I recently came across this NYT Green blog piece on proposals for a nationally centralized electric grid based on Great Plains wind farms. Between this and the oil spill, it got me thinking about energy, centralization, and the Tower of Babel.
I’m all for greatly expanded renewable energy – as a means toward a more robust, sustainable, democratic way of life. Small-scale off-grid wind and solar (primarily for heat, not electricity) are promising relocalization technologies. But of course that’s not what today’s ”green” corporate nexus, including corporate environmentalists, call for. Instead, as always they want large-scale, integrated, interdependent structures (physically, economically, politically). This is the basic trait of green cornucopianism, a branch of corporate liberalism. That’s the case with the national grid and its transmission networks.
Reading the piece, I can see that in opposing this I seem to end up in some strange company. No doubt there’s a mixed bag of motivations among the utilities and politicians who oppose it. So be it. Centralization and interdependence are always the wrong direction, and we’ve had more than enough of the privatized-profits-socialized-costs way of doing things. In this case, a few energy barons and the gluttonous end users would free ride while the regions subjected to the corridors would not. They’d not only take the destructive burden of the transmission lines themselves, but be forced to help subsidize the energy price itself so that the already free-riding end user could free ride even more, while the energy rackets extract even more rents.
Community can’t exist at the level of this political and economic monstrosity. People should be unwilling to send wealth out of their regions and communities, either as purchases of globalized products, or as taxes to kleptocratic alien governments, these taxes including the payment of protection money to corporate rackets.
This plan for a national grid also defeats what would be the most worthwhile thing about renewable energy. It should supplant dirty fossil fuels, and be a bridge technology to a socioeconomic order of lower energy consumption. But this plan, again, wants to head in the opposite direction. It doesn’t want to replace coal nor does it envision conservation. It wants only to feed the monster. It envisions only greater consumption, more “growth”, more debt, bigger corporations, bigger government, more bailouts.
In realizing how even such an idealized technology as renewable energy itself becomes corrupt and malevolent once taken up by the bloody hand of corporatism, kleptocracy, “growth”, we can see how not just the normal political processes but technology itself has been turned against us and is now a weapon in the hands of those who want to harm us.
For me the basic definition of technology is using materials to achieve material results. Within the realm of human ingenuity I differentiate it from, for example, creativity, which I regard as an attribute of the mind (or soul, to use a more figurative term). The same goes for animal cleverness.
So in my terminology, creativity can be self-sustaining, and is the quintessential human activity. Cleverness, however clever it becomes, is an animal trait. Technology is developed in the first place through either a combination of creativity and cleverness, or just cleverness. Then, how technology is deployed could in theory be dictated by creativity, but in practice usually ends up being dictated by cleverness in the service of materialism, greed, and powerlust. Eventually, these also dictate which technology is developed at all.
We’re living under a terminal kleptocracy which can never be reformed. It’s a foregone conclusion that all further steps in the direction of centralization and high capitalization will serve (and be intended to serve) only to further concentrate wealth and power for the criminal elite.
Since I place all things in this political context, given e.g. any technological proposal I ask cui bono?, and the answer always seems to be that the elites will benefit while the position of the non-rich is further eroded. So it always looks like we’d be better off if something didn’t exist than if it exists only to further enslave us. (For example, what good are even the wonders of modern medicine if they are ruthlessly rationed by wealth? Even these become a weapon against us.) This would be true even if something really did improve our material situation while further enslaving us politically and spiritually.
That’s what it boils down to – if we love freedom, it must follow that we’d rather live free even under spartan material conditions than enjoy luxury but as a slave.
And of course, all the lies about trading freedom for material well-being are now coming undone anyway. The “middle class” who made the pernicious trade is now being economically liquidated anyway.
There are some (very few) among those who exalt technology who agree that it must be kept out of the hands of corporate elites, but they fail to explain how this can be done. It seems that large-scale energy generation, high capitalization, and high tech as such imply the existence of large, centralized structures. It’s hard to see what alternative political and economic structure would support such massive and intensely coordinated projects.
