What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Wed 31 Dec 08 10:00
As has become our custom, the new year in the Inkwell begins with a visit from longtime Well member, Bruce Sterling. This will be Bruce's tenth overview of Things in General, the State of the World, Where We Have Been and Where We are Tending. Bruce Sterling, author, journalist, editor, and critic, was born in 1954. Best known for his nine science fiction novels, he also writes design criticism. He is a contributing editor of WIRED magazine and a columnist for MAKE magazine. He also writes a weblog. During 2005, he was the "Visionary in Residence" at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 2008 he was the Guest Curator for the Share Festival in Torino, Italy and also "Visionary in Residence" and the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam. Jon Lebkowsky is Bruce's regular partner in these highly informed speculations. Jon is a cultural strategist, social commentator, and web strategist. He writes about culture, technology, media, sustainability and other topics for various publications, and has been blogging regularly since 2000. He's an acknowledged authority on social media and online community. He is cofounder of Social Web Strategies, where he does strategic consulting and coordinates social media planning and web development. In 1991 he cofounded the pioneering online company FringeWare, Inc., the first company to attempt e-commerce. The company published the influential magazine FringeWare Review, which had an international distribution. he was involved in online community and e-commerce projects throughout the 1990s, and worked with bOING bOING (as associate editor for the original paper zine), HotWired, The Whole Earth Catalog, Electric Minds, and many other web and cyberculture projects and endeavors during the World Wide Web's first decade. In the late 90s, he was actively involved in the creation of e- commerce and online community initiatives for Whole Foods Market. After leaving Whole Foods, he formed Polycot Consulting, one of Austin's lead web consulting and development companies through the 2000s. He was involved in the emergence of social technology in the early 2000s, and has been a leader in the use of social technology for political activism. With Mitch Ratcliffe, he co-edited the book Extreme Democracy. Gentlemen: ring out the old, won't you, please? Pretty please?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 31 Dec 08 11:11
Hello to all, and thanks to Bruce Umbaugh for kicking this off. We should start with the economy - much confusion there. I'm hearing otherwise smart people say that this is just a down cycle, no big deal, we'll spin around and boom again before you know it. I don't see how anyone can confuse this with business as usual. And I don't think it's about a few blithering crooks and a festering rash of bad decisions. Feels more like paradigms shifting and, while shifting, some are collapsing. How does this look to you, especially from your global suitcase perspective?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 1 Jan 09 04:03
Do we HAVE to talk about the economy this year? I'm wondering what conceivable event could overshadow the fiscal crisis. Maybe a cozy little nuclear war? An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis. I always knew the "War on Terror" bubble would go. It's gone. Nobody misses it. It got no burial. I knes was gonna be replaced by another development that seemed much more burningly urgent than terror Terror TERROR, but I had a hard time figuring out what vast, abject fright that might be. Now I know. Welcome to 2009! What I now currently wonder is: what kind of OTHER development makes us stop maundering about liquidity issues? You know what's truly weird about any financial crisis? WE MADE IT UP. Currency, money, finance, they're all social inventions. When the sun comes up in the morning it's shining on the same physical landscape, all the atoms are in place. It's not merciless enemies would blow themselves up in order to bleed on our shoes... oh wait. They are. Well, it's not like the icecaps are melting. Oh wait. The icecaps ARE melting. Okay, maybe I'll start over next post.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Jan 09 08:21
A collapse of the Internet could be daunting - worse for me than collapse of the abstract economy. (The alternative currency/next economy thinkers have convinced me that less abstract, perfectly viable forms of exchange are waiting in the wings.) Are we growing more or less prone to hostility and war? Reading the letter from Gaza that Jasmina Tesanovic posted: "Nowhere is safe anymore." http://budurl.com/3cmm A post-economy USA seems cozy by comparison.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 1 Jan 09 09:38
