Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The World, According To Me

I've been busy. That is why I haven't been blogging over the last six months. Ironically, my busy-ness has consisted of me scrambling to find ways to become less busy while still paying the bills. At my last office job, I found myself being worked a bit too hard for my liking (they wanted me to be available between 50 and 60 hours a week). So I've been teaching a bit and trying to freelance. And I've been exploring ways to lower my “burn rate.” It's the teaching and the scrambling to freelance that has been keeping me busy.

My abstinence from blogging has made me aware of the divide that exists between those who have a powerful voice in our society and those who have no real voice. Being a blogger, by the way, does not automatically grant a powerful voice to a blogger. After all, I have to admit that there are probably not that many people who read my blog. Even as an active blogger, therefore, my voice has been very small. But having taken my place for a few months among those who have no voice, I have been observing how much effort, how much money and how many words have been expended by those whose voices are powerful. All that effort and all those words have been expended in order to inculcate in ordinary people a world view that just happens to be convenient for those with powerful voices. I thought it might be good to let these people know just how an ordinary person without a voice views the world, so that they can see whether they have been wasting their time and money. I can't speak for all ordinary people, but I will speak for myself.

To sum up what the people with powerful voices have been saying, I think they've been trying to convince ordinary people that the United States is still a first-rate nation, that the U.S. is the blameless and pure defender of freedom and democracy, that we still live in a world of abundance un-threatened by shortage of any kind, that the “free market” can be trusted to distribute said abundance to any and all who are worthy of it, and that our mad scramble for material abundance is having no effect on the earth. The most pressing thing that ordinary Americans should worry about, therefore, is which teen star is getting divorced.

If this is what the loud-voiced have been trying to communicate, I'm afraid they haven't succeeded with me. The disconnect between their message and my world-view can be summed up under four general headings: oil, geopolitics, climate change, and economics. There is also a fifth heading, which I call “the proliferation of sheep dogs.”

A lot of well-placed people have been insisting over the last year that Peak Oil is a fallacy, and that the world has plenty of hydrocarbon resources to last for several decades more. Even people who pretend to be members of the counterculture have said things like this. (See, for instance, what George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky have been saying.) For me, however, the Bible on Peak Oil has been the 2007 Oil Report, titled, “Crude Oil – The Supply Outlook” from the Energy Watch Group of Germany. That report made a number of bald, blunt statements and predictions: first, that global oil production peaked in 2006; second, that global oil production would experience steep declines post-Peak, and third, that the steepness of the declines can be quantified (for instance, the authors asserted that production would decline from a 2006 high of 86 million barrels per day to 58 million barrels per day in 2020).

I like predictions and statements like this, because it's easy to tell whether the predictor is right or wrong, and you don't have to wait very long before finding out. (Which is easier to verify – a predictor telling you that you will meet someone famous at some time in your life, or a predictor telling you that you will meet Genghis Khan and his Mongol army tomorrow morning at ten?) I believe the Energy Watch Group report. I believe it because, from 2007 until now, the world has been acting as if the report's predictions are true. Everything that has happened from 2007 to now makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of those predictions, from the oil price spike and economic crash of 2008 to the slow bleeding economic death of the West and the OECD at present (and the frantic attempts to rob oil-producing countries like Syria and Iran by means of “regime change”).

That means that an ordinary person like me regards as liars those people who deny that we are living post-Peak. This includes people who made a name for themselves writing for sites like The Oil Drum and who are now writing articles claiming that global oil production is still growing, albeit slowly. Whenever someone posts an article like that on the Web, they are wasting their breath (and keystrokes) as far as I'm concerned, because I'm not going to read what they write. I also regard as suspect those articles which dismiss the peak of conventional crude production by pointing to steady levels of “total liquids” production. (Just such an article appeared here, of all places. Suffice it to say that the production of many of these “liquids” yields either a very poor positive return or an actual negative return on energy invested.)

The decline of the energy resource base of the industrial world has, of course, led to a mad scramble for the world's remaining energy resources. This is paralleled by the scramble for the other raw materials needed by a modern industrial society. This is the reason why Syria has been branded a rogue regime, and the reason why the West has instigated and is financing the insurgency against the Syrian government. This is also the reason why the West is trying to destabilize Iran.

I normally don't save newspapers, but I have a copy of the Oregonian from 2007 in which there is an article describing a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate of the Iranian nuclear program. In the view of the U.S. intelligence community, there was no evidence that Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon. Therefore, anyone who writes an article claiming that Iran must be prevented from building nuclear weapons is regarded as a liar by an ordinary person like me, along with people who say that we have a moral obligation to remove Hafez Assad from power in Syria, or those who say that the 10,000 well-fed American troops who went to Haiti after their most recent earthquake were sent to help the Haitians, or those “compassionate conservatives” who insist that America has a “responsibility to protect” the citizens of other nations from using their resources as they see fit.

Climate Change
Need I say anything about this? Many well-funded voices in America, both secular and religious, have insisted that climate change is a hoax by the liberal Left who “hate our freedoms!” and want to hinder the prosperity promised by free market capitalism.

To those who have said such things, I have a question: How do you like our summer so far? Have any of you keeled over from heat stroke? How many of you have lost your homes to wildfires so far? How many of you will be starving due to crop failures? I'd like to weep for you all, but the heat has dried up my tears.

