inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #51 of 104: Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 5 Jan 07 10:57
    
I thought of it because Stamets believes mycelium may be key to
healing the ecosystem.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #52 of 104: Peter Hart-Davis (bumbaugh) Fri 5 Jan 07 13:23
    
Peter writes to comment:


"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?" ( Jon Lebkowsky   (jonl)   Wed 3
Jan 07 07:40)

Unfortunately in South Africa during the apartheid years the possibility
of impending chaos was often used to instill fear and as a threat
against those calling for apartheid's demise from within and without the
country.
This threat was built up so much that in 1994 many thousands of
predominantly white people left.  These were supposedly intelligent and
highly skilled people who were taken in by the propaganda.  While
hopefully South Africa is not the exception that proves the rule, I
believe that better lessons are and need to be learnt from South
Africa's example and at the same time South Africa should be given as
much support and encouragement in order to support that example.

Peter

PS: I hope this is not too late.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #53 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 6 Jan 07 02:15
    
Well, if a hallucinatory network of intelligent fungal filaments is in
charge of the planet's ecosystem, it needs to do a better damn job.

Y'know, as a science fiction writer, I dote on that kind of daft
deep-green whimsy, I'm kind of a connoisseur of it.  It's not much use
in case of trouble, though.  It's like going to a broken levee in New
Orleans and signalling the sky with bottle rockets because, you know,
the Space Brothers might help out.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #54 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 6 Jan 07 02:42
    
Jonl writes:

"That raises the question Jamais talked about at Worldchanging some
time ago: in reparing the damage via geoengineering, what geoethical
principles will we adopt and follow? "
(http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003189.html)

*Well, given that the situation is going to be dire and getting direr,
I'd be guessing that the first ethical principle that springs to
humanity's mind will be "an eye for an eye."  It's not enough just to
fix the sky; if the planetary house is burning down, somebody's got to
be blamed for the calamity and purged.  

The obvious candidate for people of sense would be Exxon-Mobil and
their willing subordinates, the US State Department, but it could be
most anybody, really.  We could see some kind of determined Creationist
witch-hunt for gays because their sexual practices have warped the
weather.

The last and least likely outcome would be some Mylar-clad think-tank
of wise and fully-informed ethical theorists telling us how to
ethically practice planetary engineering.  If these guys had any clout
-- hell, if they even *existed* -- we'd have never gotten into this
mess in the first place.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #55 of 104: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 6 Jan 07 06:51
    
I went back to Jamais' post at Worldchanging, and I think it's
worthwhile to post the proposed core principles here:

<quote>
Interconnectedness is a recognition that the various planetary systems
have deep and sometimes subtle cross-dependencies. Changes directly
affecting a given system cannot be assumed to be neutral with regards
to other systems; changes to (say) surface reflectivity, such as in the
urban heat island effect, can in turn result in changes to rainfall
patterns, influence the level of atmospheric ozone and particulate
matter, and help determine the degree to which light from the Sun is
absorbed.

Diversity is an argument against monocultures arising directly from
and as an unintended consequence of human activity. Direct monocultures
include commercial forest stands; unintended monocultures include the
proliferation of aggressive invasive organisms (e.g., "weeds") after
environmental shifts open up new niches. Monocultures make ecosystems
less able to survive shocks.

Foresight is not a new concept at WorldChanging, even if expressed in
somewhat different language. Ecological and geophysical changes tend to
be slow, in human terms, and it's important when considering the
implications of proposed actions to think in terms of the planet's
pace, not just society's pace. An example would be the (as of now
uncommon) recognition that global warming involves slow but relentless
changes, such that quick shifts in human behavior will have no
noticeable immediate effect.

