Réduire la techno-sphère, Partie IV]
In the previous parts of this series, we started picking away at a very big subject: what a successful strategy for bringing about rapid social change would look like, such social change being necessary if we were to avoid the worst ravages of catastrophic climate change. This change must introduce “naturelike” technologies that would bring the technosphere back into balance with the biosphere.
To be effective, this strategy must rely on technology—but not in the usual sense of fancy gadgets or gewgaws, of which the following examples spring to mind:
• Smartphones and other such gadgets. (“Stupidpeople” no longer know how to get by without them.)
• Windmills that take plenty of coal and diesel to build and maintain, swat migratory birds out of the sky and produce energy in a form that cannot be stored effectively.
• Majestic sailing ships that transport fair trade chocolate, coffee and wine to delight effete foodies in “first world” countries.
No-no-no! The technology in question is political technology, designed to overcome the awesome force of social inertia and to cause society to move in a direction in which it initially doesn't want to move.
Political technology offers ways of:
1. Changing the rules of the game between participants in the political process
2. Introducing into the mass consciousness new concepts, values, opinions and convictions
3. Directly manipulating of human behavior through mass media and administrative methods
Since the term “political technology” was new to most readers, we made a detour in order to put it in context. To recap, political technologies can be used to pursue the following aims:
1. To improve everyone's welfare by pursuing the common good of the entire society, as it is understood by its best-educated, most intelligent, most decent and responsible members. Political technologies of this kind result in a virtuous cycle, building on previous successes to increase social cohesion, solidarity and setting the stage for great achievements. (These are the good kind.)
2. To enrich, empower and protect special interests at the expense of the rest of society. These kinds of political technologies either fail through internal contradiction, or result in a vicious cycle, in which those who benefit from them strive for ever-higher levels of selfish behavior at the expense of the rest, setting the stage for poor social outcomes, economic stagnation, mass violence and eventual civil war and political disintegration. (These are the bad kind.)
Alas, most of the readers have had exactly zero exposure to political technologies of the first kind, and so the last two posts in this series explained what the second kind look like, taking the case of the US as an example. In Part II explored how they are used to manipulate and coerce the population in the US. There are numerous examples, but the one that is most relevant to this series is this one:
Proponent: the fossil fuel lobby.
Objective: convince the US population that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not occurring.
Means: smear campaigns against climate scientists, injection of fake science, denigration of science as a whole, portrayal of the movement to stop catastrophic climate change as a conspiracy, etc.
This example alone is sufficient to illustrate how effective a political technology can be: we all know plenty of its victims. Even quite intelligent people often espouse the opinion that the observed climate change is the product of natural variability (it isn't) or that the efforts to mitigate climate change are a conspiracy of a world government (which doesn't exist). This clearly shows how effective political technologies are: they can warp the minds of both the stupid and the intelligent. Although they can also be used to unwarp that which has been warped, there are, unfortunately, no examples of political technologies within the US that have been used in pursuit of the common good. With regard to what passes for politics in the US it is best to avert your gaze until its glowing embers cool because you'd be burning your eyeballs for nothing.
And so, in Part III we delved into the methods which the US has used to undermine countries around the world, because here, in response, the rest of the world has evolved successful political technologies of its own, and is in the process of neutralizing the US on the world stage. We will look at them in the next post in this series. This global immune response to US aggression, which was able to operate virtually unopposed during the years between the collapse of the USSR, laying waste to several countries around the world, and the recent failure of the US effort to destroy Syria, is significant: to work for the common good, one must first stop evil.
But before we get too far, let us look at where we are going. What is “naturelike”? Some readers proposed biomimetics, which is a newfangled rebranding of the old process of looking at nature in search of promising mechanisms: airplanes have “wings” like birds; scuba divers and snorkelers wear “fins” like fish; chairs and tables have “legs,” walls have “ears” and so on. It all started a few million years ago when some hominid picked up a pointy rock and called it a “claw” or a “fang.” No, that's not it at all.
Other readers chimed in to say that perhaps this is about permaculture. Now, permaculture is actually quite interesting. The term spans the range from general design principles to specific ways of dealing with the landscape, specifically to grow food. Most of the technology this involves is nonindustrial, and is thought-heavy rather than energy-heavy, which is a good combination. Permaculture probably has a role to play, if a way can be found to teach it to people who are too busy simply surviving to attend pricey courses in exotic locales.
