Hal Royaltey (hal) Thu 28 Dec 06 23:23
In what has become a much anticipated annual event Well member Bruce Sterling returns to take look at the state of the world as we enter this new year. Joining Bruce is Well member Jon Lebkowsky, Bruce's regular partner in these adventures in highly-informed speculation. Bruce Sterling - author, journalist, editor, and critic, was born in 1954. Best known for his eight science fiction novels, he also writes short stories, book reviews, design criticism, opinion columns, and introductions for books ranging from Ernst Juenger to Jules Verne. His nonfiction works include THE HACKER CRACKDOWN: LAW AND DISORDER ON THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER (1992) and TOMORROW NOW: ENVISIONING THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS (2003). He is a contributing editor of WIRED magazine. He also writes a weblog, and runs a website and Internet mailing list on the topic of environmental activism and postindustrial design. In 2005, he was the "Visionary in Residence" at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He has appeared in ABC's Nightline, BBC's The Late Show, CBC's Morningside, on MTV and TechTV, and in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Fortune, Nature, I.D., Metropolis, Technology Review, Der Spiegel, La Repubblica, and many other venues. Jon Lebkowsky has been active online since the 1980s, when he learned that computers could form networks, and that computer networks are environments for communication, group-forming, and community-building. Since then he's worked as a writer, publisher, web and social network consultant, online community developer, project manager, and technology director. He's currently a parter at Polycot Consulting, Inc., a company he cofounded in 2001, and chairman of a nonprofit called AssistOrg, which will provide web development and consulting services to NPOs.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 29 Dec 06 06:40
I just wrote yesterday that 2006 felt like a transitional year to me, mentioning digital convergence and broader acceptance of green thinking, especially about climate change, as a couple of markers. I didn't think to mention the evident, belated realization that the Iraq adventure was a colossal mistake and the related rejection of neoconservative strategic thinking. Before we consider 2007 and beyond, what are your thoughts about 2006? What struck you as the Big Stories?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 29 Dec 06 10:20
<scribbled by bruces Fri 29 Dec 06 10:41>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 29 Dec 06 10:43
*Here I am, logging in this year from Belgrade, Serbia. *I agree that 2006 wasn't one of those big dramatic 2001-style years when everybody agrees that all bets are off and then they start shoving each other through the keyhole of their own strategies. It looked to me like a year when the world was on autopilot and deeper trends just kept piling up. *First, the US mission in Iraq got pretty severely un-accomplished. Now that this has finally been publicly admitted, the US is in for two years of lame-duckness. Bush can't do much; he spent all his credibility and the country's wealth in his military adventure. The previous Congress wanted to do as little as possible, while the new Congress doesn't know what it wants and doesn't have a big enough majority to do anything radical. *In 2006, the rest of the world finally learned how to ignore the USA. The US has no diplomatic or economic soft-power initiatives to offer, and nobody's eager to mimic their line of development, so they frankly don't matter much. The US probably hasn't looked this bewildered and helpless since before World War I. *Everybody wants to disown neocon strategy, including the neocons, because that strategy never worked. Still, it was, in point of fact, a strategy. Nobody else has one. *Europe didn't exhaust its military hard-power (because it scarcely has any) and it's doing more than okay economically. but it definitely bogged down in imperio-political overstretch. It doesn't know how to govern the host of new territories it has agglomerated. The governing class had some swell ideas and the voting population spat on those, so Europe is in for another sleepy, python-like digestive period. On the plus side, Germany seems to have finally managed that feat and is looking perkier than it has since reunification. This is a cheery sign that all these Eastern European newhires are gonna catch a clue eventually, so the expansion will pay off someday. There really isn't a counterforce eager to scourge and crush Europe, so it can blunder along Hapsburg-Empire style for at least a while. Those left out of Europe are gonna get resentful, but they may cling to each other for comfort rather than get all aggressive. *Russia was the winner of the War for Oil, so they've learned how to turn off the gas taps and wax all petrocratic. Unfortunately they're