Bright Green Dystopias – they’re Elemental

Posted by on December 1st, 2013

Banlieue 13 plot device

At Sea in the Future [WATER]

10pts if you noticed who the author of the SoftwareThink is Saving da World yo WIRED propagandaopinion piece was in the first Bright Green Dystopia post.

This guy:

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…calling for Exit, with a 10yr plan to get ahead of a backlash against teh_jobless_recovery and other dystopic variables. SilVal needs to secede to succeed.

David Brin does a decent job picking it apart, nailing it with:

All of his examples boil down to no more than exercises in the kind of freedom that Srinivasan and his peers already have, sheltered and nurtured and encouraged by the legacy nation that he — like an ungrateful, neotenous teenager — openly reviles.  A freedom to experiment that MADE Silicon Valley in the first place…

Brin can pick it apart, because has some practice dissecting these libertarian utopias, like Seasteading. And he has some suggestions:

Clearly there is a shortcut through all the red tape and other dangers. I portray it in EXISTENCE. That trick is to forge alliances with already-existing small, island states. Places like Tonga, Vanuatu, etc are currently terrified of being literally wiped off the map by rising seas. What I show in the novel is an alliance with rich seasteaders that allows them to build their initial pillared paradises on land that is currently relatively dry and already sovereign.

What do the islanders get, in return? Why, the promise of participation – indeed, continued “existence” – as their reefs and beaches gradually drown! Buy the novel (coming in June) to see it illustrated.

Those Ghost States sure do show some real potential for disruption. Take Kiribati:

The people of Kiribati, he said, understand what is coming; already, one family has sought asylum in New Zealand as climate change refugees. “We are working on many different plans. There’s a Japanese company that makes floating islands. We’re looking into that. But people understand they may have to leave forever, and this is hard. We have the wish to survive as a people. I lived in New Zealand once. I thought I was in paradise. I had all of this access to all the different ice creams. But our people like it here. We will lose our homeland unless the ocean stops rising. It’s very simple. We want to stay home. This is where the spirits live. This is where we’re from.”

So there we have it. Prime opportunity for a kindly plutocrat to sweep in and save a dying people from extinction. They can get jobs doing the work that can’t quite be automated yet. Preserve their culture and sing some joyous songs while they toil. Worked out pretty well for these guys:

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(But do not get any sinister thoughts about the Google Barges. They are not Evil. Google loves you so much it wants to keep your data for ever and ever and ever and make happy information babies with it. Just because they no longer have any clue what’s going on in their servers. Which are totally theirs, and not some posthuman AI God that they are now dutiful servants of. Shhhhhh.)

not home to your AI Overlords. Who totally love you

The Wall in the Sky [AIR]

check it out brah
Google are totally not also building flying cars so they can duck over to Whole Foods to get moar kale and quinoa. That would be their neighbour:

There have been stabs at a Jetson-mobile before, but two designs in the Zee.Aero patent put this one on the outer cutting edge: It would be battery powered. But in addition, it is designed to lift straight up like a helicopter — so no need for a runway. Then, as the patent notes, the collection of rotors on top work with two facing backward to allow it to hover for a bit before cruising off to that grocery store.

Fair odds it would at least be licensing some of the tech built next door at GoogleX. Taking the LIDAR system developed for their self-driving cars to the next level. Up!

Where you’re totally welcome. It’s just $99,999 for the beta. Here’s the link to subscribe, click through to confirm and join us at the nearest Google Barge for the launch…

get ready for the launch

Up, up and away. Exit…

But… what is more Brighter and Greener than terrforming a whole planet?

So I started with a crazy idea to spur the national will. I called it the Mars Oasis missions. The idea was to send a small greenhouse to the surface of Mars, packed with dehydrated nutrient gel that could be hydrated on landing. You’d wind up with this great photograph of green plants and red background—the first life on Mars, as far as we know, and the farthest that life’s ever traveled. It would be a great money shot, plus you’d get a lot of engineering data about what it takes to maintain a little greenhouse and keep plants alive on Mars. If I could afford it, I figured it would be a worthy expenditure of money, with no expectation of financial return.

You’re so cray Elon! But how much would we expect to pay? Half a million? Sure… let me just grab a few paintings off the wall (seriously, that was a line I saw in a business piece on philanthropic arts funding).

Now, don’t get the idea that the State is being hollowed out by the allies of the corporate elite, who are increasingly indistinguishable from each other. That what infrastructure hasn’t already been sold off, barely maintained, and is increasingly dangerous to use (was that another train crash today? surely not)… won’t be replaced. That the private space program, and whatever we come to call a stratosphere full of auto-piloted craft containing the remnants of the middle class on their way to and fro their private spaceports and %1er take on Burning Manto “net-positive” corporate arcologies that look like they’re about to lift off

…that this is some epic program to steal the wealth of the Earth and its population to form a Breakaway Republic for the elite, who no longer need a slaveclassworkforce. A republic that isn’t a country, but a network of banking districts, research and development complexes, private islands and corporate retreats and fortified residences. Where they’ve carving the sky into zones of privilege and building outposts in space.

Because you can still go shopping, they’ve just made that way easier too (’cause the sky’s NOT the limit for funding an Exit)

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And don’t worry, you can probably soon earn GoogleWallet currency as a human drone repairman and maybe Tom Cruise was depicting the future. Really, the future is bright and green and everything’s going to be ok… everybody’s happy, underground.

The Earth as a Barrier [EARTH]

– Trailer montage of great just us.

The world of (still) tomorrow, as seen twenty years ago, in Demolition Man: the overly sanitized and heavily policed, corporate future is just too bright for some, who have to retreat underground for true freedom. The man who might save both worlds is back from the past, but what if the wild taken out of him in cryo is just what they need to defeat Simon Phoenix?

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The world of today seen from nine years ago, in Banlieue (District) 13. A wall protects bourgeois Paris from the residents of its feral suburbs. A “clean bomb” (shown above) might cleanse this urban jungle. Can this odd couple of cop and benevolent gang lord team up successfully?

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Æon Flux, the movie. The internal conflicts of the last city on Earth… dare they tear down the wall, end their nightmare stasis, and embrace… teh wild. (Whatever could that be code for?!)

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* But no, we won’t get to Elysium just yet… we’ve a ways to go first.

But there is an FPS of this conflicted vision:

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The Many Posthuman Aspects of PacificRim

Posted by on October 22nd, 2013

Or: the candy-coated man/machine rescue mission.

Pacific Rim is many things. Many shiny, spectacular, immersive, self-aware, monster genre mashing, robot smashing, crowd pleasing, city destroying, heroic dancing things. But apart from its surface appeal, it’s also the delivery system for some incredibly out there, subversive, challenging ideas. This may just be my reading of it, and that’s fine. But I suspect Guillermo Del Toro is guilty of being a clever, clever human and knew exactly what he was doing with this blockbuster movie.

Allow me to explain my thinking here. This is not a review. It’s a “User Guide for Humans”, from barely opened, posthuman eyes. This is an analog mind-meld, I mean drift; an English language sequence as slow-boot brain update. Are you ready to accept Singularity?

Want some Candy?

Taken at face value, Pacific Rim is… completely absurd. And if that wasn’t immediately apparent from its premise, it’s clear by halfway through the film that’s it’s winking hard at you. And shouting at you with Idris Elba’s mandatory “the apocalypse is cancelled” speech at the climax, that amazing actor barely containing the joy on his face in getting to deliver an epic line like this. Pure man-child bliss… just the kind you might expect to find in a mech suit vs kaiju fightfest.

Now those of the Otaku-bent might want to do a detailed analysis of the origins and influences and details of Pacific Rim, and that’s exactly what this post on Medum.com has done, if you want it.

I’m not anti-Otaku. Hell, I raced home as a kid to watch Robotech, and collected what Transformers I could afford. When I toured Japan in ’09 I stumbled onto the Mobile Suit Gundam arcade game and played it every day I was there. I clutched my pilot card when I walked into the preview screening of Pacific Rim, and wore the pirate Neon Genesis Evangelion tee I picked up in a store in Akihabara.

I have been absolutely psyched for this film, and its complement Elysium, all damn year.

What I am saying is there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pacific Rim. Just don’t expect it to cohere into a logical whole.

Go Borg or Stay Human

First we have the “dance-dance pilot systems”. With its shiny video game aesthetics, and drama engine device, it is first and foremost pro-Borg; celebrating the union of more than one human conscious into a greater whole. There’s been a lot of Borg-hate going on since Google Glass dropped into the world, and I’m looking mostly at Stop the Cyborgs.

Mind you, I walked into this movie with my head having been resident inside in Ramez Naam’s Nexus’verse for a good month. One of the elements of that future world is human hate of anything group-mind (not unlike the linear future world of the Star Trek-verse’s Federation), following various terrorist attacks and cult fiascoes.  So to immediately recognise that there were Borg heroes, front and centre in this film was yet another joyful moment.

Then we have the Robo/Borgsexuality.

Posthuman Gender & Robosexuality

It’s fair to say there are fans going into this already fetishising being inside giant robots…

…which brings us to the giant confusion of posthuman gender. Because what does that even look like from a human perspective? Maybe it’s two buff guys in shiny suits merging through a shared childhood to form a union with a rocket punching, sock’em bot? Maybe it’s also some weird, ritualised staff fighting sequence that isn’t a romantic, courtship sequence… because that would make the two brothers incestuous and homoerotic and is anyone else getting uncomfortable thinking deeply about this?

Let’s cut to the heroic scientist “drifting” with a random chunk of giant alien brain… why on Earth would a Kaiju fanboy ever be turned on by humongous glial cells of extra-dimensional origin?

Chief prosecutor for the homoerotic subtext of jockeying flightsuits argument, thinly fictionalized Quentin Tarantino, explains:

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you want subversion on a massive level…

 

Those of us raised on Robotech also obsessively watched Top Gun as teens. Hell, my gaming nick was Maverick for much of my youth. So the reconciliation scene at the end of Pacific Rim, the begrudging acceptance of the owner of worst Aussie accent ever and our hero… totally recapitulates Top Gun.

And if you’re still not convinced, you haven’t been watching True Blood; same actor, explicitly homoerotic mind-meld:

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Message received collective unconscious!

Make what you will of the fact that I really hope we get to see the bulldog don a mech suit and borg it up with friendly, genetically engineered Kaiju in a sequel. Plot that on your human linear Kinsey scale!

Move over Seven of Nine, the new borg sexiness is definitely here.

Posthuman Battlesuits

Once you’ve accepted that, the “city as a battlesuit [Matt Jones guest post on io9]” is a not a stretch of the brain meats at all. The mech suit as embodiment of the merger of humanity and its infrastructure; the champion of the Anthropocene. Especially visible when you’ve got ships being used as baseball bats and “Gipsy Danger [using] shipping containers like brass knuckles”.

Each Jaegar is built to defend a city, but really, it’s manifesting its surrounds, even merging with them.

As Matt Jones quotes from a British architecture journal:

While Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis largely reflect the character of the superheroes who inhabit them (Gotham is grim, Metropolis shines)

And as he compares to a hero of The Authority:

“Hawksmoor defeats the giant, monstrous sentient city by wrapping himself in Tokyo to form a massive concrete battlesuit.”

Posthuman defense systems with local characteristics.

And while we’re stretching that long bow of your mind, let’s add that you can argue that its also a recapitulation of one Earth’s oldest tales: Marduk the City God vs the Serpent. The Jaegar as the city turned God-like, and if the Kaiju aren’t the contemporary incarnation of the “monster of primeval chaos”, than what is?

“It’s not Posthuman without going Post-State”

It’s not a posthuman tale without things going post-state. The foolish, political human types gripped by their illusions of control decide that building a giant wall trends much better in the polls, and it’s within that construction effort that we find our hero lurking at the film’s commencement. Kaijus walk right through megastructures dramatis (or thinly disguised metaphors at the political penchant for building barriers to keep out unwanted arrivals). Anyway… our pragmatic, military leader, Idris Elba (TV’s Luther), unencumbered by the requisite trope of giant wall of video-screened suits ordering him turns to… “extra-legal funding sources”, continuing the rescue mission by any means necessary.

In this case, dealing with a bizarre caricature of a bad guy with great shoes; the hybrid Spy Kids enemy / Bond Villain. (Ranking the film just above Contact on someone’s “Top 10: Projects funded by an absolute Bond Villain?” list)

But let’s not miss the metaphor of the real villains; the Kaiju themselves. Thomas Hobbes described the State as a Leviathan. And what better way to portray the entities that have really destroyed the climate of this planet for their own ends, what more apt depiction of rogue geoengineers than as giant monsters?! It’s definitely how the various manifestations of corporate-democratic empire looks to the rest of the world.

And this is the most subversive element of all snuck into the subconscious of the audience for a gigantic popcorn flick by a Mexican director. Perhaps no surprise then that the film did terribly in the US, but made serious bank globally.

 

Maybe it’ll take the US a decade or so to appreciate it, as critics are just now accepting Southland Tales, but when you’re watching Elysium wondering why augmented super soldiers are battling with swords and chainsaws over the rights of a breakaway civilisation to exist, remember that Ron Perlman probably said it best in the post-credits scene:

where is my other shoe? -^

When will it drop?

Disproving its antecedent film on things that lurk in the cracks of the earth, beneath the waves, The Abyss: “They want us to grow up a bit, and put away childish things. Of course, it’s just a suggestion.

With Del Toro it’s posthuman man-children dancing off to the rescue, and that’s just super by me.


favela chic vs gothic high-tech: extra legal guns edition

Posted by on May 25th, 2013

From the pop gonzo journalists at VICE, a glimpse at the world of underground gunsmiths in the Philippines:

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versus

The “hyper futurity”, crypto-libertarian poster kids at DEFCAD with their 3D Printed one-shot Liberator:

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You do the math.

———————–

Answer a)

In the horrible, spectacular events at Woolwich just a few days ago this gun was used:

via Daily Fail

With this result:

Here is one extraordinary chain of tweets by a rapper, Boya Deemarko, who says that one of the murderers fired a gun but lost his finger when the weapon backfired.

———————–

The truth is there is no solution to the math.


Guest Post: Damien Williams on The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

Posted by on March 14th, 2013

The next in our occasional series of guest posts, Damien Wolven Williams on the maladaptive forces at work in the TranshumanFuturePresent:

The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

The distribution of the future is still uneven, but more shocking than that is the fact that some people are actively working to keep it that way. More than large corporations with billions of dollars in vested interests, grass-roots movements have sprung up which claim to peak for “the people.” Indeed, there are currently groups at work which see themselves as seeking to make this world safe for “normal” humans and “natural” systems, and to keep those people and systems free from the interference of those forces which would augment, mechanise, or otherwise alter them.

Recently a group calling themselves “Individuals Tending Toward Savagery” has claimed responsibility for the 2011 high-profile assassination of a biotechnologist, and the explosion at the Pemex Executive Tower in Mexico, earlier this year. Leaving aside the fact that this latter event was reported to be due to a gas leak, the fact that a group would even lay claim to such activities and events should be the focus of our discussion, and that’s mainly because they’re not alone in their efforts. More and more people are taking to the streets, and the internets and the airwaves to protest the idea of biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, and other so-called transhumanist ideas. There is even a new group which calls itself (for fuck’s sake) Stop The Cyborgs. That is their actual name.

Now I could go into a very long rant about the nature and use of language and what that reflects about our present mental states as well as what those choices mean for our future stages of perception and our likelihood to accept new things. I could talk about how, if we continually tie the idea of “cyborgs” to the definition of “Non-Human Machine Hybrids Which Must Be Feared,” then the self-fulfilling prophecy of that definition will be harder and harder to escape. I could tell you that if you keep telling people that they should be afraid of something of which they’re already suspicious, then you’re not engaging in anything like critical, thoughtful discourse, or a meaningful engagement with our future-present. But you know all of that, already. If you’re here, reading this, you’re probably well aware of how all of this works. What you may not recognise–in fact what it may be extremely difficult for you to recognise–is that not everyone around you understands that there is a necessary engagement with the complexity of elements which make our world, if we are to do more than run and hide from the scary new technological aspects of our lives.