I'm a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything "financially sound" in my entire adult life. Last year was the first year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people. Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent living-it-up. These are people who obeyed the social contract and are *still* getting it in the neck. The injustice of that upsets me. The bourgeoisie who kept their noses clean and obeyed the rules, I never had anything against them. I mean, of course I made big artsy fun of them, one has to do that, but I never meant them any active harm. I didn't scheme to raise a black flag and cut their throats because they were consumers. I even fret about the bankers. Seventeen percent of the US works in financial services. That's a lot. I've got friends and relatives who work in those industries. I frankly enjoy tossing myself into turbulent parts of life, because I'm a dilettante who bores easily, but jeez, bankers are supposed to be the ultimate humorless brown-shoe crowd. They're not supposed to wake up on a sleeping roll and scrounge breakfast. If the straights were not "prone to hostility" before that experience, they might well be so after it, because they've got a new host of excellent reasons. The sheer galling come-down of watching the Bottom Line, the Almighty Dollar, revealed as a papier-mache pinata. It's like somebody burned their church. I keep remembering the half-stunned, half-irritated looks on the faces of those car execs when they were chided for flying their company jets to Washington to beg. I felt sorrow for them. Truly. These guys are the captains of American industry at the top of the food chain. Of course they fly corporate jets. Corporate jets were *invented* for guys like the board of General Motors. And now they're getting skewered for that by a bunch of punk-ass Congressmen they can usually buy and sell? *That's* the issue at stake, a few jets? General Motors built the aviation industry in World War II. General Motors aircraft pounded Nazi Germany into a flaming ruin. Here they get this off-the-wall, total-hokum act of peanut-gallery gotcha humiliation about the corporate airplanes they've used for fifty years. That must have felt surreal, even nauseating. There are going to be so many nettling, humiliating experiences for similar people, people congenitally unable to laugh at themselves and roll with the punches. Nowhere is safe any more, not even the mirrorglass skyscraper, not even the boardroom. I wish I could make them feel safe, but since I've lived in parts of the planet with no-kidding, real-deal economic collapse... I dunno, does reading Dmitri Orlov feel safe? I love that guy's writing, I really get it about him, but the prophets of doom have so little comfort to offer people. Last thing I heard about Orlov the guy had chucked it and was living on a small boat.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Jan 09 13:28
I have to love a guy who talks about a "collapse gap." He's got a blog called "ClubOrlov" at http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/, and in his intro to a guest post on December 23, he says " I called it as I saw it, and, unfortunately, I seem to have called it correctly. The US is collapsing before our eyes. Stage 1 collapse is very advanced now; stages 2 and 3 are picking up momentum." In 2005 he wrote advice on "Thriving in the Age of Collapse." http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dtxqwqr_19gjjvp8 I wonder if he would advise differently today? Your last Viridian note had advice, not necessarily for "thriving" during a "collapse" - more general, but probably also useful in lean times. You wrote that piece in November, as the shit hit the fan. Anything to add?
John Payne (satyr) Thu 1 Jan 09 21:37
Amazing Filtered Things <http://amazingfiltered.blogspot.com/> has published several photosets of post-collapse Russia. This one from October, '07 is the most recent I could find... http://amazingfiltered.blogspot.com/2007/10/russia-as-is-photos.html
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 2 Jan 09 02:38
*Yeah, I've got plenty to add on that topic. I'm probably gonna be adding on that topic for the next ten years. *I scarcely know where to start. Actually, I think I *do* know where to start, with an ambitious new Internet project. Weirdly, I can't make the time to get there from here. Because I'm snowed under with work. I never had such a busy December. Never. Apparently they all stopped shopping and started demanding that I write magazine articles. I'm still not done. I've got two deadlines this week, plus this WELL thing. *I'm sure this beats sleeping in my car while waiting for my real estate career to recommence -- I mean, of course it's nice to be busy... but what if the *rest of my life* looks like this? What if this is the New Normal? Will I ever get a minute's peace to think seriously about the Big Issues? Maybe Orlov needs a deckhand.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 2 Jan 09 02:49
