HUMINT: Satire as Philosophy
Satire: a manner of writing that mixes a critical attitude with wit and humor in an effort to improve mankind and human institutions.
HUMINT: Political theater in the form of satire makes introducing taboo subjects relatively easy. Good satire has real power. Introducing a subject in the form of a joke is like adding a giggly escape hatch for all of a conversation’s participants. But comedic reprieves from responsibility only work for those willing or able to retreat from tough subjects. John Stewart and Steven Colbert are perfect examples of America’s finest satirists. These men herd public opinion with satire as if they were cowboys driving livestock across the mid-western prairie. These two brilliant comedians make Americans laugh about subjects that we would otherwise prefer to avoid. Even if we don’t need a humorous back door to the tough subjects in America, we still want a comedic escape hatch. Indeed, we’re willing to pay for it as though it were as important as our prescription drugs...
Unlike American society, some societies need a scocio-political escape hatch just to think straight. Anonymity (using an alias and IP Address masking software) combined with satirical ambiguity is particularly useful in societies where spreading controversy can get you executed. An Iranian dissident for example, might be able to speak his or her mind -- pseudo freely -- encrypted by satire -- to avoid a few years in jail, avoid a public beating, or avoid execution. Unfortunately, the fascist authoritarians ruling Iran with an iron fist today are not known for their sense of humor. But that’s them… not us… que sera sera.
Living in a society like America or Europe, where controversy is embraced, satire is an indelible art. Comedians are masters of controversy and Americans love comedians. But how does it work? Who protects a comedian’s right to joke and the audience’s right to laugh? We all do… To be sure, citizens afforded the requisite security to be controversial by their government and their society is a rare phenomenon. When juxtaposed against the violent and mostly authoritarian history of humankind, living with a little uncomfortable controversy every once in a while has become very comfortable indeed.
What changed? Who is responsible for our modern freedoms? We all are! Our role in society is a function of what we collectively believe or have the capacity to believe… Our social identity evolved through iterations of victory in our wars, curing our diseases, feeding our hungry children and learning from our dissenters --- be they satirists, philosophers or cynics.
Let’s not give to much credit to the suffering of our ancestors. Humanity is not made better through suffering. Humanity is made better by outwitting the causes of suffering. There is no humility in defeat. There is only humility in a willingness to change in order to succeed, eventually. Case in point: Americans respect each other’s inalienable rights because our intellectual DNA constantly informs us of the inherent danger of NOT respecting each others inalienable rights. To that end, satire has played a major role in helping Americans understand who we are.
For context, consider the satirical approach to feminism taken by the renowned philosopher Plato . In ancient Greece, Plato introduced the idea of women’s participation in democratic government as if it were a satirical joke. His thoughts about women leading men were comedic, but prophetic. To what extent Plato thought women could or should lead society is debatable, but that’s not the issue. Given the status of women in ancient Greece, could Plato have introduced the idea of women’s rights without a satirical façade? Could any Athenian have protected Plato from an angry mob if he didn’t add a humorous escape hatch to the notion of Athenian women as equals or as leaders?
Nowadays, it’s taken for granted that the political ideas of American women deserve the attention afforded to all American citizens in every public forum. Ask any American and they’ll tell you about America’s implicit and explicit gender rules. What does Plato’s story teach us? The lesson is; Plato introduced the idea of feminism imperfectly and the subject has morphed into something else; a new feminist philosophy about gender and leadership. We know Plato’s philosophy did not spread without controversy or consequence. Consciously intended or not, Plato’s concepts on the subject were encrypted by satire. Satirical encryption may have saved his life… His satirical expression may have help create and thus save our American lives. It was Athenian society and Plato’s willingness to express his philosophy that contributed to the creation of our American democracy. America’s Founding Fathers knew Greek history.
As they did, we know too, ancient Athens was a bloody place in Plato’s day. Freedom and her companion, Justice , were talked about at great length in ancient Athens by men like Plato. But what ancient Athenians practiced wouldn’t look much like freedom or justice to modern Americans. That fact cannot diminish the socio-political trajectory ancient democracy established. It was their ancient mental model that helped develop the mental models of America’s Founding Fathers. If and when Americans are inclined to look for their philosophical ancestry, they’re bound to discover something about themselves. Regardless of what our emotion may tell us about the ancients and their ways, basic human freedoms are both subjectively and objectively defined in American law.
That said; is there a logical limit to freedom or justice? Are Americans a free people? Yes, we certainly are! Can Americans challenge their authority figures in public? Yes, we do! What about controversial opinions and American national security? Is it safe to disagree satirically, philosophically, or cynically on issues related to the security of the United States? Of course it is safe to do so! Whether or not it is healthy to be cynical about American leadership is another subject. The fact remains, U.S. National Security is represented by a highly educated cadre of career professionals who embody personal responsibility and sustain the American Republic with military strength, rational analysis and perpetual readiness.
