inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #0 of 198: Brady Lea (brady) Sat 3 Jan 15 14:31

It's a new year and it's time for the 2015 edition of the State Of The World
discussion featuring Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky. This year, they are
joined by special guest, Cory Doctorow.

All WELL members are welcome to post, and non-members can participate as
well. Just tweet your comments or questions to @TheWELL or email them to
inkwell at well dot com.

Thanks for joining us.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #1 of 198: Brady Lea (brady) Sat 3 Jan 15 14:38

First, a little about our participants.

Bruce Sterling

A futurist, journalist, science-fiction author and design critic, Bruce
Sterling is best known for his novels and his seminal work on the
Mirrorshades anthology, which defined the cyberpunk genre.

His nonfiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the
Electronic Frontier; Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years; and
Shaping Things. He is a contributing editor of Wired magazine, for which he
writes on a wide range of topics, including politics, globalization and
offshoring, technology and security, and the potential of NGOs. He also
writes a weblog. During 2005, Sterling was the "visionary in residence" at
Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 2008, he was the guest curator
for the Share Festival of Digital Art and Culture in Torino, Italy, as well
as the visionary in residence at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam. In
2011, he returned to Art Center as visionary in residence to run a special
project on augmented reality. Bruce Sterling has appeared on Nightline, The
Late Show, Morningside, MTV, and TechTV and in Time, Newsweek, The Wall
Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Nature, I.D., Metropolis,
Technology Review, Der Spiegel, La Stampa, La Repubblica, and many other

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist,
journalist and blogger -- the co-editor of Boing Boing ( and
the author of the YA graphic novel IN REAL LIFE, the nonfiction business
book INFORMATION DOESN'T WANT TO BE FREE< and young adult novels like
HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like
RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born
in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London.

Jon Lebkowsky

Jon Lebkowsky has been active in digital culture and media for over 25
years, and is currently focused on strategic digital consulting and
development as member and CEO of the Polycot Associates web development
cooperative. He is also known as an activist, sometimes journalist, and
blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media,
and society.

He’s been actively associated with various forward-looking projects and
organizations, including FringeWare (as CEO and as publisher and sometimes
editor of FringeWare Review), Whole Earth (as a writer, and as subdomain
editor for the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog), WorldChanging (as technology
manager and blogger), Viridian Design Movement (as website manager), Mondo
2000 (as a writer), Boing Boing (as writer and associate editor), Factsheet
Five (as book review editor), the WELL (as community host), the Austin
Chronicle (as writer), EFF-Austin (as President), Society of Participatory
Medicine (as cofounder and former board member), Extreme Democracy (as co-
editor), Wireless Future (as project manager), Digital Convergence
Initiative (as former board member), Plutopia Productions (as cofounder and
Chief Digital Officer), Polycot Consulting (as cofounder and CEO), Social
Web Strategies (as cofounder and social media consultant), and Reality
Augmented Blog (as cofounder, blogger, and manager).

inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #2 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 4 Jan 15 01:45
*Ping ping, click click *tap* Is this thing on?  

*Who am I kidding?  The WELL is thirty years old!  It's ALWAYS on!
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #3 of 198: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Sun 4 Jan 15 23:22
I'm here! My wife's in Las Vegas at CES, I'm getting ready to start a new
huge s33kr1t project with EFF, and the kid's about to head back to year two
at state school here in Hackney. The giant, unthinkably huge novel-for-
adults  I've been working on all through 2014 is nearly, nearly done (at
least the first draft), and I'm wrapping up a big freelance assignment
whose completion will create a lot of free space in my calendar for the
aforementioned EFF thing (as will the novel's completion).
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #4 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 5 Jan 15 03:55
*So then, Hello World yet again, and the WELL SOTW 2015 finds me
writing a brief historical fantasy about the Roman Empire.    Here
in 2015, I arrive pretty well-briefed about doings in 143 AD. 

*But we'll put the issue of historical fiction aside a moment -
because it's killing me -- and instead, let me try to establish a
few general WELL themes for 2015 before the discussion, as is
customary, exudes into every possible direction.

First, climate change, which has to be the central issue in any sane
discussion of the changing state of the world.  It's tedious to
repeat this every year, but last year was very hot.  Next year will
be hotter.  It's a shame that this has become a denialist
theological matter, but it's like telling a rich right-wing
alcoholic that his liver is decaying.   No doubt he'll simply claim
that's a culture-Marxist power grab by the over-educated medical
profession.  But the crisis is there, and it's getting worse, and
it's written all over the patient's face. Next.