Integration is an explicit counter to the "die-off" line of thinking
that places the needs of human societies below all other systems on the
planet. Not only does the "die-off" argument result in ecological
disaster as desperate societies try to grab remaining resources, its
logic leads to the argument that (a) since human society is inherently
unsustainable, and (b) since the planet, given sufficient time, can
recover from any environmental burden we place on it before we die,
there's no reason to be cautious, and we should do as we like with no
concern for the future. Seeing human societies as part of the planet's
systems, and as worthy of preservation and protection as any other
part, allows for a longer-term perspective.

Expansion of Options encompasses "sustainability," but is a larger
concept. This means more than simply finding a sustainable balance of
use and preservation; expansion of options means actively seeking
behaviors that return more resources to the planet than they take, that
emphasize renewal and reuse, and that provide a growing, diverse basis
for future innovation.

Reversibility is an attempt to capture the idea that, where possible,
we should bias towards those choices that allow for reconsideration if
unanticipated and undesirable consequences arise. Reversibility will
not always be an option -- indeed, when matched with the Foresight
principle, we may not recognize a problem until well after the option
of reversal has passed. But when reversible options are available, they
should be given special consideration.

These principles and the statement of geoethics are obviously
works-in-progress, and need greater refinement, elaboration and vision.
I welcome and encourage suggestions and argument. 
<end quote>

There's a manifesto in there somewhere, something that would also
reveal the daunting complexity of climate change to those folks who
hear "global warming" and think it's about temperature alone. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #56 of 104: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 6 Jan 07 10:25
    

I saw a clip from a movie about Mass Extinctions at a local benefit for
channel 29 (cable access free speech tv in San Francisco.)  A group of
assorted experts talking about the projection of losing half the species of
life in a 30 to 50 year time span, given no changes in human culture and
behavior.

(Then they noted that was extinctions; that population colapse is
just as threatening -- say if the honeybee survives unimpared in Italy
but nowhere else, so it is not extinct, but the impact on the rest of the
world is still catastrophic.  Very sobering, and perhaps the opposite 
tone than what WorldChanging likes to take, but compelling enough that it
is really bothering me.  I guess i could pass this disturbing jolt of
unwated information along for all interested... the film is still 
in production, evidently, but arresting the trailer is up. 
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/07/call_of_life_fa.php )

But the thing I wanted to post about was forecasting, futurism and
speculative imagination.  

Bruce, I accidentally came across the rant you did at CFP in 1994 
(It's not long, and it's still up in the "text museum" at the WELL Gopher, 
here: http://www.well.com:70/0/Publications/authors/Sterling/cfp4 
and will be, since we like keeping that archive.)

Reading it I though a lot about what scared net advocates then and now.
Kudos for than as now looking past distractions like both kidporn and the
war on adults sharing adult content, at the "war on Terra" and 
bigger questions and threats to our continued human dreaming.

Are there things you've predicted with near certainty that just faded
away?  Do you play it safe with prognostication?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #57 of 104: Christian Crumlish (xian) Sat 6 Jan 07 12:53
    
I can't proxy Stamets' entire thesis but I think he's saying that the
mycelium filaments are overwhelmed by our effect on the biosphere but
that if we learn to cultivate them in various ways they can help clean
up and restore a lot of the toxic and otherwise fscked up stuff.

I don't have the science to judge any of this (and for that matter I'm
only a chapter or two into his book) - but he isn't just waving magic
pixie wand and saying we should clap for tinkerbell to heal the earth.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #58 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 7 Jan 07 02:18
    
Hey, if Tinker Bell could really pull that off, I'd be willing. I hear
Tinker Bell can repair pots and pans. That sounds laudably practical.

There are a number of serious-minded people who think that plankton
and/or various microbes could affect CO2 levels within a short time. 
That's an unusual way to think, but it isn't delusionary.  If somebody
started further claiming that plankton has a Gaian artificial
intelligence because they're all in the same planetary soup, then I
would balk somewhat.

I know it's impossible to "predict the future."  Given my personal
druthers, I prefer to fantasize about stuff.  Like, writing Kafka-like
parables where talking insects wisecrack to each other.  Mostly about
the exigencies of evolutionary biology and what a drag it is.