*Americans -- and Orlov's an American now, he's much too relaxed and funny to be a Russian -- love to imagine that America leads the collapse. If we're not the Shining City on the Hill, we've at least got to be the Smoldering Wreckage on the Hill. You know: as long as we're always the Hill. *People with loose money still think we're the Hill. That's why all the loose change is moving into Treasury bonds. I mean, if you buy China, you're basically buying US Treasury Bonds anyway... Japan is old and gray and has no rate of return... Rich Europeans can't take Europe seriously. They're afraid it will turn into an actual empire instead of their toy trading bloc, so they're always parking their cash somewhere far outside their own legal jurisdiction... So what does that leave you, if you've got a spare 50 billion? Brazil? Russia? India, for heaven's sake? What kind of rich person preserves his wealth in INDIA? You'd have to be crazy. Should you buy oil? Oil's got blood all over it and it's skyrocketing up and down. So that leaves the Americans -- the global wealthy are clinging to 'em like a drunk to a lamppost. When Russia collapsed, every Russian with a shred of wealth shipped it to Cyprus and Switzerland. The Americans don't have a place to offshore their money. They can offshore their LABOR, that's dead easy, but their money? If the American dollar goes, finance as an industry gets the blue screen of death.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 2 Jan 09 03:14
*These posts are making the New Year situation look blacker than I think it is, so maybe I should raise the cogent issue of self-reliance and "resilient cities." I notice that John Robb, one of my favorite prophets of doom, has formed some tacit New Urbanist alliance with James Howard Kunstler, also one of my favorite prophets of doom. This would be John "Global Guerrillas" Robb and James Howard "Long Emergency" Kunstler, for those of you entering the catastrophe sweepstakes late in the game. If you've never read these guys before, you might want to take a walk around the block before Googling 'em, as otherwise your heart might stop. In any case, after eight glum years of watching Bush and his neocons methodically wreck the Republic, both Kunstler and Robb have gotten really big on American localism -- "resilient" localism. Kunstler has this painterly, small-town-America, Thoreauvian thing going on, kinda locavore voluntary simplicity, with lots of time for... I dunno, group chorale singing. Kunstler seems kinda hung up on the singing effort, somehow... Whereas Robb has a military background and is more into a gated-community, bug-out-bag, militia rapid-response thing. Certainly neither of these American visions look anything like what happened to Russia. As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive opportunities, so they were the ones getting by. So the model polity for local urban resilience isn't Russia. I'm inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year national existence. Before that time, Italy was all city-states -- and not even "states," mostly just cities. Florence, Milan, Genoa, Venice. Rome. They were really brilliantly-run, powerful cities. (Well, not Rome -- but Rome was global.) Gorgeous cities full of initiaive and inventive genius. If you're a fan of urbanism you've surely got to consider the cities of the Italian Renaissance among the top urban inventions of all time. And cities do seem in many ways to respond much better to globalization than nation-states do. When a city's population globalizes, when it becomes a global marketplace, if it can keep the local peace and order, it booms. London, Paris, New York, Toronto, they've never been more polyglot and multiethnic. In my futurist book TOMORROW NOW I was speculating that there might be a post-national global new order arising in cities. Cities as laboratories of the post-Westphalian order. However... okay, never mind the downside yet. Let's just predict that in 2009 we're gonna see a whole lot of contemporary urbanism going on. Digital cities. Cities There For You to Use. Software for cities. Googleable cities. Cities with green power campaigns. Location-aware cities. Urban co-ops. "Informal housing." "Architecture fiction." The ruins of the unsustainable as the new frontier. A President from Chicago who carried the ghettos and barrios by massive margins. Gotta mean something, I figure.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 2 Jan 09 05:02
I was on a call recently with a business that produces "resilient cities" planning, database-intensive digital planning. We also organized a meeting of local activists to talk about the potential to form an alternative currency, and there was a lot of energy in the room. With a little discipline that energy could flow somewhere. There's a bunch of examples of alt.currency: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_currency#Examples_of_alternative_curr encies. My sense was that liquidity crisis seemed so entirely possible that community leaders wanted to have a fallback medium of exchange waiting in the wings. On the other hand, I've met with local business people who are saying that there's no imminent crisis, the economy's really okay, this is just another cycle of recession. They say the idea of "collapse" or depression or even strong recession is driven by media. Nothing sells papers, but panic still sells whatever passes for media these days - page views. Not sure how many clickthroughs they're getting from Americans who're convinced their jobs are in jeopardy - if they still have jobs. So we have a weird state of whimper vs bang, and a whole army of traditional business people in denial, while the alt.culture folks are out their planning, and planting corn in their backyards.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 2 Jan 09 05:34
