As those who know me can attest, I'm not exactly one who's shy with my opinions in person. Yet, more a reader than a writer, I tend to chew my thoughts over obsessively before committing an essay to paper or screen. Often it's the key insight of a great writer who provides the final piece I need to understand how to express an idea I've been feeling an urge to share. Such was the case when I read Gore Vidal's latest interview by CityPages this morning.
Iraq is a symptom, not a cause. It's a symptom of the passion we have for oil, which is a declining resource in the world. Alternatives can be found, but they will not be found as long as there's one drop of oil or natural gas to be extracted from other nations, preferably by force by the current junta in charge of our affairs.
Although Vidal answers the interviewer's question in a matter-of-fact manner, his mention of Peak Oil, and even Iraq, is secondary to his larger point: we have allowed our national policies to be taken over by those who use fear as their motivator to achieve their own personal ends.
Fear of terrorism, fear of WMDs, fear of Muslims. Fear of penniless retirement. Fear of homosexuality, fear that God's very existence may be threatened by doubters.
Now, terrorism is a wonderful invention because it doesn't mean anything. It's an abstract noun. You can't have a war against an abstract noun; it's like having a war against dandruff. It's meaningless.
But you can terrify people. The art of government now, the art of control as practiced by the current junta, is: Keep the people frightened. It's exactly what Adolf Hitler and his gang did. Keep them frightened: The Russians are coming. The Poles are killing Germans who live within the borders of Poland. The Czechs are doing the same thing in the Sudetenland. These are evil people. We must go after them.
I've understood this viscerally, if not consciously, as it has grown around us over the last four years to become the modus operandi for US policy-making, or, more appropriately, policy-marketing to the public.
To the extent that the message of Peak Oil is one of alarm, and imminent catastrophe if we fail to act, I've felt a nameless discomfort in adding to the cries of warning. Not because the facts about Peak Oil are in doubt (to anyone who is "a reader", as Bill Hicks once confessed to be) but because without a clear plan for action, more fear is just more gasoline to the fire.
Fear, though, relies on disinformation to germinate and spread. Only Truth, delivered in calm tones, can dispel Fear. This is the vital contribution of you, the Peak Oil community, including this blog.
Keep everybody frightened, tell them lies--and the bigger the lie, the more they'll believe it. There's nothing the average American now believes (because he's been told it 10,000 times a day) that is true. Now how do you undo so much disinformation? Well, you have to have truth squads at work 24 hours a day every day. And we don't have them.
So let's go easy on the Fear, and think of ourselves as a Truth Squad. It's not too late to prevent things from going from bad to worse, but it can only be done by getting the real story out there. The challenge is to do it without adding to the fear, but by exposing the fear as a tool for control, and banishing it with facts and reason, we have a stronger chance for success.
A final valuable point Vidal makes that I think is worth stressing is the cost of the trade-offs we are already making. If presented with a choice, to spend the billions we are spending on "stability in the Middle East" (ok, quit chuckling) or on a long term solution to our energy needs, I confidently believe most Americans would choose the latter.
Ultimately the whole thing is about oil. We should be looking to hydrogen, or whatever is the latest replacement for fossil fuels. All the money we put into these wars in the Middle East, we should have put into that. Then we wouldn't be so desperate at the thought that in 2020, or in 2201 or whenever, there will be no more oil.
The only remaining question is whether the ever-present Fear, whipped up by a powerful few whose personal interests are opposed to such a solution, will be allowed to obscure the fact that it is our choice to make.