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Response to defacto7 (Reply #2)

Tue Jan 1, 2019, 09:34 AM

3. Well, I think we're all a bit like that guy in the fiery furnace...

...an interesting name for a place in the current context. We're stumbling blindly in ignorance and arrogance into situations we are barely capable of understanding.

We've all on some level, particularly in this country, bought into that libertarian bull about how every individual can do whatever the hell he or she wants, the rest of humanity be damned, and somehow ignore that basic biological fact that we are, by our very nature, social animals. Human beings didn't come to dominate the biosphere and in possession of the ability to destroy it as a result of the "freedom of the individual." This interesting but dangerous biological outcome rather came about because of large collective colonies of human beings working toward common goals, whether it was the Great Wall of China, Neil Armstrong's trip to the moon, or Genghis Khan's conquest of most of Asia and parts of Europe. This childish Ayn Rand worshipping bull is highly toxic. As I always say, and as my son finally agreed last evening over a glass of champagne, if you still take Ayn Rand seriously and your acne has gone away, there's something drastically wrong with you. (He told me, "Dad, my acne's cured..." even if he never actually had acne.)

Individuals - and this is the great danger to the survival of our species - however can be extremely ignorant and yet influential, and to the extent that ignorant people help drive the choice of goals a society chooses can have horrible consequences, this has been true for tyrants like Joseph Stalin as well as for muddle headed "public intellectuals" like, for example, Amory Lovins.

When I was a kid, I used to think that everyone who could discuss things about which I knew nothing were correct about the things in question, since they were aware of them, and I wasn't.

Of course, since I knew very little on my own, and was fairly intellectually lazy, I never actually knew if the people whose opinions I absorbed as if they were my own were actually qualified to form the opinions they did.

Take for example, one of my personal bete noires, the bombastic barely literate fool Amory Lovins. When I was a kid, he was given the MacArthur Fellowship the so called "genius award." He's appeared on television, given lecture tours, given lectures at universities, etc, etc, etc...

It was easy to pretend to be educated by simply adopting his opinions and claim that they were identical to mine.

Consider this piece of drivel that this ass wrote in 1980:

Nuclear Power and Nuclear Bombs

It opens with this nonsensical, ignorant, garbage statement:

The nuclear proliferation problem, as posed, is insoluble. All policies to control proliferation have assumed that that the worldwide spread of nuclear power is essential to reduce dependence on oil, economically desirable, and inevitable..." blah, blah, blah.

The rest of this drivel goes on to announce that nuclear power is dying (in 1980) and that the world will "inevitably" move to so called renewable energy and conservation, the world being in Lovins decidedly racist myopia is white middle class Americans like him, Americans with their heads up their asses.

The problem with that is that Amory Lovins is a moron, and nothing like the "scientist" he bills himself as being. He's as much a "scientist" as a shaman with a bag full of coca leaves is a medical doctor.

Nevertheless, if you read this text, the way it is written, it can sound authoritative, as if Amory Lovins actually knew something about nuclear anti-proliferation policy. He doesn't. Nor did he even have the slightest idea of what the goal of the nuclear industry was in 1980, which was not to displace oil but rather to displace coal. (The first commercial nuclear power plant in the Western World, the Calder Hall reactor, was financed as a threat to British Coal miners and their habit of striking and shutting British industry down.) This tiresome fool, Lovins, who ultimately made tons of money "consulting" for oil sands and other petroleum companies - as his biography openly states, from 2011-2018, he served on the National Petroleum Council, possibly joining his fellow shitheads, some of whom were from say, Exxon, for drinks at evening hotel bars during meetings, has almost certainly never opened a serious paper on the properties of nuclear fuels or nuclear engineering in his pathetic and highly immoral life.

When I was a kid, most people worried about nuclear war worried about the destruction of the United States. It is worth noting that since 1980, roughly 250 million people have died from air pollution, and in 1980, 250 million was roughly the population of the United States. Nor did the nuclear power industry die; it grew by more than "1000 percent" - to use the twisted rhetoric of the apologists for the failed "renewable energy will save us" - after 1980, to around 28 exajoules per year (where it is stuck), making it more significant than wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power combined by a factor of almost three.

One of the signature practices of dumb anti-nukes like Lovins is to cite themselves or to cite one another. (Lovins first major publication, the one that won him the "genius" award, Energy Strategy, the Road Not Taken is almost completely devoid of references and consists entirely of innuendo and specious pronouncements that he presents as if they were oracular. Lovins clearly is not widely read, or if he reads at all, is incompetent to understand the text.) If you read Lovins text on nuclear bombs you rapidly realize that many of his citations are citations of himself.

If you have a stronger stomach than I do, and don't use the "ignore" button here as freely as I do, you will find that the anti-nuke morons who write here often cite other equally uneducated anti-nukes reproducing their "authoritative" sounding but completely illiterate specious rhetoric. (We used to have an idiot here whose entire contribution here was largely cut and paste bull from anti-nuke websites.)

As for nuclear weapons, the administrative driver of the construction of the US nuclear industry was, unlike the college dropout Lovins is, a scientist who had actively worked for nuclear anti-proliferation and who given his enormous prestige as a Nobel Prize winning scientist, utilized said prestige to serve as the head US diplomat to negotiate the successful 1963 atmospheric nuclear weapons test ban treaty, Glenn Seaborg.

