Friday, December 14, 2012

Entropy, energy and the 'distributed' paradigm shift

Bryant's recent post on social ecology and entropy is instructive. He acknowledges that entropy is a determining factor, not just in terms of decay but as how assemblages are ordered to ward it off. And such order requires huge amounts of energy to do so. In current industrial societies that energetic engine that runs everything is fossil fuels, which of course doesn't just enable certain enactions but constrains them as well. And it is here that Rifkin's renewable energy infrastructure program indeed changes a host of the dynamics constraining the basics of how we might make a living and the time constraints on our lives. Rifkin's whole distributed paradigm changes how energy is owned, stored and operated, which in turn changes society's power relations. Also if we are generating our own energy source's it changes how much we need to work to pay for corporate energy prices, thereby having more leisure time to inform ourselves to be responsive and responsible citizens. By changing the energy infrastructure we change everything.

Of course, to do so we need our political leaders to get with this program. And for that we need political activism to the max in all forms to force this change. This ranges from the simple act of making conscious buying choices and engaging in voluntary simplicity to getting quite active in the political process of championing candidates for office that will enact this agenda. And here Bryant seems to confuse the issue. He says:

"Rather than seeing social relations as purely arising from beliefs and ideologies such that we see our activism largely as a matter of debunking ideologies and persuading, rather than seeing political engagement solely as a matter of enacting new laws, we can instead begin to look at feedback relations, paths, energetic requirements that lock people into forms of life and begin to devise strategies to create alternatives."

This is exactly what Rifkin is doing, but as I said, he is only succeeding to the extent he is by forming political alliances with the European Union, for example. This kind of society shift requires the governments of the world to take action. And this is part and parcel of enacting laws to enable such a shift. Which of course requires candidates and leaders open to such a shift. We simply are not going to get to changing energetic "pathways" to liberate our lives without political intervention. Bryant gives an alternative example outside politics where people are buying up debt and forgiving it. Great. But much like individual voluntary simplicity is that on a scale that can compete with what governments can do to effect societal change? I think not, and to not see the primary need of law to make such a societal shift is missing the dominant gravity of this infrastructural boat.

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