Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 08:53
"Your dismissive tone to this historical movement comes across as though you've don't appreciate or take for granted many of the transformations that resulted from that earlier activism, such as a raised consciousness to energy conservation, healthier eating, the manner in which we use our military resources, etc." *Well, if the historical movement had actually *achieved* those things, as opposed to preaching about 'em, I'd be all reverential. No, I wouldn't be all reverential, I frankly don't care, but look: *"a raised consciousness to energy conservation" Consciousness isn't actually conservative of anything, and the US doesn't "conserve" anywhere near as much energy as, say, Japan, where they didn't bother to act all pious about it. *"healthier eating" You're aware of the fact on the ground that there's an obesity epidemic, right? A mainstreaming of sprouts and tofu didn't change that. "the manner in which we use our military resources" *This assertion I frankly don't understand.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 09:26
"my perceptions of peak oil are affected by my surroundings -- a mess of clueless people buying poorly built 6,000 square-foot houses and driving 2 hours each way to work in three-ton SUVs..." *I know there are a lot of people who think that the American Way of Life Is Not Negotiable... Cheney was perfectly willing to wreck that American prosperity in order to save it... but I sincerely don't think the American population is as mentally frail as everybody in the American population seems to think the American population is. For instance, I never heard any American ever express any genuine fear of Al Qaeda. "He's powerful... he's ruthless and strong... I'm afraid of him; we'd better do what he says." I never heard any American, even from the weirdest and most extreme fringes of the American polity, actually express any genuine terror of bin Laden. They're just not intimidated. And he is scary, but he's nowhere near so scary as the full-scale terror lockdown TSA bullshit security-theater would suggest inside America. Americans don't tremble all over and need a Daddy because of Osama bin Laden. They got plenty of politicians eager to volunteer for the post of Long Emergency Dictator (because you get to abduct and torture people and wiretap AT&T and cool stuff like that), but they're not a naturally timorous people at the point of mental breakdown from a terror campaign. Similarly, I never heard any American sincerely say that their life would end if they lacked an SUV and a Mc Mansion. Those are fashionable possessions in some circles, but they're not entirely necessary to American self-esteem. Big junkola cars and tract homes are actually something of a hayseed lower-middle-class possession. Genuinely rich Americans are vastly more interested in immaterial stuff like stock options and boardroom positions than they are in big burly vehicles. The SUV-critique thing is more like bohemians dismissing the straight-life than it is a principle of consumer behavior. If you go to the Davos Forum you don't meet a traffic jam of SUVs. You do see a traffic jam of sunglassed bodyguards and elegant, multi-lingual mistresses clad in Gucci, but not a lot of, you know, big Winnebagos. If civilization cracks, it's gonna be because something really cracks it, not because it's really scary to talk about terror and loss.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 5 Jan 08 09:34
Reacting to #50 and #51: <rant> Though there was interesting, often visionary thinking about the future of the environment in the 60s and 70s, any mainstreaming of that thinking was a best a fad, and at worst, it was part of an extended tantrum, a rebellion of the privileged who were too young and inexperienced to understand that they were in an exceptional context, richer and smarter than any generation before them, but without any real tradition of wisdom to guide them. Us, I should say, because I was one of them. Our parents didn't know how to respond, they were still in shock, still recovering from their own close encounter with the terrible reality of global war, a reality they glossed through postwar cinema and television, with romanticized technicolor re-creations, sanitized battle scenes and heroic inferences. We bought those depictions, and were disillusioned when we encountered the world as is, peered into the heart of darkness ourselves in Vietnam and in our own troubled cities and lives. How could we think clearly, en masse, and create anything of lasting value? We were spoiled brats, terribly egocentric. We used the environmental movement as a tool of rebellion and a manifestation of our despair as we saw the world more clearly, and we weren't equipped to create viable solutions. I don't think we raised consciousness all that much. I think we told ourselves we were growing more aware as we fell into a stupor. Think of all the drugs we consumed... and look at the glut we've permitted ourselves. </rant> (BTW I saw a film a couple of nights ago, "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," that was resonant - his "higher" environmental awareness drove the egocentric Jack into isolation, and his rejection of the world infected his daughter, Rose, in a terrible way.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 5 Jan 08 09:42