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John Payne (satyr) Fri 2 Jan 09 09:47
Short term, I think the economy will rebound. Long term, we're in for changes that won't be denied, and the longer we try to put them off the harder they're going to hit us when they do arrive.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 2 Jan 09 10:13
Good to see you here again, Bruce! I've been thinking a great deal lately about the difference between globalization and global consciousness. Globalization is an economic phenomenon with more efficient deliveries of commerce worldwide that largely supercedes the political nation-state. A global consciousness relates more to an emerging ethos that encourages us, as technological apes, to be more aware of how our collective behavior impacts our sustainability on the planet. Of course, the City-States are important economic foci on earth, but they are greatly benefiting like never before from an information age that has created a global web of communication and commerce. When you talk about rich Europeans parking their money in American dollars, or gray old Japan, or the bloody oil money, you're identifying some of the players in the game, but only somewhat placing them as players on the big gameboard. I think you are correct that, in many ways, the Nation-State configuration is less and less relevant, but if we allow ourselves to buy into the fragmentation of postmodernity, where positionality, diversity and ennui rule the day, we lose sight that there are big, tangible players who have the power to behave in ways with their political clout, capital, manufacturing and commerce that are either earth-friendly or not earth-friendly. For example, if in 2098 most of us are driving solar-juiced cars that max out at 58 mph, the species will be fine. It might mean less bloody oil wars, much smaller environmental transportation impacts, money (R.O.I.) still to be made by those manufacturers/investors, and jobs as usual for Joe and Jane commuter. I'd like to think that in the midst of the paradigm shift you address, we are seeing the emergence of a new zeitgeist. I see this as a consciousness that is moving away from the weary morass of postmodernity where we throw up our hands, resigned to the behaviors of the oily Geo. W Bushes, the self-indulgent, billionaire Europeans, and the eco-monster manufacturers in third world countries. Instead, I hope we will approach a critical mass in the populace where we persistently insistpolitically, economically, spirituallythat our business and government leaders adopt behaviors that embrace a new global consciousness. Namely, globalization can be "governed" with larger planetary and human interests in mind. If we are to be hopeful (rather than resigned to the inevitability of collapse where humans are inherently predisposed to shitting in their own well), don't we need to believe that awareness might be coming full circle in terms of seeing and acting collectively as responsible denizens on earth. For example, included in the characteristic spirit of the counterculture were ideals for a consciousness revolutionhonoring mother earth, we-can-change-the-world, the oneness of being, conscientious consumption, appropriate technology, and world peace. I see the characteristic spirit of these beliefs as now shaping the ethos of this emerging global consciousness. As survival pressures increase, we will become resourcefully more green by necessity. Bottom line, I am saying that with more collective outcry, higher expectations for our VERY IDENTIFIABLE power moguls on this planet, and an insistence of greater adherence to an ethos of sustainability for all the big players, we need not treat global collapse (economically or environmentally) as the inevitable fate of humanity.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 2 Jan 09 11:08