I think the artists, philosophers, and spiritualists of antiquity proved humanity doesn’t need massively materialized and capitalized technology to exercise its ingenuity or its creativity, while ample production of food, clothing, shelter, and consumer goods was always possible, and only thwarted by flawed political structures. But in principle we’ve learned enough by now that we could be more sapient regarding our politics. We don’t need hyper-tech for that either. So it’s puzzling why anyone who’s not a corporatist would claim that it’s necessary to keep building these massive high-energy high-maintenance structures, always at such dire political risk.
The system is unsustainable and must collapse anyway. It’s simply our choice whether we do it the hard way or the not-as-hard way. Whether we make it a complete disaster, or can salvage something from it.
If we resolved to live within our means, in all ways, and renounced all versions of trying to get something for nothing, which in practice has always meant exploiting others and trashing the planet, we’d find that we’d still have sufficient material lives (probably more bountiful than under the serfdom toward which we’re now heading), while our truly creative existence could be as boundless as our imaginations. We never needed material crutches for that.
Political centralization and big government have always corresponded with integrated technological structures, no matter what a system’s proclaimed ideology was. Today we have intensive political and technological concentration, yet as we see with electricity the impetus is to integrate even further. But it was the same way with the alleged ideological opposite of “capitalism”. Lenin’s formula for what the revolution was trying to build was “soviets plus electrification.” [A soviet was a directly democratic council and legislative body elected by a small or relatively small group – a factory, a peasant village, a military base. It’s the same thing as a town or regional council (if these were directly democratic), or Jefferson’s cherished idea for wards, or the New England town hall government. These are all versions of the kind of relocalized political bodies we should be trying to establish.] They already had the soviets but little electrification. But in practice the Bolsheviks fought to integrate both technology and politics, to destroy the real authority and freedom of the soviets and achieve centralized political power in the course of building centralized technological structures, and justifying the political betrayal by the alleged exigencies of the technological imperative.
So we can see how “growth” and centralized industrialism always head in the same corporate direction. Lenin came to explicitly call what the Bolsheviks sought “state capitalism”. It was the mirror image of the state capitalism, a contradiction in terms, that we have today.
The direction of the solution is the opposite of these: the decentralization and relocalization of politics and electricity (meaning all technology). This will be physically imposed upon us by nature regardless of our political choices. But politically, morally, spiritually this is also the choice in the direction of better health and the renaissance of freedom.
In the end, the cult mantra “technology will save us” is reactionary and anti-political. It implicitly supports corporatism and tyrannical government, and most of its professional propagandists are conscious agents of tyranny. Lenin’s formula, and today ours, seeks the separation of economics/technology from politics. It’s the ideology of technocracy, of totalitarianism. We who want to relocalize and redeem freedom must restore the old unity of concept, political economy.
We no longer want to be ruled by technocracy, by bureaucracy, by the machinery of big government and of big corporatist structures. When they call for the same old “electrification plus democracy”, they tell the same lie the Bolsheviks did. Both really want corporatist tyranny. (The only difference between the “capitalist” and ”communist” versions of corporatism, between the modern US and the USSR, is the presence in the US of private racketeers extracting private rents, while in the USSR the Party maintained a racket monopoly directly via the state.)
No. We want the truly human, democratic politics of town halls/councils/wards, and then the level of electrification and of all technology which corresponds to this decentralization and is politically safe for it. This too is part of freedom’s vigilance. “Consumerism”, in choosing to throw away all citizenship and freedom for the sake of an illusory material and technological improvement which is now being rescinded anyway, chose the opposite path. And today with things like a nationally integrated grid we see the continued attempt to prop up the consumerist zombie, and by extension the whole Babel of debt, “growth”, and the Bailout.
This is all one comprehensive battlefront. Everywhere it’s centralization vs. relocalization, helplessness vs. independence, weakness vs. robustness, fragility vs. resiliency, corporate pseudo-politics vs. true democracy, materialized greed vs. human morality and spirit, tyranny vs. freedom. Nowhere will we see any large-scale issue where the positions aren’t defined by this line. It may sometimes be hard to find the will to see things this way, where we find that something we once cherished and thought to be good has been corrupted beyond redemption. That’s part of the rackets’ crimes against humanity, that they’ve thrown their filth upon so many things which could have been good and beautiful. But it’s too late for nostalgia. If we’re going to fight for our freedom and any hope for future prosperity, we have to fight it out all the way down the trench line.