Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 5 Jan 12 19:07
I can't think of anything more important than scapegoating the 1% at the moment. They're driving us off a cliff, and having a great time doing it. And there's always the forlorn hope that by properly scapegoating them, we can avoid a much more unpleasant conclusion to their ride to hell and glory.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 5 Jan 12 20:42
Following on that, and drifting into the format of a Question for Bruce and Jon: Besides being writers, you both have taken on notable roles as change agents, from the Veridian Design Movement to EFF chapter organizing. Do you have any wishes or predictions in terms of protestors and other kinds of activists for this year?
Alex Steffen (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 20:47
Via email from Alex Steffen: My sense is that the crisis in confidence in governing institutions in the US (and to a more moderate degree elsewhere) is the direct result of entirely intentional Neo-Conservative efforts ("government's the problem, not the solution") designed largely to eliminate regulatory, cultural and political barriers to the ultra-wealthy accumulating more wealth, but that the process has now galloped away on its own. What's happening now is in no one's control. Paradoxically, perhaps, this feels to me like an optimistic development. Things need to change profoundly, at systemic levels, and systemic breakdowns are for the first time in decades putting the design of those systems (from banking to urbanization to energy to democratic governance) on the table in a very unavoidable way. Not a guarantee of a positive outcome, by any means, but at least a situation to which we can imagine a positive outcome of the right scope, scale and speed.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Thu 5 Jan 12 20:47
wow. drivebys by <oink> and <hank>.
Paul Belserene (paulbel) Thu 5 Jan 12 20:48
We're undoubtedly further away from the extinction of our species than we are from a really bad case of global "interesting times" economically with a huge shakeup in resources, production, and economic (lack of) regulation. But we're doing all the extinction things at the same time as we're plunging into the more near-term crises (I like the "fall of the Roman Empire all over again" image). but I remember the focus on oil during the Carter Administration. It was true that we were heading for the peak, but, as Paul Saffo says, we were confusing "a clear view with a short distance." What should we be focusing on now?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 22:01
Protesters are often people who feel powerless trying to find a voice, to be empowered as part of a show of force. If they fail to organize effectively beyond the demonstrations, they won't be effective. If they do organize effectively and take power, they've shifted into a different context - the risk is that they become what they opposed. In fact I don't see much effective organization. Occupy is an example of a protest that can't get past a the demonstration phase - in fact they willfully tried to extend the demonstration, the "occupation," until it became counterproductive. It's like they didn't know what else to do. They didn't want to become just another movement, they didn't want to be co-opted by existing organizations. Obviously we have to do something. On one level I was relieved to see Occupy Wall Street and the other demonstrations that followed - we were all wondering when the hell somebody was going to speak up, and those guys had the guts to take the first step, and the persistence to make it work for a while. But a real transformation at a political level will be an effect of organization and a product of rethinking. I don't think they were organized enough, and it's not clear they were thinking enough. They had a narrow sense of purpose but were trying to go broad. Ultimately people, even those who were initially supportive, drifted. I thought it was a mistake to attempt long term occupations, the grunge factor alone was a bit distressing, and there was a sense that they were avoiding solutions in favor of rhetoric. Employing the vocabulary of the old school left didn't feel right, either. I think it's good to show numbers in the streets, especially in places like Egypt and Syria where there's less of a participatory framework - working the system from within is harder if the system doesn't at least profess to value participation. But what we really need is people working on structures for governance and frameworks for establishing a consensus that isn't directed by a self-serving elites. I've worked with groups that try to get people elected at lower levels of governance and move 'em up - that's harder to do, and not as sexy as a protest march, but it's what we need - create a base of principled public servants who aren't driven by greed, ideology, political bias. A lot of people share Mark's sentiment about scapegoating the 1%, but ultimately I think it just creates more contention and polarization. But I suppose some friction is inevitable.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 22:16
Alex Steffen has a good point - we're really being pushed to a point where we have to avoid persistent self-delusion, wake up and take effective action. <paulbel> asks what we should be focusing on now. Climate change and environmental sustainability, building a viable energy future that doesn't depend on "the burn." Also building and sustaining a just and practical economic system that won't collapse under its own weight. Those are obvious starters. Maybe we should be thinking about leaving the planet - we're overdue for some real-world star trek mojo.
