Posted on October 25, 2011
This title is not to be construed as my being unsympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In truth, I’m at least 60% sympathetic to it. Not having yet seen a hard list of demands by the protesters, I can’t tell you exactly what positions I completely agree with, but the point I intend to make is that Wall Street greed is not the only culprit behind this cascading economic collapse we’re presently suffering. My title (suggested by my co-worker, AnMorgan Curry) speaks to the part the “99%” have played in creating this debacle. I bring this up because when revolutions occur, it’s too frequently true that, because the revolutionaries have ignored the part they played in the dysfunctional system, the new system they install is as bad or worse than the one they replace. I’d hate to see that happen.
“Occupy Yourself” says it’s important to put yourself into the driver’s seat, pay attention, educate yourself, and don’t waste all your energy blaming corrupt government, and corporate CEOs for what has happened. They’re a large part of the problem and the culprits should have been prosecuted years ago, however, throwing them in jail and making new laws or reviving old ones that have been ignored will not deliver us from our current predicament.
We’re in trouble because we’ve been attempting to defy the law energy conservation. This physical law is inviolable and cannot be countermanded by congress, the president, or anyone else. It states, in lay terms, that you can’t get something for nothing.** Sadly, a large proportion of the American populace has been seduced into believing the opposite, via a storm of corporate advertising and the blandishments of self-serving politicians, not to speak of their own reluctance to face reality. A belief in the possibility of getting something for nothing shows up in many guises, including a reluctance to pay taxes, the embrace of a consumerist throw-away culture, and a general willingness to blame somebody else for whatever is wrong. This, in other words, means to embody an attitude whereby I have permission to do whatever I want and, if there are unpleasant consequences, to blame it on something THEY did.
By the way, if you believe a bank officer who tells you can afford to buy a house worth a half-million dollars when your income is $20,000 per year, do the math, or get a disinterested party to do it for you. This is part of what I term, “educating yourself,” or “putting yourself in the driver’s seat.”
The sad fact is, any system that defies the law of energy conservation must sooner or later collapse. Our system was brought to the edge more quickly by greed and ignorance, but it actually was doomed from the start. It worked well when there was plenty of low-cost energy available in the form of oil, plenty of other natural resources, such as minerals, vitamins (oops, I mean forests), fish in the sea, unpolluted water, air, etc. But we’re to the point that the availability of low-cost hydrocarbons is on the wane, and this, beyond anything, means we’re in big trouble. It means that our economic system, whose functioning has been predicated on growth, CANNOT continue in its present form. You can’t grow without fuel, and the fuel supplies, along with other resources (water being of prime importance) are getting tight. And for numerous reasons, alternative energy sources are unlikely to be able to take up the slack as oil depletes. See This link.
“Occupy Yourself” also asks us to start getting in touch with our creativity. That’s because it’s going to require a huge amount of that human resource, along with other types of human energy to dream up a new and sustainable way of living on this earth. It will have to involve recycling materials 100%, for one thing. Take a look at this site: for ideas about how that might be accomplished. The new system will not be based on consumption, unless it involves somehow funneling all our waste back into producing the next generation of stuff. Even then, it will be a much lower key style of living than what we’re used to.
If the Wall Street protesters indeed have been vague or confused about their demands, it may be because they haven’t quite yet discovered that much of what needs to be demanded is inside themselves, and not available from the empty husks personified by Bankers, Wall Street, corporate manipulators and their government lackeys. Protesters, and all of us, must begin to demand from ourselves the aforementioned creative energy to devise a whole new culture that is both kind to people and does not require infinite economic growth and continuously increasing energy input for its perpetuation.
Here’s a film whose story is an exact allegory for the state in which we currently find ourselves, and which suggests symbolically, and possibly in actuality, a direction we might follow: “The Milagro Beanfield War.” Even better, read john Nichol’s book by the same title, along with its two sequels.
You might not immediately see how the law of energy conservation is equivalent to “you can’t get something for nothing,” Let’s take unwillingness to pay taxes as an example of an attempt to defy the law of energy conservation:
First, you have to understand that money has no inherent value. It’s paper that we’ve arbitrarily assigned value. Useful things like food, oil, clothes, a car, a bicycle have real value, and we assign an amount of money to the value of any of these things. Then we can trade the money instead of the things, which is very convenient, because it means you can buy a bag of groceries without dragging in a barrel of crude oil to pay for them.
Now the law of energy conservation says that you can’t destroy energy or create it from nothing. You can only change its form. If you drag a weight up a hill, it takes energy to do the job. The energy you expend, say, riding your bike to the top of a hill is stored in the earth’s gravitational field as “potential energy.” When you coast back down the hill, it’s the release of potential energy that keeps you moving. You don’t have to put any more energy into pedaling because of that. A fraction of the energy you put into riding up and down the hill is not lost, but dissipated into space through heating your tires, heating your body, and warming the air that flows by you as you ride up and down the hill.
Roads are a necessity for the perpetuation of our present civilization. Creating and repairing them requires energy, lots of it, and materials such as gravel and asphalt, derived from crude oil. It takes energy to run the machinery, grow the food that feeds the workers who operate it, transport that food, keep the workers warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Someone digs the oil out of the ground that supplies that energy. The digging itself requires energy, usually supplied by oil. Oil is full of potential energy held in the chemical bonds of the oil’s hydrocarbons, which were originally cemented together by the energy of sunlight. The same energy is conserved through the entire chain of its conversions from one form to another.
Much of the oil we burn today comes from foreign countries. We exchange dollars for it, which implies that the foreign country taking our dollars will eventually be able to get something of real physical value back by sending back the dollars we traded them for oil. If we’ve been printing a lot more dollars than we have valuable things for them to represent, then we can’t very well pay back the oil-producing countries with material goods of value equivalent to the oil we got for the bucks in the first place. We don’t have them. Hence, in the future, those countries are not likely to trust the value of or our dollars and are likely to want a lot more of them for the same amount of oil, which indeed has real, measurable value.
If you don’t want to pay taxes, then the roads can’t be built or fixed because to do so requires a finite and measurable amount of energy. We trade tax dollars for that energy. Because of the law of conservation of energy, we can’t create the energy needed to build or fix the roads out of thin air. It has to be dug out of the ground, and we need to trade dollars that are still worth something for that energy, otherwise we won’t get it.
Hence money, when a monetary system hasn’t been abused, is equivalent to energy, in that it can’t (or shouldn’t be able to) be created or destroyed. Money is actually LENT into existence, and the money that is lent must be paid back to its creator, namely the government. If you aren’t willing to pay for what you get, or pay with dollars that have been inflated by a government that has created more dollars than there is true value for them to stand for, then basically you’re attempting to defy the energy conservation law. The consequence is systemic collapse, which is right were we are just now.