Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Modest Proposal

The genus Homo appeared on planet Earth about 2.5 million years ago, the species Homo Sapiens appeared roughly 800,000 years ago, and the subspecies Homo Sapiens Sapiens (double-wise?  Hah!) (that’s US, modern humans) about 200,000 years ago (as I am no paleoanthropologist, I can be excused for mis-stating the dates, but that does not affect my argument).  We modern humans traded hunting and gathering for the domestication of animals and agriculture a mere 12,000 years ago.  The Industrial Revolution (beginning with steam power) began less than 300 years ago, and the wide-spread use of electricity took place over decades from the late 1880’s through the Great Depression (still on-going in many places in the world).  Before that transformative transition, all of your ancestors knew what the Milky Way* was and they could see it every night.  The advent of Cell Phone technology in the 1990’s and of “Smart Phones” (Blackberry, iPhone and Android) in the last decade signified the last nail in the coffin of our being able to differentiate work from play and rest, and our entire dependency on Industry, Electricity and Technology.  When you go on vacation today, even if you spend it on Tahiti; do you really go on vacation, are you really isolated in any real sense from your workaday world?  What is the difference between you and a robot that mimics you?  Today, we know the difference, but the tomorrow when we won't see the difference is not that far in the future.

I have a modest proposal that will strike most folks as just plain crazy.  But I mean it in all seriousness.  I propose that all regional electric utilities schedule one or two electrical black-outs of 12, 24 or 36 hours duration per year, randomly assigned so that no one will be able to prepare for them.  There is no need for a regional electric company to collude with another to go black at the same time as a region’s worth of black-out is wide enough.  But, you may say, “The wheels of industry will stop rolling for that whole time.”  OK, so they will take a vacation, is that so bad?  “Well, what about life-support systems, people will die.”  Not true, no life-support system without a generator backup is a real life-support system.  “OK, fine but what is your point?  Why do you want us to go black every year?”  I am glad you asked.  It is a common-place that there is a spike in babies born nine months after a blackout.  It is as though folks would rather watch TV than make love, rather work than make love, rather surf the Web than make love.  Until all the lights go out and they can't work, watch TV, or surf.  Sad.  It is also the case that ten thousand generations of humans got by without electricity and smart phones.  They had their challenges, to be sure.  Might you be able to survive these challenges?  Are you quite sure?  We have got so dependent on our modern miracles that it is altogether likely that a huge majority of us would not be able to survive, not in the WILD but in a world without electricity.  That too is sad.  A change in our environment surprises us.  But most of us have fond memories of those blackouts that WE experienced, even those of us who did not have a loving partner.  

Don’t “vote” on this idea now as no one will be proposing it as a campaign promise any time soon.  Let it go, no need to think about it.  It may or it may not grow on you unconsciously until one day you may wonder “where is everyone who thinks this crazy idea may be worth a try?”  Before you can’t tell the difference between a human being and a robot designed to mimic a human being.

*  The Milky Way, you do know what the Milky Way is, don't you?  It's our home galaxy!  We live in the Orion suburbs.  And my title was borrowed, with permission, from Jonathan Swift.  Haven't read it?  For shame.  Do so!
The Milky Way as seen by our ancestors, which we would see every night if the lights were out -- NASA Photo