So. There I was.
What got me started was sitting idle, waiting, in front of the computer, as I had been trying to do some basic things online. Skipping a long story, things were not working well, or not working at all. There really should not have been any problem, yet there I was, staring at sputtering malfunction, waiting to see if some digital furball would cough up and clear.
All that annoyance, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere, so it was staring me in the face as I waited, got me thinking about things. The immediate thoughts were about technology in general, especially computing and general digital electronics.
Here in the early 21st century, we seem to have developed a serious loss of perspective about technology. We seem to have lost perspective and a sense of what works and what’s appropriate in technology, in terms of being a set of tools to do useful things, and do things better. That’s been largely replaced by far too many people and a broad societal attitude of some sort of techno fetish.
I started to become very interested in technology in a broad way, growing up in the period of the sixties through the mid seventies, when things in this realm were getting very interesting, in a lot of areas. Basically, most of my life has involved this interest, from childhood interest being piqued, through education and youthful tinkering, and into and through my adult life working.
The observation and experience of all these years has shown amazing developments and progress in all the assorted domains of assorted engineering and technology, but along the way, I’ve watched as we’ve developed strange, puzzling, and even just plain negative and destructive problems, in the form of people really losing the plot and a sense of perspective in the world of technology in general. Flash and dazzle and stupid novelty seem to have pushed aside a basic sensible perspective of conceiving, designing, and building things to do something useful and good, and then do it better.
Our path in relationships with technology seem to be generally following a nasty trend in a lot of different areas. We have quite a list of problems across just about every area of human existence, and compounding everything across the board, more and more complexity, complexity piled on complexity. The result is clearly a lot of overwhelmed and confused people, and it’s all made so much worse by lack of good information and perspective, and an absolute barrage of misleading and confusing noise, especially from people who are either misinformed and confused, themselves, or just blatantly lying.
In response to that, many people think they’ve found simple when they’ve only accepted simplistic.
All that has become normal. What we need is to counteract that, and there are people to do that, people who already are doing that, and have been, but who are mostly lost in the noise and garbage. A subculture of reality.
Using the word subculture here is not arbitrary. The kind of people I’m talking about are obscured. We need true, accurate, clear information presented honestly, and people paying attention to it all. What we have in avalanches is nonsense, diversions, and plain lying, and a lot of what I can only describe as serious attitude problems piled on to the whole mess.
It’s not uncommon to find people using the word “cynic” or derivations. The word has come to have its meaning completely misused and mutated, one of those words that have suffered so much misuse that they’ve almost become useless, because the meaning has been lost.
The origin of the word comes from a school of philosophy in ancient Greece, where a cynic was somebody whose purpose and aim, among many other things, was to question, to scrutinize things to get at the truth; basically, to be the Bullshit Police.
Part of the school of thought of the Greek Cynics was to live a simple honest life in harmony with the Earth and nature.
None of that is a bad thing. We could use a lot more of that.
Today, it’s frequent enough to be almost a certainty that somebody describing somebody as a “cynic”, or using the words “cynical” or “cynicism”, thinks the words have meaning about people who thing everybody and everything is rotten and corrupt and hopeless.
We can do without that.
Recently a couple of different shows have popped up on different cable networks on “doomsday preppers” for your entertainment. This is pretty odd on many levels, starting with this being television entertainment. From what I’ve seen of these, there is a substantial level of superficial “reality show TV” stupidity to it.
One bunch I recall was some family and a few friends or something. They were building their own little paramilitary sort of armed compound in secret remote wilderness location, complete with underground bunker, stock of water containers and dry and preserved foods, and massive stockpile of firearms and ammunition (who knows, maybe even small artillery and explosives), and talking a lot about being some variety of fundamentalist evangelical Christians. At one point, as the TV cameras recorded, they stood around somewhere inside their underground bunker, standing together as their leader offered up a group prayer. I’m not sure I remember the exact words, but, paraphrasing, that went something like “dear lord, please bless our armory of guns and ammunition…”.
Let’s put aside what, say, Jesus might have to say about all that. Do these people really see this as a plan for the continuation of human life and civilization? Really?
Compounding everything, among some people it’s like you’re expected to declare “are you on Team Left or Team Right?”, “are you in the Conservative Club or Liberal Club?”, so you can be ushered to the relevant seating section and handed your guidebook to tell you what you think.
Apparently a lot of people have never heard of “divide and conquer”.
Even more twisted is seeing the usual hammering on their audience from Fox News (and their brethren) continually, constantly, daily, telling their audience about all manner of threatening enemy others.
People are falling into that quicksand and getting thoroughly stuck. In that morass, everything is going to be perpetually baffling and puzzling, even while they swallow endless easy explanations for what’s happening around them, in their own lives, out in the big wide world, and somehow things don’t quite add up.
I’ve said it before and it can’t be repeated too much; it’s way past time to take the cliches of “Left” and “Right” and “Conservative” and “Liberal” and toss them out. Note that I didn’t say “conservative” and “liberal”, which are still words that mean something without the capitalization, turned into lingo of “ideologies”.
I think it’s a sign of just how deranged and confused things are when people regard “liberal” and “libertarian” as being polar opposites on some linear scale of political spectrum.
Too many people are too readily joining a herd. It’s time for a lot of spellbound zombies to wake up, do the homework, and think for themselves and figure out what they think about things, instead of collecting a list of what some obnoxious fool or shyster is telling them they’re supposed to think.