The climate crisis is plenty bad, but it wasn't so ferociously
menacing as the Ebola epidemic.   I'm truly grateful that I'm not
composing this State of the World while people worldwide are swathed
in splashproofed yellow plastic.    

 That spectral likelihood didn't occur.  We were lucky, and also we
were good-enough.   A world plague is a grim thing to contemplate,
but the fact that we somehow lack a new one, frankly, rather cheers
me up.  It's a credit to the world's resilience.  That fact that we
can talk about anything BUT Ebola in 2015 is quite lovely.  We've
got high tea and strawberry cake when we could have been in the
quarantine tents.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #5 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 5 Jan 15 03:55

      Then there's the existent, or the emergent, zeitgeist of  the
year 2015.  What can one say that is useful -- how does one
distinguish the state of the big wide world from your own personal
mental state?  There's always so much wishful thinking and
psychological projection there -- no matter who tries it.

      When I'm involved in writing fiction, as I am right now, I
always sense that aspect of public sense-making as personal
myth-making.   In even the biggest, most cosmopolitan novel,  every
fictional character in there is a minor fragment of the author. The 
world described in literature is  not "the world," it's prose, the
author's chosen words selected from the corpus of some language. 
It's a pretend-world that is one person's voice.

      In attempting to know the past,  you can read history, and you
think, hmmm, facts, dates, treaties, power struggles, or in contrast
you can read fiction written in the past, the literary classics, and
somehow you just intuit: well, it's made-up, but that's how it was
-- that's what it meant to be alive back then. 

        Combining fiction with history, historical fiction, is quite
a lot like trying to cram science into fiction.   They're sister
genres.  I used to be very interested in science, and rather
interested in fiction.  For some personal reason that may be of
general import, here in 2015, I'm somehow very interested in design
and rather interested in history.  

     So, in 2015, I seem to be writing some rather innovative period
material that's probably better described as "designer history" than
as "science fiction."  Nobody but a critic would see the difference
there, but I'm pretty sure it exists.

       The theme of science is the discovery of laws of nature,
while the theme of "designer history" is definitely "atemporality." 
Atemporality means literary hacks of the metaphysics of history --
how do we know what the passage of time means, how do we tell what
is new from what is old-fashioned?  What is wired, what is tired,
and what is fully retired, and who declares that, by what methods,
with what medium, with what rhetoric and how do they make those
labels stick?  Why does anybody ever believe a word of it?  

       Why, for instance, are people in Ukraine getting shot and
bombed in 2015 because Russian zealots somehow believe that ancient,
crusty, eldritch pre-Communist Russian Orthodoxy is modern?  Because
they do believe that, and they kill and die for it.  Novorussia in
the Ukraine is like patient zero for weaponized atemporality. Worse
yet, some of the biggest, best-armed zealots there are big sci-fi

       Can you take something dead as Nineveh, scrub the ID numbers
off it, steampunk it up some and release it into the wild as
something trendy and with-it?  Absolutely you can, and I have some
basic understanding of how it works now, but it still feels like a
hack, a sci-fi gimmick.  What I wish I understood was the deeper
craft of it.  Ars longa, vita brevis.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #6 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 5 Jan 15 03:57

    As I get older, and boy am I ever in 2015, I can see  the
divisions of the past fading into the ambiguities of the present. 
I'm getting all authorly and deconstructive here, but, let's
consider, for instance, the grand distinction between the "global"
and the "local."  "Think globally, act locally," the "Whole Earth,"
and other shibboleths of my vanished youth here at Whole Earth
'Lectronic Link.  

        Every day, I see people in local streets, with handheld
devices, casually using global services.   You can use a local map
to venture from your doorstep to the florist's shop, and there are
extremely accurate, very up-to-date local maps of practically all
cities now.  But none of those local maps are "local" maps in the
sense, that they're owned, created or controlled by local citizens. 
No, they're all global maps.

       If you send your wife an SMS while she's upstairs, this very
local and intimate act gets routed through the cloud instantly.  
The cloud's existent in the bedroom, radiated through cell-towers. 

          I can easily make that sound weird, but it's 2015's
normality.    Thinking that the local will not be perceived,
transmitted and catalogued by the global, that global and locak
somehow still occupy distinctive categories, that's become a
crotchety and old-fashioned idea.  The year 2015 has globalized
domesticity.  It has the 'mobile glocal.'

