Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Paradigm Shifts of Doom

for large values of 2
(on a t-shirt I saw in the halls at work this morning. There is probably nobody on earth who will think that's as funny as I do, on account of no one else is that much of a dork).

I'm rather skeptical of the word "paradigm" myself, though this is probably due to the fact that I work in corporate America where, as Sam points out, "paradigm shift" means, "change." (Really it's only to be expected from the universe where "functionality" was coined to replace that unwieldy and opaque word, "function"). Sam/Rebecca's paradigm post (link above) does, however, sequé nicely into some things I ran out of room in which to say last post.

This is what happens when we run out of a primary energy source - we switch to another one. And we don't know what the logic of the economy, the environment or world politics will look like in that new energy paradigm - because we aren't in it.
First, an interesting thing to note is that we actually haven't run out of a primary energy source before--at least not on the global scale that's likely approaching now. I gather that in the mid-nineteenth century it was starting to get dicey with whale oil, but then petroleum showed up and blah blah paradigm shift blah. Having only read half the book at the time, I also short changed The Long Emergency a little bit, because the author does speculate about what the possible paradigm shift is likely to look like: economies become local again, suburbanization ends, people migrate away from deserts as it becomes impractical to pump fresh water to them, etc. I also...uh...long changed him a little bit insofar as now I've gotten into the chapter about prions and mutating viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and have at this point concluded that I am reading a book whose thesis is, "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"

The other night L. was talking to Mr. L. (her Dad, not me), who pointed out that when he was growing up they were certain they were all going to die of polio, unless of course the world was annihilated in a nuclear conflagration first. It's not that I don't believe these things weren't or aren't terrible threats and that we shouldn't take whatever steps we can to deal with them; in this case I'm more interested in what one is actually saying to/about the world when one proclaims that therefore The End is Nigh. Not so much Eschatology as, I guess, Meta-Eschatology.

I have an OaO answer, of course, which is that it's about ones narrative needing to have onesself be, you know, the end result of things--the same phenomenon that I claimed earlier causes people to reject Evolution in favor of Creationism. If things keep going on after you're gone and 99.999999...% of creation doesn't really seem to notice, that narrative you're making for yourself right now has this rather gaping plot hole. On the other hand, that answer doesn't entirely click for me--there's something really primal, it seems to me, in this belief/creeping suspicion we seem to have that we are Living at the End of Days. I suspect, like the Redness of Nature's Tooth and Claw that I mentioned last time, it is related to something that helped us survive at some point. Maybe it's from our mammalian ancestors who managed to survive the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs (which, I guess, really was the End of Days for them).

Next: the odds are again one!

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