Friday, January 16, 2009

Progress, part I

Progress: a proceeding forward; advancement or improvement in mental, moral, or physical condition. growth or development. source The Winston Dictionary, Advanced Edition, 1946

There has been quite some talk about the idea of "progress". Do you think the above photograph would in any way shape or form, imply "progress"? It's one of my primitive camps of 20 years ago. I'd dare say, that for me, it was a proceeding forward, was an advancement or improvement in my mental, moral, and physical condition, at the time anyway. That lead to my personal growth or development...

Even though, I believe we have declined here in North America for the past thirty years, we are becoming more and more a part of a global economy that hasn't. Hasn't this actually "masked" our true situation in this country? Thinking of Russia, without a doubt, they have come back and their standard of living continues to grow from the early 1990's when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Look at the growth of the economies of India and China!

Another notion my instructors had, is that there would very likely be a explosion of resources extracted and consumed toward the end of the "age of progress". I am certain, they were thinking in terms of 1930- 1970, however they could be still correct in that respect, only that there's a lot more resource than they dare imagined. Of course, this only makes sense as it would require more resource to maintain the population.

The instructors all believed that once the world ceased to progress, there would be a short pause and then we would start our descent. That this era will be short lived and marked by power outages, finally bringing down entire electrical grids around the world. That is, once electrical generation was decoupled with mass production of uniform, interchangable parts (one cannot happen without the other and this actually defines the modern industrial society), this present environment (age of progress) would end abruptly. At that point, the industrial society (age of progress) could not support the population it created. Once that happened, the die-off would begin in earnest, end of story (the instructors would not speculate what might happen after that).

There's just one insy tinsy problem that I have with the instructors about this notion as of to-day, they all believed it was going to happen soon (late 70's - early 80's). That I would not likely live the high standard of living they enjoyed, would very likely see a world of unimaginable collapse and so-on. Hmmm, kind of like what many of us believe will happen to the younger generation of today, correct? Well, I've learned a very good lesson over this, along the way, that much I'm certain of...

There's a concept that I'll borrow from Jay Hanson and share with you. Hanson's thoughts about why most people cannot come to terms with peak oil is that through out thousands of years of progressing forward, people can only think in those terms. That is, most people can only think "progressively" forward, they are incapable of imagining a tomorrow of decline, not there. They simply cannot "see" it. This isn't their fault, after thousands of years of conditioning, it's in the genetic make-up. Perhaps, an example of this might be, sheep following one another over a cliff.

This thought of "ever progressing" is not only limited to some people. Continuous growth is the basic assumption, driving our economy. Investment is made in hopes of future growth. Loans are made in hope of growth. Interest is only realized after growth. Without real growth, how can our financial system survive? Suppose, we're almost there? Could it be, that after this last expansion of growth this country has experienced from the housing market, employing perhaps a quarter of Americans, there's nothing more to grow?

When the resources that products are made from become to scarce or too expensive to profit from we can expect those products will no longer be made. No company is going to make them for nothing, not for long. Perhaps, this has been happening already? When a product costs more to make and transport, than what the market will bear, that product becomes "worthless". Could we be seeing this now with the McMansions that are in the out-laying communities far from employment centers?
I suppose, this might be enough for today. Later, I will discuss "progress" again and what this might mean in this civilization and compare it to civilizations past. I'll attempt to discuss what role catabolic collapse might have had concerning matter.


Mrs. M said...

Yooper, i believe that you have it right when you say that most people can only think "progressively" forward, they are incapable of imagining a tomorrow of decline, not there. They simply cannot "see" it.

I have talked to a lot of people about how it looks to me as if our society is going downhill and that we need to bring back skills that our forefathers use to employ every day of their lives. Most of them look at me as if I had a screw loose. They refuse to even think that life could slide backwards.

For myself, yes, I do live with a lot of technology. Thankfully, I have had more than my fair share of life's experiences that have taught me that I am quite capable of living not only simple but without much of anything at all. Do I want to? Not really, but I know that I can. I am actually trying to instill a bit more simple living in my life. I am also bringing back things I used to do when I had a small homestead out west.

Progress can be good for somethings. But the "Progress" we have experienced has been one driven more by greed than the idea of making life better for all mankind.

We have basically become an Empire. And you know what happens to empires, don't you? There has not been one instance of empires lasting forever. Empires have their lifetimes. I believe that we have reached that point that we have gotten top heavy and our resources can no longer sustain us.

And as an old adage goes: We have grown too big for our britches.

FARfetched said...