#52: In fact much of the residential building these days seems to be high-density. The wealthy people I know are wanting downtown condos (which, unfortunately at the moment, only they can afford), and they want to drive Toyota Priuses or pluggable hybrids... or buy expensive bicycles and tool around on 'em. When you say "it's gonna be because something really cracks it," are you thinking exclusively physical-catastrophic event (sudden climate shift, asteroid or supervolcano)? Is there a preventable sociopolitical "crack" out there we should be worrying about, or are you assuming society in general is level enough to prevent something like a declaration of martial law next November?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 5 Jan 08 09:47
"Genuinely rich Americans are vastly more interested in immaterial stuff like stock options and boardroom positions..." Well, no shit. I've never been to Davos, but I've been to Georgia on a fast train, and yes, the mini-Mansion/SUV thing is a hayseed pursuit of sorts, although if you're lower-middle-class in this area, no big tract homes for you, even after the recent (so far modest) decline in prices. There are, of course, different lifestyles of the rich and famous, I've seen everything from glitzy and tacky to very low profile to gloomy old houses with millions of dollars of art on the wall to whatever -- I guess that's one of the things about being rich - you get to choose. I agree that only a minority of people, albeit a somewhat vocal one, is really terrified by bin Laden & ilk. We did have a few people here on the WELL who pretty much seemed to "snap" after 9/11. And there's always Dennis Miller. Anyway, I'm not sure if we really disagree. To raise the Nazis again (oh why not, although Godwin may come here to dump on us) one of the reasons that some people were so convinced that area bombing of cities would lead to instant surrender is because they figured life would just grind to a halt in such horrific conditions. But of course it didn't -- people kept going to their jobs, kept carrying on in whatever way they could. Although yes, at the very end, social institutions had collapsed to the extent that there was not really anything resembling a German civil government to sign the surrender. But I'm not expecting a firebombing campaign followed by a Red Army invasion any time soon. I agree that humans are adaptable -- especially if the choices are adapt or die. But I think that the degree of adaptation required by Peak Oil will be quite considerable. A couple of slips by Mr. Lebkowsky there....
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 5 Jan 08 11:37
*Well, if the historical movement had actually *achieved* those things, as opposed to preaching about 'em, I'd be all reverential. No, I wouldn't be all reverential, I frankly don't care, *"healthier eating" You're aware of the fact on the ground that there's an obesity epidemic, right? A mainstreaming of sprouts and tofu didn't change that. "the manner in which we use our military resources" *This assertion I frankly don't understand. The systemic challenges we're talking about were first looked at in an integrated manner by large numbers of people in the late 60s and 70s. Of course, the "alternative society" envisioned by that diverse body of concerned people only somewhat changed the mainstream. Those things that could be commoditized, or which fit into larger political objectives were adopted, coopted by the larger culture. The fact that many of the concerns were not "achieved" may only mean that the day of reckoning for those concerns were delayed. The problems facing us are systemic and fueled by an economic system that has become in our information age ever more efficient at extracting and distributing finite resources. Of course, some of the proponents of change were ego-centric, pious, on the spiritual fringes, part of radical "Green" politics, etc. Your dismissiveness seems to conflate individual motivation with the goals of those looking to find solutions to perceived problems facing humans. Isn't America's growing obesity problem the result of a proliferation of old school fast foods/ time pressures making the home cooked meal less common/ electronic cocooning of our kids. Suggesting that increased information/awareness of healthier eating choices is responsible for those choosing to ignore them, is ludicrous. Bush/Cheney could also be termed ego-centric, pious, on the spiritual fringes, and part of radical politics (not "Green", but neo-conservative). The difference is that Bush/Cheney only give a shit about the "base" of supporters that the current "system" rewards, and not the least about these larger concerns. They are far more radical on the world stage than those addressing Global Warming, energy shortages, etc. Just because the system was not changed as a result of those who wished for systemic change in the 60s/70s, does not negate the concerns that were addressed then. One problem with Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld is that they are so reactionary to the best that their own generation had to offer that they are making age-old mistakes such as using military might to solve internal political problems in foreign lands. If there is one lesson that should have been learned in Vietnam, irrespective of one's politics, is that it is much easier to enter a war than to exit from one. As for my military comment, which applies to the overall statement, there was a brief time when the youth of the U.S. seized the moral high ground on questions of war, the environment, organic foods, etc. It was a largely leaderless voice that did raise consciousness on a number of fronts. One of the reasons why the US military establishment didn't invade anywhere (other than Granada) in the late 70s and 80s, was because it was politically unpalatable in the wake of Vietnam. The neo-conservative "radicalism" of Bush & friends flies in the face of those earlier consciousness gains.
