Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat
Grab your coat and get your hat,
leave your worries on the doorstep,
Just direct your feet
to the sunny side of the street
—On The Sunny Side Of The Street, J. McHugh/D. Fields, 1930
Reasons Not To Be Cheerful–Part 1:
Technological-innovation-as-savior is part of our cosmology. It is a fundamental part of our beliefs, so frequently we don’t think about it rationally. Relying on technological innovation to find some solution is what I call a faith-based approach to the future.
There are two things about technological innovation that concern me. The first is that, like other endeavors, research grows complex and costly and can reach diminishing returns. This is covered in the Collapse book so I won’t elaborate here.
The second problem is what is known as the Jevons Paradox. William Stanley Jevons, a 19th century British economist, pointed out that in the long run technological innovations aimed as at using less of a resource actually lead to even more of the resource being used.
His example was coal, but the principle applies across the board. As technological innovation leads to economy in using a resource, people respond to the lower cost by using even more. I conclude from this that technological innovations can offer only short-term advantages. They quickly become outdated, then the next round of innovations may be harder to achieve.
I am less optimistic now that I once was. Certainly we need new energy sources or the future will be very unpleasant. But new energy creates its own problems, which in time we will have to address. We can foresee this with nuclear energy and its waste.
Even so-called “green” energy sources will be environmentally damaging. All of our adaptations are short term. They solve immediate problems but set the stage for future problems. Eric Sevareid once said “The chief source of problems is solutions.” —Joseph Tainter, author of “The Collapse of Complex Societies”, in an interview with Kazys Varnelis of the Columbia School of Architecture
Reasons Not To Be Cheeful–Part 2:
At last, in the grey dawn of Civilization the fire in the Soul dies down. The dwindling powers rise to one more, half-successful, effort of creation, and produce the Classicism that is common to all dying Cultures.
The soul thinks once again, and in Romanticism looks back piteously to its childhood; then finally, weary, reluctant, cold, it loses its desire to be, and, as in Imperial Rome, wishes itself out of the overlong daylight and back in the darkness of proto-mysticism in the womb of the mother in the grave.–Oswald Spengler, “Der Untergang des Abendlandes” (The Decline of the West) 1918-22
Optimism is cowardice —Spengler, “Der Mensch und die Technik” (Man and Technology) 1931
Are the ‘end times’ upon us? Are we doomed to a future where mystical mumbo-jumbo and truth-by-revelation entirely displace rationalism? Will Spengler’s gloomy prediction that, “…the masses will accept with resignation the victory of the Caesars, the strong men, and will obey them” come to pass?
The signs aren’t good. History is on Spengler’s side. Naomi Klein’s indispensable book The Shock Doctrine gives us a pretty fair idea of what we can expect.
What will you do when the shit well and truly hits the fan? It’s wise to plan and a plan will be easier to memorise if it’s in verse. Let’s have it.