run by a tiny Czarist-style clique of spooky Rasputin radioactive poison fanatics, so when their shadow crosses the global landscape everybody crosses their fingers and shies away. Luckily, a surprising number of guys they managed to poison, ambush and shoot were Chechen warlords, so their personal Islamic crisis is on the back burner. *Castro got sick, but Chavez is the new Castro and he's got megatons of oil. Chavez could do whatever he wants, but he's not very bright and he likes the look of his own face in the mirror better than any sight in the world. History will likely judge that Castro and even Bolivar get much the same assessment. *There were no massive hurricanes in the US this year, but typhoons kicked the hell out of Asia, and Australia is having the worst drought in a thousand years. Everybody's been figuring climate change for a poor man's problem, mostly because the Left own the green issue and they're very big on social issues, but Australia is a right-wing state full of rich white guys, and they may be more direly vulnerable to climate change than any nation in the world. *Ethiopia is a Christian state and decided to invade Somalia before the weird Islamic-court non-state there got totally out of hand. Ethiopia has something akin to a national army, so they rumbled right into Somalia with the same armored glee that Israel showed in south Lebanon, NATO showed in Afghanistan and the US did in Iraq. I can't imagine that this is going to end well. *Al Qaeda's strategy has been dominant since 9/11. It's to crack nation-states apart by killing so many innocents that daily life becomes unendurable. They didn't launch any major action in 2006; with Afghanistan and Iran ungovernable and Israel at their wits' ends behind towering walls, they probably figure they're winning. They probably are, but whenever they do win, they're like a gang of weasels who've caught a car. *Al Qaeda can't govern; they just produce chaos. Hezbollah is a paramilitary terror network that can almost manage to govern. Sort of. The Islamic Courts in Somalia weren't even terrorists; they are a serious-minded justice system very interested in law and order, but they were home-made courts without a legislature or an executive, so they're not a legitimate state and states want nothing to do with them. Islamic peoples has never thrived in the alien Westphalian nation-state system. Unfortunately they thrive even worse outside of it. *I think there were two polities in 2006 who really managed to play their cards right: India and China. If you were Indian or Chinese, 2006 felt like solid progress and you'd love more of the same. Given that the two of them are a major chunk of the planet's population, 2006 wasn't that bad a year. The least-reported major story of the year was probably that China and India seriously and thoughtfully decided to make nice with each other. I think they looked at their global shipping figures and they figured out that they are no longer regional rivals. A "region" doesn't matter worth a damn any more. Their ambitions are global, and it makes a lot more great-power sense to tackle the world shoulder-to-shoulder than it does to try to divvy up Asia. *In conclusion, I'd agree that there is a frenzy of creative green thinking this year. I've never seen the like. Unfortunately, green doing, as opposed to thinking, is about forty years overdue. Even though there's quite a lot of green doing, too, it's starting mighty small.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 29 Dec 06 16:03
How can we ramp it up? I've been working with Worldchanging, and we talk a lot about solutions, and we find a few, but I'm wondering how to orchestrate the solutions so that they synergize and produce something more than a lot of ahas and back-patting?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 30 Dec 06 05:48
Sell out, man. That's the answer. It's gotta be money. Huge amounts of money. Ford and Rockefeller amounts of money. There isn't any worlchanging mechanism that moves as fast, as ruthlessly, as comprehensively as the market. You could do it with state intervention, if you had a really stout, solid, honest, well-governed state, but there aren't any left. Not even one. The global market ate all of them. It ate the state system so comprehensively that there are big scary gaps in the planet with no states at all. It's gonna take a tremendous amount of money to fix a soiled planetary atmosphere. There's never been a state-sponsored project that size. Not even close. It makes the Hoover Dam look like a cork. You look around at people taking serious remediary steps... they're not politicians. They're not shoestring activists and Seattle 99ers. They're rich moguls. Michael Bloomberg. Vinod Khosla. Richard Branson. The Google boys. Wal-Mart. Two percent of the population, the financial super-elite, owns fifty percent of the planet. I'm not saying that's a good situation, or that its politically smart to