The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of a chapter in Friedrich Georg Jünger’s “The Failure of Technology – Perfection without Purpose”, which I have reproduced almost completely below. I hope it may help intelligent readers who want to go deeper in understanding what has happened than is given them in the typical media or environmental analysis. In fact, I would highly recommend this book, soon to be republished by Alethes Press, for a deeper understanding of the titanic nature of technology and its eventual intrinsically-inevitable failure as it approaches perfection.
In this chapter, Friedrich Georg Jünger describes how technology is fundamentally based on the tapping, confining and controlled application/release of elemental energies in nature. In effect, these energies and forces of the earth are narrowly confined by man’s technology into receptacles and machines that store and then transform them into motion, heat, etc. That is, they are carefully imprisoned. The extreme example of this is nuclear energy, in which the elemental forces of matter itself are tapped – once this unlimited reservoir of energy has been broken into by technology, the forces unleashed have to be handled extremely carefully, imprisoned in the highest security jails and only allowed very controlled outlets. When however they break free, their wrath is all the more violent, the more restrictively they have been confined. A nuclear meltdown or atomic bomb would be the most extreme example of the imprisoned energies gaining their freedom and wreaking havoc. An oil well uncontrollably gushing its elemental forces into the world is another excellent one.
As numerous paragraphs in the passages below will show (in red), Friedrich Georg Jünger managed to foresee in 1939 something very similar to what has now happened to the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Its deep fundamental causes are all present in his analysis. The following should also function as a warning for future jailbreaks of all the energies we have tapped into and then confined in our apparatus.
(I sometimes imagine the firestorm that will result if an industrial blaze in an urban area gets so hot that it begins to uncontrollably ignite all the confined flameable materials present in a typical modern city – all the petroleum in millions of car tanks and gas stations, all the oil-based synthetic materials present in every house and office, the gas pipelines, etc. Such an inferno, once beyond a certain heat, would not be controllable by Man’s means; it would make all previous city infernos hearth fires by comparison. That this is subconsciously perceived by society is evidenced by the astonishment and fear elicited by the sight of a simple open flame in the city, in an illegal garbage burning or campfire for example – un-imprisoned fire is completely absent in cities; and when it is seen, it immediately provokes fear, despite the fact that despite millions of confined blazes are happening in every moment in car engines, home furnaces, factories etc. If there is ever a jail break, we will do well to get far away.)
Anyhow, here is plenty of food for thought from F.G.J:
Whatever power technology produces, it draws from nature’s reservoir in the same fashion as one draws a pint from a barrel. This holds true regardless how ingenious the means may be by which technology taps the sources of its power.
The technician has lost the age-old awe that restrained man from injuring the earth, from changing the shape of its surface. This awe in the past was very pronounced; its traces are found everywhere in the history of agriculture, and it reaches well into historical times….
The technician however proceeds without awe, as his methods show. To him, the earth is an object for intelligent and artful planning, a lifeless sphere subject to mechanical motion and exploitation by him who understands its mechanics. Ruthlessly the technician conquers the earth in his quest for power; he confines the elemental forces in engines where they must obey and deliver power. Elementary nature and man-made mechanisms controlled by human intelligence will clash and the outcome is an act of enslavement which presses elemental forces into service. Their free play is ended by force.
We gain a clear idea of this process is we imagine it as an act of tapping or bleeding. Man taps elemental nature and drains her forces. The wells and shafts driven into the earth everywhere to get at her underground treasures, those factories which extract the nitrogen from the air, or simply ways of transforming clay into bricks – these are all taps and drains….
With the progress of technology, the sum total of the contributions which it extracts from nature grows bigger and bigger. Elemental nature, through mechanical work, is being mastered; it is being conquered and exploited by man-made tools. But if we thought this to be the whole story, we would understand but half of it. We would have only a one-sided idea of the process. For all this seemingly one-sided pressure and compulsion, this engineered extortion of nature, has a reverse side, a counter-part. Because the elementary now floods with its power all things mechanical, it permeates and expands all over the man-made world which has conquered it. In other words, mechanization and elementarization are merely two aspects of the same process; they presuppose one another….
