About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Most Selfish Generation

Boomers

This morning I read a an interesting thread on Reddit that started as a discussion of the decline of teen pregnancy, but ended as a Millennial Generation rant against Baby Boomers.  In this thread, almost every contributor shared a story about how their parents called them lazy, selfish, and entitled.  There were also a number of posts about how the Millennials have "ruined this country."  To this section of posts, the replies were almost universal that it was actually the Boomers who wrecked the nation.  This was an interesting point, and one which I want to explore in a bit more depth.

I should take a moment and note here, that I am writing this as a person who is solidly in the middle of Generation X.  We are an odd and relatively small generation sandwiched between the massive Boomers and the even more massive Millennials.  We, for the most part, have been a quiet generation.  We whine and complain, but for the most part, we do what is expected of us.   We don't make waves, and we really have never had much political lout.  We had a lot of cultural influence, but in terms of real power, we never had that much.  This is in contrast to the generations to either side of us, which had both cultural and political clout.

Gen X'ers, are the products of a similarly small and quiet generation called the Silent Generation.  The Silent Generation was unusually small because the combination of World War I and the Spanish Flu decimated the population and this was followed by the financial meltdown of the Great Depression, which made having a large family unaffordable.  Then to top it off for that generation, they were completely overshadowed by the Baby Boom of the 1950's, to the point where many of the members of this generation don't even know where they belong, the older ones think of themselves as part of the "Greatest Generation" and the younger ones think they are Boomers. 

And this returns me to my point, when the Baby Boomers came along, the entire cultural axis of the world shifted to accommodate them.  This shift is understandable.  Their parents were steeped in the horror that was World War II, they saw atrocities the likes of which had not been seen before, or thankfully, since.  And after they returned from that nightmare, they were set on making sure their kids never experienced that sort of pain.

And in doing this, they made their children the centers of their universes.

This was the birth of the profession of "child psychology" and, led by Dr. Spock, children became "special and unique snowflakes." Disciplining your children was out, letting them explore their creativity was in.  Austerity was no longer the rule when it came to toys, lavish playrooms became the norm.   And probably the most important, benign indifference ceased to be the standard in child care, now, heavy involvement became the expectation.  For the Boomers, it was typically just the mother that was heavily involved in the children's lives, because the father still maintained the traditional breadwinner role, but even back in the 50's fathers were expected to be more involved, coaching little league, going to parent/teacher conferences, and, as shown in "Father Knows Best," fixing all of the problems in the family.

And that created, in the children, an expectation that their every whim would be responded to.  Not necessarily accommodated, that didn't come until later, but they still knew that their voice was going to be heard.  I do want to say, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is just that it was taken to extremes with the Boomers.

Another important cultural shift that occurred at this time was the birth of Randianism.  Ayn Rand's books were becoming a cultural touchstone for many.  Atlas Shrugged  was being treated as reverentially as the Bible in the circles of the intelligentsia, and this book enshrined selfishness as a cultural positive.  When this was coupled with children who were never really told no, it created a force majeure in society; people who believed that they were the most important things in their own lives, and that nothing mattered except the "self."

The beginning of the impactful pole shift started in the Sixties with the Vietnam War.  The Boomers turned out en-masse to protest the war.  I do want to state here, that Vietnam was pointless and horrific, and many of the protesters were motivated by that, but to a large part, many of the protesters were against the war because they didn't want to go.  They were motivated by selfishness, and a legitimate desire to not die in the jungles of Asia.

I know this doesn't seem to fit with the myth that we are told about the sixties, that the Hippies wanted peace, civil rights, and flowers, but it is much closer to the truth.  For the most part, there were two separate civil unrest movements in the Sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, which was bracketed by he Watts Riots of 1965 and the Detroit Riots of 1967, and the Anti-War Protests which climaxed in 1972. 

The Civil Right protests, although containing a fair number of whites, were primarily organized and populated by the African-American Community.  In general, white America either protested in support or against the Civil Rights Movement, but on the whole, this battle was won by the black community and by a group of lawmakers who supported the changes to the laws.  Also, by the time that the Baby Boomers really started to come of age in 1968, significant progress had been made in this movement, schools were beginning to be integrated, Jim Crow and the Poll Tax had been eliminated, and, most importantly, the massive Civil Rights act of 1964 was the law of the land.  Although equal rights remains a problem today, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr, the nation's attention on the issue began to wane.

On the other hand, the Anti-War protests were really just beginning in 1968.  This was the point when the war was really heating up, after the Tet Offensive of 67, and when public opinions of the war were beginning to change.  This was the age of "one, two, three, four! We don't want your fucking war!" and "Hell no, we won't go!"  While the Boomers had been on the periphery of the Civil Rights Movement, they were at the heart of the Anti-War Protests.  Further, they had learned from the Civil Rights Movement how much public demonstrations and even riots can effect change.

But at the core, the protests were against the draft and conscription, not against the war itself.  This can be seen from the fact that after the draft ended in 1973, so did most of the mass protests.  In this, Richard Nixon was correct, end the draft and you will end the demonstrations.  The Boomers had successfully agitated to achieve their own ends, which was the right to vote at 18 and an end to forced military service.  Although this goal served society as a whole, it served to reinforce the idea that what the Boomers wanted, the Boomers got.  Basically, they threw a massive national tantrum and changed the law and a century of public policy of national service. 

But it didn't stop there.  As the Boomers came of age, they began to redefine the family and family ties.  Free love, polyamory, swinging and ultimately divorce entered the public discourse.  Where before, adultery was a public shame and divorce indicated a failure of the people involved, now they became normalized and more or less accepted.  The last gasp of this what when Bill Clinton could screw an intern in the Oval Office and watch his poll numbers go up, not down.

Again, I am not saying that there wasn't good in this.  Sex was no longer a dirty and shameful thing, and people could get out of abusive situations with dignity, but the positive aspects of these transformations was not the driving influence.  Driving it was the desire of the Boomers to have whatever they wanted.  If they were board in their marriage, they wanted a "get out of jail free" card.  If they wanted their secretary or their pool boy, they could have them, without social shame, and even more, with a certain cachet that they were sophisticated and modern.  Again, it should be noted that the Boomers had the highest divorce rate of any generation, and among the generations that bracket them, the divorce rate has remained lower.  In fact, among the Gen X'ers, the divorce rate is below the national overall rates. 

The next wave of the Boomers transformation of society was arguably a very bad thing for the nation as a whole.  Unlike the earlier movements that spawned positive social progress, the next actions would turn back the clock with the "Regan Revolution."  Once the Boomers were settled into their comfortable middle class adult lives, they decided that they no longer liked taxes.  They began to say, "if you are a Republican when you are twenty, you have no heart, and if you are a Democrat at age 40, you have no brain." 
As the edge of the Boomers entered the 80's, they became caught up in the Regan Trickle Down Economics.  Again, this was not because of facts (the Laffer Curve was rattled off on a cocktail napkin) it was because they wanted to keep more for themselves.  Suddenly, they no longer cared about a social safety net, helping the poor or anything else, they just wanted more for themselves.  The movie "Wall Street" became an instruction manual as opposed to a cautionary tale. 