My respect and admiration for this generation of American men and women leading the United States today cannot be overstated. Likewise, my ambition for them to succeed cannot be overstated. My success is inextricably linked to theirs, as is all Americans’ success. Their failure would be my failure… Failure is an unnecessary and unacceptable outcome and could only occur in the realm of ideas. History has shown that our freedom is our strength. History has shown what Americans can do. History suggests what Americans will do.
Are American officials perfect? No! Do they make mistakes? Yes! Are American officials approachable in the context of correcting the mistakes they’ve made? Yes, they are! These truisms exist whether or not American citizens agree or disagree with U.S. policy. Even the most obtuse critics of American foreign policy argue that American officials are doing what they believe is necessary to protect the United States and our allies abroad. That’s a good thing! American officials should be trying to protect American interests. In many instances, American interests coincide with the world’s interests, but that’s not the crux of most American disagreement, argument and debate. The core disagreements between Americans are over methods to achieve those interests, whatever those interests may be.
Are American citizens (or anyone else for that mater) obliged to treat their disagreements with American foreign or domestic policy issues as a joke, presented in satirical form, providing themselves and the United States Government a comedic escape hatch? No they are not! Are American citizens obliged to sue the United States government for every mistake one of its representatives makes? No, what a waste of time and tax! Are problems in society too big to fix without a utopian myth and a charismatic leader to chase? No, not at all!
In practical terms, however you decide to express yourself, look to others for advice, look for solutions and look for happiness. Keep your expectations realistic and optimistic. Realize, not all rules benefit society. Realize some members of society will refuse to follow the rules. Challenge the rules you think hurt more people than they help. Think about what rules people break and why. Challenge authority. Challenge cynics. Cynicism is as much an illusion as utopia and the charismatic leaders who claim utopia exists if only we were all perfect... None of us are perfect. Use historical analogy. Use your imagination. Use satire when it suits the subject matter, but know that satire stylistically distorts the material it conveys. Satire is the art of bending our familiar rules of implicit and explicit communication. Realize that success embraces communities that exercise their freedom to learn, speak and assemble. And finally --- Be proud of your ideology. Describe it accurately no matter how seductive it appears to be. Whatever you believe, if you only represent your philosophy as satire, it will forever remain the joke you’ve made it to be.
Plato as a Proto-Feminist --- EXCERPT: Of course, we cannot be absolutely certain of Plato’s views… such knowledge would be impossible without interviewing the philosopher himself. But, through careful analyses of his writings, we can certainly glean out ideas which paint him as a proto-feminist.
 The image is of blind justice with its pixel color inverted, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert in the upper right corner and the Parthenon sits in the lower right corner. Inverting the image of justice is my satire. The meaning remains but the overall seriousness of the statue is limited by manipulating the image’s color. Stewart and Colbert are brilliant satirists. While they are funny, the direction they are going with their satire deserves to be challenged. The Parthenon in the lower right corner represents the Athenian Empire, Athenian Democracy and Plato’s world. That era deeply influences Americans today even if most of us don’t realize it.
HUMINT: Mental Models
Seductive: tending to entice into a desired action or state.
Successful: having succeeded or being marked by a favorable outcome.
HUMINT: Survival depends on a clear conception of how the world works. You can be wrong but it always has consequences. Your personal understanding of the world and its mechanics is a model of reality. Your model transcends your personality. It transcends your nationalism. It transcends your religion. It’s true no matter what threatens the survival of your model or what threatens your reality. Understanding our history in the context of world history helps us form our models, but history alone cannot serve as sufficient mental model. At best, history is a user’s manual for society. That’s why historians tend to be extremely competent model makers. Historians can see patterns most of us can’t. But don’t embrace a historian’s version of reality casually. Just because historians can see patterns and articulate them doesn’t guarantee those patterns are real or relevant to the rest of us today. History is an interpretive enterprise. Historians aren’t priests. They don’t demand your faith so don’t give it to them. History is comprised of disconnected windows into the past; like pieces of a model that someone is going to glue together. Too often history is ignored when we’re building our mental models. What I’d like American professionals, professors, and politicians to realize is that history’s pieces will be fashioned into a model, by someone, whether we like the results or not.
If you’re expecting me to force my model on you, that’s not what this essay is about. That’s not what my writings here at human intelligence are about either. It’s a fool’s errand to force a model on anyone. By virtue of their existence, all models are seductive. Put a brick on a podium in an art gallery and you’ll see what I mean. As the pontificators gather around it, they’ll invest their own meaning in the brick. I’d like to believe the most accurate mental models are the most socially seductive, but they’re not. The most accurate models are usually the most successful, but success is not universal, therefore successful mental models tend to be unseductive when other illusory choices are offered. Ultimately, it’s not what a mental model looks like that matters. It’s what a mental model does for its subscriber. Successful Washingtonian, Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, to name a few mental architects, have a high melting point in our American melting pot, but the mental models they created for Americans are not indestructible. The work done by the Founding Fathers is being undone by a number of disingenuous members of American Authority who claim American foreign policy is an arbitrary adventure in aggression.
Any implication of arbitrary acts of aggression committed for the sake of a nation or government is enough to degrade any mental model that sustains that nation or government. In terms of Iraq and Afghanistan, empirical evidence does not support accusations that the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War were not necessary. Despite the lowest record of error and casualties in any American war ever, the daily news in America and around the world is replete with implications of misconduct. The fact is, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan are being conducted with a high degree of professionalism. Those are the facts… So, why are there implications to the contrary? Where are the implications of misconduct coming? If consensual government is a just cause, where’s the disconnect between success on the battlefield and support for our wars abroad?
I don’t know the answer. I do however know that long term peace (a highly desirable outcome of any violent conflict) fosters the idea that all aggression is arbitrary. This is a very self destructive misunderstanding of violence in the midst of a struggle for consensual government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans are ideologically and institutionally geared to fight for inalienable rights, liberty and an enduring pursuit of happiness. That’s a good thing. To be coy about that reality is a tacit acceptance of contrary mental models. Nothing could be more debilitating to the American Mental Model here at home than the belief that “conflict” and “failure” are equivalent concepts. For those that see the world through this distorted lens, are as likely to avoid decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presumably they’re skittish of escalating conflict in the Middle East when they are doing exactly that. War without victory is a stalemate. It is a recipe for sustained conflict.
To clarify this point, let’s dissociate America’s Wars from American Sport. Non-violent competition may feel like war but each is an entirely different experience. Unlike victory, spiking a football after a touchdown may be bray. On the other hand, declaring victory after a war or the pursuit of victory during war is the only guarantor of finality. Violent engagement will only cease when one mental model supplants another in society that accepts attacks against the United States and our forces serving overseas. The mental model that remains after victory needn’t be American. It shouldn’t be. It must however peacefully accept the United States as a legitimate component of the world we live in today. If it does not, and as long as it does not, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will smolder indefinitely. Mental models do not peacefully coexist in the minds of militants. Either the United States is a legitimate nation pursuing legitimate goals around the globe or it is not. It is not bray to actively seek the elimination of dangerous ambiguities swirling around in the minds of Americans and our enemies abroad. At this important moment in history, when more and more identities are expressing their mental models in public and online (with the technology the American Market empowered them with) it is dangerous to modest.
The best of my ability, I built my model and will risk everything for it. I’m not a cognitive architect but I love my model like a mother loves her newborn. I’m still working on it but enjoy displaying it; unfinished, unpolished, with pride. My confidence comes from acknowledging my model’s limitations and my enduring attempts to articulate it. But set that aside. No matter what you may think of me or my model, think about the model you consciously or unconsciously push on the world. Is it inclusive, exclusive or divisive? How did you derive your model? Was your model a gift to you or did you earn it with blood, sweat and tears? Did you find it in your teens or are in adulthood? Was an introspective experience or some kind of group love-in? Is it sustainable? Be honest with yourself. Do you talk about or even think about your mental models? If you’re modest with your model at home or abroad, it doesn’t count. Look at the alternatives. There will always be plenty of alternatives. The most seductive models are shown often and copy themselves in the public arena. Think about it. Missionaries take their models on the road. Door to door, they sell their ideas best face to face --- with a smile!
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our world model changes as it asymptotically approaches reality. It’s very difficult to notice these changes as they overtake us. The mental model of the world we have now is our point of reference for the past, present and future. It’s not Orwellian. When your mental model of the world changes your conception of the past present and future emigrates as well. Nevertheless, we hope our model is increasingly accurate. At least the ecosystem of mental models appears to be evolving toward better precision and accuracy. It’s a trend that occurs without bias, because biased models, no matter how seductive they are, biased models always fail their subscribers. Unfortunately, I’m describing a feeling. I have no proof. I’m extrapolating because I know; no matter what models individuals subscribe to today, reality and all of our mental models of it are dynamic, no matter how wrong or right they are. Some mental models will be adopted; others will be edited to accommodate reality or abandoned in their entirety. I don’t care if you adopt my mental model or call my articulation of it bray. If you do adopt it, do it without me. I’m not trying to start a cult. If you think I’m bray, it’s a tangent worth spending a few words on --- kiss my ass!  I’m here to define and defend my ideas at all costs --- that applies to dinner parties and fist fights. I prefer the former to the later, but know both intimately. Defending a mental model with pleasantries does not contradict a healthy readiness to engage in violence. If anything I’ve just written is intimidating check your mental model. It’s probably biased.
