Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
It's late and I'm very tired, but wd just like to note that a massive loss of knowledge/info has already happened and is accelerating.  We're losing feral species at a terrifying rate, losing the collective genome of the biosphere.  We're losing entire biomes and any hope of ever understanding how they once worked before we wrecked 'em.  We're losing a human language about every 2 weeks, or so I read recently.  We've lost almost 90 percent of the diversity of our animal, vegetable, fruit and nut cultivars thanks to industrial commodity agriculture;  we've lost about 90 percent of our farmers (in the US anyway) as well.  we've lost almost all the skills that used to be common property, ensuring the survival of the masses even when elites lost their Ponzi games and nosedived.  we've lost most of the knowledge and skills that made civilisation possible in the first place -- as if civilisation automatically erases itself as it builds...  cf Jane Jacobs' grim Dark Age Ahead...

And yes, if we're honest I think we have to admit that a lot of this knowledge loss was in fact driven by an overenthusiastic embrace of machine technology (plus colonial racism and arrogance, plus the Enclosing logic of industrial capitalism); so if our posterity someday come to blame their hunger or reduced circs on "science and technology" there will be a wee grain of truth in the accusation (which I think is why it irks us technorati so much to contemplate).  If we consider what scientists and industrial technologists are party to and responsible for, from Auschwitz to Agent Orange to GMOs to the whole fossil fuel party that may -- let us hope not, but it may -- have doomed our civilisation plus most of the other species we share the planet with... then that disillusioned and angry posterity may just have a point, no matter how fond I am of my laptop... which btw required something like 20x its weight in fossil fuel to construct... sigh...

I'm not so much worried about the high-tech information and knowledge that is perhaps about to be lost -- most of it is frivolous wrt to basic human survival -- you can't eat your iPod.  but I'm deeply worried about the more fundamental, essential information and knowledge that has already been -- often deliberately -- wiped out to make way for "newer better more profitable" monocrops (literal and figurative) and fossil fuel dependency.  The old joke about cashiers who are unable to do basic subtraction w/o an electronic cash register is not so funny;  metaphorically speaking it describes large sectors of our society.  I heard a funny story from a Kiwi about military "cooperation" exercises with US troops, in which the US detachment got lost because their GPS failed and they did not know how to read a paper map.  Maybe this was a slight exaggeration, but it sounded pretty circumstantial.

In essence what technocratic culture does is to Enclose competence and knowledge in the hands of an elite caste of designers, planners, and engineers, while removing and "obsoleting" more and more skill and knowledge from the work and lives of the masses of their fellow citizens.  It's the ultimate in "convenience" -- no need to think or to know anything!  To what extent this inculcated cluelessness and uselessness is a contributory cause of depression, anomie, bad social behaviours etc I have no idea;  but it does scare me that the majority of people I know are utterly dependent on technology they neither understand nor are able to repair, on food/water systems completely opaque, unaccountable and out of their control, and "magical" supplies of energy which they cannot replicate.

In a sense, technocratic culture makes the majority of the population into cargocultists, having neither competency nor sense of provenance wrt the objects and processes of daily life.  (The theory was, at least the ostensible theory was, that this would "free the masses from drudgery" and enable us to develop our minds, pursue the arts and higher education, enjoy leisure and so on.  In practise it means that people watch an average of 4 hours of stupidity-inducing corporate TV per diem, much of it dedicated to persuading us to buy even more didactic, dependency-inducing machines.)  This essential helplessness and dependency -- on such a fragile system directed by such irresponsible and often malignant powers (such as the neoliberal mafia today, but the industrial boss class has never been folks I'd care to share a bus bench with), scares the heck outta me, and not in some Rugged Individualist way...  it scares me for all of us.  I don't think any of us can escape the consequences.  The ratchet effect has got hold of us, and how are we to get out?

As a counterbalance to the classic C for L I offer McKibben's The Age of Missing Information, a book-length musing on the kinds of information that are being lost every day as we continue on our present course...  we are already in a dystopian regime of ignorance and information loss.

What scares the bejeezus out of me is the prospect of a crash that wipes out the machine-tech iron lung on which a majority of the world pop now depends utterly, without sufficient time to recover/relearn the information that was scornfully tossed aside as we embraced our dependency.  We have become kinda like a rich man's children who have never had to learn real skills or get a real job;  we're fine so long as the trust fund is sound, but if our family lawyer bungles it and loses the lot on a bad investment, we're totally unprepared for the real world.  It's a Bubble Economy in more than one sense... there's a boy-in-the-bubble aspect to it as well.

And having said all that, gloomily, I will admit that the enduring popularity of Make Magazine, of internet Kewl Hack sites, the hacker subculture, culture jammers, technology repurposing, not to mention the legions of hobbyists who feel the deep human need to exercise manual skill, dexterity, ingenuity -- all suggest that the instinct for workmanship [Veblen], the thirst for autarky and creativity, and the tinkering gene are not extinct in us -- it's just that most of us are no longer given any useful outlet for them. The ingenuity and solidarity of local communities responding to the Katrina disaster was as inspiring as the official governmental response was appalling.  It may be that on the far side of Hubbert's Peak we get a glimpse of what is best in us, not just what we fear.  Maybe technocrats will even learn to scale their ingenuity down to the point where it empowers the people at large rather than aggrandising the investor and manager class and rendering everyone else dependent and mystified :-)

I can envision a soft landing without the loss of all our high tech expertise, and with the recovery of at least some (many losses are already irreversible) of the wealth of knowledge that we've been throwing away.  But it is only one of a wide range of possibilities, most of which seem more likely and less palatable.

... I wish I had enjoyed the 70's more while they lasted... lately I seriously doubt that I will live to see any better days, more likely worse and worse ones.  at least back then one had a sense of hope, there was still enough time to take corrective action.  but that hope failed.  now, all bets are off and each new survey of our biotic status suggests that the damage is worse and progressing faster than previously estimated;  some mornings I can't bear to look at the climate or bio science news.  

gotta go fall over...  civilisation may be tottering on its undermined foundations, but we still need to sleep...  if this post is less than lucid, chalk it up to a long day sorting and packing books.  if all goes well, the creek don't rise and the world don't end before then, I leave the US at the end of December.  [expect my posting to be very sparse from now on].

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Sep 23rd, 2007 at 03:46:18 AM EST

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