Jon Berlin (bumbaugh) Sat 5 Jan 08 13:07
(another contribution from off-Well) Bruce, I 'm pleased to see that you are engaged this year as I very much enjoy these discussions. It is good stuff. Interesting that a lot of the recent discussion here (oil, population, government control) are ideas kicked around in 'Counting Heads' by David Marusek. Everything doesn't even out in a good democratic/socialist sense: The divide between the rich and poor is larger than ever and government is more pervasive than ever albeit abetted by corporate greed. It's a bit of what used to be called a Negative Utopia but now may be called 'the way things are going'. Related to the events described in the book is the American people are now subject to some of the highest levels of public surveillance in the world (along with Britain, Russia, China, etc.) and don't seem to mind because they are so entertained and the opportunity for entertainment is abundant. Large screen LCDs are flying off the shelves as are virtually every type of media geegaw. With the advent of user generated content added to existing corporate content and IP delivery of all content the choices are overwhelming. It's a circus. Given the widening gap between the rich and poor the bread is unevenly distributed but the entertainment is available for all and people will find a way to get their entertainment even if they have to sacrifice some of the bread to do it. So the question: Is the circus going to keep us entertained and consuming on a worldwide scale until we and everything else are all used up and still subject to increased draconian governmental controls or are people using some of what is available to them and starting to think? Where are the pockets of resistance? Thanks, jon Jon Berlin
Julian Bond (bumbaugh) Sat 5 Jan 08 13:09
(and this from off-Well, too) On apocaphilia, I've been thinking back to your earliest novels and the Shapers vs Mechanists (and Ribofunk). There seem to me to be some parallels in approaches between reality now and some of those themes. The Shaper approach to peak oil might perhaps be vast vats of genetically engineered algae converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into petroleum pre-cursors directly. The Mechanist approach might be renewable electricity production driving a stay at home culture where we live our lives entirely online. Some of Charles Stross' futures seem to be happening as well as of all things, datacentres are now becoming a major consumer of electrical power. Do we have to devote all our resources to supporting the computronium? One way of dealing with the apocalyptic thinking is to follow Buckminster Fuller and take a stance of aggressive optimism. There will *always* be a technical fix because humans respond to adversity with creativity. Yes, the future will be messy, but it's always been messy. Very large numbers of people will survive it and the majority will have a higher standard of living than they do now. We shouldn't stop or even slow down until the majority of humanity has an equivalent lifestyle to Louis XIV. This is where I disagree with some of the Green movement. Tightening your belt and accepting a reduced lifestyle is not a solution. As a European I find it amusing that you're suggesting a return to city states while living in Italy. Because Italy as a nation state is less than 150 years old and for most of recorded history has been a loose federation of shifting alliances between city states. This is actually true of most of Europe. What seems to be happening in Europe is that people think of themselves as belonging to three levels. A local cultural group such as Basque, Bavaria, Catalunya or Scotland; A Nationality; A citizen of Europe. Increasingly, I think we're seeing laws and customs decided at the local level and continental level and we're losing interest in the people trying to claim power at the national level. The problem is that those national institutions have a lot of momentum and self interest so they're not going to fade away that fast even if we ignore them. That said, I'm very uncomfortable with trying to extrapolate the European experience out to the rest of the world. Is the same thing happening in, say, Brazil or Thailand?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 5 Jan 08 13:27
