Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Bowl of Porridge

Although I agree with the premise that drives most Peak Oil Long Emergency types, I don't agree that the end of cheap liquid fuels will be the end of advanced civilization. Quite the contrary. Although, some of the older members of the Titanic apparently chose to just sit on board and play cards until their party was submerged, most chose to find a lifeboat. And those who did, survived.

It's just not in our human nature to give up.

And the idea that we cannot or will not develop solar technologies that provide enormous amounts of affordable and sustainable energy supplies just doesn't ring true to me. Given the technological knowledge we presently have, there is no fundamental reason why our culture could not be totally powered by the light of our days through a unified photonic energy web within the lifetimes of most of us.

That of course is provided that we actually realize that we are presently on a collision course with a fossil fueled asteroid that is heading our way. If we allow it to hit us, if we allow it to continue its course, we will be inundated in a global war with roman numerals.

That said however, there are many in the Peak Oil doomster crowd that are pushing the creative envelope in thoughtful and important ways.

Here is a small piece of a well crafted story by John Michael Greer that caught my attention:

"Once the private car has become an anachronism and the energy costs of long-distance trucking make local production of most goods a better bargain, the economic glue that holds together a sprawling highway network and the many industries necessary to maintain it faces rapid dissolution.

That same glue is most of what holds the United States together as a nation-state, and its breakdown will likely see the unraveling of the United States as a primary focus of our collective identity. Just as the rapid growth of transportation links turned the grandchildren of Virginians and Californians into Americans, the disintegration of those same transportation links may well turn the grandchildren of Americans into something else.

It’s unlikely to turn them back into Virginians and Californians, though, because the triumph of the nation-state in the 19th century was followed, in the United States more than anywhere else in the world, by the triumph of the market economy over culture. A faux culture designed by marketing experts, produced in factories, and sold over the newly invented mass media, elbowed aside the new and still fragile national culture of the United States and then set to work on the regional and local cultures this latter had only just begun to supplant.

By the second half of the 20th century, nearly all of the functions filled by noneconomic culture in other societies were being filled by the market in America, and increasingly in other Western countries as well. The tunes people whistled, the recipes they cooked, the activities that filled their leisure hours and the self-images that shaped their thoughts and behavior no longer came out of such normal channels of cultural transmission as family and community; they came out of the market economy, with a price tag attached that was not denominated in dollars alone.

The second half of the 20th century, in fact, saw the death of anything that could reasonably be called American culture. Most examples of what anthropologists call “culture death” have seen people beaten and starved into relinquishing their traditional cultures; what the modern American experience shows is that people can also be bribed by prosperity and cajoled by advertising into doing the same thing.

Granted, in a society awash in cheap abundant energy, it’s easier and cheaper to buy one’s culture ready-made from a store than to make the investments of time and energy into family and community needed to maintain a living culture in the true meaning of the word.

Equally, in a society where “fashion” driven by media campaigns takes the place of any less mercenary guiding force, making traditional American cultures look as bad as possible was just another bit of marketing.

Think of the movie Deliverance, with its likeably cosmopolitan heroes struggling to survive against the brutal malevolence of backwoods villains, and the banjo riff that provided the movie’s leitmotif defining traditional American culture itself as a hostile Other: that same message has flooded the American media for much of a century.

Culture death is a traumatic experience, and I suspect that a great deal of the shrill anger and maudlin self-pity that fills American society these days has its roots in our unwillingness to face up to a trauma that, in the final analysis, we have brought on ourselves. As the age of cheap energy comes to an end, though, I suspect there are worse traumas in store.

A nation that has sold its own culture for a shiny plastic counterfeit risks a double loss if that counterfeit pops like a soap bubble in its collective hands. Equally, a people that has come to see its role as that of passive consumer of culture, rather than active maker and transmitter of culture, may have very few options left when the supply of manufactured culture to consume runs out. "

Not long ago, while visiting with dear, good friends in the mountains of Mexico, we began to talk about how the Germans seemingly went on a pathological national suicide pact in the first half of the 20th century. Prior to this "national pact", the German people were known for their music, their philosophy, their art, and their other contributions to culture.

My friends had a special context and view on this.

They were both born in Germany.

Whether of not the American culture has caught the German national suicide bug or not, time will soon reveal. The likelihood that the rest of the world will be drawn down with them as a result is high.

If we accept the notion that culture in general has now been replaced by a faux market culture which is the product of marketing and corporate shaping, it is no wonder that we have such confusion and chaos in our institutions and other cultural forms.

We have sold our birthright for a bowl of porridge.

Not only is it growing cold.

It came out of a can to begin with.

Maybe we should try Jacob's ladder instead,

And join the family.

art courtesy of Ardyn Halter



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate that you focus in on the possibilities for change.

You appear to consider the state of the mess that we are in and then still find the way up and out.

Then I read the bowl of porridge.

Hmmm - more darkness looming.

I ended up on the Jacob's Ladder link.

Yes, up and out.

The ying and the yang keeps me comfortably unsettled.

Another good one.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the best things you've sent.

6:24 AM  

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