On Grace and Waste

        97.  The exploitive economy seems to condemn us to destructive cycles of use. We have come to look upon these as inherent in our technologies: to believe, for example, that ecological destruction is the inevitable concomitant of any massive dependence upon progressive industry, or that analysis is the death of the spirit. I have said nothing against this belief so far. In sketching a social reconstruction unashamedly ample in its use of low and high technologies, apart from banishing smog by steam, I've ignored the question of how we deal with the mess of our uses. Nor am I fixated on the common nightmare future wherein we sit with shriveled legs, helpless as eggs, in vehicles that giant brains guide to work. In their service we are employed as components handling minute fractions of complex tasks whose ramifications we can't possibly comprehend or control. Just to make sure, Big Brother watches our every motion through Golem's omnipotent eyes.

        Well, we all see technology as our projection, that's not just an intellectual's inkling. Those who believe that its furtherance is inevitably authoritarian. or messy, are hypnotized by a few of their aspects in its mirror, and deep in the spirit do not believe we can change, Here again, we come to our core conception of Man as a being and a species.

        98. I believe instead that the furthering potential and grace of our material technology is to do more with less. This grace is the grace of Mathematics, our inner language of the material world. As the world is our well for Metaphor. whose unfleshed bones are the body of Mathematics, this is the grace of Metaphor as well. And as Metaphor is fleshed into social forms, this grace reappears as the central principle of Governance. (Its full flower as a conceptual tool is in the Tao.)

        99. The internal combustion engine is a lower technology than steam where both are applicable, for it does less with more: as mathematicians say, it is less elegant. Lao-tzu is quite specific about the virtues of the Way of Water. But we are greedy children with runaway power, and have no sense of taste. Still, at a sufficiently high level, technology's uses sometimes lead us toward one, willy-nilly.

        Consider the handling of ephemeral information, on which our civilization is based. Currently we waste the planet's forests for our newspapers and literally a million periodicals. Video computers make possible a more sophisticated version of what the telephone network makes possible with messages: full information handling with only energy input, no materials to be wasted. True, the system's built and maintained with materials, though its operation is not: a burden shifted from the trees to the ore-bearing, oil-rich earth. But the raw-mineral base of electronics forms products that are eminently recyclable; and the technology sophisticates toward more art with less matter. When computer distribution stabilizes -- a state only unbounded greed can avert -- the industry can be made to depend on essentially a closed system of mineral use (given stable population) and on organic materials obtained from regenerative natural sources. These might include the managed forests that supply whatever computer printout cannot be expressed in microfilm or on re-cycled material. The housing industry is now the only other major predator of trees. Re-technologized construction would reduce its demands fivefold, whereupon they could also be satisfied by managed forests. (A pine tree growing forty years provides enough wood for a dome home.)
Taken together, these factors imply the total reconversion of the information industry, from resource-wasting to resource-sustaining. They also imply the possibility of reforesting literally half the continent. And again the image beckons of a radically decentralized society living in a new integration with the natural order.

        100.   Our present technological capacities make possible such reconstruction of every human industry, to husband the earth's resources and operate in harmony with the delicate ecologies of life, amply and modestly. In the cases of housing and transportation, which together involve a fifth of our G.N.P, it is easiest to see that humanity's present industrial capacities, if re-engineered and redistributed, could provide for all mankind the adequacy of support they do for middle Americans. It is this vision -- that we can eat our technological cake and have the world too, but have never really tried -- that moves the players of Bucky Fuller's World Game. But, like McLuhanism, Fullerism seems to take little account of the politics of power and our relation with the means of production; or of the deeper potentials for the freeing of our existence.

        The reharmonization of industry demands two things beyond the sharing of high technology among the human family: a psychology of re-cycling, and bounds to our desires. Both are products of our reconnection with the organic order of the world, and of reconciliation/balance with the Yin. So long as material industry is used for armor and to fill the void inside, our empowerment condemns us to destroy.

        101.  Completeness requires a remark about energy. The usual question is whether we can continue to live on our gross and escalating energy budget. We can't, at least not the way we're getting it and spilling the waste. But if we tidy up, the amount we use is the false worry of hubris. (Provided we abandon our dependence on fossil fuels, as we can choose to.)

        We think we're mighty just because we can turn the sky black and threaten all earth-life. But we are gnats in an infinitesimal film of mist on a great rock ball, spinning in space alive with energy. Each tiny shudder of earthskin releases more ergs than all our stockpiled weapons threaten. Until we come to tearing the very planet apart, our wildest uses of energy will be unnoticeable beside the sun.

        Burning dead plants or leftover star-matter is kid stuff. We begin to hook into the ongoing energy sources of the universe when we harness the tides for their power -- a project that may offer the easiest way of drawing energy in ecological harmony and that could begin for practical use with a year's military budget and effort.


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