Step by step, throughout the 80's the young guns, led by people like Karl Rove began to dismantle institutions that had existed since the Depression.  All of the protections that were put in place after the Crash of 29 were lifted, and Wall Street again returned to a free wheeling casino.  And this made the Boomers rich.

They even subverted the teachings of the Christian Church to validate their selfish worldview.  The Prosperity Gospel is a product of the Boomers, and teaches that God wants you to be rich, and if you are not rich, then you are evil and God has turned His Grace from you.  This way, they can feel smugly satisfied with their own goodness as they look at all they have.

But rather than follow in their parent's footsteps and sacrifice for their children and for their futures, they piled on loan debt on their kids while they vacationed in Belize.  The Boomers have the lowest rate of savings of the modern era, and the highest debt, while still raking in the bulk of the wages.  (And in this, Gen X again exceed the previous generation, investing in 401K plans, IRA's and generally being pretty frugal.) 

Further, unlike previous generations, the Boomers have declined to step off of center stage and allow the youth to begin to take the reigns.  They cling to jobs, locking younger people out of lucrative careers.  They insist on remaining the target demographic, leading the TV to be filled with ads for Viagra and Lexuses rather than ads for diapers and Priuses.  And ironically, the generation that got its start on the public stage protesting war became the biggest cheerleaders for perpetual war.

And most importantly, they continued to dominate the national discourse, as they have since they were about 20.  The older generations are patted on the head and treated like they are demented, and the younger generations are told to shut up because they don't know how the world works.  They dominate all of the discussions.

And that brings us to the modern era.  The world is shifting with the election of Barack Obama.  For the first time in their lives, a man was elected President without the majority of them supporting him.  Suddenly a broad coalition of "others" elected someone who they did not want as President. Even worse, he isn't completely one of them.  Being born in 1961, he is on the cusp between the Boomers and Gen X, with as many experiences in common with the X'ers as he has with the Boomers.

And what followed was the biggest tantrum that the Boomers have ever thrown.  You have 60 year old women on TV screaming and crying "I want my country back."  You have major politicians claiming the President is literally an illegal alien.  You have Tea Partiers shutting down the government to get their way.

If they can't run things the way THEY want them run, then they will destroy everything.  It doesn't matter if the country is ruined, they would rather see it completely collapse before they will let the power shift from their hands.

And this is the biggest caution I can give, power WILL pass from their hands; each generation has it's hour on the stage and then is heard no more.   The question is, what will they do when the power passes from them.


Based on what we have see so far, it will not be pretty.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Man Behind the Curtain Has His Own Agenda

Syndicates

Right now, the real danger of monopolies and trade syndicates is on display.  OPEC has refused to cut oil production, which is driving down prices.  This is, on the surface at least, a very good thing.  It is good for my pocketbook, and good for the pocketbooks of every struggling American in this era of rising income inequality.  It is going to curtail inflation, keep interest rates low, fuel construction (pardon the pun) and a number of other things that will help the lower classes, and disadvantaged countries.

Unfortunately, this action is not occurring for benevolent purposes, it is happening for the most cynical and selfish of reasons.

If you dig deeper into economic policy, you see that this is a deliberate strategy to cripple emergent industries and to maintain hegemony.  While it is not being done to commit deliberate evil, the ultimate results will do nothing but strengthen the hold OPEC has on the nations of the world.  Further, at the end of this path, these low prices that we are enjoying will skyrocket, because that is the effect of a commercial syndicate when they have achieved market dominance.

To understand why this is occurring, you need to look at two important things that are altering the landscape of the fossil fuel industry.  The first thing is more or less a short term impact, the second is a much more sweeping change that will permanently alter the energy sector if it continues.

First is the significant exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands.  (I want to note here, that I am not in favor of this project.  It is an environmental horror that SHOULD be stopped.  In this piece, however, I am exploring the economics, not the ethics of this project.)  The Alberta Tar sands have shifted the balance of fossil fuel extraction to Canada, making North America both a net exporter of petroleum and the USA the top producer of oil.  And yes, we even beat Saudi Arabia.  Also Russia, which, if you dig into the Ukraine Crisis, there are probably petroleum undercurrents in that conflict as well.

To be blunt, if the USA is the world's number one oil producer, it dramatically changes the authority that OPEC has held since the 1970's.  Then, the OPEC oil embargo collapsed economies, brought down a presidency, and led to a decade of stagflation.  Now, an OPEC tantrum would be problematic instead of a crisis.  It might cause difficulty in some parts of the world, but the US and Europe would weather the storm, at least while the Tar Sands deposits can still be harvested profitably.

The second change is much more significant.  Country after country is transitioning to a fully renewable energy grid.  Right now, the German region of Schleswig-Holstein is on target to be 100% renewable by the end of the year, with all of Germany and Denmark to be there no later than the year 2050.  Even though that goal is 35 years away, the infrastructure is beginning to be put in place now to achieve that end. 

Even in the US, where there is much less institutional support for eco-friendly energy, utility companies are now suffering economic losses due to rooftop solar.  This loss is spurring American energy companies to also act to the same ends that I will be outline shortly.  The only difference is they are not depending on market pressure, they are just outright legislating an end to renewable energy.  (Which is ironic, because the controlled economies of OPEC are using the free market, while the "capitalist" bastion of the United States is depending on market controls to maintain energy hegemonies.  More on this later in this post.)

So taken together, the power of OPEC is likely going to be eviscerated if these trends continue.  We have already passed a point of no return, at least right now, because, as I stated earlier, an Embargo would no longer have the desired effect.  In fact, it would likely hasten the collapse of the petroleum regime.  If they tried to cut us off, it would do nothing but spur more development of Oil Shale and Tar Sands, and also expand the push for renewables.

So how do they combat this shift?  Unleash the power of the market.

This is, by the way, the same tactic used by Wal-Mart and Amazon to crush their competitors, just written on a global scale.  Wal-Mart crushed local businesses by moving into small (and not so small) towns and underselling all of the competition.  They could afford to take massive losses while they monopolized the market, making them up through volume and from distribution of profits from areas where they already had complete market control.  Local businesses could not afford to run at a loss for months or possibly years, and so they folded, ceding the market to a single retailer.  Amazon is still doing this, and has yet to turn any real profits while they are exterminating all competition.  They are even going after Wal-Mart, because in the end, Wal-Mart will have to pay for brick and mortar stores that have to be constructed, maintained, powered and staffed.  In the end, they will not be able to compete with a website, and the mighty retail giant will go the way of Montgomery Ward and Sears.

But to return to the point, OPEC has a vested interest in killing off the upstarts.  In this case, it is almost as if Wal-Mart, sensing what Amazon was about to do to them, turned the tables, and made sure that Amazon was bankrupted before it could execute its master plan. 

In the beginning of a market shift, the old players hold all of the cards.  They also have two ways to fight back. 

One is through regulation and closing of the market via legislation.  This, by the way, is the tactic that the Koch brothers are employing, by getting states to take actions like that in Florida, where, at this point, living off the grid isessentially illegal, and it is worthless to try to go solar.  Coal companies are also trying this, to make it difficult to convert or replace coal fired power plants.  By making it harder and harder to change the paradigm, they hope to stick the energy sector in amber and preserve their market share.

