Culture Change
Search
20 July 2018
Home
The Silver Bullet Men PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 15
PoorBest 
by Chris Harries   
28 July 2011
The alchemists’ dream is alive and well, just ask the blokes.

This is a story about men and their dreams -- alchemist dreams. Part science, part magic, part religion. Seriously, it’s about our common future, so listen up!

Much has been studied and written about why women love to shop. In short, this innocent pastime apparently satisfies a basic and natural instinct: to gather. And this, according to the experts, explains why the ever-popular activity of shopping as a major recreation is particularly female. Men will go and buy a targeted item and then flee the store as quickly as possible, whilst women shop.

Far be it for me to lock in stereotyped behavior, there are of course many women who shun shopping in favor of more creative and enriching pursuits. But we can’t avoid a logical conclusion that patterns of gender behavior have something to do with the way our brains are wired at birth.

This brings me to a phenomenon that appears to be much less studied, and it concerns a peculiar wiring of the male brain.

‘Boys and their toys’ (male affinity with technology) is also a well studied cultural phenomenon. From computer equipment, to power tools, to racy cars, to the latest invention in the market place… we blokes naturally gravitate to technology and most men I know secretly harbor at least one high-tech obsession. Or possession.

Like shopping is for women, this blokey behavior is a frequent source of harmless, lighthearted banter and we take it in our stride and carry on because… well… because we are hard wired, so it seems.

But it’s the next level of exclusively male behavior that has fascinated me for many years. I am talking of certain men whose affinity with technology transcends mere passion, so as to become a quasi-religious experience. I am talking of good earnest blokes so besotted by their chosen technology that no logic, or persuasion, can shake their belief -- or their proselytizing ardor. The technology that excites their passion is literally their church. I am talking of the knights in shining armor who earnestly believe that they have stumbled across the Holy Grail, the one and only salve for the world’s ills.

Anybody who has worked in politics knows these guys well. They are the ones who persistently call and demand an interview, and write lengthy screeds, and complain long and hard that there is a conspiracy to silence them and to suppress the invention. In lowered tones, they confide in you that they have knowledge of the ultimate technology that can save the world, if only the powers that be would damned well listen!

Well, that’s the extreme cases -- like burns patients, there are first, second and third degree casualties amongst those afflicted.

On so many occasions when I’ve given public talks and participated in web discussions on energy futures, there is always at least one such guy (this syndrome only afflicts men) in the audience who has in his grasp the triumphant Cornucopian solution – the silver bullet that will herald in a bright future for mankind. There’s Peter, the cold fusion man. There’s Kim, the solar-power-in-space man. There’s Barry, the nuclear man. There’s Gerald, the hot rocks man. There’s Eddy, the fuel cell man. There’s John the marine algae man. There… And so it goes.

At the hard end of those technological panaceas is the ultimate Holy Grail -- ‘the infinite energy machine’. Not a year goes by without a wizened inventor claiming to have discovered one. Now, who wouldn’t be thrilled to know that an infinite source of free energy -- like a fridge that never runs out of beer – can actually exist? Not surprisingly, many a gullible investor has been taken in by the prospect.

One of the most notable examples was the ‘Stoern Orbo’, launched with much fanfare in Britain in 2006. The proprietor’s boast:

"Orbo produces free, clean and constant energy -- that is our claim. By free we mean that the energy produced is done so without recourse to external source. By clean we mean that during operation the technology produces no emissions. By constant we mean that with the exception of mechanical failure the technology will continue to operate indefinitely.”
Six years later and the jury is still out. Still not one Orbo is on the market, or tested to satisfaction. I’m laying bets there will never be.

Common to these hard core devotees is a language that projects a golden future of plenty. Energy so cheap and bountiful that there would be no need to measure it. No pollution. No mining of fuel. All of this backed with ample statistics and charts and diagrams.

Amongst the more rounded technology enthusiasts is a simple starry- eyed outlook that helps to helps to maintain an easy truce between the various enthusiasts -- a shared belief that energy supply is the core of humanity’s problem, and the essential remedy is to switch technology. Beneath the surface, though, is a veritable war amongst them for technological supremacy, each accusing the other of overstating the plus sides and understating the downsides of their particular technology. The most bitter feud is that between the nuclear guys and the wind energy guys.