That said --- During the American Revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; King George III or Thomas Jefferson? Obviously Jefferson! Right… well, that’s how it all played out didn’t it. Thank God that’s history and thank God for our British allies! --- NEXT! During the French Revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; Marie Antoinette or her pitch fork wielding, revolutionary people? With hindsight, perched high on my own mental model, I’d say both were wrong! Thank God that’s history. Thank God for our allies in France!
Let’s keep going --- During the Iranian revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi or Ayatollah Khomeini? Both were wrong, but this revolutionary example is different than the American or French Revolutions. Empirical evidence suggests the Iranian Revolution isn’t over. Nothing has been settled since it occurred. It never fulfilled its purpose. We could pretend it’s over… but that would be biased. It wouldn’t explain why the Iranian Government continues to burn American flags in their streets. It wouldn’t explain why a sovereign nation like Iran is pushing the International community to the edge of smacking it with debilitating sanctions. Tehran is running a reckless nuclear program making the region more nervous than anything else occurring there. Pretending the Iranian Revolution were over wouldn’t explain the mass graves scattered across Iran. It wouldn’t explain what’s going on when student leaders and democracy advocates are tortured for their opinions, or gays hanged for being gay or feminists beaten for demanding women’s rights… The fact is, the slogans from 1979 were never realized. Victory in that revolution was suppressed and that’s precisely why turbulence continues in that country today.
Revolutions are turning points in many minds. They have influence that ripples through generations of mankind. Revolutions may be the most significant events in human history, for better or worse. Events larger than individuals like Revolution and War usually shape our mental models, even if we don’t realize they do. From my reading of history, only a few brave souls have been intelligent and brave enough to bring the world’s collective mental models closer to reality. Many of those individuals paid for their altruistic curiosity with their life. I don’t know all their names and cannot sufficiently praise them. They are the real architects of our existence today. Some names I do know and cannot be coy about. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman --- these men were architects. Their bold acts transformed into modern day gifts Americans take for granted today. Now, we look back and consider their miracles mundane. They could not have made any other choices, could they? How could we not look at them that way? It is through their design that we see the world. Their omnipresence renders Americans blind to them. No matter what we can see or what we believe exists… our current mode of survival is just one model among many that came before it. How the world really works is too complex for our minds to fully comprehend. Our beauty comes from the struggle to understand what we know we can’t fully know…
Ideally, one day, the most successful mental models will also be the most seductive… That’s not going to be easy to manifest. Get out there. Test your model. Learn something new about us and spread the word as though it were gospel!
 Earth’s atmosphere is protected in part by our planet’s magnetic field. The Earth’s auroras are incredibly beautiful. This image shows a solar flare to be deflected by our magnet field. We perceive such events when we see the aurora.
 If I come across as aggressive, you don’t know what aggressive is. There are diverse peoples in the world with bad ideas and guns to back those ideas up. They want to kill Americans. If you can’t look them in the eye and express your mental model, you definitely won’t be able to deescalate the situation. In the heat of a fight, you won’t be able to kill them before they kill you. You won’t even know when violence is about to happen. In fact, if you never express your mental model as an sign of modesty, you’ll make violence inevitable.
HUMINT: Chemically Neutral
Entropy: A measure of the disorder or randomness in a system. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy of a closed system always increases over time. This means that energy is being transformed by the mechanics of the universe into uniformly-distributed heat energy. What this means is that even a chemically neutral process will increase entropy. There is no way around entropy… no matter how green or chemically neutral mankind intends to become.
