Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 5 Jan 07 10:57
I thought of it because Stamets believes mycelium may be key to healing the ecosystem.
Peter Hart-Davis (bumbaugh) Fri 5 Jan 07 13:23
Peter writes to comment: "Brute force dictatorships like Saddam Hussein's survive in part because people fear the alternative of the kind of chaos we see in Iraq now, which is both horrifying and fascinating, the latter because it shows us what we have when the center doesn't hold. You saw similar chaos in the former Soviet republics after the fall, no? How have those evolved? Are there lessons for Iraq?" ( Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 3 Jan 07 07:40) Unfortunately in South Africa during the apartheid years the possibility of impending chaos was often used to instill fear and as a threat against those calling for apartheid's demise from within and without the country. This threat was built up so much that in 1994 many thousands of predominantly white people left. These were supposedly intelligent and highly skilled people who were taken in by the propaganda. While hopefully South Africa is not the exception that proves the rule, I believe that better lessons are and need to be learnt from South Africa's example and at the same time South Africa should be given as much support and encouragement in order to support that example. Peter PS: I hope this is not too late.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 6 Jan 07 02:15
Well, if a hallucinatory network of intelligent fungal filaments is in charge of the planet's ecosystem, it needs to do a better damn job. Y'know, as a science fiction writer, I dote on that kind of daft deep-green whimsy, I'm kind of a connoisseur of it. It's not much use in case of trouble, though. It's like going to a broken levee in New Orleans and signalling the sky with bottle rockets because, you know, the Space Brothers might help out.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 6 Jan 07 02:42
Jonl writes: "That raises the question Jamais talked about at Worldchanging some time ago: in reparing the damage via geoengineering, what geoethical principles will we adopt and follow? " (http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003189.html) *Well, given that the situation is going to be dire and getting direr, I'd be guessing that the first ethical principle that springs to humanity's mind will be "an eye for an eye." It's not enough just to fix the sky; if the planetary house is burning down, somebody's got to be blamed for the calamity and purged. The obvious candidate for people of sense would be Exxon-Mobil and their willing subordinates, the US State Department, but it could be most anybody, really. We could see some kind of determined Creationist witch-hunt for gays because their sexual practices have warped the weather. The last and least likely outcome would be some Mylar-clad think-tank of wise and fully-informed ethical theorists telling us how to ethically practice planetary engineering. If these guys had any clout -- hell, if they even *existed* -- we'd have never gotten into this mess in the first place.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 6 Jan 07 06:51
I went back to Jamais' post at Worldchanging, and I think it's worthwhile to post the proposed core principles here: <quote> Interconnectedness is a recognition that the various planetary systems have deep and sometimes subtle cross-dependencies. Changes directly affecting a given system cannot be assumed to be neutral with regards to other systems; changes to (say) surface reflectivity, such as in the urban heat island effect, can in turn result in changes to rainfall patterns, influence the level of atmospheric ozone and particulate matter, and help determine the degree to which light from the Sun is absorbed. Diversity is an argument against monocultures arising directly from and as an unintended consequence of human activity. Direct monocultures include commercial forest stands; unintended monocultures include the proliferation of aggressive invasive organisms (e.g., "weeds") after environmental shifts open up new niches. Monocultures make ecosystems less able to survive shocks. Foresight is not a new concept at WorldChanging, even if expressed in somewhat different language. Ecological and geophysical changes tend to be slow, in human terms, and it's important when considering the implications of proposed actions to think in terms of the planet's pace, not just society's pace. An example would be the (as of now uncommon) recognition that global warming involves slow but relentless changes, such that quick shifts in human behavior will have no noticeable immediate effect. Integration is an explicit counter to the "die-off" line of thinking that places the needs of human societies below all other systems on the planet. Not only does the "die-off" argument result in ecological disaster as desperate societies try to grab remaining resources, its logic leads to the argument that (a) since human society is inherently unsustainable, and (b) since the planet, given sufficient time, can recover from any environmental burden we place on it before we die, there's no reason to be cautious, and we should do as we like with no concern for the future. Seeing human societies as part of the planet's systems, and as worthy of preservation and protection as any other part, allows for a longer-term perspective. Expansion of Options encompasses "sustainability," but is a larger concept. This means more than simply finding a sustainable balance of use and preservation; expansion of options means actively seeking behaviors that return more resources to the planet than they take, that emphasize renewal and reuse, and that provide a growing, diverse basis for future innovation. Reversibility is an attempt to capture the idea that, where possible, we should bias towards those choices that allow for reconsideration if unanticipated and undesirable consequences arise. Reversibility will not always be an option -- indeed, when matched with the Foresight principle, we may not recognize a problem until well after the option of reversal has passed. But when reversible options are available, they should be given special consideration. These principles and the statement of geoethics are obviously works-in-progress, and need greater refinement, elaboration and vision. I welcome and encourage suggestions and argument. <end quote> There's a manifesto in there somewhere, something that would also reveal the daunting complexity of climate change to those folks who hear "global warming" and think it's about temperature alone.