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/sterling2/

As a writer, I think I'm kind of on top of my game with a piece like
that; it is daft whimsy, because talking fireflies are not really far
at all from Disney and Tinker Bell; but it's creative and unusual, and
it has cult appeal; if you somehow like that sort of thing, that's
really the sort of thing you would like.

But that isn't enough.  Not near enough.  The exigencies of the time
require more from me than amusing myself with a little jeux d'esprit. 
Around 1998 I realized that people really *needed* somebody willing to
"predict the future."  Of course, that's not possible, but "without
vision, the people perish."  The need is severe.  People actually *pine
away* if they're told they have to get up in the morning and blindly
slog their way through just another day.  They need a bigger picture
than that, and if nothing is offered to them other than utter nonsense,
then they will hold their noses and bolt down the utter nonsense.

So, even though it's clearly impossible and intellectually fraudulent
in some strict sense, *somebody* ought to "predict the future."  I
mean, not just do demographic models and some dry corporate trend
forecasting, but actually wrap the future up in a big-picture  package
and sprinkle some Tinker Bell dust.  That job really needs doing.  
Otherwise, fundamentalists simply recruit everyone, strap bombs on them
and promise them pie in the sky.  They're doing a great job at that,
actually.  Al Qaeda's got visionary daring.  They do things that are
ethically contemptible, but the grandeur of their vision allows them to
put that over everybody else.  They are necromancers.  And they sure
know how to play that game.

The classic version of a science fiction writer pulling this stunt off
would be L. Ron Hubbard.  So, the track record isn't that great, and
it's clearly a treacherous and morally ambiguous line of work, but,
what the hell: I'll do it.  I'll volunteer.  I'm a strange guy.  I do a
lot of odd stuff.  You need some future predicted?  Absolutely, fine,
I'll predict some future for you.  I know all about that line of work. 
I don't want you to join my cult, empty your pockets into my bank
account, or blow yourself up for me, but I am a literal, no-kidding
"Visionary."  I can do that kind of stuff, for whatever it's worth.
People *like* me to do it, they're really grateful. Been doing it for
years.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #59 of 104: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 7 Jan 07 09:07
    
As you know, I spend a fair amount of time hanging out with our mutual
friend, professional futurist Derek Woodgate. I like his approach;
it's not about predicting, it's about *creating* the future. He
identifies various trends in his clients' field of interest, and he
helps them decide which ones they care about, what probable outcomes
serve them best, and how to favor those outcomes and make them happen.
Isn't that what you've done, to some extent, with the Viridian Design
Movement?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #60 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 02:40
    
Derek is a fun guy to hang out with.  He always
knows something new.

Still, I'm not quite in Derek's line of work, because I don't
have any clients.  In business-futurism, it's the client
who provides the grain of the material.  It's not about
the ENTIRE future, it's about the client's future and what
the client might possibly do about it.  In which case I think
Derek's approach is entirely sensible.  

Designers have clients, too.  When I talk to design classes
about futurism I urge them to get really close to the client.
They generally know how to get really close to the user,
so this is their natural path into that related line
of work.

"Visionaries" don't have any clients.  Visionaries have
audiences (assuming they can get anybody to listen).
The visionary business isn't even a business, it's one
of those vague, handwaving, semi-literary, cultural things.
Visionaries generally have some kind of compulsive
quality and a haunted look, they're not efficient
functionaries, they're frayed around the edges.

I sent out a Viridian Note today which is about Bob
Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, getting into the
clean energy business.  Bob's not a client of mine,
I don't work for him or vice versa, but I've been
moaning and howling for years on my little mailing list
that the Silicon Valley - Route 128 crowd needs to
tackle climate change.  Now that's actually happening,
so I guess I could jump up and down, oooh ooh ooh,
the futurist, he's so foresightful...  but I don't
feel that way about it.  It's not like I caused it.
To me, it was a blatantly obvious development that's
been taking forever to occur.  