suck up to such profoundly antidemocratic characters, but they're the only ones with levers in their hands. I'm a science fiction writer. I'm a guy who's pretty good at a-has. I don't flatter myself that I'm great at orchestrating solutions. I've never been elected dog-catcher and I've never had an employee. I love Worldchanging; those guys rock, but it may be time to stop throwing so much visionary spaghetti at the walls and try to converge on some set of notions that might become real solutions. That may not be a proper job for people with Worldchanging's considerable talents. It wouldn's surprise me much to see something seriously freaky emerging: a rich guy's Worldchanging, something like a covert, hugely wealthy, braniac, mogul-saturated Project for a New Atmospheric Century. You might see the occasional white-paper pop out, and the rest of it would just be... vast mechanical grinding. Even in a world like that one, though, the visionary a-ha thing shouldn't be neglected or dismissed. It's honest work. It does matter. Doesn't take much of a budget... that's its drawback and its saving grace.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 30 Dec 06 10:28
So the rich and powerful still run the show, despite all the lip service paid to supposed democracy. We still have whole movements scrambling to adopt technologies that will give everybody a voice in the governance discussion, and we spend volumes of money and energy on political campaigns that hope to sway the voters this way or that. Does the collective intelligence matter? Does it matter whether the average joe or jolene is informed about what's happenging, and has something to say about it?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 31 Dec 06 02:59
I don't think today's rich and powerful "run the show" -- in the sense that there used to be a coherent show and it used to be runnable. Today's rich and powerful are meritocrats and plutocrats, rather than some class-based old-school-tie phalanx Establishment. Any earlier set of the rich-and-powerful would have regarded contemporary players like Gates and Soros and Perot and Berlusconi and Murdoch and Bloomberg and bin Laden to be strange, jumped-up, arriviste, nouveau-riche types, crazily unstable pretenders who don't even bother to send their daughters to the cotillion ball. We really need some new class-term for these modern tycoons who've been flung into the planetary stratosphere by today's amazingly unequal wealth distributions. "Mogul" is a pretty good revived word. It suggests that current Russian model of five or six guys who've divvied up a national economy into privatized secretive satrapies that exist outside the rule of law. But to imagine that some mogul in exile in London, sweating bullets over radioactive poison, is really "running the show..." I mean, yeah, he's surely a player of some kind... but is he "running it?" By what right? Through what clear and legitimized set of accountabilities and responsibilities? There aren't any. He's obviously winging it totally. They guy's not a conventional political or economic actor at all. The guy's basically a conspirator. This Russian Mogul isn't the time-honored Duke of Aluminum, he's just a hustler who blundered into de-facto control of a hastily privatized industrial sector. Would a Russian Joe Sixpack or a Russian Jane Winecooler behave any differently in this mogul's shoes? Probably not, actually. After about a week surviving this guy's parlous condition they'd be behaving exactly like he does. Labor unions used to exist as a counterforce to this kind of robber-baron phenomenon, but current wealth-generation techniques don't actually need a lot of mass labor. There's never been a big popular strike against Gates and Soros and Perot and Bloomberg and bin Laden. The very idea sounds weird. Most normal people never meet the modern ultrawealthy, because they are shy gated-community creatures who are very scared of stalkers and harassers. The ones I've met don't certainly come across like silk-hatted Wall Street exploiters of the masses. They're blandly indifferent to the masses; they don't have any practical need for the masses. Basically, they're business geeks. They're workaholic and slightly monomaniacal characters who spend most of their time reading financial briefing papers and practicing "due diligence." They're not a gilded elite splashing champagne around like Donald Trump -- the Donald is a cornball blingbling TV showman, he's like a poor guy's comic-book version of a rich guy. Everyday modern super-rich guys tend to be glum and somewhat cheerless Type A overachievers, very dedicated and focussed. They're kind of a drag to be around, frankly. Let's suppose that Joe and Jolene get fully briefed on this issue, successfully frame it as "unfairness", and decide to take political steps to reform it. What are they supposed to do in the way of wielding a small-d democratic counterforce? What's the victory condition? I think there is one. It's doable. It would look more or less like a Swedish economic model. The Swedes are well-informed citizens. They vote. They spend reasonable amounts of money on political campaigns. They have an overwhelmingly large middle class. They have a highly confiscatory tax system that keeps the tall poppies from overshadowing the field. The Swedes have high literacy rates, honest politics, public transport, low infant mortality, relatively clean cities... The Swedes oughta be the avant-garde of mankind, I guess. We should all want to be Swedish. But everybody else just kinda stares at them and shrugs.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 31 Dec 06 07:23
