335. DOOM AS ENTERTAINMENT
This is a continuation of the previous article, with further discussion of the Doomer Feedlot:
I think it's a classic Marshall McLuhan situation: we like to think it is the *content* of the news items which is the reality, but, in a way, that's just an excuse, and the real story is the social relations created by a new media (in this case, the internet).
Consider power outages and brownouts, for example. Certainly, there have been chronic failures of power grids for decades, particularly in the 3rd world. However in the past you couldn't aggregate real-time news of such outages into a feed. But now you can, and you can also aggregate a readership around it. And the feed has a sort of iconic, brute power. Imagine a teletype machine in the back of a room, reeling off power outage news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It would be even more effective if you had a robot read the reports over a loudspeaker...
It would be totally unnerving... You would start worrying that the world was ending due to a massive overload of power outages, simply due to the number and flow rate of reports.
In fact, though, you're just reading/listening to noise. It was there all along. You just didn't have a microphone hooked up to it before.
In a way, I think we're all just drunk on the power of the internet. The ability of the media to generate news is now surpassing the ability to digest it, so you need feedlots of media consumers to try to choke it down, like a snake trying to swallow a pig. The ability to gather and analyze statistics has taken leaps and bounds too, resulting in new forms of journalism like Stuart's massive opuses. But we're starting to reach saturation, where the consumers can't choke it down. The supply of peak oil information is grossly exceeding the reading capacity.
The solution to this problem is the Feedlot. Zones of concentrated, intensive media consumption. It's ironic that peak oilers are so strongly offended by "consumer society", and yet they tend to be absolutely feverish consumers of the classic post-industrial product: Media.
You've got the spellbound people, huddling around the robot, listening to the never-ending power outage news, and they like to think they are in touch with "reality". But they aren't actually obsessed with reality. They're obsessed with *media*. Reality is that thing you interact with when you turn the computer OFF.
I think, if you asked a lot of wives out there, the #1 impact of peak oil on their family is their flabby husband addicted to the computer. *That's* the reality.
Peak oil is something you can cope with quite easily, without following any news at all. So that doesn't explain the phenomenon of the feedlot. There is an illusion that something useful is being done, but in fact, it's more akin to entertainment, like people watching sports.
Since 2004, when I first started following peak oil, I've heard the peak oil doomertron ramble on about horror story after horror story: the Iraq war, 9-11 conspiracies, financial armageddon, depleted uranium, reinstitution of the draft, hurricanes, global warming, "trophic theory", bird flu, peak phosphorus, entropy, collapse of the dollar, the Iranian oil bourse, fishery depletion, soils, biodiversity, financial chicanery, toxic debt, power outages, zombie hordes, infrastructure deterioration etc. etc.
Meanwhile, this was the big picture (from UN World Economic Situation and Prospects(pdf)):
Strong world growth, and hundreds of millions of people raising themselves out of poverty in developing countries.