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The B.S. Factor In Post-Industrial Society

By Peter Goodchild

22 May, 2010

I was having a rather intense but friendly argument with somebody one day, and I metaphorically said, “Two plus two equals four.” My opponent replied, “No, well, okay, but it depends on how big the twos are.” At that point we became so engrossed in the irrationality and humor of his comment that the main topic of our debate is lost to history. What I think of as the b.s. factor is the illusive something when I say, with several pages of proof, that something is the case, and my opponent comes up with something that is beyond the average use of hair-splitting, non-sequitur, or general hot air. The term “b.s.,” of course, refers to “blood out of a stone.”

One of my favorite examples is the bromide that if, when fossil fuels are gone, there will be no means of running the Earth’s one billion automobiles, then all we have to do is switch to bicycles. Fossil fuels not only provide the fuel for automobiles, they also provide the entire system of manufacture. When fossil fuels are gone, we are basically back in the Stone Age, as Richard Duncan and others have explained.

While up in cottage country on an early-summer morning, I have often had my Alternate Lifestyle disturbed by the realization that the bicycle under my buttocks is not exactly providing me with a day of voluntary simplicity. This expensive toy is virtually the epitome of high technology. I can’t even calculate how many parts it has. The frame is perhaps aluminum alloy, perhaps titanium alloy, perhaps carbon fiber, perhaps advanced steel alloy. Where are we going to get Space-Age materials when we’re living in the Stone Age?

That’s where the b.s. factor comes into play. You can’t get blood from a stone, but you can get prevarication and prestidigitation from any Alternate Lifestyle true-believer. All you have to do is attach solar panels to a giant corkscrew, resembling the sort that cottagers use at their Saturday-night barbecues but a thousand times larger. You keep on screwing until you get to China, and then you can suck up all those rare-earth metals that keep wind turbines, solar panels, and all the other Alternate Nonsense operating.

Never mind. The precursor to the bicycle was made of wood, so perhaps we can learn to whittle our transportation.

The b.s. that I’ve heard over the last couple of years is immeasurable. If I point out that the world’s nearly seven billion humans will have to be reduced to less than a billion in a few decades, what I generally face is a torrent of ad-hominem arguments to the effect that I am a heartless Nazi butcher and murderer. (All that money spent on liberal education in the 60s obviously didn’t extend to training in elementary logic.) When that fails to shame me, I am usually presented with something to the effect that billions of people won’t necessarily have to die, it might be sufficient for them to be severely injured, or perhaps whisked off to Neverneverland, whichever is more cost-effective. Whatever keeps the wine flowing, the badminton games going, and the hamburgers sizzling up there in cottage country.

Actually, cottage country in Canada probably has a different ambience to that of the American version I used to experience in my childhood days. If I mention peak oil to a Canadian neighbor, as we stow our kayaks and clamber up the bank toward the barbecue, he is likely to give me a big grin and announce that he’s sent a considerable amount of email to his local Member of Parliament on that very issue of oil decline. The b.s. never ends.

The only gleam of light that has pierced my brain lately is the thought that if early Stone Age technology was adapted to nearly 100 percent of the Earth’s land surface, whereas agricultural technology was adapted only to the Earth’s 10 percent that is arable, then the fortunate irony is that a return to early Stone Age technology would mean being able to re-enter the 90 percent that has been largely off-limits for the last few thousand years. If salmon and blueberries are to be our diet, we’ll have a better chance of finding them in the remote wilderness than in the middle of a city. Primitivism isn’t really an “ism,” it’s just a fancy name for death, but switching the locomotive of the brain around by 180 degrees presents a fascinating challenge.

FFF [I mean, “feel free to forward,” not “find the flow of the funds.” The latter applies to David Suzuki, Al Gore, Rajendra K. Pachauri, the Sierra Club, etc., and that’s far too big a job for the next 24 hours.]