Wednesday, September 24, 2008

But Thinking is Hard!

People don't enjoy thinking about parts of their lives over which they have little direct control. This is just an instinctual part of our intellectual capacity. If something doesn't make "common sense" to us - ie, it's not what we are used to thinking - then we struggle to accept that it could be the right thing to do.

Case in point: Oil As former CIA Director James Woolsey* points out, energy independence vis-a-vie other nations (Middle East Oil anyone?) does Not mean the total elimination of any of that resource from our national energy diet. Rather, it is a matter of rational decision making as to how much dependence on oil we absolutely must maintain in conjunction with alternative means we can develop and utilize to spread our options.

From last September's National Review Online

The energy-independence question is really about oil — the rest of U.S. energy use presents important issues, but not the danger of our being subject to the control of nations that “do not particularly like us,” as the president put it. Some of the engine racers have an economic interest in keeping our transportation system 97-percent oil-dependent. Less understandable are the authors of a recent Council on Foreign Relations report accusing those working for such independence of “doing the nation a disservice.”

The authors of that report and their followers define “independence,” contrary to both Webster’s and common sense, as essentially “autarky” — i.e. complete self-sufficiency, or not importing oil even though we remain dependent on it. Such a Pickwickian definition captures none of the thinking of serious advocates of reducing our oil dependence: The point of independence is not to be an economic hermit, but rather to be a free actor.

It is true that some who promote oil independence spice their remarks by implying that we might substitute oil from domestic sources or from our near neighbors for cheap Middle Eastern imports, and somehow manage to insulate ourselves from the world oil market.

But speechwriters’ tropes shouldn’t be taken as serious policy proposals. Geology will not cooperate in any such fantasy. There is no reasonable way that we can leave oil in place as the near-exclusive fuel for the world’s transportation systems and simultaneously wall ourselves off from the world oil market. If we want to end dependence on the whims of OPEC’s despots, the substantial instabilities of the Middle East, and the indignity of paying for both sides in the War on Terror, we must define oil “independence” sensibly — as doing whatever is necessary to avoid oil’s being the instrument of despotic leverage and foreign chaos.

Those who won our independence as a nation didn’t just fling imported tea into Boston harbor — they did whatever was necessary to wrest themselves from British control. We need not call out the Minutemen, but to avoid the consequences of dependence we must become independent — not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.

Does this mean that we cannot use oil or import any? Of course not.

[Now lets put our thinkin' caps on, kiddos!]

This misdefining of the concept of independence is exactly what has kept the McCain campaign in the race. Americans want their big concepts small. We want to have everything in its little niche so that we don't have to stop and think about the results of our behaviour. We just want to act on what we know (our Common Sense) and have life flow as it will, preferably in our favor.

Ever hear of "Murphy's Law"?

The world we've created for ourselves' is far too complex for most folk to accept comfortably. Overcoming this cultural obstacle (and it is cultural, as opposed to biologically immutable such as our need for oxygen) is the number one thing we need to accomplish if we're to avoid creating a world which is uninhabitable by our own families.

As usual, more to come...

* Turning Oil into Salt
We must become independent — not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.
By R. James Woolsey & Anne Korin
September 25, 2007 5:00 AM

1 comment:

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