         Then there's the big distinction of "personal" and the
"political," which feminists forty years ago were keen to abolish.  
We've got "glocal" as a portmanteau word for global yet also local,
but we don't have any good word to mean "personalitical."  

       But a modern outburst like #Gamergate, and god help us here
on the WELL if the troops of that conflict ever hear about it, is a
totally "personalitical"  phenomenon.   

         It's just one example, 'cause there's lots  network
politics in 2015 are radically "personalitical." It's all about
snarling baboon-troops of witch-hunt zealots uniting online to
harass the living daylights out of stray foot-soldiers from the
enemy camp.  That's personalized politics under the existent
network-society condition.  It's the 'human flesh search engine,' as
the Chinese used to call it, because the Chinese were great online
pioneers of weaponized scolding and dox-attacks.

         Actually, the enemy in network politics doesn't  have a
"camp" per se, because if it did, the enemy would be a properly
organized political party with some coherent platform that might win
elections and carry out intentional political change.   It seemed to
me for a while that political activists in parties might be able to
do this though networks, but in personalitical 2015, that  doesn't
seem to me to be possible.  

        Obama, who was supposedly the maestro of this activity, has
some of the worst political email I've seen.  It's relentless
fund-raising spam.  I'm amazed by its narrow, single-minded tedium. 
I've come to shudder at the sight of it in my mailbox.  Obama was so
personally unpredictable, and yet his political outreach is so
entirely predictable.   Why?  But -- what other actual, elected
statesman is any better at networking?   The only contemporary
political figure who consistently surprises me these days is the
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #7 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 5 Jan 15 03:57
   Another big dichotomy that seems to me to be dissolving through
an epic effort is "Things" and "Internet."  This is a particular
crank hang-up of mine.  With any luck it will become a major project
for me this year.  More on this topic later, I reckon.

        The once-important distinction between "virtual" and
"actual" is severely archaic now.  It's just gone away, it's
academic at best, like the idle wonderment over whether your food's
been genetically modified.   

        How "actual" is your day in 2015?  Is there anybody anywhere
who's 100% actual?  Even the primeval Stone Age islanders of the
Sentinelese, who still persist in 2015 and shoot everybody who tries
to talk to them with cane bows, are under satellite surveillance. 
The Indian Navy rigorously protects them from any knowledge of the
Indian Navy.

         The division between print and screen used to be a big
formal deal.   Not any more.    And music, what a strange trip it's
had -- music went from analog vinyl to  digital CDs, to files, to
streams, and now people who actually want to physically possess
recorded music tend to be vinyl fans, once more, as if they'd gotten
over some ruinous acid trip.  That's because, after many digital
decades of alleged "advancement" and "improvement"  of music
production, music still sounds much better on big ungainly vinyl
plastic disks.  

        Or so I'm told by audiophiles, anyway; of course the music
on that analog vinyl was digitally produced, so that fish rots at
the head.

        "Television" as a separate entity is vanishing.  People used
to gather at home at specific prime times to watch local broadcasts
produced by remote big networks.  Then came videotapes, DVDs,
tube-streams, and in 2015, deadly network-neutrality warfare -- a
basic power-struggle in media, that's all about the vampire revenant
of popular television finally throttling the anarchic geek fountain
of the Internet.   

        People in 2015 really want the Internet to give them video. 
They never doubt that video is what it's all about.   All kinds of
video, mobile video, personal sex clips, funny animals, canned TV
series from someone else's country, blockbuster movies, whatever.  
If video means that cable providers and Netflix get dictatorial
power over the dry backbone of the Internet, so be it.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #8 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 5 Jan 15 03:58
      As I mentioned last year, the stuff that modern people
generally still call "Internet" is basically Google, Amazon,
Facebook, Apple and Microsoft -- the "Stacks." Of course that's even
more so this year.  I'm not a big Stack fan myself, but even though
I'm a lonely-pamphleteer punk DIY Internet blogger by my
temperament, I spend most of my own screen time, not "on the
Internet," but on the smaller, alternative social networks, like
Twitter, Tumblr,  FlickR, and even Ello, the 2015 howling infant of
the bunch.    