The U.S. could get there, but our traditions work against us. We buy into economic inequality as something other than injustice because most of us are middle class, and many in the middle class believe that they could be ultrarich, given the right set of conditions If Bill Gates can be the richest guy in the world, there's hope for the rest of us. And the unions have less of an effect because they don't really seem dedicated to getting a fair shake for labor, their goal is self-perpetuation. What have we got to complain about? Even the poor in the USA seem rich by world standards. And for the undernourished poorest of the world's poor, the Swedish model or the way we live in the USA seem distant and unattainable. They're still hanging out at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, wondering how to take that next step up - to safety. I hang out online with people who spend most of their time jetting from conference to conference talking about emerging revolutionary web-based technologies and the convergent future of media. It struck me recently that, if they committed to a few less conferences per year and sent those unspent funds to Ethiopia and Darfur, we might at least nudge those distant folks a little toward that next step on the pyramid... and we might reduce our ecological footprint just slightly. People who can't bring themselves to stop driving SUVs or riding jets around the planet can assuage their guilt somewhat by offsetting; that's a new middle-man industry in the making, just pay into the wind infrastructure or cover the cost of planting a few trees, and you can pretend you're reducing your footprint. I'm not sure I buy it. You're headquartered in Serbia, but you told me last time we met that you're actually living out of a suitcase, traveling here and there in the world. How do you feel about your own ecological footprint? Are you offsetting? And what's your typical gig, is it mostly public speaking? Are you considering more teaching gigs like the one at Art Center?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 1 Jan 07 03:51
I do feel pretty keenly bad about my carbon emissions, but no, I don't write checks to newfangled outfits that offset. I'm an oil company kid from Texas. I'm completely and thoroughly and utterly implicated there: oil fed me in the cradle, oil bought my shoes, oil sent me to an oil-funded Texas college, oil flew me around the world several times before the age of 18... If I somehow managed to truly "offset my emissions," I'd likely cease to exist. Climate change is not gonna be combatted through voluntary acts of individual charity. It's gonna be combatted through some kind of colossal, global-scaled, multilateral, hectic, catch-as-catch-can effort to stop burning stuff, suck the burnt smoke out of the sky, and put the smoke back into the ground. That's not gonna get done a little green teacup at a time, because we've been doing it for two centuries and we don't have two centuries to undo it. "Reducing emissions" is a wrongheaded way to approach it. If "reducing emissions" is the goal, then the best technique available is to drop dead. The second-best technique is to go around killing a lot of people. Nobody's got a lighter eco-footprint than a dead and buried guy. He's not walking around leaving footprints: the Earth is piled on top of him. We're past the point where reduction helps much; we will have to invent and deploy active means of remediation of the damage. But from another, deeper perspective: we shouldn't involve outselves in lines of development where the ultimate victory condition is emulating dead people. There's no appeal in that. It's bad for us. That kind of inherent mournfulness is just not a good way to be human. We're not footprint-generating organisms whose presence on the planet is inherently toxic and hurtful. We need better handprints, not lighter footprints. We need better stuff, not less stuff. We need to think it through and take effective action, not curl up in a corner stricken with guilt and breathe shallowly. That said: I do kinda live out of a suitcase these days. I have remarkably few physical possessions: no car, for instance... and I don't seem to feel much need of such things. I used to have all kinds of writerly hardware: a printer, monitor, fax, landline phone, record player, VCR, stacks of vinyl, stacks of CDs, tons of books, multitons of magazines, newspapers piling up... That's not entirely gone, but it's cut back by a factor of ten. It's all digitized and in the laptop, basically. Or it's on the Net. I've got a genuine paperless office now. I'm more productive with less material. That doesn't feel much like green frugality or "voluntary simplicity," it just feels like a different kind of life. Which it is. It's life in another century. I do travel a whole lot. I've got a gypsy streak and a magpie temperament, I get restless. Sometimes it pays to travel, quite often it doesn't. I don't really have a "typical" gig. People ask me to go someplace and contribute something-or-other, and I look at the calendar and I generally go. Although I was teaching at Art Center, it wasn't a faculty position; it was a residency. I learned a lot more there than I managed to teach. It was very edifying to spend a year in design school; I look at the world differently now, I think differently about it. I'd do the like again; when you're a middle-aged guy, you have to engineer some events that will break up your big, fat-headed, know-it-all preconceptions.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 1 Jan 07 13:10
Can you expand on that last paragraph? More specifics about how you see the world differently and think differently? And more about breaking up know-it-all preconceptions? (I could probably use some advice there, myself.)
Bruce Umbaugh (bumbaugh) Tue 2 Jan 07 04:01
<scribbled by bumbaugh Tue 2 Jan 07 07:23>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 07 04:13
Well, the fastest way to break up know-it-all preconceptions is to get outside of the stuffy confines of your own head and engage with the grain of the material. Travel will do that in a hurry: meeting other people, other cultures. And building stuff will do that, too. A two-by-four doesn't care how glib you are. I was talking with Adam Greenfield about this recently. He's the author of the design-theory book EVERYWARE, while I wrote a somewhat similar design-theory book called SHAPING THINGS, and we were in a design school in Oslo doing some high-flown pitches about ubiquitous computing... but design students, instead of just circling catch-phrases and tucking them into a notebook, will try to *prototype* something... They try to invent and describe some coherent scheme that might actually *work for end users.* As Adam put it: you talk to them and they actually *get up and do something.* And we both find that very gratifying. I'm still very far from a hands-on mechanic, but after going to design school, I'm a lot more willing to pull out the multitool and void the warranty than I used to be. A couple of days ago the DVD player went on the fritz. It's a cheap piece of Korean junk, so I unscrewed the shell, unjammed the stuck DVD and plugged it back in. Now it's sitting there playing DVDs *naked,* with its high-speed Victrola arm exposed and a bunch of bit-eating caterpillars... I should reassemble it so it's sleek and pretty and cleanlined again, but frankly, after design school I like that gizmo *better* naked, the naked truth is more authentic. My office chair broke last month. I stared at it in natural dismay for a minute, then I thought: oh come on, you've taught design, you know all kinds of guys who've designed and built chairs, you can't just stand here gawking like some kind of rube, where is your sense of shame... so I disemboweled the chair and stuck it back together with shoe glue. It works. I mean, it's sure not as awesomely elegant as this Ross Lovegrove SuperNature chair I'm looking at, which is really a poetic anthem to 21st century Italian manufacturing processes, but when it comes to chairs, I understand that game now. I've become a design critic; I'm never be an athlete on the design gridiron, but I'm something like a sports commentator. I used to feel a certain sci-fi "sense of wonder" about design; design doesn't lack for flashy theatrical histrionics -- but what I've really come to treasure about it is that sense of *engagement.* Design isn't science and it isn't fiction, but it's is a way of knowledge and a method of action; it's a path into the poetry of things.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 2 Jan 07 06:53
You started a green design movement, Viridian Design (http://viridiandesign.org), in 2000. As someone who's been along for the right, I have a sense of its impact, and I would say that it's been extremely, if often indirectly effective at elevating a cultural perception and consciounsess of climate science and new thinking that blends environmentalism with futurism and focuses on solutions, leveraging the designers' penchant for "getting up and doing something." What's your own assessment of the Viridian Design Movement? Do you agree that it's been successful? Is there more you'd like to do with it?