Kieran O'Neill (jonl) Thu 5 Jan 12 22:26
Email from Kieran O'Neill: I don't think peak oil has gone away, just the predictions of armageddon (though some of that persists). It's actually getting fairly mainstream attention these days. And the fact remains that production is falling and demand is rising, with no viable alternative sources of energy in sight. That's likely to at least tend to rebalance the proportion of the human race with access to fossil-fuel dependent activities and commodities such as air travel, private motor vehicles, and food. Add climate change, gerontocracy, and a bit of backlash from the younger generations, and you get "old people in big cities who are afraid of the sky", living with resource scarcity and relying on young people who despise them for ruining their world. Not a pretty picture, but a motivation to at least try to ingratiate yourself with the newer generations.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 6 Jan 12 04:13
Re: the 1%, let me be clear. I think it's important to scapegoat them, protest their actions, and if possible bring their excesses under control because the obvious alternatives are much worse. Those alternatives include: 1) Letting them continue to take American society back to the good old days of the Gilded Age - and we're more than halfway there now (a major candidate for a major party has actually criticized child labor laws - something one would have brought up only as a joke a few years ago). 2) The 1%-manipulated/sponsored Tea Party movement or some future offshoot brings fascism to America for real (cue Frank Zappa's ghost for a chorus of "It Can't Happen Here..."). 3) A significant number of people decide that since the 1% completely control the political apparatus, the only viable means of protest are violent. Once you un-cork that bottle, the results are quite unpredictable - but almost always unpleasant at least in the near term. With those alternatives, I would say that a massive non-violent movement "scapegoating" (ha ha) the 1% is certainly the most preferable option. Or one could always bury one's head in the sand and pretend that push has not come to shove on the class warfare front. And right - peak oil has not gone away at all, it's just become less trendy to chatter about it. In the curious way of unspeakable ideas, it has gone from being beyond the pale to being tacitly accepted without ever having been acknowledged. Purges of premature peak oil enthusiasts will no doubt follow.
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 6 Jan 12 04:37
If the 1% were united with the rest of society, there wouldn't be a problem. This isn't about scapegoating but about recognising that there has been a delamination....
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 6 Jan 12 04:40
Bruce - Yes my friends in Belgrade talk about NATO like that. Whilst being perfectly happy to talk to someone from Blair's own country...
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 6 Jan 12 04:42
So, in the U.S., we'll have about 20-30 of these metroplexes and the rest of the country will be pretty much unsustainable (except for whatever Monsanto and friends can cultivate). Mother Earth is already responding. Bruce had a great rant at the close of the 2011 Art & Environment Convention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC6yylIwyKg Would you talk a bit about the Anthropogenic reverting to 'next nature' in the unsustainable areas; weeds as victory conditions, making friends with fire ants (my fave)?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 6 Jan 12 04:43
Right. Pretending something is not taking place does not make it go away. I agree that it would be great if we could all just get along, as Rodney King said. And once upon a time, we did - when the rich folks lived up on the hill. But now that they have so many houses they lose count - even as many of us are losing our homes - it's a different story. Slips. BTW, loved the description above of the Berlusconi "mud machine." And no, I am not going to yield to my spell checker and change that to "Coniferous," though one is tempted.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 6 Jan 12 05:05
Just read David Weinberger's Too Big to Know http://www.toobigtoknow.com/ Interesting book. His memorable take away is that "the smartest person in the room is now the room itself". His point is that knowledge is networked,and that implication changes everything. Paddy Ashdown also refers to this same point from a different perspective. The U.S. no longer calls the shots for the rest of the world. We've moved to a complex global network, forcing new alliances. If you look at how the 1% is networked, a bow-tie, it's hard to see how that all doesn't collapse of its own design. (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354.500-revealed--the-capitalist-ne twork-that-runs-the-world.html) So, on the one hand we have the rise of city-states or metroplexes, new treaty-based shifting global alliances, and huge unsustainable areas of 'next nature' ignoring both. (Guess we need three hands for that). All necessitating new models. Is that about right?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 12 06:17