     The appearance of Chinese Stacks in a Western contest quite
interests me.   In 2015, the Chinese Great Firewall will be trying
hard to buy-into startup capitalism.  How will that work out, this
year?  The Chinese have got cash galore, and it's hard to pretend
that the Politburo is any more intrusive than

    So: it is 2015, another year of advancement toward the
mid-century condition, an epoch of "old people in big cities afraid
of the sky."   It's coming; the mid-century's getting realer every
day; it means walls full of channel-switching screens clustered
around some a distinguished but lonely old Japanese otaku guy,
surrounded by manicured, arcane data while eating his canned soup in
a cold-water apartment.
     But speaking of the influence of William Gibson, he said
something very striking last year; that in the 20th century,
everyone spoke with reverence of the 21st, while here, deep into the
21st, the 22nd century never gets a look-in.  Of course he's right,
but this problem seems like honest work to me.  A child born in 2015
will be 85 in the Twenty-Second Century: it's within the reach of a
normal, average human life span.  

       So, the 22nd Century: I'm determined to make it our friend. 
I've resolved to talk more and more about it.  Let it be the
buzzword, let it become the watchword.    The 22nd Century, the
#22C: whatever the hell it is, it's getting closer every day.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #9 of 198: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 5 Jan 15 06:24
Here's a list of trends I'm seeing as we roll into 2015:

Privatization of outer space: A number of companies are developing
(, and there’s one nonprofit that’s formed to colonize Mars by 2023 ( Is the investment entirely speculative, or do we have clear business models driving a potential new space age?

Currency revolution: a number of alternative currencies have
appeared, most notably the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. There are also
technologies for digitally mediated barter. How will these be
integrated into existing economic systems? Are we really looking at
a (more? or less?) radical transformation of global economies?

AI/robotics: we’re beginning to see practical, usable applications
of robotics, and there’s much talk of evolving artificial
intelligence and possible singularity.  Alan Turing, via Benedict
Cumberbatch, is getting some attention. When asked in “The Imitation
Game” whether machines will ever think like humans, he scoffs -
that’s the wrong question. Machines may think, but not “like
humans.” Much of the singularity talk doesn’t get this point, but is
rooted in anthropomorphism, which makes about as much sense as a
golem emerging from a carefully-shaped clay effigy.  We like to
think there’s no intelligence that ain’t human, but that’s a shadow
of anthropocentric hubris. As we get into robotics and AI in a
bigger, industrial-strength, way, what will they teach us about
intelligence, human and other? 

Practical backlash against 1% and hyper-neoliberalism: the political
pendulum swings persistently, and it doesn’t make human sense to
roll backwards to some sort of feudal society. Also propaganda only
works so far before practical intelligence engenders some degree of
critical thinking. Okay, I’m being hopeful here, but I believe the
extreme factions in the civil cold war du jour will be overcome by
those who are more balanced, reasonable, and practical. 2015 could
be the turning point; waiting to hear the alarm ring.

Internet of things: There’s buzz around the IoT now, probably not
altogether practical, but driving investment that could fund
innovation. We ask the wrong questions about it, i.e. “why do I want
my toaster to talk to my refrigerator?” We should be considering
what “things” are most practical to network, and the pro and con
implications. Are there security implications? Are we depending too
much on networks, creating too great a vulnerability to network

Cyberwars, hacktivism, crypto activism:  Networked information
systems have inherent vulnerabilities, increasingly exploited by
various actors for various reasons. To the extent that we live our
lives online and invest in our online identities, we’re subject to
these vulnerabilities. This is increasingly obvious, and the
question for any one of us is, how vulnerable have I become, and how
to I mitigate risk? This is a question for individuals,
corporations, and governments. Mitigation can create obstructions
and limit the value of networks, so we have to think hard about the
risks we’re willing to take the measures we’re willing to adopt to
limit those risks. It’s also clear that governments (and
non-governmental movements) will engage in cyberwar - to what extent
will some of us suffer collateral damage from those engagements?  

Network fatigue: Expect to see more strategic cord-cutting: limiting
online activity generally and persistently, or perhaps periodically
(“no Facebook for 30 days”). Response to information overwhelm is

“New democrats”: Liberal entities like the Democratic party in the
U.S. have proved ineffective as alternatives to well-organized
corporate conservatives. The health of societies depends on a
balance of the two approaches characterized simplistically as “left
vs right.” Correction of the current imbalance is inevitable, but
will likely involve entities that are nascent or don’t exist yet, vs
the established  entities of the left, which seem irrelevant and
obsolete, partly because they have sought to compete by identifying
with their opponents, rather than by emphasizing alternatives.  One
possible trend could emerge from a middling trend, i.e. a rejection
of polarization and an emphasis on a practical middle path between
“left wing” and “right wing.” 