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 6 Jan 07 10:25
I saw a clip from a movie about Mass Extinctions at a local benefit for channel 29 (cable access free speech tv in San Francisco.) A group of assorted experts talking about the projection of losing half the species of life in a 30 to 50 year time span, given no changes in human culture and behavior. (Then they noted that was extinctions; that population colapse is just as threatening -- say if the honeybee survives unimpared in Italy but nowhere else, so it is not extinct, but the impact on the rest of the world is still catastrophic. Very sobering, and perhaps the opposite tone than what WorldChanging likes to take, but compelling enough that it is really bothering me. I guess i could pass this disturbing jolt of unwated information along for all interested... the film is still in production, evidently, but arresting the trailer is up. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/07/call_of_life_fa.php ) But the thing I wanted to post about was forecasting, futurism and speculative imagination. Bruce, I accidentally came across the rant you did at CFP in 1994 (It's not long, and it's still up in the "text museum" at the WELL Gopher, here: http://www.well.com:70/0/Publications/authors/Sterling/cfp4 and will be, since we like keeping that archive.) Reading it I though a lot about what scared net advocates then and now. Kudos for than as now looking past distractions like both kidporn and the war on adults sharing adult content, at the "war on Terra" and bigger questions and threats to our continued human dreaming. Are there things you've predicted with near certainty that just faded away? Do you play it safe with prognostication?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sat 6 Jan 07 12:53
I can't proxy Stamets' entire thesis but I think he's saying that the mycelium filaments are overwhelmed by our effect on the biosphere but that if we learn to cultivate them in various ways they can help clean up and restore a lot of the toxic and otherwise fscked up stuff. I don't have the science to judge any of this (and for that matter I'm only a chapter or two into his book) - but he isn't just waving magic pixie wand and saying we should clap for tinkerbell to heal the earth.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 7 Jan 07 02:18
Hey, if Tinker Bell could really pull that off, I'd be willing. I hear Tinker Bell can repair pots and pans. That sounds laudably practical. There are a number of serious-minded people who think that plankton and/or various microbes could affect CO2 levels within a short time. That's an unusual way to think, but it isn't delusionary. If somebody started further claiming that plankton has a Gaian artificial intelligence because they're all in the same planetary soup, then I would balk somewhat. I know it's impossible to "predict the future." Given my personal druthers, I prefer to fantasize about stuff. Like, writing Kafka-like parables where talking insects wisecrack to each other. Mostly about the exigencies of evolutionary biology and what a drag it is. http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/sterling2/ As a writer, I think I'm kind of on top of my game with a piece like that; it is daft whimsy, because talking fireflies are not really far at all from Disney and Tinker Bell; but it's creative and unusual, and it has cult appeal; if you somehow like that sort of thing, that's really the sort of thing you would like. But that isn't enough. Not near enough. The exigencies of the time require more from me than amusing myself with a little jeux d'esprit. Around 1998 I realized that people really *needed* somebody willing to "predict the future." Of course, that's not possible, but "without vision, the people perish." The need is severe. People actually *pine away* if they're told they have to get up in the morning and blindly slog their way through just another day. They need a bigger picture than that, and if nothing is offered to them other than utter nonsense, then they will hold their noses and bolt down the utter nonsense. So, even though it's clearly impossible and intellectually fraudulent in some strict sense, *somebody* ought to "predict the future." I mean, not just do demographic models and some dry corporate trend forecasting, but