The 2012 presidential sporting contest has settled out finally after what seemed like the interminable circus of the Republican primaries, with Willard Romney finally coming out of it as the sort of “oh, I guess he’ll have to do” Generic Republican Candidate. Their final pick is the guy instantly obvious as a stereotypical fake charm creepy salesman, who will smile, and pander, and say whatever will “make the sale” at any given moment, and who has proven himself on pretty much a weekly or even daily basis to be a blatant liar. He apparently came out of the bizarre proceedings as the least objectionable Republican candidate.
The general Republican party positions, carrying on through the presidential campaign, basically all hammer on the same themes and notions of how things should be, in the general economy and government financial management, that have already proven beyond any doubt or argument to be a complete fucking disaster. That includes carrying on spending insane amounts of money on being a worldwide military empire, bankrupting the country, and calling it “national security” and “defense”, as we’ve had ever since the end of World War II.
Turn on a television or look at any news and you’ll soon come across this. Along with that, between the Republican party politicians and their propaganda mouthpieces, hammering any American citizen who gives them any attention with fiction and nonsense about President Barack Obama as a commie destroyer of America and freedom and properity weakening our national security and on and on. In the meantime, the actual reality of Obama as president has turned out to be full indulgence of the big bank and Wall Street crowd and continuing on as usual with the worldwide military empire and associated massive costs, and generally being much like what would have been considered a fairly conventional Republican president in the not so distant past.
People screech fictional nonsense about “Obama and taxes” when the overall tax burden on American citizens is basically as low as it’s been in my lifetime, and I’m now a middle aged man, actually born right around the end of the Eisenhower presidency.
Economic matters are too much to even begin to cover and make a dent here.
Since the end of World War II in the United States we’ve been on a program to spread outward in suburbia, building more and more houses, buildings, and roads outward in concentric rings, along with all the infrastructure supports. Doing this we’ve squandered the petroleum resources of the country, a finite resource, and virtually destroyed our cities.
More recent history saw the activity of making things in this country abandoned in favor of the supposed wonders of “globalization”, with much in the way of activity of maintaining and repairing things going out with it. In the meantime, everybody has been pushed incessantly to consume, and consume, and consume more, and become some sort of biped species of locust. In came an economy revolving around building more and more houses and buildings, outward always, and the realms of finance and trading markets in stocks and securities and commodities and even currency. With that as a thing unto itself, and more and more insatiable demand for “growth”, and nothing ever enough for some people, this combined with the idea that we no longer needed the laws and oversight created after the disaster of the crash of 1929 and the depression, and led to all kinds of mad convoluted financial games and tricks and just plain fraud that would take many books to cover.
Then, it crashed, and, by the way, few people seem to grasp how the house of cards was finally nudged into collapse by hitting the limits of petroleum worldwide.
Just in case anybody still didn’t get the clues when reality came crashing in, you can refer to Alan Greenspan.
Greenspan was not only one of the highest level economists of modern American history, with long term top level involvement in US government economic policy, but also spent most (all?) of his adult and professional life as a devoted follower of fiction writer and part time philosopher Ayn Rand. From that came a firm conviction and belief in the idea that the totally unregulated laissez-faire Free Market works out all things, eradicates the false and inferior, rewards worth and value, and creates a perfect meritocracy. I guess it works that way in fiction.
What even Alan Greenspan had to finally admit, which was probably very disturbing to him, given what I just said, was that after the wreckage of the financial meltdown that came to a head and popped in late 2008, he had to face the reality. In actual practice, little to no regulation and oversight of banking and financial market games didn’t lead to all things working out and “self-correcting” and a perfect meritocracy of value and worth, and reward of virtue and reason, it opened up the way for unimaginable lunacy and gross fraud.
That, and he also admitted that even he didn’t understand all the crazy “financial derivatives” schemes he examined, back in the days when people thought this stuff was a wonderful new idea to make everybody involved even richer.
And even with that, astonishing numbers of people still don’t fucking get it.
Even if their own lives were wrecked.
Going back decades, the decade that was popularly called “the Roaring Twenties” is fairly clear in hindsight, and yet largely forgotten now.
Under Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, there was an atmosphere of government with the attitude that government law and oversight concerning banking and finance was government meddling in free enterprise. People saw it as a time of wealth and prosperity that would never end, as things were happening and people were making money hand over fist, and as that happened, people started going wild with all kinds of crazy games in banking and finance and the stock and securities markets, thinking, hey, we’re making loads of money, it’s “creating wealth” for everybody, it’s just going to get better and better, this isn’t risky, what could possibly go wrong?.
In October 1929, it all blew up, pulling the trap door dropping everybody into the Great Depression. Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent the same mad games from happening again. This included separating regular deposit banks, like we all know where people keep basic checking and savings accounts, from investment house banks, where people put their money into play in what they knew were riskier games. You can play risky games with possible big payoffs and possible big losses, but keep it away from involving other people who aren’t volunteering for that game.
Time passed, and 1999 rolled around. Everybody saw it as a time of wealth and prosperity that would never end, as things were happening and people were making money hand over fist, and as that happened, people started going wild with all kinds of crazy games in banking and finance and the stock and securities markets, thinking, hey, we’re making loads of money, it’s “creating wealth” for everybody, it’s just going to get better and better, this isn’t risky, what could possibly go wrong?. Attitudes in banking and Wall Street and politics shifted more and more to an atmosphere of government with the attitude that government law and oversight concerning banking and finance was government meddling in free enterprise.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (named after the three Republican senators introducing it) comes in and repeals the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Less than a decade later, in 2008 we find ourselves sitting in a pile of wreckage.