It really is a crazy world, where a science fiction writer who makes his living as a public speaker and design theorist and a blogger who makes his living as a web strategist and developer can hold forth about the state of the world and have any kind of audience. The knowledge flows are stunningly complex and have, for many of the Internet years, been democratized and distributed broadly. Knowledge is networked, as David says, and you might assume we're smarter as a result. I don't think we're smarter, though. Access to information doesn't make you more intelligent; if anything, it makes you more distracted. I would argue that information (or at another level, data) is neither knowledge nor a sign of intelligence: those are processes that act on information to make sense of it, to make it useful. We're not learning to think any better - we're more distracted, overloaded, confused. I see it every day, the struggle with information overload and the lack of authoritative sources that you can depend on to make sense of things. And there's significant noise in the knowledge ecosystem, e.g. the powerful right wing astroturf machine that feeds millions of inboxes in a private, somewhat out-of-sight network of propaganda distribution. (The left tries to do this, too, but its networks seem less effective at the moment). Meanwhile the system of education, where we might teach people to think from early on, is underfunded, losing more funds, breaking down, and was never especially great at teaching critical thinking. Those of us who've been online for many years realize the profound need for digital litereacy, an understanding how to take and sort the glut of information that flows through the network, but that's part of the mandatory education of children and adolescents as it should be. We're still restating the Snopes monkey trial, with forces arguing whether we should be teaching science or superstition in schools. The answer to that question used to be a no-brainer. And here's another point: I've worked a lot around people who do advocacy, and most if not all advocacy is built on an assumption that governments can offer solutions - they're advocating for laws and regulations, for strong government implementations. However governments aren't strong, and it's not just because libertarian thinkers have seized the political narrative. Corporations have become more powerful, and government entities less so, and that's not something new or attributable to the Tea Party or Ron Paul. It was nudged along in the U.S. by the Bush 43 Administration's success in bankrupting the government, weakening it by extracting its funds and disrupting its funding mechanisms, but that was probably just a case of making already weak government entities even weaker. So you talk about the rise of geographical or political entities of some kind, but you have to factor in the power of corporations and understand how that manifests in the 21st Century. I also think it's important to stop thinking about conspiracies and start thinking about historical forces. I don't think people, as individuals or groups, are the real drivers. I think there are forces that are inherently beyond our control. A surfer doesn't try to make waves, he rides 'em. That's what we should be doing. Think how advocacy would change if we thought less about changing policy and more about working the real forces in the world, and transforming the way we think rather than controlling and policing the things we do?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 6 Jan 12 06:47
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/buzz-aldrin/american-space-exploration_b_1184554 .html I'm glad to see this elderly astronaut with this much mastery of the tech details, but this article of his is all means and no ends. There is no political or economic purpose to creating a manned colony on Mars. How would it survive in the long term, how would it pay its way? What exactly would it do? Aldrin also doesn't mention why NASA can't innovate. It's because NASA became a pork machine; it methodically spreads out major projects among so many Congressional districts that they're unkillable, but also unworkable. Nobody was ever held to account for the failure of the Shuttle. even though the thing was a chimeric gobboon from the get-go. At least Aldrin manfully admits this failure, but he doesn't address the underlying systemic problem involved in having Congress run a space technocracy. The contemporary Congress isn't about Mars, it's all about culture war over evolution and climate change. It's a radically anti-science Congress where denial of facts is a litmus test. These guys can't repair bridges, much less build shuttlecraft. That doesn't mean the US doesn't innovate in aerospace, though. A giant, high-tech, robot blimp with a laser communication system and a starling horde of Predators. "Blue Devil" is not fast, it doesn't zoom into outer space, it just sees global guerrillas and it illegally kills them. If anything's gonna intimidate and cow the Chinese, it'll be weird, scary, Gothic High-Tech devices like this, not some General Motors Martian bailout for NASA. *The Chinese are building drones as fast as they can weld 'em. Everybody likes drones. Even terrorists like drones. In 2012, drones are where it's at, and they don't even have pilots, much less glorious astronauts. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/22/blue_devil_big_safari_adaptive_optics_ tech/
