As I’m walking down the fine streets of Upper Darby on this unseasonably warm April day, the sky in all its blueness naturally draws my attention. Its image streaked with clouds, the splendor that has inspired so many to create great feats of art. Except a grid of powerlines chops up the view. Although in straightish lines in either direction, they have no pattern as a whole. If they displayed perfect geometry or anything remotely close to it, it’d look ok. A complete lack of symmetry or coordination would also do, but to my eyes this unhappy middle ground, this aesthetic compromise where both sides lose miserably- I find it ugly enough to ruin my awe at the raw sky, our celestial dome.
Now I am forced to contemplate the fate that our race has cast upon this animate planet. I have no other choice. Instantly my mind flashes back to that mystical time in the past lodged in the collective memory of every human being, when people lived comfortably in unison with nature. Drinking from pristine streams, pollution: none, and really appreciating our surroundings.
A red light; I’m at an intersection. Meh, I’ll cross anyway.
No, legs, you keep going. However that train of thought has no substantiated basis. While humankind certainly did have a deeper connection to nature in the lost days of yore, things never came to us that easily. Of course, it’s all perspective. But people didn’t just drink out of any old stream- the smart ones, anyway. That’s what beer was for. Fermentation kills germs. Chem 101. If you drank the water, you got sick. Died. And polluting none? We polluted everything all the time! The concept of waste disposal didn’t really catch on until what, the 1800s? Before that the whole family pissed and shit in a bucket which was then periodically tossed out a window. If you happened to walk under that window at that unfortunate moment, your day got ruined fast. Hell, even the cartoony image of a man slipping on a banana peel has a very real basis: as the import of fruits from tropical regions increased, New Yorkers and other residents of large cities ate bananas, discarding their peels wherever. People actually slipped on these peels enough that a public health campaign was devised to curb the tossing of banana peels on sidewalks. Or so the legend goes.
So goes the legend of any time past. The 50s? Racism, inequality, wife beating, surveillance-nothing new. Yet so many cite that time as a positive moment in American history when things were just right. Why? Because TV broadcast the quintessence of family values and the job market was decent, not to mention the U-S-A vibe after the war.
Ever notice how really old people tell stories about the Depression or World War II with that nostalgic happiness? Smiling, as they recall “me and my six brothers used to have to split one can of soup a day which we had to take the trolley to get.” Or why I’ll talk about jail or heroin addiction and laugh, make light of some of it, even romanticize memories of these days that passed mundanely (on a good day).
Seeing how people tend to fondly recall negative situations that they actually experienced, one can see how positively-referenced periods of time that no one was alive for can feed the imaginations of even the dullest men.
Then the powerlines, in theory, serve a good purpose! No longer must a man toil for hours with sticks simply to ignite the feat that is fire. No, we can do that with the press of a button. In our hands. It’s called a lighter. It’s $1.79 at the 711. But we, so modern of men, no longer need to start even fires just to cook our food. There’s a remedy for that, and the remedy is POWER. Gas, oil, and in today’s case, electricity!
Yes, if you need to know why the sky is blue, where wind comes from, and what a 12 year old teenager from halfway around the globe thinks about trap music (he loves it, by the way), you need not assemble a team of learned med from across the countryside nor must you entrust the letter you wrote with a feather dipped in ink to the reliability of your country’s navy. Will they sink the ship carrying that message of immense importance, since a 12 year old New Zealander’s opinion on music is that important to you?
That’s not much of a concern these days. Now, if the WiFi is down for an hour we go ballistic. Have no fear though. Alas, this multitude of powerlines polluting my eyes surely prevents this from happening, these unforgivable lapses in internet access, measured in the macro-units we call minutes.
Traffic comes to a halt.
Come to think of it, internet, cell phones, satellites, GPS,…our most relevant technologies do not require wires. Yet, the devices which have these advanced capabilities still, inevitably, plug into the grid. Still though, couldn’t these phones just use all that energy in the air to charge themselves? Maybe they have that already. But these carcinogenic strings do serve some purpose. Not only do they pump power into the plugs of the three large TVs in that guy’s house, who is at work and not using them, not only do they power our incredibly convenient blenders and coffee grinders and bread slicers; they put energy into those portable post offices, atlases, libraries, clubs, arcades, TVs, and more functions ad infinitum which nobody can live without today that fits in our pocket. The very thought of leaving an iPhone in the car before punching into work induces potentially fatal seizures worse than those from benzo withdrawal, delirium tremens in extremis, in about half the population.