«Do you think the above photograph would in any way shape or form, imply "progress"? It's one of my primitive camps of 20 years ago. I'd dare say, that for me, it was a proceeding forward, was an advancement or improvement in my mental, moral, and physical condition, at the time anyway.»

Of course it implies progress! At one time, people slept in the open or in whatever natural shelters were around (caves). From that standpoint, the idea of building a shelter anywhere was to the cave man the kind of quantum leap that fusion power might be for us.

You've mentioned your instructors before… I get this mental image of some kind of Tahquamenon Survivalist School for Boys when you bring them up. :-) 'Course, I reached many of the same conclusions on my own around age 14; I remember starting a story that had as background "the economic collapse of 2000." I swung from that to the Immanent Rapture theory, then went on to college where I got a taste in diversity, both ethnic (my roomie was from Detroit, and I don't mean Grosse Pointe) and religious. Imagine that, finding diversity in the U.P.? Anyway, my economic collapse theories were ill-formed, combining the first oil shock with the realization that "this" couldn't go on forever, but the concept of resource depletion has always been at least in the back of my head. But, like your instructors, I called it just a little early too. [If it hadn't been for the efficiency measures after the oil shock though, however half-baked, 2000 might have been late.]

Mrs. M, the thing your acquaintances are missing is that bringing back old skills doesn't have to mean abandoning newer ones. We could, if we choose, grow more of our own food without throwing away hygiene, sanitation, electric lights, or even computers.

If I had to pick a time that marked our turn onto a wrong track, it would be the Roaring 20s. After WW1, people were beginning to agitate for even shorter work weeks; the general consensus was "we have a chicken in the pot and a car in the garage, we have everything we need, now we want more time off to enjoy it." The Hoover administration, driven by frightened CEOs of the day, responded by creating the "standard of living" index, a (successful) method of stimulating consumption.

Nudge said...

FAR, well said:

“Mrs. M, the thing your acquaintances are missing is that bringing back old skills doesn't have to mean abandoning newer ones. We could, if we choose, grow more of our own food without throwing away hygiene, sanitation, electric lights, or even computers.”

This is a point that is not widely perceived by the folks who don't want to hear a dang thing about adjustments to their “Ammurikan way of life”.

I am very seriously hoping that we do not abandon, or allow to fall into ruin, the modern descendant of ARPANET, now colloquially called, simply, “the net”. Ditto for computers. This stuff is just way too useful. I am prepared to treat my remaining electronic gear very gently in order to keep it running as long as possible.

It is not too hard to accept that if the full environmental costs of various manufacturing processes (and all the resource streams that feed them) were taken into account, and if the labor was priced such that people can make a decent living wage from it (ie, no more slave labor in China or Indonesia so we can have cheap consumer goods here) the relatively new laptop computer on which I'm typing this would have been more than double or even triple the cost. If that's the case, then so be it .. it is high time we stopped using the larger environment as a free-for-all dumping ground.

There are plenty of businesses (OK, they tend toward the agricultural end of the spectrum) that practice sustainable production of various kinds. Relative to the most manufactured/sold equivalents you might find in stores, these sustainably-produced goods are usually more expensive, more prone to variation than mass-produced stuff, and way healthier for you. Again, this goes with the turf .. tanstaafl.

FAR, I like to think the Industrial Revolution got underway once the commercial successes made possible by coal (namely, things enabled by the cheaper production of metal) made possible other things that had hitherto been science fiction. Call it mid- to later-1800s maybe? This was roughly around when “the markets” as we know them today got going – those same markets that are even now cratering.

Nudge said...

Yooper .. just noticed your blog is on PST. I'm never awake at 2:16am. But I did get up way too early, and then have too much coffee, so by the time the rest of the world awakes there should be a few posts added to a few blogs.

Maybe you went to military academy? They teach that sort of stuff there, along with other stuff I've heard about. Some of it you don't want to know about .. file it under “School of the Americas” type stuff, if you know what that means.

What's not so scary is that so few people know how to make effective shelters for this weather, and that there will come a time when having too few people on the land (without the support of an industrial economy nearby, if only one from which to get ammunition and vitamins/meds and spare rechargeable batteries) will make the land a downright dangerous place to be.

What's scarier is that there are many, many people out there (particularly in the cities) who know that with enough firepower they can probably seize the means of survival from others who are better-prepared. In the rural parts of Ohio, within an hour or more of Cincinnati (and other cities out there) they have a distinct problem with urban criminals who do their “leisure shopping” (ie, B&E, larceny, drugs, arson, murder) in the hinterlands, all because the Barney Fife type local cops don't know how to deal and haven't got the resources to cover such widely dispersed areas anyhow.