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 6 Jan 12 07:57
Impressive tech on that blimp, but it doesn't look too difficult to shoot down. Are they hoping to "cloak" it?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 6 Jan 12 08:02
The blimp's for the canaille. They don't have any balloon-busters, they just have IEDs and a narcoterror budget. The Blue Devil is what military aeronautics looks like when you've got absolute command of the sky. Now,if you could build a really big Blue Devil, like a Fuller-Sphere geodesic version, and anchor it to the earth with carbon-fiber cables, and then install facial-recognition on the bottom and ultra-luxury malls inside? You'd have the kind of city implied by our financial situation. Rich guys in hemi-demi orbit, narco favelas on the ground.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 6 Jan 12 08:11
Speaking of narco favelas, the second largest economy in the world is now purported to be the black market, being referred to as System D, by Robert Neuwirth, in his book Stealth of Nations: http://www.amazon.com/Stealth-Nations-Global-Informal-Economy/dp/037542489X The next big growth economy. And labor intensive too.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 12 08:18
Proponents of a Martian expedition, like Elon Musk, say it's important because it's important... as thought it's species destiny to move into space: http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/space-flight/risky-business
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 6 Jan 12 08:25
Re the new Knowledge Network, Howard Rheingold has been curating on Augmented Collective Intelligence via Scoop.it http://www.scoop.it/t/augmented-collective-intelligence/p/938116370/co-creatio n-collective-intelligence-why-combining-co-creation-and-collective-intelligenc e?_tmc=hiJaO5OXZBRwNezNoglPRlHt0HFry3C61nNAYtbNnig Great collection of links.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 12 09:14
Howard will publish a significant book on digital literacy and mind amplification in March, called _NetSmart: How to Thrive Online_. http://www.amazon.com/Net-Smart-How-Thrive-Online/dp/0262017458/ This is the sort of textbook that should be distributed widely: a guide to best use of the Internet, how to use online tools for amplifying intelligence. The future of the Internet could be less about cloning media models and more about creating new ways to make and distribute media, unless we insiste on making it Television 2.0. It's hopeful to see people using the 'net for collaboration and coordination of offline meetings and events, to the extent that's happening in the more wired and wireless urban environs. But that Internet is somewhat out of control, which is to say it's not ideal for 20C mass marketing and advertising. We could all be living in configurable homes (or home-ish modules) tailored to our specific quirks, sensors feeding us data about our consumption and production of energy, computing devices in every nook and cranny, smart houses with attitude.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 12 09:15
Somewhere along the way we should talk about art, culture, and intellectual property. Just ran across this: http://www.cvent.com/events/the-future-of-art-commerce-what-creators-and-users -of-visual-content-need-to-know-in-these-rapidly-c/custom-17-c6e750d2365d4914b b97290e9e24ee72.aspx
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 6 Jan 12 10:49
The Richard Prince lawsuit appeal is being heard at the moment, on the art & IP front.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 6 Jan 12 10:58
Here's a good piece about that lawsuit: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-12-30/news/30572842_1_richar d-prince-copyright-cases-art-market "...if the case has had any effect so far, it has been to drag into the public arena, a fundamental truth hovering somewhere just outside the legal debate: that today's flow of creative expression, riding a tide of billions of instantly accessible digital images and clips, is rapidly becoming so free and recycling so reflexive, that it is hard to imagine it being slowed, much less stanched, whatever happens in court."
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