Demilitarization of police:  Militarization of police after 9/11 may
have seemed like a good idea at the time, but none of us wanted to
create a police state, which is a potential effect. Going forward,
we’ll be reconsidering the roll of police departments in communities
and considering how to undo the downside of the militarization
efforts. We’ll be rethinking the role of police departments in
communities, and how to respond effectively to potential terrorist
acts within borders without confusing police objectives with
military objectives.

Crowdsourcing medical solutions: smart patients will have more of a
role in evolving therapies, and have more input into our
understanding of human systems and response to disease.
Participatory medicine will become more established. Medical
research will consider patient feedback to get a better sense of
complex contextual factors affecting health. More people will do
granular “quantified self” tracking, and there will be systems to
aggregate and analyze this information, impacting our understanding
of prevention as well as disease.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #10 of 198: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Mon 5 Jan 15 09:43
There are three things that I think Need Work in the sense of, "If this
isn't resolved, everything else is harder."

1. Corruption.

Lessig started talking about this years ago and has a plan that's had
medium-good showing so far to do something about it.

The age of the governmental technocrat - the policy wonk who has an idea
whose purpose is to produce a kind of just, good, sustainable, ethically
grounded, common-good kind of outcome -- is over.

The ONLY policies with traction in 2015 are ones with business models:
unless the procurement process for your policy produces surplus capital that
can be siphoned off into the continuance of your policy, your policy is

That's why actual, useful Smart City stuff dies, while glitzy, press-
releasy, dividend-generating, shareholder-value-generating smart cities

and their endgame is ugly:

It's a fun -- and potentially useful -- exercise to think up policies that
do good while generating revenue for an industry that will lobby for their
continuance, but it is obviously true that lots of good policies have no
business model.

For example, running schools like businesses can produce outcomes that look
good on balance sheets -- rising attendance and standardized test scores --
but only by turning schools into things that don't do much educating.

So corruption.

2. Controlling people with comptuers

It really doesn't matter how important, just or righteous your cause is, you
can't and shouldn't try to realize it with DRM or anything like DRM. If
there's anything DRM taught us, it's that it doesn't actually stop any kind
of Bad Guy, because in order to do so, you would have to be able to
effectively hide secrets from the owner of a computer in the computer, and
that doesn't work for the same reason we don't put bank safes, no matter how
well designed, in the living rooms of bank-robbers.

People who advocate for DRM already know this. That's why they pass laws
making it a felony to help disable DRM. The problem is that there's no
technical definition between "reporting a bug in a system" and "helping
disable DRM in that system."

Your phone isn't mostly an entertainment device -- it's mostly an near-
omniscient surveillance device. Not the kind of surveillance we know about
-- the Snowden kind of surveillance -- but the kind of surveillance that no
one, anywere defends: the kind where creeps, crooks, voyeurs and script
kiddies can discover your bank details, photograph you and your kids in the
nude, listen in on all your phone calls (and in an Internet of Things world)
turn off your pacemaker or turn your house into a freezer by turning off the
heat in the middle of a Big Freeze.

The idea that we can make Turing Complete Minus One devices that run every
program except the ones we don't like is only gaining currency, because it
has a huge business model.

The FBI wants your phone to have a "lawful interception" back door --
meaning he wants it to run a program you can't turn off, and to stop you
from running programs that subvert it. There is no meaningful lawful
interception for devices you give to untrusted parties without a law
criminalizing its removal and the publication of information that would aid
in that removal.

3. I'll get to 3 later.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #11 of 198: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Mon 5 Jan 15 23:36
3. Piketty and the automation of guard labor

Piketty's magesterial Capital in the 21st Century
( infused
the ideological wars of economics with much-needed evidence. A Boing Boing
reader compared it to Origin of Species in that regard, and there are other
important similarities to Darwin's work: first of all, C21 is LONG, because
Piketty's doing something dangerously heterodox, and he wants to anticipate
and head off his critics, so every possibly counterargument is raised and
addressed. This makes the book needlessly daunting -- the argument itself
could be carried off in a spritely, 150-page pamphlet, and someone should do

The other similarity to Darwin is the conservatism at C21's core. Darwin
found incontrovertible evidence for evolution, but couldn't bring himself to
write God out of the equation, so he simply moved God up the stack,
declaring evolution to be God's tool for creating life.