Now that it's here, I'm already wondering about what comes next.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #61 of 104: Richard York (bumbaugh) Mon 8 Jan 07 07:21
    
Richard York writes:


Jon and Bruce:

Jon states, quite correctly, that post-feudal governments really do require
the consent of the governed and that the principal function of modern
government has been protect the commons.  I have come to believe that, as a
result of a long (40 year) series of unintended consequences, the commons
has been deeply eroded.

To some extent the old commons is being replaced by online communities and
other affinity groups.  But, there does not seem to be a whole lot of the
kind of cross pollination of ideas which occurred when people of differing
economic, cultural and social backgrounds were forced together in the draft
or in the ghettoes.

How does each of you identify the commons, particularly in the US?  Is it
still there and if not, how do we rebuild some 21st century version of it?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #62 of 104: Shebar Windstone (bumbaugh) Mon 8 Jan 07 07:22
    
Shebar Windstone e-mails us to say:


Not that courts are doing a very good job of adjudicating crimes committed
by corporations (/corporate executives) & government agencies (/government
officials, military officers & heads of agencies) in which toxic or
radioactive chemicals & wastes -- or, as in the case of oil, natural
substances used unnaturally -- have injured or killed hundreds of thousands
of human beings & their progeny, but do you think it would be possible &
desirable to have an international court comparable to the International
Criminal Court to prosecute crimes against nature (the environment, wildlife
& subcellular life forms)?

What other systematized ways can you think of to get people to think of
ecological crimes -- e.g., pollution, waste of energy, waste & despoilation
of natural resources, planned obsolescence, lack of mass transit, sub/urban
planning that necessitates long commutes, the destruction of species & their
habitats -- as being as reprehensible as rape, child abuse & sexploitation,
mass murder or genocide, & to act accordingly? (I'm ignoring the fact that
the UN & the EU are sitting with their thumbs in their assholes while
soldiers get medals, corporations get rich & politicians make hay out of
rape, child abuse & sexploitation, mass murder & genocide.) And to change
the current system in which the profits made from irresponsible/criminal
production, system designs & land/water/air (ab)use & exploitation are
privatized but taxpayers usually get stuck with the bills for clean-ups &
damage (in the rare instances where they occur)?

My only other idea -- for those beancounters & lawyers who insist on
quantifying the unquantifiable -- is that the costs of recycling or disposal
of every object should be computed into its sales price & stated on a label
just as ingredients, caloric/nutritional content & health warnings are given
(or obscured) now. Maybe also the value of resources used in production that
cannot be recycled. In the USA, we put the price of a nickel (or a dime in
Maine) on a soda/pop bottle (& water bottles in Maine & California). What's
the environmental cost of a nonreturnable water/juice/sports drink bottle or
the packaging materials of an Unhappy Meal? What's the environmental cost
when a creature eats that bottle? (Incidentally, tracking recyclable
components might be one use for RFIDs, but what are the environmental costs
of an RFID, the tools & energy used to track it, & its eventual
disposal/recycling?) Would such a resource use & recycling tax (a value-
subtracted tax, if you will) deter producers & consumers from sticking
future generations (if there are any) with the bills?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #63 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 08:56
    
Here's Clay Shirky and a colleague hammering out the
economics of Second Life by dredging up all kinds of
fragmentary data and putting it in charts.

http://tnl.net/blog/2007/01/05/running-the-numbers-on-second-life/

Boy this thing is awesomely dull.  I thought virtuality
was supposed to be all sense-of-wonder-ish.
  
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #64 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 09:20
    
I think the commons have eroded for a number of reasons.
Everybody concerned with them would like to have some
kind of high-level solution for this, one that goes
along with cool sociological phraseology like "the commons."
Like, is there a policy decision somewhere that would
legislate the commons?  Could I push the f-1 function
key and get some commons back?