Over the years I’ve learned to respectfully and patiently listen to all these guys, and try to understand their technological choice and their rampant enthusiasm. But I’ve learned not to try to contest their science too much, nor shatter their delusion. Nor ask probing questions, like: “If the technology is so manifestly solid, why has an enterprising multinational not jumped at the chance to make big bucks out of it?”

For one thing, it is not possible to contest the science -- their belief is generally more about faith than it is about science, and who can argue against impregnable faith? And then… well, I am a bloke too… I have to confess to having an abiding fascination with technology too. So I listen.

In order to get to the bottom of this totally masculine phenomenon, we need to briefly go back to the time of the alchemists and see how that fascinating historical episode still carries over to the present day, when the dark old days of sorcery and magic are presumed to be over, where religion and science have parted ways.

Alchemy is an ancient tradition, underpinned by a belief that through science one could invent the mythical ‘philosopher’s stone’. Whoever found the magic formula would be capable of turning base metals (such as lead) into gold and that lucky inventor would also hold the secret to the elixir of life -- immortality and eternal youth. Through the ages many thousands of earnest men of science devoted their entire lives to this noble, yet fruitless, pursuit. They genuinely regarded themselves as serious chemists, though in hindsight we can see that alchemy was a curious mixture of science, mythology, religion and spiritualism.

And so it is today.

Now, I don’t wish to belittle these guys, because they mean so well. And, for all I know, any one of them may be onto something useful. I don’t wish to appear arrogant and would dearly love to be proved wrong. It is possible to marvel at elegant new technology and still be aware of its limits. By and large these are the most earnest, dedicated, passionate people you could imagine. But, like anybody deeply infatuated with religion they tend to be smitten with an absolute, rock solid belief. They’ve found their holy grail.

And that’s the scary bit. Scary because I believe that there’s a strand of this magic pudding syndrome latent in every human breast. Don’t we all really want to believe that the finite world that we inhabit is a magic pudding after all, and that science will come to the rescue and… if we just wait a bit… then all will be well? Surely technology, which has provided for us so well in the past, will once again come to our rescue?

If only.

So, what of the future? The problem as I see it, is that this gender phenomenon is much more than merely a subject of intellectual curiosity. It is, in fact, fundamental to whether or not we, as a species, are able to forge a sustainable and sane future. The very same masculine imagination that brought about our dominant nexus in history is right now determining how we progress through these precarious, uncertain times ahead.

Albert Einstein, the ultimate scientist, ever a deep thinker, understood this human pathology all too well. “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it,” he warned. “You must learn to see the world anew.”

Yet the allure of the silver bullet is so strong in our collective unconscious that it is still manifestly determining our future, and blinding us to our potential fate -- inhibiting us from making the necessary deep cultural and behavior changes that we need to be making in order to survive and prosper.

At a time when our planetary civilization is being confronted by a dizzying array of chronic problems -- from climate change, to desertification, to ocean acidification, to depletion of major resources -- the silver bullet men, the modern day alchemist, the allure of the elusive technical fix… may very well be our civilization’s Waterloo.

Image

[Author’s note: ‘Silver bullet’, ‘quick fix’, ‘miracle cure’, ‘holy grail’, ‘magic pudding’ – these are all metaphors describing the much same phenomenon. The Magic Pudding is an all time favorite classic of Australian children's literature. It tells of a magic pudding which, no matter how often it is eaten, always reforms in order to be eaten again. The pudding is owned by three companions who must defend it against pudding thieves who want it for themselves.]

Chris Harries is a long term environmental advocate, writer, campaigner and website editor. He writes from his home state, Tasmania, Australia. He sent the above article to share with Culture Change readers.

Comments (12)Add Comment
Scientists have been working on cold fusion for the past two decades in virtual isolation, ostracized from the broader scientific community and without the benefit an any funding from the Department of Energy. Yet, the advancement made by these intrepid investigators has led to a fully-fledged new energy source from the hydrogen in water.

The science is irrefutable, the technology remains to be seen, but we are hopeful that a breakthrough is imminent.

The end of fossil fuels means we will have a new-energy future, or we will have no technological future at all.

Read Breakthrough Power by Jeanne Manning & Joel Garbon for how this technology will allow humans to live cleanly and sustainably, caring for our Earth as we should.

It's no magical fix, the mind of humans must alter along with our technology. Fortunately, Marshall McLuhan's research showed us that it always does.

Ruby
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Cold fusion (if indeed proven to work) or any other technological energy source is not a viable replacement or substitution for the petroleum infrastructure or the many fuels and substances made from petroleum. Technology does not equal energy. The energy-rich cheap oil is going fast.