Scott, I'm trying to get my head around this. You mentioned "many of the *transformations* that resulted from that earlier activism, such as a raised consciousness to energy conservation, healthier eating, the manner in which we use our military resources, etc." That seems to imply that you were talking about widespread transformation, and not isolated pockets of alternative thinking, as a result of which "the system was not changed." I think some of us assumed from your characterization of the period that you were suggesting mainstream change. I think we can all agree that there've been changes in thinking about the environment over the years, but until and unless these changes drive new behaviors, how much better off are we? By raising this question, I don't see that Bruce has "negated the concerns." > One of the reasons why the US military establishment > didn't invade anywhere (other than Granada) in the late 70s > and 80s, was because it was politically unpalatable in the wake of > Vietnam. Not just Grenada - there was also Panama, 1989. Practically speaking, though some opposed the war in Vietnam on ethical grounds, it's not clear that opposition would have been as loud, as ultimately widespread, or as successful had it not been for the draft. The war didn't feel necessary; many of us who might have been drafted didn't want to go there, and we made our feelings known. Imagine what you'd be seeing today, if the draft was still in effect. (#58 slipped in)
Tom Jennings (t-o-m-i-c) Sat 5 Jan 08 13:56
An overarching comment first: cities are one of humankind's most enduring organizations, and likely reveals a lot about our (in)ability to visualize large organizations as a whole (real or not). People grok cities. We have strong opinions of their character. People visit "cities" in the U.S. too as Bruce says of the EU. It's a good scale to support some centralization (water, transport) yet allow diversity in culture and commerce. Urban poverty sucks, but rural poverty is worse! jonl: And how do we get buy-in... how do you convince citizens of ascendant developing nations that they don't want SUVs, suburban lifestyles, swimming pools in every back yard, etc. I think it's the same as here in the US: we need to learn a new way to make personal decisions. We still act as if inexpensive durable goods is a new thing, and don't choose for underlying functionality, ignore "side effects" (sic), etc. It's in businesses' short-term interest to get people to buy things. US corporate law demands growth regardless of long term effect. I'm not holding my breath. But fundamental change like that usually follows umm episodic changes to which we have to adapt willy nilly. I'm not even sure it would be nice to be otherwise; do we want large scale human culture to be [more] easily molded by those with agendas, good or bad? (My anarchist leanings revealed.) Websites and a few CONSUMER REPORTS type entities aren't enough conversation on how to think about the infinite r(ain,eign) of Stuff. Voices selling talk louder. If I have one persistent gloom-and-doom fear it's consolidated media ownership. That you can enumerate, and see the effects of. Even TSA I think will Go Away not all that far from now, but they are the proverbial Blunt Object. bruces: And, pure predict-the-future bait: what's going to happen in China during and around the Olympics? What follows in the wake? It will be very telling! They could get all rigid and freak out over transgressions as they've often done, but there's changes afoot, like all the small business deals in Africa etc show actual deep changes in approach, and there seems to be a desire to take substantial part in planetary business and culture. The Olympics generally bore me to death (umm not yet literally) but I will be pay attention to the meta-Olympics as it unfolds there.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 5 Jan 08 14:17
> <41> What do they put into those "bicerin" anyway? ;-) What I mean by what was on the walls in the 60s is more about a critique of mainstream society than about the alternatives offered at that time, which frequently did fail, for all kinds of reasons. That critique was mostly well taken, but there was nothing to be done with it, aside from getting us out of the worst quagmire of the time, Vietnam. You can't very well expect corporations employing thousands of people and representing billions of dollars in investment to just close up shop. So it got co-opted, in the early 70s, then beaten back by the Reagan/Bush crowd. Damn the realities, it's morning in America. The idea of transforming institutions became popular in the nineties, but then Bush II squeaked into office and less than a year later was handed a virtual blank check by 9/11, putting such agendas on hold, although the progress made during the 90s was never really rolled back, and we're moving forward again despite the Bushites. So I suppose it's fair to say that there really was no opportunity to take the critique of mainstream society to heart at the time it first arose to prominence. It took us another 25 years to figure out what to do about it.
