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More - Musings of Unayok

2008 Oct 21


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Yesterday's entry on The Automatic Earth -- The Lord of More -- starts pushing in a slightly new direction. Ilargi and Stoneleigh have been proven right more often than not in the time they've been posting and summarizing the nascent (still) changes to our civilization emanating from the financial world. They started before sub-prime, called it, and have called, or at least suggested, each major turn since then. Often in the sense of "it's unfortunate and the wrong move but the next response that The Powers That Be will think to use is..."

On Monday, though, Ilargi took a bit of a meta step back and looked at what lies behind a lot of this. His comments are a good match for my own thoughts, only taken much further and expressed far better. The belief in the necessity of infinite growth is essentially a reglious phenomenon.

As with many religious-like phenomena it taps into and is enabled by deep instinctive programming. In the case of the Lord of More, the key is to excuse us for our use of our intellect to do things other parts of our instinctive programming have problems with. It allows us... no... it makes use of... no... it encourages us to switch off bad experiences: tomorrow will always be better (which is essentially what Infinite Growth promises).

Through most of human history, this has been mostly tolerable in the overall picture, as humanity lived within a larger ecology, and the truly bad things did not affect everything around him. Massively unpleasant for anyone in the way, but the planet and humanity were not globally affected.

But our cleverness, and the pursuit of the worship of the Lord Of More begins to catch us up, as inevitably it must (the universe doesn't have the same ability to switch off the past that the human mind does). Infinite growth, infinite improvement is a myth. Infinite growth in a finite system eventually becomes untenable.

Quick mental exercise. A pond starts off on day 1 with a single lilypad, which doubles every day. On day 30, the entire surface is covered by lilypads. When is the pond half-covered? When do the lilypads notice there's a problem? Well, lilypads are ordinarily not considered terribly intelligent, but most humans wouldn't notice there's a problem as late as Day 28 or even 29. Finite system, infinite growth... right until the bitter end.

But I'm not talking about lily pads. This is bigger. It's... everything we do as humans. It's consuming fossil fuels at rate millions of times faster than they were created. It's consuming ores faster than they're being brought up from the mantle. It's breeding faster than the food supply can reasonably support, let alone dealing with all the waste products of this feverish activity. And most immediately, it's borrowing money from that Infinite Growth future to pay for the H2's and McMansions and million dollar broker bonuses.

The current financial system with its fiat money, marginal banking and insane apetite for debt is maybe the most direct and pointed example of the effect of the Lord of More simply because the financial system is a wholly human creation and we can't blame any Creator or the laws of the Universe for it. And the same primates that were in charge of its development are also in charge of "saving" it so our society's precious Infinite Growth can continue... The pseudo-religious mania continues.

One of the long term posters on The Oil Drum asks in the signature of his posts: Are humans smarter than yeast? It's a good question. More clever? Undoubtedly: no yeast I've met has come up with credit default swaps and using money from the future to help banks hide toxic toilet paper so that they can refuse to lend to each other. But then again, yeast don't need to. They just keep worshipping their own Lord of More (Yeast) until the finite system they are actually in collapses. Mother Nature always bats last.

Now if you'll excuse me, this yeastling has some of his own devotions to make to the Lord of More... :(

Postnote: Considering we may have already entered overshoot 10,000 years ago, we might well have a long way to fall, and by continuing to pursue the teachings of the Lord of More, we restrict our possible actions to anticipate and save... something.


[User Picture]
Date:2008 Oct 21 - 22:30 (UTC)
Fie! I cry "Fie!" on ye of little faith, Fie! For the great and true god Fusion will save us all! *

* For certain values of "all." Please see annex 1 for the definition of "save." This is not a guarantee. YMMV. HAND.
[User Picture]
Date:2008 Oct 22 - 01:14 (UTC)
Yes, and 80% PV cells... and Space-based powered satellites built by Space Elevators and aided by room-temperature superconductors.

Cornucopian delusions, one and all. For planning purposes, consider the tech we're going to have in the power down is the tech we have released now, or under commercialization research (i.e. working on economic break even) less than 5 years ago. Anything else is unlikely. Possible, but you don't plan on miracles. Unless you're an economist...