Interestingly, this action is something that both the Far Right and the broad Left agree on; there are as many survivalists who are moving toward off the grid living as there are eco-warriors.  When a broad spectrum of the American population agrees on a course, the people who are trying to legislate it into submission are generally going to lose.

But, in the end, OPEC has no power to alter governmental policy, at least on the global scale.  Therefore, they must fall back on a quasi-market solution.  And that solution is to run the competition out of business.  This is a quasi-market solution because it is a corruption of the "free market" of Adam Smith.  In this case, a syndicate is functioning as if it were a monopoly because it is moving in lockstep.  If any one of the members were to buckle, the scheme would collapse.  However, at this point, that seems unlikely.

So, in the end, what is going on is that OPEC is making all their competition unprofitable.  The Tar Sands, and even more Oil Shale, require a certain market price to be economically viable to launch.  There has to be a massive investment of capital into the infrastructure needed to even begin to extract the petroleum.  If there isn't a clear indication of profitability, the investment capital will dry up or go elsewhere, possibly back to OPEC countries where most of the infrastructure and technology has been developed, and all that is needed is expansion. 

The Keystone Pipeline is a massive boondoggle for environmental reasons and because it will only produce a handful of permanent jobs, but that isn't the issue here.  OPEC is going to kill off the project economically, by making it so unprofitable that no one will invest in it.  As I said before, you have to have a certain expectation of return on investment, and if that threshold can't be met, no one will put money into it.  They don't expect a guaranteed return, but if it is unlikely to turn a profit in the foreseeable future, the money will be invested elsewhere.

And further, OPEC is doing this to all of the North American oil production.  The new oil fields here are either going to cost a lot of develop, or they will cost a lot to extract.  Tar Sands and Oil Shale are not easy to get, and require a high oil price to be viable.  If OPEC can suppress those prices long enough to drive the upstarts out of business, they guarantee market dominance for themselves.  Once the companies pull out of Alberta, and other areas, it will take a decade to crank it back up, and that is only if people think that the past won't be repeated.

On the longer horizon, high oil prices make people more interested in renewables.  When gas was pushing $5.00 a gallon, Toyota couldn't keep Priuses on their car lots.  They sold as soon as they came in.  As oil prices have dropped, sales of hybrids have declined.  People aren't as concerned about gas mileage when gas is cheap.

Similarly, when energy costs are high, wind and PV are very appealing, but when they are low, people don't see a return on their investment.  Low electricity and gas costs mean that the PV array will never pay for itself; high costs mean a rapid return.  And as with the oil field development, if you kill the viability of renewable energy infrastructure, it will take a long time to ramp it back up, and that is only if people don't think it is a losing proposition.

And now we get to the final horror of how a cartel executes the killing stroke.  They kill off their competition by driving them into bankruptcy with low prices that they can't match.  Once the viable competition is gone, the prices go back through the roof, because the possibility of an upstart that could compete is gone. 

And this game will continue, lather, rinse, repeat, until no one challenges the hegemony.

I'm not saying here that we should be pushing the domestic oil production, because it is a dead end road.  What I am saying is that we need to fight back to preserve the renewable industry.  Only the government has the resources, and the lack of profit motive, to fight back against the cartel and break it.  By subsidizing the renewable energy market to the point that OPEC can't compete, we will do to the oil industry what Wal-Mart did to the local businesses.


In the end, subverting the free market will actually open it wide.  And that is the greatest irony of all.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Know Of What You Speak

Epistomology

The first and most important thing that should be taught in schools, and that is no longer discussed, is epistemology, i.e. the science of "how do you know what you know."  More and more on facebook, I am seeing completely inflammatory posts, designed to outrage people into taking one side or another.

This is why epistemology is essiential.  before sharing that crap, do some research, from legitimate sources (and FYI, Buzzfeed, The Drudge Report, or the Daily KOS are not legitimate sources, they have a political agenda.)  Find out who is behind the information, and if they have an iron in the fire.  Find out if there are facts to back it up.

The most appalling one I saw recently was a statistic that "82 million American soldiers died to defend this flag."  Until the middle of the 20th century, there weren't even 82 million people in this country, let alone, 82 million who died.  The entire casualty count from WW2 was somewhere around 12 million, and that includes the deaths in the Concentration Camps.  US deaths were only a small fraction of the casualties.  

The deadliest war for Americans was the Civil War, which had more soldier deaths than all of the other wars America fought in COMBINED.  The total number of dead in that war came to about a million.  Therefore, 82 million is total BS, even 8.2 million is BS.  Also, since the South was not figthing to defend the American Flag, they can't be counted either.  A lot of brave soldiers have died to defend this country, but not that many.

And that is the point.  You need to know what you are saying is true before you spout in on FB, or anywhere else.

Also, don't fall for the BS that every story has two sides.  Facts are facts, and if the story is about facts, there will not be two sides.  To go back to the Civil War, there is no actual controversy about why it was fought, it was fought about slavery.  Period.  Not about states rights, not about the government, just about the fact that some people felt that it was their God given right to own other people.  

How do I know this?

I have read the statements of the people involved at the start of the war, Robert E Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and others.  They make the reasons for the war VERY clear.  They state clearly that it was about slavery.  Any other idea is just twisting the story to a specific end.

Similarly, there is no question about these things: we landed on the Moon, Hitler killed 6 million Jews, Global Warming is real, and the Earth is round.

Anyone who wants to dispute these actual facts is living in a world of invention and fantasy.  You can shoot lasers at the mirrors we left on the moon, you can see the meticulous records of the Nazis, you can talk to any ACTUAL climate scientist, and you can get on an airplane and look at the horizon.  

This is the core of epistemology: how do you know what you know?  If you can't answer that, then you don't actually know what you are talking about.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Modest Healthcare Proposal

Insurance

I have seen a number of posts over the last few days about Obamacare and the personal mandate, basically since the enrollment period opened.  People bitching that they are forced to buy insurance against their will.  Saying that being required to buy something is un-American.

Not only is this attitude wrong, but it screws over the hard-working people who want to do the right thing and not be a burden on society.

Here's the thing, unless you are independently wealthy and able to cover your medical bills out of pocket, the rest of America has to subsidize your refusal to pay for insurance.  OUR medical bills go up because you can't pay.  You declare bankruptcy, and then every single one of your creditors has to eat the bills that you have run up.  These bills don't just go away because you can't pay them.  Therefore, everyone needs to buy insurance so that they can get treated and the bills don't devolve on the rest of us.

This is how insurance works: the risk pool gets spread around.  Healthy people subsidize the sick, and the cost evens out.  This is actually how a free-market survives in any area, the risk gets spread around so that no single person or entity has to bear the full weight of risk.  This is the economics that underpin the stock market, by the way.  A large group of investors each buys a segment of a company, so that no single person holds all of the risk.  Also, the individual buys stock in many different companies, so that if one tanks, all of their eggs aren't in one basket.