Then, when things went to hell, the people doing the wild gambles going to the government saying, well, you know, if you don’t pump immense amounts of cash into our accounts, like, now, everything will fall apart and the entire US economy will crash in a smoking heap.
President George W. Bush and the US Congress, basically held hostage by a batch of gigantic banks playing the crazy games, ended up with TARP to keep the entire financial and banking world from a train wreck of massive interwoven and interlocking debts crashing in a hellish domino effect, and Barack Obama came into office as president carrying this on, in a real live “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.
Now, we have a large contingent of Americans, especially among the tea partier folk, with the attitude that government law and oversight concerning banking and finance is government meddling in free enterprise.
Then they turn their attention to the massive bank rescue dose of money known as TARP, The infamous Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Just the name of that program kills me. The positively Orwellian exercise in euphemism in the term “Troubled Assets“, refers to what really amounts to a great rancid steaming pile of worthless shit, that was the debris resulting from what some characters call “financial engineering” or “financial innovation” or “new financial products“. “Troubled” is the wrong word.
It was, in short, the US federal government taking items off the books of the large banks involved that were just absolute worthless trash, pure shit, total losses/liabilities, even financial packages that apparently nobody could even clearly identify as to what it was, that only came to be precisely because some years before, people successfully made arguments that became political policy and national law, that big nasty meddling government shouldn’t regulate laissez-faire “pure free enterprise”, because that would be like Stalinist communism or something, and the power of the Free Market would work out everything.
Then the tea party crowd, and some others, raise hell about “the bank bailouts”, saying this is is government meddling in free enterprise and the losses of the banksters and others involved in the financial games are their own losses, evidently with no concept of how interlinked the whole mess was, or even that what might have been lost, without intervention, might have been their own pension fund or other assets.
This might be one the worst cases of mass cognitive dissonance in American history.
Surrounding all this like a fog of toxic gas, it might be one of the most grotesque and tragic ironies of our time that the late 20th century and early 21st century United States is loaded with people living in a “middle class” sort of existence who have no sense and understanding of history, or for that matter, sense and understanding of the present, who have been convinced somehow that the Republican party best represents them, as they’ve been sold a large scale swindle over decades.
That huckster act, blasted at people continuously over the past three decades, tells them that the Republican party of America is the party of “regular working middle class patriotic Real Americans“, while they have little or no sense of how they have come to find themselves in this fairly fortunate and comfortable middle class existence, probably convinced that it’s entirely down to their own merit and work and nothing else. [Also having it hammered into their heads that “the democrat party<sic>” is a bunch who wants to take it all away from them and give it to lazy bums and parasites and general undesireable “others”.] So they fall for it, and go out and do their best to put people in positions of power who are guaranteed to use them and then toss them in the trash.
History doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.
I’ve written truckloads of words about the reality of the situation regarding petroleum. The overall general overwhelming common attitude seems to be, as completely insane as it is, that the response to an array of problems revolving around depletion of finite resources is to demand that we use up what’s left even faster.
That, alone, is enough evidence to indicate how many people have gone just batshit insane.
At the same time, we have a lot of chattering that seems to indicate people think we can just take some new magic and swap out and replace the use of ancient underground hydrocarbons, and roll on doing everything just the same, but now it’s going to be “green and sustainable”. People aren’t looking at what things are, and how things work, and the logistics and just generally doing the math.
In short form, “green and sustainable” is not a cliché, it’s going to be our only option. This only works with a much different way of doing things, and simply not doing a lot of things people have come to assume as normal. It’s not a magic wand.
What you find completely obscured, almost buried in the noise and posing, all the bullshit that’s now about four decades old about “energy independence”, is people putting forth the obvious only real “solution” in this department.
We have to change what we do, and how we do it, to use less energy. It’s that simple.
Anything else is blowing smoke up our collective asses, and the consequences of ignoring this, if that’s what we continue to do, will not be fun.
I checked out a bit of CNBC and their afternoon show “Closing Bell”, where the full barrage show rolls on, including no less than five different sections of the screen bombarding you with assorted statistic and information panes besides the image of the people chattering. At some point I caught a guest, somebody from some coal related enterprise corporation.
As you might guess, the talk was nothing about the resources of coal and what problems we have, or are headed for, in that area. It was all about their stock price and shareholder dividends and so on. One passing comment from this character was noteable, intended to be painting a rosy investor future regarding putting your money into his coal business. Part of it was saying that natural gas prices will not always be as low as they are now. Oh, you can count on that, and that cracks open another can of worms of reality evasion.
The other part of this comment was saying “weather patterns will revert back to normal..“.
Sometimes you just have to quote the crazy and let it stand there, with no comment needed.
It has been known for decades that dumping carbon into the atmosphere was going to cause the Earth big problems, especially with the part of this scenario that never seems to get much discussion, even when this comes up.
It isn’t just the greenhouse effect trapping heat in the atmosphere. There is the accompanying fact that this dump of unnatural levels of carbon into the atmosphere is coming from burning hydrocarbons that had locked the energy of ancient sunlight in chemical compounds underground, and in the process of doing this to obtain energy, heat energy, to be exact, we have been and still are releasing all that previously stored energy in the form of heat into the atmosphere.