actually wrap the future up in a big-picture package and sprinkle some Tinker Bell dust. That job really needs doing. Otherwise, fundamentalists simply recruit everyone, strap bombs on them and promise them pie in the sky. They're doing a great job at that, actually. Al Qaeda's got visionary daring. They do things that are ethically contemptible, but the grandeur of their vision allows them to put that over everybody else. They are necromancers. And they sure know how to play that game. The classic version of a science fiction writer pulling this stunt off would be L. Ron Hubbard. So, the track record isn't that great, and it's clearly a treacherous and morally ambiguous line of work, but, what the hell: I'll do it. I'll volunteer. I'm a strange guy. I do a lot of odd stuff. You need some future predicted? Absolutely, fine, I'll predict some future for you. I know all about that line of work. I don't want you to join my cult, empty your pockets into my bank account, or blow yourself up for me, but I am a literal, no-kidding "Visionary." I can do that kind of stuff, for whatever it's worth. People *like* me to do it, they're really grateful. Been doing it for years.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 7 Jan 07 09:07
As you know, I spend a fair amount of time hanging out with our mutual friend, professional futurist Derek Woodgate. I like his approach; it's not about predicting, it's about *creating* the future. He identifies various trends in his clients' field of interest, and he helps them decide which ones they care about, what probable outcomes serve them best, and how to favor those outcomes and make them happen. Isn't that what you've done, to some extent, with the Viridian Design Movement?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 02:40
Derek is a fun guy to hang out with. He always knows something new. Still, I'm not quite in Derek's line of work, because I don't have any clients. In business-futurism, it's the client who provides the grain of the material. It's not about the ENTIRE future, it's about the client's future and what the client might possibly do about it. In which case I think Derek's approach is entirely sensible. Designers have clients, too. When I talk to design classes about futurism I urge them to get really close to the client. They generally know how to get really close to the user, so this is their natural path into that related line of work. "Visionaries" don't have any clients. Visionaries have audiences (assuming they can get anybody to listen). The visionary business isn't even a business, it's one of those vague, handwaving, semi-literary, cultural things. Visionaries generally have some kind of compulsive quality and a haunted look, they're not efficient functionaries, they're frayed around the edges. I sent out a Viridian Note today which is about Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, getting into the clean energy business. Bob's not a client of mine, I don't work for him or vice versa, but I've been moaning and howling for years on my little mailing list that the Silicon Valley - Route 128 crowd needs to tackle climate change. Now that's actually happening, so I guess I could jump up and down, oooh ooh ooh, the futurist, he's so foresightful... but I don't feel that way about it. It's not like I caused it. To me, it was a blatantly obvious development that's been taking forever to occur. Now that it's here, I'm already wondering about what comes next.
Richard York (bumbaugh) Mon 8 Jan 07 07:21
Richard York writes: Jon and Bruce: Jon states, quite correctly, that post-feudal governments really do require the consent of the governed and that the principal function of modern government has been protect the commons. I have come to believe that, as a result of a long (40 year) series of unintended consequences, the commons has been deeply eroded. To some extent the old commons is being replaced by online communities and other affinity groups. But, there does not seem to be a whole lot of the kind of cross pollination of ideas which occurred when people of differing economic, cultural and social backgrounds were forced together in the draft or in the ghettoes. How does each of you identify the commons, particularly in the US? Is it still there and if not, how do we rebuild some 21st century version of it?
