Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 12 06:18
Welcome to our annual State of the World jam on the WELL, or Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, which has been hosting high quality "social media" via sustained conversations since 1985, and has hosted our annual State of the World conversation for thirteen years, since 2000. So we've covered the first decade plus of the 21st century, and the world's been a little crazier and more volatile every year since we started. The reality we're in today is reflected in responses I got when I asked my online social network what they thought we would cover. They suggested a diverse list: climate change, Arab spring and social media-driven political upheaval, courage, "1984," Fahrenheit 451, the future of Occupy, global economics, underground economies, cyberwar, favela chic, dead media, the future of the Internet in light of pending legislation (SOPA etc.) and emerging alternative networks, space wars, and private drone fleets (for tactical protest command, celebrity capture, and industrial intelligence). Over the last couple of years, I kept hearing this question: "Where the hell is my flying car?" We should all re-read William Gibson's short story "The Gernsback Continuum" as preparation for the next two weeks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gernsback_Continuum). Who we are: Bruce Sterling is a science fiction author, journalist, design theorist and critic, public speaker, and world traveler. Currently based in Italy, Serbia, and Austin, Texas, he spends much of his time on the road, and has a truly global perspective which you see in his novels, nonfiction pieces, and his blog, "Beyond the Beyond." In addition to his novels, Bruce has focused on the cutting edges of digital/hacker culture, climate change, global politics, and contemporary design. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_sterling. He founded the Viridian Design movement, the Dead Media project, and is currently fired up about augmented reality and design fiction. Jon Lebkowsky has been an Internet evangelist and expert, web consultant/developer, social commentator, gonzo futurist, media analyst and critic, and sometimes activist. He was a cofounder of FringeWare, Inc., an early digital culture company/community, and has worked with and written for bOING bOING, Mondo 2000, Whole Earth, Plutopia Productions, Digital Convergence Initiative, Wireless Future, the Society for Participatory Medicine, EFF and EFF-Austin, the WELL, WorldChanging, SXSW, Social Web Strategies, et al. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Lebkowsky If you're reading this, and you're not a member of the WELL, you can still ask questions or send comments: just email to inkwell at well.com.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 12 06:28
Throughout the world, especially in the U.S. (with the GOP political circus du jour), we see persistent focus on the politics of the various nation-states, yet those entities are increasingly broke and powerless, their poetical and economic force is waning. What other forces are driving the thrust of current events? Corporations? Big media? The "1%"? David Icke's reptilian humanoids?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 17:53
Hi! Good to be back! I brought my straw hat and cane. That's always an interesting question, about the forces driving current events and future ones, "the significant change drivers." What differences are making a difference? I've tended to emphasize climate change, urbanization and demographics. Those are big and significant changes in the world, but also pretty easy to measure and quantify. That's like hunting for futurity under the street-lights where it's nice and bright. So I often tell people that the mid-century will be about "old people in big cities who are afraid of the sky." I think that's a pretty useful, common-sense, plausible assessment. You may not hear it said much, but it's how things are turning out. Futurity means metropolitan people with small families in a weather crisis. That's because quite a few of us already are those people. Future already here, just not much pontificated about. But that doesn't mean I can make everybody perceive that reality. For instance, right-wing American talk radio guys also have a set of favorite change-drivers. They're sure the world is changing, and anxious that everyone should know the hidden truths about why.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 17:55
FUTURE CHANGE AS SEEN BY AMERICAN RIGHT-WING TALK RADIO, 2011/12. 1. Existential threats to the American Constitution. Mostly from "Sharia Law," which is sort of like the American Constitution for Moslem Islamofascists. 2. Imminent collapse of all fiat currencies, somehow leading to everyday use of fungible gold bars. 3. Sudden, frightening rise of violent, unemployable, disease-carrying "Occupy Wall Street" anarchists who are bent on intimidation and repressing free speech. 4. Hordes of immigrants being illegally encouraged to flood the polls. 5. Lethal and immoral US government health-care. 6. Radical Gay Agenda / Litigious Feminazis (tie). 7. God's Will. Surprisingly low-key, considering what an all-purpose justification this is.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 17:57