But back to insurance.  A health care insurance system full of sick people will go bankrupt, quickly.  This is the motive behind raising the Medicare Eligibility, to completely bankrupt the system.  You see, Medicare depends on the relatively healthy 65 to 70 year olds, so that the older, sicker people can be treated.  If you raise the age for Medicare, you shrink the pool of healthy people subsidizing the sick, and the system fails because the outflow is less than the inflow.  It is simple economics.

But, I hear you say, it isn't fair that healthy people have to subsidize the sick.  I'm sorry, but that's how it works.  In that case, it isn't fair that people who don't have a house fire have to pay out for the people who do.  It also isn't fair that a person with a perfect driving record has to pay for someone who gets into accidents.  But, that is how the system works.  Further, in this country, in order to drive, you have to buy auto insurance.  If you don't, in most states, you face immense fines and probable jail time.  So even the argument that you can't be forced to buy insurance is already false. 

For decades, people have been forced to buy insurance.   If you want to drive, you must have auto insurance, at least liability.  If you don't, you can't buy a car, get a car licensed or anything else like that.  If you don't buy homeowners insurance, you can't get a mortgage.  The entire system is built on spreading risk through insurance.

And health insurance is no different.  The number of people who have no insurance is the major reason why health care in America is the most expensive in the world.  It isn't malpractice suits, it isn't even corporate profits, it is the fact that vast numbers of people who walk into a hospital can't pay.

For example. my childhood best friend John didn't have health insurance.  Even though he had a good job, it wasn't a great job.  He could pay his rent, and eat and even have a bit of fun, but health insurance was not possible.  He couldn't afford it.  One day, he got a back ache that wouldn't go away.  After suffering for a few weeks, the pain go so intense, he went to the ER.  It turns out he had very late stage cancer.  He died a week later. 

However, this isn't about how he could have been saved if he had insurance.   I have no idea on that.  This is about the fact that for one week in the hospital in intensive care, he racked up about $150,000.00 in debts.  The hospital's bill collectors then went after John's mother as his next of kin.  They filed lawsuits against her, tried to garnish her wages, and ultimately forced her into bankruptcy.  I understand that they should not be able to do this, and it was probably illegal.  But because she also couldn't afford a lawyer, she would up in that situation.

Regardless, someone had to eat the $150,000.00 bill John left behind.

And that was all of the people who went to that hospital after John died.  His unpaid bill was amortized across the rest of the hospital billings.  Each person who went there had to pay a small amount of John 's unpaid bill.  No one ever say it, because there isn't a line item for that, but they still saw cost increases in their bills, because the hospital wasn't going to eat that cost.

And that isn't because they were being cruel or mean or anything else, it is because there are hundreds and thousands of "John's" in American hospitals every day.  Now we could debate the appropriateness of a "for profit" health care system that must make money to satisfy the investors, but really this is the system we are stuck with.  (And if you think the screaming about Obamacare is bad, just imagine what would happen if the government nationalized the entire medical profession.)

So in the end, in order to make health care remotely affordable, and to be able to allow everyone who has pre-existing health problems to get health care, everyone has to buy it.  You see, health care is a utility.  We don't think of it that way, but it is.  Just like fresh water, it is a service everyone needs.  You can opt out of it, but if you do, then you are forced to figure out some other way to get it.  Water is the most apt utility to compare it to, because, while people can live without electricity, cable or phone, everyone has to have water.  You either get it from a well, a truck or a city line, but you have to get it somehow.  The same goes for health insurance.

If you are sick, you have a few options, you go to the doctor, you treat yourself or you die.  Not a lot of options here.  Therefore, in order for the entire medical system to work, everyone has to pay for it.  Back to the utility analogy, in some parts of the south, you have to pre-pay for the fire department.  If you don't, they will literally stand on the edge of your property and watch the building burn.

And in this idea, heath care should be treated the same.

If you cannot bear the thought of being forced to buy insurance, and you can't afford your treatment, I have a deal for you.  Don't get medical treatment.  No matter how bad your illness is, or how seriously you are hurt, don't go to the doctor, don't go to the hospital, just deal with it on your own.  If you die, then, I'm sorry, you have to die.

You want a completely free market in health care, then you can have it.  You are fee to not buy health insurance, but in return, you either pay at point of service, or you will be allowed to die. 


The choice is yours.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Radical Rethink

Post-Positional

Whether or not people realize this, we are close to the end of everything we know.  I am not talking about an End of the World scenario: an Armageddon of Climate Change, World War or Nuclear Holocaust.  

I am however, nonetheless, talking about a true Apocalypse. 

However, I am using the term "Apocalypse" in the actual meaning of the word which is "an unveiling or drawing back of the curtain."  The curtain that is about to be drawn back is the fact that humans are soon going to become a completely superfluous ornamentation.  We are very quickly becoming unnecessary, even a liability to the global capitalist economy.  And because of this, we will either face a Terminator-esque future (which I think is highly unlikely) or we will live to see our economic system completely collapse.

In my last Blog, I discussed the fact that automation was going to render humans virtually unemployable.  This point was exactly copied by CGP Grey in his video Blog on Wednesday, and he expanded on it considerabily, detailing exactly how this will happen.  (And by the way, it always creeps me out when I hear exactly what I say repeated just a few days later by someone with no connection to me.  Jung's Universal Subconscious strikes again.)

However, given the bleakness of my last blog, and CGP Grey's Video,  I want to propose a very different future, a future, by the way, that Gene Roddenberry prophesied.    And I should note, that I am beginning to believe that he was as tapped into the future as Jules Verne was in his day.  Both of them extrapolated existing trends, combined them with a genuine vision of their implications, and created models of the future we were heading toward.

And that future that we face, by necessity, is going to be what I call either Post-Economic, or better yet, Post-Positional. 

"Positional Goods" is a term used by anthropologists to describe the items that delineate societal status.  This can be anything from the feathers of the Quetzal bird to a diamond to a private Lear Jet.  Basically, anything that shows your class or caste is a positional good.  They function across all of the classes, but also within a class.  Even in the poorest classes, there are positional goods.  For example, a corner to fly a sign, or a coveted sleeping spot will indicate social position in the Homeless Community.

So why would I call this new economic system, "Post-Positional?"   Before I answer that question, I want to describe the economy that we will have to adopt out of necessity.  That is, unless we want to go down the drain of grinding poverty, mass famine, dying children, and ultimately endless revolution.

And that economy is going to look a lot more like Karl Marx than Adam Smith.  But, I should note, I am not talking about Communism as implemented by the Soviets or any of their satellite countries.  I am talking about a return to a true Egalitarian Society, a Utopia that Marx envisioned, but with the technology of the 20th Century was utterly unattainable.

Marx's theories were 150 years too early, because we lacked the technology to make them work.  In short, with even current technology, someone needs to service the sewers, someone needs keep the peace, someone needs to draw the buildings, and someone needs to build them.  And lacking any monetary incentive, everyone wants to do the fun things, and no one wants to do the hard, dirty or downright disgusting ones.  And therefore, to make the system function, you have to have one of the most draconian, totalitarian governments imaginable.  Basically, without money, you have to use brute force to make the system function.

And this is why, in the end, Capitalism won; it was the least brutal system that actually brought the most stability and prosperity.  At least for now. 