Small-scale, decentralized local energy will be utilized. However, first in priority are food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, and restoration of the trashed ecosystem. So the energy sources we would favor today for tomorrow will have to fit into basic, essential activities. There will be no "energy economy" -- this is a manufactured sector for profit, based on the consumer-waste economy.

This message and that of author Chris Harries is unpleasant for many technological optimists. The Union of Concerned Scientists, big on an electric car "solution" along with other technofixes and policy changes, just sent and "UNSUBSCRIBE" message to Culture Change after receiving Harries' article.
Jan C. Lundberg
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +2
If the techno-optimists turn out to be right, the consumer capitalist infinite growth economy would use that energy to finish killing off all life on earth. Given that the system and the people running it do not value life, there is little chance they would all of the sudden change if limitless energy fell into their hands. More likely they would use it to consolidate power and further enslave the majority of us. No thanks. I'd much rather give up all the fun toys that industrial technology has given us (surfboards, bicycles, electric guitars, motorcycles...) for the opportunity to live in harmony with other people and beings (bears, redwood trees, great white sharks, etc).
James
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +4
James, you make a very valid comment (above).

To clarify, there are many well adjusted men and women out there who are working on technology development, and who have a benign attitude to how it will be used. All praise to them. The problem for these good folks is that technology itself is not value laden, it is the purpose to which it is put that is the problem. Whereas they may have high minded ideas – to service the needs of a long term conserver society – the corporations and political institutions that end up implementing technology generally have no such attitude. Thus we find that our best endeavours are sublimated and in this way these good folks unwittingly become agents for human destructiveness, rather than for the greater good.

Choice of technologies will play a relatives small part in addressing the human condition, but it is our cultural attitudes that is the big bogey we have to face up to. Let's just stop pretending that technology is at the core of the problem.
Chris Harries
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Hi Jan, When I say the cold fusion economy, I refer to the service environment that exists to support the technology.

Petroleum created a service environment of cars, roads, gas stations, auto repair, Motel 6s, drive-in movies, drive-through coffee, pollution, war, etc. Cold fusion technology will create a service environment, too, one totally different than any previous energy environment.

The majority of the host of services ( and disservices) of petroleum will disappear. Cold fusion will not replace oil; it will obsolesce it.

Imagine cold fusion-copters, running on water, able to scope out the weakest trees and selectively log the forest. There is no need for roads, or gas powered trucks. We can restore our wilderness to a pristine status.

The effect of transmutation may lead to the ability to take the dirty radioactive waste and transform it into a benign or usable material.

Check out Breakthrough Power by Jeanne Manning & Joel Garbon. They do an excellent survey of the impacts of new energy on the planet and the people.

And thanks for your excellent work. One way or another, this way of living will be altered....
Ruby
Cold Fusion Now
Ruby
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Two points. First: Although branded as mystical, unscientific crackpots who dabbled in sorcery, Alchemists by and large were, as Harries somewhat alludes, natural holists, and perhaps the closest medieval counterpart to today's ecologists. It was the Baconian reductionist "scientists" of the 16th and 17th Centuries, not Alchemists, who sought sheer power over nature, to wrench out her secrets by brute force and use them against herself in creation of technologies for the "betterment" of humanity. Second: The highly concentrated physical power of modern tech-industrial society, whatever its energy sources (rich fossil fuels, nuclear fission, fusion, you name it), is completely at odds with the diffuse, highly distributed, sunlight-based power web underlying the persistence of a stable, diverse and harmonious Ecosphere, that upon which we ultimately depend for existence. The truth is that two contrary trends can not be simultaneously maximized. A "clean", "unlimited" energy "silver bullet" supporting a huge technological power flux (i.e., business as usual; what else could it be?) is as likely to bring down our ecological house as fossil fuels are currently doing. Simply, unless global humanity dramatically reduces its overall ecological "footprint", which means dramatically reducing its power flux so as to become more alligned with that of the "natural" Ecosphere, the game is over. Finding out how to do that would be akin to finding the Alchemist's "Philosopher's Stone".
FC
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
This article simply lights a grass fire to send up smoke, hiding the truth and avoiding the real issues that we must face and find solutions to.

Were alchemists like Newton all at sea, or testing the limits with the dawn of modern physics, which in the end revealed that in the furnace of a star, hydrogen is forged into gold.