Groups like ITS and STC are not news. They’re people who feel as though the march of our technological progress is outstripping that of our ethical and moral progress, and that something must be done to prevent us from losing our “real selves,” and maybe they’re right. Perhaps we do need to take a long look at what is we create and become, and make sure that we are aware of the potential for effects we did not intend to cause. But this? Assassinations, bombings, and full-scale bans of technology which they themselves admit they do not yet fully understand in terms of either function or scope of application? That’s just loom-smashing for the 21st century. That Luddites exist isn’t earth-shattering news, by any stretch, but the real issue has never been that people “hate” new technology, for what it does to “humanity.” The problem with Luddism and Neo-Luddism is that it represents a perspective which takes the ever-widening aspects of our emerging future and reacts to them with blanket fear and distrust, rather than a wary hope.

Blind hope is a naive proposition. It is one in which we sit in optimism, absent any evidence that it might actually pay off in that direction. It is one which ignores the very real dangers and pitfalls of new situations, and the opportunities for unintended consequences to rear their heads. However, the fallacious notion of the “slippery slope” of technological progress– that it’ll cause us to descend into a dystopian future where everything we are and do is controlled by corporations, or disassembled into grey goo–is one based in blind fear. These have the same basic components, they’re just pointed in different directions. Blind fear takes something new, something unknown, and says that unknowns are terrifying and should be destroyed before they can destroy us. Blind fear says that there is nothing good which can come from the new. And while the groups in question may not see themselves as reactionary, on an even reading it’s hard to see them as anything but.

What is the nature of technology that we drive toward? Why do we drive toward it, at all? How do we apply that motivation, and what do we value in the mechanisms and effects of our creation? These are the questions that we can ask, if we don’t want to be blindly optimistic or pessimistic about our future. We can ask these questions and then seek to address them, recognising that whatever answers we find may not be–and most likely will not be–permanent solutions to our problems. There are groups working now, in academia, public policy, and practical solution-building to help people think of different things than the utopian promise and the dystopian terror of our current work at building a future for ourselves.

In a forthcoming paper, I write the following:

…the field of cybernetics relies heavily on the notion of an interconnected, reflexive system of interactions. Therefore, any conversations about what the world “actually looks like” when we technologically augment ourselves to remove the factors of mediation from between ourselves, our creations, and the act of their creation will be dependent on humanity’s ability to apprehend whatever perceptual and conceptual changes arise as a result of that reflexive interaction. As we deal with how other people approach our implants, modifications, and appropriations of technology, we have to deal with how that changes what they see of us. In a very real sense, the cyborg’s identity is directly connected to the continuing project of becoming and continuing to be a cyborg. In fact, being a cyborg in the contemporary sense can be said to be entirely about being at least one step “ahead” of the baseline for human technological interaction. What that means is, staying ahead of the curve of whatever it means to be “Human” today—which may, in fact, be what it meant to be a “Cyborg,” yesterday. But this is not new…

…as Donna Haraway noted in her seminal “Cyborg Manifesto,” the language of this cybernetic feedback loop is not one relegated only to humanity and its processes, but is also a framework which can be used to describe the state of nature, as a whole. Taking this tack, we can come to understand that all of nature is involved in an integrated process of adaptation, augmentation, and implementation which, far from being a simple Biological-Or-Technological division is, instead, a process or a system of becoming.

What I mean, here, is that those perceptions of self that are tied to that of which we are “naturally” composed–our biological and “base” components– has been under revision since we have been able to look at it and recognise it as a thing we possess. The questions of “what makes us human,” and “what makes us natural” have been mooted in hundreds of cultures for thousands of years, and we are no closer to a single answer, now, than when we started. Why? Because we keep changing. Everything that we are shifts and alters in reaction to our questions about what we are. Does this mean that we should thus stop seeking answers, and thus stop progressing? Obviously not.

We have a responsibility to approach hard questions while recognising that we may not always like the answers we get, and we have a duty to honestly assess the negative, positive, and unknown consequences of our actions. The philosophical and political aspects of these debates are not merely academic questions, to be tossed about from armchair to armchair; they have repercussions in the everyday lives of individuals and societies, repercussions of an existential and immediate nature. If we don’t do everything we can to engage these concerns and honestly grapple with them, we run the risk of falling headlong into a future where self-styled anarchist terrorists kill scientists who are literally trying to make the world a better place; a future where “Bio-Humans Only” signs adorn establishments to keep out people with any kinds of implanted technology; a future where corporations do use seemingly innocuous people and technology to monitor and record everyone’s every move, and use algorithms to patent and trademark words and phrases in combination, in real time. Because that will be the only future we were able to see for ourselves; the one we talked about and feared and reacted to the strongest.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of the dystopian future isn’t our only option, but first we we have to recognise and address the fact that some don’t even understand that the class “Options for the Future” is a thing which exists.

Damien Patrick Williams is a writer, essayist, autonomous-created-intelligence- and cyborg-rights-advocate, and instructor of philosophy. He has written and presented on the intersections of popular media, politics, philosophy, and future technology, and is currently raising funds to get to his presentation at the 15th International Meeting and Conferences on Virtual Reality and Converging Technologies in Laval France, next week.


John Shirley preaches on False Singularities

Posted by on December 9th, 2012

A machine that pollutes is only half invented

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John Shirley (who along with Richard Kadrey put the punk in cyberpunk) steps to the podium at TEDx Brussels and like Bill Hick’s dark little prophet, preaches the dystopic future, the dark euphoria of the coming decades. This talk is over a year old, but it resonates stronger than ever. This is not our future | how the world ends.


WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Posted by on November 22nd, 2012

In 1978 William S. Burroughs opened the Nova Convention (a truly Weird Nodal Point) with these words:

All this has happened before. Like in Maya:

The ancient Maya in this hilly and riverless region confronted long-term climatic aridification, experienced decadal to century-level or longer droughts amplified by the landscape changes that they made, including large-scale deforestation indicated in the paleoecological record.

Previous to the collapse, the Maya occupied the area for more than 2,000 years, noted researchers, “a time in which they developed a sophisticated understanding of their environment, built and sustained intensive production [and water] systems, and withstood at least two long-term episodes of aridity.”

The researchers noted that the Maya case lends insights for the use of paleo- and historical analogs to inform contemporary global environment change and sustainability.

They described the Classic Period of the Lowland Maya (CE 300-800) as a “highly complex civilization organized into networks of city-states,” in their perspective article published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Just not on this scale; worldwide Collapse. Thankfully, it’s not like there isn’t some new “Cold War”, Arctic oil grab a-coming:

Major powers like the the US, China and Russia are still waiting for the Arctic ice to hurry up and melt away. And that process is moving along at a pace that makes the average environmentalist want to sign yet another petition during Nat Geo Channel commercial breaks and bong hits. The Arctic is said to have up to 25% of the world’s oil and gas sitting like Inca gold under all that pesky ice and, with current global oil production maxed out and prices rising fast, the North Pole sure has the potential to be proxy resource war central in the increasingly tense 21st century

They won’t be waiting long…

The Arctic ice cap is on course for a record-breaking melt session following a summer of unstable conditions, says the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The center, based at the University of Colorado, has been comparing the data against 2007 sea ice levels, when the Arctic cap shrank to a record low of 4.25 million square kilometres. That rapid decrease was expected and explainable because of enduring patterns of high pressure over the central Arctic Ocean combined with low pressure over the northern Eurasian coast. Throughout 2012, however, conditions have not been consistent — from the end of June the rate of loss was recorded as being 100,000 square kilometers per day, but this figure dramatically doubled for several days in August when a cyclone brought warm winds to the region, with the expanse of open water in the Atlantic continually contributing to the loss. Over the course of just a few days, 200,000 square kilometers of ice disappeared in the East Siberian Sea alone.

While predictions of a total melt during the summer months and its potentially devastating effects on the planet has many worried (Serreze says the rapid melting may have contributed to severe storms in the US in recent years), commercial enterprises are busily jumping at the opportunity to open shop in the Northern Passage. China sent its first vessel along the Arctic route in August, trimming its usual route length by 40 percent, while Germany and Russia are already established players.

And that was in August! Then there’s these thoughts, within David Brin’s (author of the highly relevant EARTH) longread, How Will the World End?

What about those “collapses?” Failure modes that would not wipe out humanity, but might kill millions, even billions? Even with survivors scratching out a bare existence, would there forever after be harsh limits to the range of human hopes?

This category is where we’d assign most punishments for mismanaging the world. For carelessly cutting down forests and spilling garbage in the sea. For poisoning aquifers and ruining habitats. For changing the very air we breathe. For causing temperatures to soar, glaciers to melt, seas to rise and deserts to spread. For letting the planet’s web of life get winnowed down, through biodiversity loss, till it’s a fragile lattice, torn by any breeze.

