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Another take on it is via social theory and the civilising forces of modernity:
A foundational ingredient in determining effective organizational scale is trust – the glue holding societies together. At small scale, trust is personal, and group acceptance is limited to those who are known well enough to be trusted. For societies to scale up, trust must transcend the personal and be grounded instead in an institutional framework governing interactions between individuals, between the people and different polities, between different layers of governance (municipal, provincial, regional, national), and between states on the international stage.
Hence the origins of what sociologists differentiate as mechanical solidarity and organic contractarianism. The mechanical being characteristic of medieval and feudal societies with their ‘nobles oblige’ of the Lords and the ‘tied’ obligations of the serfs, and the clan family nation of tribal societies with their even more mechanical fixed ‘blood’ ties. Compared to the relatively organic contractarian society of ‘law and order’
It is interesting to look at the role of money in relation to trust and societal scale. Very small and simple societies grounded in personal relationships can function on a gift basis, as the high level of trust in a small number of well-known others is enough to mean that keeping track of favours done for one another is not necessary. Favours may simply be performed when necessary and reciprocity taken for granted. Resources may be ‘owned’ by the group, or made generally available to the group, rather than owned privately and subject to specific exchange.
This is the simplest example of mechanical solidarity. Next up from this very simple familiar society is that of the small hierarchy of king/lord/tribal leader (as opposed to family or clan elder leader)
These situations are still mechanical, and the actors still known – often intimately- to one another. But the relationship is now one of ‘obligation’ and rite, this is where religion originates (from the Latin religio – onis = obligation towards), and is seen in most societal structures with strong pyramid based hierarchies, with royal/religious sanction and power at the top and serf/slave obligation a the bottom . A priestly class exist in between to ‘administer’. Here we have the basis of what most would recognise a three tier class system, with elite, middle and lower class layers.
The evolution in terms of contractarian society comes from the levelling of this ‘class’ structure. It comes from such notions as ‘human rights’ and ‘all equal under the law’. This is the contractarian society, in which a ‘social’ contract exists between both individuals and the ‘governing’ body. This is the basis of the idea of democracy, especially in the egalitarian guise of one-person one vote. (Few realise just how unusual this arrangement actually is in the history of human relations)
However, the older mechanical systems never went away and have constantly harangued and interfered with this new idea of democratic contractarianism. Its human nature; after all humans evolved under the mechanical solidarity of family clan and tribe, not the legal contract. And the variations can be seen around the world, with western ‘democracies’ (appearing to be on the surface at any rate) the most contractarian through the ‘developing world’ with its various flavours of modern organic contractarianism spliced with traditional mechanical solidarity, from south American/latino machismo to African ‘Big Man’ culture, to the various Mafia/gang type organisations around the world; with many countries and nations having their own distinctive mix from Russian oligarchy to English neo-feudalism. Not forgetting local disparities such as ‘being on the wrong side of the tracks’ with is a modern manifestation of the ‘other’ or ‘outsider’ in humans relations. (See: Norbert Elias, especially his ‘Civilising Process’)
Sid.January 10, 2013 at 7:08 pm in reply to: One Inch Below The Surface (America, You're Being Punked) #6739
We’ve sort of run out of ways to describe the skewed perceptions and/or skewed realities of the politico-financial world we inhabit. Metaphors like Bizarro World, Kabuki theater and Theater of the Absurd have come and long gone and are now used only by those who missed out first time around.
If anyone is in any doubt as to just how “skewed” are the realities of economics they should read Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics”, it shows just how unrealistic and downright delusional the current economic model is based as it is on nonsensical maths, but also shows just how human nature works in terms of supporting these delusional ideas: people believe in these flawed ideas just as they believe any other religious notion. So I guess “first time round” would have to be way back when humans ever started believing made up mythologies as true. The emperor truly does have no clothes… and throughout history never has.
Thanks for the article and Happy New Year to yourself and Stoneleigh. Actually its not that we build dams to ‘stop’ our land from flooding, but rather that they are built to ‘gain more land’ this is a vital but crucial distinction. For most of humanity its always about ‘more’; greed in other words, too much is never enough. Another example of this monetary gaining principle is in the use and abuse of such miracles as anti-biotics; these bacterial infection fighting compounds are routinely used by industrial factory farming and have allowed this process to grow to enormous scales. Problem is there are now growing numbers of superbugs that are resistant to anti-biotics.
And don’t get me started on the wasteful practice of harvesting ‘sharkfins’ this industry is but the last in a long line of stripping the oceans of all life for again primarily financial gain.
A kilogram (two pounds) of premium dried fin can fetch up to HK$10,000 ($1,290) in Hong Kong
There are a few societies that attempted a more balanced approach, such as the Tokagowa (Edo) period in Japan, though their population still grew. Some tribal peoples sought to manage their environs with a multi generational mindset, but generally these are the few exceptions to the general rule of human greed and ignorance.
It will be population that gets us in the end, shear weight of numbers on St Mathew Island Earth – but we won’t ‘know’ until its too late.
Q. When you first moved to Toronto from New York, were there elements in Toronto, because it was a smaller city, that made you more optimistic that you could make more of a difference there compared to New York, where everything had become so politicized, so big?
A. No. I thought it was an adventure, how nice and so on. And then we heard about this expressway that was coming through right where we lived, and my husband said, “Oh my God, another expressway.” And we had to get into that. There are responsibilities you can’t evade if you find yourself in an expressway path. You have to do something about it. But, you know, I’m like most people in this. I have other things to do. I don’t like getting in these fights. I hate the government making my life absurd. I don’t want the government to set an agenda for what I have to be doing by it being so stupid that I have to devote myself to that. I have other things to do. And this is true of most people. It is really an outrage when you come to think of it. Here are all these people who get paid for government jobs, and we the taxpayers are paying them. And how are they spending their time? Making life miserable for us so we can hardly earn the money to pay their wages because we are so busy fighting them. That’s what I mean by making our lives absurd.
Q. When you start talking about the big role of government and that it messes around too much in people’s lives sometimes, is there a danger that one can become too free-enterprise, that one is forgetting the social network that government can provide?
[b]A[/b]. You are putting words in my mouth. I never said that government was messing around too much in our lives. I said it was doing stupid things. That’s not the same thing at all. It may be doing too little in our lives and still be doing stupid things. It’s not an ideological thing.
Thanks again for another erudite article. Of course what few outside (and many inside) the UK will know is that recent planning changes (read total restructure of UK planning regs – the new ‘LDF’ Local Development Framework in England replaces the previous Unitary Development Plan) mean that all ‘major’ infrastructure projects (airports, roads and ‘mining’) go through Whitehall for approval and not the local authority. Also it should come as no surprise that the first ‘permissions’ for fracking are given in tory (conservative) areas with majority tory councils, as that’s where there will be least resistance.
Jane Jacob’s once commented that England was little more than a fuedal state, and in her last book “Dark Age Ahead” (2004, Random House), she talks about the demise of culture and the rise of “credentialling”:
A vigorous culture capable of making corrective, stabilizing changes depends heavily on its educated people, and especially upon their critical capacities and depth of understanding.”(p.63)
Very partial understanding combined with typical scientific overconfidence emboldens us to accept mistakes we would not otherwise accept.” (p.99)
Ironically the internet and the blog and twit-o-spheres have helped to fuel this problem, most sites (including this one) have meters on them that allow prolific users to attain ‘credentials’ of rank such as ‘master’ or ‘senior’ or ‘expert’ in some supposed subject matter. Sometimes this is a genuine reflection of knowledge in that area, but often it is just down to shear volume of posts and time spent at a computer screen – an ironic twist in forums devoted to non- computer oriented skill sets.
Such endeavours as ‘fracking’ and windfarm (another hopeless case) developments are typical symptoms of this cultural demise, and not just an attempt at BAU. Coupled with the final thrust of the neo-liberal the ‘market knows best’ agenda and one can see that the road ahead is indeed ‘liberally’ adorned with neo-good intentions and bad ideas and is leading straight to hell.
Though to be honest, when was it ever different?
Case Study: Bawtry Gas Works proves gas production and the environment in the UK have never been great bedfellows…
Perhaps we do indeed forget what we have forgotten.
If you can get it this piece by the BBC on the “The Great Spanish Crash” (“This World” BBC2, 16th Dec 2012) its really interesting as it nails on the head all the points that TAE have raised over the last few years. It shows how Spain went from being a poor rural based economy under a dictatorship to what was at one stage the fastest growing economy on the planet (China beware). The regional banks lent vast sums to the local governments and to the local building industry to build a whole new country, including ghost towns and large white elephants like sports stadia and ‘arts centres’ – all little used. Now after the boom, the populace suffers 25% unemployment, (50% for under 25s), and is all but starving and ironically ‘homeless’. Many survive on their grandparents pensions, currently being cut by austerity measures, and what vegetables they can grow on their allotments. One hilarious moment was when they described how the government tried a stimulus package by building more ‘infrastructure’ projects – talk about a one trick pony.