As we look around today we feel that we are living in a giant mill which works day and night at a furious, feverish pace…. This is the workshop of the Titans. The industrial landscape is volcanic in its character, and thus all the companion-signs of volcanic eruption are found, especially in the areas of heavy industry: lava, ashes, fumaroles, smoke, gases, night clouds reddened by flames – and devastation far and wide. Titanic elemental forces captured in marvelous engines are straining against pistons and cylinder walls as crankshafts are moving and delivering an even flow of power. All the elements are racing and raging through the jails of man-made apparatus; all those boilers, pipelines, gearboxes, valves are steely and bristling with reinforcements, as is every jail, designed to keep its inmates from escaping. But who can remain deaf to the sighing and moaning of the prisoners, to their raging and ranting, to their mad fury, as he listens to the multitude of new and strange noises which technology has created? Characteristically, all these originate from the meeting of the mechanical with the elemental; they are produced by the outflow of elementary forces from the contraining might of the machine….
At a certain stage of technological progress, the individual begins to become aware that he has entered into a danger zone. Gradually the smug satisfaction which the observor derived from the sight of some marvelous piece of machinery, gets mingled with a sense of impending danger; fear befalls him….
The realization that man has to pay a price for every increase in power the machine gives him, that he must give an equivalent in return, is a realization that had not yet dawned in the early days of technology. In those days, boundless economic confidence predominated, an unshakeable optimism about the future…. As technology approaches perfection, however, the chorus of optimistic voices grows weaker, because experience gradually teaches not only the advantages but also the disadvantages which the new tools bring. Only by experience do we learn that our technological apparatus has its own laws, and that we must be on our guard against getting in conflict with them.
The industrial accident may serve here as an illustration. As mechanization progresses, industrial and traffic accidents increase until they far exceed the casualties of war. Since even the most ingenious inventions cannot eliminate these accidents, it is clear that they must be due to some basic discrepancy between the operator and the mechanism he operates. The operational accident occurs when man fails to function as a human machine, where he no longer acts in accord with the automatic mechanism he is operating. The operational accident, in other words, occurs precisely where we are human, where we try to assert our independence of the machine, be it by a lack of attention, fatigue, sleep, or preoccupation with nonmechanical things. It is in such moments of human weakness that the suppressed elemental forces break loose, get out of control and wreak their vengeance by destroying both the operator and his machine. The law, now in the service of the technical organization, punishes the negligent operator for his failure to control his automaton with automatic regularity….
By its progressive mechanization, technology not only accumulates those energies which obey rational thinking and are its faithful servant. With the aid of these energies, it does not merely create a new work organization that directs both production and consumption. In the same process of mechanization, technology also accumulates forces of destruction which, once unleashed, turn upon man with elemental impact and a fury all the greater, the closer technology advances to perfection….
There are many to whom such destruction seems senseless and inexplicable because they do not understand the connection between destruction and technology, although they could see the same kind of disorder in any industrial accident. They do not grasp the fact that, together with technological progress, the violent and destructive forces of disorder also progress apace….
We now realize the existence of various danger zones which we can distinguish by the varying degrees to which they are menaced by destruction. Those zones where the interaction between man-made mechanics and natural elements is most intense, that is, where technical progress has advanced the farthest, as in big cities and highly industrialized regions; those are also the zones where destruction can have the greatest quantitative effect.
As more news on the gulf disaster comes out, the more it looks like everyone failed — BP, government regulators and inspectors, the media, etc.
Part of this is probably due to good old fashioned corruption, but part may be due to the fact that humans are running up against the limit of our ability to handle increasingly complex problems — of any sort.
Interestingly, one suggestion for ending the gusher is to explode a small tach nuke by the leak to fuse the rock. But setting one titanic genie on another doesn't sound like a good idea to me.