So to return to my point, we are going to be forced to adopt an economy straight out of Star Trek: the Next Generation.  In that series, there was an episode when the crew discovered a set of space-farers that had been cryogenically frozen for centuries.  When they found out that the Federation was moneyless, and further, no one worked for wages in the manner they were familiar with, one of them asked "what was the point of life."  Picard responded, "to strive to make yourself better."

So basically, the future as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry is one where people do the things they want, to become better people, and to leave the world (or universe) a better place.  While that seems like a Utopian Fantasy, we will have no choice but to figure out how to make it real.  Again, the alternative is to have starvation, revolution and slaughter.

So, with the automation world, very few jobs will remain that cannot be done by robots, or other sorts of thinking machines.  Now, we could demand that laws be passed to not allow robots to do any job that can be safely done by a human.  This is what I proposed in last week's Blog.  However, this will not fly with the Capitalist system or the "Masters of the Universe"  They will demand that no such laws be passed, because that will cut into their maximization of profits.  They are going to insist that they be allowed to replace all of their workers with automated systems, because it will put the most money in their pockets at the immediate time.  And it is important to note, Capitalism is somewhat poor at planning past the next economic quarter, and it is terrible in planning for the ten year horizon.

So, you will wind up with literally billions of unemployed, and unemployable, humans.  (And I did mean billions with a "B")  There will be a small sector of people still employed, probably about 10% to 20% of the population, but the vast majority will have no employment option.  Therefore, in order to feed them, house them and clothe them, Welfare and other Social Safety Net programs will have to cover their living.  And that will have to be done, because, just in America, a 25% unemployment rate during the Depression brought us to the brink of anarchy.  Only the New Deal saved the country from a violent revolution.  (And even if you don't think it did, the majority of people believed it did, and it calmed the people down, because they knew the government was trying to solve the problem.)

So in the end, with 80%+ of the population on the Dole, the taxes on the remaining 20% will become utterly unsupportable.  I don't mean to get all Ayn Rand here, but really, that 20% will just stop working, because the government will HAVE to take almost 100% of the money they make in order to make the system work.  Basically, each working person will have to fully support at least four other people completely.  It is a completely unsustainable system.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand said the "Makers" will just all go on strike and stop producing, bringing the system to a halt and making all of the worthless "Takers" recognize that they are leaches on society, at which point, they will let the precious "Makers" act without restriction.

That is a childish fantasy.

Oh, for certain, the "Makers" will stop, go on strike as it were.  That will be inevitable.  However, the rest of us won't miss them at all.  In fact, without them pulling the levers of society, we might be able to actually accomplish this transformation to the Post-Positional system.

Basically, with automation, there will be essentially no cost, or almost no cost to any production.  I know that sounds strange, but everything, from cost of materials to cost of finished goods exists because people have to be paid wages to get the raw materials or make the product.  If there are no labor costs, then the cost of something is a purely artificial cost.  (I realize this is an oversimplification, because there are carrying costs, such as environmental damage and such.  But for the most part, the actual cost of anything is the result of having to pay people to extract, grow, finish, etc.) 

So with that, food, shelter, clothing and all of that will essentially become free with automation.  This effect will do nothing but increase as "replicator" technology comes on-line.  Right now, we call that technology "3D Printing" technology.  But as it increases in quality, and the types of things that can be made increase in diversity, it will emulate the replicators of Star Trek. 

And at this point, there will be no want in society that is not instantly filled, and filled for no actual monetary cost.  Of course, this is dependant on us not imposing some sort of arbitrary barrier, just to make sure that societal status gets preserved.

And this is why I call this Economic System, "Post-Positional."

When anyone can have anything for free, barring the passage of arbitrary sumptuary laws, good will no longer be able to be used to indicate social status.  If you can replicate a plate of diamonds, how can diamonds show your economic class?  (Sumptuary laws were laws passed in Europe in the Middle Ages up to modern times that forbid certain classes from owning or wearing certain things.  For example, no one was allowed to wear purple except royalty.  To do so would land you in jail or even get you executed.)

So in this world what happens?  Well all of the work is done by the machines and by the bots, leaving people completely unemployed.  However, people need to occupy their time in order to feel fulfilled.  For the most part, people don't handle idleness well.  Which leads to the other part of the Star Trek future; people will work at self improvement.  They will spend their lives learning, practicing, experimenting.  They will be free to explore whatever takes their interest.

There will still need to be some jobs, especially in the creative arts, but the people who do them will be doing them because they want to, not because they have to.  And the amount of time spent on them will be far less than we spend today.  And here, I would like to point out the brilliance of the Star Trek Universe. 

The Federation was an absolute necessity.  Without the Frontier, humans stagnate.  If we have no challenges, we become overwhelmed with inertia.  This is what the exploration culture of Star Trek promoted.  It provided the drive to keep humanity advancing, developing and improving.

So basically, the world we will be forced to adopt because of technology will be one where each human becomes occupied with personal growth, and one where all of the necessities of life are just provided.  Further, there will be no more class, or status, at least no status based on goods or possessions, because anyone will have equal abilities to access anything they want.  This will not be because of any sort of actual egalitarian thought, at least not initially, but because there will literally be no inherent costs to any goods.  And because of this, there will ultimately be no need for services to have any cost either, because the people providing the services will have no expenses.  People will become free to essentially do what they want, without any economic fetters. 
And ultimately, that is where we will have to go, unless we want the Apocalypse of Automation to become an actual Armageddon.  Of course, the rich and powerful will view this future as an Armegeddon, and they will likely fight it to the bitter end.  However, they will lose.


History is not on their side. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Zombie in the Room


Automation

Capitalism is dead.  It isn't apparent yet, because it is still shambling around like the zombie it is, but for all of that it is dead.  Really in the end, it was the victim of its own success.  It survived for centuries, outlasting revolutions, adversarial paradigms and even outright attempts to stack the deck in the system. 

The one thing it cannot survive, however is automation.

I know that seems like an odd thing that would kill off a dominant economic system, but it has and it will.   The reason, automation eviscerates the center.  And just like a person cannot live without a digestive tract, capitalism cannot survive without a middle class.

People see that capitalism is failing, at least intuitively.  Right now people are focused on a number of things that they claim are destroying capitalism.  However, they are focused on symptoms or phantom causes, not on the actual rot at the heart of the tree. 

The Right screams regulations, minimum wages and health care spell the end of the system, and we will be left with socialism or communism.   To a certain extent, they are correct; we will have to turn to a form of socialism if we continue on this path, but not for any of the reasons they claim.  The Left, on the other hand, blames income disparity, greedy business tycoons and mega-banks for the downfall.  Again, as with the Right, they have some correct points, especially where greed is concerned.  But again, they miss the forest for the trees.  Not that the individual trees are unimportant, they are, but the larger picture is being ignored.

And, as I stated before, the root problem is automation. 

But why is it such a problem?  The reason is simple, automation destroys the low-education, focused skill, high paying jobs, that built the system.  It destroys the jobs that are central to making things.  And these jobs, not professional positions are central to a strong capitalist economy. 