While it shows how the everyday people are trying to cope in the crisis by tragically trying to continue BAU (i.e. get non-existent jobs etc) and the government implements the most ‘austere’ austerity measures seen anywhere on the planet (as dictated by IMF etc) it shows the lack of any real initiative in facing the new paradigm: the end of growth and the reality of contraction. It also shows the reality of so called ‘community’ – it often leads to ‘groupthink’ on all sides of the crisis. One of the most poignant pieces was a pharmacist who had no medicines for her ‘customers’ as the government hadn’t paid her, showing the stark reality and depth of the crisis for many who rely on such medications.
Instead of trying to build a new way of life that is more resilient and reducing both ones expectations and needs (and especially wants), all everyone wants is a return to the boom years.
Also its worth noting that the debt curve in the debt/credit 2008 graph above starts its real upward sweep in the 70’s just as the US domestic oil peaks. (Its also typical of an exponential function – see Albert Bartlett)
As regards GDP, disasters usually have a marked ‘positive’ effect on it, creating a demand for replacement goods and infrastructure. It remains to be seen whether Sandy will have any effect in this way given the lack of credit and demands placed upon the fragile insurance sector (they’re invested in the same dodgy ‘instruments’ as everyone else!). As regards the law of supply and demand, I am reminded of the old joke about two economists variously stuck somewhere dark and confined (apart from having one’s head up the proverbial). When they start to get hungry they do not worry; they ‘know’ that their demand will create sandwiches!
… I’m pretty sure about the timing that auto sales were going to collapse a lot further, and he had some arguments on it and I went and looked and thought “auto sales also can’t go too much further, people have to replace their cars.” And so I wrote this article that says look, auto sales are near the bottom – we were at a 9 million annual rate then- I said there’s just no way – we have to be selling 12, 13,14 million because people need new cars every 5-7,8 years.
I do like Bill McBride, and his work, and I do like Joe Weisenthal, but I’m sorry, I simply don’t think you can say things like that. It harks back all the way to the dry semantic discussion of what it is that people may a) need, b) demand and c) want. You can’t say that people will buy cars because they need a new one every 5-8 years. Because they will still need to have the money to buy them. Demand is what people can afford, not what they want.
The pic refers to Cuba’s famed old pre-revolution US imported cars most of which are over fifty years old, and are now since 2009 allowed to be ‘sold’ after draconian communist property laws were relaxed. However:
One difficulty facing many Cubans, who make an average monthly salary equivalent to about $20, will be rounding up the money to buy a car. “It’s a good law, but I can’t even buy a bicycle,” said a peanut vendor who did not give his name.
The ‘irony’ is palpable…
There are people out there trying to do honest work that neither violates thermodynamics nor fails falsifiability, instead of dictating some belief system incapable of defining either debt or value.
I guess that will be the remaining aboriginal/indigenous pre-industrial peoples – what’s left of them. Without being too Zerzan, all civilization is based upon conquest and the subsequent ‘assimilation’ (theft) of resources whether from the ‘natural’ (existing self sustaining ecosystems) and the sustainable humans who exist in such, or from other ‘civilisations’. Trying to get the current high priests of this current culture to change would be like trying to stop the Aztecs priests from performing their blood sacrifices to their gods, or to fight Cortes – not gonna happen dude…. their mindset/system was just too tight.
LOOSE SYSTEMS LAST LONGER AND FUNCTION BETTER
Sid.November 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm in reply to: Renewable Energy: The Vision And A Dose Of Reality #6326
Lil’ game of reality – spot the solar PV in the graph below:
I’m not against solar in the appropriate circumstances (where there is no alternative power source) but given all the technological problems associated with it, not least the EROEI payback times, and silly things like battery and inverter lifespans and fragility, well I think you get the picture… or not. :unsure:
SidNovember 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm in reply to: Renewable Energy: The Vision And A Dose Of Reality #6295
Re.: Energy Waste, wasting or misappropriation of resources
the problem with reducing energy use is that it goes against the whole growth/consumerism paradigm that we currently exist in.
Have a marathon or …
Spend a billion for an election or …
Have a dictator or ….
Such is the nature of propaganda:
The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another, this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event without a ready-made opinion.
Sid.November 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm in reply to: Renewable Energy: The Vision And A Dose Of Reality #6293
Thanks Stoneleigh, a timely and erudite article. Realistically there is only one solution and that is reducing our energy consumption, however I think the problem with reducing energy use is that it goes against the whole growth/consumerism paradigm that we currently exist in. This is unfortunate as wise use of the fossil fuel inheritance could have set us up for comfortable and sustainable living arrangements. There is no reason for instance to use the amount of energy we use to heat houses if we retrofit them with high levels of insulation and controlled heat recovery ventilation. This sort of relatively low tech and simple proven technology would instantly negate the need for any alternatives to grow the current energy supply. Also entraining more energy at the local level, energy that is currently wasted such as the heat from large centralised power station by using locally based CHP (combined heat and power) plants would reduce energy consumption further (standard CCGT are about 50% efficient, coal fired often much less than 40%, most CHPs upwards of 80% efficient). But alas now it is too late. Neither the money nor the will (or the basic understanding) is there. We will as a species continue to be fascinated by our technology, a fascination that will seal our fate:
Ellul, J. (1963). The technological order, in Stover, C.F, editor, The Technological Order. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, pp. 10-37.
Jacques Ellul was one of the best-known critics of modern technology. This short article is a good summary of his thinking on the matter. In it he describes technology as, among other things, artificial and autonomous, subordinating ends to means. In Ellul’s view, man is in danger of losing control and the only solution is to be aware of the problem and to be more reflective in the development and use of technology.
Ellul, J. (1964). The Technological Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
To Ellul, technique (for our purposes, synonymous with technology) is “… the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.” In this classic work he describes the characteristics of technology (automatic, self-augmenting, universal, autonomous, etc.), its importance to economics (the driving force), its relation to the state (the state is a technical organism), and its permeation of everyday life (medicine, entertainment, work, etc.). Ellul feels that technology has quickly cut man off from the ancient milieu to which he adapted for millennia.
Ellul, J. (1980). The Technological System. New York: Continuum.
Most of this book is a reiteration of The Technological Society. But he goes on to say that technology is a concept, an environment, a determining factor, and a unified but unregulated system. Perhaps most significant in this book is Ellul’s observation that man is now left with no intellectual, moral, or spiritual standard with which to evaluate technology.
Ellul, J. (1990). The Technological Bluff. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Aside from some coverage of recent technological developments, this book is more of the same material found in the previous works. But Ellul does reveal technology’s bluff: that of increased productivity. The bluff is that though technology does increase productivity, those things produced are not really very valuable. People are fascinated by technology and diverted by it away from loftier goals
Such loftier goals as caring for each other and spiritual development, of understanding the world and our place in it as well as ‘knowing thy self’.
It is good that sites like this exist, that they may educate those that seek a greater understanding, while swimming against the tide of “Dumbing Down” and general ignorance that passes for today’s ‘wisdom’:
Jacques Ellul, whose book Propaganda is a reflection on the phenomenon, warned us that prosperous children are more susceptible than others to the effects of schooling because they are promised more lifelong comfort and security for yielding wholly:
Critical judgment disappears altogether, for in no way can there ever be collective critical judgment….The individual can no longer judge for himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts to the entire complex of values and prejudices established by propaganda. With regard to political situations, he is given ready-made value judgments invested with the power of the truth by…the word of experts
The new dumbness is particularly deadly to middle- and upper-middle-class kids already made shallow by multiple pressures to conform imposed by the outside world on their usually lightly rooted parents. When they come of age, they are certain they must know something because their degrees and licenses say they do. They remain so convinced until an unexpectedly brutal divorce, a corporate downsizing in midlife, or panic attacks of meaninglessness upset the precarious balance of their incomplete humanity, their stillborn adult lives. Alan Bullock, the English historian, said Evil was a state of incompetence. If true, our school adventure has filled the twentieth century with evil.
Ellul puts it this way:
The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under [the best of] conditions…Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda is suppressed…years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another, this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event without a ready-made opinion.