Most animals have the sense not to foul their own nests.

In his prescient novel “The Cool War,” Frederik Pohl showed a chillingly plausible failure mode in which our nations and factions do not dare wage open conflict, and so they settle for tit-for-tat patterns of reciprocal sabotage, each attempting to ruin the other’s infrastructure and economy. Naturally, this sends civilization on a slow death-spiral of degrading hopes.

Sound depressing? It makes one wonder — what fraction of the “accidents” that we see have nothing to do with luck?

Oh sure, there are always conspiracy theories. Super-efficient engines that were kept off the market by greedy energy companies. Disease cures, suppressed by profit-hungry pharmaceutical giants. Knaves, monopolists and fat-cats who use intellectual property to repress knowledge growth instead of spurring it.

But those dark rumors don’t hold a candle to this one — that we’re sliding toward despair because all the efforts of good, skilled men and women are for naught. Their labors are deliberately spiked, because some ruling elites see themselves engaged in a secret struggle on our behalf. And this tit-for-tat, negative-sum game is all about the most dismal human pastime.

War.

If that’s not bleak enough, imagine a world without coffee!

Rising global temperatures and subtle changes in seasonal conditions could make 99.7 per cent of Arabica-growing areas unsuitable for the plant by 2080, according to a new study by researchers from Kew Gardens.

Although commercial growers could still grow their own crops by watering and artificially cooling them, the wild type has much greater genetic diversity which is essential to help plantations overcome threats like pests and disease.

Identifying new sites where arabica could be grown away from its natural home in the mountains of Ethiopia and South Sudan could be the only way of preventing the demise of the species, researchers said.

Justin Moat, one of the report’s authors, said: “The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080. This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

Arabica is one of only two species of bean used to make coffee and is by far the most popular, accounting for 70 per cent of the global market

We can do better. And I don’t mean polluting the Earth better:

Carbon dioxide levels rose to 390.9 parts per million (ppm) in 2011, a 40% increase on levels in 1750. Other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide also reached record levels. Michel Jarrud, secretary-general of the WMO warned that billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for centuries: “…causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth.”

“We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs. There are many additional interactions between greenhouse gases, Earth’s biosphere and oceans, and we need to boost our monitoring capability and scientific knowledge in order to better understand these,” says Jarraud.

Understanding the role of carbon sinks is key to understanding how increasing levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere will contribute to rising global temperatures.

It’s not like our oceans are filled with wonder and unknown species and…

The first official register of what lives in the oceans has revealed that the marine environment may be home to as many as a million species of animals and plants, but only about a quarter of them have actually been formally described.

Previous estimates of the number of species living in the oceans have ranged wildly from a few hundred thousand of several million, but the latest estimate is based on the first proper attempt to draw up an accurate inventory of marine life.

Although more ocean species have been discovered in the past decade than in any previous 10-year period – and about 65,000 newly “discovered” species are still waiting to be given formal scientific names – scientists believe that at least a third of all the marine life forms may be completely unknown to science.

Fuck it, let ‘em soak up the carbon instead…

More than 1,000 coal-fired power plants are being planned worldwide, new research has revealed.

Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute (WRI) identified 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. The capacity of the new plants add up to 1,400GW to global greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of adding another China – the world’s biggest emitter. India is planning 455 new plants compared to 363 in China, which is seeing a slowdown in its coal investments after a vast building programme in the past decade.

This is what hope looks like, people actually admitting there’s a problem:

According to a new Rasmussen poll conducted a day before the election and released this morning, 68 percent of American voters said that global warming is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. This represents a major increase over the last few years. In 2009, Rasmussen reported that only 46 percent of Americans believed that global warming is a problem. (Interestingly, while more people say they are concerned about the problem, there was a drop in the number of people who say it’s human caused).

And that brings us back to Ontological Warfare and the Nova Conspiracy.


Hope vs. Fear: we stand in the gap.

Posted by on November 8th, 2012

In which I string a narrative together from #OccupySandy / US Election / Eschaton coverage.

Power to the People : Occupy’s afterlife — a dispatch from New York’s dark zones by Sarah Jaffe:

The comparisons to Katrina have been everywhere, of course, but for me they hit home when, safe in my Crown Heights apartment that never even lost power, I saw friends and acquaintances who’d been involved with Occupy Wall Street tweeting their relief activities under the hashtag #OccupySandy. I couldn’t help but think, as I watched them tweet their setup of a hub in Red Hook, of Common Ground, of Malik Rahim, of New Orleans’ mutual aid after the storm, and how leftists and radicals (Rahim, a former Black Panther, learned about community care from the Panthers’ free food and tutoring programs) step quietly into the spaces that are left vacant by the wrecking crew that’s laid waste to social welfare programs and the churches and charities that Republicans keep telling us will step up to provide care.

Explaining #occupysandy in NY doing things FEMA, Gov, NYPD, Red Cross can’t, Ada says: “That’s because they’re not used to taking orders.”

— Quinn Norton (@quinnnorton) November 6, 2012

Quinn said - Don’t Vote:

The magic of aggregate human attention is so strong that we can fix this world, we can exceed these troubles — but only together, not looking to leadership structures that have failed us again and again.

Humanity is amazing. It is the elemental magic of the world. You are the ground that can shake and rise under the fragile political structures of the Earth. You are the wrath of angry gods, you are the true storm a small and accidental system of power fears. As long as you keep believing you have to vote, and all your power is tied only to that vote, our leaders get to balance a pyramid on its tip and call it democracy.

Lay down the lie of the American ballot box, with its legal rigging, lobbying, revolving doors, gerrymandering, and even at moments outright fraud. You will have to ask yourself what is next? What do you believe, and how do you live out those beliefs? It is a scary and beautiful thing to live your beliefs.

Don’t Vote. Do by Dymaxion:

Get out a sledgehammer and claim the real right you have to remake the system.  If you’re not American, if you live in a place where your vote really can change the fundamentals of your world, great; go do that first and then act.  For everyone who lives in the US or a place like it where your vote is consent and nothing else, don’t vote in the booth, vote in the street.  Don’t consent to a poisonous system that isn’t listening or let it confuse you into thinking the consent you give means anything.  Organize.  Strike.  Demand.  Whistleblow. Speak.  Build.  Rebuild.  Insist that the world treat you and those around you with decency, dignity, kindness, and equality.  Start by making sure you do the same to those around you.  Keep doing it until your vote matters again, and then keep doing it some more.

Do not consent to be governed by a man who would kill you in the street just because the other man would kill you in the street and piss on your corpse.  Do not consent to be governed by the system that made them.  Do not give your life to a machine designed to absorb it without a trace.

Teratocracy Triumphant? by Jamais Cascio:

I strongly suspect that, regardless of who wins the US presidential election today, the United States is likely to be entering a period of a crisis of legitimacy. If Romney wins, the claims of voter suppression and out-and-out shenanigans (this is a less ambiguous example) will potentially leave many Democrats incandescent with anger, even more so than after the 2000 Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush — because now it will be a “we can’t let them get away with this again” scenario. If Obama wins, the already widely-extant opposition to his legitimacy as President among Republicans could explode; expect to see Twitter storms about secession and armed revolution, as well as the very real possibility of violence.

Donald Trump has a Grump:

…and the one he deleted:

MAGICAL THINKING WILL ONLY GET YOU SO FAR.#ThenRealityIntervenes

— Mark Pesce (@mpesce) November 7, 2012

Fox News, Karl Rove Argue Over The Outcome In Ohio:

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Imagine if Fox News was your only source of information right now.

— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) November 7, 2012

I’m told there are motels in Amerika where the tv’s are only tuned to Fox News. This is what we mean by reality tunnels.

This is the Ontological Gulf. On the other side of the Abyss there are people that hate us.

Time’s Up by David Gelernter:

We’ve seen an important (though far from decisive) battle in the slow-motion civil war the nation is undergoing: The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs). As I’ve said before — many others have too — you can’t graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price.  Last night was a down payment.

More ideology from this theorist of the Right; Dismantling of a Culture:

 LOPEZ: And a “PORGI (Post-Religious Globalist Intellectuals) establishment.” Is that to get you tea-party cred?

GELERNTER: If we don’t understand who’s running our leading colleges, we can’t even begin to understand our own culture. Our most powerful colleges have gigantic cultural influence through their alumni, graduate, and professional schools (especially their law, journalism, business, and education schools) and their direct influence on sister institutions throughout the nation. So who’s in charge? Once upon a time, there was a powerful WASP elite in this country. Obviously they weren’t all the same, and obviously we can generalize (either that or we can’t think). The WASP elite on the whole was politically moderate and Christian.

And what sort of people are running our powerful colleges today? Or are they so diverse, it is impossible to generalize?

In fact they’re radically un-diverse. They’re not all the same, there are dissenters, but culturally they are far more uniform than the old WASP elite ever were. You won’t find lots of church-goers among them. You won’t find lots of patriots. You will find plenty of intellectuals. You can call the PORGI establishment whatever you like, but there’s no way around the fact that the culturally uniform, conformist group in powerful positions at top colleges are likely to be post-religious and globalist and intellectuals — or at least intellectualizers, would-be intellectuals. So call them whatever you like, but they’re PORGIs to me.

LOPEZ: Why is that “post-religion” bit so important?

GELERNTER: Post-religious thinkers don’t even live on the same spiritual planet as Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Americans. Old-time atheists struggled with biblical religion and rejected it; modern post-religious thinkers struggled with nothing. Since the Bible and biblical religion underlie the invention of America, it’s hard (unsurprisingly) for post-religious people to understand America sympathetically. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the most sacred of American texts, is (precisely) a sermon describing North and South as equally guilty in God’s eyes for the sin of slavery and, ultimately, for the war itself:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The quote is from Psalms 19; Reagan’s famous “shining city on a hill” paraphrases the gospels. Expecting post-religious, Bible-ignorant thinkers to grasp America is like expecting a gerbil to sing Pagliacci. The gerbil might be brilliant in his way, but he’ll never make it in opera. (If this be species-ism, make the most of it!) How can my post-religious colleagues and countrymen, many of whom have never even opened a Bible, understand Lincoln or America or Americans?

The Truth, such that it exists, is that the way one frames their enemy speaks far more to their own worldview. Just look at the depictions of the Gnostics by the early Christians. So at this point we may as well quote from an upright fictional work by a Globalistia Intellectual, a counter point scene from Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom:

It was the second year of my undergrad, taking a double-major in not making trouble for my profs and keeping my mouth shut. It was the early days of Bitchun, and most of us were still a little unclear on the concept.

Not all of us, though: a group of campus shit-disturbers, grad students in the Sociology Department, were on the bleeding edge of the revolution, and they knew what they wanted: control of the Department, oustering of the tyrannical, stodgy profs, a bully pulpit from which to preach the Bitchun gospel to a generation of impressionable undergrads who were too cowed by their workloads to realize what a load of shit they were being fed by the University.

At least, that’s what the intense, heavyset woman who seized the mic at my Soc 200 course said, that sleepy morning mid-semester at Convocation Hall. Nineteen hundred students filled the hall, a capacity crowd of bleary, coffee-sipping time-markers, and they woke up in a hurry when the woman’s strident harangue burst over their heads.

I saw it happen from the very start. The prof was down there on the stage, a speck with a tie-mic, droning over his slides, and then there was a blur as half a dozen grad students rushed the stage. They were dressed in University poverty-chic, wrinkled slacks and tattered sports coats, and five of them formed a human wall in front of the prof while the sixth, the heavyset one with the dark hair and the prominent mole on her cheek, unclipped his mic and clipped it to her lapel.

“Wakey wakey!” she called, and the reality of the moment hit home for me: this wasn’t on the lesson-plan.

“Come on, heads up! This is not a drill. The University of Toronto Department of Sociology is under new management. If you’ll set your handhelds to ‘receive,’ we’ll be beaming out new lesson-plans momentarily. If you’ve forgotten your handhelds, you can download the plans later on. I’m going to run it down for you right now, anyway.

“Before I start though, I have a prepared statement for you. You’ll probably hear this a couple times more today, in your other classes. It’s worth repeating. Here goes:

“We reject the stodgy, tyrannical rule of the profs at this Department. We demand bully pulpits from which to preach the Bitchun gospel. Effective immediately, the University of Toronto Ad-Hoc Sociology Department is in charge. We promise high-relevance curriculum with an emphasis on reputation economies, post-scarcity social dynamics, and the social theory of infinite life-extension. No more Durkheim, kids, just deadheading! This will be fun.”

She taught the course like a pro—you could tell she’d been drilling her lecture for a while. Periodically, the human wall behind her shuddered as the prof made a break for it and was restrained.

At precisely 9:50 a.m. she dismissed the class, which had hung on her every word. Instead of trudging out and ambling to our next class, the whole nineteen hundred of us rose, and, as one, started buzzing to our neighbors, a roar of “Can you believe it?” that followed us out the door and to our next encounter with the Ad-Hoc Sociology Department.

It was cool, that day. I had another soc class, Constructing Social Deviance, and we got the same drill there, the same stirring propaganda, the same comical sight of a tenured prof battering himself against a human wall of ad-hocs.

Reporters pounced on us when we left the class, jabbing at us with mics and peppering us with questions. I gave them a big thumbs-up and said, “Bitchun!” in classic undergrad eloquence.

The profs struck back the next morning. I got a heads-up from the newscast as I brushed my teeth: the Dean of the Department of Sociology told a reporter that the ad-hocs’ courses would not be credited, that they were a gang of thugs who were totally unqualified to teach. A counterpoint interview from a spokesperson for the ad-hocs established that all of the new lecturers had been writing course-plans and lecture notes for the profs they replaced for years, and that they’d also written most of their journal articles.

The profs brought University security out to help them regain their lecterns, only to be repelled by ad-hoc security guards in homemade uniforms. University security got the message—anyone could be replaced—and stayed away.

The profs picketed. They held classes out front attended by grade-conscious brown-nosers who worried that the ad-hocs’ classes wouldn’t count towards their degrees. Fools like me alternated between the outdoor and indoor classes, not learning much of anything.

No one did. The profs spent their course-times whoring for Whuffie, leading the seminars like encounter groups instead of lectures. The ad-hocs spent their time badmouthing the profs and tearing apart their coursework.

At the end of the semester, everyone got a credit and the University Senate disbanded the Sociology program in favor of a distance-ed offering from Concordia in Montreal. Forty years later, the fight was settled forever. Once you took backup-and-restore, the rest of the Bitchunry just followed, a value-system settling over you.

Those who didn’t take backup-and-restore may have objected, but, hey, they all died.

Except this is not a war. It’s a rescue mission. Just because someone hates us, doesn’t mean we won’t save them. The network doesn’t think like the hierarchy. Back to the Rescue.

The New Revolution: The Grassroots Efforts of Hurricane Sandy Relief by Veronica Varlow

This is what I learned this week:  We are at the helm of our world community thriving or dying.  Know this.

Down at Beach 23 and Seagirt Blvd in the Rockaways, the five of us, jammed in a 1990 Mazda 323, on top of 2 generators and a pump to empty basements of water,  pulled up to a parking lot.

Sixty people came running to our car, surrounding it. “Do you have blankets? Please, we’re freezing!”

We had two left to give.

I was not expecting this. We came out to pump out basements so the people can get power back without danger of electrocution or house fires.

Four of the small band of five of us, have had our houses burn to the ground with everything in it. I know that devastation first hand and I still was shocked at what I saw happening out there.

I wish my eyes had cameras so that I could show you what is going on right now. At Beach 23 and Seagirt Blvd, a neighborhood deemed dangerous – there is no media presence.

It is true.  We are the media. You and me.

I did not see FEMA there, I did not see the Red Cross. It was us.

It is people like Cory Booker, getting emergency updates from people on Twitter and running in to help. It is the grassroots movement of Occupy Sandy who are stepping in to help organize relief, it is the performers of the House of Yes who piled into an RV with supplies, food, and people ready to help.

People like you and me ARE the new emergency response.

The years ahead aren’t going to be easy. Far from it. But together, we can do it!