There are certain realities to the professional world.  We only need a certain number of doctors and lawyers and other professionals.  For example, unless we deliberately infect people so they are sick more, or change the system to require all people to be needing a lawyer at all times in their lives, there is a saturation point to these jobs.  They are population ratio jobs.  You only need a set number of these people to serve a set number of members of society at large.

Similarly, there are only a certain number of teachers that were need, because, again, it is a population ratio profession.  Even at the most generous staffing levels, you only need about one teacher to every 15 full time students.  That's a lot of teachers, but overall, it isn't an overwhelming number, and it is completely driven by a limited resource, namely, the number of people seeking education.

Almost every profession is similar, architects, engineers, even bankers are limited by the number of people who will seek their services.  The only profession that I would say is exempt from this would be scientists, because, there is always far more to explore than there are people to explore it.  However, this is also a self-limiting profession in another way; only a certain percentage of the population has the inherent talent to excel in the sciences.  And honestly, that limitation also applies to the other professions as well.  Only a certain number of people have the skills for law, or design or teaching.  Yes, you can teach some of that, but, honestly, there is a need for aptitude as well.  And I would like to note, aptitude is not equivalent to intelligence.  A person could be brilliant, but if they cannot deliver a good oration and handle themselves in a debate, they are not going to make it in law or politics.  It just won't happen.  Similarly, as we see over and over in our current crop of politicians, you don't really need to be smart to be elected, you just need a great stump speech and a powerful delivery of that speech.

However, manufacturing jobs are not a limited field, at least not in the same way as the professions.  And by manufacturing, I am including all types of making, from a baker, to a carpenter, to an auto assembly line worker.  These jobs are demand driven.  The more cakes, the more buildings and the more cars people want, the more people will be employed in those professions.  On a side note, this is why most companies created planned obsolescence, to make sure that people kept buying.  It is also why "in" colors, and other fashion and styles change, it keeps demand high. 

But to return to the point, making is typically a focused skill, instead of one requiring extensive and wide ranging education.  Further, any needed education in making is typically done through an apprenticeship.  There are schools that have stepped in with vocational education, but often these are six month to two year programs.  In the traditional apprenticeship, you didn't even have to pay for your education, you got paid to learn.  Although the pay was certainly lower than it would be for a journeyman, it still was income during the education process.

Further, these jobs were typically high paying, often even higher paying than professional positions.  My uncle, who was a licensed engineer, educated at Perdue, left engineering and became a pipe-fitter, because he made significantly more money at it.  After he made the switch, he was able to pay off his mortgage in 7 years, instead of the 20 more that it would have taken before.  He also found it to be more satisfying work, but that is another topic for another time.  For now I will just say, often people engaged in making things have a very high level of satisfaction and pride, because they see the product of their labor.

So in the end, in a workforce with a large manufacturing component, you get a lot of people employed at high paying jobs, without needing years of expensive education.  Further, these jobs can be done by almost anyone who gets the necessary training.  My uncle always said that he could pull anyone off the streets and make them an excellent pipe-fitter in six months if they put their mind to it.  And with the wages of a pipe-fitter, they could have a nice house, a nice car and send their kids to college, if the kids wanted that.  And even with all those expenses, they could put aside enough for a very nice retirement.

However, automation has wiped out a vast majority of these jobs, and is on track to obliterate even more in the coming years.  Already, they have developed 3D printing technology to build simple houses.  How much longer will it be before they can 3D print skyscrapers?  And when they do, what will happen to the carpenters, steel workers, concrete guys and bricklayers?  They will go the way of the assembly line worker. 

And pushing this is the inevitable drive to maximize profits.

If you don't have to pay wages, insurance, unemployment, and taxes on thousands of employees, and can replace them with robots, or printers, or other machinery, you save yourself a fortune.  Of course, the equipment costs a lot of money at the outset, but that is a one time expenditure, and further, it can be depreciated, saving even more money when tax time rolls around. 

Not only is this good for the bottom line, it is actually a mandate of the capitalist system.  Failing to maximize shareholders' profits is at best dereliction of duty, at worst, possibly a criminal fraud.  Regardless, the economics require the companies to lower overhead and increase profit.

And we have seen it over and over.  There are virtually no receptionists left in the American corporation, and increasingly all basic customer service calls are handled by automated systems.  Grocery stores rely more and more on self-service checkout lanes.  Assembly lines  use robots.

Its even creeping into the professions.  Fifty years ago, the average architectural firm had a couple of dozen draftsmen (and yes, they were almost all men at that time) cranking out detail after detail, by hand on Mylar.  Then came AutoCAD, and those two dozen could be replaced by six, because the details could be cut and pasted from one drawing to another, no effort required.  Now, Revit is reducing the six to three, and further, with the internet, those three can be in India, just as easily as in the US.  Pretty soon, given how BIM is evolving, the architect will be able to click a set of menu options, design the building and instantly produce a set of CDs without a single other person needed: one step production.  And with that, what jobs will there be for architectural interns, job captains or technicians, or any other employee beyond possibly an accountant to manage the books?  And really, with Quickbooks, is that even needed?

And this is how capitalism dies, not with a bang, going out in some sort of proletariat conflagration, but with a whimper of disappearing jobs, with no hope of employment for the vast percentage of people.

So, the Right is correct, in their minds, by saying all that will save it is for labor to become so cheap that it actually doesn't make sense to automate the jobs.  They don't acknowledge the actual problem, and I doubt they consciously recognize it, but intuitively, they understand this.  However, what they fail to understand is that if everyone is receiving poverty wages, no one will be able to buy anything.  And since this model depends on demand, it enters a death spiral.  For certain, the captains of industry will get even more fabulously wealthy, at least until the bottom drops out.

At the end of this death spiral is a sad fact, either the world embraces a radical socialism, where almost everyone in the bottom 2/3's of society is on the Dole, or we accept that we will unleash a string of violent revolutions.   People who are starving, and who have no hope, will overthrow a government, and kill everyone who has the things they want.  Then, a small faction gets the power and the money, and the cycle repeats.  Over and over, into eternity.  France had this happen for about a hundred years; Revolution, brief prosperity, disenfranchisement, discord, Revolution.  Only an embrace of a socialistic ideology and two world wars completely broke this cycle.  Had those two things not happened, France would likely be as unstable today as many of the countries in South America.

The Left also sees some of what is going on, that the big banks and CEO greed are driving the bus over the cliff.  They also recognize that income disparity is really impacting the demand based economy.  But they are focused on the symptom, not the underlying disease.  They want to institute policies that redistribute the wealth and level the playing field somewhat.  However, just like the Right, all this does is delay the inevitable.  Sure there will be a short term spike in demand, as people have more disposable money, but that increased demand will produce money that is used to increase automation.  The construction company is suddenly awash in capital, so what will they do?  They'll buy that really cool concrete printer that they couldn't afford last year.  And suddenly, an entire concrete crew is out of work.  That crew's prosperity is gone and they stop buying.  This is repeated over and over in company after company.  And then demand sinks.  And once again, we are back to the point where it is either almost universal Welfare, or revolution.