Now, even though this has been understood for decades, and we’ve been warned, we have an entire intensive campaign bombarding everybody, telling us “global warming is a hoax”. People are still trying to sell that nonsense, even as we’ve had enough chronically weird weather, for a long enough stretch, all around the world, that you have to be completely mentally dysfunctional to not be thinking that something is really badly out of whack.
Just in case you were wondering, that comment about weather from Mr. Coal Corp got basically no attention or comment from the TV people. It was all about the stock price and how people could make money in the transaction action. Such is the hypercrazed mad thrash of that world. There could be a breaking news flash announcing that the city of Chicago was being attacked by flying monkeys ,and probably the only effect might be somebody saying “so how will this affect people’s positions in Malaysian toilet seat futures?”.
In the meantime, we have now had enough truly bizarre weather and natural phenomena that even the most oblivious people who bought into the grotesque idiocy and deception of people declaring ” ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ is a big hoax!” have stopped laughing it off and started wondering what’s happening.
Seriously. Please, look around.
The subculture of reality is out there, hidden away in plain sight, trying to talk sense to us about facts of reality, with application of reason, and general human goodwill and actual care about you, me, themselves, the human race as a whole, life on Earth and the Earth itself as a whole.
The idea is simple. Wake up, do your best to pay attention, and let’s see what we really have here. Doing it is not so easy. But there isn’t a choice.
It’s not exactly a case of only posting bad news, although it’s unavoidable that pointing out current matters of reality that matter ends up with a lot of news that’s not fun, or even just grim.
Much of it is much more a matter of a couple of things. A lot tends to be just generally about how unaware most of us are, about a lot of things that are important, that need attention, like, last decade. Even more of it tends to be, in some sense, just about how little so many people even care about that last fact; a bit more to the point and blunt, how much of a collective serious attitude problem we have.
Like, for a start, let’s begin with a lot less of trying to convince ourselves and each other of how fucking wonderful we are.
There are a lot of people who fit the following.
They sit on their ass in front of a television watching American Idol or some other plastic talent show contest or celebri-gossip-infotainment dreck, then switch over to Fox News for a while, and then fueled by an hour or two of that every day, walk around talking to friends and family and neighbors or typing into the interknots yapping about how America has problems because left wing liberal radical communists hate America and taxes are too high. (Even while here in 2012 America, the general tax burden is about as low as ever in my life, and I’ve been around a while.)
They bitch that the economy is a mess, and there are no jobs, and all the businesses in town are disintegrating and blowing away, and then wander off to Wal-Mart to buy more wretched shit that will fall apart in a year “because they have low prices”.
They might wander off to the Wal-Mart by climbing into the jumbo SUV or manly-man behemoth pickup truck that never actually hauls anything (except shopping booty) and drive 15 miles and back. Then, proceed to bitch up a storm about the price of gasoline, even as it’s less than half the price people pay elsewhere in the world when you do the volume units and currency math. Then maybe, for bonus points, continue on, saying it’s because of “bad energy policy because environmentalists are keeping us from Our Oil”, because they believe that it’s endless, just because they want it, and it should always be eternally cheap, just because you want it, and God thinks we’re special and should have every little whim and desire.
They’ll grumble mildly and bitch fiercely about taxes, any taxes, on anybody or anything for any reason in any amount. They’ll roar in outrage if they hear anything like a whiff of a rumor that somebody even suggested putting extra tax on sales of petroleum fuel to help pay for maintenance of streets, roads, bridges, then bitch fiercely about the condition of all that. If there’s a suggested fuel tax added per gallon of fuel, or a suggested annual vehicle registration surtax based on vehicle weight, for these purposes, they’ll grumble in conversations with family, friends, and associates about “damned taxes and bureaucrats” and how the form of such taxes would be unfair to them, because it would cost them more money than others, as they drive their jumbo SUV or pickup truck dozens of miles a day to and from their outer exurbia home, and never seem to think any about the relationship between vehicle mass and fuel consumption, and the relationship between sheer vehicle mass and road surface deterioration.
If any tax levy comes up on a ballot, they will always vote against it, even if it’s a renewal issue to keep existing school system support taxes in place. Then, they’ll complain that their local school system is so shitty and dysfunctional, although they might not use the word “dysfunctional”. They might not notice or say anything at all, until the school system starts cutting back on their sports programs, then they’ll go apeshit, because that’s important, maybe even thinking this will kill Junior’s future of that big career in the NFL or NBA. They won’t care if the school system announces cuts in music and art programs, because “that stuff’s for faggots and pussies”. When the sports cuts are announced, you can bet that they’ll be making noises about “overpaid teachers and their cushy jobs”, even as the teachers are working 10 or 12 hour days for a salary good enough for a very humble lower middle class sort of existence, at best, and that’s not accounting for paying off a massive student loan debt they are probably still paying off for the education they needed to qualify for their “overpaid cushy job”.
When they were in school, maybe they never really paid much attention to most of their classes, except a minimum needed to pass, and regularly laughed off most of it as a useless waste of time and a headache, “because I ain’t gotta know none of that stuff and I’ll never use it anyway, it ain’t gonna make me no more money”. Odds are that they ignored anything about history, of their own country or the world, or how their own government works, or anything under the heading of “social studies”. Then, as adults, they might spend hours and hours listening to the obnoxious and mendacious barking of people like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, and the carnie sideshow act of professional lunatic Glenn Beck, in his persona of former “whacky morning crew” radio guy transformed into his “Professor Beck” act, and, without the knowledge and understanding needed to be able to even begin to recognize what bombardments of bullshit are pouring into their heads, think they’re informed about their country and the world and what’s happening.
