Tracing Effects to Their Causes
BY: VAISHNAVA DAS
Jun 24, 2012 USA (SUN)
In my first article, "Risk Management Within the Devotional Community", I sought to develop a dialogue within our community with respect to risks from natural disasters. We cannot predict these risks but we can prepare for them. However, there is another set of risks, call them unnatural, or man-made, that one can reasonably predict through analysis. This article will be less prescriptive than the last, but I hope will still provide some value to the reader. My background is one of business analysis, and so I approach subjects from that perspective. I request the reader to forgive my shortcomings and appreciate the sincerity of my attempt.
I believe there is a general unease within society that stems from the inability to understand the cause of things. In The Wealth Of Nations, Adam Smith spoke of an "invisible hand" said to guide macro economic development. As society has become more complex, the separation between the cause and the effect has become ever more obscure to the point that today it truly is invisible.
So let us start at the beginning to make things clear. For thousands of years man tilled the earth, exerting great human energy to grow the crops necessary to support life. At the end of a harvest, whatever was not consumed was stored away for leaner years. Thus, then as today, wealth was what was left over after consumption. In such a system, the accumulation of wealth (production over consumption) was slow and arduous. The energy to grow the crops yielded a harvest that was consumed to provide the energy to grow the next harvest. In time, man drew upon the energy of various draft animals to increase production and thus wealth.
But the appetite for wealth was not satisfied by this slow and arduous approach. The next stage saw the introduction of serfdom and slavery. These were fundamentally economic institutions allowing one human being to draw upon the energy of another while keeping the excess wealth generated. Wealth for some was thus generated through misery of others.
The discovery of the New World (1492 A.D.) provided fresh resources to exploit as well as an outlet for the overburdened populations of the Old World. In time, three great powers came to control this new world: Spain, Portugal, and England. Of these, Spain and Portugal had the better of the conquests. North America had plenty of fresh water, timber, and land to harvest but it was subject to harsh winters. However, Central and South America had all of these, but also had great, untapped gold and silver mines.
And this is where the world turned. This is where the British went on to build an empire on which the sun never set. For while Spain and Portugal were mining the "low hanging fruit" of fresh gold and silver mines, England did not have this luxury. Gold and silver were money in the Old World, and Spain and Portugal were literally pulling money out of the earth. England did not have this advantage.
But England and North America did have one abundant resource they could mine: coal. By burning coal they could use the energy to fuel steam engines and thus the industrial revolution was born first in England (1750-1850). People started to move out of the country to cities for employment in factories. While England was building the infrastructure of production, Spain and Portugal were consuming goods with their fresh gold and silver. However, once the low hanging fruit was all tapped-out, England had all the gold (through trade) as well as all the production capability. The rest was history.
In North America a similar pattern developed. In the U.S., the colder northern states had shorter agricultural seasons. To build their economy they turned to industrialization fueled by coal. Thus cities like Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania developed into major urban centers. On the other hand, the south, with its long, warm growing seasons, had built their economy on the outdated process of siphoning the energy off of other human beings through slavery. The Northern (Union) and the Southern (Confederate) states fought a war over human slavery during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Why did the South fight this war? Simple. To them, slavery was an economic necessity. The external energy from slavery sustained the South's economic system. While the North had industrial output for employment, the South was still tied to the old system of exploitation for agricultural surplus.
This brings us to the modern era. Around the end of the American Civil War a new form of energy started to emerge: oil. Standard Oil was founded in 1870 and went on to become one of the largest corporations in the world. The first coal powered steam tractors started to emerge for farming around this time. However, these were soon replaced with the invention of the internal combustion engine.
Srila Prabhupada has told us:
"Machines mean unemployment for the many. The tractor they're using means unemployment for bulls and plowmen. Then the bulls must be killed. This is going on. Unemployment, then kill them. Send all the men to fight in Vietnam and kill them. As soon as there is overpopulation of unemployed, they declare war so that people may be killed."
(Morning Walk, Mayapur, February 12, 1976)
This development had a tremendous impact on farming, as the energy from oil, combined with industrial machinery such as tractors, allowed fewer people to produce more agricultural surplus. It effectively moved industrialization into the country. It replaced draft animals with machines, and pushed the population towards greater urbanization. The chart below shows the percent of those employed in agriculture by year along with the ratio of non-farm/farm workers. By the year 2000 only 1.9% of the population was engaged in farming, a 1 to 53 ratio of farmers supporting non-farmers. Productivity increased, profit margins shrank, and small farms were absorbed into the corporate structure.
U.S. Employment In Farming As a % of Population:
Year % Pop. # of Non-Farm/Farm
1900 - 41.0% - 2.4
1930 - 21.5% - 4.7
1945 - 16.0% - 6.3
1970 - 4.0% - 25.0
2000 - 1.9% - 52.6
Why have I detailed this economic history? What has enabled us at each step of economic development to move the production frontier outwards? It has been the application of greater levels of energy to replace our finite human energy. Energy is what enables man to exert himself upon the world. It is interesting to note that the food we eat and the oil we burn both originally obtain their energy first from the sun.
To close this section of the article and to transition to the next, I invite the reader to review this chart. This is public data provided by the World Bank and hosted by Google detailing energy consumption by country from 1960-2010. For simplicity, I have selected the chart to view the United States, India, and the World average and allow you the reader to draw your own conclusions.
It is at this point that I wish to take the discussion in a very different direction. The meaning will become clear by the end and I believe it will give us insight into where things are headed into the future.