But really: would you LIKE to be drafted just so you
can hang out with a bunch of armed guys with whom you share
no other interests?  You could join a political party.
You could volunteer with an NGO.  Those are "commons."
You'd find yourself making a whole lot of deeply felt,
open-ended personal commitments for no money. I know
people who do that.  A commons will cluster right around
them, they're community leaders, they've got a lot of friends.
I get tired just watching those people.

"The commons" isn't a single thing, it's a whole bunch
of little micro-acts of social capital, like throwing
open your doors and having a big party for all your
friends and anybody they want to bring along.  It feels great
when you do it, and you think, wow, I should do this more
often... but you could just go get a sixpack and watch
the Simpsons, and man, that's a whole lot cheaper.  Plus that
machine is a professional entertainer. Plus, I'm lazy.
I could go out and stir up a few quarts of "commons,"
or else I could just go out bowling alone.  Never mind,
I won't even go bowling.  Get some websurfing done here,
open me another bag o' potato chips.

People form big rambunctious supportive communities when
there's nothing much else to do.  A hoe-down and a barn-raising,
man, those were great.  You check out modern postindustrial America
and see how many single people live alone now.  Awesome numbers of
them.  Unprecedented.  Because now they can do it:
the market gives them food, shelter, clothing, the works.
They're not dependent on a commons.  If it erodes,
they don't suffer much from the loss.  If everybody's
ripping off little bits of it and nobody's restoring
it, of course the commons is gonna erode.  That's
"the tragedy of the commons."
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #65 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 09:44
    
"Not that courts are doing a very good job of adjudicating crimes
committed by corporations (/corporate executives) & government agencies
(/government officials, military officers & heads of agencies) in
which toxic or radioactive chemicals & wastes -- or, as in the case of
oil, natural substances used unnaturally -- have injured or killed
hundreds of thousands of human beings & their progeny, but do you think
it would be possible & desirable to have an international court
comparable to the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes
against nature (the environment, wildlife
& subcellular life forms)?"

*It wouldn't surprise me at all if there were a lot of show trials
when the climate crisis hits the fan.  I don't think they're gonna be
because of crimes committed against "subcellular life forms."  I don't
think vacuoles and RNA strands can hire lawyers. 

*I'd be guessing that an International Crimes Court in a climate
crisis would work about as well as an International Crimes Court works
in any big crisis.  You can't try the entire population for crimes, --
and of course we're all guilty, to one degree or another -- so you
round up the loudest and most obvious malefactors, get them the hell
away from the levers of power, see if they'll testify against one
another...  You spend a whole lot of time worrying about the ones who
haven't been apprehended yet...  the ones who DO get apprehended
commonly don't have to dangle from a rope Saddam Hussein style, they
just do some time and get conjugal visits and eventually they drag on
home, where the recidivists throw 'em a big spaghetti dinner...  That's
how it works, the International Justice biz.

*I don't want to come across all cynical about this; I'd love to see
the entire board of directors of Exxon-Mobil in The Hague, especially
the retired ones, and I'd bet good money, too, that when they read the
newspapers and see how badly they misjudged the situation, they know
they belong there.  But we're not gonna be able to wave some magic
Hague wand and create worldwide green social justice and a completely
new and more advanced economic order through judicial activism.  That's
asking too much from international crimes courts, which are small,
clannish, poorly budgeted little institutions.

*I hang out in the Balkans a lot.  I've seen this kind of thing done. 
It's not that it's not worth doing.  I think it's quite likely to
happen; polluting the entire sky is the biggest market failure in the
history of the human race, when the Hamptons and Malibu start going
under water, really rich and powerful people are gonna get mad and
vengeful.  Something will bust loose, and a court is a better place for
that than a battlefield.  

*I wouldn't outguess the course of justice, either.  If Westinghouse
were running a climate-crimes court they'd indict hippies for blocking
nuclear power plants.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #66 of 104: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 8 Jan 07 13:32
    
Hmmm... don't give 'em any ideas.