Shebar Windstone (bumbaugh) Mon 8 Jan 07 07:22
Shebar Windstone e-mails us to say: Not that courts are doing a very good job of adjudicating crimes committed by corporations (/corporate executives) & government agencies (/government officials, military officers & heads of agencies) in which toxic or radioactive chemicals & wastes -- or, as in the case of oil, natural substances used unnaturally -- have injured or killed hundreds of thousands of human beings & their progeny, but do you think it would be possible & desirable to have an international court comparable to the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes against nature (the environment, wildlife & subcellular life forms)? What other systematized ways can you think of to get people to think of ecological crimes -- e.g., pollution, waste of energy, waste & despoilation of natural resources, planned obsolescence, lack of mass transit, sub/urban planning that necessitates long commutes, the destruction of species & their habitats -- as being as reprehensible as rape, child abuse & sexploitation, mass murder or genocide, & to act accordingly? (I'm ignoring the fact that the UN & the EU are sitting with their thumbs in their assholes while soldiers get medals, corporations get rich & politicians make hay out of rape, child abuse & sexploitation, mass murder & genocide.) And to change the current system in which the profits made from irresponsible/criminal production, system designs & land/water/air (ab)use & exploitation are privatized but taxpayers usually get stuck with the bills for clean-ups & damage (in the rare instances where they occur)? My only other idea -- for those beancounters & lawyers who insist on quantifying the unquantifiable -- is that the costs of recycling or disposal of every object should be computed into its sales price & stated on a label just as ingredients, caloric/nutritional content & health warnings are given (or obscured) now. Maybe also the value of resources used in production that cannot be recycled. In the USA, we put the price of a nickel (or a dime in Maine) on a soda/pop bottle (& water bottles in Maine & California). What's the environmental cost of a nonreturnable water/juice/sports drink bottle or the packaging materials of an Unhappy Meal? What's the environmental cost when a creature eats that bottle? (Incidentally, tracking recyclable components might be one use for RFIDs, but what are the environmental costs of an RFID, the tools & energy used to track it, & its eventual disposal/recycling?) Would such a resource use & recycling tax (a value- subtracted tax, if you will) deter producers & consumers from sticking future generations (if there are any) with the bills?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 08:56
Here's Clay Shirky and a colleague hammering out the economics of Second Life by dredging up all kinds of fragmentary data and putting it in charts. http://tnl.net/blog/2007/01/05/running-the-numbers-on-second-life/ Boy this thing is awesomely dull. I thought virtuality was supposed to be all sense-of-wonder-ish.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 09:20
I think the commons have eroded for a number of reasons. Everybody concerned with them would like to have some kind of high-level solution for this, one that goes along with cool sociological phraseology like "the commons." Like, is there a policy decision somewhere that would legislate the commons? Could I push the f-1 function key and get some commons back? But really: would you LIKE to be drafted just so you can hang out with a bunch of armed guys with whom you share no other interests? You could join a political party. You could volunteer with an NGO. Those are "commons." You'd find yourself making a whole lot of deeply felt, open-ended personal commitments for no money. I know people who do that. A commons will cluster right around them, they're community leaders, they've got a lot of friends. I get tired just watching those people. "The commons" isn't a single thing, it's a whole bunch of little micro-acts of social capital, like throwing open your doors and having a big party for all your friends and anybody they want to bring along. It feels great when you do it, and you think, wow, I should do this more often... but you could just go get a sixpack and watch the Simpsons, and man, that's a whole lot cheaper. Plus that machine is a professional entertainer. Plus, I'm lazy. I could go out and stir up a few quarts of "commons," or else I could just go out bowling alone. Never mind, I won't even go bowling. Get some websurfing done here, open me another bag o' potato chips. People form big rambunctious supportive communities when there's nothing much else to do. A hoe-down and a barn-raising, man, those were great. You check out modern postindustrial America and see how many single people live alone now. Awesome numbers of them. Unprecedented. Because now they can do it: the market gives them food, shelter, clothing, the works. They're not dependent on a commons. If it erodes, they don't suffer much from the loss. If everybody's ripping off little bits of it and nobody's restoring it, of course the commons is gonna erode. That's "the tragedy of the commons."
