May 6, 2009

The “Platform”

Filed under: Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Relocalization — Tags: , , , , — Russell Bangs @ 8:43 am
Peak Oil means different things to different people. Those who affirm global technological civilization approach it as a mere problem this civilization must and can solve. This dovetails with the green cornucopian approach to carbon emissions. In both cases it’s believed mass conspicuous consumption and intense energy use can and should continue; we’ll just be more “efficient” and eco-friendly about it. Thus they envision some combination of biofuels, PHEVs, CCS, renewable energy, efficiency retrofits, geoengineering, and GMOs which will allow the continuation of the personal car/suburban sprawl/consumerist model for existing. (Though even where they can work out the energy flows and conjure the food production on paper, they have considerable trouble telling us where the oil platform, capital, water, or space will come from for all this.)
For them, Peak Oil does not represent any pivotal historical change, but is more of an obstacle to continued progress, perhaps just a speed bump.
Then there are those of us who are either skeptical about mass civilization itself or have come to believe it is no longer sustainable. For us, Peak Oil signifies the fact, regarded with hope or fear or both, of revolutionary change. It is the physio-economic guarantor of the end of a stage of history, and it is the classical cycling back of history, restored to a more natural course, where not amplified, accelerated, and distorted by the steroids of fossil fuels.
Those of us who experienced this “history on steroids” as having been for the worst, decadent and malign, destructive of earth, mind, and soul, can welcome this break with the near-past and hope for the restoration of a more human path, perhaps more holistic than prior to the fossil fuel blip, if we can bring along the bitter wisdom we should have learned from this crazed detour.
So we can say “Peak Oil” can be the term not just for a physical milestone in a discrete historical cycle, but to encompass the high-flying pinnacle of modernity, where it reached its peaks of both dream and nightmare, where its delusion completely outran its material base, as well as whatever rational base it may ever have had; and where its wave peaked, broke, and fell back upon itself; and where it sought to perpetuate itself but could only cannibalize itself, and where it descended, and where a new relocalized, but spiritually far more mature, civilization superseded it. Those last few items represent a possible future. (I would say the first, grimmer part is likely, the latter bright part is to be hoped for and worked toward.)
This leads to the question, if in philosophical terms fossil-fueled modern civilization, and the (delusional) dream of this civilization, is the existing thesis, and the dream’s nightmare, its spiritual, material and economic bankruptcy, as summed up in the philosophy of Peak Oil, comprise the antithesis, then what synthesis do we hope to achieve? What do we wish to take up and bring along from the ruins of the fossil fuel platform?
The core of Nietzsche’s vision of the modern dilemma and potential is that together religion and science have constructed the intellectual and spiritual platform from which man can achieve true liberation, truly reach “adulthood”, truly become free (including achieving a position above and independent of both religion and the cult of science, technology, “progress”). In that same philosophically fertile 19th century (all the real philosophical advances of modernity came in the 19th century; like in so many other areas, here too the 20th generated mostly gratuitous complexity, picayune specialization, intentional confusion – really the same old rent-seeking over productive activity) Marx and others demonstrated how industrialism and fossil fuels enabled the development of political ideals of liberty and self-actualization (which have unfortunately been degraded into license and entitlement).
So now with Peak Oil we may attempt to meld these visions. We must take wing and attempt to depart from the single platform which comprises the spiritual, political, and fossil-fueled material “platforms” of modernity. Some of these represent an accumulated wisdom we may try to take with us, others were ephemeral crutches we must cast away. But put together it is a place where we can no longer continue running in place.
We now cycle back to a simpler historical existence. Whether we are at the same time transcendent, whether we bring along something of what we should have learned, whether we above all learn to rise above our delusions and superstitions once and for all; or whether it was all for nothing, and energy descent does end up as a nasty, Hobbesian, “Mad Max” affair; or worst of all if it is just a slow deteriorating grind as several Peak Oilers think, if man is simply crushed in a vice for the rest of history, is the question.          


  1. I recently posited that “infantilism, voluntary disempowerment and cultural inertia are what stand between us and the options of A. a difficult future and B. an apocalyptic future.” Pretty much your summation as well!

    Comment by Juliet — May 6, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  2. I’m really enjoying this blog. Randomly clicked through on an insightful Naked Capitalism comment.

    Comment by Ross — May 6, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  3. Juliet: I think these are likely to be even greater barriers to real change than entrenched resistance and reaction.

    Ross: Thank you! I’m glad you like the place.

    Comment by Russ — May 7, 2009 @ 3:21 am

  4. The industrial nation state, as an institution of industrial civilization, collapses. No one gets to dodge the Post-Peak Oil bullet. It is time for the Peal Oil Movement to embrace the States’ Rights Movement. FYI:

    North American Secessionist Congress, October 2010

    Comment by Sebastian Ronin — May 10, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

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