Several months ago I became aware of another tool developed by Google called Ngram. This tool looks at all the books published in English between the years 1800-2008 (please note, you have to select 2008 as your ending year). As you type in key words or phrases the tool will chart the prevalence of those words as a ratio of all words published in a given year. Proper names should be capitalized as the tool is case sensitive. The tool also features an adjustable smoothing factor set initially at 3. Data smoothing is a common statistical technique to help extract the underlying trend or signal. In essence, a smoothing factor of 3 would indicate that each point is an average of the prior 3 points.
When I first tried this tool I started to randomly think of words or phrases that I felt tied to higher levels of consciousness. I literally had no expectation of what I would find. I tried: animal rights, yoga, meditation, civil rights, environmentalism, transcendental. One after another, every item I thought indicated higher consciousness showed the same pattern. Either just before or just after 2000 the trend for all of these items was decisively negative.
Example: Animal Rights Trend
At this point I would ask the reader to try the tool out themselves.
I started to realize that this tool, in a manner, uncovers the collective consciousness of a people. After all, what we are interested in will manifest, perhaps imperfectly, in publications about our interests as a society.
The time frame also stood out. We all know what happened in September 2001. So I decided to type in the word ‘war' to see what would display. The pattern was interesting but not too surprising. You can see an increase usage of the word ‘war' exactly when wars occurred. You can see a bump during the American Civil War (1861-1865), World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), the American Vietnam War (1961-1973), a tiny bump for the first Persian Gulf war (1990-1991), and most recently the Iraq war (2003-present).
Example: War Trend
Srila Prabhupada has told us:
"But we want to stop these killing houses. It is very, very sinful. That is why all over the world they have so many wars. Every ten or fifteen years there is a big war – a wholesale slaughterhouse for humankind. But these rascals they do not see it, that by the law of karma, every action must have its reaction.
You are killing innocent cows and other animals – nature will take revenge. Just wait. As soon as the time is right, nature will gather all these rascals and slaughter them. Finished."
(Paris, June 11, 1974)
Then I decided to track the pattern for "meat" from 1800 through 2008. I was shocked by what I saw - a pattern that fit nearly perfectly with every major war in recent times.
Example: Meat Trend
At every point for a major war we see a similar movement between "meat" and "war". We see an upward movement for "meat", a leading indicator, several years in advance of a major war, and it comes down after the war has been satiated. I should note, at this point it, is important to look at the words individually, otherwise the scale of one may "wash-out" the other (as an example, if one were to search on the word "the" because it is such a common word, it would overwhelm any other word set against it).
Again, I would ask the reader to try the tool out themselves.
I wanted to delve a little deeper and so I started to check other foods to see if a similar pattern emerged. I tried "milk", "potato", "cauliflower", "flour". A similar, though imperfect pattern emerged. It seemed to me that "meat" was the best match, followed by "milk". The other foods were a bit hit and miss for every war, but all seemed to fit during World War 1 and World War 2.
So what did I find? Generally speaking, I would say there is a correlation between food and war in the public consciousness. Without having access to the underlying data I was not able to measure the Coefficient of Determination (R-square) of the data points. However, from what I can see the pattern fits best with meat and milk, but it is not exclusive to these.
Napoleon once famously stated, "An army marches on its stomach." In context, he was speaking of the importance of supply chains to get food to the military front. But it seems there is a more subtle relationship. Food is our first energy source. It is a primal need. War is also is a primal activity. There appears to be a relationship between the two, one feeding the other.
And so we see two patterns emerge:
First, it is energy, above all else, that has built the modern economic system. It is energy that enables man to exert himself upon the world. Each stage of development required increased inputs of energy. When external energy is injected into a society it speeds up the culture, enables man to build beyond the human scale, and causes great social change. One of the great changes has been the separation between man and land, between the cause of sowing and the effect of harvesting.
Second, there is, in my mind, a relationship between food and war. The data does provide a signal, perhaps imperfect, that may require deeper investigation. I suspect there is both a subtle and gross relationship, one dealing with consciousness and the other with resource constraints. One pushes the other in a spiral until the reaction is satiated, at which point the trend comes down.
My concern comes at the nexus of these two phenomenon (between energy/food, and food/war). One may ask "Why do we fight wars in the Middle East?" Simple. To us, it is an economic necessity. The application of external energy to agriculture has created a separation between man and the land. At no point in history has man been so disconnected from his food (today 1 farmer supports 53 non-farmers). Any threat to this external energy is a threat to the system as a whole (energy/war).
The unease in society comes from the fact that we all know this - at least intuitively. As a civilization we stand on very shaky ground, not upon the strength of our own two feet. If there is a threat to this supply of energy there will be a spiral to ever increasing war. Those not fighting will feel this most directly in the availability of food.
Srila Prabhupada has told us:
"Our farm projects are an extremely important part of our movement. We must become self-sufficient by growing our own grains and producing our own milk, then there will be no question of poverty. So develop these farm communities as far as possible." (Bombay, December 18, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada emphasized the importance of developing of our farm communities. Over the years we have had a few successes in this area, with a number of setbacks. Still, I think we owe a great deal of respect to those devotees, past and present, who have sacrificed their lives to try to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's desire. It is my belief that, one way or the other, either voluntarily or involuntarily, we will all have to follow the Acharya's desire.
I opened this article distinguishing between natural and man-made disasters. We can prepare for both, but it is only the man-made risks that we can reasonably predict. Look around at the events unfolding on the world stage; understand the relationship between energy and the modern economy; the current state of unemployment; understand the relationship between food and war. Observe these relationships and extract the underlying trend. In their pursuit of wealth (artha) the leaders of the world will bring misery (anartha). This will be felt across the world including within our community. It is for this reason I would encourage our spiritual leaders to provide a counterbalance through increased support for our farming communities.
Thank you for reading this article. If you found it useful please forward along to others.