Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stuff from Energy Bulletin

The limits to scenario planning
I was involved in one of those periodic discussions that spring up about The Limits To Growth recently and found myself wondering, not for the first time, if other people have read a completely different version of the book to the one I possess.
published February 1, 2008.

Asking better questions
The discussion at The Oil Drum takes a more personal nature with me; much of my own history involves looking back toward a simpler time in agriculture. (The account of a "recovering energy engineer.")
published January 31, 2008.

via Up from Dysfunction--Jan 31:
From buses to blogs, a pathological individualism is poisoning public life
Madeleine Bunting, Guardian

Take a big jump and switch from the shared physical spaces of streets to a very different shared public space - the internet - and a related phenomenon is being played out. Aggression, abuse and contempt are now the normal currency of debate among strangers on blogs. Last week two prominent columnists, David Aaronovitch and Linda Grant, added their bewilderment to the growing chorus of those arguing that public debate on the internet is being strangled at birth by the quantity of personal abuse and bullying. The response from bloggers was fascinating. One argued that "the internet is good therapy. People can use it to voice their opinions, anger, fears and worries in anonymity, instead of penting it up [sic] leading to violence or suicides", while another argued that blogging is an "internal monologue ... spilling over into the public domain". Several contributors to the voluminous debate Grant's column spawned on Comment is free online admitted revulsion and shock. One asked: "Is human nature as awful as this?"

The thinker who predicted all of this with remarkable prescience was Richard Sennett in his book The Fall of Public Man, published 34 years ago. He argued that the distinction between the public and private realms was being eroded as we elevated the self-absorption and narcissism of "knowing oneself" into an end rather than a means by which to know the world. The public sphere - where we encounter strangers - becomes a canvas on which we play out our own emotional preoccupations and neuroses. Sennett sharply warned us that "because every self is, in some measure, a cabinet of horrors, civilised relations between selves can only proceed to the extent that nasty little secrets of desire, greed or envy are kept locked up".

What makes Sennett so pertinent is that this concept of privacy, of concealing thoughts, is exactly what is under assault. In some vain search for authenticity and honesty, all those horrors in the cabinet are now hawked around the blogging sites. Debate has become so gladiatorial that it generates its own mechanisms of exclusion; anyone who doesn't want verbal fisticuffs withdraws. Some participants, intoxicated by absurd interpretations of freedom of speech and individual entitlement, suggest people should be able to say whatever happens to pop into their heads, that there should be no space for reflection before speech. Martin Amis gave some intellectual credibility to this notion last autumn in the controversy over his remarks about Muslims, saying that he couldn't edit his thoughts. Yet deciding which thought to give voice to is precisely what all of us do all the time - and so it should be. What relationship, either public or private, could ever be sustained on any other principle?

A century of psychoanalysis and its derivatives and misapplications has legitimised parading our cabinets of horrors. Sennett describes this as having been a "trap rather than a liberation". The self-referential frame by which all is measured is "what does this person, that event mean to me?", he argues.

Amid such cacophony of attention-seeking "me, me, me", two things are in danger of being lost: first, the ability really to listen - rather than just wait with varying degrees of patience for your chance to spout off; and second, that grand old etiquette of liberal debate, the option to agree to differ. Both are vital ingredients of public debate as a process of learning and negotiation, both are much needed if the unprecedented diversity of our public spaces now is to produce civility or even conviviality.

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