Lloyd Duhon (radioastro) Sat 5 Jan 08 15:08
This post brought me back to the Well after many years of absence. I'm grateful that I have rediscovered this place (via an RSS Feed, no less). I am of the optimist school in this debate. I have seen first hand the ingenuity and creativity expressed by human beings when they are in difficult situations. We are by our nature a resilient, expressive and creative bunch. My business is almost completely unaffected by large scale bureaucracies of any sort, and is dependent only on a vibrant small business community. This community is resilient and decentralized. We exist because people have a need for our services. We would exist despite currency, despite control, despite licensing and despite someone else saying we should or should not exist. From my experience, a city sized government is about the most efficient level of government available. Even this level experiences an almost humorous level of inability to control anything outside of basic creature comforts such as public utilities. In this, I also see consumption as an ever growing drive that will be impossible to quell. Instead, I see the growing consumption market as a challenge and an opportunity. There are enormous untapped resources still available in our solar system. As costs increase for delivery of consumable goods here on earth, we will find means to retrieve goods at a lower delivery cost than the local resource. We have already imagined many of these technologies, and they can be as feasible as the current oil production infrastructure is today. Our answer to a lack of consumable goods will be to expand beyond our current home into the much broader solar system and beyond.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 5 Jan 08 15:46
Jon <59> My comments were in response to a pervasive tone of derisiveness by Bruce in post <41> where simplistic typecasting of certain elements within the progressive/environmental movement is used to negate a history that is making it possible to deal with global problems in a more sophisticated way today. We are not starting without any precedence here. *I had all those books on my shelf, too. And yeah, their tech IS obsolete. And that's not a bug, that's a feature. It's a feature of hairshirt-green thinking. This sort of commentary is simply not helpful as we move forward. My point is that, historically, there were many changes emanating from the late 60s/70s movement, some of which were mainstreamed and some of which still need to be addressed. Lester Brown's population explosion concerns. "Diet for a Small Planet". The mindset in "The Last Whole Earth Catalog". I believe that change begins with a new mindset. Forestry practices of the US Forest Service are based on sustainability today, but weren't in the 60s, because the attitudes of forest science was not ecologically driven. Cars are smaller and more energy efficient. Attitudes toward litter and recycling are completely different. The military decisions of the United States are questioned more today than in 1957. My point is that our human attitudes go hand in hand with pressing needs and circumstances in establishing how we move forward industrially, politically, etc. Dismissal of spiritually oriented people or hairshirt-greenies is simply not necessary. Frankly, the origins of philosophies that address our current concerns constructively, and with a hopeful attitude toward change came from those fringes of society and, as such, shouldn't be discounted as we take the best of that history and look to move forward with the right outlook.
Thomas Armagost (silly) Sat 5 Jan 08 19:41
<scribbled by silly Sat 7 Jul 12 17:17>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 6 Jan 08 10:00
Do we have to devote all our resources to supporting the computronium? *I love stuff like this. *To me, "sustainability" means a situation in which your descendants are able to confront their own problems, rather than the ones you exported to them. If people a hundred years from now are soberly engaged with phenomena we have no nouns and verbs for, I think that's a victory condition. *On the other hand, if they're thumbing through 1960s Small World paperbacks and saying "thank goodness we've finally managed to pare our lives back exclusively to soybeans and bamboo," well, that's not the end of the world, but it's about as appealing as a future global takeover by the Amish. Give me the computronium problems; at least I can get out of bed and not have to mimic every move my grandpa made. "As a European I find it amusing that you're suggesting a return to city states while living in Italy. Because Italy as a nation state is less than 150 years old and for most of recorded history has been a loose federation of shifting alliances between city states. This is actually true of most of Europe." *Yeah, that is indeed true of most of Europe. Europe is where the Westphalian system of nation-states was invented. It shouldn't surprise or amuse us too much if Europe's also the place where that system crumbles and/or is transcended. Europe has been a great political laboratory for many millennia -- especially in Greece, Italy, those little busted-up city-state muddles... *They're turbulent, bloody, inefficient, but they also generate things like democracy and a renaissance. "I had all those books on my shelf, too. And yeah, their tech IS obsolete. And that's not a bug, that's a feature. It's a feature of hairshirt-green thinking. "This sort of commentary is simply not helpful as we move forward" *What -- even it's true? How inconvenient! *There's stuff going on that's "moving forward," like, say, LEED ratings and legislative requirements for green energy, and then there's stuff that claims itself to be "progressive," but is basically Lysenkoist, since it doesn't want to