Random Thoughts

Machinery fascinates me. Devices by which we try to improve our living conditions, to make chores easier, to reduce the wear and tear of life on our bodies and minds, abound in our modern environment. I love to tinker with them, tune them up, invent them, build them, try to make them as much of what they were supposed to be as I can.

You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that I am only talking about objects, made of gears and levers and motors, pipes and wires - machines. But I mean far more than just simple machinery here. There are many things we have invented or accidentally used that fall into the category of machines.

Government is a machine. So are social institutions, such as marriage, club membership, schools, and workplaces. Insurance is a machine. So is anarchy. A chair is a machine, and so is a retail store. A road is a machine, and so is the line down the middle of it. Our subtle social mores are machines.

I think we should understand our machines and only use them if they are beneficial to us and of as little harm to our environment (physical, social, and psychological) as possible. We should use as few natural resources as we can to build them, and build as few as we really need. We should build them for lasting use, so as not to depend on an ever increasing stream of raw materials for their production. We should also learn to take the bits of our discarded or irrelevant machinery and forge them into new machines. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

We should maintain our machinery in good working order, so it will perform its intended function efficiently. We should engineer these devices carefully, taking into account unintended consequences of their use, and provisions for dismantling them when they are no longer useful.

I think we should be very careful in our construction of machines which use natural, irreplaceable resources and energy so that they will last for a long time - by which I mean centuries, not merely years. Right now our disposable consumerist culture is driving the economy hard with the production of virtually useless and soon to be obsolete junk - and using up the worlds supplies of minerals and fossil fuels to do it. This is foolhardy...

"Our" stockpiles of natural resources are mostly limited, especially those we use for energy production. This means that they are non-renewable, and as such they are capital. When we burn gasoline to go to work, we are using capital, not income. Living on capital is not wise when it is clearly limited - and especially when its use has many negative implications for the environment in which we and all other living creatures must try to exist. Our usage of such limited resources should be dedicated to developing technologies that depend only on renewable resources, and as little a quantity of them as is reasonable possible.

That is one kind of machine that encompasses the entire range. It is social, economic, psychological, mechanical, even spiritual in its ramifications - and it is the most important machine we can build today. It involves overthrowing long held ideas about life that are irrelevant so that we can reduce our population, consume less energy, and live more harmless lives with greater joy.


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© Huw Powell

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