Close Eyes, Plug Ears

I was flipping through television channels and came across Fox News. This is never a place worth dwelling. I gave them their chance, many chances, long ago. These days I only spend any time at all subjecting myself to what pours forth from that particular television network to check out what people are being fed lately. At this particular moment, I found myself seeing Greta Van Susteren doing her show. She was doing a remote interview.

I found myself looking at Karl Rove, sitting in front of a camera somewhere, facing the camera and spewing forth whatever it was, against a background of a nighttime view of a sea of lights that appeared to pretty certainly be Las Vegas.

I thought to myself, there we are. Take a look. Here’s a nice succinct scene that can almost sum up everything that is just royally fucked up in the United States of America circa 2010. A television network that’s a full time propaganda machine devoted to deceiving and manipulating the American people, playing host to a man whose entire career has been devoted to deceiving and manipulating the American people, and displaying him speaking in front of a backdrop of Las Vegas. A place of endless arrays of flashing, dazzling lights, superficial appearances ruling over any depth and substance, artifice over reality, fantasies of Big Money jackpot payouts.

A place that is doomed. Like many others, for similar reasons.

Well, now. That sounds harsh, you might think. Some people might read the above and immediately start making all sorts of false assumptions, for that matter. In a world where a lot of people seem to regard sociopathic psychoses as normal, more and more, you might be expecting god only knows what to be coming up next here. It’s probably not what you think.

The reason I write that with a certain amount of confidence is that what is coming up next is not something that appears, from what I can gather, to be a common subject of attention and thought and discussion.

It’s been called The Long Emergency. That’s specifically a title, to immediately give credit where credit is due, the title of a book written by James Howard Kunstler, published in 2005.

The general subject here has been given a nice succinct shorthand term name. “Peak Oil”.

It amazes me that so few people even seem to be aware of it. The even bigger concern is what happens when people are faced with it. My experience, so far, has been simple, and not encouraging. Simply put, when this is presented to the people I have presented this to, they have not faced it.

Coupled with this is the disturbing, and seriously destructive trend, of people not only ignoring or actively, even aggressively, dismissing valid, real, serious information, but at the same time, having their view of life and the world around them horrifically warped by assorted deliberate deceptions and oblivious ignorance and stupidity presented to them, bombarding them, as “information”. See Fox News Channel.

I’m currently reading a new book by Jaron Lanier, “You Are Not A Gadget”. It’s a great book, and I woulod suggest it is a very important book. I will probably talk about it more later, at some point. I won’t try to summarize it right now. Right now, what I want to mention here is a great line, a great simple bit of truth:

“A stream of misleading information is no asset.”

As we sit here in 2010, as I write, and you read, around us is a maelstrom swirl of “information” (quotation marks quite deliberate), much of it fired off as fast as people can generate it via 24 hour a day television and the world wide web. Frankly, there is a serious problem there in an ugly coupling of a pair of factors. A disturbing amount of it being terribly misleading bullshit, and that being fed to enormous numbers of people who are unable to realize that it’s bullshit. Even worse is when those people then accept the deceptions and/or delusions and/or actual true facts combined and “interpreted” in some ways that distort reality, and then begin to not only question valid information, but often reject it outright because in some way or another this stuff does not fit with the warped pseudo-reality version of some matter, some subject or issue, that they have now swallowed. (See the earlier note titled “Versus”.)

As I said, I have directed people’s attention to the general subject of oil resources, consumption, and depletion, often summarized in shorthand as “Peak Oil”, specifically pointing toward what Jim Kunstler has been writing (because he covers it so well, and in an excellent balance of being concise and thorough).

Nobody wants to know.

The reactions vary quite a bit, but, basically, there is the universal theme. Nobody wants to know. In some cases the reaction is resistance that’s almost fierce. It would be just uncomfortable, way too disturbing, to somebody’s view of their life and future and the world around them.

The reactions vary. There have been relatively lengthy online forum notes trying in any way possible to dismiss Kunstler, specifically, as without credibility, with fairly feeble reasoning, sometimes from someone who I have had good reasons to regard as an otherwise intelligent and sensible human being. There have been far more plainly irrational and idiotic reflexive kinds of rejections, with phrases like “fantastic Mad Max wet dream”. One online forum post included something to the effect of “I figure that by the time the oil runs out, somebody will have invented some new source of free energy”.

It’s almost beyond obvious to note the responses like “oh, it’s all politics” or “it’s all nonsense and stories to play games and make more money for people”.

