Sometimes I ask people whether they think our world is increasingly Orwellian or Huxleyan, and usually I get the former. I’ve always made the case for the contrary though. The excerpt I posted yesterday (thanks to jayaprada) highlights Facebook’s commodification of our social interactions, the subtle injecting of it into our everyday discourses like light suggestions from a friend with “Like” buttons and tailored catch phrases. We literally infuse our human-to-human interactions with Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, and Bed, Bath & Beyond to the point where the once hostile and natural reaction to the invasion of our space is subdued. External advertisements are likened to somebody holding our eyelids open. Every time you look up you see another corporation ramming adverts into your brain with billboards instead of trees, commercials instead of music, fabricated smells instead of unmolested air; but nobody is physically holding a gun, least not where you can see it. Facebook doesn’t. Why would it when it has you?
My sentiments are best described here:
“Postman suggested that people should be more concerned about oppression through “technologies that undo their [citizens’] capacities to think” than the potential for total domination by an oppressive government (vii). While Postman was critically evaluating television culture, his “Huxleyan warning” resonates with today’s Web culture more than ever (155).”
And that’s what Huxley always wanted us to realize, that tyranny beneath a boot would only come if you could manage to evade all the embedded obstructions of this culture, not a likely feat, Considering how inundated we are day in and day out with media, it is little wonder how innocuous we are to the encroachment of our brains.
“Columbia University Journalism professor Michael Schudson described how the new digitalage had caused a shift in the way people in the United States interact with politics. In “Changing Concepts of Democracy” Schudson argues that because of the explosion of communications technologies we have moved past the era of the “informed citizen” into the era of the “monitorial citizen.” The monitorial citizen is “defensive rather than pro-active” in gathering information and as a result is less discerning and less capable of interpreting the information provided to them (Schudson). This description rings even truer now when one thinks about the Huxleyan deluge of information citizens face on a daily basis. Cable news channels like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC not only have pundits and newscasters discussing wide-ranging topics twenty-four hours a day, but – in case that is not enough – they also have news tickers streaming across the bottom of the screen nearly constantly. Most of the major American news organizations (and many non-American news organizations too) have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Radio programs and podcasts are produced on a daily basis on any number of topics – political or otherwise. And that does not take into account the information Facebook users receive via the “News Feed” from their friends (obviously not all of which is political in nature, but still often must be sifted through).”
We are “monitorial” because we believe in the fabricated inevitability of our circumstance. We even cheer it onward. What did Padmé Amidala say in Star Wars, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause…”
Honest question here:
Why would writing a book be more valuable than the service provided of say the people who sanitize your water?
We all just assume, well, yea, of course it is because the writer created something from nothing…
Or did they? Because last I checked none of us stand independent of the society in which we live. And it’s that very society that teaches us a hierarchy of values from one contribution of a man or woman to another’s.
There is something about that which just does not sit well with me, at all. I didn’t create it but more often than not I both physically and psychologically abide by it.
The shift from scavenging and the occasional opportunistic hunt very likely had a good deal to do with another defining characteristic of our species: egalitarianism. Most social primates are strictly hierarchical, like chimpanzees. But, when troops of young, male chimpanzees go on hunting expeditions, that hierarchy often begins to break down. Hunting is a cooperative effort — trying to maintain hierarchy in that situation simply imperils the hunt. As humans began to look to meat for the bulk of its nutritional needs, cooperation became more important, and hierarchy became a luxury our ancestors could not afford.
Egalitarian societies built on sharing and cooperation and guided by consensus were much more adapted to the niche humans exploited than the hierarchical troops of other primates. This egalitarianism even became part of our very bodies — humans have some of the lowest sexual dimorphism in the entire animal kingdom, on par with penguins. Compare this to, say, the baboon, where males may be up to three times the size of females. In some animals, the genders look like entirely different species to the untrained eye. The kind of low sexual dimorphism found in humans is not unheard of in the animal kingdom, but in every case, it points to shared parenting behaviors.