FUTURE CHANGE AS SEEN BY THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA 1. Continue trend of seize the planet's physical means of production by underpricing everyone else, and enduring the pollution and harsh labor conditions. To back off now after such grand, demonstrable success would be stupid. 2. Engineer new Chinese material infrastructures of all kinds; highways, power grids, urban real estate, moon shots, supercomputers, genetics labs, chip fabs, fab labs, you name it. Offer to build some for client states, too. 3. Reverse annoying trends in "international law," because that's actually Western hegemony. 4. Accelerate collapse of "intellectual property" because it's actually rentier feudalism. 5. Defeat "international finance" because it's crazy, it doesn't work, and it deprives state regimes of command over their economies.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 18:02
FUTURE CHANGE AS SEEN BY CYBERCULTURE 1. Smartphones! They make the Silicon Valley of the 1980s look like the railroads of the 1880s! 2. The almighty Moore's Law commands acceleration -- not just in processors, but also in storage and bandwidth, hurrah! If anything alse can possibly be made to act in accordance with Moore's Law, go for it! Brains, genes, teledildonics, anthrax, kidporn, we don't care, double it in 18 months! 3. SOPA / PIPA / War on General Computation! No compromise with the enemy even if they're us! 4. Tactical Media / Occupy / Arab Spring /Facebook-Twitter Revolution! Any revolution's great as long as our gadgets are construed to cause it! Quietly ditch all former enthusiastic changes once so similar to 1, 2, 3, 4... These former digital megatrends are to be tossed flaming into the memory hole: any "personal" computing that isn't "social'; anything "Web 2.0;" any low-bandwidth remnants of Web 1.0; information superhighways, software that came in boxes; Blackberries, Nokias, IE6, etc etc etc. That stuff's all "Obsolete Before Plateau," as the Gartner Hype Cycle decrees.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 18:06
SOME FRINGE BELIEFS ABOUT FUTURE CHANGES It's surprising how little vitality these have nowadays. Instead of fanaticallly dedicating themselves to narrow, all-explanatory cults, people just sort of eyeblink at 'em and move on to the next similiar topic. In a true Network Society, all fringe beliefs about the future seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and Mastercard. "Conservatism" conserves nothing; there is no "progression" in which to progress. Peak Oil. Oil probably "peaked" quite some time ago, but the "peak" itself doesn't seem to bother markets much. The imaginary Armageddon got old-fashioned fast. Peak Oil has peaked. Islamic Caliphate... With the collapse of so many Arab regimes, these guys are in the condition of dogs that caught a taxi. "Sharia Law" is practically useless for any contemporary purpose, and Arabs never agree about anything except forcing non-Arabs to believe. Chemtrails. These guys are pitiable loons, but they're interesting harbingers of a future when even scientific illiterates are deathly afraid of the sky. It's interesting that we have cults of people who walk outside and read the sky like a teacup. I've got a soft spot for chemtrail people, they're really just sort of cool, and much more interesting than UFO cultists, who are all basically Christians. Jesus is always the number one Saucer Brother in UFO contactee cults. It's incredible how little imagination the saucer people have. BitCoin. An ultimate Internet hacker fad. You'd think they were encrypting food and shelter, what with the awesome enthusiasm they had for this abstract scheme. Space Travel people. Visible mostly by their absence nowadays. About the only ones left are nutcase one-percenters of a certain generation, with money to burn on their private space yachts. This was such a huge narrative of the consensus future, for such a long time, that it's really interesting to see it die in public. There's no popular understanding of why space cities don't work, though if you told them they'd have to spend the rest of their lives in the fuselage of a 747 at 30,000 feet, they'd be like "Gosh that's terrible." Transcendant spiritual drug enthusiasts. People consume unbelievable amounts of narcotics nowadays, but there used to be gentle, unworldly characters who genuinely thought this practice was good for you, and would give you marijuana and psychedelics because they were convinced they were doing you a big, life-changing favor. You go into one of those medical marijuana dispensaries nowadays, they're like huckster chiropractors, basically. The whole ethical-free-spirit surround of the psychedelic dreamtime is gone. It's like the tie-dyed guys toking up in the ashram have been replaced by the carcasses of 12,000 slaughtered Mexicans. Nuclear Armageddon enthusiasts. Kind of a flicker-of-interest for this around Iran right now. Nothing compared to the colossal cultural influence that this paradigm once commanded. The WMD invasion of Iraq, kind of the last hurrah for this, it's tragedy redone as farce. You show somebody a Dr Strangelove mushroom cloud these days, they're like, "What is that, Fukushima? I don't get it." I could go on about other people's futurisms. Doing Italy and Serbia is tempting. But despite the variegated change-drivers that these interest-groups imagine, I remain pretty sure that all these groups are heading for a future world where they're elderly, urbanized and afraid of the sky. Even if you believe in reptiloids, you're gonna be a reptiloid-believing guy in a pretty big town with a lot of your neighbors pushing walkers in a heat wave.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 12 22:09
