Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Trap is Set

There's a reason I keep Dmitry Orlov on the blogroll to the right.  His most recent post on the "Sixth Stage of Collapse" is an excellent example, and expresses my current thoughts on our situation quite well.  Also quite prescient is the comment on Orlov's entry from Thomas Reis regarding the costs of decommissioning Germany's 28 nuclear plants (search for "Reis" once you're on Orlov's blog).  It's becoming ever more apparent that we have created a trap for ourselves from which we may not escape.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Food for Thought

Please read the following excerpt, written by someone you already know:

"A technological advance that appears not to threaten freedom often turns out to threaten it very seriously later on. For example, consider motorized transport. A walking man formerly could go where he pleased, go at his own pace without observing any traffic regulations, and was independent of technological support-systems. 

When motor vehicles were introduced they appeared to increase man's freedom. They took no freedom away from the walking man, no one had to have an automobile if he didn't want one, and anyone who did choose to buy an automobile could travel much faster than the walking man. But the introduction of motorized transport soon changed society in such a way as to restrict greatly man's freedom of locomotion. 

When automobiles became numerous, it became necessary to regulate their use extensively. In a car, especially in densely populated areas, one cannot just go where one likes at one's own pace one's movement is governed by the flow of traffic and by various traffic laws. One is tied down by various obligations: license requirements, driver test, renewing registration, insurance, maintenance required for safety, monthly payments on purchase price. 

Moreover, the use of motorized transport is no longer optional. Since the introduction of motorized transport the arrangement of our cities has changed in such a way that the majority of people no longer live within walking distance of their place of employment, shopping areas and recreational opportunities, so that they HAVE TO depend on the automobile for transportation. Or else they must use public transportation, in which case they have even less control over their own movement than when driving a car. 

Even the walker's freedom is now greatly restricted. In the city he continually has to stop and wait for traffic lights that are designed mainly to serve auto traffic. In the country, motor traffic makes it dangerous and unpleasant to walk along the highway. (Note the important point we have illustrated with the case of motorized transport: When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new technology changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it.)"

Another excerpt of his that I found quite interesting:

"The conservatives are fools:  They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth. Apparently it never occurs to them that you can't make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society with out causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values."

He actually saves most of his vitriol for "Leftists" (which I find somewhat less interesting!), but much of which contains some element of truth. 

The author has an IQ of 167, was admitted to Harvard at 16, and completed his graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he received his PhD in Mathematics.  One of his professors noted, "It's not enough to say he was smart".  Another professor commenting on his thesis, noted, "I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 men in the country understood or appreciated it".   He was the youngest professor ever hired by UC Berkely, though he didn't remain there long.   Though you already know him, I would guess you've never written a word he wrote.

Both of these excerpts are taken from what you probably know of as "The Unibomber Manifesto", published by the NY Times and written by the now infamous Ted Kaczynski.  While I wouldn't condone his means of obtaining fame, there is clearly some unique insight in his writing, which I would encourage anyone to check out.  

According to his Wiki page, Ted's bombing campaign was inspired by destruction which he found unbearable.  In his words:

"The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the tertiary age. It's kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983. That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it... You just can't imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge."

I've often found that whenever someone does something extraordinary (or extraordinarily bad, in this case), there's often more to the story.  Kaczynski's story is no exception.   A blog written by his brother notes that Ted was subjected to knowingly harmful psychological experiments during his time at Harvard (believed to have been initiated by the CIA), and offers some potential insight into the actions which landed him at the federal penitentiary with 8 life sentences.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making Things

I recently came across this excellent Ghandhi quote at John Neeman tools, a guild of Latvian craftsmen who appear to do wonderful work (and have a good website developer to boot!).

"Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God."

Though the cursing doesn't seem to have started just yet, I'm inclined to think that the time of Ghandhi's prediction has arrived.  How would we fare if the industrial machine were to grind to a halt for any one of a million different reasons?

Their video of damascus knife making is worth a view, as is their entire website.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Just Make It

Our parents oohed and ahhed over our paper, crayon, and glue creations, even if they only decorated the fridge for a week or two before getting tossed while we weren't looking.  For many of us, that’s the last time we experienced the sort of pride and satisfaction that comes with using our own two hands to make something.  It’s likely that our skills haven’t progressed much since then, and that's a shame.

Humans are happiest when attending to our own direct needs, but we’re also inherently lazy. Continually offered an increasing abundance of manufactured goods, we’re easily robbed of both the knowledge and desire to make anything for ourselves.  A quarter of us now have mental health problems.  10% of us are on anti-depressants.  Could our idled hands be a factor?

In a world where cheap, disposable, and quickly outdated consumer goods rule, it would seem as if there’s no longer a need to make anything.  The opportunity cost of the time spent making far exceeds the cost of just purchasing.  There’s no contest when our own wages (and value for time) are competing with those of someone at a sweatshop in China.  No longer the core of home life or an occupation, hand crafts are painted with the demeaning label of “hobby”;  i.e. something to be done after we “retire”, when there’s nothing good to watch on TV.

I suspect most of us have long forgotten the joy of making, compounded in no small part by the fact that we no longer know how to provide for ourselves.  Suckling at the teat of industry is comfortable enough that most people I know are incapable of contemplating the inevitable demise of this arrangement.  

Flip to any television news channel, and you won’t have to spend too much time waiting to hear the word consumer pounded into your psyche yet again.  That’s our job.  We’ve become the dumping ground for the industrial machine that has consumed us.

In light of these thoughts, we’ve been encouraging our 9 year old son to work with his hands as well as his mind.  He started simply -- flattening bottle caps with a hammer and pounding steel wire into odd shapes.  He then mastered origami, folding complex shapes that take hours to complete.  Lately he’s been making shell jewelry, and recently exclaimed that he “LOVES wood carving!".

Though we still save for his college education, I’d have to say that I don’t feel any great need to push him towards a university system that increasingly resembles an extortion racket.  In the world I see emerging, a university degree will not hold the same weight it did when I graduated, and will likely represent little more than time and money lost in perfecting skills of greater value.  

 Rachel has been fine-tuning her skills with fiber, doing everything from cleaning and processing wool to dyeing, spinning, knitting, felting, and weaving.  I probably enjoy wearing the clothes she makes almost as much as she enjoys making them.

When I can spare a few minutes from my passion for cow-squeezing, I’ve been trying to improve my knowledge of leather tanning, sewing,  blacksmithing, spoon carving, timber framing, bow making, and bowl making (both carved and turned).  I keep studying leatherwork as well, in hopes of learning to make shoes at some point.  Check out Robin Wood's website for someone who has done an excellent job of making his craft a career.  The video of him competing with an electric lathe is quite impressive.  

For now, the unfortunate fact is that I’m finding it much easier to acquire tools than to find the time to use them.  The rule of thumb I see tossed around is that it takes about 10,000 hours (about 5 years of full time work) before any craft is mastered.   Guess I've got some work ahead of me.