Likewise, Piketty finds that capitalism produces higher returns for people
born rich than for people who generate the innovations that produce
prosperity, and cannot have a "meritocratic" outcome (which is the moral
justification for a society in which some are poor and others are rich --
the rich deserve it, because markets allocate wealth to the deserving).

But Piketty can't write capitalism out. He never even considers the
possibility of a non-capitalist system for organizing society. Instead, he
proposes a light gloss on capitalism, a nearly infinitesimal tax on the very
richest (which, predictably, the Gilded Age's overlords characterize as a
kind of Communist seizure).

Piketty's call to the technocrats, rulers, and electors is that wealth
disparity produces social instability. Over and over again, he uses the
wealth disparity on the eve of the French Revolution as a benchmark and
warning (I fear that Americans won't resonate with this example as much as
the French do).

This is self-evident. If people are desperately poor -- that is, if they are
literally dying due to lack of food, health care, education, shelter, and
other necessities -- and they are within shouting distance of people who
enjoy unimaginable wealth, then some force must keep the former from taking
the wealth of the latter.

That force may be moral -- a narrative about the fairness of markets and the
possibility that if you do good, the markets will carry you up the hill to
the gated community -- or it may be coercive (armies, police, surveillance).

In practice, it's both. And there's a kind of simple equation where the more
disparity grows, the more of the capital of the rich needs to be spent
maintaining coercive force and propaganda to keep the guillotines in
storage. At a certain point, you're spending more on stability than you're
retaining in wealth, and that's when it makes sense to deign to pay some
taxes, allow some labor and tenants' laws, etc.

In the last part of the 20th century, automation made suasion much cheaper:
the rise of mass media made it vastly cheaper for the rich and powerful to
convey their message to everyone else (Monroe Doctrine to Fox News).

In this century, automation has made coercion much cheaper, too. It's not
just the militarization of the police (itself a sterling example of a policy
with a business model: once there's a policy reason for the army to buy more
materiel than they can use, in order to gift it to the police, the excess
capital from those extra sales can be diverted in part to lobby to keep the
policy in place); it's the automation of surveillance and control through
our connected devices.

There are lots of comparisons to the surveillance apparatus revealed by
Snowden to the GDR's Stasi, but the reality is that the Stasi employed
armies of people, while the NSA and its contractor employ relative
squadrons. The cost of surveillance has dropped through the floor: indeed,
in many cases, there are NO marginal costs for surveillance. Once Prism is
in Google's data-center, the cost of surveilling a new Gmail user is zero.

This means that it is now practical to expand wealth disparity to heretofore
unheard-of levels. The curves of social-instability-versus-cost-of-coercion-
and-control have a new intersection.

This ties the other two factors together. Corruption enriches the few with
policies that ignore the common good in favor of self-dealing. The
subversion of devices and networks increases the sustainability of a
corrupt society marked by massive wealth disparity.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #12 of 198: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 6 Jan 15 04:18
That analysis seems spot-on to me, except that I'm pretty clear the
hairy-palmed, inherently corrupt invisible hand described here has
little awareness of itself, i.e. is not consciously conspiring. The
rich get richer not because they're evil (though some are, and some
are aware of the mechanics and the implications, no doubt - cough,
cough, Koch). 

The increasingly wealthy are caught in a self-justifying delusion,
reinforced by a corruption of conscience, barely aware of the
workers in the machine rooms below Metropolis. The cycle of delusion
is hard to break. 700 pages from Piketty won't do it. A shock to the
system, like a great depression, might. We grow obese until that
coronary event that almost kills us.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #13 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 6 Jan 15 04:24
Cory remarks:  "The ONLY policies with traction in 2015 are ones
with business models: unless the procurement process for your policy
produces surplus capital that can be siphoned off into the
continuance of your policy, your policy is dead."

*Yeah, the former division between the state and for-profit
enterprises has definitely turned into one of those highly-meltable

*I bet we could multiply those examples by the hundred.  Examples
where the joy of the 1990s market solution has bred surreal and
monstrous situations.  For instance, a house is one thing, and a
market investment is supposedly another thing, and yet London's
poxed all over with empty neutron-bomb super-buildings that are
poker-chips for super-rich glocalists.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #14 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 6 Jan 15 04:29
*After ten enjoyable years of frenetic global travel, I'm getting
kind of tired of not having a house.  Torino is a European city so
whacked by industrial decline that it's got tons of empty space. 
You'd think that the market logic of supply and demand would sort of
add A to B here, but it doesn't.