But what about education?  Can't we just retrain these people for new jobs?  Teach them a profession?  Well, that puts us back to the beginning of this paper.  Professional jobs are based on populations; it isn't a demand system, unless you create artificial demand.  Therefore, you will quickly get saturation.  We are already seeing this in Law and in Higher Education.  There are far more law school graduates and PhD's than there ever will be available positions.  And suddenly a Juris Doctor is handing you your McDonalds.

Further, I am going to be blunt here, (and probably destroy some of my Liberal credentials) not everyone is cut out to be a college student.  Even though we like to think everyone is a special and unique snowflake, and that everyone gets a prize because they tried, that isn't the way it works.  Can someone with an IQ of 95, which is solidly average, but not outstanding, really make it as a neurosurgeon or a physicist?  That is not to say that there are tons of things they can do, and do very well.  But, are they going to succeed in an intensive and competitive college program?  Unless we genetically engineer everyone to be brilliant, we will have a range of intelligence in humans.  (And don't even get me started on Eugenics being a "good idea."  It isn't.)

So what is the solution.  Either we have to develop a post-capitalist economic model that is not based in employment, and maybe not even in money, or we have to limit automation.  Although the first option is, in my mind at least, the more realistic long term solution, the reality is, no one is going to go along with that strategy, at least not now.  We can't even get the powers that be to move on climate change, which is as close to a certainty as science can ever get.  We will never get people to move on some sort of change to the fundamental economic structure of the entire world.

So that leaves limiting automation.  I read a science fiction story by Jack Chalker where they had a law that stated, "unless the job is too hazardous to be undertaken by humans, no job that can be done by a person is allowed to be given over to a robot."  Although some would argue that this, for all intents and purposes, kills off capitalism, in actuality, it is the only way to save the system.  At least save it until we can actually come up with something better.

Why?  Because it would re-insert the high paying, low education but focused skilled jobs back into the economy.  If assembly lines and construction sites were required to be using people instead of machines, we would have a much more robust middle class.  and with a robust middle class, demand for the products of manufacturing would go up.  And this would lead to further expansion of job opportunities, which would in turn lead to more demand. 

I realize that this would also lead to more resource consumption, more pollution and more environmental devastation, so this is not really a long term solution.  As I said before, it would only be a bridge to a different system.  But it would give us the time to come to terms with some realities that we don't want to face right now.


However, in the end, it would give us what we need most, time to solve the problem.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Looking Past the Primitive Hut

Fundamentals

For the last couple of centuries, a great deal of theoretical architectural discourse has revolved around the concept of the Primitive Hut.  Although this concept has existed since the time of Vitruvius, it entered into serious academic discussion after Laugier used it as the frontispiece of his Essai sur l'Architecture.  It is a fundamental mythologization of architecture.

Although there is absolutely no archeological record of a hut of the type that Laugier described, nor any evidence that anyone prior to the Imperial Romans even theorized the elements of the hut in the manner theorists think about them, it is still an essential key to understanding architectural form.  The ideas that the column is emblematic of the tree and the pediment shed water like the leafy branches above.

However, this is not the only way to mythologize fundamental architectural forms.  Ching, for example, discusses patterns of organization and mathematical proportions.  According to Simon Unwin, there are four fundamental architectural elements; The Bower, the Hearth, The Altar and the Performance Space.  These are then housed in enclosures to create the basic architectural forms of the House, the Temple and the Theatre. 

But it is Unwin's fundamental elements that I am particularly interested in here.  Unwin looks at these from a purely pragmatic, formal analysis in much the same way the architects who have followed Laugier used the Primitive Hut as a formal derivation to explain the Orders, and ultimately even Le Corbusier's Five Points.  But looking at these fundamental elements as formal only completely ignores the cultural context, and what these elements tell us about ourselves.

Before I begin exploring this, I want to discard one of Unwin's elements, the performance space.  If we wish to go back to the most ancient roots, the hearth in it's broader context was the prototypical performance space, where tales were told around the fire.  In their most primitive forms, the Bower, the Hearth and the Altar were the three fundamentals, the performance space followed behind these three as social structure evolved.

I also want to point out, in the beginning, these fundamental elements would not have been "architecture" in the way we currently describe it.  However, if you want to state that architecture is any alteration of the natural environment for human use, then these elements, even in their most primitive state would be architecture. 

I should note here, that I don't personally restrict architecture to purely human actions on the environment.  I consider beaver dams, termite mounds and birds nests to be architecture.  In fact, any modification of the environment by deliberate action for the purpose of habitation could be considered architecture.  Similarly, any alteration of the environment for non-functional purposes could be considered art.  And yes, animals do make art, from Bower Birds lavishly decorating their nests to dogs that deliberately place their toys in specific geometric patterns.

To return to the point, we would probably not see the most primitive of these elements as architecture; a pile of branches for sleeping, a ring of stones to protect a fire, a specific mark on a tree or in a cave, these are what would have been the original forms of these elements.

However, it is not the physical that interests me, it is the significance of them that begins to tell us about the societies.  As I have stated before, architecture is a pure cultural container.  How it is arranged, what it is made out of, even the relationships between uses in proximity tell us volumes about what a society valued, how they viewed the world, what sort of social structure existed.  In terms of pre and proto literate societies, or for ones for which we cannot decipher the written language, it is the only key to understanding them.

But these fundamental elements are also the fundamental elements of mythologization of built form.   Myth the ties of man to man, man to God and man to himself.   Then, in a more meta-analysis, when you examine the role of all the myths aggregated, you discover the overarching understanding of the relationship man to nature, which can be expanded to describe man's place in the cosmos.  For example, a broad reading of Greek Mythology indicates a view that Man is at the mercy of a very capricious an unpredictable universe, whereas Egyptian Mythology shows a very hierarchical, ordered worldview.

Each one of these roles of myth can be tied into the fundamental architectural forms.  

First, we will look at the hearth.  The hearth is the gathering place for the band. (And the period we are talking about would have been band level societies which are the most primitive.)  This form facilities the role of the relationship of man to man.  Around the hearth, the rules of conduct for the band are laid down.  Whether or not they are explicitly stated, children in the fire circle learn from their elders appropriate behavior in relationship to each other.  Adults who violate the behavioral norms are sanctioned.  Problems are addressed and plans are made.  Social hierarchies are established, maintained and sometimes even overthrown.  Around the hearth, all aspects of how one member of society relates to any other are established.

Moving on, we have the Altar.  In primitive societies, this would have been a sacred tree, pool or cave, or some other object in the environment that would have housed the spirit of the supernatural.  In other words, the altar would have been the band's fetish object.  (Remember, a fetish has no relationship to how we use the word today, but described an object that literally houses a God.)  This fundamental element describes the relationship of man to God.  The forms and ceremonies related to worship, even the very nature of that relationship is addressed at the altar.  For example, does the shaman hold dominion over the God, commanding and summoning it, or is the shaman the supplicant begging for intercession?  Is the ritual highly formal or is it more casual?  These are the relationships laid out by the altar and form the second purpose of myth.

The final relationship that is described by myth is the most esoteric, man to himself, and it is given form by the Bower.  It can be said that dreams are how we understand ourselves and how we process the experiences of our lives, and the Bower is the space given over to dreams.  Whereas the first two elements look outwards and upwards, this final element looks inwards.  Sleep is an absolute universal, but how we sleep tells us about our relationships to ourselves, i.e. how we care for our bodies when we cannot consciously protect ourselves.   As such, the location of the Bower begins to tell us where the danger is, on the ground, in the sky, in the earth. 