Quote 1: Is it better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both? --- Niccolo Machiavelli
Quote 2: War is an extension of politics by other means. --- Karl Von Clausewitz
When it comes to our society’s environmental wars, I want to be neutral. Not with regard to my opinion, but with regard to my chemistry. I don’t want to be Green! I don’t want to conserve! I want to be neutral! Unfortunately, a chasm of leadership for the cause of chemical neutrality exists in our endless war with the environment. Shouldn’t we be asking: "Where is the Enviro-equivalent of Master Strategist and Tactician, General David Petraeus in this fight? Where’s our Patton? Where’s our Sherman?" Admittedly, the void is partly my fault. For years I’ve been ambivalent, and for it, I am ashamed. I’ve never asked for representation or leadership on environmental issues, until now. In place of good leaders, thorny weeds with bad ideas are blooming. Sadly, now, these bad ideas are difficult if not impossible to remove by Enviro-reform or Enviro-revolution. The real question is, “who leads today?” and “what kind of leadership does the environmental movement need?” Current leader’s ineffectiveness aside, the generals leading our global environmental wars are ruthless. They are as Machiavellian as any leader that preceded them. No, these generals do not wear uniforms, but their divisions are gearing up for battle. Make no mistake; they will fight for their bad ideas. Arguably, Enviro-generals are more political than military; nevertheless, my analogy deserves enough latitude to develop. Today’s environmental generals recruit and lead with an intoxicating mixture of fear and love; Fear of impending global doom, and love of the planet as it exists today. All that’s required of our Enviro-generals to keep their status and rank is that they regularly imply environmental doom is imminent. The more emotional their arguments, the better. Like many of those who have already joined the multitudes marching behind these generals, I tend to fear their environmental scenarios. My fear is manifest without looking at any of the data. Why? The predisposition in every society is to believe the sky is falling. It’s human nature. Human nature is not something to be ashamed of. Indeed, fear of the worst case scenario is what kept our ancestors alive long enough for us to inherit this beautiful earth.
Born into this conflicted world; born into this environmental war raging beside many other wars, I harbor no love for Enviro-generals. I do however fear them. Enviro-generals imply global climate change is an occurrence human beings are fully capable of controlling. But that’s like saying humans are fully capable of controlling national markets, or controlling each other, AKA, communism or slavery. Pardon my skepticism, but history suggests authoritarian egotism usually precipitates disaster! Asserting authority over a system too complex for the human mind to comprehend tends to cannibalize and destroy the system. The only systems human beings have shown any competence controlling are programmable systems. The efficacy of programmable systems is another matter entirely; an interesting tangent for another day. In the context of this essay however, it should suffice to say, the environment is a non-programmable system. In other words, there are climatic variables outside of human control. Therefore, a rational environmental debate cannot be centered on the magnitude of human influence or the certitude of a solution if and only if competent individuals assert control over the earth’s climate. Both of these environmental angles are indefensible. Both are being used by today’s Enviro-generals! The fact remains, no matter how elegant the argument, it is a leap of faith to believe climate is significantly influenced by the activities of mankind. It is an even larger leap of faith to believe human beings are capable of controlling the climatic environment.
The only way to prove mankind’s influence on the global environment is to extricate mankind from the globe and observe the results. That’s impossible! The protest slogan for the “Chemically Neutral” movement should be: WE’RE HERE, WITHOUT FEAR, GET USED TO IT! But Enviro-generals feed on fear and anti-human fantasies. Undeterred by the embedded contradictions in their ideology, Enviro-generals use their public speaking skills to acquiring venture capital. They transform love and fear into weapon-like words and attack public emotions with unmitigated vigor. But why fight the environment? Why attack the public for trends they may have no control over at all? I believe these leaders would choose to be generals in any other war if environmental issues didn’t resonate so well in the public domain. Am I questioning their sincerity? Absolutely! A way to spot a disingenuous Enviro-general might be to look at the other wars they’re fighting or the level with which their own environmental hypocrisies neutralize their environmental positions. Some of the most outspoken Enviro-generals these days are fighting against America’s Long War, the Global War on Terrorism. They are anti-anti-terrorism. To poach soldiers and advocates from other wars, Enviro-generals are not constrained by the environmental issue alone. Therefore the environment may jest be a means to maintain their status and rank in the public eye.
Empirical arguments and reasoned solutions are an anathema to the Enviro-general’s goal. A thorough environmental solution might end their war and eliminate the platform on which they lead their troops. Right? No, not really. Not in this war. While comprehensive solutions lead to sustainable peace for conventional wars, the Global War Against The Environment (GWATE) cannot be won. Our war against the environment can only be fought or lost. Humanity’s existence puts us at odds with the green utopia environmentalists are fighting for today. Under their utopian paradigm, we are guaranteed to lose! But that doesn’t curb the illusion that peace between mankind and the environment is possible. The environment represents a perfect war for Enviro-generals. There is no environmental utopia! All of our choices have consequences. What’s at stake is the magnitude of those consequences. The fact is, the Garden of Eden is lost to mankind. We’re all exiles from Eden. Unlike the analogous illusion in the aftermath of World War I, the Global War Against The Environment (GWATE) is not the war to end all wars. The Global War Against The Environment is the only legitimate war to fight without forever. It may be hard to fathom but, imagine an American War without an Anti-War movement… oh the bliss. In this war, no matter what side you are on, we are all soldiers. But what are we fighting for? Conservation! Recycling! New Technology! --- No. Chemical Neutrality! The environmental debates are wholly sustainable if and only if mankind can reconcile the embedded conflicts within the current environmental movement. That’s not going to be easy. Whether these conflicts are resolved or not, our environmental wars will not end as long as human beings depend on a natural environment for survival. Like the Global War On Terrorism, (GWOT) the Global War Against The Environment (GWATE) all humanity can ally against a common enemy. While humanity need not live with terrorists indefinitely, we are obliged to fight with our environment forever. That’s why most societies set aside their differences to find common ground against a common enemy.
