Green Rhetoric

This blog originated as a course blog for the community of Rhetoric 181, "Green Rhetoric," in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, Fall, 2007. It continues its life as... something else.

Monday, December 3, 2007

a fable for finals

this is one of my favorite fables by arthur hoppe.
I hope everyone is churning out brilliant quotes and definitions.

The Run-Away Machine

Once upon a time the people at Wonderfuland worshiped Efficiency. And over the years they labored to build a huge and ingenious Efficiency Machine.

It was the greatest machine the world had ever seen. And the most efficient, too.

Whereas it used to take a Wonderfulander an hour to wash the dishes, a day to hew a path or a week to build a wagon, The Efficiency Machine would turn out far superior products in one-eighteenth of the time.

From its spouts there poured a veritable treasure trove of disposable paper plates, concrete, automobiles, television sets, aspirin tablets and Ping-Pong balls.

The people were terribly, terribly proud of their Efficiency Machine. “It gives us whatever we want,” they said, “along with the leisure time to enjoy life.”

At least that's what they said at first.

But as the years passed, The Efficiency Machine grew bigger. The bigger it was, the more goods it could produce. And, as this was its only aim, it grew bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER.

By now it was spewing forth more disposable plates than the people could dispose of, more concrete than there were mountain meadows to pave and more automobiles than there were parking places.

“Well,” said the people frowning, “at least it gives us more time to enjoy life.”

But, of course, by now The Efficiency Machine had befouled the streams (it didn't drink), polluted the air (it didn't breath), and scraped away all the wildflowers (for it neither saw nor smelled).

The people began to grumble. “Why don't those in control of our wonderful Efficiency Machine do something?” the demanded. But nobody, it turned out, was in control.

You see, the Wonderfulanders, who used to work for themselves, now all worked for the Machine. And while each was nominally in control of his small or large part, none was in control of the whole.

So the people began to realize that what they had on their hands was a mindless, run-away machine.

The Conservatives demanded that it be slowed down. But there were no brakes. The Liberals demanded it be fixed. But there were no adequate tools. The Radicals demanded it be blown up. But the Machine had efficient defenses to take care of the likes of them.

One wise man, Charles Reich, pointed out that the Machine produced only what the people wanted. So, if people would only want less, it would produce less.

Unfortunately, while it proved easy to convince the man with two cars that he didn't want three, it was hard to persuade the man with none that he didn't want one.

“After all,” each man said, “what does one more car or paper plate or Ping-Pong ball matter?”

Then it was too late. The Machine, to be more efficient, produced a Thinking Machine, which the scientists understood. It, in turn, produced a better Thinking Machine, which a few scientists
understood. And it, in turn, produced an even better Thinking Machine, which no one understood.

And these machines, being dedicated solely to Efficiency like all machines, produced at last a Totally Efficient World.

In it, there was no grass nor trees, no grief nor joy, no tears nor laughter –and, of course, no human beings. For, as any machine will tell you, they're the most inefficient things of all.

Moral: Efficiency is a great help in getting you where you're going –if you know where you're going.

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