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 8 Jan 07 09:44
"Not that courts are doing a very good job of adjudicating crimes committed by corporations (/corporate executives) & government agencies (/government officials, military officers & heads of agencies) in which toxic or radioactive chemicals & wastes -- or, as in the case of oil, natural substances used unnaturally -- have injured or killed hundreds of thousands of human beings & their progeny, but do you think it would be possible & desirable to have an international court comparable to the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes against nature (the environment, wildlife & subcellular life forms)?" *It wouldn't surprise me at all if there were a lot of show trials when the climate crisis hits the fan. I don't think they're gonna be because of crimes committed against "subcellular life forms." I don't think vacuoles and RNA strands can hire lawyers. *I'd be guessing that an International Crimes Court in a climate crisis would work about as well as an International Crimes Court works in any big crisis. You can't try the entire population for crimes, -- and of course we're all guilty, to one degree or another -- so you round up the loudest and most obvious malefactors, get them the hell away from the levers of power, see if they'll testify against one another... You spend a whole lot of time worrying about the ones who haven't been apprehended yet... the ones who DO get apprehended commonly don't have to dangle from a rope Saddam Hussein style, they just do some time and get conjugal visits and eventually they drag on home, where the recidivists throw 'em a big spaghetti dinner... That's how it works, the International Justice biz. *I don't want to come across all cynical about this; I'd love to see the entire board of directors of Exxon-Mobil in The Hague, especially the retired ones, and I'd bet good money, too, that when they read the newspapers and see how badly they misjudged the situation, they know they belong there. But we're not gonna be able to wave some magic Hague wand and create worldwide green social justice and a completely new and more advanced economic order through judicial activism. That's asking too much from international crimes courts, which are small, clannish, poorly budgeted little institutions. *I hang out in the Balkans a lot. I've seen this kind of thing done. It's not that it's not worth doing. I think it's quite likely to happen; polluting the entire sky is the biggest market failure in the history of the human race, when the Hamptons and Malibu start going under water, really rich and powerful people are gonna get mad and vengeful. Something will bust loose, and a court is a better place for that than a battlefield. *I wouldn't outguess the course of justice, either. If Westinghouse were running a climate-crimes court they'd indict hippies for blocking nuclear power plants.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 8 Jan 07 13:32
Hmmm... don't give 'em any ideas. That question about the Commons reminds me of Sandy Stone's taped presentation a decade ago at a virtual community miniconference we put together in Austin, also featuring Howard Rheingold and Tom Jennings. Sandy noted that people originally sat on benches and in pews, i.e. group seating arrangements, and the only guy who had a single chair was the king. That was the real commons... people inherently thrown together, whole families living in a single room, everybody sitting together, eating together, talking and listening together. She followed a line of evolution in the industrial middle classes, to a point where nuclear families live one family to a house, and individuals are isolated in their own rooms. If I remember correctly, she was saying that the virtual community movement was an attempt to have a group life again... neotribalism, we sometimes called it. Virtual community was also a way to build new kinds of physical community - e.g. Burning Man was organized online. We think we want to be rugged individualists, but I think we all yearn for the commons, or for community. We just inherently form groups. All the social network research of the last few years suggests that the network, the system of hubs, nodes, and connections, manifests an inherent organizing principle... everything from cells to stars have network structures. To the extent there's been an erosion of the commons, I think it's so detrimental to our nature that, one way or another, we'll regroup, but to have a functional social commons you have to have trust, and we're a little short of that particular item these days. On New Years' Eve, I was at something called First Night in downtown Austin. Thousands of people gathered for a parade, art extravaganza, and fireworks. Every kind of person you could think of, hanging out together, just milling around and digging the scene. It seems to me that there are more and more of those massive gatherings. Though I've never gone to Burning Man, I know a lot of people who do go there, and they've formed strong social bonds. In an annual Temporary Autonomous Zone, the form a commons the experience of which has become the basis for just about everything they do. And they seem a little more trusting, and more inclined to live communally. Quite a few of those same people, incidentally, are engaged in commons-based peer production via various Open Source development projects. This is a bit of a ramble, I'm not sure where it's going; I guess the bottom line is that I'm less sure that there's been an erosion of the Commons. *** Bruce, I've been meaning to ask you about outer space. You've written your share of space fiction. What are your thoughts about commercial space companies - Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic? And the mind-blowing advances in space research over the last few years, from up-close exploration of Mars to the just-published map of dark matter in the universe?
