Wednesday, October 04, 2006

electric can openers are stupid

I wasn’t nice. I really wasn’t mean but I certainly wasn’t nice. My friend Christopher offered criticism of an idea so let’s start at the beginning. Recently a certain proposal has floated around the internet. If you take a chest freezer and build in an aftermarket thermostat you can accomplish an extreme savings in energy. You can read more about the idea here. Or you can download the PDF here. The idea is that horizontal doors and increased insulation along with the weight of cold air make chest freezers an extremely efficient choice when considering how to keep things cold. My friend Chris rightly pointed out that his grandmother would have a hard time lifting a 14 lb turkey out of such a refrigatory device and in simple terms he is correct. But I took exception to what I considered to be him poking small holes in a good idea as a response to change. While I encounter this as a regular response to new ideas I don’t find it useful as a reply because it throws out the baby and the bathwater.

Oddly this strategy of critique isn’t used on old ideas. Sure grandmother will need help removing the Thanksgiving turkey from the freezer. She also uses a stool to change the light bulb in her kitchen. Perhaps we should build all ceilings at only 7' high? Then Grandmom could change the light bulb without using a stool. No, stools work just fine. Ceilings are high enough to stay out of the way and light is up there where it can be most useful. Perhaps we should try and solve problems like energy efficiency and pollution by addressing the larger issues first and figuring out the details like how to adjust for the elderly and the disabled afterwards. Interestingly I’ve heard the same sort of thinking used to describe electric can openers. "But people with only one arm can't open cans without them" and of course that's true. So how does this sound, let's mine coal (very dangerous remember) and then let's burn it (causing health problems and a change in the climate of Earth) so we can generate electricity to be transmitted over long distances (with an extreme loss of efficiency) so we can power a small appliance that does a job 90% of people can do in 3 seconds with a hand tool. Call me crazy but maybe our perspective is a bit skewed. We have to take the disabled into consideration but I don't buy it as a reason to set aside good ideas.

Now his economic argument was a good one. He pointed out that electricity is extremely cheap. And electricity will be cheap well into the future if we continue to live in a socialist nation- well half socialist, half capitalist. If you're talking power plant profits, that's capitalist territory. People who generate electricity get to keep the money they make. But the problems they produce like unhealthy emissions of fine particles or the mercury that kept my formerly pregnant wife from being able to eat tuna or the occasional accident like three mile island (did you know the US government passed a law making itself responsible for big nuclear accidents because the free market wouldn’t insure nuclear power plants without such socialization?) all those items are costs that are socialized- spread out among us; even those of us who think electric can openers are stupid. If the cost of electricity reflected its true impact then it wouldn't be cheap. You add in the cost of the Iraq war and oil fired power plants don't sell cheap electricity. But I know what you're thinking...

No one gives a #%%! about things they can't see or don't know and the true cost of items like electricity isn't going to be made public to the American people any time soon. They wouldn't believe it anyway as most of them are asleep. But that was my most recent epiphany. I no longer give a damn if you use a regular refrigerator or a modified freezer with tremendous energy savings because I know I can't convince you of anything. I am not trying to convert anyone any more. I will continue to write and I will send out an occasional item to those I care about in an effort to provoke thought and I will certainly continue to share my thoughts with those who are interested. But taking the red pill is a mean ride and subconsciously I think we all know that. I am going to spend my time preparing for a future radically different from the present by changing the way I live and learning what I need to know. I will share it with those who want to hear it and everyone else is on their own. This may not sound like my typical attitude but please understand, I haven't abandoned preaching because I no longer care or even because I don't think it will do any good. The real reason I am getting off the soapbox is because I don't need to share this with everyone.

There seems to be two typical responses as to how change happens. The first is that the government mandates it and the second is that the invisible hand of Adam Smith makes it economically more attractive. Most people will use these responses as the only reasons for why things do or do not happen. Let's take population for instance. If I say, "There are too many humans here on Earth, let's cut back", most people will say, "You'll never reduce the population". These people will give me one or both of the reason above as proof. No one will stand for government mandated population control like in China. And kids aren't too terrible expensive. If people think population control is a good idea they’ll say, “It won’t happen until our governing bodies wake up to reality and force it on us”, or “It won’t happen until people can’t afford kids.” Regardless of the reasons for or against population control, these people fail to recognize how defeatist this attitude is. These people have given up their own freedom of choice and the freedom of others in their society as well. Of course there are other reasons for doing or not doing things. In fact for most of the really important decisions we make in our lives, we don't require the permission of congress or rely on rational financial sense. We don't get married to a certain someone for either of those reasons, we don't have children for those reasons and I am going to assume that my friends don’t associate with me because prezident bush asked them to or because they gain economic benefit from it.

Societies have historically made decisions about common items for the benefit of community and not because of government or economics. Yes our society is fractured and in bad health so we all look like greedy bastards only interested in hanging out on the back porch but that is not at the heart of who we are as human beings. I reject the idea that reasonable responses to problems are possible only if it's affordable or if we're told we legally have to. I'll go further and say that I am a freer man than anyone who would argue otherwise. But even that is not the point. The reason I don't care about your refrigerating decision is because I don't need to share this with everyone. I don't need a majority to get this thing going. I think a small percentage of people willing to make change (leaders) who commit themselves to making decisions because of what's right and not because of what's cheapest or legally mandated- that small majority can cause- we will cause a revolution. The sheeople will follow along so why waste any effort trying to force them to change, especially when that means responding to weak arguments like the weight of turkey pulled from a chest freezer.

I didn’t write back to my friend Chris in an attempt to smash his effort to be objective in his response to a new idea that makes sense. I countered with an idea about how to affect change in our current situation and also because I understand his hole poking to be beneath his capability. Plenty of people “know” why things won’t work differently. Let's solve some problems shall we?


PeakEngineer said...

I think you're right -- it only takes a small number of forward thinking people to start a revolution. I think we're starting to see some of that with the increasing ubiquity of Peak Oil websites and the number of times it's mentioned in mainstream news.
Everyone needs to figure out their own solutions, but hopefully they're approaching design with an open -- yet critical -- mind. It does no one any good to dismiss ideas out of hand.

BTW, my grandma had her entire kitchen lowered a foot rather than use a stool :)

baloghblog said...

I am not giving up my electric toe-nail clipper. I don't care what you say.

fatguyonalittlebike said...

You know, two interesting points.

Grandma would have to take the turkey out of the chest freezer anyway so it could thaw out.

Do you know anyone who goes to Grandma's for a big holiday meal? By the time they get older in my family either their kids host the big meal or her grandkids do. Grandma's done enough in the past to earn a free pass on meal preparation.

Good points. You can go crazy trying to explain all this to people who won't ever care.

Excellent Walker said...

I find it very difficult not to be mean when people scoff at my attempts to get them to at least think about their consumption choices. And not being a fundamentally mean person, it's uncomfortable to me, so I fall back on just trying to live my life the way I think I should. Still, though, when I see someone doing something blatantly wasteful -- I was at a child's birthday party last week that must have gone through 100 plastic forks and cups in less than two hours -- I really want to start knocking some heads.