That question about the Commons reminds me of Sandy Stone's taped
presentation a decade ago at a virtual community miniconference we put
together in Austin, also featuring Howard Rheingold and Tom Jennings.
Sandy noted that people originally sat on benches and in pews, i.e.
group seating arrangements, and the only guy who had a single chair was
the king. That was the real commons... people inherently thrown
together, whole families living in a single room, everybody sitting
together, eating together, talking and listening together. She followed
a line of evolution in the industrial middle classes, to a point where
nuclear families live one family to a house, and individuals are
isolated in their own rooms. If I remember correctly, she was saying
that the virtual community movement was an attempt to have a group life
again... neotribalism, we sometimes called it. Virtual community was
also a way to build new kinds of physical community - e.g. Burning Man
was organized online.

We think we want to be rugged individualists, but I think we all yearn
for the commons, or for community. We just inherently form groups. All
the social network research of the last few years suggests that the
network, the system of hubs, nodes, and connections, manifests an
inherent organizing principle... everything from cells to stars have
network structures.

To the extent there's been an erosion of the commons, I think it's so
detrimental to our nature that, one way or another, we'll regroup, but
to have a functional social commons you have to have trust, and we're a
little short of that particular item these days.

On New Years' Eve, I was at something called First Night in downtown
Austin. Thousands of people gathered for a parade, art extravaganza,
and fireworks. Every kind of person you could think of, hanging out
together, just milling around and digging the scene. It seems to me
that there are more and more of those massive gatherings.

Though I've never gone to Burning Man, I know a lot of people who do
go there, and they've formed strong social bonds. In an annual
Temporary Autonomous Zone, the form a commons the experience of which
has become the basis for just about everything they do. And they seem a
little more trusting, and more inclined to live communally.

Quite a few of those same people, incidentally, are engaged in
commons-based peer production via various Open Source development
projects. 

This is a bit of a ramble, I'm not sure where it's going; I guess the
bottom line is that I'm less sure that there's been an erosion of the
Commons.

***

Bruce, I've been meaning to ask you about outer space. You've written
your share of space fiction. What are your thoughts about commercial
space companies - Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic? And the mind-blowing
advances in space research over the last few years, from up-close
exploration of Mars to the just-published map of dark matter in the
universe? 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #67 of 104: Cogito, Ergo Spero (robertflink) Mon 8 Jan 07 19:25
    
>I have come to believe that, as a result of a long (40 year) series
of unintended consequences, the commons has been deeply eroded.<

The "commons" may actually be dynamic with aspects being added while
others are being lost. Global travel, education, the internet may be
considered examples of commons that have emerged over the last century
as accessible to large numbers of people.

BTW, the benefits of future predictions may be more in thinking in the
larger scope/scale than in the accuracy of any one prediction. This is
like the idea that planning is worthwhile even if a specific plan need
to be taken with a significant quantity of salt. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #68 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:33
    
I like outer space.

If you're a science fiction writer, as I am, and you say you like
outer space, it sounds very Captain Future and therefore kind of corny,
but the thing I like best about outer space is the irreducible
outerness of it.  It's bigger than human pretense.  It doesn't care
what we think.

 I mean: Saturn and the rings of Saturn, they're not  merely our
earthly  myths and  ideas and concepts of  Saturn... you can blast a
machine the size of a bus to go hang out in orbit there and snoop
around Saturn, and by golly, it's all ACTUALLY THERE.   The rings are
braided, there's, like, lightning blasts and weird gravitational fogs
flowing through them, giant permanent hurricanes, moons erupting,
fields of dunes, lakes of methane...   They're real, it's a real place,
and it's unearthly.   It's all churning along there, doing its  vast
and vigorous and utterly un-human thing, been there for billions of
years, doesn't mind about us and all the tiny, distant issues that make
us fret... That's a source of wonderment, really, and not the cheap
sleight-of-hand mystification that commonly poses as wonder, but
actual, irreducible wonder.    I think that's a healthy emotion for
human beings to have.  Wonderment at our role in this very strange
cosmos is a kind of realism.  We ought to make it our business to
understand a lot more about that.