submit itself to any standard of objective proof. *Well, I say that hairshirt-green stuff fails to innovate. I say that it's corny and it's retrograde, and it's inherently corny and retrograde because its approach to society and technology is mistaken, wrong-headed, dogmatic and poorly thought-through. I say that it's smallness is too small. Its appropriateness is inappropriate. It has failed like the Arts and Crafts Movement failed. No, it failed worse than Arts and Crafts; it failed like the communal movement and the Human Potential Movement and the League of Spiritual Discovery failed. As a design critic, I can't claim anything else with honesty. Thirty-eight years after Earth Day, the facts on the ground speak for themselves. *I'd never claim that Hairshirt Green was as violently pernicious as the Great Leap Forward or Muslim fundamentalism, but there's just not a lot of there there. It doesn't work. *So it's no good to call a nostalgia for 60s environmentalist notions "progressive." In 2008, that just obscures the reality on the ground. Its rhetorical puffery. * Like, for instance, the smokescreen called "economic reform," which always means privatizing stuff now. When Putin goes and de-privatizes a bunch of oil-wells and Russia immediately rises from its death-bed, nobody calls that "Russian economic reform", even though this radical regime Putin's patched together out of oil-wells and KGB veterans is one of the fastest-changing, most radically re-forming, nation-states in the world today. And it's also one of the most popular among its voters. So far. That's "economic reform," but it's not what the Murdoch-owned WALL STREET JOURNAL would like to anoint as "reform." And I would call bullshit on that, too. "My point is that our human attitudes go hand in hand with pressing needs and circumstances in establishing how we move forward industrially, politically, etc. Dismissal of spiritually oriented people or hairshirt-greenies is simply not necessary." *I agree; they're pretty much auto-marginalizing. I don't waste a lot of time on spiritually oriented green; it's a lot more interesting to me to see how, for instance, the city of Turin is being actually re-built. Like: where on Earth did they get the cash for all those huge cranes? And what's the deal with that giant rebuilt palace at Venaria Reale? Do they really expect that heap to pull in tourists? Frankly, the origins of philosophies that address our current concerns constructively, and with a hopeful attitude toward change came from those fringes of society and, as such, shouldn't be discounted as we take the best of that history and look to move forward with the right outlook. *I love the fringes of society, but, as great designer Henry Dreyfuss used to say, the best way to get three good ideas is to brainstorm a hundred weird ideas and kill off 97 of them. And we need to get used to that process, and not, say, shut down Silicon Valley because there are too many start-ups there wasting Microsoft's valuable resources. *We really do need to learn to generate lots of prototypes, throw 'em at the wall, search them, sort them, rank them, critique them, and blow the best ones into global-scale proportions at high speed. That's what our contemporary civilization is really good at, and it is simply beyond the imagination of the 1960s. *If there's hope, it's in the facts. It's not in faith.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 6 Jan 08 10:22
"Though there was interesting, often visionary thinking about the future of the environment in the 60s and 70s, any mainstreaming of that thinking was a best a fad, and at worst, it was part of an extended tantrum, a rebellion of the privileged who were too young and inexperienced to understand that they were in an exceptional context, richer and smarter than any generation before them, but without any real tradition of wisdom to guide them. Us, I should say, because I was one of them." *I don't wanna do any special-pleading for Baby Boomers, and it's a great thing when you can confess to your adult children that you've really screwed up. *But. People are neck-deep in historical circumstances. The condition of society is not all our own individual fault. There were lots of Baby Boomers in Communist China. They were like, psycho Red Guards who beat the crap out of university professors, and they didn't even have LSD, much less charge cards. *This change that's happened in China lately -- since Tiananmen, really -- it makes it clear that there was some kind of tremendous latent productive capacity in China that has been effectively suppressed for centuries. If you're a Baby Boomer in China right now, I guess you could wring your hands a lot about being a wicked Red Guard guy, but I don't think you ought to flatter yourself that there was something particularly wicked about your generation. It's more like you were trying to pull a cart uphill with a noose around your neck. There's one thing worse than being young and full of stormy tantrums, and that's being old and backward-looking and crotchety.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 6 Jan 08 11:37