If any or all of the above is you, be ready, or, don’t, either way, the universe is on its way to lodge a large boot up your ass. Not that you’ll understand what happened even then. You’ll certainly be convinced that you need to find out whose fault all this is, and never look in the mirror to spot the culprit.
And you know what? For the people who actually do fit the description of what I just said, odds are that none of them would get any of this. The reality of the universe will finally and inevitably come along to balance accounts and stomp their asses, and they’ll thrash around grasping at every bit of nonsense imaginable (and provided to them for their convenience) to explain things, everything and anything except understanding what actually happened. This has very possible, and very, very, ugly repercussions.
It’s also unlikely they’re reading this. They’re probably watching American Idol or some TV show about tattoos.
Writer James Howard Kunstler has a new book coming in the next couple of months, titled “Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation.“. From what I gather, it addresses this subject, along with others. It should be good, considering Kunstler’s other books.
A quote from Kunstler’s new book-
Kunstler writes: ‘Our lust for ever more comfort, pleasure, and distraction, our refusals to engage with the mandates of reality, our fidelity to the cults of technology and limitless growth, our narcissistic national exceptionalism — all propel us toward the realm where souls abandon all hope.’.
The very last part of that excerpt might seem a little grim to some people, but Kunstler is simply a guy who understands that we have a large portion of the present day American population that just doesn’t register things in consciousness without a metaphorical board upside the head.
Our lust for ever more comfort, pleasure, and distraction,
…our refusals to engage with the mandates of reality,
…our fidelity to the cults of technology and limitless growth,
…our narcissistic national exceptionalism
Incidentally, Kunstler predicted pretty accurately the course of the “housing bubble” and train wreck of finance and banking, in his book The Long Emergency, written around 2004. He saw it coming clearly. This isn’t clairvoyance. No pyschic powers there. I’ve exchanged emails with the guy and he agrees with me on this; he’s not a genius or psychic. He’s just a good writer who pays attention, can think, and face the conclusions without tapdancing around and trying to bullshit people.
This should not be something extraordinary, but, as things are today, this makes James Howard Kunster a slightly rare bird to the point of some people considering him a freak.
This can happen, in an era and place when looking at a situation and assessing it, pointing out some things that need sorting out, and suggesting they need work, can get people whining “why are you so negative“?
Kunstler’s books The Geography of Nowhere, Home From Nowhere, and The City in Mind are a trio of excellent reads about the general subject of America’s postwar frenzied charge outward into the suburbs, what we built and where we built it, and the overwhelming damage done to the country as a result, damage far more fundamental and extensive than what most people might think of as the problems of suburbia.
In the book that followed those, The Long Emergency, he picks up that subject and carries on into the problems that has caused in petroleum consumption, along with the complex and interacting problems in corporate business practices and globalization, finance and banking and trading markets, the damage we’ve been doing and continue doing to the Earth, and, most relevant to the theme here today, how oblivious we are to all of this and its repercussions, oblivious to reality. Whether the particular case happens to be being oblivious, or vaguely aware but then either deliberately or subconsciously denying or ignoring it all, is academic trivia. The failure to face reality is the same.
He didn’t choose the title lightly, this is obvious. Kunstler’s title of The Long Emergency describes what he saw coming in the form of a complex knotted batch of major, macroscopic scale, urgent problems, that need to be faced honestly, and the long list of tasks it all brings to deal with it. The name The Long Emergency describes, very well, the nature of having large scale national and worldwide problems that might get people describing them individually as a “crisis” or “emergency”, with these words being a serious misnomer, as the “crisis” never seems to end, and more keep piling on, while people steadfastly refuse to understand what the fuck is happening. Because that might mean changing what we do and how we do it, and this might be terribly inconvenient. All made massively worse by an overwhelming supply of liars and madmen working full time (and probably being paid very well for it) to provide them with an array of straw men and scapegoats to blame, and dangle supposedly easy simple answers that sound awfully convenient.
But, then, I think Kunstler was exactly right in the opening text of that book:
Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychology, famously remarked that “people cannot stand too much reality”.
I don’t think the beginning of this book could have been any more appropriate.
Jaron Lanier is an interesting character, that dreadlocked and bearded guy. No doubt in my mind that this guy was one of the smart kids in school. Among other things, one of his serious and extended interests was in the field of virtual reality, which is how I became aware of him years ago, a couple of decades ago. I was pretty intrigued by that subject for a while, even contributed about one third of the content of a coauthored book for the now defunct Waite Group Press.
I gradually became a little less enamored by the subject. Part of the reason for that was a growing kind of broad sense that some people really lost their minds a little when it came to this stuff. Some of the flights of fantasy about the possible near and far future of the field went zinging well past views of an interesting area of computer technology with some useful purposes, or just interesting (like as an interactive art form), and started getting just deeply, profoundly, fucking weird.
You could see a lot of the kind of thing I’m talking about reading through the pages of the now defunct Mondo 2000 magazine, which might very well have been a kind of ultimate little pocket of “techno-fetish”. Personally, I had my own little moment of pausing for reflection, as I recall somebody’s comment online way back when, saying something about “… we can raise our children in Virtual Reality”. I started thinking, right, some people are getting just a little bonkers about this shit.
