Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, April 29, 2011

From Pain to Punish to Perish

In an epoch of resource descent the convulsive reflex of the so-called "Independent Voters" -- that is to say, the palpably ignorant, unprincipled, emotion-driven voters whose idiocy has been, predictably enough, denominated by our punditocrats as "moderate," of all things, for no reason that makes any sense and whose votes must nonetheless somehow be courted since neither the consistently sane Base of the Democratic Party nor the consistently insane Base of the Republican Party is quite large enough on its own to win elections -- simply to throw the bums out, whoever they are, whatever the facts are, whatever the context might be, whenever the price of gas rises too steeply (as it simply, straightforwardly must do in any world in which the price of gas actually reflects the least bit the realities of its increasing scarcity and difficulty of extraction not to mention its ramifying and amplifying planetary costs), is to make it literally impossible for people of good sense and good will to address actually existing problems that beset us.

Needless to say it makes no sense that the costs and pain of the vast social and cultural transformations demanded by climate change and resource descent should be borne exclusively or disproportionately by the very people who are most vulnerable and least capable of doing so. Steeply progressive taxes funding programs to ameliorate inevitable distress and subsidize helpful behavior is all perfectly sensible and possible, however remote from prevailing conditions.

And it isn't just empathy that drives these considerations -- majorities are required to organize the collective will equal to the realities of climate change and resource descent. The devastation and demoralization of these very majorities by pampered elites who refuse to take on their share of the burden to save their own asses simply ensures the eventual destruction of all: And just let me say, no security wall is high enough to protect you from every starving mob, no bubble dome will insulate you from every climate-change pandemic, no isolated rugged individualist or minority subculture, however elite in fact or fancy, can sustain the skills, knowledge, and infrastructural base necessary for civilization to survive.

But our public discourse now is just so completely crazy and denialist and so beholden to these indulgent incoherent pain-averse "independents," while our incumbent elites are themselves so irresponsibly entitled and spastically pain-averse themselves, there is almost no way to see anymore how we get where we need to go from here, how the evidence really gets through, how the address of the problem really gets organized and sustained. And it actually gets harder by the day to get there, and the likely pain of the necessary changes looms larger by the day, and our very collective capacity to address the dangers at any cost, with any action grows more remote by the day.

PS: And don't even get me started on the corporate-military flim-flam artists who peddle masturbatory futurological "geo-engineering" fantasies as a way out of this impasse, so that even smart, well-meaning, concerned citizens who might otherwise be working in the heartbreaking trenches educating, agitating, organizing for legislation and lifestyle change on the ground where it counts, the only place that it counts, are now instead vapidly can-do cheerleading and fiddling while the planet burns, all just so that the richest of the rich might indulge at any rate in the swankest possible end-time orgy.


jollyspaniard said...

High gas prices are here to stay. A lot of people haven't truly grokked that this isn't a temporary spike but a seismic shift that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I'm not sure how people are going to handle it. There's already a narrative being peddled that environmentalists are responsible for the high price of gas. That and the Trump favourite, use the military to "take" oil. I'd like to think that these memes won't sell widely enough to decide elections but I'm not certain.

jimf said...

> High gas prices are here to stay. A lot of people haven't
> truly grokked that this isn't a temporary spike but a
> seismic shift that will be with them for the rest of their
> lives.

You know, I remember the OPEC crisis in -- '73, was it? --
when the gas stations were actually **running out** of
gas and they had to ration it and there were enormously
long lines causing people's nerves to get **very**

In '70, the year I graduated from high school, the family
bought a '70 Buick LeSabre -- one of the last of the
**really** full-sized GM cars, with a 350 cubic inch V8
engine (455 cubic inches was an option on that model,
but we didn't have it). It was a neat car, I thought,
but it got about 8 mpg (much like SUVs today).

That car seemed like a **very** unwise purchase in
light of what happened just a couple of years later.
Those events seemed like harbingers of a tipping point
in Western industrial civilization (the first Earth
Day had been in '70, Paul Erlich's _The Population Bomb_
had come out in '68, and SF author John Brunner wrote his
enviro-apocalyptic novel _The Sheep Look Up_ in, what,

It is true that there were some long-term consequences
of those times -- namely, the Japanese automakers getting a
serious toe-hold in the U.S. marketplace (though they
kept and expanded that toe-hold not just because
of gas economy, but because of quality and reliability).

But if you had told anybody then that, almost **40** years
later for God's sake, we'd still be driving 8 mpg gas-
guzzlers, and that we'd still be no closer to fusion
power or solar power or any of the other alternative
energy sources that started being discussed in
earnest in the early 70s (I remember that the University
of Delaware built an experimental and much
ballyhooed solar-powered suburban-style family dwelling
called "Solar One" around that time), I think a lot of
intelligent and informed people would have called you a crazy
luddite, like a moon-landing denialist.

The current gas crisis may well end up leaving as little
trace as the early-70s OPEC crisis. I hope not,
but I wouldn't bank on it one way or the other.