Once the best children are broken to such a system, they disintegrate morally, becoming dependent on group approval. A National Merit Scholar in my own family once wrote that her dream was to be “a small part in a great machine.” It broke my heart. What kids dumbed down by schooling can’t do is to think for themselves or ever be at rest for very long without feeling crazy; stupefied boys and girls reveal dependence in many ways easily exploitable by their knowledgeable elders.
Again many thanks,
Of course history never repeats but rhymes. Past ‘hyperinflationary’ events have been due to local currencies being isolated and inflating locally due primarily to loss of relative value. What we have today is a global economy where the dollar is the defacto reserve currency. There is no other relative global currency to lose value to (as far as I am aware the galactic credit/bars of gold pressed latinum are not available in this quadrant of the galaxy) as the euro has lost this status if it ever truly had it. Remember the dollar is the only global currency used freely in many countries around the globe, legally or otherwise as recognised ‘tender’.
What is likely to happen instead is the steady depreciation and devaluation of the currency as happened to the Roman currency which was successively devalued over centuries.
The current crisis will probably see this happen over decades. Also the inflation (re; price increase not money volume – see below for definition) is likely to be in commodities, while assets crash through the floor. The scenario of houses being cheaper than a loaf of bread is not impossible. The fact that in the UK relative house prices have already crashed 60% due to a stealth devaluation of sterling, leading to foreign investment keeping local prices high .
Which suits the banks fine as it keeps their loses looking good, but keeps indigenous inhabitants priced out of the market and unable to get credit. It must also worry the banks creditors, which in the EU looks like a game of tag. The UK bank debt dwarfs Greece, owing most to Germany and Spain. If the government presses ahead with a national house building plan things could get interesting.
A better way of stimulating housebuilding, Fathom said, would be to force prices to fall back to their equilibrium level by forcing banks to repossess struggling borrowers and disclose their hidden bad debts. Bank of England money printing could “be used to recapitalise the banks”. That would leave them “free to lend” and make houses more affordable again.
Yeah right… Loaf of bread or a house?
Again John Gall’s Ro/Rs springs to mind – ‘ain’t nothin’ getting through to the central processing unit now…
Also, while the periphery may be getting gangrenous, the centre is still fine and dandy: having recently moved from the north to the south of UK, the contrast could not be greater. Folks round here are just not feeling the pain… yet. But events such as a recent email to all ‘civil servants’ about Gov’t ‘reform’ means those Greek style protests are just around the corner. Gangrenous septicemia is a nasty way to go.
After all, faith is truly nothing if it is not tested…
I have only been a Christian for about a year now, so I hope to learn a lot more about my own faith from this experience, while hopefully motivating others to learn more about theirs as well.
The biggest problem to recognise is the difference between ‘religion’, which has its roots in the notion of obligation and true spirituality which (imho) is much more about the edict ‘know thyself’. Check out what post-modern sage George Carlin has to say:
& ‘The Big Club’ – ‘no critical thinking’ allowed:
Good luck with your research – all I can suggest is (which is what the Buddha also said) is to investigate everything for yourself and take nobodies word for it! You have to find what works for you…
Actually, with regards to positive/negative views, its a case of treading the middle way. Yes we do need to be positive, but also we do need to be realistic and acknowledge the situation for what it is as best we can. Like the rock opera of Pink Flyod’s the Wall, in the end after all it is about our own inner walls:
Yet in the end, Pink’s story becomes less about a singular rock star and more about us, the audience, and the world we live in. Similarly, the characters in Pink’s story are just as universal as its protagonist. While they are never given names throughout the entire album, their roles in Pink’s life define their personalities as Mother, Father, Teacher, and Spouse, possibly mirroring those very same characters in our lives. These could very well be our Mothers, Fathers, Teachers, and Loved ones. Accordingly, Pink’s story could be our own. In a sense, Pink’s story IS our own. Though the details are no doubt different, the underlying themes of humanity and its subsequent degradation as a result of personal and societal disconnection are universal. These themes apply to our lives and our world just as much as they apply to Pink’s fictional (yet just as authentic) story. Just like the “bleeding heats” in “Outside the Wall,” Pink Floyd has taken it upon themselves to convey this timeless story of personal decay, perhaps in the hopes that these omnipresent patterns, these cycles of violence, might be averted. Such is the ultimate aim of art: to illuminate, to edify. Pink’s story is finished. He constructed his wall, fell into moral decay because of it, and ultimately destroyed this isolating barrier. Our story, however, is still taking place. What happens to Pink soon becomes nowhere near as important as what happens to us. How do we live our lives? Are we currently constructing or tearing down those hindrances that produce disconnection and degeneration? How do our personal walls contribute to those of our nation, our world? How much of the world’s ills are we really responsible for? Most importantly, which versions of Pink will we choose to be?
As for Roger Waters, the man whose autobiographical blood and bones prop up the flesh of the character Pink, the story is similarly unending. Leading up to his 2010 – 2011 world tour with the Wall 30 years after the album’s original tour, Waters spoke of his own wall to Rolling Stone magazine, saying “It comes down brick by brick. That’s what growing up is. I would suggest [growing up is] a dismantling of our wall, brick by brick, and discovering that when we let our defenses down, we become more lovable. I’m not saying I’ve discarded my wall or walls entirely,” he concludes. “But over the years, I’ve allowed more of it to crumble – and opened myself to the possibility of love.”
Just another brick in the ‘wall’…
Its a case of boiling frogs. The grand game of extend and pretend is about to … well end. Why people can’t see it is because the day to day process is so slow as to be imperceptible. In economic terms the ‘game’ of extend and pretend has been playing since the early eighties; since then to keep the industrial bubble blowing a second debt bubble has been blown up inside it. And its only when you look back over that time period that you can truly see the scale of the changes. Given the decadal time spans it should come as no surprise that the frogs (economies) are only now beginning to pop as the waters start to boil. The soup :sick: will be ready soon…
For the West to not appear hypocritical and insensitive to local poverty, rather than sending India funds to enable these murderous practices, or condoning chinese affairs, the West should fund mass-adoption programs instead, adopting those unwanted children to supplement the declining western labor pool and remediate low fertility rates. Japan for instance will soon be in need of millions of fresh people from elsewhere as their domestic birthrate plummets from 1.21 to 0.21 as a result of chronic fukushima exposure.
Or maybe move westerners to India:
Reply to Viscount St Albans who wrote:
“I suspect there must be some problems with these EROEI #s.
The center of the field/specialty is basically a single academic and his former students at a very obscure state university with very little research infrastructure. I don’t see how it’s possible that he could reliably generate these #s under those circumstances.
Why is this such an obscure field?
If there were real smoke here, then one should see this topic being pursued at some of the other big name institutions.
I don’t doubt the existence of EROEI, of course, it just seems pretty clear that the precise calculations being used here are probably quite slippery and highly subjective.”
” The problem with EROEI analysis is one of boundary definition.
Where do you set the boundary for input costs?
Where do you set the boundary for output gains?
The costs aren’t uniformly borne and the gains aren’t uniformly shared, so even if you could agree to the boundary definitions, it’s even less likely you’ll agree on methods for measuring individual variables. 500 calories of shoeshining and toilet plunging do not equal 500 calories worth of corner office deal making (never have and never will).
So now what?
This problem plagued the field in the early 1970s when it first came to widespread discussion within the federal government, and the problem persists today.
If nobody agrees to the boundaries of the input costs and output gains, then the #s are largely meaningless.
Your EROEI shows 0.1, mine shows 6. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does your great-grand-baby want fries with that? The spiritual component in unquantifiable. My paradise is your parking lot.”
While there are some problems with EROIs they are tending to err on the side of not including enough of the energy inputs used in the ‘production’ processes. Often these are ‘hidden’ by societies blindness to its energy use, such as the fuel distribution system for instance, which was included for the first time in one of Charles Hall’s analyses at the Oil drum .
More generally the biggest problem is the analysis itself which I think you allude to in your comment on ‘boundary conditions’. This has been examined in some detail by Drs Ayres and Warr and their concept of ‘exergy services’, that is the role of the physical work (thermodynamic ‘work’ not economic ‘work’ jobs etc) created from the available energy (“Exergy is the correct thermodynamic term for `available energy’ or `useful energy’, or energy capable of performing mechanical, chemical or thermal work.” (Ibid. P.4)) in an economy, and the uses to which it is put (work jobs etc). This seeks to overcome the category error that is often made in economic circles when trying to translate energy, a purely physical term, into economic terms such as production (goods and services – work) and capital (money). As one can see the whole area gets very confusing very quickly with things like physical works vs. economic work.
