make sense here. But overpopulation is not my concern. Blaming any group of people for ‘overpopulating themselves’ gets the rest of us “off the hook”. It’s too easy an “answer”. It’s also “same old, same old”.
What I mean to talk about is resource management, about who’s doing the managing, and what we know of that ‘who’.
What I mean to say is WE, us humans, are doing the managing, and we know precious little about ourselves except in “same old, same old” thinking patterns.
After approximately 100 years of being invited to “examine ourselves” for “limited awareness of self and other”, (by introduction of psychology as a study of human ‘beingness’), we haven’t taken on the task.
It’s well known in psychology and related human change fields that people tend to not bother with “deeper” understanding (of self, of other) unless circumstances drive them to do so. “People have to get to “a desperate place” before they ask what went wrong.”
There is so much to say here, and I’m trying to coach myself to ‘get to the point’ with less writing! I’ll say this: From the women’s movement of the 1970’s emerged an understanding of power imbalances as generally experienced by “guys” or “gals” from broad societal rules – both spoken and unspoken. The understanding was: “Many, if not most, guys have trouble understanding the ‘need’ for gals to assert their rights, because they don’t know what it is like to not have those rights!” Not a clue! Mystified! “What ARE you talking about?” was in the minds of many guys, hearing anger and complaint from the women in their lives.
Tradition. Traditional roles. Traditional patterns of organizing who has what level of authority. Who is in charge of the resources and their management.
As the women’s movement went on, as I examined the anger expressed by women, I saw a pattern in human liberation movements that had nothing to do with gender, but everything to do with power imbalance. Blacks, Native Americans, … the protests, the anger, .. it all made sense to me. And was fully justified. (Still is, when it happens, where it happens, if the issue is power imbalance.)
Power imbalance is major “same old, same old” thinking. The people most “in charge”, “in authority” of resources and their management have not a clue why anyone would accuse them of trying to garner “all the potatoes”. They are mystified that anyone would accuse them of not being “trustworthy” to “be fair and just”.
Quite a few guys developed an understanding of what women were protesting about. (It must be said too, history does include stories of individual men who treated women with full equal respect all along! – So it is proven not impossible capacity within ‘the male gender’!)
From guys already “naturally” aware of women as fully capable, wise, inventive, creative, in tasks and fields long held “impossible” for them, and from guys open-minded and thoughtful enough to understand the validity of “freedom movement”, much support was gained. Much freedom gained. Much improvement for many!
Women were discovered quite capable of being in charge of resources, of managing them. Sometimes their contributions were ‘superior’ to what men might have done. Not always, of course. The whole point was to recognize and value “equal capability” and to drop a lot of the “same old same old traditional thinking” that had been guiding role assignment to that time.
We did NOT, however, notice the deepest value of what we were doing! Neither men nor women, generally, began to speak frequently and consistently about the need to further examine “same old, same old traditional thinking” about how humans organize themselves in resource management systems, and in power structure systems.
To those of you saying: “Well, I thought about it!”, you surely are open-minded enough to realize that on the whole, throughout human cultures, locally, nationally, and globally, general attitudes have been “I’m comfortable, thank you very much, and don’t pester me with demands for change in status quo.”
Plenty of people speak for deeper questioning, more creative discovery of what we humans can develop both to resolve current issues and to try for a much improved future.
Plenty of people have used what psychology brought to us, along with other studies, (many only emerging at the same time – turn into the 20th Century. Plenty of people write, speak, travel, urge, describe, offer research results – all in effort to help the whole of humanity shift and turn toward new paradigms that are helpful to all.
It remains true, however, that plenty more remain in the “comfortable with status quo” collection of traditional paradigms. These are the many who believe, at least so far as they can tell at present, they are not threatened. Their source of potatoes is intact and operating as it should.
Such a tribal view, “me and mine”, is also explored in psychology. But the tribe is ever so much larger (also explored!!, including by ancient wisdom teachings!).
Migration to wherever potatoes may yet grow is practically impossible. The real meaning of this is that our “same old, same old traditional thinking” has helped us get to where we are, which is “up against it”. Same old same old traditional thinking has served, of course, (has created much misery also, but options to escape were one of the remedies, and is gone.)
