[Marxism] The Worst Case

Barry Brooks durable at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 21 21:58:46 MST 2006

Engineers consider the worst case when they design. On PBS, one participant on a panel discussion suggested they should consider the worst case in their discussion of Iraq. No doubt, in order to "be prepared" we must always consider the worst case.

Intelligent design has been a big part of human history. No design is intelligent that has failed to allow for the worst case. It could be checks and balances in government, the maximum ice that could ever fall on the roof, the number of fat people that could fit on a balcony, or the design of an arrowhead. Our ability to design, systems, tools, and organizations is nothing new. We are survivors because we are good designers. I an sending you the following thoughts as a design proposal for your consideration. I would not claim that my design is intelligent. That judgement is for you to make. I hope that you will take what I'm saying, correct it, clarify it, and pass on your personal version of intelligent design.
What is the worst case. No one really knows just what we may face in the future. How much stress could be put on a bridge? Would an occurance of heavily loaded trucks bumper to bumper in all lanes be so unlikely as to be greater than the worst case for our bridge design?

History can be a guide for the worst case. The temperature in southern France was 50 degrees lower during the last ice age. Could the temperature go up 50 degrees due to global warming? CO2 levels are already at record levels and rising faster than ever. Is it possible to design for that? It seems that we are not prepared for the worst case of global warming. We are not even prepared to think about it. It's too terrific, 150 degree summers?

I feels better to worry about smaller problems, like whether our breath stinks or not. (Mine reeks despite zealous treatment.) Will the terrorists kill another 0.0000001% of our population, or should be be scared shitless about the greater chance of being struck by lightning?

It seems that our fear prevents us from considering the worst case, except briefly. Even worst, our fears have been manipulated and mis-directed. Fear has be used to control us, to make us accept thing we would normally not accept. Misdirected fear has been used to grab political power may times in history, but who reads history? This situation underlies the statement, "We have nothing to fear except fear itself."

As an engineer, I am afraid of not considering the worst case.

Is the worst thing you can imagine a terrorist attack that kills 3000 people, like 911? That's nothing compared to X, Y or Z.  You fill in the other, much greater, and avoidable causes of death. For example, auto accidents, smoking deaths, war, bad diet, or just plain inactivity cause far more death than 911 did. Why are we so scared of terrorists when that threat is smaller than what we do to ourselves. We should be more afraid when the government cuts our medical benefits, again.

A good design can not correct for a bad plan. A bad plan is stupid design. We often make bad plans when we are scared, in a hurry, or mis-informed. Fear is the worst impediment to good planning. The next worst thing after fear is received ideology. Blind faith, the substitution of authority for thought, and a lack of personal understanding act together to prevent any hope of intelligent design.

Conservation is a good plan, but we imagine that growth in population and growth in consumption are good, even necessary. Doesn't conservation imply a cut in real income? Isn't conservation in conflict with growth in population and in conflict with growth in consumption. Wouldn't conservation require and end to the artificial stimulus of demand, per Keynes, and end the consumer economy? Yes to all of the above, but conservation does not need not entail suffering. If fact only conservation can reduce the suffering we face due to cancerous economic growth. Fear that!  

Income is the derivative of wealth, in a mathematical sense. Income represents what we are consuming, but wealth represents what we have. Our wealth is the accumulation of all past income minus all income ever  spent on consumption. 

Forget any guilt you may feel about being a consumer. We must consume to eat, but must we consume to have shelter? The amount we must eat is not in our control the way that the amount we consume to provide shelter. The consumption required to provide shelter depends on the quality of the shelter's construction. The amount of consumption needed to heat and cool your shelter depends on the efficiency of your shelter. The depreciation cost depends on your shelter's durability.

With a population maintained below the level that a worst case year using sustainable agriculture the need for the consumption of food could be assured. That would be intelligent design. 

Some day, a stable population must finally be achieved if we are to be sustainable. If so then durability will make inheritance, rather than new production, be the main source of wealth. Any stable population so large as to be the major drain on natural systems must use recycling, efficiency, durability, and frugality just in order to survive. We are in denial about the limits to growth. Folly!

If we are to avoid the worst case of 50 degree warming we must cut our CO2 production immediately.  That could be done without suffering if we set up an truly conservative economy, but we will have to redefine economic health as being what we have instead being how much we consume.

Barry Brooks

P.S. we don't need so much oil.

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