William Rees and his student Mathis Wackernagel have done a lot to ground the “unquantifiable” in resource use in general with their concept of the Ecological footprint (EROI is basically the ‘energy’ component of the ecological footprint of obtaining said energy). While there is a lot of ‘subjectivity’ (in terms of personal/institutional bias) in all accounting processes, these efforts are developing rapidly and are far better than ignoring the idea completely which is what had happened till recently and still does happen in most circles of human activity today. Don’t forget the ‘Limits to Growth’ report was in 1972, , the Bruntland Commission in 1987, and the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and look how long these ‘new’ ideas have taken to be accepted – if at all – and the effect that they have had on reducing humans environmental impact (i.e. NOT). EROI along with other concepts such as ‘Ecological Foot-printing’ and Energy Accounting/auditing are all relatively new ideas and are taking time to sink slowly into the human psyche – whether they will sink in quickly enough is another debate entirely. Thomas Kuhn’s “ The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962) shows how intractable the human mind is to new paradigms; the old order literally has to die off (or retire!) for a new idea to get accepted.
Also as these concepts and research areas are relatively new, they are often difficult to get funding applications for (ironically) as they do not lead, for instance, to direct reductions in carbon emissions or profitable business opportunities (don’t get me started on the gold plating of ivory towers). I know from personal experience how underwhelming the reception was of our own energy auditing research at a key (research top 10) UK based University. As I pointed out in another comment, energy conservation is just not very glamorous, and energy ‘accounting’ even less so. Ce la vie…
As regards the confusion between ‘net energy’ (referred to in your link) and EROI, this article has a good take on it:
But before I get into that, a quick note on terminology. The financial return on investment is known as ROI. The analogue in energy, the energy return on investment or EROI (also expressed as EROEI, for “energy return on energy invested”) is a ratio of the energy produced to the energy invested in its production. Some, including me, have also referred to EROI as “net energy,” but that really confuses the terms. For parallelism with the language of finance, net energy should refer to energy produced minus energy invested, whereas EROI should refer to energy produced divided by energy invested.
From a purely systems perspective, what we are dealing with is a “dissipative system”; and as energy into that system becomes more and more entrained into procuring that energy, less will be available for other functions within that system. What we need is a different system from our current linear and wasteful one (again see my previous comments).
Why no debate on energy reduction?
While there is a lot of media attention and focus on ‘alternative’ energy sources, there is little in the way of discussion on energy use and reduction. Often reports on alternative energy are linked also to the potentials for ‘jobs and growth’. But little attention is paid to the possibilities that might be entailed by a proactive move towards a lower energy economy, that it too might provide sustainable jobs and if not growth then certainly a vibrant new economy in energy reduction and conservation. However, as Ozzie Zehner points out in his book “Green Illusions” (2012, University of Nebraska Press), this is due in part to the way the media functions. Not because of direct control from the same corporations that own the media as own the energy and manufacturing concerns, but more from the general way the whole media system works:
“Flirting with Truth
Objectivity in journalism is frequently, yet mistakenly, understood as truth. Facts are slippery things, and news organizations understand that attempting to sell them directly would be shear folly. Instead, news organizations operate through proxy. Journalistic objectivity is not so much a rendering of truth as much as it is an attempt to accurately convey what others believe to be true. In order to achieve this rendering, experienced journalists instruct young journalists to keep their own beliefs and evaluations to themselves through a conscious depersonalization. Second, mentors instruct them to aim for balance, or field “both sides” of a controversial subject without showing favour to one side of the other. The news industry generally accepts this framework as the best way to go about reporting on issues and events. It’s certainly a lot better than some of the alternatives. Nevertheless, this truth-making strategy carries certain peculiarities.
For example, news editors tend to judge stories supporting the status quo as more neutral than stories challenging it, which they understand as having a point of view, containing bias, of being opinion laden. Investigations that present empirical evidence and consider unfamiliar alternatives are not as valued as the familiar “balance of opinions.” As a result, journalists reduce energy debates to a contest between alternative-energy technologies and conventional fossil fuels. We have all witnessed these pit fights: wind versus coal for electrical production, ethanol versus petroleum for vehicular fuels. Pitting production against production effectively sidelines energy reduction options, as if productivist methods are the only choices available. Have you ever seen news segments that pit solar cells against energy-efficient lighting or that toss biofuels in the ring with walkable communities? Probably not. I have so far come across only a handful of examples out of thousands of reports.
Pitting production versus production seems natural, but it leads to some unintended effects. First, these debates set a low bar for alternative-energy technologies; its not difficult to look good when you are being compared to the perfectly dismal practices of mining, distributing, and burning oil, gas, and coal. Imagine if wine critics judged every Bordeaux against a big bottle of acidic vinegar that’s been sitting in grandpa’s cupboard for two decades; it would be difficult for a winemaker to perform poorly in such a contest. Secondly, journalistic dichotomies reduce apparent options to an emaciated choice between Technology A and Technology B. This leaves little space for non-technical alternatives. It also misses negative effects that both Technologies A and B have in common. Finally, pitting alternative-energy technologies against fossil fuel gives the impression that increasing alternative-energy flows will correspondingly decrease fossil-fuel consumption. It won’t – at least not in America’s current socioeconomic system…” (p.154-6)
“Understaffed news rooms increasingly fall back on source journalism – initiating stories using material distributed by public relations firms and corporations. (This contrasts with the more time consuming practice of investigative journalism.) Today about half of news stories arise from press releases. This helps explain the nauseating barrage of articles touting new green gadgets, which are simply rewritten press releases from companies promoting their products or researchers eager to attract attention (and funding) for their often half baked schemes. Readers and viewers have a hard time distinguishing between these rewritten PR scripts and traditional journalism. Reported uncritically and replicated in bulk quantities, these pieces toke news users on the kind of consumerist high typically achieved only through infomercials.” (p.159)
He goes on to describe how BP put solar panels on their filling stations, with phrases like “Plug into the Sun” and “We can fill you up with sunshine” (p.160) as if this somehow offset the contents going into the tanks. In this information age of ‘info-tainment’ it is not surprising that the general populace hasn’t got a clue; he points out that many see energy efficiency as boring and the more glamorous PV cells and wind turbines as more appealing to the entertainment hungry populace – of course it won’t be nearly as boring as sitting in a cold and draughty house (or tent!) when you are flat broke and can’t afford the heating costs – wishing you had invested in some insulation (or thermal underwear!)
It seems that instead of preparing for a much more frugal future we are rushing like lemmings towards an energy cliff that will have a similar effect (without the encouragement of a film crew shooing us off – even lemmings have a basic self preservation instinct).
But all is not lost. The example of the late Edo period in Japan (1603-1868) is examined in Azby Brown’s “Just Enough” (2009, Published by Kodansha International Ltd). It shows how a society turned back from the brink of environmental disaster and economic collapse to produce a flourishing culture that was truly sustainable, proving that it is possible to change direction.
Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
To unplug or not to unplug, that is the question…
That is a nice, very comprehensive, LCA. It is a bit out of date, though. It would be interesting to see how the major changes in technology would map out into a current LCA.
If you read Stoneleighs earlier article on the “receding horizons of renewable energy” you will see this pertinent bit by George Monbiot:
George Monbiot, writing for The Guardian in the UK, provides an insightful critique of FIT programmes in general:
The real net cost of the solar PV installed in Germany between 2000 and 2008 was €35bn. The paper estimates a further real cost of €18bn in 2009 and 2010: a total of €53bn in ten years. These investments make wonderful sense for the lucky householders who could afford to install the panels, as lucrative returns are guaranteed by taxing the rest of Germany’s electricity users. But what has this astonishing spending achieved? By 2008 solar PV was producing a grand total of 0.6% of Germany’s electricity. 0.6% for €35bn. Hands up all those who think this is a good investment…. .
As for stimulating innovation, which is the main argument Jeremy [Leggett] makes in their favour, the report shows that Germany’s feed-in tariffs have done just the opposite. Like the UK’s scheme, Germany’s is degressive – it goes down in steps over time. What this means is that the earlier you adopt the technology, the higher the tariff you receive. If you waited until 2009 to install your solar panel, you’ll be paid 43c/kWh (or its inflation-proofed equivalent) for 20 years, rather than the 51c you get if you installed in 2000.
This encourages people to buy existing technology and deploy it right away, rather than to hold out for something better. In fact, the paper shows the scheme has stimulated massive demand for old, clunky solar cells at the expense of better models beginning to come onto the market. It argues that a far swifter means of stimulating innovation is for governments to invest in research and development. But the money has gone in the wrong direction: while Germany has spent some €53bn on deploying old technologies over ten years, in 2007 the government spent only €211m on renewables R&D.
In principle, tens of thousands of jobs have been created in the German PV industry, but this is gross jobs, not net jobs: had the money been used for other purposes, it could have employed far more people. The paper estimates that the subsidy for every solar PV job in Germany is €175,000: in other words the subsidy is far higher than the money the workers are likely to earn. This is a wildly perverse outcome. Moreover, most of these people are medium or highly skilled workers, who are in short supply there. They have simply been drawn out of other industries.
As with all industrial techniques the quickest/dirtiest/cheapest is used to bring a ‘technique’ to market (the saga of betamax vs. vhs exemplifies this conundrum) to maximise PROFIT.
There are a few (very few) example where appropriate technology is used, but these are too far and few to be ‘impactful’ to any measurable extent. Check out the ISEC (International Society for Ecology and Culture) Ladahk project which attempts to develop “regionally appropriate development policies”.
At the end of the day it is going to be a case of vastly reduced energy availability for the vast majority of remaining humans where ever they are (barring some break through in ‘fusion’). Complexity will be an ongoing issue – solar cells are extremely complicated to produce, versus a solar hot water heater which can be made from scrap material in your shed (yes I have made one and very effective it was too – enough ‘hot’ water to use in the washing machine, or have a ‘bucket bath’ – depending upon sunshine!). This is something people miss time and again – what is actually achievable on the ground and what is just pure fantasy. Your panels may last a hundred years, but if your inverter fails after FIVE years you will be reduced to whatever the panel output current/voltage is, and if your batteries fail after ten (that is unless your ‘connected to the grid via FIT – feed in tariff – in which case god help you when the power goes down – don’t get me started on power spikes in grids – see article for the fate of Kumar’s nice new printing equipment), you’ll be left with power only when the sun shines… if you can actually use it i.e. your ‘equipment’ will run on it.
The real problems with all this techno-narcism is literally ‘too much magical thinking’ as Kunstler would say – people simply do not understand the physics, and even if they do, they do not then understand theory from what is actually physically practical. Add to that the ‘economic’ sh*t storm that we are in the eye of and the situation is at best hopeless, even if you can build a wind generator from scrap, – maybe it will allow you to listen to the world news on that old analogue long/short wave radio – but wait – oh no its all digital now isn’t it?…
I hope this makes some sense…
With regards to alternatives like solar, this report from 2000 shows just how dirty the technology really is. While it is four times less ‘impacting’ than fossil fuel generation, it is not nearly as ‘clean’ as hydro power, wind or for that matter wood (see graph on page 14).
Generally what is needed as well as a distributed energy model, is also a cyclical element; instead of our current linear input/output system of power generation and use, we need a much more cyclical approach as is found in natural systems such as the bodies of living organisms and macro systems such as arboreal and rain forests. Thus a farm or small holding could have a biodigester to ‘digest’ waste producing combustible gases, which can be used to power a combined heat and power (not just electrical but also direct mechanical energy for on site mechanical processes) generating system (this already happens on some farms and sewage treatment plants). However this process of ‘recycling’ can be added too. For instance the some of the organic matter could be used to grow worms or maggots to feed fish in an aquaponics system to produce protein. The water is recycled through hydroponics units to grow vegetables thus adding to the biomass stream. As more and more ‘cycles’ of energy use are added to the system, the ‘local energy economy’ grows and becomes inherently more efficient, and more importantly reduces the rate of entropy by ‘holding’ or entraining more of the available energy in the systems, much as traditional polycultural systems have done in the past. The ISIS project have a good paper explaining this in some detail, and their Dream Farm 2 example shows what is possible. But ultimately our energy consumption is going to be a lot lower, as David J.C. MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” shows.
Yes this parallels the ‘triumvirate’ found in most spiritual traditions, exemplified in the Zen saying of “Before enlightenment mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers, during enlightenment, mountains are not mountains, rivers are not rivers, after enlightenment, mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers.” This shows the three stages of unawakened, awakened and finally liberated of the spiritual path. But as Bernadette Roberts points out, the path is only ever seen in retrospect: https://www.spiritualteachers.org/b_roberts_interview.htm and ‘Edji’ also has a good take on getting stuck in the middle: https://www.wearesentience.com/awakening-vs-liberation.html
As for the current ‘illusion’, the biggest resource/obstacle is that little bubble of reality in side your own ‘head’.
“Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
Perris also left a suicide note, placing it on the kitchen table. “My life has become a constant tragedy,” he wrote. He tried to sell his house, but no one had the money to buy it. He owned a house, a boat and a moped.
“What’s the use of owning things when you don’t have any money to buy food?” Perris asked in his suicide note.
Here in lies the end game for the whole darn thing. It parallels the popular saying “Only when the last tree has been felled, the last fish caught, will man realise you cannot eat money”.
Greece, a country whose Orthodox Church does not condone suicide, has always had one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe. But now, there were 350 suicide attempts and 50 deaths in Athens in June alone. Most of the suicides were among members of the middle class and, in many cases, the act itself was carried out in public, almost as if it were a theatrical performance.
From tragedy to farce to divine comedy. While such a belief structure (Orthodox Christianity) may provide a sacred umbrella to the faithful against the anomic forces raining down on modern Greece the sad truth is that the prevailing ‘religion’ is that of mammon; in a world where the only value is monetary, what value to life is left without it?
Shame the Greeks didn’t keep Buddhism:
The Buddha, in Greco-Buddhist style, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara (Modern eastern Afghanistan).
The Core teaching of which is the Four Noble Truths:
1st Noble Truth: There is suffering.
2nd Noble Truth: There is a cause of suffering. (Caused by attachment and clinging/desire to/for something).
3rd Noble Truth: There is an end to suffering. (which is to ‘see’ through the causes and ‘let go’).
4th Noble Truth: The Way out of Suffering, the ‘Eightfold Path, (that is the way leading to the elimination of suffering codified as, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.)
They might have ended up like Bhutan, with its Gross National Happiness plan adopted as part of democratisation – democracy being an idea itself born in Greece:
(Though the irony of the Royal murder/suicide in 2001 in neighbouring Nepal is not without relevance here – ironic in the sense of the ‘rich and powerful’ succumbing to the same fate of ‘going postal’ usually seen reserved for the ‘lower ranks’.
While ‘suicide’ is very much a culturally laden act, as in Japan where Seppeku, originally reserved for the Samurai, is a ritual disembowelling act performed in front of spectators, the real tragedy in any suicide is not so much the perceived inability to live through the circumstances of the person who commits suicide but of the people who are left behind who cannot fathom the loss; a loss that is often compounded by the same situation that drove the dead to take their lives in the first place.
Ultimately it is, (apart from a cry for help – witness the 300 reported attempts) a recognition of the end of ones world, a death of the old ‘self’; that self that is made up of old and now redundant psychological conditioning (which btw is all that Buddhism says you will find as regards a ‘self’ or ‘ego’!). What needs to be seen is that this self can die without the necessity of the physical bodily death. If this is allowed, a rebirth can occur that can lead to a better and happier existence, even in the seemingly most dire of ‘material’ circumstances. All that glitters is not gold…
The concept of kangaroo court dates to the early nineteenth century. Scholars trace its origin to the historical practice of itinerant judges on the U.S. frontier. These roving judges were paid on the basis of how many trials they conducted, and in some instances their salary depended on the fines from the defendants they convicted. The term kangaroo court comes from the image of these judges hopping from place to place, guided less by concern for justice than by the desire to wrap up as many trials as the day allowed.
Judge Dredd eat yerr heart out!
Forgive my lack of clarity, when talking of extinction I was alluding to the extinction of the current ‘industrial human society’.
Also I too have some Irish ancestry (the rest is Cornish), from some great grand parents who for all I know might have ‘fled’ the later famines of 1879 and 1885. They ended up in the Staffordshire potteries before trying America, not liking it and returning to the midlands. However, while aware of my bodies ‘genealogical’ past, I eschew any fixed identity having studied and understood the Buddhist proposition that no permanent self can be found anywhere, all is constant flux and movement; a reality that is constantly arising and ceasing.
In terms of feedback are you familiar with Mae Wan Ho’s work on quantum coherence in living systems at the macro scale? – she has an interesting book “The Rainbow and The Worm” which examines this in some detail, and seeks to give an answer to Erwin Schordinger’s 1944 work “What is Life”. There is also her organisation the Institute of Science in society (ISIS – https://www.i-sis.org.uk/index.php) which has looked at the way living systems entrain ‘energy’ and has come up with the idea of a Dream Farm based upon these principles:
“Sustainable systems as organisms
Essentially, the ‘zero-waste’ or ‘zero-entropy’ model of the organism and sustainable systems predicts balanced development and growth at every stage, as opposed to the dominant model of infinite, unsustainable growth. This immediately disposes of the myth that the alternative to the dominant model is to have no development or growth at all, and that is how most critics of the dominant model see it, including the New Economics Foundation, for example, which sees itself as very radical .