I'm thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic "Mind at the End of Its Tether" if he'd had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Our heads are buzzing with possibility, spinning ever faster into the alternate realities that your various futurisms suggest. I say "realities," but I'm not sure the word "reality" has much weight these days - more like competing fantasies, in the sense that Kesey et al talked about "the current fantasy" and others of us talked about "believing your own bullshit." Conflicting, competing narratives are the real games we play. Wells thought he was seeing human extinction, though it might have been his own personal extinction getting under his skin. We all have an expiration date, and that can be liberating or maddening, depending how you take it. The Pentagon is bending light to hide events: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/time-hole/ "This is the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, though research teams have in recent years made remarkable strides in cloaking objects." They've teleported Obama to Mars: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/obama-mars/all/. One more from Wired... the more we know, the less we understand: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_causation/all/1 "... a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, well still be telling stories about why it happened. Its mystery all the way down."
Polishing my titanium walker (tcn) Thu 5 Jan 12 03:08
Two more to bat around...the singularity folks would have us believe everything should be rosy by 2050 (I take it that's a bust in your view)and Corey Doctorow sees a looming battle for control of computation in general: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUEvRyemKSg.
Rob Myers (robmyers) Thu 5 Jan 12 04:39
I'd be interested in the Italian and Serbian views as I have friends from both of those countries. :-) And in what way is Cory not just echoing rms?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 05:57
Ted, I suppose we need another category of, FUTURE CHANGE AS SEEN BY SINGULARITY WRANGLERS: * Intelligence explodes as humans augment and amplify their capabilities. * Some variation of Skynet becomes self-aware and resets all our clocks. * Hyperinteliigent cyborganic lifeforms emerge from the stew of smart genetics and smarter biochips. * Intelligent machines recognize that human entities are feral, carnal, planet-busting organisms, even in their enhanced state. They plug humans in to pods and produce a consensus hallucination called The Matrix "The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." Someone like Gurdjieff - someone who has explored in depth the reality and inherent limitations of the human organism - would chuckle at the "intelligence" premise behind all this. Entities that are meta-unaware will more likely replicate their un-awareness, than create machines or cyborganisms with hyper-awareness or ultra-intelligence. We should probably focus less on "singularity" and more on the waning potential for survival as a species.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 12 08:11
Future Change as Seen by Italy The "Crisis." The planet's finance crisis, as seen by Italians, has been conflated with all other forms of local discontent and is just "The Crisis." The Crisis is like the "Years of Lead" of the 1970s, and is a general social bad mood that explains and excuses pretty much any misfortune: train running late, "the Crisis," cat threw up a hairball, "the Crisis," etc. Sometimes it gets more acute and sometimes less, but it's always there and it dominates discourse. The "Mud Machine." This is the Berlusconi media empire, which engages in the unique practice of suppressing dissent by suggesting that everybody in Italy equally useless and crooked, so why even bother. After all, everybody in Italy would have orgies involving underage illegal-alien Moslem prostitutes if they had the chance, so why get all worked up; mind your own business. The Mud Machine works because Italians enjoy being cynical about themselves. Nobody wants to be seen as the chump, so everybody ends up being victimized. The Mud Machine is in fine form and works whether Berlusconi is in power or not; and as long as leggy showgirls can strut their stuff on TV, it even makes money. The "Caste." Since Italy has had a very low birthrate for a very long time, it's dawning on people that everybody in power is amazingly old and that young people can't get a job or a house. Since the guys at the top of the heap never really leave power or change their policies, they are increasingly decried as the "Caste." Unfortunately for the young, old people vote very regularly and aren't gonna vote against themselves. Japan suffers a similar political helplessness; there's just not enough fresh blood to renew the state. It's