There is an inherent complexity in any social group. Not only must we remember the individuals who make up the group, we must also remember the relationships between them — and while the number of individuals increases arithmetically, the number of relationships grows exponentially. If we have 99 people, and add 1 more, we’ve only added one individual, but 99 new relationships. It seems that it was precisely that complexity that drove the growth of the primate brain. If that is true, then the seperation from Australopithecine to Homo was likely driven by a social evolution. This is the same time we start to see the first stone tools, and possibly the first evidence for hunting, rather than scavenging. Hierarchical troops make social groups less complex, by fitting all members into a strict hierarchy — chimpanzees can get by simply remembering the individuals and their rank. Rhizomatic societies — that is, egalitarian societies — have an exponential number of relationships, as each individual relates to every other individual in new and different ways. As humans became hunter-gatherers, the simple hierarchical model that served so many other primates ceased to suffice. We needed to become egalitarian to survive, and in order to do that, we needed bigger brains relative to our bodies.
…[N]ot all hierarchies are created equal. Some hierarchies are more “evil” than others. The contemporary United States, for instance, is a case study in the attempt to create the least evil hierarchy possible — the playing out of what happens when the mutually exclusive concepts of “freedom” and “the state” are combined. And yet, even in the contemporary United States — the historical peak of prosperity and freedom within hierarchy — we cannot deny the chafing restrictions and insult to human dignity imposed by subjection to another human being.
Just as civilization first converts the living to the dead psychologically and socially (including perceptually), and then physically—perceiving trees as dollar bills makes deforestation inevitable—so, too, civilization needs to be reversed in the same order, first psychologically and socially (including perceptually), and then physically. If we could help people to not see trees as dollar bills, we could not have to fight so hard to stop deforestation. We might not have to fight at all. The same is true of course of rapists and other abusers; if we could help them to see women as women and not as objects to be exploited, not nearly so many women would get raped. This is true of all who perceive themselves entitled, and to all forms of exploitation by all exploiters. If we can change their ways of perceiving, their behavior will change.
But there are two problems with this. The first is that we don’t have time. Spotted owls and marbled murrelets are being extirpated right now, and we don’t have the time to change the way Charles Hurwitz perceives the world. Even if we did, we’d then have to change the way his replacement perceives the world, as Hurwitz would very soon be sacked for no longer maximizing profits. While I know that changing hearts and minds is desperately important, and while I know that this is especially true for the young (which is why I wrote a book on education), I also know that if we wait on this, much of the world will be dead before these children are adults (presuming that somehow we are powerful, persuasive, and persuasive enough to overcome the effects of child abuse, industrial education, advertising, etc., on all of these children, if we were powerful and pervasive enough to bring about this change right now, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and bring down the dams ourselves?).
The second problem is that even if we did have the time, not everyone could be converted… [T]he psychopaths who run this culture are socially rewarded for making antisocial, indeed psychopathic decisisions. Charles Hurwitz is rewarded very well for destroying the redwood forests of California. Within the context of this culture he would be a fool to change his behavior.
How is it conceivable that all our lauded technological progress—our very Civilization—is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal?
With the cost of fossil fuels on the rise, the peoples of the industrialized world and their governments will soon find themselves within an inescapable squeeze of planetary proportions. Stateside, in California, the price at the pump has already soared to $4.70 per gallon. In Europe, customers pay even more money for less product, as the liter to gallon conversion dictates. In a globalized world of petrochemically dependent economies, the prospect of oil’s declining production and its escalating prices not only threatens global economic viability, but it forces modern civilization to reconcile the simplest of truths—nothing can grow in perpetuity. That’s right, say it aloud—nothing can grow in perpetuity.
As if the petro-revolution of the past century in agribusiness or car culture could be systematically and alternatively replaced, the scope of our energy crisis has been framed within the question “What’s next?” Proponents of green energy enthusiastically point toward expanding wind and solar capacity, or for those unwilling to undertake these initiatives, a move away from uranium bomb-building to power-plant construction.
Though small in comparison to Big Oil, these eco-warriors have been granted a limited but growing audience.
