The Organic Machine
Richard White holds nothing back when he plainly states his thesis in the introduction of The Organic Machine. White’s contention is that human history and natural history are intertwined in a level of dependency that makes them impossible to understand outside of each other. The exploration of this path of understanding is much like the assertions of environmental philosophers such as Rent Dubos and Lewis Mumford, who insisted on a quintessential bond between the environment and humans systems. White looks at the river as an “organic machine” which is untainted in its purpose in the in the universe, in spite of man’s intervention. Whites theories are interesting and fundamentally sound and are deserving of further study to the relationship of energy in the interplay of human and environmental systems.
Richard White begins his study of the Colombia River in a non-traditional look at the workings of the river in relationship to energy. Typically, studies surrounding the Columbia River include lengthy laments of the tragedy of human development in the river’s history. However, White focuses on energy in the literal sense and also in the metaphorical to present a highly academic look at the dynamics of the river. Literally, he states that the water in the Northwest has created a social structure, livable for humans because they can capture the energy of the river. Metaphorically, White alludes to the energy of human tensions that have been caused by the river over the past 150 years. These are mainly between the Indians and the first white settlers, as White states, “Passage along the river was, Thompson realized, not just physical; it was social and political.” Later in history, the tensions producing the drive for utilization of resources of the river was a major force in shaping the Northwest. White sites fact that the paddling Indian utilizing the river’s current to propel them downstream utilizes the same energy that is converted into hydro electrical dams which provided energy for the booming Northwestern economy.
One of the most refreshing perspective White provides is once again, on the positive side of the river’s transformation. Instead of lamenting the loss of man’s connection with nature due to industrialism and technology, White optimistically points out that while “factories and cities took humans away from nature; leisure brought them back”. He points away from a fatalist view of the relationship between nature and man espouses that man and nature, in the form of machines and nature, can work together for potential wealth and power. For example, White would say that the market economy is only one of the world's economies - in addition, there is nature's economy of life-support processes and people's economy in which our sustenance is provided and our needs are met.