gerontocracy in action and it's getting worse. Italy now has a "technocratic" emergency government, but they're all old guys. "Europe." The Italian version of "Europe" is different from other people's versions of "Europe," mostly because "Europe" is so much better-governed than Italy. If Italy hadn't founded the European Union, Italy wouldn't be allowed into it now, because Italy's too decadent and ramshackle to live up to the standards. So, every once in a while some kind of cold European economic/political breeze will ooze over the Alps; and Italians rarely complain; on the contrary, they're grateful for it and hope for better. Like, maybe "Europe" will somehow dispell the "Crisis" without Italians having to do much of anything, and wow, that would be great. Illegal immigrants. There are lots in Italy, and they come from various terrible places where the Italian military used to hang out, such as Libya and Somalia. Internal immigrants from southern Italy seem practically as bad. Every once in a while waves of immigrants show up because NATO drones are blowing up some place and the situation becomes acute. There's a vague sense that they all ought to be swept up and cast offshore before something dreadful happens, but society's too old to wield a broom, as that's a chore mostly reserved for the "clandestines." But any glance at a modern Italian elementary-school class shows that the next generation's multi-racial and multi-ethnic. Just a matter of time.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 12 08:18
I'm thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic "Mind at the End of Its Tether" if he'd had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. *Yeah, he would have written it anyway, because he was dying, and all the mediation in the world can't help that. It's an interesting book, even though he shouldn't have written it. Wells wasn't himself in those last pain-wracked days, and his judgment was disturbed, but Wells had such awesomely disciplined work habits that if he'd perished in a flaming train wreck he would have scribbled out "mind at the caboose of a wrecked train."
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 5 Jan 12 08:26
>We should probably focus less on "singularity" and more on the waning potential for survival as a species.< That really seems to be the theme. What do you both see as potentially positive responses to that dilemma?
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 5 Jan 12 09:03
short of watching that video could you give us the Cliff's Notes version of "singularity?"
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 09:20
Ted asks, re the potential end-of-species: "What do you both see as potentially positive responses to that dilemma?" I'm not feeling especially apocalyptic. In a chemically altered moment some years ago, I had a minor sense of the infinite: I was riding off into the sunrise, and realized the credits weren't rolling, the lights weren't coming up, the screen wasn't blanking. Species extinction might be less a reality than species morphing. We still have dinosaurs, only much smaller, and with wings. Then again, we all die at some point, and species extinction does happen. It could be that we're on that caboose Bruce just mentioned, and the force of the train's shattering collapse is incontrovertible. The best we can do is focus on solutions, and find ways to work together to sustain, not just the life of our species, but the quality of that life. We're having a breakdown right now, and you can see signs of it everywhere. Our best hope is that it's just a cycle. When you're in a down cycle, everything seems to be collapsing, but at some point, that can hopefully reverse. Our depression du jour is from a loss of confidence. You can see it in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement - what they have in common is a lack of confidence in the status quo of governance. But they haven't offered solutions, really. A society requires governance, it can't be every man for himself (the libertarian ideal) or mob rule (a potential consequence of "pure democracy"). Government should be a mediation of a society's desires and its necessities through some reasonable, principled body. The participatory governance we have in the U.S. generally works pretty well, though we're on a down side because legislators and judges are especially corrupt and unprincipled at the moment. We depend on a commitment to justice that we're not seeing at the moment. But that can change. I was initially positive about the Occupy movement and the sense that it's "for the 99%." However it won't work if we say the 99% are the good guys, and the 1% are evil. We should rethink that point.
Peter Feltham (oink) Thu 5 Jan 12 10:04
I'd have to agree with you on that last point, Jon. There's a very good TedTalk from a feisty and on-form Paddy Ashdown just out. As someone who was on the frontlines, both militarily and geopolitically over the years, he speaks from experience. See http://www.ted.com/talks/paddy_ashdown_the_global_power_shift.html
Hank Roberts (hank) Thu 5 Jan 12 10:07
I'm voting for Jeremy Jackson's "Rise of Slime" as the biggest baddest ongoing news that's already happening but barely noticed. You know what I'm referring to. Or if not, you know how to find it.