Germany leads the world in renewable energy. By 2030 its government projects to have moved its consumption into sustainability by as much as 50%, and an ambitious 100% by 2050, political will enduring. It will do so through a variety of wind and solar initiatives, whilst moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. This European trailblazer is not alone with Spain and the United Kingdom following suit.
According to Forbes, China too, home of the world’s second largest economy, has recognized the urgency of looming energy crises. This year it has invested $52billion in green projects and will quintuple its investment over the next half decade. US investment was $51billion, despite its dwarfingly large economy.
Even the oil saturated Middle-East has stepped into the pseudo-sunshine, literally. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia announced plans to initiate one of the most drastic moves toward solar energy the world has yet seen. The Kingdom of 27million will install and operate solar panels to generate electricity to the tune of 54,000MW (megawatts), twice that of US output.
Sounds good right?
A better example of using statistics to paint a green-washed projection of our planetary future would be hard to find. Valiant as they are, and as inevitably as green energy must be pursued, these efforts cannot solve our problem for it remains framed within false presumptions. On this planet an endless energy supply does not exist, nor one that can sustain the economic expansionism the capitalist nations of the world require.
Above all others, the Adam Smiths of the planet ought to recognize the impossibility of our problem; after all, this iron curtain is merely a function of the supply and demand economics that created it.
Currently, US demand consumes 25% of the world’s oil production—it holds less than 3% of its reserves. With all variables held constant this would not be a problem; but, systemically, the variables must change. The world’s largest capitalist economy must continue to grow, less it were to accept decline, recession, higher unemployment and eventual depression. Its GDP (gross domestic product) of over $14trillion must eventually become $15trillion, and subsequently $16trillion. To accomplish this, as demand continues to escalate, so too will the need to exponentially increase the supply of energy—more importantly, cost effective energy.
Expanded globally, the industrialized world, and the industrializing world, depend on the same capitalist principle of perpetual growth. Like the US, their economies require much the same petrol-dependent consumption to drive their own expansion. As each economy grows within our oil paradigm, each nation must aggregate enough of it to continue onward unfettered.
Competition is the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Resource aggregation has become a primary function of government. China’s positioning in Africa, and US positioning in the Middle-East, even if not for its own direct consumption but to ensure the health of the markets where its consumables are bought, serve as primary examples. Thus, each nation must increase its demand, whether domestic or abroad, and find supply to sustain growth, even if at the expense of other nations and peoples.
The drive to expand, consume, exploit at rates ever escalating is presented within the global market as a zero-sum game. Either our economy must grow, or we will suffer. Either our economy must grow faster than all other economies, or our nation will suffer.
With this arrogant mentality we have begun to address our energy crisis still believing we can infinitely expand. We believe we can infinitely increase demand and that supply can infinitely be found. This is preposterous. The Global Footprint Network, a non-profit for sustainable futures, has estimated that if we continue along this path of consumption, human populations will require an equivalent of three Earths by 2050 to survive. This knowledge is openly available and easily accessed, yet from the lowest levels of societal participation to the highest levels of political governance the problem accelerates.
More and more madness.
To paraphrase philosopher Slavoj Žižek, paradoxically, consensus of the solution to the failures of capitalism seems to be more capitalism. Runaway grow-baby-grow consumption at all costs is exemplified in the drill-baby-drill environmental policies of the US.
After British Petroleum plastered the Gulf of Mexico with pollution through an ill-maintained oil rig, a temporary moratorium was placed on some deepwater drilling. Shortly thereafter that restriction was lifted. This year more permits for new wells have been issued than since 2007. The Obama Administration has taken it further by approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a transnational oil line to transport the most toxic oil imaginable from Canada’s tar-sands back to the very ecosystem so recently assaulted, and directly over precious natural aquifers. To top it off, would-be elect presidential nominee Mitt Romney wants to expand harmful drilling in Alaska’s park reserves, as well as expand the already 4,000 ticking time bombs in the Gulf.