Efforts to “secure” ones source of potatoes includes “belief” that “someone needs to survive, and me and my tribe are best suited to lead the future, so it should be us. If a bunch of my human family has to starve, so be it.”
Efforts among those with greater compassion, yet urge to assume themselves “best candidates post-survival to lead the way into the future”, include stories about how this specific life is “unique to the individual in cosmic ways that cannot be understood” and if some starve, it is because it is “their destiny” to starve.
Same old, same old! Traditional! “Spiritual new age” thinking that swept through so many of us did indeed help us shift our paradigms. That was good. But it is not the end of the shifting required!
The same ancient teachings that support notions of “it’s God’s will” that someone starve, and support “it’s unique personal destiny” that someone starve, also taught something else.
Both Buddhist teachings and New Testament Christian teachings say, over and over, (and over and over!), that compassion and generosity are called for. Psychology reveals that humans are not 100% geared to “power-over” as means to security of life, but that we have deep internal nudging and calling to work in cooperation, to share, to dismiss “wealth and power” as sole motivator to support Life.
It is these latter teachings that hold a key to shifting paradigms out of same old, same old, traditional approach to managing resources and therefore securing chance for human life to continue on this planet.
Because so many of us, within our tribes, (personal, local, national, global), have been – to now – free to more or less stick to very old unexamined power systems in social political structures, we have been content to “dabble” with change. To take our time. We’ve not wanted to challenge our paradigms with unnecessary discomfort. (We have not ‘reached bottom’, is what this means.)
We have watched individuals “reach bottom” and shift paradigms. We have wondered how they managed to get so deep into a hole of misery before they ‘woke up.’
They were, of course, getting there gradually. Like the frog story.
We have not yet realized that the whole of humanity, is “getting to the bottom gradually”. Many of us realize this “intellectually”, but we do not bestir ourselves much. (Me too, of course! I shift in and out of capacity to sort out a few facts, contact congresspeople.)
Our ways of “putting off” noticing the coming day of “the last potato” are part of our daily lives, our daily thinking.
I cannot claim any special power or authority to insist we “wake up”.
But often, I do wonder, what we could accomplish if we did. Sometimes it seems a shame that we are so committed to “a leisure stroll down the path into some pit”, without knowing ahead of time how desperate things will become as we get closer to “the bottom”.
It’s going to be a time of suffering no matter what. We can either suffer by continuing our stroll down, or we can begin to challenge ourselves out of comfort and also to challenge those most entrenched in power-over, (mega-corporations, those of extreme wealth, and their co-dependent politicians.)
We can create suffering in our challenges by trying to use “power” to over-come inappropriate power. Or we can create suffering by conceding if we take on some of the suffering head of time, we lessen the impact on others. Or we can do some of this and some of that.
We already are clearly not avoiding “suffering”.
I don’t have “the” answers! The only, only, thing I notice about our humanity is that we continue to “do the same thing expecting different results”. Too often we persuade ourselves we’re doing something “new” and “enlightened” but it’s based in trying to carry old traditional systems along. (Current global ‘national budget repairs’ are a precise case in point. We are convinced that “belt tightening” among the “ordinary citizen” must happen, supporting services must be curtailed, or “all is doomed” for “all of us”. Excuse me? Whom do we mean by “all of us?)
It seems to me we’ve got insights available that would help us break from the very very deep and pervasive attitudes we’ve got about power. It seems to me the “one” angle we have not given our full attention to is the “bit” about us having innate capacities to cooperate and serve one another in support of life.
So far as I can tell, it’s our only “new direction” available! The only untried “migration route”.
The path that might lead us back uphill to greater security, of more lasting endurance, perhaps to where potatoes can be grown in some abundance, is going to be an untried path. It may be that more will have to be pleased to have potatoes instead of caviar! (Stories of caviar harvested in Russia are not pleasant or cheery – so who needs caviar!)
It seems to me ‘solutions’ to global challenges are likely to be brutal – either by design or default.
And that seems such a shame when we haven’t tried “taming our wild-ox selves” toward what we have so long claimed is our remarkable humanity on this remarkable planet.
My Very Best! – MaggieAnn
(Pretty much wrecked my intent to be brief’ intent, didn’t I!)