THE FALSE GODS OF POWER, THE AUTOMOBILE

It is probably understandable and reasonable that power is important in the programming of the surviving cultures. The love of power, like sexual drives, and hunger, are subroutines that have their function, when called in to action, properly balanced in the whole pattern of an adaptive behavior. Like these other packaged drives, they become lusts and destructive only when they take an improper percentage of the system's power, The old religions provided warnings of most of the old dangers of diversion and designated the excesses as sinful, as dissipation. In energetic language, they were useless diversions of valuable potential energy flows. In religious language the admonitions were to avoid false gods that would lead the enterprises into waste and the individuals and cultures into destruction.

Great quantities of cheap high-grade energies have not been generally available before recent times so that the lust for power could not take excessive dimensions. Our new forms of excess were not included in the old religions. Now, however, the largest sources of dissipation of potential energies hardly related to the economy of a stable surviving system are the automobiles, the love of automotive power, and the fantastic structures of concrete that stand as idols to the false God of Power-Lust. The love of speed and acceleration takes hold of all of us, draws the first buying power of the adolescent, dominates the thinking of his elders in the budgeting of funds, and pumps more and more individual fossil fuels into accelerations and speed. The luxury automobile and highways are surely the dominant part of our culture that is unecessary, destructive of human cultural coalescence by injecting large random energies, keeping people on the move and out of more local group operations. (Table 2-1 shows the enormous difference in power levels of even a small automobile compared to the other units of our biosphere.)

Because the kinetic energy of a moving object goes up as the square of the velocity, acceleration followed by braking leads to much greater energy costs of transportation than a slow steady speed against steady friction (see Chap. 2). For any process of needed movement there is a speed that is too slow so that competing activities will displace it. There is also a speed that is too fast, dissipating so much energy unnecessarily that the unit loses out in competition because of its waste preventing it from doing what it could. There is an optimum speed for processes for survival [4]. Our Western culture is clearly in the excessive speed and is temporarily getting away with it because of the excessive temporary fossil fuel availability. This situation becomes lethal as soon as there are competing systems that use energies better or the energies dwindle. Our sin of excess power dissipation has displaced older weaknesses that are proportionately minor now. The church doctrines move to include the new sins but they can- hardly do it with the old revealed dogma that has no mention of automobiles, highway folly and giant airplanes.

When anthropologists look at the fossil remnants of past civilizations, they often find large structures like the pyramids which were of great significance to the past civilization in requiring a high proportion of energy, but which in our present culture seem unimportant to survival. Future cultures looking at our cultural remnants may find gaunt, empty expressways. These concrete fantasies may even develop religious significance to less energized cultures following in the same way that Roman cultural inheritance achieved religious significance in the Medieval Ages. Symbols of a past high energy era may imply past magnificence of god to a less energized later period. Are civilizations known by their gods of survival or their false gods of excess energy?

--Environment, Power, & Society; Howard T. Odum, pg. 248-9

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