Cogito, Ergo Spero (robertflink) Mon 8 Jan 07 19:25
>I have come to believe that, as a result of a long (40 year) series of unintended consequences, the commons has been deeply eroded.< The "commons" may actually be dynamic with aspects being added while others are being lost. Global travel, education, the internet may be considered examples of commons that have emerged over the last century as accessible to large numbers of people. BTW, the benefits of future predictions may be more in thinking in the larger scope/scale than in the accuracy of any one prediction. This is like the idea that planning is worthwhile even if a specific plan need to be taken with a significant quantity of salt.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:33
I like outer space. If you're a science fiction writer, as I am, and you say you like outer space, it sounds very Captain Future and therefore kind of corny, but the thing I like best about outer space is the irreducible outerness of it. It's bigger than human pretense. It doesn't care what we think. I mean: Saturn and the rings of Saturn, they're not merely our earthly myths and ideas and concepts of Saturn... you can blast a machine the size of a bus to go hang out in orbit there and snoop around Saturn, and by golly, it's all ACTUALLY THERE. The rings are braided, there's, like, lightning blasts and weird gravitational fogs flowing through them, giant permanent hurricanes, moons erupting, fields of dunes, lakes of methane... They're real, it's a real place, and it's unearthly. It's all churning along there, doing its vast and vigorous and utterly un-human thing, been there for billions of years, doesn't mind about us and all the tiny, distant issues that make us fret... That's a source of wonderment, really, and not the cheap sleight-of-hand mystification that commonly poses as wonder, but actual, irreducible wonder. I think that's a healthy emotion for human beings to have. Wonderment at our role in this very strange cosmos is a kind of realism. We ought to make it our business to understand a lot more about that. When it comes to private, toy manned spaceships, I don't grudge the geek ultra-wealthy their hobbies. I wish those guys would take over manned space exploration entirely, and that the entirety of NASA's funding would be spent on the science budget. For the price of political Buck Rogers pretenses we could saturate the solar system with cheap videocams. I think manned space flight is a stunt at this point in time. It's a cool stunt, but it conveys very little in the way of practical accomplishment. Manned space flight is something like an extremely expensive, heavily politicized Disney thrill ride. If manned space flight is about the thrill for the sake of the thrill, it makes sense to sell spaceflight as elite entertainment. Why should we tax ourselves for that kind of whimsy if Richard Branson can sell it?
Richard Evans (rje) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:48
The problem is not whether or not to participate in a commons as such, but rather what kind of commons to join. Hanging out at Burning Man is not the same thing as hanging out at a Southern Baptist Convention even though the participants of both may feel they are participating in a kind of commons. In respect to the environment what is needed- in part- is not merely new commons or networks but rather new sets of information and ways of thinking which inform the structure and behaviour of those networks. Or rather new ways to connect ideas to action. It's a content thing. After all even evil terrorist types use email to create a malignant commons.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 9 Jan 07 02:49
"BTW, the benefits of future predictions may be more in thinking in the larger scope/scale than in the accuracy of any one prediction. This is like the idea that planning is worthwhile even if a specific plan need to be taken with a significant quantity of salt." It's been said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but it's also said that the *act* of planning is the key to victory. I've been to a lot of futurist scenario planning. That conveys many of its benefits as encounter therapy. Just getting twenty-five people into a room, dividing them into teams, getting them to focus on speculative topics, getting them to interrelate while talking future strategy... A lot of crowd-wisdom is unleashed by doing that. People can accomplish a hell of a lot in groups if they can get on the same strategic page. If an army thinks its cause is just and its goals make sense, it's a formidable army, even if the war itself is mistaken or absurd: "The War of Jenkins' Ear," for instance.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 05:05
<scribbled by jonl Tue 9 Jan 07 07:55>
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Tue 9 Jan 07 05:31
