Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Information Bear 1

            It was still warm, even though the sun had set half an hour earlier.  The whole “family” was out on the back porch finishing one of Leslie’s outside summertime meals.  I imagine they were sipping glasses of lemonade or some such.  This was about a week after a major event: getting an elby big enough to lift a four-and-a-half kilogram weight.  That was ten pounds, back before David made everyone switch to metric measures.  So, this night’s dinner was something of a celebration, meaning it ended with an unimaginably rich chocolate cake, courtesy of Leslie.
            I can only imagine.  I’m not kidding.  Leslie is dead.  And I’ve never tasted chocolate cake.  Came close, once.
            Anyway, with Roger nearly comatose from overeating, Ishmael diverted the conversation to how elbies could hope to compete with other, more developed sources of work-energy.  David smiled broadly.  This was a question he had waited a long time to answer.
            “People living on the grid don’t appreciate the extent to which technology has determined lifestyle.  Thomas Edison knew he was inventing an industry when he commercialized electricity transmission.  What he may not have realized was that he was dancing to a tune that would be recapitulated in nearly every business sector.  It’s all about mass movement.  Large quantities of information-bearing substances, from cargo to oil to books to contracts to home appliances to cosmetics to entertainment.  These became the substrate on which to grow the knowledge base that defines modern social systems.”
            “What do you mean ‘information-bearing substances’?” Ishmael replied.  He was doing his best to keep up.  “The economy is based on goods and services, isn’t it?”
            “The economy is based on what’s in peoples’ heads.  As the economy has grown it has created a knowledge base of possibilities that swells with every different noticeable distinction.  Take lip gloss, for instance.  A fourteen-year-old girl at the neighborhood drug-store looks at the array of brands, colors, styles and marketing features of a hundred different products called lip gloss.  And to her they’re all different!  She will not confuse ‘creamy peach’ with ‘summer peach’.”
            “Once upon a time,” Leslie chimed in, “a made-up woman used lipstick, and there was only one color.  Red.  Perhaps a few different shades of red, but it was all red.  These days, it takes more than two full store aisles to hold all the different cosmetic products, and a sizeable portion of that is devoted to lip products.”
            “So an information-bearing substance is something like a product line in which each small variation is considered a separate product,” said Marta.
            “I get it.  The more products, the more choices you have to consider.  And choices require information,” said Ishmael.  Then he added, “What does that have to do with my original question?  Adding elby-energy to the mix of energy products expands the menu of choices.  But the other products are already so developed, who would care to use this one?”
            David resumes his argument.  “As I said, the knowledge base that enables the design, production and selection of information-bearing substances exists in peoples’ heads.  The economy is largely intangible, since it’s based on choices that people can be trained to value.  But the knowledge base has become increasingly unstable.  That part of the KB that’s in peoples’ heads is supported by an infrastructure that is narrow, kind of like a mushroom.  At some point it’s all going to fall apart—actually, I think that has already started.  Costs will go sky-high, so to speak, and most of the available choices will simply fall away.  It’s not just cosmetics that will disappear.  Most of the current civilization’s KB will disappear.  It will usher in a time of profound ignorance, another Dark Age.”
            Roger sat up with a start.  There was something on his mind.  He wanted to jump to the punch line so he could ask a new question.  “OK, OK, so we’re creating elby-energy.  And it’s not part of the current KB, so it won’t be lost—”
            “That’s it exactly!”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ignorant Food 2

(Continued from "Ignorant Food 1")

As Delores and a friend were driving to see a movie, the sky began blazing with searing orange clouds.  The view captivated both of them.  Delores observed that human beings seem to be the only animal that can be transfixed by the beauty of a sunset or marvel at the splendor of a rainbow.  Her friend thought that was an agreeable comment.

Yet, how many times do we find that people fail to direct their attention to wonders such as these?  Delores has been known to complain that she, of all the drivers on their way during a morning or afternoon rain shower, seemed to be the only one to look up at a stunning double rainbow—much less even park the car to fully take it in.

The same is true of food.  Do we fully take it in?

The German language has an interesting distinction that speaks to the manner in which food is eaten.  One word, fressen, denotes the type of eating that animals do.  It is a mechanical or desperate act, driven only by the biological need to reduce a motivational state called hunger.  The other word, essen, is meant to conjure the human act of eating.  A refined and civilized human being takes pains to make food and the manner in which it is eaten an experience of splendor.  Certainly, humanity has been at its most creative in turning food into any number of unique and memorable occasions.

But something is wrong here.  To those of us in the developed world, the production and delivery of eatables is an arrangement that is in full swing.  Food is an ever-present given in our lives.  Do we take it for granted?  Do we fully take it in?  Do we expect food and eat it automatically at the appointed times?  Do we ess or do we fress?

And this is why Delores was stunned by Nils’ sharing of the powerful idea from César Chávez.  (See Ignorant Food 1.)  Of course the farmer comes to the table three times a day!  Of course I am eating the labor of people!

Delores had her eyes opened.  She can now look at people eating and see the truth.  They are not eating the labor of people.  They are not eating the resources of the earth.  They are not eating the energy-structure of living beings.  They are not eating the ingenuity of the system.  They are not eating the generosity of friends.  They are not eating the wonder of food.  They know not what they do.

Eat your tasty food.  Fress up, happy animals.

(More at "How I Consecrate Eating")