These are not solutions to our crisis; they are band-aids to a gushing wound. They are ecocidal mania perpetuated by a global culture which does not understand that living 300% beyond sustainability is going to kill us all. None of these self-proclaimed solutions put at the forefront of our efforts that nothing can grow in perpetuity. We have grown too accustomed to the benefits of petrochemical economies, on growth for the sake of growth.
Consider the impacts of oil on agriculture. Oil is an energy dense compound. Stored within it is the photosynthetic energy of plants and animals now long dead. This is energy absorbed from the sun by plants, then consumed by animals, now decomposed into fossil fuel. Before oil was discovered the planet was filled for millions of years with these energy deposits. As we discovered and began to use oil we developed more machinery to help farm, and we also invented petroleum based herbicides to enhance crop yields. Food supplies exploded upwards. All the while we have been using energy stored from the past, not energy produced in the present. It is as if we are spending money from a savings account—but we have been over-drafting. When we include the stored energy we consume to produce our food, according to author Jason Godesky, we consume ten calories for every one calorie produced. We have been running an energy deficit for nearly a century, counting on the dead to sustain the continuously expanding living with food, transportation and disposable consumption.
Moving on is more necessity than choice.
The sobering truth is when the oil is gone, or when it takes more calories of energy to aggregate it than it would yield in products, the maximum energy we will ever be able to use is what the sun can photosynthetically give us in a day. Though we can already store solar energy, neither it, nor wind or any chemically based energy source can allow humanity to continue to run the deficits oil does now.
There is no ‘next’ to cure our oil addiction. There is only the realization that eventually we will have to drastically change our energy consumption. We will have to abandon capitalist dictated expansion and opt for systems of locality with our primary focus on sustainable living. Nothing grows forever, and we do not need it to either. For us to be happy, the good news is we do not need to live in the way this culture has fashioned. We do not need avocados shipped to us from laborers in Peru—we have pumpkin squash right here in our community’s garden. We do not need Nike shoes made in Vietnam—a shoemaker is just around the bend. We do not need an SUV to get to Pensacola beach—the train leaves tomorrow. Only solutions where we grow not our militaries and economies, but our families and communities can ultimately reinvent the future shaping before us.
Environmental issues? | Right now we’re fucked.
I had somebody laugh at me the other day for using a plastic cup but refusing to drink bottled water. Granted, I should buy a permanent beer pong set so I never have to use disposables again (that’s what we were doing), but the uncommunicated information that was conveyed to me was as follows:
I encoded immediately that to an uninformed person who has an unrealistic ideal of what the word environmentalism means I looked like a hypocrite. This means that if I ID as an environmentalist I am then held to a standard our culture created, more likely some capitalist smearer created. That standard is unrealistic and inevitably unattainable to most people living in a system of widespread exploitation. By circulating that standard as the yardstick to measure me by, the impossibility of it inherently discredits me and devalues my contributions.
It would be the same as saying to a young college student that you cannot be an environmentalist if you drive a car. Not even an electric car because that requires coal pollution, never mind that you cannot afford an electric car, much less to have no transportation to work because in this system you need money to survive.
That told me something else, that unfortunately this person either hadn’t had the opportunity to be made to understand, or just didn’t understand, the difference between individual habits and generating political action. The former is micro whilst the latter is macro.
No amount of me or you refusing plastics or bottled water will put a dent in halting the exploiting of the Earth. Yes, we should continue to do our part, but we have to put pressure where pressure matters most—not on individual choice, but on avenues pushing for political action.
We don’t end the commoditization of water only by a few thousand or million refusing to buy Aquafina. We end it by passing legislation to socialize water resources to community levels. We don’t end the dumping of plastics into landfills only by a few thousand or million refusing to ever use plastic—god the absurdity of it hurts. We do it by supporting community wide initiatives to recycle or move to sustainable hemp based papers.
Until folks realize that though both avenues must be pushed, concentrated political action creates exponentially more leverage. That cannot happen as long as the masses see the surface of a problem and judge individuals for its systemic consequences.