At the risk of citing myself - although I provide external references therein - I have pointed out that nuclear war has always been possible and always will be possible (since uranium exists) - but the key to eliminating nuclear weapons is only possible via the increased and highly developed use of nuclear power: On Plutonium, Nuclear War, and Nuclear Peace

The point of all this is that, rather like the fool you met wandering in Arches Park, it is easy to get lost, particularly if one is intellectually lazy and inappropriately self satisfied and self assured. Amory Lovins is hardly the only badly uneducated "public moron" to develop influence. A lazy person - and I know this from personal experience - might read drivel like that from Lovins and consider that he or she "knows" all that he or she "needs to know." Hell, I probably read Lovins stupid 1980 "Nuclear bombs" paper and took it seriously. I also once had pimples and read Ayn Rand and even took that drivel seriously for a short term, but my pimples cleared up.

That's wrong.

When Chernobyl blew up, I honestly believed that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people would die, because "I knew all I needed to know" about nuclear power. (Although I was a trained chemist, I had never taken a course in nuclear chemistry, never mind courses in nuclear engineering, advanced particle physics. What I knew of nuclear reactions might have been a chapter or two in a undergraduate college physics course, read it and regurgitate it stuff.) Out of curiosity coupled with general concern for the potential victims, I pulled my copy of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics off the shelf and began to look into the properties of the radioactive materials being discussed on the news. I noticed a little parameter known as the "neutron capture cross section," and having no idea what it was, went to a library to learn more about it.

It took maybe a month or two of reading on these topics expanding on the issue of "neutron capture cross sections" to discover that I clearly knew more about nuclear energy than Amory Lovins ever knew or ever will know.

In this process, I learned that my intellectual laziness was wrong, and decided it was unacceptable, particularly if I wanted to become a moral person, which I clearly wasn't. (I had just married the woman of my dreams, and I knew I had a long way to go to be worthy of her; and I knew to be worthy of her, I'd have to develop a strong sense of ethics.)

After that realization, I made it a rule to confront every subject about which I felt I needed to know but about which I knew nothing. This involved reading on subjects I never even thought about, embracing every new idea and every new concept I could find, wrestling with them, being thrown by them, getting up, dusting myself off and try again to think about them, try out ideas around them, reading, reading and then reading, struggling against the hard things, often failing to really understand stuff, but not giving up. I've had a lot of nonsensical ideas, and rejected ideas that I thought were nonsensical only to look at them again and find some value.

My current rule is to spend between five to ten hours a week in academic libraries, some of which is dedicated in certain programmed rituals of reading - specific journals for instance - and some of which is just random wandering through topics that carry me along and finally have developed some confidence in my own worth.

As for hope...

I wouldn't write what I write here if I had no hope.

I define hope is the belief that what seems improbable is still possible, and that everything that is was once improbable. (This is a basic fact of statistical mechanics which translates, at least metaphorically, into the larger world.)

My effort at hope is to display what it already known and what is possible and not widely understood, and further to think critically about the implications and practical aspects of this knowledge. It's fine to look at a paper about the use of cerium to split carbon dioxide into oxygen and the fuel precursor carbon monoxide, and very easy to get excited about it. It is a different matter to consider what it might look like on scale.

This is the problem, scale.

I personally believe that the solutions to the world's environmental problems and, along with them, many social problems, are already known, that they exist. This does not imply they are easy things to execute, only that they exist, nor does it imply that these solutions will be applied, again, only that they exist and are known, at least by specialists.

I believe it's improbable that they will be embraced without even more destruction than what we are observing as an on going affair right now. Many social and political things that are going on mystify me, for instance the world wide rise of fascism, which I can best attribute to the fact that the people who last had the direct knowledge of what fascism does, those who lived through the 1930's and 1940's are all dead or dying.

These social and political things are certainly very much involved in the failure to embrace the technology of survival. But perhaps things will get bad enough that the right things will be done and some of what's been lost can be restored, because the essence of experiment is to find the thing that is understood to work, as opposed to wallowing in comfortable but unworkable fantasies.

I have a good feel for what will work and clear knowledge of what has not worked, is not working and won't work. I don't see the political will on either the right or the left, or for that matter, seriously, in the "middle," to do the things that will work; I'm a dissident, an unknown dissident, to steal John McLaughlin's phrase. In my lifetime though, and elsewhere in history, I've dissidents who have been vindicated; I have faith that if I have had a single original idea and I die with it, someone else will discover it, if it has value. I'm not especially smart.

I'm reading some musing about the life of the 13th century Mathematician "Fibonacci" who apparently wasn't actually named "Fibonacci" and who didn't actually discover the famous "Fibonacci sequence" but nonetheless changed the world by bringing arithmetic to barbarian Europe. He was forgotten as a man, but his ideas survived, because his ideas worked, they made commerce possible. And now, more than half a millennium after he died, they're looking him up.

The young people I meet through my sons often inspire me. They may face a world with problems of unimaginable disastrous import, something on the scale of the the plague in medieval Europe and Western Asia, or something on the scale (or worse) of the Second World War. I feel for them and the awful (soon to be historical) responsibility of my generation for doing this to them, creating this mess through sheer indifference, weighs heavily on me. But it is their turn to face the world, and hopefully change it for the better, if need be, from ashes.

In many ways, my sons are far more talented, far brighter, far more educated than I was when I was their age. They know how to think, and how to think critically and most importantly how to learn. They criticize and correct my ideas when I am wrong, and they teach me. They will shortly be ready to do their share.

It is people like them, the young and the well prepared, who will make the possible but improbable into the explored, perhaps the realized, the developed and the operative. They, and the millions of people like them around the world have the intellectual and ethical, as well as informational, tools to do great good in the face of great assaults and violence against decency. They have, for example, Malala, who got shot in the face and as a result had the chance and opportunity to save the world, a chance and opportunity which she took, becoming far stronger than the people who shot her.

They are what I call "hope."

Thanks for asking. Have a happy New Year.

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LineLineNew Reply Well, I think we're all a bit like that guy in the fiery furnace...
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