Cutting people off from the Human connection

black and white photo of woman
Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944

For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendt explained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:

Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.

We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.

In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.

Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.

The Frenetic End of Oil

General Economic Imagery From North Dakota Ahead Of The Republican CaucusParis talks but clean energy patents fly, it seems.  This Bloomberg feature on the boom and bust of the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota has the look of a high speed news reel that is, maybe, not quite how we imagined it. But once the process shows itself from beginning to end so quickly in this way, you can imagine happening over and over again. The pollution, the waste, the overbuilding, the exodus:

The discovery last decade that fossil fuels could be tapped from deep beneath the windswept prairies of North Dakota acted like a magnet on American working people. By the thousands they came, from as far as Texas and California, fortune-seekers in a modern-day Gold Rush. Together with visionary companies like Continental Resources and industry behemoths ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil, they exploited a new technology called fracking — blasting the underground Bakken rock formation with sand and water and slurping up the crude that was hiding there for millennia — to increase oil output in the region 12-fold from 2006 to 2014. The bonanza helped drive the U.S. closer to energy self-sufficiency than it’s been since the 1980s.

The frenzied production exacted a price — oversupply was one reason the U.S. crude price took a nosedive, losing more than half its value from a June 2014 peak. The number of rigs pumping crude from the Bakken plummeted to about 70 from a high of 200, and the tide of workers began to ebb.

Meanwhile, clean energy patents are at their all time high, which may also be a frenzied if inelegant prologue to the next age that is also not as previously imagined. In what remains of the capitalist economy, money still rushes in first, not pretty, sometimes not even choosy. But at least we can be a little more sanguine about what’s left to choose from, that the new ideas are exploding with quiet steam instead of smokey emissions, that maybe growth now will be slow and visible like the gentle oscillation of giant windmills. I know, poetry is sometimes like the explicit sunset in the image: not sure whether it’s rising or setting unless we understand the direction we’re facing.

 Image: David Acker/Bloomberg, fishing in the frozen Missouri River.

Capacity Factor

That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential actually achieved over time. And Bloomberg reports that wide spread adoption of renewables is lowering the hitherto incomparable capacity factor for fossil fuels. This begins the virtuous cycle.


That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed.

Again, no use getting all Pollyannish about any of this. But the business news only reports the business view and it doesn’t really care if renewables are more profitable than fossil. Business only cares about that middle part – the profit.

So, BFD.

Image: author photo, near Valreas, France.

Nothing to See Here

So just move along. Yesterday in L.A.:

Meteorologist Jeff Masters notes “a station in the foothills at 1260? elevation near Beverly Hills owned by the Los Angeles Fire Department hit 119°F yesterday–the hottest temperature ever measured in the Los Angeles area, tying the 119°F reading from Woodland Hills on July 22, 2006.”

Weather historian Christopher C. Burt has a great post at Weather Underground, “The Remarkable Summer of 2010,” which concludes, “it is probable that no warmer summer in the Northern Hemisphere has ever been experienced by so many people in world history.”

Some further encroaching news in the continuing story of how ‘Obama is the greatest danger to our way of life’ brought to you by your friends at Shell, BP, NewsCorp and the Southern Company.

Going Away

Not me, this time – malheureusement. But oil refineries. They’re going away. They’re not leaving today. But they’re going away. The article makes for an almost wistful, Christmas Eve nostalgia for how, pretty soon, we’re not going to have them to kick around any more. And boy will we regret that. Except we won’t.

Gasoline demand, which many analysts had long expected to keep rising for decades, is down sharply in the recession. And refiners are increasingly convinced that even after the economy recovers, demand will not grow much in coming years because of the rise of alternative fuel supplies and the advent of tougher efficiency standards for automobiles.

Plagued by boom-and-bust cycles of rapid expansion followed by sharp belt-tightening, refining companies have often struggled to operate at a profit. That is a contrast to the production side of the oil business, long a road to riches.

“Oil production creates wealth, but oil refining has often destroyed it,” said Costanza Jacazio, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York.

Even so, these are unusually harsh times for oil refiners. The recent drop in gasoline demand could result in more refineries being closed in the coming year.

Talk about shock and… aw. But this has very little to do with eco-anything, really. It’s just an economic situation, itself in transition, and away from where the fossil fuel industry thought they would ever go or be, which is not far from here – or actually about 2007. This is itself a problem with the imagination of your average B-school go-getter, seeing just far enough to be able to carve out their own little piece of the bottom line as it exists as the status quo. Then having the proclivity to channel all remaining energy into protecting that little slice of heaven. Instead of being able to recognize the shortcomings even of a system beneficial to them and foresee workable, if not equitable, adjustments to that system. Imagination fail, like a tractor beam. Like a circle, baby.

And this is transferrable to many issues and realms, including the political and HCR. If you doubt that, check out another op piece today, and witness the depravity that was Phil Gramm circa 1993. Hunted with dogs, indeed.

New Bronze Aging

There was a funny quote by a Saudi prince/oil official in an article I read a few months ago, something along the lines of, “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.” The implication for the fossil fuel age being, of course, that instead of completely running out, we will graduate to an improved energy source. Whatever your feelings on that, it’s a good line.

But before we move along, as we do, such as the case may be, the House of Saud has a master plan to help themselves alongeven as their repositories are abandoned:

Saudi Arabia is trying to enlist other oil-producing countries to support a provocative idea: if wealthy countries reduce their oil consumption to combat global warming, they should pay compensation to oil producers.

The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, described the position as a “make or break” provision for the Saudis, as nations stake out their stance before the global climate summit scheduled for the end of the year.

Can they take a hard line on that? Whatever your feelings, it must noted that the Saudis are working much harder to prepare for an uncertain future than we are, even taking preposterous hard lines in upcoming negotiations that will will wean us off of their product. It’s a question of need, of course, except that we need to get creative like this, as well. But instead, we largely continue to dissemble about what we will, should or might be willing to do, like it’s a waiting game and we only need to last through to the next iteration of… some variant of what we’re already doing. People aren’t even that interested in the upcoming talks in Copenhagen, talks that could create new sets of goals for emissions reductions that could have very significant effects on economies the world over, that could (but not like magic) reset the developed world on a path toward transition and incentivize the developing world to follow along. But most of the moral high ground will likely be compromised away with  easier to reach, lower impact targets that everyone can agree on – more stones to decorate the third place age recital.

Meanwhile, even David Byrne bikes.