> There's one thing worse than being young and full of stormy tantrums, > and that's being old and backward-looking and crotchety. Heh... you know me too well. But you can be backward-looking and forward-looking at the same time, and that works best if you accept that neither is as real as right now. I don't know much about Chinese boomers, if you can call them that, but I was part of the boomer/counterculture/hippie scene. The joke is that, if you were there, you don't remember it, but that's just a joke. In fact, I remember it well. I suspect that Scott and others who write about that era see it through their research and lose their sense of the reality. Those of us who have lived long enough to have seen new generations of scholars create histories based on real events are inherently suspicious of those histories, because we can see their flaws, and we want to present our version. However, though I say I remember the 60s, I know that memory is also flawed. We look back and review our mistakes because we don't want history to repeat itself. I liked Stephen Dedalus's take, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," but I could never quite wake up, or escape some level of attachment to memory. You can't ignore karma and karma-phala. The conditions/predicaments we're in have their causes, and we fall into assessment and evaluation of those causes as we try to comprehend, maybe mitigate, the effects. At least I do, when I'm not twittering. *8^)
John Payne (satyr) Sun 6 Jan 08 11:41
<scribbled by satyr Sun 6 Jan 08 11:42>
John Payne (satyr) Sun 6 Jan 08 11:43
To shift gears a little, Scientific American has gotten behind an ambitious plan to switch the U.S. over to renewable energy, primarily solar. The article runs on for six pages, the first of which is here... http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan
Public persona (jmcarlin) Sun 6 Jan 08 11:45
This is an interesting area where science is way ahead of futurists. For example: Scientists Use Sunlight to Make Fuel From CO2 http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/01/S2P Matching coal plants with solar to get rid of the CO2 and produce fuel is an interesting development.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 6 Jan 08 12:21
As you accumulate more history you get more interested in history, but the great benefit of youth is that you don't have to forget that stuff is impossible. The past is gone, and our attempts to interpret it are retrodiction. The 1960s of the 1970s is not the same as the 1960s of 2008, and it won't be the same as the 1960s of the 2040s. Just lately I've gotten very interested in the Italy of the 1860s, which was the brief span in which Turin was the capital of Italy. This lost capitalship is very much a living fact on the ground in Turin; it explains a lot about the local temperament. Still, there are like 30 or 40 distinct versions of the events of the 1860s, like, what was the "Risorgimento," and who really mattered there: the glum ideologist Mazzini, or the ruthless technocrat Cavour, or the armed culture-hero Garibaldi... I'm not so postmodernist as to claim that there's no objective truth about the 1860s, but these men, when they were acting in the 1860s, didn't know it. If you dragged 'em out of the grave and asked them what the hell was really going on in the 1860s, their vague ideas would be even less useful than those of historians. When you're a writer you tend to repeat yourself a lot. Why can't I wake from the nightmare of my own history? you think. But then there are flecks or even big weird patches of written stuff that really are unique and unrepeatable -- like, say, a story inspired by some very specific set of circumstances, unique and never to be recaptured. And those are upsetting in a different way.
Jamais Cascio (cascio) Sun 6 Jan 08 12:21
>> *I love the fringes of society, but, as great designer Henry Dreyfuss used to say, the best way to get three good ideas is to brainstorm a hundred weird ideas and kill off 97 of them. And we need to get used to that process, and not, say, shut down Silicon Valley because there are too many start-ups there wasting Microsoft's valuable resources. *We really do need to learn to generate lots of prototypes, throw 'em at the wall, search them, sort them, rank them, critique them, and blow the best ones into global-scale proportions at high speed. That's what our contemporary civilization is really good at, and it is simply beyond the imagination of the 1960s. << It seems to me that what you're saying is that if we're going to make it through this century, we need to fail often, fail spectacularly, but always fail upwards -- learn from the 97 failures to make the 3 successes huge. That argues for getting away as fast as possible from huge, eggs-in-one- basket social/economic/technical models. Energy experiments with solar coal, biotech hydrogen-farting bugs, photovoltaic plastic, vibration-generated power floors, even sonofusion, and more. Most of these won't work, but the only way we're going to figure out what *will* work is to try them out, find the flaws, and toss out the stuff that's too broken to fix. It's an Open Source Future -- not in the Richard Stallman GPL sense, but in the John Robb Open Source Warfare sense: small groups, trying out different pathways, telling each other what works and what doesn't.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 6 Jan 08 12:38
<Give me the computronium problems You make many compelling arguments, Bruce, even though I think you tend to oversimplify the history of the counterculture, especially its integral dialectic role in the shaping of our postmodern culture. John Markoff wrote a book called: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixities Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Certainly, the information age has transformed the way business is done in the world far more pervasively than even cutting-edge technology geeks in the 60s (or people going back-to-the-land and living communally in their Yurts) could have imagined. I agree that high technology must be part of any future solutions, (just as it has given us a new set of societal ills and challenges, too). One of the elements within the counterculture that most intrigues me is the urge of so many people to connect to a sense of community in ways that defied the increasing trends toward privatization within a society that was, at the same time, relying more on mass communications and mass delivery