In a way, things that only work when plugged in every so often work to our advantage. In a world where the NSA and CIA, FBI, and probably dozens of other 3-letter abbreviations listen in to our lives via smart TVs, smartwatches, smart phones (if the device is intelligent, they’re using it to gain intel), then the ability to yank a cord out of an outlet and let the battery drain comes in handy. Imagine, a fleet of self-charging computers that observe the activities of the entire human race in order to CRUSH.KILL.DESTROY. I’d pay to see that movie if it didn’t pose a realistic threat of nightmare-spawning proportions. On Netflix I might watch it. I’ll leave the light on while I watch it though, courtesy of
Full circle back to none other than the powerlines. A necessary ugly. Yet their source need not be. Godforbid I go turn into an environmental activist though. If everyone rose up at once, we’d change the institutions. FAST. It’s not like we don’t have the technology to harness energy from things that are there anyway, right out in the open. Hello, the sun. And the wind. Whatever wind actually is. Luckily you can find out where it comes from by going on your smart device. It may get you triangulated and knocked off by a squad of machines that then go robo-rape your daughter, but it cuts the time of calling in a crack team of scholars down to a fraction.
We all know alternative energy is a very realistic option. Otherwise, it’d be called theoretical energy, or mythical energy, romanticized just as much as the unknown past. Here’s the thing. You know it, I know it, and that 12 year old kid from New Zealand knows it too. Energy companies control this planet the way that Nature used to. Nature is still the majority shareholder of Earth Inc., but energy giants own a sizable portion of its stock. They don’t even try to hide it, either. Propping up the Shah in Iran, the Bush-Halliburton thing. And now the Secretary of the State Department previously held the title CEO of Exxon-Mobil. What’s Exxon-Mobil? Oh yeah, just the largest energy company, and one of the largest companies in general, on the face of the earth! It goes deeper than the face though.
One by one, in a revolving door, citizens with one-twelfth of a brain or more realize this, wanting to do something, but not knowing how. You pop up with environmental questions and get shot down immediately. Picture a thousand wild boars, feasting on the carcasses of other pigs. They eat and they eat and they eat, gorging themselves until one realizes “fuck, I recognize that hoof. I’m eating my brother!” Just as he pops his head up in horror, the hunter puts a bullet in the boar’s head from a mile away. The hunter anticipated this at first, then expected it, and now, he just waits with his rifle cocked for the pigs to rise, one by one, as they discover that they’re cannibals. Then they become food for the ignorant consumers left there to fatten up.
In the same way environmentalists or anyone with “far-out” ideas get flagged. ‘Back then’ the FBI had to get off their asses to find people that believe this or that to monitor them, and from there they watch people-mostly innocent and, let’s face it, politically and socially inert-after which they continue to investigate a very minute number of those people who turn out to be suspicious in any shape or form. Usually zero. Today, if you like something on Facebook, the “Go Green” page or whatever, that gets you logged. Remember when you used to just type in what you like on FB? Now those likes are linked to specific pages, tags and labels to create categories of people. How do you think companies like Facebook, Yahoo, or Google make their money? Not from ads. They don’t surpass Exxon in net worth just selling a couple ads. Nice try, selective ears of the media. Too clogged with cash to hear the truth. What those companies sell, much more valuable, is YOU. Everything about you that they can gather by your online doings.
But that’s a different story. And like every story, it’s multifaceted.
Just remember that you’re being traced at every digital corner by forces at work to quite literally keep the lights on, to empower the powerlines, and also to ensure that they remain powered by the sources which allow a few guys to get really rich for as long as possible. I like the internet, and keypads to type documents like this fine one; yes. I am happy that I have a lamp. One that works, at that! Ergo I accept the obstruction of the bright blue sky, begrudgingly, patiently awaiting an alternative that does not kill the buzz on this unseasonably warm April day (perhaps unseasonably warm courtesy of the powerlines).
That, at the very least.