Jaron Lanier isn’t just one of the smart kids, he’s also an artist (musician) and obviously generally philosophical and spiritually aware man, somebody looking at the broader scope. He’s not the sort of character who went through school as always the smartest in class, went and got advanced degrees in science and engineering from one of the top of the top universities in the field, and then went to work for some think tank working on designing and developing some ultimate doomsday machine, just because they thought this was a really interesting challenge where they could impress people, and never pausing to think “my god, what am I doing?”.
Lanier’s book You Are Not A Gadget is brilliant in its clear and fairly simple perspective of realism and basic sanity regarding technology, in this case digital electronics and computer technology. Lanier is a real gem, a guy bright enough to learn and understand the highest levels of science and technology, work in it and explore the advanced leading edge frontiers, and one of the rare critters who is also bright enough and balanced enough as a human being to be able to step back and say “what are we actually doing here, people, and why, and how?”, and not get so buried in hyper specialization and lost in hubris that all perspective gets lost in favor of being bedazzled and impressed by how clever they are.
Jaron Lanier is a valued member of the society of reality-based man.
If you’ve read my little corner of the web you know all about how much I’ve been hammering on the urgency of the subject of petroleum and other finite hydrocarbons, so I won’t rehash it all now. I’m repetitive about it, because it’s extremely important, it’s “right now!” urgent, and people mostly don’t seem to be getting it. If you have been reading, you know the general problems. We’ve been on a dedicated course of squandering finite resources and both failing to recognize the reality involved, and, especially in the United States since World War II, arranging everything around delusions that the stuff is endless and limitless.
The noise and confusion included people completely ignoring, misunderstanding, or deliberately obfuscating the picture of how it is presented in the explanations of Hubbert’s curve, or Hubbert’s peak. Instead, people generate things like straw man arguments completely incorrectly framing the question in a form like “are we almost all out of oil” and then following with “no, we aren’t!… look, here’s some right here!… so ‘peak oil’ is debunked!”, completely ignoring or confusing the actual reality of the matter being not about “it’s almost all gone”, but bumping up against limits and diminishing returns. That happens even as people chatter and write about supposedly wonderful new solutions in this subject, that are actually demonstrating the problem, in showing how much attention and activity is going into basically scrounging and scraping the dregs, of anything that even resembles petroleum crude.
Writer Richard Heinberg wrote what might be about the best possible summary of the overall picture in this subject, in his book The Party’s Over- oil, war, and the fate of industrial societies. This is about as good as it gets in combination and balance of comprehensive, detailed, concise, and relevant.
You can also find more excellent and useful writing from Heinberg online in the paper Searching for a Miracle, which goes beyond just looking at petroleum, but does a broad overview of “energy”, with the most important theme being tackling the subject of how people are thinking in terms of some kind of magic wand solution that will just sweep in and solve everything, and just let us roll along doing pretty much what we’ve been doing. You can also read occasional thoughts online in Heinberg’s Museletter blog.
Back around the middle of the last decade, the US government commissioned a study, which was published as PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION: IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT, informally known as “the Hirsch report“. It was apparently submitted to the United States government, and pretty much shoved on to a back storage shelf and ignored. This is essential reading. It’s basically a dry technical and policy paper, it’s not entertaining reading, but this is extremely important.
In the meantime, as I’ve written before, you can look around and find momentary blip sound bites of deluded cliches being spoken about “energy policy”, or even watch congressional hearings on the subject on C-Span, in full, in all its tedious and aggravating glory, and watch opposing teams of political animals spew useless noises from their mouths and completely avoid the basic relevant facts of reality as it is.
Looking at more news there’s a story of an expedition to northern Europe by the US Secretary of State, part of increasing international attention to the Arctic region of planet Earth, all revolving around the general theme of the idea that basically says, “hey, what’s happening to the planet raising the overall temperature of the place and nudging the overall balance and climate out of order is melting ice in the Arctic and will be melting large portions of the polar ice”, and for a lot of people, this, evidently, only means “hey, great, we can put sea oil and gas platforms in the Arctic Ocean, then!“.
Around a decade ago, retired oil specialty geologist Colin Campbell, one of the people who has been in the forefront of making people more aware of the increasing urgency of the petroleum problem facing us, proposed The Oil Depletion Protocol as a conscious structured way of the world as a whole to deal with the changes that were coming as worldwide oil extraction peaked and started into diminishing returns decline (whether anybody wanted to believe it or not, or prepared for it, or not).
It’s almost guaranteed that unless you’ve been paying attention to the petroleum story on your own, and doing your homework, you have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s not something that comes up in the popular news sources.
I’ve written repeatedly about our biggest oil problem being the way we’ve consumed, and continue consuming, the finite petroleum resources, and how this is our biggest “oil problem” to address squarely. It’s a little unfortunate that the way things work, people seem to want to have everything packaged into some package of some “Ism”, but there are people addressing some of the problem in a school of thought and practice of what has become known as “the new urbanism“. These people are really just trying to do their best in doing what is a pretty simple idea, while realization of that in practice is really damned difficult, given what has become the standard status quo in the United States over the last century, especially since the late 1940s.
What became status quo was abandoning functionally integrated cities with neighborhoods and districts where places for people to live, work, and buy things people need were close together and interwoven in ways where there was not only a sense of living communities, but in raw practical terms, people could go about their lives without petroleum fueled vehicles hauling them around. That has been the norm for all of history of human civilization, except for the United States in recent decades, and the central item changing that has been the phenomenon of petroleum fueled motor vehicles. That was replaced with gigantic sprawl of suburban zones, with everything separated by “single use” zoning laws.