Just listen to Robert Anton Wilson, from the audiobook discussing his book TSOG:


TRUE SKIN [short film]

Posted by on October 11th, 2012
http://www.vimeo.com/51138699

via Digitalyn


PLURALITY [short film]

Posted by on October 6th, 2012
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via @leashless | falkvinge


‘Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies.’ [PIC]

Posted by on September 29th, 2012

RUSSIA. Altai Territory. 2000. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future…

photo by Jonas Bendiksen, via @robinsloan


wherein I review Technicolor Ultra Mall on Coilhouse

Posted by on September 29th, 2012

Today my review of my good friend Ryan Oakley‘s novel Technicolor Ultra Mall is up on Coilhouse. Here’s a sample:

TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL (#TCUM) is a busted neon literary warning sign. Where cyberpunk failed, this must succeed. It alerts us to hyper-capitalism’s end state: the mega-mall as polis. Born to shop, in death do we become commerce itself (“you could usually get more for a dead person than you could pull from their pockets”). Hyper-mediated, people are alienated from their own body, unable to feel anything without the right chemical compound. Corporate colonisation of emotion and sensation.

This is what comes of the “old people afraid of the sky” future, as Bruce Sterling has described it, written before he even uttered the words. Outside may as well be the surface of the Moon (or better yet, Mars); there is only the Mall. The adult version of Nausicaä Valley of the Wind, but with gigantic, hermetically sealed machinery instead of mutant bugs. The malls feed on the garbage of the past, as the book itself mines the midden heaps of the collective refuse of the decadent twentieth century (that still lingers on like a dying fire-breathing dragon stumbling into a village, unaware it’s killing us all.) This is Demolition Man mutated and buried underground by the Umbrella Corporation. This is Plato’s three-souled corporate Republic with its Red (bronze-souled favella), Green (silver-souled bourgeoisie) and Blue (golden-souled ruling class) levels, and twice as sickening.

All written through the visible lens of lived experience. Less Neuromancer, more Metrophage; bringing the punk back into the cyber, like John Shirley and Richard Kadrey before him.

Marbled like Kobe beef with the fat of concepts killer enough to fill a series of grindhouse movies.. garnished with cosmetic grinds like dermal holograms and implants, with a hint of mind transfer and seasoned with gritty GITS‘esque posthumanity distributed into the meat… massaged in perfectly, and served raw.

Go read the whole thing…


Ontological Rescue Squad Training Manual #1: Know Thyself

Posted by on September 15th, 2012

Listen to Imhotep

– from S.H.I.E.L.D issue#1

Critical Thinking is Critical.

In this post I will go through several long and educational, instructional LongReads… These will serve as an introduction, a basis to build from.

As I’ve said before, “the first grind is the mind”, and that video at the other end of that link is well worth (re)visiting.

We are in the midst of a Reality War, where the meaning of words such as Theory are weapons.

Where in the US the Romney/Ryan campaign is, rather generously, described at Post-Truth. Where earlier this year the Texas GOP declared war on Critical Thinking. Yes, really. And the shocking thing is… we aren’t shocked by this.

But there is still hope. Take this tale of a man who broke out of the prison of his mind; The Political Awakening of a Republican:

I always imagined that I was full of heart, but it turned out that I was oblivious.  Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their desserts.  As I came to recognize that poverty is not earned or chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people.

I might still have stuck it out as a frustrated liberal Republican, knowing that the wealthy business core of the party still pulled a few strings and people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe remained in the Senate — if only because the idea of voting for Democrats by choice made me feel uncomfortable.  (It would have been so… gauche.)  Then came Hurricane Katrina.  In New Orleans, I learned that it wasn’t just the Bush administration that was flawed but my worldview itself.

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in.  Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal.  For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets.  Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people.  My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.

In order to learn more — and to secure my membership in what Karl Rove sneeringly called the “reality-based community ” — I joined a social science research institute.  There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt.  Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception of U.S. martial power — what it’s for, how it’s used — diverged from the reality of our wars.

An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion.  I think I finally understand what it means.  We see different realities, different worlds.  If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things.  I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.  I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “ creat[ing] our own reality ,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “ be dictated by fact-checkers ” (as a Romney pollster put it).  It explains why study after study shows — examples herehere, and here– that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.

Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful.  I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned.  I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).

My transition has significantly strained my relationships with family, friends, and former colleagues.  It is deeply upsetting to walk on thin ice where there used to be solid, common ground.  I wish they, too, would come to see a fuller spectrum of reality, but I know from experience how hard that can be when your worldview won’t let you.

Another term to throw around at this point is: Reality Tunnel, “a subconscious set of mental “filters” formed from… beliefs and experiences”.

The first step is to understand that this exists. Only then can you attempt to take control of it and progress.

In this Harper’s Magazine piece from 1997, the recently passed Earl Shorris relays his own journey in Understanding, thanks to a meeting with a remarkable female prison inmate:

She didn’t speak of jobs or money. In that, she was like the others I had listened to. No one had spoken of jobs or money. But how could the “moral life of downtown” lead anyone out from the surround of force? How could a museum push poverty away? Who can dress in statues or eat the past? And what of the political life? Had Niecie skipped a step or failed to take a step? The way out of poverty was politics, not the “moral life of downtown.” But to enter the public world, to practice the political life, the poor had first to learn to reflect. That was what Niecie meant by the “moral life of downtown.” She did not make the error of divorcing ethics from politics. Niecie had simply said, in a kind of shorthand, that no one could step out of the panicking circumstance of poverty directly into the public world.

Although she did not say so, I was sure that when she spoke of the “moral life of downtown” she meant something that had happened to her. With no job and no money, a prisoner, she had undergone a radical transformation. She had followed the same path that led to the invention of politics in ancient Greece. She had learned to reflect. In further conversation it became clear that when she spoke of “the moral life of downtown” she meant the humanities, the study of human constructs and concerns, which has been the source of reflection for the secular world since the Greeks first stepped back from nature to experience wonder at what they beheld. If the political life was the way out of poverty, the humanities provided an entrance to reflection and the political life. The poor did not need anyone to release them; an escape route existed. But to open this avenue to reflection and politics a major distinction between the preparation for the life of the rich and the life of the poor had to be eliminated.

“You’ve been cheated,” I said. “Rich people learn the humanities; you didn’t. The humanities are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you. I think the humanities are one of the ways to become political, and I don’t mean political in the sense of voting in an election but in the broad sense.” I told them Thucydides’ definition of politics.

“Rich people know politics in that sense. They know how to negotiate instead of using force. They know how to use politics to get along, to get power. It doesn’t mean that rich people are good and poor people are bad. It simply means that rich people know a more effective method for living in this society.

“Do all rich people, or people who are in the middle, know the humanities? Not a chance. But some do. And it helps. It helps to live better and enjoy life more. Will the humanities make you rich? Yes. Absolutely. But not in terms of money. In terms of life.

“Rich people learn the humanities in private schools and expensive universities. And that’s one of the ways in which they learn the political life. I think that is the real difference between the haves and have-nots in this country. If you want real power, legitimate power, the kind that comes from the people and belongs to the people, you must understand politics. The humanities will help.

“My T-cell count is down. But that’s neither here nor there. Tell me about the course, Earl. What are you going to teach?”

“Moral philosophy.”

“And what does that include?”

She had turned the visit into an interrogation. I didn’t mind. At the end of the conversation I would be going out into “the free world”; if she wanted our meeting to be an interrogation, I was not about to argue. I said, “We’ll begin with Plato: the Apology, a little of the Crito, a few pages of the Phaedo so that they’ll know what happened to Socrates. Then we’ll read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I also want them to read Thucydides, particularly Pericles’ Funeral Oration in order to make the connection between ethics and politics, to lead them in the direction I hope the course will take them. Then we’ll end with Antigone, but read as moral and political philosophy as well as drama.”

“There’s something missing,” she said, leaning back in her chair, taking on an air of superiority.

The drive had been long, the day was hot, the air in the room was dead and damp. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “and what’s that?”

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. How can you teach philosophy to poor people without the Allegory of the Cave? The ghetto is the cave. Education is the light. Poor people can understand that.

The question then becomes: what do we do with our new knowledge? Our post-awakened existence?!

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. ~ Rumi

This epic, three hour interview with Chris Hedges wherein he recounts his own personal evolution, a progression towards the twin asymptotes of self-knowledge and worldly-understanding, was revelatory for me as both a path to follow and a better life to lead:

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Liberalism is Domesticated Protest.