And this then begins the pivot to the final role of myth in architecture, which is found in the aggregate of understanding all three elements taken together, how man relates to nature or in broader terms, how man is placed in the cosmos.  Does the society view itself as secure or in peril?  Do they dominate or are they dominated?  Are they a part of a greater nature, or are the separate from it?  When we examine Hearth, Altar and Bower we can build a larger image of how the society views their place. 

As societies evolve, these fundamental forms also evolve.  The Hearth becomes the Hall, developing into the Court, the Capitol, the Forum, and through separation from the fire and union with the Altar, the it transforms into the Theatre.  (This is because ancient theatre was a scared rite)  The Altar becomes the Temple, the Church the Cathedral.  The Bower becomes the House, the Castle, the Palace.   But even when this happens, the fundamental forms are maintained, even if abstracted beyond recognition. 

And these fundamental elements dictate the architectural forms of even modern buildings.  How man relates to man dictates whether the administrative spaces place all people on the same level, or if it reinforces a strict hierarchy.   How man relates to God determines the ritual space that surrounds the altar, if it is centered on ritual and procession, or if it is a gathering of a congregation.  The Bower defines the house, as the purpose of the home is for rest and refreshment.


By looking at the basics, and their mythological purpose, we can begin to analyze all societies, even modern ones, through their built form.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

OK World, It is time to Admit you have a Problem

Intervention

I think it is time to be blunt: the world is as addicted to oil like the way Amy Winehouse was addicted to meth.  And like Amy Winehouse, if we do not get help and rehab for our addiction, we will all die a horrible and painful death.

This is especially important to me, as a Coloradoan, given that under the world's largest oil reserve sits under my state.  In fact, bound up in the Green River Formation is an oil reserve equal to double all of the worlds proven oil reserves, if we could find out how to tap it.  It's called Oil Shale, and it holds approximately 3 trillion barrels of oil.  Just for comparison, throughout all human history of oil production, we have used approximately 1 trillion barrels.  In other words, there is enough oil in Oil Shale to fuel the world at current consumption rates for probably 200 years.

There's just one problem with this.  It would require basically removing most of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah's mountains.  Basically, Oil shale has to be heated to 5,000 degrees to extract the oil.  It also would require most of the water that the Western  United States consumes for life.

You would think permanently ruining some of the most beautiful lands in the world, and basically taking all of the West's water would make this an non-viable solution. 

And you would be wrong.

And this is where the addiction thing comes in.  Addicts do not make rational choices.  Period.  For an example of this horror, look at the what is happening in Alberta, arguably it was as beautiful of an unspoiled wilderness as Western Colorado.  Now it is a smoking pit from the depths of Hell.

The Alberta Tar Sands (After)

An addict will throw everything away for their next fix.  Spouse?  Forget it, the next hit is far more important than that.  Bank accounts?  Gone.  Irreplaceable family heirlooms, sold.  Roof over their head?  Nope.  Health?  Destroyed.  NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING is as important as that hit.

And that is how it will be with the environment.  As soon as the easy to get to oil is gone, we will move to the not easy to get oil.  Right now, thanks to our addiction, we are in the process of destroying the stability of Oklahoma.   In just the first six months of this year, Oklahoma has summered from 241 potentially damaging 3.0 quakes.  This is more than double all of the quakes for 2013, at 109 and almost equals the total for the last five years, which was 278.  And before you think a 3.0 is nothing, realize that in the type of rock of Oklahoma, a 3.0 can tear apart a foundation and cause lasting damage to a structure, even if there is no collapse.

And whether or not the extraction industry wants to admit it, it is most likely the result of fracking.  We should have learned this lesson in the sixties, when Colorado, normally a very stable state, suffered a swarm of earthquakes resulting from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal disposing of chemical wastes by pumping it underground.  The earthquakes started after they began the pumping and stopped shortly after the pumping ceased. 

The problem with things like fracking is that the earth is a far more complex system than we like to acknowledge.  We have far more potential for devastation than we are comfortable in admitting.  Further, we turn a blind eye on things that are correlated, because we dismiss them as a correlation does not equal causation fallacy.  That's not to say that fallacy is incorrect in terms of logical arguments.  However, falling back to that position means that we typically refuse to investigate whether things are just coincidental or actually a causal chain.  While vaccines causing Autism is a correlation, not causation, that does not mean that any similar thing is the same.  Also, before they actually proved it as a correlation not causation situation, they tested the potentiality extensively.

However, when something is as seemingly necessary as oil and gas, people want to stick their fingers in their ears and not hear any potential issues.  In other words, it is in their own self interest to refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem.

This is the same thing as with addicts, especially in the early stages of addiction, before the devastation to their life begins in earnest.   Getting drunk before going to bed every night is just "to help me unwind."  Taking a shot of vodka first thing in the morning is just a "hair of the dog."  Even a spouse leaving is, "they didn't understand me and support me."  It is only when the addiction has completely destroyed someone's life that they will acknowledge the problem.  Sadly, even then, they often won't do anything to cure it.  They fall into the, "I can't change so why try" trap.  You see hundreds of these people littering the streets of most American Cities.  And because we condemn addiction as a personal failing, the larger society does not have much inclination to help.  Worse we often enable that behavior.

And America is a nation of enablers in terms of our oil addiction.  Even people who take the steps of using mass transit, buying electric vehicles, putting PV on their roofs, etc either continue to elect the oil addicts to office, or just complain about them.  We do not hold their feet to the fire to actually do something.

I even see that enabling attitude in myself.  Sometimes I think, maybe we should just go ahead and do things like open up the Artic Wildlife Refuge to drilling now, when we can at least win significant concessions to protect the environment, rather than wait until our reserves are running out, when the drilling will just be a rape and scrape operation.

However, this is no different than me buying an addict a bottle of Vodka or a crack rock so that they don't sell their Grandfather's watch.  They are getting their addiction fed, and I'm delaying the point before they hit rock bottom.  Sooner or later, they will sell that watch, and sooner or later, we will rape the earth to satisfy our addiction.  All environmental protections do is delay the inevitable, because they don't attack the root problem, which is the addiction.

And getting over an addiction is not easy.  An intervention is not easy.  But an intervention is exactly what the world needs.

Before you think it is impossible, realize that even a sizable number of Republicans are admitting that Global Warming is real, and further that it is being caused by people.   However, getting them to turn against the extraction industry will be harder.  Even Democrats from Coal and Oil States can't stop their enabling ways.  Our own Governor, Hickenlooper, wants to develop compromises to allow the fracking to continue in the state.  This is no different than payoing for drugs for an addict so that they don't have to choose between drugs and life.


It is up to each of us to hold our representative's feet to the fire.  Further, it is up to us to say, no to drilling, no to fracking, no to environmental devastation.  If we rise up, as in an intervention, and say, "You have gone this far, but no more," we stand a chance.  It is hard to get an addict to recognize the problem, even harder to get them to accept help.  However, we owe it to our children to try.