Monday, December 22, 2014

The Technological Stairway To Heaven?

Don't Take Highway 61
The psychology that bubbles up when our collective lives are threatened (i.e. when we contemplate human extinction) is a bit different than when we contemplate our own personal, individual death.

We tend to know that as individuals we will die (and we even tend to consider those who reject that reality to be delusional, religious, or both).

On the other hand, we tend to deny that "the collective" can or will die (and we consider those who think that the collective can die to be delusional, religious, or both).

In that regard the once popular historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, fell out of grace when he pointed out:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). The once popular Sigmund Freud experienced the same loss of popularity when he opined:
"Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this --hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension."
(Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929, p. 40). This dynamism is still alive and is still widespread today:
A recent paper by the biologist Janis L Dickinson, published in the journal Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about

"Let's spray chemicals in the clouds to stop global warming"
global warming makes it difficult for people to repress thoughts of death
, and that they might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armour but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence suggesting that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency, as well as raising antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Our message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of Western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.
(Monbiot, emphasis added). An interesting dichotomy has taken shape, in that, one ideology holds that civilization is the source of ultimate perpetuation, while a contrary ideology holds that civilization is the source of ultimate demise:
One would say that [man] is destined to exterminate himself after having rendered the globe uninhabitable.” - Lamarck (1817)

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
(Links to Quotes, cf. What Kind of Intelligence Is A Lethal Mutation?). The current hope that human technology is the way out of petroleum civilization's extinction, contrasts sharply with the opposing ideology that "civilization is suicidal".

The "petroleum civilization is immortal via technology" ideology manifests in many forms of cultural trances, including "creeping normality and landscape amnesia".

Current arguments declare that at any time petroleum civilization can be extinguished via nuclear war, or via ecological pollution over a larger time frame, that is, petroleum civilization can be extinguished by ecological omnicide.

The evidence is unequivocal that petroleum civilization's extinction is not only possible, it is looking to be quite probable.

One unknown aspect of the predicament is which extinction (nukes or pollution) will take place first.

Perhaps even more problematic is the question of when an ecological extinction might take place:
"The First Law of 'When': the more critical an issue is to the future of our civilization, the difficulty of determining when that critical issue will take effect tends to increase exponentially.

The Second Law of 'When': the greater the amount of time it takes for that critical issue to play out completely tends to exponentially diminish Civilization's grasp of that critical issue.

The Third Law of 'When': the more destructive the impact which that critical issue would have on civilization tends to exponentially increase the time when that critical event will be understood to have begun to take place."
(The Laws of When). The "human-diplomacy-created nuclear treaties will save us" ideology reminds me of those on death row who put their hope in stays of execution.

Even if a real nuke-treaty could happen, the problem with the survival scenario is that there is no court of appeal for addressing a stay of execution when it comes to a petroleum civilization that is destroying its human habitat.

The only solution is that we must stop using petroleum to poison ourselves and our habitat, assuming that it is not already too late.

In conclusion, the conflating of individual survival concepts and fears with survival of petroleum civilization concepts and fears is not useful.

It is fearful.

For further reading on concepts of survival, see: (On the Origin of the Genes of Viruses, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11), (The Uncertain Gene, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), and Horizontal Gene Transfer.

"Stairway to Heaven", by Led Zeppelin

Highway 61: the lyrics of this song are here:


  1. Dredd, Good post.
    That video was made rather creepy by the self-conscious nodding of the assembled dignitaries. Don't know whether you chose it for that reason.

    1. Lidia17,

      "... the assembled dignitaries ..."

      Good eye.

      "On December 2, 2012, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were among the artists celebrated at the 35th annual Kennedy Centre Honors in Washington, D.C. Among the musicians chosen to pay tribute to Led Zeppelin’s enduring musical catalogue were Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart. Along with a massive ensemble that featured a choir and orchestra, the sisters delivered an authentic, moving rendition of "Stairway to Heaven", Led Zeppelin's signature song. In the footage of the performance, a camera periodically shows the facial expressions of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones, as they watch it all unfold." (OnStage Magazine).

  2. The stairway to heaven metaphor has been used by other musicians prior to Led Zeppelin (e.g. Neil Sedaka).

    The point of using it in this post is because it depicts a fantasy, a dangerous one in the context of this post, because it exposes or alludes to a drug induced cultural trance.

    That trance is induced by the cultural drug "hopium."

  3. "Positive Thinking" produced by hopium is going out of style perhaps: (Link)