Saturday, March 29, 2008

Return To The Dark Ages

Don't forget, at 8pm local time tonight, many people around the world will (or already have) voluntarily return to the dark ages.

I truly don't understand this. If you want to use less energy, and save some money off of your utility bill, then get energy-efficient appliances (invented by really smart humans!). Try to make sure you don't have lights on in rooms that aren't being used. That's what we do.

"Going dark" on behalf of the Earth--which I'm afraid won't give a crap one way or the other--is anti-human to the core. Instead of bemoaning humans as some sort of blight, we should celebrate the achievements mankind has made throughout the ages. From the first humans who figured out how to control fire to Ben Franklin and Thomas Alva Edison, to peopleguys like my dad who use modern engineering knowledge to create enormous power plants to help human life flourish, we should celebrate how humans have used the resources of the Earth to create a world in which billions of humans live, create, love, and stay up late into the night simply because they can.

Now you know I have to quote from Anthem, Ayn Rand's fictional story of a civilization plunged backwards into the dark ages, a civilization that once had technology such as the light bulb but chose to lose that technology. One man rediscovered it (in case you're not familiar with the book, he has not yet discovered the word "I", his society had become so collectivized that the word "I" was lost, too--and so he uses the plural "we" instead):

We made it. We created it. We brought it forth from the night of the ages. . . .

We look upon the light which we have made. . . .

Tonight, after more days and trials than we can count, we finished building a strange thing, from the remains of the Unmentionable Times, a box of glass, devised to give forth the power of the sky of greater strength than we had ever achieved before. And when we put our wires to this box, when we closed the current--the wire glowed! It came to life, it turned red, and a circle of light lay on the stone before us.

We stood, and we held our head in our hands. We could not conceive of that which we had created. We had touched no flint, made no fire. Yet here was light, light that came from nowhere, light from the heart of metal.

We blew out the candle. Darkness swallowed us. There was nothing left around us, nothing save night and a thin thread of flame in it, as a crack in the wall of a prison. We stretched our hands to the wire, and we saw our fingers in the red glow. We could not see our body nor feel it, and in that moment nothing existed save our two hands over a wire glowing in a black abyss.

Then we thought of the meaning of that which lay before us. We can light our tunnel, and the City, and all the Cities of the world with nothing save metal and wires. We can give our brothers a new light, cleaner and brighter than any they have ever known. The power of the sky can be made to do men's bidding. There are no limits to its secrets and its might, and it can be made to grant us anything if we but choose to ask.

The Caxton Printers, Ltd. 1995. pp. 59-60.

The Earth will not care if we exterminate ourselves. If we take the lights seen here and extinguish them, the Earth will spin and revolve and all we will have done is stamp out the human race. If we annihilate ourselves, nothing will be gained, for there will be no one left to lose or gain anything.

The human mind, human ingenuity, is the only thing that can improve our lives here on our planet. Humans created candles and kerosene lamps and electric light bulbs and nuclear power. Humans will continue to improve upon existing technology and humans will benefit from it. Turning off your lights for an hour will not improve a thing, but symbolizes a willingness to return to the caveman days, as if living the short, violent lives of our ancestors is a goal we should strive for.

So I will celebrate "Earth Hour" by celebrating humans and the wonderful ways in which humans have used their minds to improve the lives of our species. I will light up my house because I don't want us to cower in the dark, afraid. I will light up my house as a beacon to those who can use their minds to make inventions (and yes! even energy-efficient ones!) that will make my life even better.

Because if we have energy problems, only humans using their minds will be able to solve them. Cursing the candle and embracing the night isn't a solution--it's a surrender.

UPDATE: More reading:

Hey, who turned out the lights? at The Rule of Reason
North Korean support for 'Earth Hour' near universal at The Rule of Reason
Protest Earth "Cower"--Celebrate Edison Hour at Kindredist
No Earth Hour at Mike's Eyes
Earth Hour Can Bite My Ass at bblog
A Righteous Anger at Titanic Deck Chairs
Earth Hour, Another Useless Ritual at Mike's Eyes

If I missed any, let me know and I'll add them in.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

As a Member of the International Dark Skies Coalition--a group of astronomers who want to preserve our ability to see the stars at night--I might also add that one does not have to go back to the dark ages in order to see the stars.

We have invented all sorts of nifty and inexpensive ways to have our light at night and see the stars, too! Downward cast lights, low lights, shielded lights all give us light for walking safely outdoors at night and still be able point out Polaris.

During Earth hour tonight, we'll be enjoying the stars before the moon comes up. But then, we do that nearly every clear Saturday night! And we'll be using a telescope that runs on solar-recharable batteries--a nice invention that saves us money and lets us automatically track the star, planet or Messier object we want to observe. And of course, we'll be using a telescope, another nifty human invention that lets us view the night sky close up.

Happy Great Human Inventions that Same Us Time and Trouble Hour!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oops! It won't let me correct my typos above.

I meant to say:
1)...all give us light for walking safely outdoors at night and the ability to still be able to point out Polaris.

2. Happy Great Human Inventions that Save Us Time and Trouble Hour!

Amy said...

Hi Rational Jenn - Thanks for the reference - super-awesome minds think alike! And that's a beautiful excerpt you picked from "Anthem" - I nearly got teary-eyed!

The post from Elisheva was interesting. I'd much prefer that technology not have to have conditions placed upon it, i.e. the value of being able to see the stars at night.

I don't particularly like to look at stars, and it's not morally right that others who do should think that this should be a universal value. Our current system of individual and property rights enables anyone who likes star-gazing to purchase a large tract of land, perhaps on a farm away from a large city, to watch stars from. I should not have to be forced to install downward-cast lights, for example, to please others.

I remember the power outage in Michigan back in 2003. For three days and nights, we had no electricity, no lights, no air conditioning, no hot water, spoiled food, etc. It was miserable, but brought home the meaning of all the wonderful inventions and technology that so many people expected to have. It was a joyous moment when the lights were finally turned back on.

Yes - "power" to the people!

Ute said...

Great post. Thank you. :)

David Elmore said...

Great post, Jenn. Loved the Rand quote, too. God, that woman could write!
Levin's post was an oddity for several reasons. the IDSC "respects" stars over individual rights. It vocally backs regulations of lighting by governments, as well as curfews on lighting for homes and businesses. Any member of that organization cannot possibly understand the implications of Earth Hour, not to mention the love of city lights that some of us have. I like few things more than the site of a city skyline fully illuminated at midnight. I'd rather have one day of such a site than a thousand of looking at remote stars. I hereby recommend the voluntary abolishment of all such human-rights violators as IDSC.


Raman Gupta said...

Good commentary from a mainstream newspaper: