Switching To Renewables

Another take on the meaning of this website's title.

Acknowledging again the often gross inadequacy of language when it comes to helping us with regard to profound problems of social change, I thought I'd take another stab at it. Compromised as our current tools may be, they still remain the only tools we've got.

Clearly, our explosion of advanced technology has not produced a similar advance in beneficial social change. Arguably, many very good things have happened since the 1600s, but some pretty terrible ones have as well, and technological advance is central to all of them.

Those who have read the Welcome page of this website might remember my suggesting four things that need to be done, through the application of our new technologies, in order to begin achieving a goal of universally beneficial social change.

While I list population/resource balance and a switch to renewable energy as the easier of them, for a long time my assumption has been that a better understanding of underlying behavioral and linguistic patterns would very likely be prerequisite to any truly enduring and beneficial economic or political change.

I still fear that may be the case, but at this point I see no indication that any attempt at such an understanding will even become a part of the broader public discourse anytime in the foreseeable future. Improving population/ resource ratios also seems off the table, so long as we remain captive to the political, economic, and social inertia of the past.

More recently, however, the increasingly disastrous results of global warming have led more and more people to think more seriously about a switch to renewable energy. Put more simply, a large chunk of the world's population, which includes a sizable number of the world scientists, is terrified of our future prospects if we don't successfully effect such a change.

What all this means, is that, if I am to be at all pragmatic right now, I need to put aside my doubts, and take another look at how possibly focusing first on a switch to renewable energy might eventually get us out of this mess.

So here are my most recent thoughts on the subject. I'd like to begin with an analogy.

Early on in high school, a friend of mine and I were assigned by our history teacher to debate two other fellow students on the issue of capitalism vs communism. Our adversaries got first choice of side, and picked capitalism, thinking they had an easy win. My friend and I thought so too, and knew we had our work cut out for us. So, knowing little or nothing about communism, we hit the books hard. We studied separately, then we studied together, and finally, with no other input than what we got out of all those books, we came up with the same idea.

From everything we had read, we had gathered that there had never been anything like true communism actually practiced in the world. Russia, China, and the rest in their various ways decided that in order to reach the ultimate goal of freeing the worker from the tyranny of the economic powers, one had to first gather all the power into the hands of the political powers. When we realized that, my friend and I just laughed.

And indeed, when the debate day came, we won easily. We didn't have to object to anything bad our opponents were saying about communism. All we had to do was say that what they were talking about wasn't communism at all, and that it was socialism. All those nasty regimes, we pointed out, had gotten hung up on the means, and in the process forgotten about their original goal, if in fact their intentions had ever been pure in the first place. So instead of freeing people, they had just wound up enslaving them in a different way.

We probably didn't articulate the point quite like that at the time. Most certainly a debate over whether capitalism enslaves people was way outside all of our, and definitely our teacher’s, context then.

But the general point holds. And I want to embellish it just a little bit more, too, without laying a whole lot of blame anywhere, because that just isn't productive. The way I look at it, the institutionalization of pure communism, however pie-in-the-sky that may seem to a lot of us, would free not just the worker from the boss, but the boss from the guilt of having to exploit the worker in order to survive.

But communism, for a host of factors likely beyond most everybody's kin, everywhere got derailed before it could prove itself. Capitalism, on the other hand, which has been more rarely idealized, slugged along relatively successfully on a pragmatic level, by my rough estimate for a couple hundred years, at least in the United States. Means and ends often didn't meet, but then again they often did.

Increasingly though, as that couple of hundred years began drawing to a close, again as a result of a lot of factors difficult for any of us to entirely grasp, capitalism began to look more and more like a Ponzi scheme, but a very successful one, at least for the 1% of the population left standing, most of whom still haven't gone to jail. The likely fact that earlier on it was arguably more of an unintentional Ponzi scheme than not is, while perhaps valid from a legal standpoint, doesn't help us very much in terms of the toll of human misery it has exacted.

Well, now one might be asking, what does all this have to do with our goal of a switch to renewables? Well remember, I did say I was going to begin with an analogy.

Let's begin by noting that the politicians today leading the way to a switch to renewables identify themselves as democratic socialists. I'm far from an expert here, but I'm guessing that they think that maybe democracy can save socialism and socialism can save democracy. That of course would be wonderful, but frankly it all sounds just a little too mushy to me. Even Orwell had lots of trouble with it, and I'd wager he was a lot smarter and tougher than I am.

What I do know is that I more or less still agree with Camus. When he said, neither do the ends justify the means, nor the means justify the ends, I wonder if he had any idea how difficult it would be to politically effectuate their ideal opposite in which our means to achieving a goal for all practical purposes remain true to the spirit of the goal itself. But I don't think that makes him any less correct, from either a moral or practical standpoint.

Why am I belaboring all of this? Because from everything I can gather from our current political discourse, even the most patently idealistic of our leaders seem clueless as to how to clearly and viably connect means and ends.

Taxing the rich? Well, again, no expert here, but I'm pretty sure the Romans tried that, and that empire still fell.

Of course this is where doubt starts to creep in again, and I start to get derailed myself. It would seem clear that if the people running the system refuse to change it, and the people with most of the resources continue to hog them, and block alternatives, then all the fresh (whether young and old), idealists in the world, no matter how well they got their act together, could not get us to change course.

But what saves me sometimes is this line of reasoning. That if enough people knew that the goal of their leaders was to bring about a future in which we were all generally free from both political and economic tyranny, that knowledge in itself would catalyze an enormous amount of human will and energy. For now, forget the exact language--probably most if not all of it is compromised. Don't put a lot of stock in any of the labels, either. Likely they are all at least somewhat tainted.

Let's just work to free everyone from economic and political tyranny, and make it clear that we're doing everything we can not to tyrannize anyone economically or politically along the way. Remain totally transparent of these intentions, and try to stay completely transparent about our failures, because there will certainly be a lot of them.

Clinton wasn't impeached because of what happened. He was impeached because he lied about it. Take a lesson, obtuse as it might seem.

If the first step has become, practically speaking, by dint of our current climate-induced emergencies, a switch to renewables, then let us, politically and economically, apply this mantra to that effort. We can't let our means subvert our goal.

If we can somehow, if at this point still unimaginably, achieve a sufficiently substantial switch to renewables, it would hopefully produce a critical mass of people around the world who would not only energetically vote for beneficial change, but find the courage to simultaneously work on changing themselves. Nothing like a visible light at the end of a long tunnel to instill all of that in us.

Lee Strauss