Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Energy = Civilization

I wrote this over at Althouse and realized I'd never written it here.

Civilization is energy.

More precisely, it's the ability to concentrate energy at particular points in time to accomplish work that would be impossible for an individual.

In Keith Chandler's book, Beyond Civilization he posits that slavery is a necessary component for civilization. He's also forced to argue that we're entering something that isn't civilization now, but all that's really necessary for civilization is this ability to corral and focus energy. In fact, you could measure the degree of civilization by the extent of that ability.

Visions of the future (when not apocalyptic) feature what? Spaceships, flying cars, teleportation, lasers--and all manner of power hungry devices. And behind it all there's some talk of a fusion device or similar power generator that provides all the juice anyone could need.

So energy "conservation", in the sense of actually using less energy? It's like telling civilization to go backwards.

Now, efficiencies that come about as a result of technology are another matter. It's not impossible to power tiny devices off the body's heat and kinetic energy that before would've taken massive power generators. A computer in the '50s was a massive device with lots of energy needs, and yet less computation power than your cell phone.

Or a paradigm shift: Now, instead of carting a physical piece of paper half-way across the world, we need only send a few electron patterns. And despite passing through dozens of machines, the amount of energy used is minuscule.

But when we have energy conservation, what do we do? We immediately find some other way to expend the energy. Because that's the only way anything ever gets done.

We will continue to create more efficient ways of doing things just as we will continue to expend more energy.

Stump for cleaner power, for cheaper power, for more power, by all means. To fight for less is to fight to undo civilization.


  1. Beautifully put, and so concise. You win the Milky Way bar.

    The human species wins the Milky Way galaxy, if we can keep this in mind and avoid heading down the other path, the one that leads to conserving our way back to the cave. "Put that fire out, Ogg! You're wasting wood."

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yes but if you want to do it the right way, if you run as fast as you can over the immense expanse of beautifully manicured green sod and strech out your glove to furthest extentsion of your limber body and if you make the catch, well then you have done it

    The melky way.

    April 8, 2008 3:29 PM

  4. That's nougatory, Hector. I think a lot of it comes down to "STOP DOING STUFF!"

    Trooper...a baseball comment? Shall I admit my (not so) secret shame? I really don't know anything about professional sports. (A little boxing, a little late '60s Jets, a little ealry '70s Dolphins and late '70s Dodgers, that's about it.)

    I always preferred playing to watching others play.

  5. If you listen to Yankee games on the radio, the lead announcer John Sterling comes up with these ridiculous sayings that everyone
    must repeat. Thats an Abomb by ARod. The great Gaimbino. That the melky (cabera) way.

    A little new york flavor for you dude.

  6. Ah...here we have Vin Scully. Was doing the game long before I was born....


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