Berliner (captward) Tue 2 Jan 07 08:19
And while you're chewing on that, I've got something. I, too, live in Europe, in one of those more successful than not societies, but the general perception of Sweden -- which, I agree, is a success story in so many ways -- is that, well, yeah, they've got it together, man, but they're...dull. *Irremediably* dull. And this perception is not only in the U.S., but in Germany, too, which is dull enough itself. How do you do good and stay sexy? Because that issue has to be dealt with if you want people to head down a good path.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 2 Jan 07 11:47
"And while you're chewing on that, I've got something. I, too, live in Europe, in one of those more successful than not societies, but the general perception of Sweden -- which, I agree, is a success story in so many ways -- is that, well, yeah, they've got it together, man, but they're...dull. *Irremediably* dull. And this perception is not only in the U.S., but in Germany, too, which is dull enough itself." "How do you do good and stay sexy? Because that issue has to be dealt with if you want people to head down a good path." *You want to do good and also be sexy? Be 23 years old. Fifty years from now, it's gonna take a lot of very dedicated social, political and economic engineering to be a society with any decent number of 23 year olds. But those are going to be the sex-appeal societies in 2057 AD. The unsexy societies are gonna be the ones where people were too busy clipping stock-option coupons to bother to have kids. *I know that sounds very weird and counterintuitive by the standards of the "Population Bomb" era circa 1968, but 1968 was almost 40 years ago. Wherever there is prosperity and cheap contraception, the population crashes -- it doesn't merely gently decline a bit, it CRASHES, to way below replacement level. You really want Germany to become less dull? Have more German kids, give them money, guns, and lawyers, and get out of their way. They'll be more than just mildly entertaining: you won't even know what they're talking about.
Berliner (captward) Tue 2 Jan 07 12:40
Great answer, but I may not have phrased the question right. My question was, how do you sell people a "Swedish" kind of society, that being defined as one which, as you outlined above, does a lot of things right in terms of keeping runaway wealth down, being environmentally sound(ish), and so on. Like I said, the Swedes themselves are perceived as dull, but the -- let's not capitalize it, for clarity -- swedish ideal seems pretty good. By "sexy" I meant desirable, attractive. Me, I don't care if Germany becomes less dull; I'm more thinking of an eventual swedenization of America in this case.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 2 Jan 07 14:17
I know that Sweden was more popular in the 60s, and "sexy" in a sleek blonde and proto-IKEA sense, so i wonder at the perception of dullness. Is there an economic factor? Sweden's economy is not as strong as it once was as I recall, so perhaps that's what you perceive. The US is likely to decline in relative wealth over the coming decades, so a "less is more" trendiness may have to take hold for the landing to be softened. Just my ignorant hunch.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Tue 2 Jan 07 15:20
> we shouldn't involve outselves in lines > of development where the ultimate victory condition is emulating dead > people. I just wanted to see that sentence again. It made the point with great humor.