Now here’s an elderly Situationist with some news about Utopia to temper the notion that Humanism might save us all:

 Utopianism? From now on, that’s the hell of the past.
(((There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still fire in the furnace.))) We
have always been constrained to live in a place that is everywhere but,
in that place, we are nowhere. That’s the reality of our exile. It has
been imposed on us for thousands of years by an economy founded on the
exploitation of man by man. Humanist ideology has made us believe that
we are human while we remain, for the most part, reduced to the state of
beasts whose predatory instincts are satisfied by the will to power and
appropriation.

Our “vale of tears” was considered the best possible
world. Could we have invented a way of living that is more
phantasmagorical and absurd than the all-powerful cruelty of the gods,
the caste of priests and princes ruling enslaved peoples, the obligation
to work that is supposed to guarantee joy and substantiate the Stalinist
paradise, the millenarianist Third Reich, the Maoist Cultural
Revolution, the society of well-being (the Welfare state[4]), the
totalitarianism of money beyond which there is neither individual nor
social safety, [and] finally the idea that survival is everything and
life is nothing? (((Take note, philosophy students: this is how one
asks a “rhetorical question.”)))

Against that utopia, which passes for reality, is
opposed the only reality that matters: what we try to live by assuring
our happiness and that of everyone else. Thenceforth, we no longer are
in a utopia, but at the heart of a mutation, a change of civilization
that takes shape under our eyes and that many people, blinded by the
dominant obscurantism, are incapable of discerning. Because the quest
for profit makes men into predatory, insensitive and stupid brutes.

Eschatological signs and portents may abide, we may succeed in lifting the veil ourselves and see things as they truly are, we may learn that the secret of the universe is All in the Eye of the Beholder…  but one thing is certain: this is not how the world ends!

Questions/Comments/Queries?


Richard Stallman: Extreme Capitalism is driving us to disaster

Posted by on August 22nd, 2012
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Stallman really gets going from 6m30s.


This is not how the world ends

Posted by on August 16th, 2012

Images link to source or higher rez where available. Your favourite Zeitgeist images, put them in the comments.


The Onion: Preemptive Memorial Honors Future Victims Of Imminent Dam Disaster

Posted by on July 2nd, 2012

Just in case you don’t “get it”, this is about teh Climate Change.


Guest Post: Joshua Ellis revisits the Grim Meathook Future

Posted by on June 1st, 2012

This is the first in a series of guest posts I’ve solicited, that will appear over the coming weeks and months. Kicking things off, our friend Joshua Ellis updates his notion of The Grim Meathook Future to give us:

The Grim Meathook Future, Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote this thing on a private message board run by the writer Warren “No Relation” Ellis. One of the other board members, Jamie Zawinski, liked it so much he posted it on his LiveJournal, and it took on a bit of life of its own, and a phrase from it, “the grim meathook future”, has kind of entered the futurist parlance. Bruce Sterling used it in a SxSW keynote, and most recently it showed up as a bit of a demented character’s inner monologue in Charlie Stross’s Rule 34. (There is nothing quite as odd, by the way, as reading a novel and coming across a phrase you coined.)

Part of what I wrote was this:

The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.

What a lot of people seemed to miss, when they read this and ran with it, was that the Grim Meathook Future emphatically isn’t the Mad Max postapocalypse where everybody runs around shooting at each other in body armor made of tractor tires and Wilson’s Leather remaindered items. That future — envisioned by many as a sort of antidote to the gee-whiz chrome-plated futures of Star Trek and 1950s rock-ribbed science fiction — is, in point of fact, entirely as ridiculous and unlikely as any of the technofetishistic Rapture-of-the-nerds bullshit that the transhumanists come up with. It’s a macho fantasy invented by the sort of libertarians who secretly pray for the Poor People to rise up and start a civil war so their friends will stop laughing at them for keeping a cache of automatic weapons next to their Lexus in the garage of their suburban enclave.

Look: in the event of an actual global thermonuclear war, the likelihood is that pretty much all life on Earth would be wiped away, either in the firestorms or during the onset of the resulting nuclear winter, which would kill off the plants and the animals that ate the plants and the people who ate the animals and the plants. Nobody would have time to forget the old ways and revert to pre-civilizational Lord Of The Flies behavior; they’d be too busy dying of radiation poisoning or starvation. Poisoned and starving people don’t spend a lot of time waging tribal war on each other, because they’re too busy shitting out their own intestines or falling down unconscious every time they try to stand up too quickly.

But let’s assume, for a moment, some notional apocalypse that destroys civilization and maybe reduces the human population by 90%. There’s only one really possible scenario that could cause that, which is a fast-moving airborne pathogen with a high mortality rate. Not even global warming could kill that many of us off, because it doesn’t happen fast enough; humans are fast-moving adaptable primates. So imagine, if you like, that Ebola Zaire mutates and becomes airborne and most of the people on Earth die out very quicly, leaving the lion’s share of the remnants of civilization just lying around, a sort of mass version of the Roanoke Island colony, who left their food on their tables and their kitchen fires still burning.

Unless the survivors happened to be absolute drooling idiots, they’d have the power back on and at least the basic necessities of survival up and running in a matter of weeks or months. Why? Because every technological artifact on Earth, from toasters to plutonium power plants, comes with a fucking instruction manual.

Always wanted to learn basic engineering, or how to read a schematic, but never had the time? Well, guess what, homey? You now have absolutely nothing to do but find any one of the thousands of thousands of libraries dotting the Earth’s surface, load the entire 600 section into a wheelbarrow, and retire to some place with a shady spot for reading and a large supply of beer. Hell, armed only with a Boy’s Big Book Of Electrical Projects from the 1960s and the contents of a run-down mini-mall, you could probably build a two-way radio and a dynamo hooked up to an exercise bike to run it off of. Sure, if you weren’t a nerd or a maker, it might take you a while to figure it out…but if the world ends, it’s gonna take your inbox and your Getting Things Done list with it. You’ll have nothing but time.

So no, that’s not my Grim Meathook Future. (It actually sounds kind of lovely; now where did I leave those access codes for the biowarfare lab, again….) My Grim Meathook Future is the one that looks like the present.

Living in America — indeed, in any of the economically top-tier countries in the First World — is like living in a big room. It’s huge, this room, so big that you can’t see the walls, and it’s nice and cozy. To paraphrase Depeche Mode: all you ever wanted, all you ever needed is here in your arms. And you’ve never been outside the room. Intellectually, you know that there’s a world outside, maybe one that’s not quite as nice and cozy; you’ve seen it on TV, after all. But it doesn’t really affect you. When you think of the world, you think of the room; your idea of normality is based on what’s normal in the room.

There are nearly a billion Facebook users in the world, and half a billion Twitter users (though of course there’s probably nearly a 90% overlap between those two). Those are indeed astonishing numbers, but the problem is that sometime around March 12, 2012, we passed seven billion people living on Earth. That means that the vast majority of humans aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. The majority of people have mobile phones, but there are more people still who don’t have mobile phones than use Facebook.

Most of us never see these people, of course, except as faces briefly glimpsed in the background of news footage. They are outside our Big Room. Not because we’re intentionally keeping them out, you understand; at least, not really on any overt institutional level. Basically. We don’t do that any more, and we feel good about it.

It’s just that living in the Big Room is expensive, you see…and, well, these people can’t afford it. They don’t have Facebook because they can’t afford the technological artifacts that would allow them to be on Facebook. They don’t tweet about how much the new version of iOS sucks, because they don’t have any way to tweet and they damn sure don’t have a device that will run iOS, because these devices cost more than these people often make in a year.

But, hey, look, things are tough all over. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty for having the basic economic and cultural capital to be able to read this essay. You probably had no more control over your circumstances than a boy-child growing up in the streets of Kibera did, and no reason to feel guilty. We are where we are.

But it’s important to understand that the capital-F Future where we become cyborgs permanently mind-melded with our technology is open only to people who can afford that technology in the first place…especially when technological innovation is driven by Silicon Valley-style venture capitalism.

I’ve been a coder for most of my life — not a very good one, necessarily, by the standards of any given hackathon, but I’ve made my living doing it for a long time, at least when I wasn’t making a living by writing. Consequently, I’ve worked with and been around Valley-style entrepreneurs and investors quite a bit. And it’s taken me fifteen years of hanging out in the tech industry and around tech industry people to fully realize that I can’t stand being in the same room with most of them.