<Sell out, man. That's the answer. It's gotta be money. Huge amounts of money. Ford and Rockefeller amounts of money. There isn't any worlchanging mechanism that moves as fast, as ruthlessly, as comprehensively as the market.> Sorry to join this conversation late, but I need to seriously question this assertion, or if not the assertion than the implications. John Robb has been running an interesting blog called "Global Guerillas" and for some time he has been flogging the idea of "open source warfare"--the concept that increasingly loose networks of fairly autonomous cells can put their techniques out on the open net and everyone can use them for free. Haven taken a couple spins through Iraq and seen the idea in action, I think he's on to something. Despite the serious diversity in groups waging war in Iraq, over time their tactics and technologies tend to become similar. This is true even when the groups involved seem diametrically opposed. For example, Shia groups (probably supported or trained by Iranian Hizballah) were probably the first elements in Iraq to use truly effective EFP IEDs (which can destroy armor) and homemade claymore mines. But there wasn't much of a lag time before Sunni groups started picking up the techniques too. How the information transferred is certainly a matter for investigation, but the bottom line is that it didn't take that long and it apparently wasn't that difficult. There was a visible learning curve when the Sunni groups started in, but the curve went fast. Here's the real kicker, though: there's no reason on earth that the "open source warfare" model cannot be applied to other revolutionary human endeavors. For example, could an "insurgent" group develop a technique for making cleaner fuel and spread the model to other groups? I'd argue that with the advent of biodiesel refining (which can literally be done in any garage) this is already happening. Watch what happens if someone figures out which fungi can be readily made into cellulytic digesters for ethanol feedstocks. It could be really interesting. There are a lot of reasons why I think open source networks may prove more effective than fabulously wealthy individuals. For one, it's cheaper. Who the hell is going to buy music from David Geffen when they can download for free? The Gates and Rockefellers of the world will certainly try to control how and where their money is used. People who are less financially empowered may not agree, and so they will find ways to go around the need for finances. For another, it's not that hard. Not everyone is smart enough to design an infrared IED trigger, but once the basic elements are prepared it's not that hard to cobble one together. There are "hackers" embedded in every revolutionary community, and once they figure their thing out the information spreads quickly. In addition, there are a lot more open source network members than there are fabulously individuals, so in the aggregate their efforts may count for more. Finally, the availability of world-changing technology has really flattened out. The internal combustion engine is everywhere, the internet is damn near everywhere, and in time we will probably see technologies like nano-assembly and gene hacking everywhere. (As an interesting aside, my brother with his new BS in botany tells me that plant genetic engineering technology may reach garage level in about a decade. Maybe he's just an optimistic twentysomething, but what if he's right? How do you control technology like that?) As a confluence of factors creates a more chaotic future, there will be more and more external motivation for revolutionary networks to stand up and try their hand at changing the world. I think it's inevitable, and hierarchies will not be able to put a lid on it. As a member of a hierarchy, I have developed a respect for the networks that are kicking our ass for pennies on the dollar. This does not mean, of course, that rule by open source networks is going to be a wholly positive thing. The megacity of Lagos can be looked upon as a massive adaptive open source system, but most observers consider it a disaster. Still, we've had rule by wealthy elites for some time, and it's not a wholly positive phenomenon either. The future isn't going to be boring, that's for sure.
Credo, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Tue 9 Jan 07 06:18
>I think that's a healthy emotion for human beings to have. Wonderment at our role in this very strange cosmos is a kind of realism. We ought to make it our business to understand a lot more about that.< I like the idea that "wonder" is more real than "knowing". "Knowing" may be more appealing to those for whom "wonder" is a fearful thing. "Wonder" speaks of openness. "Knowing" as in the case of certitude may well be a dead end.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 9 Jan 07 08:10
Reading #70 above, I flashed on a vision of futurist politicians. How different would the world be if legislators spent their sessions in charrettes, planning and validating scenarios? echodog, does "Open Source" really present an alternative to markets and wealth? Or is it just about a different medium of exchange?
Jamais Cascio (cascio) Tue 9 Jan 07 09:20
The budget for the Mars Rover project (Spirit & Opportunity) came to just a bit more than a single pre-Columbia shuttle launch. While the Mars Rover budget has been boosted, no doubt, as the bots keep going, the cost per launch of the shuttle is much higher now, too, post-Columbia. Jon, I can tell you that it's really interesting to see political leaders grappling with scenarios. I was in Hawaii for the kick off of the Sustainability 2050 project, a massive futurism exercise funded by the Hawaii legislature over the veto of the governor. Lots of legislators were in attendance, and they really got into it. I'm not sure how much they got the process, but they clearly were engaged with the content. <echodog>, your brother isn't an optimist, he's being overly conservative. Plant genetics isn't just garage, it's *kid's toys*: http://tinyurl.com/xlhn (Discovery Channel "DNA Explorer for Kids" -- includes centrifuge, magnetic mixer, and electrophoresis chamber. $80. Been out for a couple of years now.) Serious plant genetic engineering is available to moderately talented undergrads now, and will probably be possible in high schools within a decade. Take a look at "Carlson Curves:" http://synthesis.typepad.com/synthesis/2006/08/bedroom_biology.html
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