HUMINT: We cannot win this war but we can lose. What can this generation do to guarantee humanity does not lose this war? I believe the answer is to endure as allies through the pursuit of chemical neutrality! But that’s not what environmentalists are doing today. What’s missing today in the almost spiritual search for environmental salvation is a valid philosophy that marries economic progress to environmental sustainability. Let’s take a step back to enhance the clarity of this point. Without an appropriate philosophy, no appropriate identity will emerge. Without identity and the resultant behaviors born of it, their can be no population where best (environmental) practices will be adopted. Without a philosophically cohesive populace there can be no constituency and no legitimate popular sovereignty derived from it. In short, only limited progress can be made without identifying an environmental philosophy that reconciles economic progress with environmental sustainability. Buying green isn’t enough! Now is the moment for truth, not illusions. Buying green has a placebo effect on the masses because it is new spin on the old idea of conservation. It too will fail.
The many points of failure of prevailing environmental philosophy are irresolvable. Environmentalists and their movement’s generals that I talked to, listened to or read, tend to see the end-goal of human behavior as the reduced impact on, and the segregation of, people from pre-human environmental states. Admit it. Environmentalists are seeking to create Eden without Adam and Eve. Seriously, it’s as though they see the natural world without mankind as the Garden of Eden , a paradise without the possibility of human induced degradation. The ideal environment, as they imply, exists without the interference of mankind. No one can know for sure, but maybe this environmental philosophy is a derivative of the Christian conception of man’s relationship with the animal kingdom. If it is, it’s a common misinterpretation of the familiar biblical narrative. Why? It is a misconception because environmental philosophy contradicts itself. God created the animal kingdom and mankind. God then endowed mankind with authority over the animal kingdom. Adam’s and Eve’s expulsion from Eden was not a revocation of that authority. If the philosophical undertones of environmentalism are Judeo-Christian in origin, nothing suggests the philosophy hasn’t also been corrupted by a malignant hybrid of other failed or failing ideologies. Beyond Judeo-Christian misinterpretation, I also sense a blend of zoological elitism, socialist and theist philosophies that, when combined, invite repeated failures. In any case, where the flawed philosophy comes from is less important than understanding the need to supplant it.
To liberate mankind from the Enviro-generals and their misguided philosophies, the most obvious and straight forward approach would be to find a philosophy that marries economic progress to environmental sustainability. How? As we’ve covered before, total liberation, as proselytized by Enviro-generals, suggests mankind should abandon the earth to go on without us. That’s absurd. Local liberation implies that sections of the earth can be maintained pristine without interference from people who live elsewhere. That too is absurd. The only viable environmental liberation movement is to declare the pursuit of chemical neutrality and accept that it will take generations to achieve. The struggle will be long and arduous, but their can be no compromise with today’s philosophical contradictions. Pursuing chemical neutrality will change the way we think about the future of our economy and environment. Pursuing chemical neutrality will bring humanity into direct confrontation with itself. It is a task bigger than you or me. In the context of chemical neutrality, start abandoning the old environmentalist ideas of conservation now. Chasing efficiency is like chasing a rainbow. Efficiency through conservation should not be the pursuit of environmental foot soldiers as it is today. Saving a kilowatt-hour here or a ton of carbon dioxide there is only going to slow the inevitable --- whatever that inevitable scenario may be. This is true whether or not Global Warming is fact or “the sky is falling” fiction. The pursuit of mankind’s environmental liberation through chemical neutrality on the other hand offers a philosophy that embeds only one irresolvable conflict. Entropy! But we live with entropy today, as did our ancestors before us. It’s an unavoidable product of any action or reaction, even those that cancel each other chemically.