The results of that have been virtually destroyed cities and the squandering of a finite resource.
The new urbanists are not so much doing something brand new, it’s more a mission to rescue and revive the ideas and practices of how to build and arrange our buildings and how we do things to have functional neighborhoods and cities that are decent, vital, good places to live, without burning massive amounts of dwindling petroleum fuel travelling miles for every little thing we do in daily life.
To face reality and actually do that is certainly not simple and easy. This is all the more reason to recognize the urgency and necessity of getting on with the project of dealing with this. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
In an online discussion a couple weeks ago, somebody had a great quote they attributed to Walt Disney. If I remember this right it said “we don’t make movies to make money.. we make money to make more movies“.
That kind of sums up what business is supposed to be.
We have a lot to do, an overwhelming amount of work to do and things to sort out and readjust and fix, and we have large portions of the population completely confused and misled by people feeding them the most gross deceptions and obfuscation, and delivering spiels about “fixing what’s wrong with America” that proceed to bombard people with snake oil sales pitches that are exactly the wrong things to do.
Just in the past few of weeks, I came across a couple of different little pieces in a local weekly tabloid format paper (not “tabloid” like the crap for idiots in grocery store lines). The theme; the results of asking readers for feedback about what franchises they would like to see come to their town. Not, what new businesses would you like to see, but rather, what franchise operation of a national corporate chain would you like?
This says so much about how people’s heads work now.
Not a word about new business, founded, owned, and managed by somebody right there, if not physically present all the time, then at least fully involved, running their business their way, involving local needs and knowing their business and customers, an integral part of a community, with the founder/owner/manager living in the community, and profits from the business both going back into the business to make it better and staying in the community to a significant degree.
All what I just described is not some sort of nostalgia. It’s about function. It’s not about some question of aesthetic fashion or “lifestyle”. Although it does need to be said that if you look around any examples found across America of the kind of “corporate franchise zones” that are now a standard thing, which all look virtually the same, if you want to talk about things just in terms of aesthetics, you will see an expanse of deeply, profoundly, cheap crappy careless ugly.
Find one of these places, there’s sure to be one around you nearby, and stand in a spot and slowly turn through 360 degrees and take it all in. You will, almost certainly, take in a scene where everything you see is some crappy shitpile of cheap and carelessly constructed buildings that look anything from tacky to intensely stupid, that nobody cares about, including the people working in them, where everything you see and all the activity taking place is handed down by some dictum of ” what ‘corporate’ says on what we have to do and how to do it”.
But it’s far worse than just shitty aesthetics. There’s a topic of its own, again.
In the meantime, an excerpt from a post by Dmitri Orlov:
Things get bigger and bigger, then suddenly stop. Let us look at the example of US retail. Once upon a time there was local industry, which sold products through small shops. Over the course of a few decades, the industry moved to other countries, mostly to China, and the small shops were put out of business by department stores, then by malls, culminating with Walmart, which practices “slash and burn retail”: since most of what it sells is imported, it empties the local economy of money, and is then forced to close, leaving devastation in its wake. Walmart is now expanding in China, having finally realized that it doesn’t work to sell stuff in a country that doesn’t make stuff once that country is fresh out of money. In places where retail has ceased to exist, the remaining recourse is Internet shopping, thanks to UPS and FedEx. And once UPS and FedEx services become unaffordable because of rising energy prices or unavailable because of unmaintained, impassable roads and bridges, local access to imported goods is lost.
Similarly with US banking. Once upon a time there were small neighborhood banks that took in the people’s savings and then lent it out to individuals and businesses, helping the local economy grow. Over the course of a few decades, these small neighborhood banks were replaced with a few huge megabanks, which, after 2008, became, in effect, government-owned. Once the megabanks close their local branches, local access to money is lost.
Similarly with global shipping. Once upon a time there were many small ships, called tramp steamers, which were loaded and unloaded by longshoremen at local ports, using block and tackle and cargo nets. Then shipping became containerized, and moving cargo required a container port. Then the container ships became staggeringly huge. Then, as oil prices went up, they had to resort to “slow steaming” by pulling pistons out of their engines and going slower than the sailing ships of yore. Instead of point-to-point trade, these giant container ships can only operate within hub-and-spoke networks, with the spokes provided by somewhat less energy-efficient trains and far less energy-efficient long-distance trucking. These ships are now at the limit of “slow steaming.” The next step is, obviously “no steaming” at all.
Similarly with medicine. Once upon a time there were family doctors—general practitioners who made house calls, and neighborhood clinics. Eventually these were replaced by megahospitals and giant medical centers staffed with specialists, which, over time, became unaffordable for the general population. The US is currently spending over 17% of its GDP on medical care—an amount that is exorbitant and unsustainable. Once this spending is curtailed, many of the megahospitals will be forced to close. The population will, for a time, still have access to WebMD and to mail-order drugs, and, in case of serious illness or emergency, medical evacuation will remain an option for those still be able to afford it.
Sometimes it feels like being in a room full of people all wound up shouting at each other as loudly as possible thinking this is “winning the argument”, instead of maybe stopping, and quietly and reflectively practicing the fine art of shut the fuck up and learn a little something of what you’re talking about.
But, then, that gets into another item, how little silence you find. If you’ve been reading here, you know I’ve talked about the idea of noise quite a few times, speaking a little metaphorically. Right now, I’m being literal.
