Conflict in literature is a fascinating thing. Not only for the catharsis of the resolution, but for the struggle in the action, and the tension of the incitement. However people seem to be much more cognizant of the theme of a work when they choose whether they are interested in it or not. Which makes me wonder, what is the theme of our current attempts at an energy transition?
But why do I care about the “theme” of the modern era and our struggles? It’s because even though it’s a cliche to say “those who refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it” it is a personal belief of mine that literature is history that hasn’t happened. Thus by studying it we can determine how to avoid the pitfalls that are inherent in our “theme”.
I would hope that just by the title of this article you can guess that I am about to say that we are currently in a Greek Tragedy, and probably even less surprised to hear that I think it is the saga of Prometheus. Unfortunately we aren’t in the early stages of the saga. No, we are towards the end, too late to have learned its lessons in time to prevent the tragedy of the punishment of altruistic progress again.
For those of you that haven’t brushed up on Greek mythology lately, the saga of Prometheus goes something like this. Zeus buys collectors edition humans and puts them on a shelf to stare at all day and imagining them appreciating in value. Prometheus thinks that Zeus is missing out on some awesome stuff and that humans are meant to be played with cause they’ve got all sorts of cool features listed on the box. So he steals some batteries and plugs them into humanity while Zeus is taking a power nap. When Zeus wakes up all refreshed and ready for another few centuries of celestial voyeurism he looks down and sees humans out of their box walking around on the living room floor using fire to build civilization, smelt bronze, and generally do all sorts of things that help them become way better than being stuck in limbo for the benefit of Zeus. Zeus of course is pissed because his favourite new toys are now no longer mint-in-box and proceed to beat the hell out of Prometheus for playing with his stuff while he was asleep. Prometheus gets locked in his room and nibbled on by an zeus’s pet bird until along comes the son of zeus, Kevin Sorbo, and pulls the chair out from under the door handle so Prometheus can finally get out.
Right now we are in the part of that story where Prometheus is imprisoned and used as a snack for an angry bird. So we actually don’t want to change how the story goes at this point, otherwise we will get stuck in the room with the bird until there’s nothing left. We missed our chance to learn from “history” on this one and avoid the fate of Prometheus but hopefully we can avoid over correcting and refusing the salvation offered to us to escape from an unjust punishment by parties who are only interested in preventing change and growth from happening.
If you are going to ask if I plan on doing the English Lit prof impression and breaking down my complete thought process on what this piece of literature means for our current situation, you will be horribly disappointed. Or perhaps relieved, god knows I’ve always hated it when someone tried to cram their own interpretation down my throat whether I agreed with them or not. What I will bring to the forefront of peoples minds though is that the tale of Prometheus has historically been used to illustrate a dichotomy. The idea that progress and science is a way to improve the lives of people around us, but that it can also always have unintended consequences that can harm ourselves, the people we sought to help or others who are not related at all.
However with Dichotomy comes the option for hypocrisy. To emphasize one side of the dichotomy for one thing while ignoring it for others is a pitfall that is too easy to fall into, and shows that the lesson hasn’t really been learned, simply used to advance an agenda. Why is nuclear material storage a reason to completely ignore that industry, but the problem of not being able to store enough energy to stabilize wind and solar is something that “will be dealt with by more research”? Hypocrisy is a more incisive punishment than the beak of any eagle to those people who are trying to help raise billions of people out of the depths of poverty.
So, now that we’ve taken our lumps and pecks, and learned our lessons, it’s time to throw off the shackles and get back to using our knowledge and full capability to improve the lives of ourselves and those around us. The final curtain in this play hasn’t fallen yet, and the only difference between a tragedy and a drama is whether the lesson is learned by the actors in time to change the outcome of the play, or by the audience after the lights go down and everyone goes home. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like going home yet. So lets raise the curtain for the third act and see what we can do rouse the audience into an ovation.