Well, I have to doubt that we're all left-wing green yeoman peasantry by next Christmas. But we won't be stricken cannibals gnawing each other's thighbones, either. As for local currencies -- what, hot-pink San Francisco rubles? Yeah, maybe. Cellphone banking is happening now among Third Worlders who never saw a bank in their lives -- forgotten people who'd be spat upon by conventional bankers. Their need for money is so dire that even rapacious cellphone outfits look good to them. There are two major kinds of poor in this world: people inherently incapable of generating value for others, and people who are KEPT from making any money by oppressive systems that don't serve their interests. You don't have to be a Marxist to see that this second problem is a major issue for everybody now. The shattered banks are making honest, industrious, capable people go broke. It's not that we created some over-complex loan vehicles, and things would be great if we returned to the limpid honest of the Gold Standard. That's idea is wingnut hokum. Money is always a social invention. Money is never simple or natural. Money always has winners and losers. The problem with these booming cellphone banking systems -- thriving in places like Kenya -- is that they are stealth operations. If the local kakistocracy caught on that the Little People were actually making money, they'd drive by in a Mercedes Benz to beat and shoot them. Improving things by stealth has limits. Kenya isn't like Kenya by accident. The same goes for Americans trying to rebel against Wall Street. There's no visible other space. There's no liberated territory. It's like rebelling against a funhouse mirror because it makes you look so fat and stupid. I get it about the Phil Gramm argument that one should always put up a brave front in big troubles. So Americans are a lame bunch of crybabies... I guess the Americans ought to put up with the savage loss of their comforts, privileges, prerogatives and civil rights, and let the likes of Phil get on with the everyday plunder. But dude, this is not just a bad vibe happening. Merrill Lynch is gone. Enron is long gone. Madoff is a crook. The big boys are hurting. Cities are broke, states are broke, the feds are a laughingstock. The Congress and the former Administration have fully earned the public's contempt. You can't "blame the media" for that. Even the media's broke -- ESPECIALLY the media. You can't pull a Reagan, triple the national debt and pretend that everything's jolly. I agree that there's an irrational panic now. There are also a large crowd of severe, real-world, fully rational, deeply structural problems that have gone unconfronted for years. These problems are not directly responsible for the money panic, but the blatant neglect there has created an atmosphere of crisis. The Iraq War was a harebrained adventure that wrecked the international community. And to what end? The War on Terror is a bust: stateless terror is the new status quo. Huge demographic changes in the world have not been confronted. Why are the victors of World War II still the so-called Security Council? What real security are they providing most living people today? The planet's population is aging. Contemporary Italy looks like a Florida retirement city. And it's not just the rich white guys who forgot to have kids -- Mexico is also rapidly aging, and China has one-child families. We lack the financial capacity to allow retirement funds to run the world. We can't have ninety-year-old rentiers who are rich when young people can't go to college. That doesn't compute. Then there's energy. I'm not a Peak Oil guy, but of course wild turbulence in energy prices is gonna put people on edge. How can any person of reasonable prudence invest, plan and build with that kind of uncertainty? Last, and slowest, and worst, there's the climate. The planet's entire atmosphere is polluted. Practically everything we do in our civilization is directly predicated on setting fire to dead stuff. Climate change is a major evil. It's vast in scope and it's everywhere. The climate crisis would be a major issue even for a technically with-it bright-green secular Utopia, where every single citizen was an MIT grad. Of course our world looks nothing like that. Nor will it. The people fighting climate change -- they look like Voltaire combatting Kings and Popes. They're still eighty percent witty comments. They have a foul, hot wind at their backs, but they don't yet have the battalions. Communism, capitalism, socialism, whatever: we've never yet had any economic system that recognizes that we have to live on a living planet. Plankton and jungles make the air we breathe, but they have no place at our counting-house. National regulations do nothing much for that situation. New global regulations seem about as plausible as a new global religion. None of this a counsel of despair. Seriously. We dare not despair because in any real crisis, the pessimists die fast. This is a frank recognition of the stakes. It's aimed at the adults in the room. Let me put it this way. People don't have to solve every problem in the world in order to be happy. People will always have problems. People ARE problems. People become happy when they have something coherent to be enthusiastic about. People need to LOOK AND FEEL they're solving some of mankind's many problems. People can't stumble around in public like blacked-out alcoholics, then have some jerk like Phil Gramm tell them to buck up. When you can't imagine how things are going to change, that doesn't mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable.