I had a personal conversation about the topic recently that got into the general subject of peak oil when I raised the subject. The topic was large vehicles, trucks as personal transportation for people who never used them as anything other than light duty personal transportation; people driving gas guzzling trucks who never actually haul anything around. In other words, not people who honestly, realistically, practically, actually need a truck of some kind. That’s just one point about the whole larger subject; that it will reach a crisis point and collapse of many things as they are and are done now, happening sooner than it might otherwise, because of the increased rate of oil depletion as a result of many, many, people driving some 6000 pound behemoth personal truck, not because of the need for a heavy duty vehicle capable of carrying some cargo on a regular basis, but as some kind of petty fucking fashion statement or something.

I stopped at some point and said something like “alright, this is getting into a large subject, but let me give you a quick glimpse of what the problem is with this stuff”, and spent a few minutes doing my best to give a kind of quickie “intro to peak oil 101” sketch of the broad picture.

It was useless. Complete futility. As I described this general kind of scene elsewhere, in a web forum, it’s almost like you might as well be telling people that you’ve discovered evidence of a secret government of aliens from other planets who are living underground in a secret military base and ruling the United States and maybe the whole world. A “that’s just crazy talk, mister!” reaction.

During the course of that chat, the other person  made some comment about “well, you know, this is a personal choice, this isn’t something that should be dictated by rules and regulations and stuff”. Like this is a “personal liberty and freedom” issue.

My thinking is, yeah, this is an individual decision kind of thing, so, maybe, it might make a lot of sense for people making decisions to actually understand what they need to know about regarding the matter! Especially when it’s not simply about them and their own little lives.

I’m a pretty firm believer in the importance of individual freedom. There’s a significant difference between a simple personal choice that’s nobody’s business but yours, and being deliberately obtuse and dragging everybody else’s asses down with you, especially if you’re acting on the most insanely, astoundingly petty reasons. (Like buying a huge lumbering pickup truck strictly because you think this will increase the perception of you by friends, family, colleagues, and random strangers as a real manly man of manly manliness.)

The dumb part about that interjection was that I hadn’t said a word about anybody taking away anybody’s big dumb pointless truck. I was talking about why such a road monger is obscenely foolish if you do not actually need such a thing, you have it for the proper purpose of such a thing, because it’s a working vehicle.

It only gets worse when the determined denial continues even when major clues come up that, I would think, would make the light bulb come on, some realization and understanding kicking in. It’s especially puzzling when I think back and remember how people were talking about the depletion of oil and natural gas, finite resources, back in the sixties. It isn’t really like this is all some total and complete surprise.

People just don’t want to know.

I find it all pretty deeply bizarre, for a couple of pretty basic reasons. First, the simple fact of reality that, for all of the people casually dismissing or earnestly battling against the very idea of the whole thing, this subject will become a very fundamental issue that affects their lives far more than any of them have probably ever even considered. It’s much more than “gas will get so expensive that it makes life more difficult”.

The somewhat unknown, or relatively unknown, big problem is something that I had not thought of much until recent years (and it has become much more pressing in more recent years since more information is coming to light, which I’ll get to eventually here).

It is not as simple as “when does the oil run out?”. I think that’s the biggest problem in getting people to wrap their heads around this and get serious, really wake up. It’s not about suddenly having some bell go “ding!” and a red light on a panel coming on to indicate “planet empty!”.

I have no intention of trying to go through all of it here, considering that other people have done this, done the work, written about it, explained it all. I’ll include some links to follow up, reading on the web. I also suggest very strongly that you should read the book “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler, mentioned already. Read this book. Now.

If you’ve never heard the term “peak oil”, or if you have heard it, but never understood what, exactly, this is supposed to mean, the quick version is fairly simple and easy enough to summarize and absorb in just a couple of minutes.

So, read this and come back:

As you read, pay close attention to Hubbert and his predictions. One thing I’ve found, among all the assorted objections I talked about earlier, is somebody saying, paraphrasing, that this is all stuff that’s been predicted for some time now past and all the predictions were false alarms and coming from “doomsayers”.

Believe that all you want. Reality doesn’t really care about what you want to believe or not believe. It carries on with or without our agreement and approval.

Look at Hubbert’s forecast regarding, specifically, oil production within the United States. In 1956, he made a forecast (which you have, I hope, just read about before returning to read this). That forecast predicted that U.S. oil production would peak somewhere around 1970.

Around 1970, U.S. oil production reached its peak, wobbling around a plateau for a while (a subject all its own getting into the economic and social interactions affecting demand and pricing and production) and then going into permanent decline. (And in 1973, we saw the OPEC oil embargo drama.)

You can look at a graph showing Hubbert’s predicted curve superimposed with plotted actual historical data points. They lay right together. In short, he really could not have nailed it any closer.

Then look at his predictions for world oil discovery, and production.

Then look through the pages following the links here.

You can find more on the subject if you search the web, I am sure, and I mean hard data and serious qualified people analysing it.