The dominant model of infinite competitive growth can be represented as the bigger fish swallowing the smaller ad infinitum (Fig. 1), and it describes equally how a person should behave and how a company should develop in order to be successful.
Figure 1 – see website.
Figure 1. Big fish swallows small fish swallows little fish
A person grows at the expense of other people; a company grows by taking over other companies, laying waste to the earth’s resources in the meantime. There is no closed cycle to hold resources within, to build up stable organised social or ecological structures. Not surprisingly, this is totally unsustainable, which is why we are faced with global warming and the energy crisis.
In contrast, the archetype of a sustainable system is a closed lifecycle, like that of an organism, it is ready to grow and develop, to build up structures in a balanced way and perpetuate them, and that’s what sustainability is all about. Closing the cycle creates a stable, autonomous structure that is self-maintaining, self-renewing and self-sufficient.
In order to do that, you need to satisfy as much as possible the zero-entropy or zero-waste ideal (Fig. 2). We tend towards that ideal, which is why we don’t fall apart, and grow old only very slowly. If we were perfect, you realise, we’d never grow old.
Entropy diagram – see website.
This diagram says no waste or disorganisation (entropy) accumulates in the system. Even the waste (entropy) exported to the outside is minimised towards zero in a healthy balanced system. The more we approach that ideal, the better the system can develop and grow, and remain young and vibrant.
The system’s cycle contains more cycles within that are interlocked to help one another thrive and prosper. The minimum integrated farm has the farmer, livestock and crops. They work by reciprocity and devolved autonomy.”
While this is great in terms of sustainability, in terms of entropy life itself seems to exhibit what Schrodinger termed ‘negentropy’, that is the ability to defy entropy by becoming ‘more’ organised.
“The reason ‘negentropy’ continues to be used is that ‘entropy with a negative sign’ simply does not capture what is intended by the original term. Schrödinger uses it to identify the remarkable ability of the living system, not only to avoid the effects of entropy production – as dictated by the second law – but to do just the opposite, to increase organization, which intuitively, seems like the converse of entropy. Szent-Györgi, on the other hand, alludes to both the notions of free energy and of organization in his use of the term. Both scientists have the right intuition – energy and organization are inextricably bound up with each other.”
This last article just quoted goes on to discuss in depth the thermodynamics of organised complexity in which dissipative structures are coupled cycles, ending with a definition of ‘negentropy’:
“’Negentropy’, as stored mobilizable energy in a space-time structured (organized) system, can be intuitively understood as follows. In an equilibrium system, energy is fixed, which in turn fixes the population of energy levels characteristic of the temperature of the system. In a nonequilibrium system such as the organism, energy is stored over all space-time domains. For a given temperature, the energy stored is no longer fixed, but on account of efficient coupling, becomes transferred to ever larger space-time domains (starting from the photon trapped in photosynthesis, or the energy in food) until all characteristic domains are equally populated. This implies that the organism itself has no preferred levels, its activities spanning the ‘quantum’ to ‘classical’, from the ‘microscopic’ through ‘mesoscopic’ to the ‘ macroscopic’ in a quasi-continuum of self-similar patterns.”
I though this somewhat paralleled your own model so thought it worth a mention,
Interesting attempt at sketching a ‘big picture’ reality. O f course one of the biggest problems here is our own somewhat self referential ‘internal bubble’ reality as exposed with the problem of shifting baselines:
“Shifting Environmental Baselines
From the Preface: “In my work as a scientist, I find that few people really appreciate how far the oceans have been altered from their pre-exploitation state, even among professionals like fishery biologists or conservationists. A collective amnesia surrounds changes that happened more than a few decades ago, as hardly anyone reads old books or reports. People also place most trust in what they have seen for themselves, which often leads them to dismiss as far-fetched tales of giant fish or seas bursting with life from the distant, or even the recent past. The worst part of these ‘shifting environmental baselines’ is that we come to accept the degraded condition of the sea as normal. Those charged with looking after the oceans set themselves unambitious management targets that simply attempt to arrest declines, rather than rebuild to the richer and more productive states that existed in the past. If we are to break out of this spiral of diminishing returns and diminished expectations of the sea, then it is vital that we gain a clearer picture of how things have changed and what has been lost.”
From Chapter 18: “The idea of shifting baselines is familiar to us all and does not just relate to the natural environment. It helps explain why people tolerate the slow crawl of urban sprawl and loss of green space, why they fail to notice increasing noise pollution, and why they put up with longer and longer commutes to work. Changes creep up on us, unnoticed by younger generations who have never known anything different. The young write off old people who rue the losses they have witnessed as either backward or dewy-eyed romantics. But what about the losses that none alive today have seen? In most parts of the world, human impacts on the sea extend back for hundreds of years, sometimes more than a thousand. Nobody alive today has seen the heyday of cod or herring. None has watched sporting groups of sperm whales five hundred strong, or seen alewife run so thick up rivers there seemed more fish than water. The greater part of the decline of many exploited populations happened before anybody alive today was born.”
The Unnatural History of the Sea reconstructs marine ecosystems that have been lost over the centuries to fishing, hunting, pollution and habitat degradation. Descriptions in the book bring alive past oceans as our predecessors saw them.
Shifting Baselines, a Partnership Between Hollywood and Ocean Conservation
Also your comment about the Irish Potato famine needs careful scrutiny:
“What became known as the great famine occurred between 1845 and 52 and was one of the greatest catastrophies of the nineteenth century. It resulted in the deaths of millions of people from starvation and disease and a decline in Irelands population through emigration. It was thought by many to be an English induced famine used by a greedy government to solve the Irish question. The potato failed from blight but the country was full of food, which was taken away from those who grew it, to be consumed by the expanding workforce of the industrial boom in England or by its army overseas. The English hid behind the fact that they were the constitutional government for the Irish people pretending to be concerned by begging food for her people abroad while at the same time by constitutional policies taking the food from the people. They were ruthless in putting down all attempts by the Irish for self-government and all attempts of resistance. They passed laws that made it a crime for a father to protect his children or his home from destruction. They passed coercion laws that made it a crime for the Irish to leave their homes between sunrise and sunset or to hold arms. They had a well-fed armed guard of military and police watch over them while they starved. Never in the history of mankind was there a government who acted so cruelly to its people. Ireland never needed the begging bowl it had its own food grown in its own land and only needed its own concerned legislatures to pass laws to save her people. The constitutional Government of England was then the most powerful in the world and had the ear of the world through its influence and press. They manipulated the facts to cover up the real truth of what was happening in Ireland the mass murder of its people and the destruction of Ireland. An English induced constitutional famine.”
They were not fleeing hunger, they were persecuted ‘political’ (the result of policy) refugees.
This also pretty much sums up the current policy of ‘global governance’ IMHO, indigenous food production is destroyed by ‘aid’ and replaced with cash crops for export. It also bodes ill for the future… Adapting to any of this ‘human presence’ is going to be at best difficult, and at worst impossible.
More likely is some form of ‘discontinuity event’ which you touch on in the theme of punctuated equilibrium which will in turn puncture the mind bubbles of sufficient humans to allow for another reality to form. Extinction is also another highly possible scenario.
I note that you also use neo-darwinian terminology (“selected for” etc). This points to the current ‘view through the glass darkly’ of today’s Hi-Story, for our reality is always little more than the stories we tell ourselves, with our own language. Trying to project this back into an assumed past is but part of that story. We just do not know what ‘their story’ was, yet alone what language (as in the ‘meaning’ behind the words, not just the words themselves) they used and how they really saw their world. All we can do is project.
For instance, there is a ‘story’ that many millennia ago there existed a ‘Celtic’ empire that ran up from north Africa/Mediterranean all the way up the west coast of Europe into what is now called the British Isles. This ’empire’ had many clans and tribes, but a primary organising principle was the Druidic system where Druids where trained for twenty years in the sacred ‘way’. It was only after this long apprenticeship that they were allowed out into the broader society where they acted as guides and council to the people. A society that was highly egalitarian; where for instance anyone who lost their spouse would receive food from the wider community, and where orphans were fostered to relatives. They had knowledge of the bodies energy meridians two thousand years before the Chinese. (https://acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=27608). Compare that to the Invading Romans, whose hierarchical thought system saw people as objects, and any non Roman object as a potential slave or fodder for the Coliseum. Orphaned children were unceremoniously thrown on the rubbish tip, dead or alive. My point being that this Roman Empire never collapsed but morphed into the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ whose thought structures in terms of story telling we are still immersed in today; that being a world view consisting primarily of object/subject hierarchies. The ‘Great Way’ of the Buddhists, Daoists and Druids cannot exist in such a framework… hence westerners mis/in-comprehension of so many ‘eastern’ traditions (not that there are many of those left intact).