Operating in an economy that rewards action, while simultaneously rewarding the opposite/equal reaction – from a chemical perspective, humanity would stay environmentally happy, healthy, and prosperous. There would be no need to limit population density nor would it matter where businesses or individuals operate. Now, you might be wondering if “chemical neutrality” is philosophically different than the existing notion of recycling or buying green. Recycling today isn’t really recycling. It’s a fancy form of conservation. For the most part recycling is down-cycling. Plastics, paper, glass and metals are routinely degraded and reprocessed into commodities that will eventually end up in a landfill. Chemical neutrality is recycling at the molecular level and would demand more environmental awareness from individuals, business and governments than anything we do today. To move toward chemical neutrality civil, political and industrial leaders will have to find markets for products that can chemically balance their own or each others products. With the level of marketing genius and business acumen in corporate America today, I have no doubt it can be done.
IN CONCLUSION: This essay is a humble request for a tactical change and a thorough review of leadership in our environmental wars. And finally, I believe the first Enviro-general who leads the call to demand chemical neutrality will have fired the second “shot heard round the world” . Someone is going to do it. Will it be you?
1. www.crystalinks.com: The image is of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden which alludes to how Judeo-Christian values may position contemporary environmental philosophy as well as the issues fostering this generation’s environmental debates. The Garden of Eden represents paradise lost because of human fallibility. It is my assertion that the majority of environmentalists operating today are working for the extrication of mankind to preserve what they see as paradise.
2. wikipedia: The "shot heard round the world" is a well known phrase that has come to represent several historical incidents throughout world history. The shot was heard in Lexington. It was known to kill eight Americans and injure ten. The line is originally from the opening stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord Hymn (1837), and referred to the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Later, in Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations, the phrase became synonymous with the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and plunged Europe into World War I.
HUMINT: Unconscious Design
Conscious Design: The product of an individual or engineer who formulates mechanisms based on tangible environmental constraints.
Unconscious Design: An individual’s consumer choice made to satisfy real or arbitrary requirements they imagine exist.
In the film, Who Killed the Electric Car there is a conclusive scene near the film’s end, where the vehicular hero of the film, the Impact, is side by side with the vehicular villain, the Hummer. The scene is as dramatic as it possibly can be. The two automobiles are shiny and clean; the size differential overwhelmingly evident. The behemoth Hummer dominates the camera with its sharp edges and bulk, while the Impact’s polite curves announce a superior sophistication. Both are poised to go forth into the future, seemingly born equivalent if not equal at the starting line of consumer choice… When they start to roll toward the camera, in a pseudo race, the Impact pulls ahead, as though it’s the better choice, subtly implying consumers would be fools to continue to favor the Hummer over the Impact or its future electric equivalent. Recall, the major premise of the film is that the Impact was murdered by a vast conspiracy.
Like the Roman Coup that took the life of Gaius Julius Caesar, the Impact was conspired against and eventually murdered. The film’s actors even stage a funeral for the automobile. Who Killed the Electric Car is product anthropomorphism at its best. Without regard to the tears and angst of the committed drivers, the Impact’s business model bled to death from hundreds of tiny cuts inflicted by a multitude of enemies. The guilty provocateurs include Big Government, Big Oil, Ignorant Consumers, Auto Manufacturers and Corrupt Environmental Regulators. No cut was deeper however than the Impact’s father, played by General Motors. GM’s betrayal was epic, even biblical. GM is portrayed in the film as the corporate combination of Caesar’s Brutus and in a biblical context Isaac’s Abraham1. GM was determined to sacrifice its more successful offspring to a viscous, capitalist God. What else could GM be thinking? Nothing good of course… Big business is always bad (right?) therefore GM must be guided by an evil paternalistic impulse to keep its dirty children alive at the expense of its only clean one. Not so fast! While that narrative is possible, it’s not necessarily probable.
In my opinion, the relevance of the Impact/Hummer scene cannot be understated. Setting aside the fact that both vehicles are made by GM, serving as an incestuous corporate competition that GM can’t lose; it says more about transportation and environmental problems than the film’s dominant narrative. The film is an emotional rollercoaster that intends to leave an average viewer in love with the martyred Impact and at odds with everybody else. Unfortunately the dominant narrative basically ignores the unconscious engineering problem as it relates to consumer choice. What the actors and director apparently failed to understand is how most normal people make their decisions. While this essay may not answer that question in its entirety, hopefully it will provide some insight on big commitment decision making as those decisions relate to a family vehicle.
People unconsciously design their lives with the most tangible, best/worst case scenario in their unconscious mind. You might be wondering how I can claim to understand the unconscious mind of average consumers. Am I a mind reader? No, I’m not. I actually don’t understand the unconscious mind of others. What I do have instead is a related insight into energy, efficiency and conscious decision making. To demonstrate the difference between conscious design and unconscious design, let’s consider a problem similar to the one introduced by the film Who Killed the Electric Car. To get a feel for solving big problems, I always start small and work my way up.
