Excerpt from "Reflections on Water and Oil," in David Orr's Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect:
The modern world is in some ways a dialogue between oil and water. Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is clear; oil is dark. Water dissolves; oil congeals. Water has inspired great poetry and literature. Our language is full of allusions to springs, depths, currents, rivers, seas, rain, mist, dew, and snowfall. To a great extent our language is about water and people in relation to water. We think of time flowing like a river. We cry oceans of tears. We ponder the wellsprings of thought. Oil, on the contrary, has had no such effect on our language. To my knowledge, it has given rise to no poetry, hymns, or great literature, and probably to no flights of imagination other than those of pecuniary accumulation.
Cheap oil and the automobile pitted community against community, suburban commuters against city neighborhoods. Money made from oil and oil-based technologies corrupted our politics, while our growing dependency corrupted our sense of proportion and scale. To guarantee our access to Middle Eastern oil we have declared our willingness to initiate Armageddon. We are now spending billions in fulfillment of this pledge even though a fraction of this annual bill would eliminate the need for oil imports altogether.
From the same book:
Six ways oil has undermined our intelligence:
1. It has eroded our ability to think intelligently about community and the possibility of cooperation. Instead, it pits states against states, regions against regions, nations against nations, and by doing so has shaped a mindset that cannot rise above competition.
2. It has undermined our land intelligence by increasing the speed with which we move on it or fly over it. We no longer experience the land as a vital reality.
3. It has made us dumber by making the world more complicated but less complex. It does this by destroying biological, cultural, and psychological diversity and by favoring technical specialists over seasoned generalists.
4. It is responsible in large part for urban sprawl and the resulting conditioning into believing ugliness and disorder to be normal. “Sprawling megalopolitan areas are not only an aesthetic affront; they are sure signs of an unsustainable economy dominated by absentee corporations that vandalize distant places for ‘resources’ and other places to discard wastes. A mind conditioned to think of ecological, aesthetic, and social disorder as normal, which is to say a mind in which the categories of harmony and beauty have atrophied, is to that extent impoverished.”
5. It has devalued handwork and craftsmanship. Speed, convenience, and affluence replace creativity, workmanship, doing things for ourselves.
6. It requires technology we are smart enough to build but not smart enough to use safely: the gap between knowing how to do something and knowing what one should do, a gap that divides our sense of obligation, care, and long-term responsibility from our capabilities. It rewards rationalizing and denying at the cost of thinking and acting ethically.