Whether it’s a television on all the time, for nothing in particular, or music as background noise, not really listening, or people just yapping for the sake of yapping, it just bangs and rattles and crashes around. Quiet, silence, is driven out, with extreme prejudice.
Given this, it becomes really pretty easy to understand how people can be oblivious to seeing and understanding, or at least generally comprehending, things virtually right in front of them, even people who generally seem plenty smart enough to get it. They just aren’t paying attention, and just sort of swimming in a sea of distractions.
At the end of it all here, I have something extra to note. I don’t usually use this blog space as many people do, as a sort of journal of the thoughts and activities of a moment. What you are reading has been written little by little over a few days, as I have time to think about and address a fairly long subject. The thing is, a couple of weeks after I started writing version number one, which I started as I sat and tried to wait patiently for some net malfunction to clear up and actually work, here I sit, with the same kind of problem.
Our wonderful brave new world technology is just puking on itself, and wasting my time in the process.
An ironic twist is that at some point, I decided to flip on the TV, and I found myself on one of the cable network channels, showing a documentary on the Apollo moon landing missions.
What’s ironic? This. The NASA Apollo moon mission flights were, certainly, a major technological project, one of the most notable in human history. It was very definitely complex. Here’s the thing. They did have some challenges and problems along the way, but, in the end, when it counted, it worked. Even when there was a major malfunction problem like the Apollo 13 flight, they managed to make it all work to get the flight crew back home safely.
For all the extraordinary complexity that was involved, there was a basic engineering principle at work; everything was only as complex as it needed to be to do the task, and absolutely no more. There’s a lesson it that, methinks.
There’s a fun and useful little rule of thumb concept known to anybody working in engineering and technology, the KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid. It exists for a reason.
In the meantime, we have a set of circumstances around us right now, and more coming at us, that are larger in scale and scope than the Apollo moon flight program challenge, and we’re already behind on the program to figure out what the issues are, figure out what to do about them, and how to do it, and then get on with it.
In a time where we could use a serious bunch of good news, “good news” does not consist of avoiding the problems and deluding ourselves that it’s all just fine, while we sit on our asses saturating outselves with lunacy and nonsense via a screen in front of us.
Good news is realizing that, yes, in fact, we can figure out how to deal with things, and get on with the work ahead of us. This doesn’t mean “good news” in a kind of sense that too many people might want and expect, which is some switch-flip of a “solution” that will just change something (that might be conceptually “simple”, and much more difficult and complex to actually realize), and everything will conveniently roll on as normal.
To repeat something from earlier, it seems to me that we actually need a lot more of what the actual original Cynics were, people devoted to finding the truth with clarity, and doing their best to live in harmony with people and the universe. The distortion of that word is unfortunate. What we don’t need is more of what has unfortunately become an almost universally accepted perverted distortion of definition of the meaning of “cynic”, of somebody who basically operates on presumptions that everything and everybody is malevolent, corrupt, and false, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll be more malevolent, corrupt, and false than the other guy, otherwise you’re some naïve fool or “loser“.
Fuck those people. Things are complicated and challenging enough without that. That stuff’s not just ugly and unpleasant, it’s dysfunctionally crazy and destructive, even while the people sunk into that quicksand of ugly convince themselves and tell other people that this is “realism”.
It’s also vital to keep in mind that looking at things as clearly as possible and acknowledging and addressing real problems does not put you into their bin of acrid ugly.
It’s also crucial to keep a handle on the simple fact that the antidote to the kind of acidic characters above is not to just take some kind of attitude of “oh, everything’s wonderful, just smile and say happy things, and everything will work out fine”. It’s going to take a little more than that.
It’s not possible to turn back time and return to the past, never mind live in it. What is becoming increasingly obvious, though, is that there are many things that by absolute necessity are going to need to be more like some elements of how some things were and how things worked in the past. Like, for examples, arranging cities in actual cities, not suburban subdivisions and commercial pod zones, that function without massive consumption of petroleum every day; local businesses, local farming, concepts of work and commerce that revolve around doing good work in useful activity and making good useful things that support life and make life worth living, not conceiving more and more complex systems of transactions and theoretical financial constructs to “create wealth” by gathering money for nothing, and onward.
The question is, how many people would rather thrash around fiercely determined to hang on to delusions and denial because they think it suits them. It’s pretty interesting coincidence that, while I’ve been writing this little by little as I have time and think about it, over several days, just yesterday, I read the latest blog post by writer John Michael Greer, The Parting of the Ways. The coincidence is that in a different way, it addresses similar territory, the matter of looking around at people who are getting more and more determined to live in some sort of state of cognitive dissonance denial and detachment from reality, impervious to any attempts to point things out, and how it’s almost looking unavoidable that people we might call “reality based man” will have to just essentially look at these people and say “alright, man, believe what you’re going to believe”, and part ways.
But it’s not like we can just totally separate from them, either. Along the way, as we head further into what James Kunstler called “The Long Emergency”, these people will either wake up, or get more and more baffled and outraged as they fail to understand what’s happening and why, and get more determined in demanding that somebody or something restore whatever they might think of as “the good old days”, even if whatever past state of things they have in mind was a situation of carrying on the unsustainable, or even a notion of the past that never really existed as they imagine it.
Let’s see if we can help the “wake up” option.
the consequences of industrial society’s mismanagement of its relations with the planet will not go away just because we don’t want to deal with them
– John Michael Greer