So let’s get to work. Design a solar powered street light with me and you’ll see what my analogy means. We’ll keep the design at the conceptual level so you won’t need a calculator. You’re familiar with the inherent variability in our environment, right? Some days are cold. Some days are hot. Some days are sunny. Some days are cloudy. Some days are long and some days are short. Alternatively, some nights are really cold and really long. In every case, we can tame these variables with historical data and competent estimations. At night our solar powered streetlight batteries will have to keep our street light ON for the longest and coldest night of the year. We can’t afford a lawsuit if the light goes out at three AM. Guaranteeing the light stays on during the night is one engineering constraint. During the day, our solar panel will have to charge the battery for that scenario plus some safety factor. A safety factor of two suggests a battery charge that would last twice the duration of the longest, coldest night. The size of the solar panel will be derived from that most tangible, worst case scenario engineering requirement.
Now let’s use what we’ve learned about conscious design to understand unconscious design. An automobile is a big commitment. To make that commitment, the vehicle should perform under the worst case scenarios. In the mind of a consumer, however, the worst case from an engineering perspective translates into the best case scenario for the consumer. This I know from personal experience. I want to drive where I want when I want, with my whole family and everything I own. Any vehicle that cannot accommodate my best case scenario, by default, is a luxury item. Let’s go back to the analogy for a minute. A long sunny day for a solar powered street light represents an incredible amount of wasted energy, as does a luxury car to a family on a budget. Every day that isn’t the worst day for a solar powered street light is a luxury. The actual usage of the vehicle may never approach the unrealistic expectations a consumer takes with them to the dealership, but that doesn’t matter.
The electric car must be reinvented if it is going to compete with consumers who aren’t actors. To baptize an electric vehicle anew in the competitive fires of the free market, an electric car will have to be able to go wherever drivers want it to go, whenever drivers want to go there. There can be no mistakes, like forgetting to plug in the car at night. Let’s be honest. Forgetting to charge the battery would be more costly in terms of time than running out of gas on the highway in a Hummer.
To the other issues raised by the film… The reduced impact (not the car name) on the environment is of intangible value, if there is any at all. An individual vehicle has negligible influence over smoggy days, unless the power plants that generate the power to charge the batteries have scrubbers installed on the exhaust stacks. The Impact’s business model does not eliminate tons of carbon dioxide that will still enter the atmosphere, regardless of a vehicle’s fossil fuel power source. A shift in fuel source from oil to coal has geopolitical benefits, but again, those are of intangible value to a consumer, that is unless you’ve ever seen a strip mine. Strip coal mines are extreme environmental hazards. What about the H2 economy? Hydrogen embrittlement is a serious problem left unmentioned. Standard pipes don’t work for H2. The molecules are too small for effective containment. They slip through the gaps in pipe walls making them brittle and dangerous. Alternative pipes capable of safely moving H2 around the globe are very expensive. I am not optimistic about the future of H2 as a fuel. Plug-in hybrid vehicles sound very interesting in terms of diversifying America’s energy portfolio. Half coal, half gasoline --- sounds like an emotionally stable balance even if it doesn’t help the atmosphere very much. In terms of the historical accuracy of the film was stretching the truth if not intentionally disingenuous, steam powered cars nearly beat out the internal combustion engine. In 1906, Fred Marriott drove a steam powered vehicle built by the Stanley Brothers to a speed of 127 MPH.
In conclusion, there are no easy answers to the energy problem as it relates to automobile fuel. Right now, electric cars are a luxury item that lack comprehensive usability. As for alternatives, Cellulosic Ethanol looks very promising. It was a source of fuel conspicuously absent from the film. Maybe Cellulosic Ethanol will kill the need for an electric car. We’ll see. I’ll be exploring the manufacturing process for Cellulosic Ethanol in a follow up post to free fuel. If we are going to indulge luxurious fantasies, the best case scenario would be to have access to equipment capable of making fuel in an average consumer’s garage. Think about why consumers want to stop at a gas station anyway. They don’t! Consumers want an easy to use gas pump in their garage. Developing do-it-yourself fuel making equipment would reduce the need for an expensive Ethanol upgrade to gas stations around the country. Actually the opposite could happen to investing in gas station upgrades. So called “Big Oil” would probably be forced to close most of the existing gas stations as well as their existing oil refineries. To stay afloat they would probably need to raise the price of fossil gas; $20 per gallon of gasoline, anyone?
No thanks… More to come on the future of fuel.
1: The image is of Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is related to the piece Unconscious Design by analogy. The film Who Killed the Electric Car portrays GM as a parental corporation sacrificing its good vehicular invention the Impact in favor of its black sheep son, the Hummer.