3/04/2011

A Look at Reality

One of the basic precepts of modern quality manufacturing is that you can't fix a problem that you don't acknowledge. In manufacturing, that means you count defects, analyze processes, and keep it all out in the open so that everyone stays focused on fixing problems. That, of course, is the exact opposite of the 1950-1980 American manufacturing process and that is why we got our asses handed to us by Japan in the 1970's and why we are still a second-rate manufacturing nation. We're a hell of a lot better than we were in 1970, but so is everyone else. Today, the United States is only #1 in markets where reliability is unimportant (military-industrial garbage) or where cost is a non-factor (US medicine and military-industrial garbage). It also helps that nobody else is seriously competing in those markets, because Japan and Europe could kick our asses in either area if they gave it a half-hearted shot.

My wife and I had a heated discussion about the future of humanity tonight that brought up my manufacturing experience. She is an eternal optimist. She desperately wants to believe that humanity will pull its head out of its ass and find solutions for social inequality, global warming, overpopulation, and vanishing natural resources. I do not. She believes that a few dedicated, intelligent, hard working idealists can fix these catastrophes-in-waiting even though the mass of humanity is perfectly clueless about the problems; let alone the likely end results of ignoring these problems. I do not.

She was on a pretty fine altruistic roll with her argument for a "few good humans" until I asked her how that worked out for her at Home Depot; her last inhuman employer. To be clear, she was exactly as successful as I was at influencing my equally psychopathic past employer, Guidant. We didn't make a scratch in those institutions' hard callous patina.

Nor will a few million dedicated environmentalists, social reformers, Planned Parenthood volunteers, or the world's scientists. As long as the head is dead, a few sentient organs will have no effect on the actions of the body. The human brain has been officially pronounced "dead" for centuries.

The problems are obvious. We are running out of fossil fuels. We have no viable alternatives. Our natural resources are vanishing as quickly as the energy to abuse those resources. Human population is far beyond the point of sustainability and when the energy issue comes to a head billions will starve. The world's air, water, and climate are being stressed beyond practical recovery. Social injustice has been ignored for so long that many of the world's democracies are that only in name, the United States especially.

With those big problems facing every semi-intelligent person, what are the big issues our own government wants to address? Reducing taxes on the filthy idle rich. Banning gay marriage. Removing all barriers from corporate pillaging of the nation's savings and resources. Providing a more regimented education to people who will never have a job or a purpose in their lifetimes. Eliminating labor unions. Freeing the corporate media from any social responsibility or even the pretense of honesty.

Not a one of those "big issues" will amount to a second thought when one of the true big issues comes to a head. Of course, by then it won't matter one way or the other. Every single big issue will solve itself the way every major human issues is resolved; in catastrophe. When we hit the rapid downside of the Hubbert Peak, the population issue will take care of itself. Before the Industrial Revolution and the energy-driven society, world human population stuck to 100-200 million for tens of thousands of years. After we harnessed cheap energy, population exploded. As we burn through the last of the oil reserves, we're going to see the other side of that population curve as reality informs our not-so-bright species about sustainability.

I was suffering a National Geographic show on human evolution a while back. One of the "experts" repeatedly chanted the foolish pipedream that "humans are the most adaptable animal on the planet." I'm unconvinced, considering that we are somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 years old, as a species, and that there are crocodiles that have survived virtually unchanged for 200 million years, sharks that can track their linage back 400 million years, and cockroaches whose relatives were pretty much the same 300 million years ago. Roaches can live on postage stamp glue. Crocodiles can and do eat anything and tolerate fresh or salt water and do pretty well on land. Sharks are . .  sharks. I wouldn't bet on human adaptability against either of those opponents.

Our claim to fame is our amazing ability to comprehend our own demise. However, most of us (84%) have invented a Big Rock Candy Mountain imaginary afterlife because we can't comprehend a universe without us.

Our confidence in finding the next great solution is well documented in science fiction, but reality tells a different story. Every big break science has provided has produced a secondary effect that is likely to be a much bigger catastrophe in the future. "Solutions" actually solve problems. Stop-gaps are notoriously dangerous tactics when applied to life-threatening problems.

Until I see some significant portion of society begin to work on solving the big problems with the kind of long range focus and objectives that these problems require, I will stick with my belief that humanity is just a blip in the evolutionary process and no more significant than any one of the tens of thousands of now-extinct species from the earth's bloody past. We are one failed growing season, one moderate-sized asteroid, one environmental disaster, one giant volcano, one world war away from a massive culling of the species. So don't bring your superstitious happy talk my way. My patience for fools is damn close to exhausted.

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