*It's not that the state gets in the way, though of course it's
weird and challenging to have foreigners living in your town.  I'm
thinking that the real problem is that even the state/ real property
market relationship has itself been marketized.  In a real estate
crisis, people make tons of money ensuring situations that mean that
people have no place to live in.  Italy is emptying fast, but it's
emptying even faster because young Italians can't get a roof in a
nation full of derelict properties.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #15 of 198: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 6 Jan 15 04:36
I wonder if Piketty is gonna line up to see the tell-all biopic
movie that Valerie Trierweiler, former First Girlfriend of France,
is gonna make from her spiteful tell-all book.  If there is a case
zero for the utter inability of the Left to run a national
government, it's gotta be France.  I guess they can still surprise
me a little, but never, ever in a good way.

Their related inability to run a culture is illustrated by Piketty
turning down the Legion of Honor because the state shouldn't be
allowed to honor anybody.  What else does he think states are for? 
Has he never seen a statue or a postage stamp?  The guy's
credibility crashed with me there.  I can't trust the judgement of a
guy who has so little understanding of the nature of a public
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #16 of 198: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Tue 6 Jan 15 06:25
The asset-ification of housing in the UK is incredible, and almost
impossible for foreigners to grasp. The US might have had its subprimes and
reverse-mortgages and LIAR loans, but in the UK there were at least four
state media TV shows about buying and flipping houses. There's this
consensus here that reasonable people buy into that says there's a thing
called "the housing ladder." Your first rung is a small flat, which
appreciates in value to the point where you can flip it for the down-payment
on a bigger house, etc. The fact that the *whole market* is correlated
(appreciating or depreciating as a piece) is conveniently ignored (after
all, Liverpool and London experienced different market conditions, so maybe
you could buy into the overheated rustbelt bubble, use that to get into
London etc). People are convinced that they must *own* a house as an asset
to a degree that beggars the imagination: for example, they buy fractional
interests in their homes (this is marketed as an affordable housing
arrangement), so that they co-own it with a huge, faceless property
management company.

The UK also has the bizarre institution of the "leasehold," which has not US
or Canadian analog. It's like owning a condo in a multi-unit building,
except there's no condo association, just a giant corporation that
technically owns your home (in our case, it's a theoretically nonprofit
affordable housing assocation that is using some of its surplus capital to
buy the freeholds of "market rent" places) and provides as much or as little
maintenance as they care to, or that you can sue them into (or out of), and
then bills you for it. What you own is a "lease" (not like a US lease) that
runs to 99 years, and that the "owner" must renew at rates set by statute.
The freeholders were originally aristos who owned huge swaths of England,
but by and large these have been parcelled out to speculators.

Meritorcracy is such a bizarre cult. Michael Young, who founded the Open
University (where I am affiliated), coined the term in a satirical essay in
1958. It is such obvious self-serving bullshit. "We live in a meritocracy. I
can tell, because I'm on top and I'm the best at the criteria we use to
determine who gets to be on top. The fact that me and other people who do
well on that criteria unilaterally declared it to be the dispositive factor
in determining merit is irrelevant. We're such lovely chaps, and so
meretricious, that we can certainly be relied upon to pick the right

But a society needs *some* basis to hand-wave away inequality, and the
grosser the inequality, the more hand-waving you need. When London Mayor
Boris Johnson -- a colossal posh asshole -- engaged in a bit of jolly

"The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to
get to the top"

he was just saying what every committed dead-eyed American Psycho LARPer

and none of them, apparently, have the self-awareness to imagine that every
crime-boss, dictator, and Grand Inquisitor thought the same thing (indeed,
these are the people whose money they generally invest in empty safe-
deposit-boxes-in-the-sky in central London).
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #17 of 198: Dodge (dodge1234) Tue 6 Jan 15 07:44
You could have substituted the U.S. for Italy in the statement about
citizens who cannot get a place to live altho surrounded by empty
houses. I read an article recently that stated there are more empty
and abandoned houses here in Houston than there are homeless and
that many of them are being razed because it is easier to sell a
vacant lot to developers than fix up or keep a house liveable until
it can be sold. What would be a solution, tho?
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #18 of 198: Ruth Bernstein (ruthb) Tue 6 Jan 15 07:45
meretricious=meritorious, surely. 
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #19 of 198: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 6 Jan 15 07:57
I'm a hard-working stiff with a charming little house in the
suburbs, but I'm drawn to resilient communities (which we discussed
here with John Robb,
il-page01.html). Perhaps I could turn my suburban home into a self-sustaining oasis in the 'hood. 