Benjamin Kaplin (benkaplin) Wed 3 Jan 07 03:01
Bruce and Jon, How do you see drugwar policies changing in America and abroad over the next year or so? How does the rise of sophisticated black networks and their integration with militant extremist groups that John Robb's described change the dynamics of the decades-old "war" America's waging on drugs?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 07 05:44
I don't think it's entirely possible to turn America Swedish, any more than it was possible to turn America into the Confederate States of America during the past 6 years of earnest effort. I'd be guessing, though, that if there's a social change in a "Swedish" direction, it would likely start in a region, like a model city, and then percolate outward. In other words, win people over through some functional real-world examples rather than spinning them a new political framework and haranguing them about how incorrect they are. Living in Eastern Europe, I get a close-up look at the impact of European power. Some of it is political, the not particularly effectual part, and the rest of it is infrastructural and economic, stuff like banks, airports, retail chains, highways, power supplies, sewers. The power of the European regulatory and commercial structure is awesome: it comes on fast, and it comes high low and middle in a vast imperial wave. It's "soft" power, but it really is imperial power, and it doesn't brook dissent any more than a rising tide does. What's happening to places like Poland and Bulgaria now is pretty much the exact polar opposite of what's happening to Iraq.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 07 07:40
People talk about "the government" as though it was some kind of monolithic entity, but it's not. It's a framework that exists because people agree it should exist to manage the commons, however that's defined. I think the so-called neoconservatives have learned that your can use government to your own ends only as long as you have "the consent of the governed," in a complex democracy like the U.S. If you persistently misuse power, your hold on the people will unravel and you'll find yourself losing, perhaps ultimately locked out by the people, their representatives, and the system of checks and balances. Brute force dictatorships like Saddam Hussein's survive in part because people fear the alternative of the kind of chaos we see in Iraq now, which is both horrifying and fascinating, the latter because it shows us what we have when the center doesn't hold. You saw similar chaos in the former Soviet republics after the fall, no? How have those evolved? Are there lessons for Iraq?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Wed 3 Jan 07 07:50
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Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 3 Jan 07 08:49
Iraq's a petrocracy. With the signal exception of Norway, practically every nation or smashed-nation that has oil is in turmoil, running scared, rattling sabers, or just plain catching it in the neck. There's a global war for oil, but we're not getting more oil by using bayonets; we're getting less. I don't think the chaos in Iraq is some kind of scary null-state that arrives when the petrocrat is chased out of his palace. Fanatical young men are sacrificing their lives every day to create that chaos. That level of chaos is damn hard work. The chaos is there because important political and social actors are engineering it. They can't defeat the US Army hand-to-hand, but they can certainly defeat US policy. I don't think it was popular indignation at his policies that drove Bush into this corner. If gas was a buck-fifty and there was a calm puppet government in Baghdad, everyone would think W. was Teddy Roosevelt. The guy is losing a war he didn't have to start and is blowing out the bank. That's what really scares his former backers, not the one-party state, the imperial signing statements, the loss of civil liberties, spying, torture, and all the rest of it. People watch the guy make power-grab after power-grab, then he either does nothing or he blows it. The more you hand over to him, the more he screws up. He's delusionary. Putin is doing all the anti-democratic things that Bush is doing and then some, but Putin is hugely popular, seventy percent ratings. The Russians enjoy watching him work. They think he's the Man, he's poisoning traitors and turning off gas taps to entire countries... If Bush could have satisfied the angry and vengeful Red States with some similar competent acrobatics, we'd be looking at Republican dominance as far as the eye can see. I'm phrasing this in a rather raw and confrontational way here, but this guy is a lot rawer: http://www.exile.ru/2006-December-29/the_year_russia_schooled_the_west.html There's a lot of street-punk mordant irony there, but that's pretty much the story. He's telling the truth.
Jamais Cascio, OpenTheFuture.com (cascio) Wed 3 Jan 07 10:35
Hi Bruce That link reminds me to ask what you regularly read to keep up with the zeitgeist. I'd imagine that you get a lot of people sending you interesting links, link a human DEW line, but you've got to follow things on your own. What's in your list of must-reads?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 07 13:27
Contrariness on my part: "That's what really scares his former backers, not the one-party state, the imperial signing statements, the loss of civil liberties, spying, torture, and all the rest of it." That may be true of the neoconservative wonks whose corporate fantasies about the world inspired Bush's disastrous foreign (and domestic) policies, but I can't believe that ordinary Republicans who bought the party line aren't horrified by every item in your list, and a few more you didn't mention (e.g. substantial increases in national debt, devolution of the U.S. educational system, loss of global business/tech competitive edge, etc.) "Putin is doing all the anti-democratic things that Bush is doing and then some, but Putin is hugely popular, seventy percent ratings." But that's a different context, no? And given the insecurity of post-Soviet Russia, doesn't it make sense for them to embrace a former KGB strongman who seems to be having some success building an economy? *** I'm with Jamais: d'you have a public list of bookmarks anywhere?
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