Sorry if this makes little sense, some things are after all, just beyond words.
This reminds me of Dr Gall’s “Systems People”:
“The preceding considerations have provided convincing evidence that the System has its effects on the people within it. It isolates them, feeds them a distorted and partial version of the outside world, and gives then the illusion of power and effectiveness(1). But Systems and people are related in another, subtler way. A selective process goes on, whereby Systems attract and keep those people whose attributes are such as to adapt them to life in that System:
SYSTEMS ATTRACT SYSTEMS-PEOPLE
Systems-people everywhere share certain attributes, but each specific system tends to attract people with specific sets of traits. For example, people who are attracted to auto-racing are likely to be those who enjoy tinkering with high-powered cars, driving fast, and beating other people in fierce competition. The System calls forth those attributes in its members and rewards the extreme degrees of them.
However, the particular attributes that a given System fosters can only rarely be correctly inferred in advance; the actual situation is likely to contain surprises. And such attributes are not necessarily the attributes required for successful operation of the System itself; e.g., the qualities necessary for being elected President are not the qualities needed for properly running the country.” (caps in original) (From: John Gall, 2002, “The Systems Bible”, p.55.)
Note Chap 10: (1), Irving L.Janis. “Groupthink.” Yale Alumni Magazine 36: 16-19, (January) 1973.
Current thinking is no good as regards solutions to the problems, we need something new; but paradoxically we haven’t thought of that yet… and are unlikely to until the ‘situation’ arises.
Again to quote the good Dr Gall:
“Systems are like babies: once you get one, you have it. They don’t go away. On the contrary, they display the most remarkable persistence. They not only persist; they grow. And as they grow, they encroach…
SYSTEMS TEND TO EXPAND TO FILL THE KNOWN UNIVERSE
That this outcome does not occur in fact is due to the existence of various inhibitory forces.” (caps in original) (From: John Gall, 2002, “The Systems Bible”, p.17.)
The ‘various inhibitory forces’ in this case being nature… but I imagine a ‘new regime’ might well appear, one that might think it will ‘last a thousand years’, but on natures daily time scales even this is but a millisecond.
And as another physicist pointed out:
“Reality is what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is what we believe.
What we believe is based upon our perceptions.
What we perceive depends upon what we look for.
What we look for depends on what we think.
What we think depends on what we perceive.
What we perceive determines what we believe.
What we believe determines what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is our reality.”
– David Bohm,
The irony is infinite. The very term economy comes from the Greek :sick: meaning oikonomos, manager of a household. This implies a careful and considered use of ‘resources’. But instead what we have is wanton exploitation of anything and everything in the name of an abstract value system called money. And like all mono-cultures either worldly or of the mind, it dominates all.
Coupled with the problem of ‘shifting baselines’ (the problem that we think the world we are born into has always been this way), and we really have no idea what the human race has achieved over the last few centuries.
The problem of shifting environmental baselines is explored in Callum Roberts “The Unnatural History of the Sea” (https://www.york.ac.uk/res/unnatural-history-of-the-sea/). It is a shocking expose of just how much ‘damage’ has been done. People today talk of ‘restoring the oceans’ to levels of a few decades ago not realising that a few decades ago the patient was already dead having been depleted over ninety percent already!
Also what is missed is the still little understood implications of dynamic biological systems interdependence (see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vl3bw); for instance over fishing does not just reduce the fish stocks, it also affect the local micro-biota ecosystem, upon which the whole oceanic food chain is based. A simple analogy: Fish can be compared to the large herding animals on land, that both maintain and fertilize the various landscapes through their waste products. Remove their presence and the land quickly reverts to desert. This is what has happened in the oceans. The micro biota fed on the excrement of the higher animals which in turn fed on the microbiota. Thus the nutrients were kept cycling in the various layers of the ocean in which these lifeforms lived. Extract or wipe out (by netting rivers so that the fish cannot get to spawning grounds) one part of the food chain and all the nutrients suddenly stop being recycled and sink to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again. Voila ‘Dead Zones’… Pump too much of one type of nutrient (from mismanaged land use) into the oceans and you have an explosion of certain micro-biota that like those nutrients – so called plankton blooms – that then suck out all the other things like oxygen (required by other organisms) and often excrete poisons (nutrients other organisms can’t deal with) into the water. Et encore more Dead Zones… The idea that we can all eat jelly fish (one of the symptoms of systemic collapse) is a complete misapprehension of the problem.
This is one example of impacts on only one system, the ocean system, without going into the human impacts on soil biota and the interaction between micro-biota and the atmosphere (see Lovelock, Margulis et al). The Earth, Being what it is, can and does recover (at varying rates ranging from decades to millennia), but in the interim the biodiversity of higher/larger life forms will tend to decrease, and any dominant ‘single’ species will face extinction. And the current most dominant ‘single’ species is us folks.
We either start putting our ‘house’ in order or its over, no ifs or buts and certainly no eating jelly fish… (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/3776788/Jellyfish-on-the-menu-as-edible-fish-stocks-become-extinct.html)
Simone Weil talked about the rootlessness of modern society and how this causes a huge disjoint in peoples lives and psyches. How can you relate to somewhere, anywhere, if you don’t have any real connection to anywhere else; that you have no place in history if you cannot recall your own ancestors and your own historical raison d’etre. This parallels Jane Jacob’s observation that we not only forget things but then forget that we have forgotten them. That’s perhaps why the main perpetrators on the ground in the sacking of the Amazon are ‘migrants’. Mind you humanity has a history of migratory rape and pillage of both the planet and each other, so no surprise there really. As for the ‘revolving door politics’ example of the regulator in the morning and miner in the afternoon this perfectly mirrors the neo-liberal agenda at the top of de-regulation (business determined regulation more like) where government ministers often leave to enter big businesses as ‘advisors’, while people from big business concerns enter government and declare no ‘conflict of interest’. Despite president Rouseff’s left leaning past, her ‘jobs for the workers’ idealism is the same mono-culturalism of the mind that Vandana Shiva talks of. Left or right industrial approaches to development are what got us into this mess therefore there is no way that same thinking will get us out if it. Oh, and apparently according to the wiki she is an economist… Oh well.
“Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”
Allegedly spoken by Chief Seattle, but more like a result of composition of romantic environmental revisionism. But it does beg the observation; there are still a lot of trees out there…
Btw Charles Mann in his book “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” points out there is a lot of evidence emerging that the ‘pristine’ Amazon itself may have been ‘cultivated’ by its previous inhabitants (much as the U’wa of Columbia still do), by selecting fruit and vegetable crops and encouraging habitat for game. Shame such an idea as large scale ‘polycultural’ forestry could not be revived (I dislike the term ‘agro-forestry – sounds too much like what is already happening i.e. agro!), but then that would go against the current monocultural system – Ro/Rs strikes again!
Of course technology also tends to be self limiting as shown in the film Blade runner, where Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard tracks down ‘replicants’ who are built to be ‘more human than human’. And more human than human they are: after their short (limited) lifespan four of the ‘androids’ go on a hunt for their maker to get more ‘life’. When Roy (Rutger Hauer), one of the renegade replicants catches up with his creator, Tyrell, who refuses to extend their lives, he kills him. This return of the prodigal son and the search for long life/immortality is a classic theme throughout human history. The other twist in the film is Deckard’s true identity: is he or isn’t he an android? Thereby showing the true potential of technology to blur the boundaries between human and machine, between man and tool (the Greeks btw referred to their slaves as ‘talking tools’).
The term technology itself is a misnomer; it actually means the study of techne – technique; that is the ways and means of doing things. What we really mean when we say technology is the technique of doing a certain process. Jaques Ellul, in his book ‘Technological Bluff’ talks about how humans are fascinated with technology, and how the means gets confused with the ends. He also pointed out in other works the dangers of propaganda through information overload, something so prevalent in the modern industrial media machine. (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Ellul). Zigmunt Bauman’s “Modernity and the Holocaust” paints a dire warning of how technology can isolate individuals from inhumane acts of violence otherwise too obscene to commit. These two historical examples prove that the techno-narcistic impulse is nothing new.
