If this were the old Columbia River system there would be Salmon, but this is a different river. It is not the river salmon evolved in. This new river produces carp and shad”
In The Organic Machine it seems Richard White defines a river by what species of fish it produces. Fish are the organic products of this machine. The species may change and therefore what type of machine we should consider it. The river still exists even though it may not be reflective of the “natural”, salmon-producing, Indian-fished system it once was. I believe “Organic Machine” is a useful analogy for describing civilizations.
Humans are not defined like an animal by their physical traits; rather it is our psychological traits that define us. The type of psyche a civilization produces in its people defines what type of organic machine it is. Currently most civilizations or “organic machines” produce capitalists, those that have the most unnatural relationships with organic systems. For them an organic system like the Columbia River presents an opportunity for controlled mechanization in the search for more profits. For example the Columbia River began its transformation from a natural system to “organic machine” when its organic produce (fish for caloric intake) predominantly became viewed as capital to be exploited. Civilizations undertook this same process when humans became viewed as capital for exploitation. This is to say that humans no longer were “natural” once civilizations came to view them as slaves, workers, wage earners, proletariats, businessmen, etc. It is this transformation in the psyche of humans that defines the organic system, in America’s case capitalism.
It is simple for us to understand while reading White that “the Columbia has become an organic machine which human beings manage without fully understanding what they have created.” There is much anecdotal evidence, environmental history, and physical analysis described in his work that makes it easy for us to understand his labeling. We can imagine the trolleys that fish the river, we can count the amount of fish caught, we know how much energy the dam produces, and we can examine the river for evidence of pollution. The Columbia River is just one natural system we have learned to turn into an organic machine. The Mississippi River, The Pacific Ocean, The Colorado River, Lake Michigan, these are now all to varying degrees “organic machines”. We can look down into them but it is hard to do the same for civilizations and society since we ARE the produce that defines it. By looking back at more “natural” civilizations like the Native Americans or the still secluded tribes of South America, Africa, etc. we can somewhat grasp that there has been significant mechanization of the human body and mind.
“The organic machine has, in turn, spawned a virtual whose life influences the actual Columbia.” White describes modeling systems that create electronic fish, and predict where they flow, mimic actual salmon. “How electronic fish behave will lead to decisions on how fish in the actual Columbia-the organic machine- will be managed”. It is not hard to see a similarity between White’s virtual-modeling system and that of the stock market. How funds are supposed to flow, or companies are supposed to react control the economics of the world now. Whether these numbers are actually reflective of anything real doesn’t matter. What these virtual numbers say ultimately determine how companies, governments, decision-makers etc. will act and therefore affect the organic machine that is our capitalist society.