Jasmina Tesanovic (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 10:17
Email from Jasmina Tesanovic: We are witnessing in Italy the fall of the Roman Empire once again: it's kind of normal there, it's happens all the time over the years, from 2 thousand years ago to the last twenty years of Berlusconi reign. What's different this time, is the fall of capitalism and the Roman Empire is widespread, from US to the Balkans: the transition to nowhere, the road which we historical refugees started treading some years ago, is widening and eye opening. Everything is collapsing in our part of the world: public institutions and private enterprises. In Italy one person per day commits suicide, be it a person who lost his job or an indebted private who is sacking his workers. In a Catholic country where suicide is a capital sin, that makes your soul wander forever because you will not be allowed to get a proper burial! The wife of a suicide capitalist obtained for her husband, an elderly honest businessman, a permit to bury her man, because of his high sense of responsibility. But what about the guy who just yesterday committed suicide on the road because he provoked a car accident in which nobody was hurt, but who at the mention of the word police, took out his knife and stabbed himself to death? His relatives said that his major fear was that he would lose his job and not be able to support his family. Going to prison would be the same. Last Christmas, a couple of people were arrested for stealing food and small gifts: middle class decent catholics who didn't want to disappoint their families for Christmas. The charges were not dropped even though they were granted their loot for free. That's the state of the world in Italy. Some new moral codes in the nowhere land! In San Salvario Torino instead, the new year's eve was celebrated by a very successful public theatre show based on the power of the transformation in a crisis: after the workshops of crisis where experts from war zones, refugees and illegals helped italian people with their survival tips. In Serbia the crisis is permanent and still the democratic forces opposing the nationalists are fighting to join the EU crisis: to fall down integrated, not as a wild tribe singing in cyrillic nationalist battle songs I miss a comment of my late father, a world economist and a communist who died in 2008, only a couple of months before the dollar collapsed and the Swiss banks started losing their absolute power. He always counted on capitalism in order to be a communist. What do Robin Hoods do these days; Occupy? Occupy themselves? Actually an excellent idea. In Serbia we lived through the end of Yugoslavia, the collapse of a functional state, even of a healthy state: it's like a premature death caused by an accident. What about this death of old putrid capitalism that like a drug or cancer spread to anti capitalists too? I am an optimist really. It's all about people now: how to avoid suicides and instead produce goods and talk sense in local communities. My rich "kulak" granddad from Serbia went broke dramatically at the beginning of 20th century. My grandma, a lady but also a mother of six told him: now don't you dare commit suicide as it is socially expected from you ( a man of honor had to do it!) but consider yourself a lucky man who had something to lose. And now that you have spare time, help me out with kids and in the kitchen!
From Art Dangerfield (captward) Thu 5 Jan 12 11:33
jonl: "Our depression du jour is from a loss of confidence[....] The participatory governance we have in the U.S. generally works pretty well, though we're on a down side because legislators and judges are especially corrupt and unprincipled at the moment." I'd agree that it is a loss of confidence that has caused The Crisis, as the Italians would have it, but not the confidence of "the 99%" as Jon implies, but instead the confidence of the capitalist class in the longevity of capitalism itself. Systemic downturn is only possible when the investment class begins to doubt its own ability control future production and sees vast, unknowable risk swallow potential returns. The Crisis is also not a weather front that arrives and passes with the cycles of the Earth but the direct result of institutional policy, and one that can only be recuperated into the illusion of cyclical economics well after confidence has been restored.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 5 Jan 12 12:03
I think so, too. My impression is that we now have little parasitic mathematically complex betting practices that suck value out of the markets, and actually thrive on downturns. I think that is a substantive innovation and regulations change on top of market cycles, overlaid the way that warming the average global temperatures is a change on top of ongoing climate cycles. That means that there is more than confidence that must shift to make things work better, it seems.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 5 Jan 12 14:16
"Significant change drivers" and "futures scenarios" seem to be two of the big lenses used today. 'Technodeterminism'(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_determinism) is rapidly gaining purchase as well. As for cycles, 'chaotic disruption', paradigm shifts, 3rd Industrial Revolution, etc. all seem to fill the bill. Historically, this has all happened before. Anything different about all of this? Is there a new gorilla in the room? (Aside from an evaporating planet). I like to think,hope,that the Net,collaborative efforts,open-source, from the groundup, local solutions all have potential to at least carve out some kind of livable, even sustainable, solutions to the bleak short-range future ahead. It's almost as if the accepted scenario is something like, "if we can make it to 2050 we might have a chance as a species."