As for the hubris that hides failure of the best laid plans of (GM) mice and men, check out Mae Wan Ho and the Institute for Science In Society (https://www.i-sis.org.uk/index.php ) and peruse a few articles on Genetic Modification – scarily funny if it wasn’t so funnily scary…
Like Prometheus of old and Disney’s adaptation of Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice of more recent times the characters use ‘technology’ to further progress of civilisation and save time, but while Prometheus was a champion of humanity and its striving to better itself, today we are more like Mickey Mouse whose meddling in things he thinks he knows results in them getting out of hand and out of his control.
While we may wish/fear for the return of ‘Yen Sid’ the Sorcerer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorcerer%27s_Apprentice) to save us, a more likely outcome is likely to be similar to Tyrell’s, and, lest we forget, that ‘parable of scientific progress’, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (originally subtitled The Modern Prometheus).
J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb declared “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” when it finally dawned on him what he had unleashed. A later physicist David Bohm realised that the problems of humanity lay in its thought systems and proposed just that in his book “Though as a System”, along with his ‘Dialogue’ technique for addressing difficult issues. But as for technology saving the day? Yeah right!; even the so called (by their conquerors) ‘primitive’ aboriginals of Turtle Island saw that one coming; check out the ‘Hopi’ Prophecy (https://www.welcomehome.org/rainbow/prophecy/hopi1.html & https://www.crawford2000.co.uk/famous-hopi-indian-prophecies.htm) hair raisingly weird n’est pas? And weirdly prophetic…
“”This is the First Sign: We were told of the coming of the white-skinned men, like Pahana, but not living like Pahana — men who took the land that was not theirs and who struck their enemies with thunder. (Guns)
“This is the Second Sign: Our lands will see the coming of spinning wheels filled with voices. (Covered wagons)
“This is the Third Sign: A strange beast like a buffalo but with great long horns, will overrun the land in large numbers. (Longhorn cattle)
“This is the Fourth Sign: The land will be crossed by snakes of iron. (Railroad tracks)
“This is the Fifth Sign: The land shall be criss-crossed by a giant spider’s web. (Power and telephone lines)
“This is the Sixth Sign: The land shall be criss-crossed with rivers of stone that make pictures in the sun. (Concrete roads and their mirage-producing effects.)
“This is the Seventh Sign: You will hear of the sea turning black, and many living things dying because of it. (Oil spills)
“This is the Eighth Sign: You will see many youth, who wear their hair long like our people, come and join the tribal nations, to learn our ways and wisdom. (Hippies)
“And this is the Ninth and Last Sign: You will hear of a dwelling-place in the heavens, above the earth, that shall fall with a great crash. It will appear as a blue star. Very soon after this, the ceremonies of the Hopi people will cease.
“These are the Signs that great destruction is here: The world shall rock to and fro. The white man will battle people in other lands — those who possessed the first light of wisdom. There will be many columns of smoke and fire such as the white man has made in the deserts not far from here. Those who stay and live in the places of the Hopi shall be safe. Then there will be much to rebuild. And soon, very soon afterward, Pahana will return. He shall bring with him the dawn of the Fifth World. He shall plant the seeds of his wisdom in our hearts. Even now the seeds are being planted. These shall smooth the way to the Emergence into the Fifth World.””
Of course one should not neglect the spiritual side of this parable. Job when he talks of the ‘darkness’ is describing a stage in the spiritual journey of a spiritual human being. While this is done metaphorically, it none the less has critical relevance to the spiritual journey. It is part of the series of fables found the world over that include the dark night of the soul; the walk through the valley of death; the crucifixion on the cross; battling Mara under the Bodhi tree; all are spiritual trials in allegorical ‘material’ form. A good modern day description of this particular part of the spiritual journey – in realising that one is beyond the material and bodily forms – can be found here: https://itisnotreal.com/deep-sleep.html . For a more Christian oriented take on the same thing in different terms see this interview of Bernadette Roberts: https://www.spiritualteachers.org/b_roberts_interview.htm. Of course this will have unfortunately little impact on those stuck in the realm of mammon, who like Job’s detractors, fail to see and understand the true meaning to which the story of Job’s suffering points. Mythological allegories were never meant to be taken literally…
Comes back to my earlier comment of not losing ones head while those about lose theirs (and allegorically ref. The Highlander movie “don’t lose your head”) though according to Douglas Harding you don’t have one to begin with!: https://www.headless.org/books-by-douglas-harding-and-others/on-having-no-head .
Good job its all a dream!
Row row row your boat,
gently down the stream,
merrily, merrily, merrily,
life is but a dream…
And let us not forget the other great JC (John Cleese) and the Python teams Eric Idle for the following:
“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…
And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.
And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…
For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin – give the audience a grin
Enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow.
So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath
Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.
And always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the right side of life…
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the bright side of life…
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life…
(I mean – what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing – you’re going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life…
Am G E7
G E7 Am D7
G E7 A7 D7
Background: This song is from Life of Brian by Monty Python. From what I heard, they were filming the last scene of Life of Brian and were all bored and hot sitting up on their crucifixes. So Eric Idle started singing a little ditty. Everyone (but Eric) liked it so much that they decided to use it. It has sine become one of our most popular songs as well.”
I think the idea of ‘lifeboats’ and other psychological palliatives such as Greer’s idea of a ‘long descent’ are simply not born out by historical examples; just look (for a long while) at the graphs at the beginning of the piece). I think the Titanic analogy holds true on one factor: only just under a third survived. They survived because they had access to an available resource, the lifeboats; but these ‘resources’ were themselves underused/not universally available because of the resource allocation ‘system’ (class/gender bias), and the ‘zeitgeist’ that the ship itself was unsinkable. In all likelyhood it would’ve made little difference if there had been enough ‘lifeboats’ – by the time ‘everyone’ realised the ship was sinking it was then going down too fast.
“…where Ro equals the amount of Reality which fails to reach the Control Unit, and Rs equals the total amount of Reality presented to the system. The fraction Ro/Rs varies from zero (full awareness of outside reality) to unity (no reality getting through).” (From: “The Systems Bible: the Beginners Guide to systems large and small”, John Gall, 2006. P.46-7)
Your biggest ‘lifeboat’ is going to be that little ‘system’ inside your own head. What will work for you will be dependant upon your own unique situation, from forming community, growing food (sustainably e.g. Robert Hart, Masanobu Fukuoka, /Sepp Holzer) but also including facing the prospect of your own immanent demise. That, if nothing else will fuel much of the coming chaos. Now what was that saying… if you can keep you head when all about are losing theirs… hmmm something like that. IMHO I think most of the so called developed world will end up looking like most of the rest of the world, there will just be a lot less people around:
And this one:
The biggest Bubble of all?
plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
“The Emancipation Reform of 1861 resulted in a huge peasantry which, though no longer under the yoke of serfdom, still was not totally free – with heavy taxes a particular burden. According to Spartacus.com: “The arable land which the freed peasantry had to rent or buy was valued at about double its real value (342 million roubles instead of 180 million); yesterday’s serfs discovered that, in becoming free, they were now hopelessly in debt.””
Hi Dig Dirt,
You’re welcome. Of course the other salient point that Dr Gall makes is that systems attract systems people. And I think we have all met one or two or more of those in our time, you know the guys who just have to do it by the book – jobs worths etc. And if you haven’t… there is the possibility that you are one of THEM! 😉
There are a few copies of Dr Galls work going back over the years, I think he first published in the seventies, and has developed his ‘theory’ over the decades. While somewhat tongue in cheek, his ideas carry a profound wisdom of all things systemic involving humans.
Here’s a typical example:
“Couple refuse to rip up ILLEGAL vegetable garden after demands from draconian council”
PUBLISHED: 14:37, 23 July 2012 | UPDATED: 18:31, 23 July 2012
“As the world battles an obesity epidemic, one Canadian council is going around ripping up thriving vegetable gardens.”
I mean you just can’t make this stuff up…
See their video here:
(Btw – i am pretty sure its ‘Dr’ Gall, not ‘Mr’ as i had first thought)July 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm in reply to: Sowing Revolution: Seed Libraries Offer Hope for Freedom of Food #4847
There is also the ever present specter of bureaucracy:
“Couple refuse to rip up ILLEGAL vegetable garden after demands from draconian council”
For article follow: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2177717/Couple-Michel-Beauchamp-Josee-Landry-petition-stop-council-ripping-illegal-vegetable-garden.html
Youtube Video of how their garden grew:
But to show its not all bad, this more recent report on an authority doing the oposite – encouraging urban gardening:
For how the city of Leeds in the UK took a different approach, see the Back to Front project – all about growing food in small ‘front’ gardens:
And how the local health authority has taken interest:
Also, in the many of groups I have had the privileged to be involved with over the years, seed swaps were a major event in early spring, and plant/seedling swaps in late spring. It can be a core activity in any group that helps build a sense of connectedness and sharing.