Once a week, I go through the mail, pay any bills that are due in the coming week and review my credit card account for accuracy. This week I had a notice from my electric provider, which purports to judge my electricity use compared to my neighbors. I get these once a month, but I just toss them in the trash. I don’t care how I compare to my neighbors on anything, much less something as unimportant as electric use. My assumption is the state has told the provider they have to do this for some reason. I don’t know.
This month, I decided to look at it. The report alleges that the good neighbors in my area are using 214 kWh per month. To put that in perspective, a 100-watt bulb left on all day uses about 2400 watts or 100 watts per hour. That’s 72 kWh per month. That means my moral neighbors have three 100-watt bulbs burning all day everyday, but nothing else. Assuming they have other things, those bulbs are off most of the time, so they can have enough juice to run the fridge and maybe charge a cellphone a few times a month.
This is, of course, complete nonsense. To be generous with the electric company, it is most likely the case that they are using data from homes that are unoccupied or perhaps hovels that are now vacant, except for one light at the door. No one, not even someone in a studio apartment can get by with just a few bulbs worth of electric. A typical desktop PC will use 60 kWh per month, assuming the user turns it off at night. Modern television, gaming systems and other video devices use similar amounts of electricity.
In my case, I am a fanatic about turning lights off as I leave a room. It’s not that I give a damn about the planet, which I don’t, it’s that leaving lights on bugs me. In my home, the only light on at any time is the light in the room I’m currently in at the moment. I turn the light off as I leave the room. The only devise I leave on is my desktop, the refrigerator and the charger to my mobile phone. Since I’m not home most of the day and I’m asleep most of the night, my energy use is as close to the minimum as is possible.
Yet, the electric company informs me that I’m a wastrel compared to my neighbors. In fact, they claim I use twice what my good neighbors use. Of course, there are some things that we take for granted, like the HVAC unit, which runs whether you are home or not. The same is true of the hot water heater, the security system and various little things that are in every home. That’s the point though. They are in every home. According to the electric company, my good neighbors shut off their HVAC system before leaving the house.
The truth is, this report is most likely just nonsense. I was out and about today and asked three neighbors if they got their report card. All reported that they were horrible people, squandering the nation’s precious resources on silly things like their porch light. The amusing bit was the one neighbor had been out of town for three weeks. He actually turned his HVAC unit down to the minimum and shut off all of his lights except one, which was on one of those timers to make it look like he was coming and going.
Now, the electric company has no incentive to encourage conservation. They get paid by the kWh so they would very much like all of us to leave our homes lit up like airports. It’s good business for them. Most likely, there is some rule that the government imposed on them, that requires them to encourage conservation. Rather than be honest about it, they made this farcical mailer they send to everyone each month. Some portion of the my electric bill includes the $3 of cost to them for sending me this page full of lies.
Of course, institutional mendacity is a feature of the managerial state. The people tasked with lecturing me about my electric use most likely assume I don’t care or that I don’t believe them. They have to know that what they do has no purpose, but you can be sure they come to every staff meeting armed with the same phony-baloney charts and graphs they send me every month. Perhaps at some level, the pointlessness of it all is a small comfort to them. An irrelevant liar is better than a dangerous one.
Regardless, you have to wonder if the proliferation of nonsense is slowly undermining the purpose of the managerial state. A generation ago, the organs of authority could rally the people to a cause. There were plenty of skeptics, but most people were willing to trust the authorities. Today, the default assumption is that everything from official circles is a lie until proven otherwise. It’s something James Burnham could not have envisioned. The fungus of managerialism that grew over the state is slowing draining it of its life.