Saturday, February 14, 2009

Unnecessary thoughts

A friend texted me the other day "Do you believe humans can ruin the Earth?" What a question for a text message. I replied that there's no right or wrong way for the Earth to be, but humans act in parasitic way. Then we die and the Earth changes again. Even if we raise the temperature of the atmosphere to the detriment of many other species, we'll eventually die off and things will return to pre-human levels. What a nice thought.

Humans have existed for such a short period of time that we only want the Earth to exist as it has for the past 50,000 years or so, when in fact it is an always changing place, but on a time scale such that we're oblivious to it. Not factually oblivious, we know what happened when, we know the numbers, but devoid of practical knowledge.

It's an interesting thought, I think. I know, of course it is bad to pump chemicals from our factories into nature, but people talk about human pollution as if we are not of this planet, that we are not of the nature we are harming. I've never truly understood the notion of natural versus artificial, because anything artificial is create from ingredients initially harvested from nature. I realize that's as an effectual argument as saying, well heck, it's all atoms anyway!

People love all-natural food, of course. Locally grown, all that. I think giant factory farms are probably a dozen times more efficient, in terms of output and the use of energy, than any hand-grown vegetable. That is why they make money, that is why they are scaled so large. Humanity has evolved based on the efficiency of its farms, but now people are embracing less-efficient food production under the theory that its actually better for the environment or better for you or might be better tasting. I really don't buy it.

[Small update: I am aware this is a very complex issue. I also want you to know I couldn't be more ignorant about food production. But in terms of output efficiency, I believe giant robot farms are inherently more productive].

Some people look at the bread aisle in a grocery store and scoff at the dozen different varieties of plain white bread, as if its all so impersonal, so unnatural, as if to lament the good old days when you'd go the bakery to buy a single hand-kneaded loaf. I know that sounds nice. It is. But the efficiency of our production abilities allows us to have hundreds of identical loaves always in stock, always free of mold, always ready to be eaten. THAT is progress and some people perceive it as regression. Natural foods are a LUXURY because they are ineffecient; that is what I want to say.

My real point is that humans are just mean monkeys.


Anonymous said...

Rand had a profound effect upon me at far too impressionable an age. There is authentic value and valor in many of the character traits she worships. I also share what I read as your own dissonance with those who suggest -- either directly or indirectly -- that a return to pre-industrial market inefficiencies would be an improvement over crass commercialism.

There is nothing wrong with crass commercialism, IMHO. There is something functionally wrong and existentially destructive with circulatory systems that feature resource clots of 70% restricted within a 5% portion of the system. It might be fun to revisit later when you've finished Atlas, the observation that there are levels of productive efficiency that Rand's Age of Railroads and Noble Rugged Individualist Moral Economics -- largely, if not wholly -- failed to imagine. Levels of fully robotic productive capacity that we have already left in the dust; and beyond which, Structural Unemployment actually becomes the most efficient path forward.

Rand would have my head on a platter for promoting Basic Income; unless -- I can only speculate -- she had access to the same data about Accelerating Change that we have today. Rand could never have imagined the Amalgics that emerge from Open Source Software at least a decade ago, already. In fact, she very possibly never imagined software at all. If we were again at the nexus point of Industrialization, I might very well be a staunch apologist for objectivism; however, we are not; and so I can only enjoy the admittedly quite juicy watermelon of objectivism and spit out the seeds. ;-)

And so we again discover that timeless sociophilosophical axiom, "Unnecessity is the Mother of Digression."

Andy Orin said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike. I don't know what I think. I don't like the idea of working hard only to find a glass ceiling to limit my earning or productivity, but I also don't like the idea of a small groups controlling such large portions resources. Damn Rand getting in my head; it's better not to think about anything!


the end of something.