KUMBAYISTA! (smendler) Fri 2 Jan 09 11:33
>>Communism, capitalism, socialism, whatever: we've never yet had any economic system that recognizes that we have to live on a living planet.<< Designing such a system should be pretty high on the to-do list, then. Are there any economists - or anyone else, for that matter - working on that task? I am so much looking forward to getting past the old socialism/capitalism arguments, and having some new terms to work with that don't just provoke kneejerk reflexive reactions but actually require some thought and contemplation.
KUMBAYISTA! (smendler) Fri 2 Jan 09 11:36
This is a marvelous quote, btw: >>When you can't imagine how things are going to change, that doesn't mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable. <<
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 2 Jan 09 11:37
<left-wing green yeoman peasantry> <counsel of despair> <frank recognition of the stakes> <change in ways that are unimaginable> "left-wing, yeoman and peasantry" are your words, Bruce. "Green" however ostentatiously the big corporations have appropriated the conceptis a vital concept for the future of humanity. How can we have a frank recognition of the unimaginable? If we can imagine better groundrules for the Power Moguls, perhaps there will be hope for our great grandchildren. Derisive assessments from wired foxholes won't get us there. Yes, to what <smedler> suggests in #15
(jacob) Fri 2 Jan 09 12:01
One thing that's come to mind lately is your bit about the RFID'd hammer that you could lend to a neighbour and yet always know where it was. Netflix and City Car Share implement certain aspects of that already, and I can see that trend continuing. But one aspect of that model of being able to rely on access to shared resources is that consumption will be reduced. Most of that reduction will be in consumption that was wasted, so in the long term this will be good for efficiency, but in the short-medium term it seems likely to be another destabilizing force for the economy. Everywhere that we can trim a little off with a little application of IT, we will. Corporations are doing this internally in a huge way that's not totally visible - they can see the savings from uniform implementation in a way that individual households can't - but the consumer versions will follow. This can't help but depress demand. Any thoughts on that, a few years on from the hammer example? My other frequent thought is that the US and Europe are already post-scarcity economies, in large part. The costs of everything have crashed, and the asset bubbles we've had are partially about the problem in establishing stable returns in an economy where prices are naturally always dropping from technological advances. The US, much of Western Europe, Japan, maybe Korea, are already more than capable of producing a house, car, furniture, appliances, clothing, and food for all of their inhabitants using capital (though perhaps not resources) that already exists within their countries. For all kinds of reasons most of those places don't actually do that, but they could. The current organization of society requires a large section to live in poverty, pour encourager les autres, but the majority of the population live in a state where the basics of life are assumed to be birthrights. Meanwhile, about a 1/3 of the world lives in an extreme scarcity economy, and another 1/3 lives in the garbage produced by the rich 1/3's post-scarcity economy - China, India, Russia, primarily. That is, they've absorbed the cheap labour, pollution, and destructive resource extraction parts of the rich world economy in the hope of joining it one day. Probably not wrong about that prospect, either. But the US hasn't (until recently) seemed to be looking hard at ways to keep the machine running when non-scarcity and technological advance are undercutting profit margins and employment. In fact, planning in the US seems to have devolved, via the MBA culture, to looking no further than the next quarter, with evident consequences in the economy. This has reduced the financial industry to noise trading rather than investment, and the disruptions of that approach are evident too. Do you think might mark a turning point in planning versus laissez-faire, or will it be back to business as usual by 2010?