I'm struck by something the Governor of Oklahoma said recently when questioned about the climate change-induced drought gripping her state. She asked people to “pray for rain.” Now, I am a Christian, and the Bible does command Christians to pray for their needs. But I am a peculiar type of Christian. I believe that the chief thing God wants to do with Christians is to transform us into decent people. The main point of our earthly lives is our moral development, not the satisfaction of all our earthly cravings. Therefore, God frequently allows us to suffer the consequences of our stupidity – in order to teach us a lesson or two. In asking prayer for rain, this Republican ditz makes it seem as if what Oklahoma is suffering is some supernatural judgment, and not merely the natural consequence of ignoring very simple physics and chemistry. (Let me ask you, if you play on the freeway and get run over by a semi truck, was it due to a supernatural act of God or your own stupidity?)

Unfortunately, I suspect that Governor Mary Fallin's “request for prayer” will be typical of the responses of a large majority of Americans to the age of limits, as they chuck adult reasoning in favor of appeals to magic.

Economics (and Sheep Dogs)
The loud voices which dominate public discussion in our country are all preaching the same message: namely, that the chief aim of our society must be to pursue economic growth at all costs. Selfishness and greed are exalted above all virtue, while frugality, community spirit and altruism are demonized. Above all, the message has been that economic growth is still possible, and that there are no structural, functional limits to growth. Therefore, everyone can be rich if he wants to be, and everyone should want to be.

By contrast, a counterculture has arisen in the United States and other countries. This counterculture recognizes that economic growth has ceased throughout the industrial world, and that those things that look like growth are merely zero-sum transfers of wealth from one group of people to another by means of swindles. Many people within this counterculture are able to accurately trace the reasons for the cessation of growth to the decline of our resource base and the pollution of our environment by economic activity.

However, a funny thing has happened as certain members of this counterculture have become more popular and have acquired powerful voices of their own. What has happened as time has passed is that the message of these “powerful voices” has changed to resemble the message of the mainstream which this counterculture is supposed to oppose. In other words, the supposedly countercultural voices have been turned into “sheep dogs.”

Let me define the term “sheep dog.” In a society dominated by privileged ruling elites, there are certain people who become popular and well-known spokespersons for those exploited and oppressed by the elites. These spokespersons are tolerated as long as their popularity and influence is not great enough to threaten the established order. However, once they achieve a critical mass, both they and their message are usually co-opted by the ruling elites in the hope and expectation that the energy of both the spokespersons and their followers may be turned in directions that are harmless to the ruling elites. They become the sheep dogs of the elites. Sometimes these sheep dogs are manufactured by the elites. (This process occurred in the ancient Roman Empire, by the way. There's a book that describes the process – I think the name of it is Subversive Virtue.)

Within the Peak Oil/climate change/limits-aware counterculture, a fair number of sheep dogs have arisen. I have time to mention only two just now. I think of Tom Whipple, a retired CIA analyst whose first involvement in the Peak Oil scene was commendable, in that he raised the issue in an intelligent, easily understandable manner. But Tom has lately seemed to run off the rails – on the one hand, foaming at the mouth about how Syria and Iran are rogue states which must be overthrown, and on the other hand, raving about how new breakthrough technologies like cold fusion will enable us to continue to lead an opulent life for decades to come. (Earth to Tom: even if “cold fusion” was a viable physical process (which it isn't), scaling up a fusion power plant to produce the amounts of energy our society demands while keeping the physical size of the plant at a reasonable scale would quickly turn the “cold” fusion plant into a “hot” fusion plant, with all the problems that entails.)

Then there's Jay Taylor, a supposed finance “whiz” who hosts an Internet radio program, “Turning Hard Times Into Good Times.” In his radio show, he claims that he will guide you into keeping your money from “Wall Street” by giving you information on stocks that's not found in the “mainstream media.” He can show you how to grow your money by smart investing, yadda yadda. According to Mr. Taylor, America is in its present jam because we have let the Government get too powerful, rather than letting the free market work its wealth-creating magic.

(Earth to Jay Taylor: if you claim that you're trying to keep me from being robbed by Wall Street, why are you then telling me to invest in mining stocks? The age of “investment” characterized by people getting something for nothing merely by purchasing the right stocks is over. Our entire debt-based economy is running off the rails. You are not the counterculture. You sound just like the Wall Street Journal.)

Yes, indeed, that's what Jay Taylor sounds like. (For that matter, even Max Keiser has lately joined the cheerleaders of “free market” economics.) Such people appeal to the greed of those members of the upper middle class who seek to hold on desperately to unearned privileges and prerogatives. To this class such people say, “Yes, the world is a dangerous place and your wealth is under threat! Come here and we'll tell you how you can guard all your stuff from the coming zombie apocalypse! We're trustworthy; we're not the mainstream!” But I've got something to say to anyone who claims to be countercultural, yet allows himself to be interviewed by one of these bozos: Don't grant them interviews anymore. But if you do, tell the rest of us exactly when you start talking on the show and when you stop so we can skip the ads for stocks and the free market rah-rah. Otherwise, people like me may not bother listening to you anymore. My cat can beat up your sheep dog.