systems to connect us. The reaction, mostly unsuccessful, was to voluntarily form extended "family" units. Interestingly, the discussion here about the City-State becoming more significant than the Nation-State is also about the comprehensibility and sensibility of more decentralized social formations that allow us to better control our own political/economic/social destinies, and to feel significant as part of our immediate community. The "Computronium" in this regard is a paradox. Aspects which feed the efficiencies of the globalized market are inherently centralizing. Features such as My Space, chatrooms, highly accessible blogging, iPods are decentralizing and privatizing, but privatizing in a way that also allows for cybernetworks of interconnectedness. This said, the electronic cocooning allows us, for the most part, the simulacra of socializing, not the actual interconnectedness that, for example, the communal esprit which the Back-to-the-Land folks looked to foster. I do think that in a situation of total societal collapse at a local level, this history of communal experimentation holds value as a model for re-adapting. (Would you rather freeze or live in a yurt?/ Will you eat beans and yogurt when there is no beef?/ The love & peace ethos would be essential.) The information age is here to stay. I certainly don't envision an either/or scenario where electronic simulacra will be supplanted by healthier, in-the-flesh, interpersonal networks. I don't see voluntary asceticism of the kind you deride taking over either, because humans almost always want to optimize their circumstances. Yet might not some hybrid of configurations offer the best future. We can be (and will be) highly globalized, unless artificial boundaries are erected (by Nation-States). At the same time, the empowerment of more localized political and social entities that give the individual a greater sense of belonging and control, also makes sense. As for the computronium (if I understand what this means), we will also have our WORLD Wide Web AND our PERSONAL computing. As for the best of the 60s/70s countercultural sentiment, maybe we will also manifest healthier opportunities to belong to in-the-flesh communities that sustain us, socially, aesthetically and materially. The sense that we belong to our community and make a difference on an individual basis is sadly missing in our "advanced" societies. We, as humans, suffer from this disconnectedness. This, I think, was the thrust behind much of the "small is beautiful" ethos of the 60's and 70's. On the other hand, if problems such as Global Warming or oil or nuke or overpopulation threaten us with collapse, then, I agree, that "blowing the best of them (solutions) toward global-scale proportions at high speed" is the only logical approach.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 6 Jan 08 13:13
From Jon: <it was part of an extended tantrum, [...] We were spoiled brats, terribly egocentric.> <I suspect that Scott and others who write about that era see it through their research and lose their sense of the reality.> Jon, I was born the year after Bruce. I traveled for a year across the US in a Volkswagen Bus, was a Deadhead before the caravanning movement of Deadheads, spent time at various hippie communes (The Farm, The Love Family, The Alpha Farm). Feel free to read my inkwell interview on The Hippie Narrative or, better yet, the book. While exploring these last, legitimate, vestiges of the counterculture, I became fascinated with the movement, BOTH intellectually and personally. I never dismissed the many, very sincere people I met as "spoiled brats" or even overly "egocentric". Most were trying to find paths for themselves in a world that was turned on its head. The youthful foibles of that generation are so well documented today that it makes it ever-so-easy to dismiss the many positives of those who were brave enough to attempt wholesale change. I won't presume to know what you did or didn't do to help change the world for the better during your youth. Of course there were negatives. (Do we need to talk about Jimi/Janis/Jim/Charlie Manson or other iconic distortions?). Frankly, to whatever extent that a spoiled egocentrism affected those in the counterculture, I would take their manifestation of this trait over the cadre of spoil brats and egomaniacs of the same generation who currently infect our White House.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 6 Jan 08 14:07
Scott, I wasn't intentionally dismissive. You can be a spoiled brat, egocentric, also very sincere... we all have various aspects of our personalities, of our lives. My earlier point was that we of the postwar baby boom, middle class division, were inherently spoiled and inherently innocent, because our parents were building a reality intended to isolate us, and them, from the darker realities they had just encountered. I'm generalizing about a privileged class, a subset of the larger postwar reality in the U.S., and I'm talking about childhood in the 50s. In the 60s, as we grew older and fell into the Real World beyond our doorsteps, we found the darker reality and didn't quite know what to do with it. Many, myself included, tried to fix it in various ways. Many were damaged by it. Many found ways to be successful in dealing with the real world they found. I'm a bit older, so my perspective might be a little different, but I admit I have a darker view of that period than you seem to have. Yes, I met sincere people who were trying to make the world better. However I also met many who were deluded, arrogant, drug-crazed, power-crazed, cult-crazed, and sometimes downright criminal. You keep mentioning the White House - I think George W. Bush is as much a child of that time as anybody.
Members: Enter the conference to participate