Friday, June 8, 2012

Slavery 2.0

"Our new consumerist aspirations drawn from Disneyesque utopian imagineering compel us to stop and ask, what comes next? How will we support the gains that have made? Can minorities be accorded equality of opportunity in a shrinking job market with a burgeoning de-skilled labor pool?"

For a number of years now we have been parsing tea leaves to mull what Hubbert linearization may do for human rights. To briefly recap, earlier civilizations almost uniformly were far more cruel, brutal and oppressive to the majority of their subjects than is our present globalized industrial society. Consumer societies have apparently learned that they can only abuse their buyers/producers to a point or markets shrivel. Hence, they have been steadily conferring more rights, expectations and aspirations for the better part of 150 years, and now some of that is coming around to bite our collective hindquarters.

Attacks on public employee’s unions (and the recent recall election in Wisconsin), the student fee-hike protests around the globe, and the Greek rebellion against fiscal austerity measures imposed by the European Union are all manifestations, in part, of unbound entitlements meeting up with the curve of binding entropy.

Going back to the last turning, the War of Northern Aggression was as much a product of Colonel Drake’s discovery of “coal oil” on Seneca land as any of the unleashed tensions set ablaze by John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid. Fed by a steadily expanding diet of coal and oil, Northern industrialists vastly outproduced Southern planters in the key commodities of guns and steel. They wanted and, from a capitalist standpoint, needed, market hegemony, particularly to the Eurozone and the Western Frontier, both opened by steam power. A plantation economy based on the joules per kilogram of imported African slaves was no match. When the two horse armies clashed on the plains of Shenandoah, the trenches of Verdun were birthed. Warfare would never be the same, but, more importantly, neither would our thinking about human rights.

The rising aspirations of energy-rich consumers, including the children of former slaves, brought a near revolution a century later, as well-educated Northern freedom-riders took gasoline-fueled mass transit south into slavery’s last bastions and the Montgomery bus boycott was beaten harmless by car-pools using private automobiles owned by middle-class blacks and liberated housewives, their kitchens automated with General Electric and Westinghouse products. This victory was enlarged in the lunch-counter sit-ins, where young men and women demanded equal not separate access to the fundamental human rights of milkshakes, hamburgers, french fries and cole slaw. These same people would soon be sending children of their own to rich, formerly white male bastions of academia to be educated in the liberation theology that was breaking down walls from Berlin to Bothaville.

Alas, all of this was erected on an edifice of boundless energy density. Rather than trying to construct monumental civilizations on diffuse solar and renewable sources — our energy checking account from the Sun, harvested by plant and animal slaves, including the two-legged variety — we were, for a brief shining moment, able to draw down a one-time, 500-million-year store of fossil sunlight — our energy savings account, harvested by Caterpiller, Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil. As we now pass a halfway point on that savings account, with a world population past north of 7 billion, our new consumerist aspirations drawn from Disneyesque utopian imagineering compel us to stop and ask, what comes next? How will we support the gains that have been made?

Can housewives be liberated without all-electric kitchens? In post-nuclear Fukushima Prefecture they have had to hunt up those artisanal tofu-crafters still boiling curds in wood-fired pots to remind them how it was that food staples could be produced affordably without electricity. It can be done, they are told, but only with human labor substituting for those atomic pressure cookers. You can do it now, or you can wait, but panoplies of fresh Fukushimas lurk to ensnare the tardy.

Can minorities be accorded equality of opportunity in a shrinking job market with a burgeoning de-skilled labor pool? Can we, as civilization de-grows, afford to provide subsidies for art history or music theory researchers, or, for that matter, researchers at all? Or was all that an artifact of our vanishing Era of Abundance?

In his World Made By Hand series, James Howard Kunstler paints a picture of neofeudalism in upstate New York, circa mid- to late- 21st century. A few wealthy land-owners or Christian sects control the means of production, which are largely driven once more by plant and animal slaves, including the two-legged variety, whether they are called employees, brethren or citizens. There is a real allure in this vision, borne of the recognition that both capitalism and socialism were industrial era conceits, and both depended on a steadily expanding wealth of energy-dense fuels to confer their promised benefits. What they replaced, we need to remember, was theocracy and authoritarianism, or what we might call Slavery 1.0.

Somewhere between Slavery 1.0 and its return as Slavery 2.0, we’ve experienced a number of technical adjustments and bug-fixes which could be called Slavery 1.1, 1.2, etc. These would include the American, French and Russian revolutions against feudal aristocracies, the Bolivarian liberation struggles of principally the South, and the vast consumer societies that today comprise our global economy, from Cairo to Chicago. Each of the bug fixes addressed some social maladjustment that threatened to conflagrate into outright civil rebellion, but none threatened the underlying premises of the slavery mindset: income inequality; concentration of power into the hands of a select few; and indentured servitude for the masses, whether through export-driven economic systems, withholding of health, housing, food or water, or imposition of academic fees on the fleeting promise of being able to lift oneself out of slavery if one is willing to accept usurious loan terms for the rest of one’s life.

Take away the hidden energy subsidy and the façade tumbles. Aspirations for liberation then become an entirely different question, because to whom should complaints be addressed? Consumers are themselves the oppressors. Democracies are the reflection of their aspirations; oligarchies and transnational corporate vultures the implied end-result of a pyramidal structure; and theocracy and authoritarianism the most likely last refuge when all hope for anything better has been abandoned. Slavery 2.0 is coming soon to a mall near you and it may well be disguised as spiritual rebirth or torus energy from the Thrive-world. In the end, it will mean going back to a world we once knew but have almost forgotten, a little less kind and a lot more physical.

It will also be much hotter, lest we forget that our dalliance with that ancient, buried savings account had consequences.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"to whom should complaints be addressed? Consumers are themselves the oppressors."

'Consumers' have been the victims of the largest most sophisticated propaganda & brainwashing effort the world has ever seen. Who benefits from consumerism? Who prints our money? Who is at the top of the current power pyramid? It is actually less than 1% of the population that benefits from all that goes on. When the machinery of oppression runs out of cheap energy, there will be an opportunity for the 99% to break free from debt slavery. Prepare and be ready.




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