Tupac Chopra (mnemonic) Thu 5 Jan 12 14:31
Bruce, what do you make of Buzz Aldrin's drum-beating claims that the USA needs to recommit to space exploration? His latest addition to his campaign was published today at Huffington Post: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/buzz-aldrin/american-space-exploration_b_1184554 .html>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 5 Jan 12 15:19
*Well, since the missus has seen fit to meander by and deliver a political peroration (see #18), I'll throw in another one. Future Change as Seen by Serbia 1. Albanian ethnics occupying the ancestral land of Kosovo, an obscure patch of mountains that nobody else in the world has ever heard of. However, Kosovo's nevertheless incredibly and totally crucial and important to the general fate of mankind; like, seven-hundred tooth-grinding grudge-grumbling years' worth of importance. Tennis stars, busty turbofolk singers, everything else pales by comparison. 2. "NATO." NATO were the guys who blew up Serbia in 1999 and therefore ended the most recent Balkan wars, and this affront hasn't been forgotten. It has to be "NATO" that committed this misdeed, as Serbia is currently on rather cordial terms with all the countries actually in NATO. So tf you're Serbian and you go tell some NATO member like Denmark, "hey, you blew us up," they're like, "What?" So in Serbian parlance, "NATO" is always up to all kinds of elaborate skullduggery that nobody else understands. More fools they. 3. "Turks." Serbia is, again, on rather good terms with the actual Turks inside Turkey, who are nearby and energetic and have some capital and some skilled manpower. However, the Balkans are infested with all kinds of non-Serbian former-Ottoman rabble who are framed as "Turks." There are ethnic tidal-waves of these "Turk" guys apparently poised to storm and slay everyone with scimitars, but if you actually talk to any of these "Turks," they usually say something like, "hey, I'm Herzegovian by way of Chicago." 4. The "shadow state" "mafia" "secret police" "mogul" nexus. These guys are amazingly secret and totally unreformed basement conspirators, and everybody knows who they are, because Serbia is a small society and therefore people are related to them. Foreigners sometimes surmise that the "shadow state" is the "real" state, while the elected government of Serbia is an ersatz state, but the truth is the the Balkans doesn't really breed any successful nation-states. There's never been a "real" state in the region. It's always been about shadowy gangs of godfather types making executive decisions when everybody's really drunk. The fact that some of them are sworn to secrecy and heavily armed just makes it easier to get really paranoid, so that heavy drinking is required. 5. Foreign investment / Serbian passport regimes. It's all about foreign money coming in, and whether Serbs get to fly out and spend some of it. Since they Serbs get tormented a lot with other people's sanctions and border controls, these issues loom large in the popular imagination. Everybody's always handicapping future developments in the porosity of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and so forth. Real estate prices also hinge on this situation, so it's a locus of constant futuristic speculation. 6. "Russia." Serbia's fantasy version of Russia is like nobody else's conception of Russia; most everybody else thinks of Russia as some half-blind, yellow-fanged ursine creature bristling with rusty nuclear weapons, while for Serbia, Russia is a fluffy angelic-winged flying bear to be depicted in stained-glass windows in a cloud of Orthodox incense. Tremendous emotional energy is invested in imagining that Russia will somehow show up and set everything to rights someday, even though Russia has never really done that anywhere for anybody.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 5 Jan 12 15:20
Jon, I have the same reservations you do about OWS. I don't think scapegoating the 1% serves a useful purpose. If we took all of the 1%'s money and mailed everyone a check, it wouldn't make a dent in anyone's pocketbook. Solutions are not going to be about dividing us, but, rather, what unites us. We're all riding on the same blue marble.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 18:44
I love this comment somebody posted at bOING bOING (http://boingboing.net/2012/01/05/bruce-sterling-and-jon-lebkows.html) about this State of the World conversation: "That was a huge mess. No format, no questions, no conversation, who's talking, I don't know, what all this about Italy, a list of loony issues no one talks about any more, and then it ends on page 1. Huh?" Heh... I agree. *Huh?*
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