Friday, March 09, 2007

progress/regress free association

From Abby's blog on weaving and spinning:

If I were going to pick a single least-favourite fiber, I’d have to go with corn-derived plastic fiber, ingeo. Unpleasant to spin, impossible to dye, with a melting point that suggests structural failure is possible with as little heat as could be generated by being left on the patio on a hot summer day, ingeo is totally inexplicable to me. I just don’t get it.

Seriously, what is the point of this fiber? “Oh look,” the hype about it says, “A fiber from renewable sources!” Well, huzzah — now with extensive industrial technology we’re able to create a fiber from renewable sources, finally! Thank heaven! What would we ever have done without a fiber that grows back? What, do you think cotton or linen grows in fields every year? Or fleece-bearing animals regrow their wooly coverings? If you want a sustainable product, what’s wrong with a natural one? What are we trying to accomplish here with ingeo? A more expensive, less functional, and nastier-feeling variant of acrylic yarns which is somehow superior simply because it’s corn-based? Where’s the value in that? Give me a nice regenerated cellulosic if we’re talking industrially-produced man-made fibers, and leave the oddball plastics to non-textile applications.

Not to mention that it's possible to synthesize silk in a lab, too; IIRC from my Leviatech research, silk protein is a fairly simple bi-chemical compound, and you can make threads of it as long as you like. But doing so would cost even more than the hand labor traditionally employed for growing silk, and it would deprive all those widows and orphans of the meager but crucial supplemental income they get from doing said handwork.

On a larger scale, Abby's point is applicable to things like the push for new fuels, too. Fuel cells to replace oil and so on. Gasoline made from corn. Gimme a break. Horses worked very well for a fair chunk of human history, and they made their own replacements. They only reason they don't work now is because we all have this idea that we must *go* somewhere. Into the city to work. To the coasts for vacation. To Asia for business. You know what would solve the energy crisis? Forbidding people to travel. We've got the communications technology in place now; for most workers it isn't necessary to travel outside of one's hometown. My God I'm starting to sound like a dictator.

Do you ever stop to wonder what our lives would be like if we still lived in a semi-agrarian culture, only with the medical and communications advances we now have? That's what a lot of space opera is about, directly or indirectly. I wonder if those advances would've even been possible without the push toward industrialization and the concentration of wealth and ideas in the cities. The increase of leisure time, the lack of needing to grub up the next meal is what gives scientific minds the time to think up this stuff. Furthermore, scientific theory and application (in the form of industrialization) are tied up together: more precise machines allow for more in-depth, accurate exploration and testing.

I was reading a little about 1870's and 1880's political issues, for possible story fodder, and was bemused to find that the decades after reconstruction were largely taken up by economic issues that look startlingly current: industrialization, protective tariffs, exploitation of farmers and laborers by big bad robber barons, an influx of immigrant labor that drove down wages. It took four or five presidential elections, and the efforts of organizations like the Grangers and their successors, to get any real movement on government regulation of big business, particularly the railroads and the textile industries.

Not drawing any conclusions from this. Just turning the compost in my head, letting the air in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Forbidding people to travel."
Travel was quite restricted in WWII; gasoline was rationed, tires were rationed, the speed limit was thirty-five miles per hour.
I don't recall any of this from personal experience; I studied about it several years later after I had learned to read.
The little truck I pushed around the summer of '44 didn't use much gas, nor did the hind legs by which I locomoted the last year of that conflict. I wasn't much of a drain on the war economy, but neither did I contribute. I didn't volunteer.