To be “naturelike,” technologies must “restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere” (as Putin put it at the UN). Why is this necessary? Well, human populations that fail to do so exhibit a marked tendency to go extinct. This is something that has happened quite a lot. The Greenland Norse are often held up as a particularly stark example of such failure: they settled Greenland during a relatively short climatic period when it was green rather than white, and when it anticlimactically reverted to a barren wasteland they died out. This was unnecessary: they were survived by the native tribes, which continued to fish and hunt on the ice. But the Norse wanted to eat pork and beef, refusing to go native, for such was their culture and sense of identity.
Cultural change, of the sort that was expected of the Greenland Norse were they to survive, is very difficult. It does occur, but on its own it tends to proceed far too slowly to make a difference in a crisis. Changes that force people to change their lifestyles in ways that contradict their physical habits and their sense of identity are particularly difficult, and are often met with resentment or hostility.
For example, it would make perfect sense to introduce a few small changes in the US that would serve to substantially lessen the impact on the environment. Here are three simple examples:
1. Ban lawns. Grass can only be mowed once it has gone to seed and must be used to make hay.
2. Ban beef and pork. No more hamburgers—rabbitburgers! Everyone eats locally raised, grass-fed rabbits.
3. Mandate hitchhiking. If there is a free seat, you must stop for hitchhikers, or face a steep fine.
Of course, people would be up in arms about such measures. They would feel that their rights are being violated and their “culture” destroyed. This brings up another small but important measure:
4. Confiscate all the arms.
Note, however, that people are not the least bit up in arms about the following quite successful initiatives:
1. Force people to constantly mow their lawns, damaging their health with the very considerable air pollution from the dirty two-stroke lawn mowers, water pollution from runoff of chemical fertilizers and exposure to toxic herbicides such as Monsanto's carcinogenic glyphosphate (Roundup).
2. Force people to eat factory-farmed beef and pork, which is laced with growth hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals, by depriving them of any other affordable source of animal protein. Also, be sure to lace all their food and drink with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, so that they get as fat as pigs and can't walk any great distance, but have to drive everywhere.
3. Force everybody to own their own car in order to be able to get around, even though most cars sit idle most of the time, and even though there is plenty of unemployed people who would be only too happy to give them lifts for a tiny fraction of what it costs to own, insure and operate a car.
These measures create a social environment that is so alienated, riddled with hostility and unhealthy that nobody feels particularly safe within it. This brings up another small but important measure:
4. Force everyone to think that they need to own a firearm (or two or three) in order to keep themselves and their families safe; then step back and watch the fireworks. Arrest those who run afoul of the many contradictory firearms laws, and sell them as slaves to private prisons—while everyone cheers, because they have been told that this makes them safer.
What is the difference between these two sets of initiatives? Both seem like they should be quite unpopular. The first set would be beneficial, in terms of its impact on both public health and the environment, while the second is manifestly harmful. But the first is politically a nonstarter, while the second sells rather well.
The difference is that while the former set of initiatives has no political technology to back it up, the latter does, being supported by a set of laws and a quasi-religious civic ritual. The laws fine people for failing to mow their lawns, keep people from producing and distributing meat unless they own a farm, and so on. The quasi-religious civic ritual, heavily supported through advertising, involves standing on a lawn around a smoking barbecue (the altar on which rest burnt offerings of factory-farmed beef and pork) while bragging about your cars and your guns. To complete the scene, there is usually a US flag somewhere within sight, because this is what it means to be an American: to stand on a lawn, to take communion of factory-farmed meat and HFCS or aspartame-laced water, and to brag about your cars and your guns. Anything else would be un-American and is politically a nonstarter.
The political technologies that make these indefensible practices popular and even required are supported by powerful special interests: the lawn care industry, industrial agribusiness, the automotive industry, the weapons manufacturers and the prison-industrial complex. These are the parasites that are feasting on the prostrate, bloated body of the US, eating the country hollow from the inside. And there are absolutely no political technologies to oppose them, or to support initiatives that are necessary and beneficial. To find out what these look like we will again have to look outside the US, and this is what we will do next.