“In the 1950s, Fosco Maraini (1912-2004), Italian anthropologist had a chance to experience the tremendous cultural shock that the Japanese society experienced the defeat of the 2nd world war. He described his experience in the book “Meeting with Japan”, published in 1960. We may expect to go through something similar worldwide as we experience the cultural shock of having to abandon fossil fuels.
I am writing this post just after having gone through one of the usual exchanges in the comments of a blog. You know how it goes: it is based on the idea that “renewables will never be able to replace fossil fuels.” The reasons are varied: renewables are intermittent, renewables cannot provide liquid fuels, renewables cannot fly wide-body planes, renewables cannot do this, or cannot do that. And if we try to move to renewables, we’ll go back to barbarism.
At the basis of this position there is the total refusal to face any change. The people who take this position are fully staying the business as usual (BAU) paradigm. They are used to a certain BAU and they cannot imagine a different world. So, it is unconceivable for them that the supply of power may vary in time; it is unconceivable that they wouldn’t be able to have their car parked in front of the entrance of their home, it is unconceivable that they wouldn’t be able to buy cheap tickets for their deserved vacations in Hawaii.
Every time I read this kind of exchanges, I am reminded of the book of Fosco Maraini “Meeting with Japan”, published in 1960. There, Maraini tells us his experience in Japan before and after the second world war and of the tremendous cultural shock that the Japanese experienced with the defeat. In the book, we read of a Japan that’s unusual for us, today: a shocked Japan, a poor Japan, a nation of people who were desperately trying to adapt to a world that had changed in ways they had never imagined as possible. But, no matter how they disliked the new world, they had no choice.
A paragraph of the book that has forever remained in my mind tells of when Maraini stopping at a restaurant, somewhere in the countryside that he describes as (p 116 of the 1st edition):
…. one of those monstrous local taverns where all the styles of history seem to have been distilled into a final residue of hideousness. Sensitive and discriminating as the Japanese are when they move within the orbit of their own civilization, they become barbarians when they renounce their past and mimic foreign ways … Renouncing a civilization means renouncing civilization.
… the bare concrete floor was plastered with congealed mud. When the Japanese abandon tatami, the straw mats on which they walk with bare feet, they are left with a psychological void. The floor, not being tatami, is merely an extension of the street: the street brought into the house.
And there we are: when we think of abandoning fossil fuels, we are left with a psychological void. Abandoning the fossil fuel powered civilization means abandoning civilization and a world not being powered by fossil fuels can only be the extension of the barbarian ages of the past. Barbarism brought into our world.
But no matter how much some of us dislike the new world we will be experiencing, we have no choice. I think we are in for quite some cultural shock!”