inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #0 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #1 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #2 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 29 Dec 06 10:20
    <scribbled by bruces Fri 29 Dec 06 10:41>
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #3 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #4 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #5 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #6 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #7 of 104: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #8 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #9 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #10 of 104: 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.)
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #11 of 104: Bruce Umbaugh (bumbaugh) Tue 2 Jan 07 04:01
    <scribbled by bumbaugh Tue 2 Jan 07 07:23>
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #12 of 104: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #13 of 104: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #14 of 104: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #15 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #16 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #17 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #18 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #19 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #20 of 104: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #21 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #22 of 104: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Wed 3 Jan 07 07:50
    

(Those of you following along at home, at work, at school, in your favorite
Internet cafe, using a neighbor's Wi-Fi, or whatever, but not (yet) members
of the Well: send your questions or quips to the hosts at inkwell@well.com
for us to post on your behalf.)
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #23 of 104: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #24 of 104: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #25 of 104: 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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