The Waning of the Fossil Fuel Era
Renewable energy has reached something of a milestone lately. In some jurisdictions, it has become competitive with, or even cheaper than, fossil fuels. It is anticipated that in a short couple of years, renewable energy will become even cheaper.
With the decline of the centrality of fossil fuels will go certain ways of life that depended upon fossil fuel consumption — those ways of life being collectively covered by the term “culture”. In fact, a lot of people, explicitly or implicitly, even seem to treat the term “civilisation” as being synonymous with a fossil fuel dependent culture, so the waning of that fossil fuel dependent culture and its associated ways of life becomes a cause for high anxiety. Even their “identity” as such is bound up with that fossil fuel culture, and their sense of “power”, as such, connected with a sense of having control of those resources.
Quite a lot of the so-called “dark money” and its role in sabotaging democracy and funding disinformation campaigns is directly traceable to fossil fuel interests, or to those having become dependent upon those interests. Russia’s chief export, too, is petroleum which may account for this strange convergence of interests between Russian oligarchs and American plutocrats (or other nation’s tycoons). It may also explain the peculiar relationship, recently exposed in The Guardian/Observer and elsewhere, between the propaganda outfit Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s Lukoil company. You can bet that, if Russia sees petroleum as a strategic resource, that the Kremlin is implicated in that somewhere. I would suggest that preserving the fossil fuel regime is the tie that connects Mr. Putin with Mr. Trump, and Russian oligarchs with American plutocrats (or fossil fuel interests everywhere), but also which harvests wide swaths of public opinion who are equally fearful and anxious about their ways of life with the passing of the fossil fuel era.
But the passing of the fossil fuel era is only a symptom, not a cause. I’m not entirely such a “technological determinist” to fully agree with Marx that “the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalists”, although there is clearly some truth in that dependency of “superstructure” upon the technical “infrastructure”. While there is indeed some truth in that, I’m more persuaded by thinkers like Marshall McLuhan or Jean Gebser that technologies (of all descriptions) are artefacts of a particular structure of consciousness — the “extensions of man” as McLuhan described them. That implies the role of imagination — of how we imagine the world to be, or could be. So, if we are re-imagining the world differently, it means that something is changing in the structure of consciousness. Culture and consciousness are reciprocal and mutual processes which, in effect, constitute a “field” or a matrix.
Disruptions in that field (disruptions reflected in the term “culture war”), which we generally call “crisis”, may therefore actually reflect changes or “mutations” (Gebser’s term) in the consciousness structure. Technologies don’t change and evolve themselves. There is human agency, including the creative imagination, which is why Blake (along with Einstein) gave pride of place to the “divine Imagination” over intellect, and which even overrules his Zoa “Urizen”.
So, I would amend Marx’s formula in that respect. The imagination of the world as living process gives you one type of society; the imagination of the world as dead machinery gives you another type of society — what Lewis Mumford calls “the Megamachine”.
Imagination isn’t fantasy. What Phenomenologists call “intentionality” as a latent formative process in consciousness and in the act of perception is very much connected with “imagination” in this sense. It is what gives structure, order and coherence to our perceptions or to information, and is implicated in what we call “Gestalts” or pattern determination. It is often associated with magic, and is more often than not completely unconscious process, too. Intentionality is, for example, implicated in the wave-particle paradox (or observer effects) in quantum physics (the so-called “Measurement Problem”), or how we detect “signal” amidst “noise”. Intentionality is how we arrange our sensory inputs into some kind of perception of an orderly or coherent world (which Nietzsche referred to as “selectivity”). How we select and arrange and pattern the elements of our sensory experience involves intentionality, and those arrangements and patternings are called “consciousness structures” by Gebser — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational.
Increasingly, more and more people are ceasing to think in the “classical” terms that life, the universe, and everything is purely mechanical process, but more like a living process. They aren’t necessarily deciding to do this consciously. It’s implicated in the “return of the repressed”. This also includes many scientists. And they are all feeling a bit estranged from the machine universe described by classical physics and modeled as “modern society”. On the other, there are those who fret about it, and look to strongmen to once again put everyone back in their place and “make the trains run on time” (as was said of Hitler and Mussolini).
All this is equally reflected in the contemporary intellectual struggles between the Mechanical Philosophy and what we might call “the Hermetic Philosophy”, between classical physics and contemporary quantum mechanics. And one of the central notions in more recent quantum mechanics is the convergence of energy and information, and therewith also the disappearance of a “solid world” along with the slowly emerging realisation that the energetic processes that make up what we call “reality” more resemble living processes than purely mechanical processes.
(Brings to mind a Pink Floyd song called “Coming Back to Life“).
You see this divergence in the field — or “disturbance in the force”, if you will — in how the words “sustainable” and “resilience” are used. Same words, but with diametrically opposed meanings for those from the machine party and those from the life party, as it were. It looks like one language being spoken, but it’s actually two. This is how a mutation in a consciousness structure is reflected in language, something described in Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings, but also in Jean Gebser’s as yet untranslated short book Der grammatische Spiegel (or “The Grammatical Mirror“). To diagnose the meaning of the present social malaise, watch what is happening with language and grammatical forms.
Confusion and perplexity abounds largely because there are actually two languages being spoken under the veneer of being one.
The realisation that energy and information are two aspects of one and the same process is going to have profound consequences, not all of them benign. It also comes with significant risk. The re-imagination of reality as being an energy and informational process also gives rise to the “technocratic shaman” — those who seek to regulate or shape that imagination or intentionality of consciousness (“perception management” in other words) in order to shape the kind of social reality they want. That is already the aim, for example, of “spiritual branding” or of Rolf Jensen’s notions of The Dream Society.
The “Web of Life” is a metaphor that is coming largely to overtake the machine metaphor that originated in The Clockwork Universe. The web of life is constituted by those energy relations and dynamics largely described in ecology. But that is also an information web. When you walk through a forest, and smell its smells, you are also, in a sense, eavesdropping on a constant chemical conversation that goes on between plants and between plants and insects or animals, (but which your senses also convert into odours or colours). And thanks to your specifically human consciousness, you are privileged to be both a participant in that web and an eavesdropper into the wondrous world of energy and information exchanges that is life.
Disinformation is, in a sense, the destruction of that web.