I encounter people who dismiss anything about the entire subject as “doom and gloom”, “doomsayers”, “the sky is falling”, “negative pessimism”, “manipulations to drive up oil prices and profits”, et cetera. I just can’t describe how strange this seems to me, even while I think understand why, I can comprehend the kind of instinctive, recoiling, reflex of denial it appears to be. It’s not an unknown human reaction to things. Unfortunately it never really makes anything better, doesn’t help fix or solve anything.

The part that might be the strangest, the most completely inexplicable, in my view of people’s reactions and apparent views of this subject, is that it really is not new! It’s hard to not keep returning to that thought over and over and marvelling at it. It is not as if somebody just thought “hey, guys, do you think the fuel resources could start depleting?”. I keep returning to thoughts about how this was being discussed 40 years ago. It certainly got attention during the seventies. President Jimmy Carter gave speeches to the country about it during his term in office, and was just simply ignored or mocked by a lot of people for it.

That general theme continues, in that even raising the subject does little good with many people. The reactions might vary. It might range from offhand dismissal as random crazy talk, like people would regard a disheveled and wild eyed man shouting on a downtown street corner with a sign saying something disturbing, to some kind of vagely catatonic shutdown; quietly ignoring the subject and sort of pretending they didn’t hear anything, or acting as if some pointlessly trivial small talk noises had been uttered that needed no attention (“hey, how ’bout this weather?”).

I think I’m probably correct in a guess, that for many people, it’s a combination of “too big to even think about”, it overwhelms them to even think there might be anything to all this, just plain freaks them out; and, related, a general though like “hey, this is out of my hands, you’re talking about stuff I can do nothing about, so why waste time thinking and worrying about it?….. what will be, will be”. Which is an entire subject in itself.

I look at all this trying to take a wide angle overview of the reactions and attitudes of people, and it almost strikes me as something like people driving a car (or their fashionably mammoth truck) down the road with a windshield totally covered by snow or dirt of something, visibility down to nothing as a result of heavy rain or snow or fog, but rolling merrily along at highway speed, dead blind, and rationalizing it by saying “hey, man, nothing I can do about it, destiny will be what it is, what are ya gonna do?”.

I know that using words like “delusion” can be awfully easy to haul out and apply in some hyperbolic, rhetorical way, but in recent times, I look at an assortment of things and see an awful large quantity of situations and behavior that keep bringing me back to the words “delusion” or “delusional”. Serious, severe detachment from an objective grasp of reality.

I get reactions that include “oh, they’re finding more all the time, not a problem!”. The first issue with that is that it seems pretty common to hear or read that, from people who then have little to no idea of where these continuing oil discoveries are happening and what sort of numbers are involved. In other words, what I’m describing is the sort of unsubstantiated assertions presented as if they’re valid points of debate or something, the kind of thing you can often experience facing someone in a discussion who begins some statement of sheer unadulterated bullshit with the preface “everybody knows……”.

There are human beings who are, simply, plainly, just hopelessly ignorant and idiotic. Nothing registers, and if some little bit of reality registers, somehow they’ll manage to get it all wrong.

What’s more disturbing is to encounter people who otherwise seem to be reasonably mentally functional and sensible, but take them into the realms of some subjects, and they just lose their bearings completely. People who clearly have some kind of a functioning brain, but manage to at least appear to be completely unconscious regarding something like this, even when it’s presented to them directly in reasonably concise and simple form.

If you move forward or up a notch, perhaps, you can find a more aware kind of consciousness, and then, oh holy shit, it’s into a different level of evasion. It might even be worse, there. I’m talking about people who are fairly intelligent and educated and aware. But then you find something that, in some ways, on some level, could be argued as even worse. What I’m talking about is, to oversimplify into stereotypes and cliches momentarily just for brevity and simplicity, while understanding that I’m flirting with the edges of being simplistic, is this. Finding people who say the fashionable things using terms like “green” and “sustainable” and “renewable energy”, and perhaps they own and drive a car using a hybrid drivetrain system, or powered by an engine designed to run on E85 ethanol/gasoline blend fuel. These things are not inherently bad, at least this is seeing small steps forward and signs of some actual conscious awareness and thought and independent action. Where the problem is in this is seeing tiny little signs and action like this stuff and then finding an attitude that goes something like “see! we’re solving the problem! it’s all good!”.

Actual forward progress is not bad. What is bad is having an illusion of forward progress, such as thinking ethanol as motor vehicle fuel is a solution (another subject of its own), and/or generally carrying thoughts that if we just make some substitutions in the status quo with some magic solutions, that everything will be able to carry on exactly as now, with only some minor details being different. That is just not going to work.


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