Wednesday, August 21, 2013

play your hand

Well, the man wants speed, let's just give it to him. Cram it in and break it out. Yeah. Go hard. Yeah. -Cool Hand Luke

[something from 2007 i never got around to posting]

A one man revolution won’t accomplish much.  A one woman  revolution will accomplish the same.  A social, cultural or memetic revolution by definition is the changing of the ideas of many with respect towards the attitudes, beliefs and actions of the group that is itself changing.  Equally though, the change of revolution, the idea of rising up as a group to affect necessary change, can not wholly be made through group intent or action alone.  In fact it must first take place in the hearts and in the minds and in the actions of individuals before it can be shared among a larger number of people looking to make a similar change.  You need a spark to light a fire.  The spark (or with any luck the sparks) begin the burn which in turn lights another and another until the blaze is bright and noticeable, picking up speed and beginning to give off heat.  It is with a certain amount of radiant momentum that the fire then becomes a revolution.  We plan to start one.  Are you feeling sparky?

There’s a great scene in the classic 1967 Paul Newman film _Cool Hand Luke_ where the inmates are out on work detail paving a road.  The slow pace of this toilsome work is predictable.  The prisoners are unhurriedly prodding along, putting down paving, obviously not in a rush.  Their labor is forced and they have neither a pay check nor a beer at the end of the work day to look forward to- only a return to the prison yard- so they work at an expectedly slow speed.  Despite the despondency of the situation, Paul Newman’s character Luke, begins to pick up the pace.  To the dismay of his fellow prisoners, Luke starts to work faster and faster.  At first the others discourage him, but gradually they join in finding that together they can accomplish quite a lot in a very short period of time.  In fact they finish out the road building supplies long before the day is done.  The guards are aggravated but amused.  Luke gains great favor with his comrades who seem to revel in this show of strength by the prisoner group. 

Earlier in the day, the other inmates were not in favor of such a change in their normal manner of operation, especially in light of the fact that Luke was working more briskly to accomplish the goal.  The other inmates though, quickly adopted the challenge and achieved unprecedented results not so much because of their increased work speed (they finished much sooner and therefore probably did much less labor physically speaking) but more accurately because of their willingness to make a sweeping change in the way they worked. 

There are a number of grand issues facing us as a nation and as a species.  After less than two centuries of industrialization, we‘ve polluted large areas of the land on which we live.  We’ve washed away much of the topsoil responsible for growing our food, down streams and rivers, along with vast quantities of nitrogen fertilizers and countless varieties of pesticides, creating ecological disaster sites like the dead zone of uninhabitable ocean just beyond the mouth of the Mississippi river.  In the process we’ve polluted much of the small amount of fresh water on Earth capable of supporting human life.   Our air has become the depository of harmful byproducts of an industrial way of life.  In countless other ways we’ve ravaged the stable ecosystems that long supported the intricate web of life reponsisble for the varied plant and animal life that inhabits our planet.  The devastation of myriad symbiotic relationships destroyed by careless actions of human being out of touch with their environment will without doubt come back to haunt our us. 

Several specific problems look set to arrive in the early part of the 21st century.  Much of the industrialization responsible for the all of our pollution was made possible by the unprecedented energy available in nonrenewable fossil fuel resources, namely coal, oil and natural gas.  The most useful of these has been has been the liquid form, oil or petroleum.  It appears certain that during the first decade of this century conventional  crude oil production peaked worldwide and enter a permanent decline in availability.  Likewise natural gas will experience a peak although the difficulties associate with transporting a gas means that regional shortages of NG will be felt long before the global extraction peak is experienced; to say nothing of the effects of fracking.  Coal too will be harder to obtain with mines digging deeper into the Earth to try and postpone inevitable day when all fossil fuels are decreasing as a useable source of energy to our modern society predicated on its use.  The effects of this loss of stored sunlight will necessitate a return to more traditional ways of harnessing the sun’s energy or doing without so much of it in the first place.  The world as we know it is accustom to ever increasing energy availability and the shift to a paradigm of decreasing energy accessibility will be very bumpy indeed. 

The burning of fossil fuels has released an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and other forms of greenhouse gasses that continue to trap an unordinary amount of solar radiation as heat, warming the surface of our planet.  We are experiencing the result as an unprecedented increase in overall global temperature.  The consequences of this increase are widespread changes in climate.  Instead of only a slight, steady increase in daily temperatures, we are likely to experience sharp and sudden changes in our weather patterns.  Unpredictable in weather, both long and short term will become the norm.  Storms are likely to be stronger and more frequent.  Great discrepancies in local weather conditions will likely see some parts of the globe much hotter or wetter than usual while others receive exceptionally cold conditions or possibly droughts that last for decades. 

Our age is one of empire.  The US has seen extraordinary expansion both militarily and economically throughout the globe during the last one hundred years.  Widespread cultural exportation of the expansionist goals of western culture as a way to exploit others to create wealth at previously unattainable levels seems to be the legacy most likely to be left by America. 

The result is wide spread discrepancy in wealth and the access to resources available to the poor and the wealthy in disproportionate amounts.  This has fueled a backlash by those who feel they’ve been robbed or cheated out of wealth or damage or desecrated in the name of wealth accumulation.  These people are fighting back by leveraging the power of industrial age weapons and supporting insurgent activities including terrorism.  It should serve as no surprise that Middle Eastern men, angry that their vast resource reserves are being gobbled up by countries on the other side of the planet, are fighting back.  This is by no means meant as a pardon for the behavior of terrorists. There is no justification for the murder of other human beings, especially innocent civilians, but the shock with which most Americans view Middle Eastern hostility towards the United States of America reveals a people almost entirely unaware of the full implications of their energy-intensive lifestyles. 

To understand our way of life and all its ripples is to view a turbulent pond.  The effects of our wasteful use of energy and other resources coupled with the pollutions produced by our modern, western lifestyles is becoming painfully evident to all who care to turn off the TV and take notice.  The day is approaching when the effects will be felt in a much more painful way if we do not take action now. 

There are other less directly dire reasons to consider a change in the way we live our lives.  As a community we find ourselves fragmented and disconnected from the world around us, even alienated from our neighbors next door.  Physically, mentally, emotionally and socially we are at a low point in America.  Despite spending more the two times as much money as any other nation on Earth, Americans die at an earlier age than the average citizen of at least 20 other countries.  We have an infant mortality rate on par with other third world nations.  Our rate of obesity, and obesity related disease like Type II diabetes is incredibly high- 50% of Americans will be diabetic by 2050.  Mentally and emotionally we seem less happy than those people in other nations with much less material wealth.  In the past decade more than 55% of our population report having used antidepressants.  More than half of us are so unhappy that we take medication to try and relieve the problems.  Socially we live in one of the most violent industrialized nations on the planet.  With all the stress of living in what could accurately be described as a fairy tale, it’s no wonder that many Americans are recognizing the American dream as a fabrication that doesn’t reflect reality.  The truth is we are disconnect, malnourished, poison-filled, scared, anxious, unhappy and emotional unstable human beings waiting to be told what to do next. 

Far from hoping to fulfill the desire to be told what to do and how to do, I’d like to use this opportunity to describe not only what is wrong but also what is not right. Much of the last century has been about doing away with the previous activities and actions that formed a stable, healthy and happy society.  In a maddened sugar rush of growth and expansionism, both in scientific and geographic terms, we threw out the baby with the bathwater.  It is only now becoming painfully obvious to a growing number of people that much of what we have forgotten is worth remembering.  How to remember.  What would that revolution look like if sparked?

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