When it comes to private, toy manned spaceships, I don't grudge the
geek ultra-wealthy their hobbies.  I wish those guys would take over
manned space exploration entirely, and that the entirety of NASA's
funding  would be spent on the science budget.    For the price of
political Buck Rogers pretenses we could saturate the solar system with
cheap videocams.  

I think manned space flight is a stunt at this point in time.  It's a
cool stunt, but it conveys very little in the way of practical
accomplishment.   Manned space flight is something like an extremely
expensive, heavily politicized Disney thrill ride.  If manned space
flight is  about the thrill for the sake of the thrill, it makes sense
to sell spaceflight as elite entertainment.  Why should we tax
ourselves for that kind of whimsy if Richard Branson can sell it?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #69 of 104: Richard Evans (rje) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:48
    
The problem is not whether or not to participate in a commons as such,
but rather what kind of commons to join.

Hanging out at Burning Man is not the same thing as hanging out at a
Southern Baptist Convention even though the participants of both may
feel they are participating in a kind of commons. 
 
In respect to the environment what is needed- in part- is not merely
new commons or networks but rather new sets of information and ways of
thinking which inform the structure and behaviour of those networks. Or
rather new ways to connect ideas to action.

It's a content thing.

After all even evil terrorist types use email to create a malignant
commons. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #70 of 104: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:49
    
"BTW, the benefits of future predictions may be more in thinking in
the larger scope/scale than in the accuracy of any one prediction. This
is like the idea that planning is worthwhile even if a specific plan
need to be taken with a significant quantity of salt."

It's been said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but it's
also said that the *act* of planning is the key to victory.  I've been
to a lot of futurist scenario planning.   That conveys many of its
benefits as encounter therapy.  Just getting twenty-five people into a
room, dividing them into teams, getting them to focus on speculative
topics, getting them to interrelate while talking future strategy... A
lot of crowd-wisdom is unleashed by doing that.  

People can accomplish a hell of a lot in groups if they can get on the
same strategic page.   If an army thinks its cause is just and its
goals make sense, it's a formidable army, even if the war itself is
mistaken or absurd: "The War of Jenkins' Ear," for instance. 
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #71 of 104: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 05:05
    <scribbled by jonl Tue 9 Jan 07 07:55>
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #72 of 104: Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Tue 9 Jan 07 05:31
    
<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.>

Sorry to join this conversation late, but I need to seriously question
this assertion, or if not the assertion than the implications. 

John Robb has been running an interesting blog called "Global
Guerillas" and for some time he has been flogging the idea of "open
source warfare"--the concept that increasingly loose networks of fairly
autonomous cells can put their techniques out on the open net and
everyone can use them for free. Haven taken a couple spins through Iraq
and seen the idea in action, I think he's on to something. Despite the
serious diversity in groups waging war in Iraq, over time their
tactics and technologies tend to become similar. This is true even when
the groups involved seem diametrically opposed. For example, Shia
groups (probably supported or trained by Iranian Hizballah) were
probably the first elements in Iraq to use truly effective EFP IEDs
(which can destroy armor) and homemade claymore mines. But there wasn't
much of a lag time before Sunni groups started picking up the
techniques too. How the information transferred is certainly a matter
for investigation, but the bottom line is that it didn't take that long
and it apparently wasn't that difficult. There was a visible learning
curve when the Sunni groups started in, but the curve went fast.

Here's the real kicker, though: there's no reason on earth that the
"open source warfare" model cannot be applied to other revolutionary
human endeavors. For example, could an "insurgent" group develop a
technique for making cleaner fuel and spread the model to other groups?
I'd argue that with the advent of biodiesel refining (which can
literally be done in any garage) this is already happening. Watch what
happens if someone figures out which fungi can be readily made into
cellulytic digesters for ethanol feedstocks. It could be really
interesting. 