In certain kinds of small towns (like this one) the local police have a well-deserved reputation for coming down like the proverbial containerload of scrap lead upon any crime they see or find or hear about. (I kid you not.) When we first moved here (I was engaged then) 14 years back, we were told by everyone not to do anything illegal here. They said to take it to some other place if you absolutely must do whatever it is. Anyway I don't know if this factor is the reason we're not seeing more of the crime problem that those rural Ohio towns have got.

yooper said...

Mrs.M, Yes, I think there's something to Jay Hanson's thought of some people can only think progressively forward, and that's coming from someone with the equivalent of four years of Psychology and Sociology. I've agrued aganist the case of "thousands of years" of progession and was countered with the thought of the aggregate of humanity in the whole... This is what John Greer agrues so adamantly against, the thought of humankind evolving from "caveman to astronaunt" mentality. I'm going to strongly agrue against this "ever progressing" concept regarding history, in the next part and offer some other forces at work here, of why some "people" are incapable of seeing it. This will not be too pleasant...

My instructors thought of such notions, one way or another as "unimportant". As the "way" they saw it, concentrating on history "limited" to the past 100 years only mattered, to us...

So Far, this is why I had to take the crash course of Spengler, in order to better understand the mindest of John Michael Greer, and where he might be coming from... Before, I knew absolutely nothing about proir civilizations. John is almost basing his whole agruement, on this history and natural science. "Tahquamenon Survivalist School for Boys"!! heh! heh! ha!ha! LOL!!! That's a good one! Not quite...Oh! Btw, I really like your thought about making the wrong turn on the tracks going back to the Roaring 20's. Hasn't this been my arguement all along?

" ... it is high time we stopped using the larger environment as a free-for-all dumping ground." Wow, Nudge, I can't agree more!

Waste/pollution, was very much on the instructor's minds. Back then we were perhaps at the hieght of our industrial complex? The Detroit River has made great strides in becoming cleaner today as back then.

What greater trade-off this has been, eh? (As sad as this may be..) We get to reap the benefits of that cheap labor force while exporting the pollution, it creates...

There may be a terrible consenquence to this, and I very my suspect, that you know exactly what this might be............

jacker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Atomicat said...

>> Look at the growth of the economies of India and China!

Maybe the growth of the economies of India and China were mostly at the expense of other economies. In other words think of this kind of like a huge "peak oil" kind of energy pyramid. Right now we are possibly near the peak use of slave BTU energy from fossil fuels. This from a global perspective. As that use decreases, yet the population increases, we have fewer rich and middle class folks who are able to be maintained by the smaller amounts of produced energy and all of civilization from that "energy BTU" effort. Energy BTU's are like slaves. The USA uses 30 billion slaves worth of energy a year. (Each US citizen having a hundred slaves.)

If we simply shift some of this energy from the USA toward other countries, like India and China. We go down, in a steady state economy of world energy, but our wealth gives them the appearance of rising. They rise toward a greater BTU per person life, for a few, maybe a few million offshore coders, doctors, some steel mills, etc. They start using more resources and become more like us in the USA (not counting cultural or social or political changes.) In wealth and energy use terms they get stronger, but with a steady state of energy or worse with a decline, while they are "getting better" over a small trend, maybe 10, 20 or 30 years. We get weaker, because we must.

It's a case of many things. One thing which can become a racist or racial argument is entitlement mentality of poor and poor minorities, even immigrants who may be very productive or just scam the system. Those on aid, getting say, $700 a month which is peanuts, well they are getting more that most middle class folks could every hope to get from interest retirement on a savings account. You'd need $1 to $10 million in the bank to "live in the middle class" off the interest.

So you have those who are entitled taking money and resources becuase of past wrongs, or simple poverty. And this will sit and mope and even try to tear things down. Then you have those who are working hard and using a ton of energy, and the entire policy of the western world an any advanced empire even communist ones, is to use and strip resources from poorer ones.

we of course are running out of resources world wide with populations. The "hope" of some is higher productivity in crops, with GMO or other strange engineered results. But these don't take into account the loss of base BTU energy if/highly likely that being WHEN peak oil hits.

So the end result, sorry I'm rambling a bit, making this a fast post is: resources and wealth moving out to other countries as small ripple effects being the decay of wealth and refocusing of raw materials over there. As they rise, we fall. You cannot have a larger and expanding growth empire, but an overall decline, with little rises in some areas of percieved local growth, but world wide a true decline in all empires.

