Friday, January 20

Energy Slaves in the Kingdom of Surreality

Ages ago, a play on words in my head evolved into an idea.

Surreality is the perception of reality through a filter. Personal perspective. Your beliefs. But I like my word: surreal + ity or sur + reality. Surreal reality. It is a sensical word, in that things can seem real or surreal. And we consider the things that are real as reality. I have this concept of Reality versus Surreality. Reality is the same as reality. Take a textbook definition and you have "a real thing or fact." Reality/reality is the incontrovertible facts.

Forgive my self-indulgence for a moment and please bear with me. I was pondering random things as I rode to the rec center from work last night and that's where this line of thinking came from. Well, it was the culmination of different lines of thinking over several days. Don't even get me started on my recent reading of Ursula K LeGuin's The Dispossessed.

I was thinking as I left work that I was leaving the Surreality of a contrived life and stepping out into the reality of Reality to ride my bike home. And as I descended away from work into the affluent neighborhood on the south end of Illinoising in Golden a motorist blazed past me in the dark. The speed limit there is 25 and I was doing a cool 20. The driver must have been pushing the gas pedal hard enough to make the car go at least 40 mph. And I thought of it in exactly that context. Small movements having big impacts on the world (pushing a gas pedal) and big movements having small impacts on the world (pedaling a bike).

Then my concept of Reality vs Surreality hit me full in the face. Luckily I had a firm grip on my handlebars.

What connected it all to me was this: when the motorist blazed past me in the darkness I was enjoying the fine, clear evening. The sky was amazingly clear and it was just after sunset. The air was unseasonably warm and I was just enjoying the Reality/reality of my ride. The motorist had never escaped the Surreality. Probably not once throughout the entire day.

We woke in our homes in Reality, both of us, and got ready for work. There was an expectation of time, that we both needed to be at our workplaces at a certain time, except that that time has no bearing on reality and is in fact a contrivance of our society. It does not correspond with the sunrise, with the circadian rhythms of those subject to it, or with any natural patterns. When we allowed ourselves to be subject to the artificial construct of a "start time" we entered the Surreality.

If we drive a distance that is not scalable on human terms we are living in a Surreality. The problem is not that things are so insanely bizarre, but that the insanely bizarre things that occur have become commonplace enough for us that we see their continuance (to our benefit) as a right.

Those of us that are part of the Oil Generations have come to believe that our continued access to nature's treasure trove of energy slaves (fossil fuels) is our birthright. That access to oil, coal and natural gas is our Right. As long as we live with this misconception, this Surreality, we are little more than slave masters, diverting our energy needs to the individuals of humanity that will live on this planet not too many years hence.

We should be counting our energy needs in "human power," not "horsepower" or watts or joules. If we measured our energy usage in human power we could not ignore the stark reality that we're robbing life energy from future generations. Even the term "horsepower" belies our natural tendency to employ energy slaves.

I was engaged in Reality as I rode my bike home. I was empirically experiencing the world as it exists. The motorist was locked in Surreality, speeding through darkness, heedless of the potential energy they were building up, heedless of the Reality that other people were using the roadway and adjacent areas with less protection from the reckless potential energy build-up.

And I've felt this sublime truth before. I've walked from the building where I work out to my car and have marveled in those brief moments about the beauty of the evening, the "unreal" quality to the light and air. And then I've gotten in my car and growled my way home in traffic, quickly forgetting the natural world that I experienced only for a brief moment. But the natural world I glimpsed was Reality, my movements took me from Surreality briefly through Reality and back into Surreality behind the wheel.

Riding the bike it has been easier to revel in those longer moments, but I am also in danger of being ripped back into Surreality by having to interact with traffic. Traffic follows no logic, no reason, no care for others. And I now believe that is because we allow ourselves to stay in the state of Surreality long after we've left our places of employ.

We no longer pursue professions or trades. We simply occupy space and collect vouchers for more energy slaves until we can't stand the space any more. And we carry these feelings into our vehicles of transport because deep down we don't feel right about them either. Moving so fast and so far is not something that is Real for a human being. Don't get me wrong, it is exhilarating, but our minds were not designed to be exhilarated all the time.

I should refine this idea, distill it down into something more concise and coherent. There are so many different related issues that I could flesh out and explore. This was just the easiest one for me to tackle. I banged this out kind of as a free write as I tried to recapture my thoughts from last night and then the new ones from my ride this morning.

And honestly, I think if I could just capture my stream of consciousness in text—with some kind of neural transcription machine—I would be such an amazing writer. I do my best thinking on my bike, or hiking, or climbing, or whatever, as long as my body is constantly moving I tend to be able to order and arrange my thoughts into amazing mosaics of ideas. But the moment I stop to jot them down the ideas fail to hold together and flit off into the ether faster than I can write. In these rare moments when I can remember a strong enough thread to grasp back onto and pull hard I can sometimes recreate a portion of the ideas.

I think well in space, not so much in time. I am the farthest thing from a mathematical thinker as you can get.

One last (sort of) related thought:

We're in such hot pursuit of our wants that we neglect our needs; so then we think we don't have enough.


Enjoying some Reality

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