There are a lot of reasons why I think open source networks may prove
more effective than fabulously wealthy individuals. For one, it's
cheaper. Who the hell is going to buy music from David Geffen when they
can download for free? The Gates and Rockefellers of the world will
certainly try to control how and where their money is used. People who
are less financially empowered may not agree, and so they will find
ways to go around the need for finances. For another, it's not that
hard. Not everyone is smart enough to design an infrared IED trigger,
but once the basic elements are prepared it's not that hard to cobble
one together. There are "hackers" embedded in every revolutionary
community, and once they figure their thing out the information spreads
quickly. In addition, there are a lot more open source network members
than there are fabulously individuals, so in the aggregate their
efforts may count for more. Finally, the availability of world-changing
technology has really flattened out. The internal combustion engine is
everywhere, the internet is damn near everywhere, and in time we will
probably see technologies like nano-assembly and gene hacking
everywhere. (As an interesting aside, my brother with his new BS in
botany tells me that plant genetic engineering technology may reach
garage level in about a decade. Maybe he's just an optimistic
twentysomething, but what if he's right? How do you control technology
like that?) As a confluence of factors creates a more chaotic future,
there will be more and more external motivation for revolutionary
networks to stand up and try their hand at changing the world. I think
it's inevitable, and hierarchies will not be able to put a lid on it.
As a member of a hierarchy, I have developed a respect for the networks
that are kicking our ass for pennies on the dollar. 

This does not mean, of course, that rule by open source networks is
going to be a wholly positive thing. The megacity of Lagos can be
looked upon as a massive adaptive open source system, but most
observers consider it a disaster. Still, we've had rule by wealthy
elites for some time, and it's not a wholly positive phenomenon either.
The future isn't going to be boring, that's for sure.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #73 of 104: Credo, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Tue 9 Jan 07 06:18
    
>I think that's a healthy emotion for human beings to have. 
Wonderment at our role in this very strange cosmos is a kind of
realism.  We ought to make it our business to understand a lot more
about that.<

I like the idea that "wonder" is more real than "knowing". "Knowing"
may be more appealing to those for whom "wonder" is a fearful thing. 
"Wonder" speaks of openness. "Knowing" as in the case of certitude may
well be a dead end.
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #74 of 104: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 08:10
    
Reading #70 above, I flashed on a vision of futurist politicians. How
different would the world be if legislators spent their sessions in
charrettes, planning and validating scenarios?

echodog, does "Open Source" really present an alternative to markets
and wealth? Or is it just about a different medium of exchange?
  
inkwell.vue.289 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2007
permalink #75 of 104: Jamais Cascio (cascio) Tue 9 Jan 07 09:20
    
The budget for the Mars Rover project (Spirit & Opportunity) came to just a
bit more than a single pre-Columbia shuttle launch. While the Mars Rover
budget has been boosted, no doubt, as the bots keep going, the cost per
launch of the shuttle is much higher now, too, post-Columbia.

Jon, I can tell you that it's really interesting to see political leaders
grappling with scenarios. I was in Hawaii for the kick off of the
Sustainability 2050 project, a massive futurism exercise funded by the
Hawaii legislature over the veto of the governor. Lots of legislators were
in attendance, and they really got into it. I'm not sure how much they got
the process, but they clearly were engaged with the content.

<echodog>, your brother isn't an optimist, he's being overly conservative.
Plant genetics isn't just garage, it's *kid's toys*:

http://tinyurl.com/xlhn

(Discovery Channel "DNA Explorer for Kids" -- includes centrifuge, magnetic
mixer, and electrophoresis chamber. $80. Been out for a couple of years
now.)

Serious plant genetic engineering is available to moderately talented
undergrads now, and will probably be possible in high schools within a
decade. Take a look at "Carlson Curves:"

http://synthesis.typepad.com/synthesis/2006/08/bedroom_biology.html
  

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