If decline here is greater than rise elsewhere there could be a seemingly excess of energy over there. And the energy over there and growth could seem great. If we are losing more energy over time, the declines must outweigh the growth.

To some, we can "plan" and engineer and think ourselves toward a simplier life. We can, but that takes human BTU energy as well. It's not only a case of we can, but we must and will. If we don't reconfigure for more efficient and smaller lifestyles, we are forced to literally take and kill others or deplete the few fossil resources even quicker until the eventual crushing collapse.

This is a symbol of a much greater collapse going on. What is more troubling is the violence and struggle that can happen as people demand more than they produce. This can happen at all levels. Complex systems break down, but also cultural or "sub-cultures" which are often criminal arise. And these will often watch your place for you, they watch for the moment your away to come over and steal what is valuable.

In those destructive cultures, or sub-cultures, sub meaning lower and lower in morals and values. Everything decays, everything is ripped down and the criminal is upheld as the hero.

As groups of these move around, like fed locusts, they strip and eat away at anything of value. I'm not talking about just "blacks" but a criminal subculture which can be in "poor white areas" as well. It's not just about poverty either, it's an attitude, perhaps "Ghetto" best describes it. And anyone can pick it up. There are poor who are humble, truthful, honest, hard working and just down on their luck. Some try to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and perhaps they are aided by some kind of grant or miracle aid, and produce good profitable businesses. But they fight against or flee this other social culture that tears down everything.

It's really hard to discuss and define. There's a million variations to the story as well. There's positives and negatives to each culture, ethnic group and background that become stereotypes to laugh at, or make fun of as well. Word's like "hard working", "sits in front of TV with beer waiting for wife to bring dinner", "church going", "open and loud", "innovative", "dumb stupid", "lazy", they've all been applied to different groups by other groups. In an effort to generalize social samples of cultures as they've adapted to an American Dream or a neighborhood.

I can give you even strange neighborhood examples. A guy in one suburb (white) moves to a richer suburb (also white) and he wonders why all the neighbors are not very friendly. He says to the neighbors, back in my old neighborhood everyone was outside talking over fences having barbicues, etc. We were all friendly and talked to each other. Why is this neighborhood different? The richer neighbor said, "we used to be like that", but then So and so, slept with so and so's wife and his wife slept with the other guy. Apparently in that particular neighborhood there was so much playing around it ruined the atmosphere, and we are talking about some social activity that involves running around on one's mate.

Now imagine you're living in a neighborhood and someone is shot on your front lawn. And then again maybe every few months someone is shot in the area a few blocks around you. The place is so dangerious police cars won't come into your neighborhood without having a couple of crusers. The police won't even come in alone. How is that neighborhood going to come back from the overall social decline and crime it has.

If one shooting a year happens, is that safe enough? How about 2 or three? At what point do you say, I'm going somewhere more expensive, even if all the neighbors practice adultery.

That becomes the quadmire, and we can look at the houses, and the general state of the economy, but there's other things at play here as well. It's really hard to give a definate summary without having a hundred more viewpoints that can expand it. It's not as simple as planning trees, getting a wood stove or building a simple house.

One guy in Canada talked about putting a straw bale house out in the woods, but due to squatters on his land, he feared it would be broken into, this in remote locations in Canada, due to the nature of social corruption and crime. And he was thinking about putting "steel rebar" as a mess inside the straw bale walls, to prevent the ease of opening up the walls with a chain saw. In other words create a jail matrix of constuction to prevent crime. However anyone knowing anything about straw bale buildings would state you cannot put steel and metal inside the straw bale walls, because cold weather will cause these to become a point of condensation as water vapor moves through the walls.

So you can see how even culture and crime can affect and modify supposedly green and natural solutions which are low energy and high efficiency. Local sustainable, but crime makes it non-sustainable from a cultural point of view. It gets very complex.

yooper said...

Excellent Greg! Yup, it's simply a matter of theromdynamics...Interesting comparsion between btu's and "slaves". Ha! ha! The instructors often referred to this, when I was a child, and making conversions to how many slaves it would take to perform a "net creational" task...

Back in the early 80's I was touring with the company I was employed with Marathon Paving and Utilities (a subsidairy of Penn Railroad) and we came upon a huge rubber tire front end loader (maybe 15 steps into the cab)that was loading a coal fired electrical generation plant near Houston. One of only four made in the world. Another like machine was parked on the "ready".

I made the comment, if both machines were to break down at once, the plant would have to be shut down, as there was no way humanly possible to feed the plant. That is, you couldn't line up enought slaves with shovels to even run the plant at fractional capacity, it would need to be shut down...........