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Fri 2 Jan 09 13:48
change, and death, are the only certainties in our tiny lives (cosmically seen) A seven year basic economic cycle has long been a popular, if unprovable, theory Concurently with 9 and 13 year cycles causing peaks and troughs by coincidence
(dana) Fri 2 Jan 09 14:52
George Mokray writes: I follow both Kunstler and Robb and have my beefs with both (Kunstler doesn't want to organize and Robb believes he's discovering everything himself, to be overly harsh about it). What I'm finding here in the city streets of Cambridge, MA is that we have been following a Gandhian economic path. The newest example is the monthly weatherization barn-raisings we do. A small group, which could be characterized as a seva ashram, organizes a barnraising on a local house and 30 to 40 people come over and insulate everything they can reach in a half day and install energy efficiency devices all over the place. One house gets tighter resulting in immediate savings of energy and money and more comfort and a whole group of people learn how to do the same things for themselves. This could be considered local production, swadeshi but, instead of spinning thread for khadi cloth on a spinning wheel (recently the traditional charha spinning wheel has been adapted to generate electricity from the same hand motion that spins the thread), we are weatherstripping windows and doors and caulking cracks in the foundation. The thirty year campaign for farmers' markets and local (organic) foods may also be considered as an exercise in Gandhian economics as well. Gandhian economics is small group economics, collaborative economics where the object is not greater per capita consumption or GDP but full and productive employment. It is a labor-intensive satisficing What I keep on discovering is that the best responses to our present predicaments have been available for decades. The only thing is we don't usually do them until the manure hits the ventilation system and some trendy new guru comes around to proclaim the next revelation. But then I'm still waiting for somebody to update Edward Sylvester Morse's 1881 solar HVAC patent and that the New Alchemy Institute proved the efficacy and economics of small-scale agriculture around 1975.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 2 Jan 09 15:40
New Alchemy Institute was visionary, an excellent model that we should revive - probably on every city block. "Among our major tasks is the creation of ecologically derived human support systems - renewable energy, agriculture aquaculture, housing and landscapes. The strategies we research emphasize a minimal reliance on fossil fuels and operate on a scale accessible to individuals, families and small groups. It is our belief that ecological and social transformations must take place at the lowest functional levels of society if humankind is to direct its course towards a greener, saner world." "Our programs are geared to produce not riches, but rich and stable lives, independent of world fashion and the vagaries of international economics. The New Alchemists work at the lowest functional level of society on the premise that society, like the planet itself, can be no healthier than the components of which it is constructed. The urgency of our efforts is based on our belief that the industrial societies which now dominate the world are in the process of destroying it." http://www.nature.my.cape.com/greencenter/newalchemy.html
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 2 Jan 09 16:03
I like that George gives us something to think about that's concrete, local, and scalable. Isn't that how we have to approach solutions? Global scale abstraction doesn't speak to us as well. Bruce, what kinds of solutions are you seeing from designers, inventors, and other innovators that you're hanging out with?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 2 Jan 09 16:08
re: "Last year was the first year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people. Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent living-it-up." What it seems to come down to is that we're all dreamers, and if you try to suppress that then you end up being susceptible to some particularly boring dreams, like making a killing on the real estate or earning a steady 10% per year on the stock market. And then 40% of the dreams go up in smoke, but I figure it's like a forest fire. The results may look bleak, but for the survivors, life goes on. It goes on whether you learned anything or not, though I hope we do. One thing we learned from last year's rise and fall of gas prices is that people really do respond to incentives, but a system that's over-adapted to an artificial stability can't keep up.
(jacob) Fri 2 Jan 09 18:59
I think I am going to file "over-adapted to an artificial stability" away for later. That's an excellent description.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 2 Jan 09 19:24
<Global scale abstraction doesn't speak to us as well> Grass roots, bottom up communal-style barn-raisings or Gandhian economics all sound like good, plausible hippie-speak solutions to me. Yet grassroots approaches in no way negate global concerns and global approaches to positive change. Certainly with the internet and commerce becoming worldwide, global scale considerations become less and less abstract every day. It is the mindset of the large-scale business and political players that especially need to be persuaded or coerced into more earth-friendly behavior. This is the emerging new Zeitgeist of our time. It has to be if we are to avoid awful collapses within our human civilizations. Our brains are getting better at comprehending planetary ecology as a system possessing its own slow-moving intelligence, and the world as a living system that is now reacting to the collective excesses of human behavior. Such awareness is the first step to imagining necessary large-scale behavioral modification. The "ecological footprint analysis tool" from the University of British Columbia, is one such large-scale, conceptual manifestation that is not an abstraction.
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