My friend Randy Jewart has a "lifeboat" strategy
( where "gardening, solar
energy, rain water collection, green building and local economy are
part of our curriculum." 

Here's an excerpt from the page I just referenced:

Had a chance to meditate on LIFEBOAT EATING while trekking through
the panorama of extraction from Taos back to Austin.  (it’s a doozy
— complete with Monsanto billboards about their “trustworthy food

– the LIFEBOAT garden will be different than the way we are
gardening and farming now with the support of EMPIRE  (no commercial
nurseries, no commercial compost, no commercial minerals, no
industrial water)  how do we garden/farm without these commercial

– what did folks eat BEFORE formal agriculture in this region? 
(native plants, game, insects)

– how will we adapt our gardening to climate changes?  (I know Jake
likes this one! and may be practicing some relevant approaches at
his project)

– how can we involve local culinary talent to help us develop easy
and tasty menus based on the things we know we can cultivate/forage

– how do we develop a MARKET strategy for our existing gardens/farms
that can TRANSITION into LIFEBOAT eating?

Taken on the whole, I think there is lots of great research and
practice to dive into in the short term that will yield some
exciting and productive activity for our families and community —
and potentially build a transition market to support LIFEBOAT
practice in the near-term and into collapse.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #20 of 198: Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Tue 6 Jan 15 08:17
Love that, notwithstanding my distrust of lifeboat metaphors:
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #21 of 198: Dodge (dodge1234) Tue 6 Jan 15 08:18
Permaculture farming, so saith my sister, is such a system. All
natural, no artificial means of fertilizing and pest control.
Balanced, self sustaining before major profit. Lack of debt. No more
farmers who don't have food on the table because they are trying to
keep afloat of their debt.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #22 of 198: John Payne (satyr) Tue 6 Jan 15 09:58
What sorts of research need more emphasis and better funding?

(I can think of some candidates, but will save those for later.)
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #23 of 198: Stefan Jones (jonl) Tue 6 Jan 15 12:10
Via email from Stefan Jones:

Unggghghghg . . .

Suburban lifeboat gardens and independent farmers are swell things
if you have a big yard or are a farmer.

I don't think these things are on the same low level as a
survivalist squatting over a horde of nitrogen-packed people-kibble,
but c'mon, are you so willing to write off cities and trade? It
isn't like these things were created yesterday by vampire

Railways are an efficient way of connecting countryside and cities,
and there are no laws of physics preventing us from running
locomotives on green fuels.

Fertilizers are a manufactured petrochemical product *now,* but
whenever I read an article about researchers coming up with a way to
make liquid fuels from sunlight, grey water and farts, I wonder if a
similar techniques could be used to make fertilizer.

Which brings up something else I've been wondering about. Could
inconveniently situated (in time or space) surpluses in wind or
solar energy be used for "piecework?" Put a fertilizer or liquid
fuel factory in a shipping container and site it next to a wind
farm. If California or Houston needs the wind farm's juice, it gets
sent out on the grid. If not, the factory churns out a few carboys
of fertilizer.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #24 of 198: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Tue 6 Jan 15 13:37

I've been caught by the difference between what constitutes "news"
from the fear/anger/confusion generating media driving eyeballs to
ads versus what is really going on in the world.

Today's wars are bad but compared to the 20th Century mere piffles.
Abject poverty is decreasing. Diseases like cancer are coming more
under control. There are stories about new developments to overcome
antibiotic resistance. The list goes on.

Yes there are serious issues that need to be addressed but I'm wondering
what you find especially significant in more positive developments.
inkwell.vue.478 : Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
permalink #25 of 198: Suzanne Stefanac (zorca) Tue 6 Jan 15 14:30
over on alternet, joseph stiglitz argues against piketty saying that
the rise in inequality is not caused by the accumulation of wealth
(savings/capital goods), but rather an increase in the value of
urban land.

he goes on to say that piketty's 'tax the rich' may be
over-simplistic, "If most of the savings is being done by
capitalists, and you tax the return on capital, then they will have
less to invest. That would mean, over the long run, that the rate of
interest would go up. That would therefore undo some of the intent
to lower the income of capitalists."

should i burn all these 'tax the rich' t-shirts?


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