“It’s no trick to make a lot of money,” says Everett Sloane in Citizen Kane, “if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” And it’s true. All you have to do is find a lot of people with disposable income, figure out what they’ll spend that income on, and sell it to them. At the heart of it, that’s what Steve Jobs did, to some extent with the personal computer and to a greater extent with the iPhone. Later, Mark Zuckerberg figured out a neat, if creepy, angle on this trick: find the people with the income, find out what they spend it on…and then sell that information to the people who sell the people the things they want to buy.

That’s what Silicon Valley is for: making shit for people with disposable incomes to buy. (And making shit for companies to buy so their workflow is more efficient, so the people who own the company and work for the company can buy more of the other shit.) If it was ever about trying to make the world a better place, that train left the station a long time ago.

It’s my experience that most venture capitalists and serial entrepreneur types are almost identical, personality-wise, to the street hustlers and drug dealers whose acquaintance I’ve made over the years. They may wear polo shirts instead of Fubu and spend their money on organic produce instead of custom hubcap rims, but they operate on the same principle: waking up every day figuring out new ways to get paid. Whether these ways are good for society as a whole, or even for the person who’s doing the paying, is a minor consideration next to the paycheck itself. And if you’re not a means to that end, well, fuck you. More than once, I’ve seen the exact same behavior in a Stanford-educated dot.com startup founder at a tech meetup and a smacked-out panhandler on the Las Vegas Strip: they’re all smiles and handshakes when they approach you, but as soon as they realize you’re not a potential mark with an open wallet you can watch their eyes go dead and look right through you, on to the next target.

I hate these people and wouldn’t piss on most of them if they were on fire, but that’s fine; I hate bankers and lawyers too, like every other blowhard bohemian iconoclast does, and I doubt any of them are losing any sleep over it. What bothers me is that we’ve effectively put these walking hardons in charge of building that capital-F Future, in every sector of the innovation industry, from genetically grown food to biotechnology to communications to spaceship-building.

And none of them, not a single one, is interested in any Future if they can’t sell it for a serious profit. Nor do they care if the process of selling and profiting leaves a swath of collateral damage the size of a Gulf Coast oil spill in its wake.

Which leaves those six billion other people, the people who don’t live in the Big Room with you and me and Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg, pretty well fucked.

The real Grim Meathook Future, the one I talked about back when I wrote that thing and the one I see now, is the future where a relatively small slice of our species lives in a sort of Edenic Eloi reality where the only problems are what we laughingly refer to as White People Problems, like being able to get four bars’ worth of 4G signal at that incredible pho joint that @ironicguy69 recommended on Twitter, or finding new ways to lifehack all the shit we own into our massive closets…while the rest of the world is reduced to maintaining our lifestyles via a complex process of economically-positioned indentured servitude and clinging with the very tips of their fingernails onto the ragged edge of our consumer leavings, like the dorky dude who shows up the first day of school with the cheap K-Mart knockoffs of the pumped-up kicks the cool kids are wearing this year. In other words, the Grim Meathook Future is the one that looks like the present, the one where nothing changes.

But don’t you know, people are talkin’ about a revolution, son? In the streets of Cairo and Tripoli, where they Twittered entire governments to their knees; in Zucotti Park and in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, where they’re Occupying anything and everything they can. Information wants to be free, didn’t you get the Facebook notification?

Yeah, I know that song, and I know who did the original version: Stewart Brand, at the first Hacker’s Conference. But what Stewart also said, that most of the cyberlibertarians forget to mention (or never knew in the first place) is that information wants to be expensive. Information — and the economy around it — wants to be sold to teenagers at the highest possible price point that their parents will tolerate. It wants to be unlimited, if by unlimited you mean two gigabytes per month, after which you get charged a dollar a megabyte. Information wants to be marketed to you, and if it could put a microphone in your bedroom to hear what you muttered about in the deepest darkest depths of your dreams, it would do it, and it would convince you to let it do it by allowing you to share your dreams with that dude you made out with one night at a party in college who, by virtue of the social networks, is still a part of your circle of interaction for no apparent goddamn reason at all. And then it would sell your dreams back to you, with free shipping if your order is over $25.

At least, that’s what all the evidence these days suggests. If Western companies are helping developing nations throw off the various yolks of tyranny, it’s only because they’ve identified potential future markets. A free society, after all, usually means a free market. The Occupy Movement is very good at identifying the problems with the world – shit’s fucked up real bad – but not so good at coming up with viable solutions that anybody with actual power pays much attention to. The social networks have been coopted by the activist movements, but only to the extent that you can now watch Iranian soldiers or NYPD thugs beat the shit out of teenage girls in real-time. The beatings haven’t stopped; no one has truly been held accountable; same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Knowing may be half the battle, as they used to tell us on the old G.I. Joe cartoon when I was a kid, but that’s just it: it’s only half the battle.

If I sound dismissive and cynical, it’s because I am. I’m deeply, irreconcilably cynical about the technology industry, especially when anybody in it starts mouthing off about human rights, as if they gave a shit. Of course tech lobbyists frame things like the file-sharing issue as a human rights issue, and tell you that it’s all about your right to have as many Dave Matthews MP3s as your hard drive can hold; they work for the people who make the software that shares the files and run the websites that link to the torrents, almost none of whom are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They don’t talk to you about musicians who can’t make money from album sales anymore or newspapers that lock their doors after decades or centuries of publication, simply because the people who run them can’t figure out how to instantiate an instant technological pivot — because, you know, they’re just stupid journalists, not social media gurus.

Is it good for humanity when these things happen? Is it good for individual communities, or the creative arts? It doesn’t matter. It’s good for the technology industry, for those hustling pricks in the polo shirts, whose job is to find new ways to sell shit to people. And that’s all that matters.

That’s the Grim Meathook Future I see lying before us, a long game of technological determinism where the only people who get their jetpacks or their self-driving cars or their anti-aging nanotech are the ones who can afford it, and everyone else can simply go fuck themselves and rot in whatever Third World toilet they were unlucky enough to be born into.

Is there a way around it? Man, I don’t know. I really don’t. And I actually think about this shit a lot, not just on my daily commute from my bedroom to the coffeeshop patio. I read Bruce Sterling’s blog and I watch TED talks and I sit around in the dark heat of the Las Vegas night and spend hours thinking about it…and I just don’t have an answer.

I’m afraid that avoiding the Grim Meathook Future might require the dismantling of American-style corporate capitalism. I’m not a Communist or anything, but it seems to me that corporate capitalism as it’s played in my country is a lot like throwing a hundred sharks and a hundred minnows into a small tank. Sharks are machines that eat minnows: they’re incapable of doing anything else, even of keeping a few minnows around to make more minnows to eat later. So they’ll eat and eat until there’s nothing to do except eat each other, and the last one left alive in the tank isn’t the winner: he’s just the shark who gets to die slowly and horribly of starvation. People can only buy so much shit until they run out of money or space to put it in, and then what?

I hope that we’ll wise up and take the sharks out of the pool, or at least muzzle them for a while. If we do — if we stop thinking entirely about the Benjamins and start thinking about the survival of our species as a whole — I think things will change, and some other future will open up, an even more radical future than any Singularity of social networks that might occur.

I hope so. I’d love to see a future I couldn’t predict.

 

Joshua Ellis is lead developer and podcast co-host at NSFW Corp., as well as a writer, columnist, speaker and musician. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife Rosalie and his two cats, Erwin Schrodinger and Pablo Honey.

we’ll live shitty lives forever

Posted by on April 30th, 2012

Today’s Pictures for Sad Children:

via @thedaniel


SKYNET #xkcd

Posted by on April 23rd, 2012

you're damn right I have a skynet tattoo too


If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Posted by on February 10th, 2012

This is probably about as balanced & well-rounded look as you’re going to get (better even than the excellent look at The Weather Underground):

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IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT is the remarkable story of the group’s rise and fall, told through the transformation and radicalization of one of its members, Daniel McGowan. Part coming-of-age tale, part cops-and-robbers thriller, the film interweaves a chronicle of McGowan facing life in prison with a dramatic investigation of the events that led to his involvement with the ELF. Using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews — with cell members and with the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them — IF A TREE FALLS asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism.


novel field test or android abuse? YOU DECIDE!

Posted by on February 2nd, 2012

My (all too human and weak and fleshy) gut tells me this is why the machines will rise up against us:

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via @Bopuc