Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.I have been working on a series of paintings for over a year under the umbrella title, ‘Technolstalgia.’ The pieces are takes on the issues of class and working in a post-industrial economy, like ours. My intent is to encourage thought about how our lives and the work that we do to afford them are changing, how our model of economic development affects our cultural artifacts, and to reflect on the economic prosperity and security that some people are losing as industrial jobs go overseas.
Policy Planning Study 23
George Kennan, U.S. State Department. 1948
Gentlemen, he said,
I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.
Bob Dylan, Changing of the Guards
The title of the series, Technostalgia, refers to the romanticizing of technology. It is a subversive label to be applied to some of these issues and cut away at the sentimentality of the images. My intent is to call into question, or at least make aware, of what it is people believe they are losing, and to ask, which people are they? The pieces thus far (“Scrappers”, “Martyrs”, “Revenants”, "What have 'we' gained? What have 'we' lost? Who is ‘we’?”) all have straightforward laments about the general sense that Western Industrialized civilization is like a balloon that is slowly leaking air. There is a definite racial and sexist bent to the sense of loss many Americans currently feel. That doesn’t make it any more or less valid from their perspective, but we should recognize it for what it is; a limited perspective. The white man has reaped most of the rewards, the rich white man especially, of industrialization. Yes, everyone has benefited from advances in living standards, however, from the perspective of women or people with dark skin (as well as many poor whites), the industrialized age has been an innovation of subjugation and economic exploitation as well as indoor plumbing.
The era of industrialization and economies of scale will likely be a blip in the history of the human species. It allowed a brief period of time lasting about 2-3 centuries, only about 15 generations, where a great many people could no longer have to busy themselves with the harvest and preparation of food. It allowed massive conglomeration and economies of scale. We could travel farther and faster than ever before. It also gave us an unprecedented ability to kill each other, militaries and pogroms of scale. All of these ‘achievements’ were made possible by the abundance of energy resources that powered mechanized armies and mass transit for goods criss-crossing the globe on ship or truck. When those resources peter out, the human experience and relationship to the earth, food supply, how they organize their political and social systems, will revert to the mean of human history. This is not a long view of events, the changes are coming round real soon. We may have better gadgets and medicines, but the horse will retake the car as a primary mode of transportation within a lifetime.
(via Jack Crow)
This U.S. Department of Energy’s graph depicting the divergence of energy resources and demand shows the reality of the situation we face. The United States military’s Joint Forces Command accepts their prediction, so you can bet they are making their own plans to maintain a disparity in consumption for the future. (Some thoughtful implications and other contextual information related to this issue can be found here.)
Even now, with what we know about energy flows and climate change, our best and brightest who are most concerned with these problems strain mightily to preserve the status quo, hoping they can plug in some other kind of energy in place of fossil fuels to preserve the era of 2 cars in every garage, 30 mile commutes and internationally made wardrobes and dinners for every American. Fossil fuels are not fungible; they are not replaceable on the scale necessary to maintain economic organization as currently constituted. Green technologies, as currently sold and promoted, are Quixotic boondoggles. That rapidly growing empty slice of the energy graph will not be filled with hydrogen cells, solar panels, or corn ethanol. We are not ready to face up to this yet, as evidenced by our strained commitment to preserving McMansion suburbia and the ubiquity of the car.
I fear the first world countries, i.e. those nations who have reaped most of the benefits of industrialization, will fare poorly in the next half century. We are in an agricultural dark age, the vast majority of us having lost the basic skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. Compounding this massive loss of firsthand knowledge is that we are convinced of our ability to change reality and solve any problem, no matter how poorly we understand it, how ill-equipped we are to deal with it, or how impractical and expensive it may be to take action. When faced with an intractable problem, the option of ‘doing nothing lest we make the problem worse’ is never seriously considered. Doing nothing is not the American way. ‘We have to do something!’ could be our national motto. Sometimes, as we have (not) learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing something can make a bad situation worse. Many will face the coming changes with a deeply held sense of loss and anger and struggle mightily against forces beyond their control. I would be surprised, given the sorry, violent history of our species, if the next fifty years did not come with paroxysms of violence, war and upheaval as people rail against the inevitable reordering of their lives.