It is disturbing to read of solar power being lumped in with perpetual energy machines, which reveals a deep level of denial about the cause of our problems and there solutions.

There are two forms of denial that anyone keen to see a safe Earth must contend with.

The most notorious is the denial of science and scientists like James Hansen have managed to connect the dots and show how the trail leads back to the carbon energy industry.

In some ways a more dangerous form of denial, is a failure to face the whole truth and when this becomes embedded politically, we end up with reaction to consequences, rather than actions based on the needs of a sustainable solution.

Hansen demonstrated how any level of CO2 above 350ppm puts us at risk, but with CO2 about to pass 400ppm and set to skyrocket, which government on Earth is fighting for the 350ppm plan?

It has been the wistful meandering of environmentalists that has helped to create our current debacle, by getting caught in a death-waltz with the carbon industry.

Still the Pied Pipers play their tune, seeking to lead people off into the carbon wilderness created by their total failure to keep a safe Earth.

Anyone with a brain knows the Earth is now at risk from the release of carbon via burning fossil fuel and anyone with an interest in science can see that carbon can be mined from the air as a resource; but it takes a lot of energy.

To provide this level of energy, we can use current technology to build solar power stations in space, bring this energy to Earth and win back a safe planet.

It is quite basic science that the Sun radiates so much energy, it is literally an unlimited energy source.

To compare stellar energy to a silver bullet is more of a cowboy movie fantasy, off with the Lone Ranger chasing outlaws in the Wild West

It is a much tougher call to face the brutal truth of our predicament, give up the wistful meandering and get serious about delivering sustainable solutions on Earth.

Building solar power stations in space is the key to a safe Earth that has been avoided for four decades.

Stellar energy has been the food of life for 3.5 billion years.

Stored stellar energy allowed us to build the way to step onto the Moon.

Stellar energy can now be used to repair the damage caused by our delayed transition from a house-of-cards carbon economy, to a Solar Civilzation with a strong economic foundation that will last as long as the Sun shines.

Kim Peart
Kim Peart
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: -1
Ah Kim,

Every advocate thinks of their own panacea as being the real genuine article. Do you really believe that capturing solar energy in space and then beaming it down to Earth is fail safe and, even if it is, do you really believe that it can solve all those pressing problems, such as the oil reliance of our agricultural systems? And even then, can it do all that before an energy crisis is really upon us?

I do admire all those beaming optimists out there who have such utter faith in their chosen solutions (including the cold fusion and the solar-energy-from-space respondents above). If we believe the way forward is to press the accelerator even harder then you are with the majority. This article was submitted to Culture Change because a rising number of thinking people believe there is a need for a change in culture. This means re-thinking our enslavement to technological panaceas.
Chris Harries
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +2
Hi Chris, Thanks for your thoughtful essay and comments.

Cold fusion is not "pressing the accelerator further". The incremental changes of our use of chemical energy from the burning of wood in pre-history to the oil, gas, and charcoal briquettes that cap the evolution has been a continual increase and "acceleration".

Cold fusion is clean energy from water. It is so utterly different from anything before, it has been called the New Fire.

Nothing will stop petrocollapse, and we should hope that nothing does. Our Earth is hurting. All that was born of petroleum will fade with petroleum.

Cold fusion will build a different service environment. When water is your fuel, you do not need dirty drilling, or all the land covered in silicon.

There is no techno fix. TEchnology is merely the tool. Humans must change their thinking as well.

Ruby
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Einstein was right about the shortcomings of Quantum Mechanics and so therefore String Theory is also the incorrect approach. As an alternative to Quantum Theory there is a new theory that describes and explains the mysteries of physical reality. While not disrespecting the value of Quantum Mechanics as a tool to explain the role of quanta in our universe. This theory states that there is also a classical explanation for the paradoxes such as EPR and the Wave-Particle Duality. The Theory is called the Theory of Super Relativity.
This theory is a philosophical attempt to reconnect the physical universe to realism and deterministic concepts. It explains the mysterious.
mmfiore
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Well, that's great Ruby (above). I look forward to seeing it up and going. Can you tell us when that might be?
Chris Harries
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
I've waited awhile before adding to this, to allow the miracle cold fusion advocates to prove themselves.

This article seems to sum up the real situation on that score pretty well: http://energybulletin.net/stor...-catalyzer
Chris Harries
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 
< Prev   Next >

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387, Santa Cruz, California, 95063, USA, Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax).
Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.
Some articles are published under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. See Fair Use Notice for more information.