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It's snowing heavily in my Vermont village right now. My first task in the morning will be to clear the deck, walkways, and driveway. To do that I will use a push broom and a snow shovel/snow scoop hybrid tool. Hopefully, there will be no ice or compacted snow that will require the use of a square-point shovel.

Someone posted a link to a debate on Reddit between the denizens of the futurology and collapse subreddits. The futurologists extrapolate from cherry-picked data and assert that ten-dollar-a-barrel oil will not be able to compete with solar power in price per kilowatt by some unspecified date in the 2020s.

A representative from the collapse group pointed out that solar currently provides less than 1% of our power needs globally, and that it's easy to double your installed base annually when your starting numbers are so small. If a human embryo continued to grow at the exponential rate of early cell division, it would be as large as a battleship by the time it was born, but those early doubling rates slow down as the scale increases.

Still, the techno-optimists insist that the real challenge facing humanity will be how to manage the abundance granted to us by robot labor and the benevolent guidance of superhuman artificial intelligence. They seem to assume that anything that is feasible and desirable will happen, regardless of economic incentives. But even the techno-utopians admit that the current economic paradigm presents an obstacle to the transition to the paradise they see as inevitable. They admit that we could be in for a tumultuous couple of decades.
P. T. Barnum is said to have claimed that anything worth doing is worth doing for a profit. That may have passed for cynicism in his day, but now it is simple common sense. To qualify as a cynic on economic matters today one would have to claim that anything that doesn't increase the already glaring wealth disparity isn't worth contemplating. Even that would ring true in certain circles.

I am self-employed, and I spend a lot of my time editing audio recordings of conversations. You could feed a learning algorithm before and after versions of all of the audio files that I've ever worked on, and I wouldn't be surprised if a piece of software that doesn't comprehend a single word of English could be trained to edit conversations as well as I do in a tiny fraction of the time it takes me.

If I made my living editing audio for a corporate employer, that thought would worry me. But since I'm editing audio for my own business and no one stands to increase their profits by replacing me with an algorithm, I expect to spend thousands of hours in the future editing audio and video. No corporation has any incentive to automate my job.

Likewise, I'm not worried that a robot will shovel the snow off my driveway anytime soon. I don't think I'd worry about that even if I thought it might happen, as shoveling snow is not something I do for pleasure or for wages. I do it to clear the snow and make the walks and driveway usable. I imagine that a snow-clearing robot is technically feasible, and it is certainly desirable. That doesn't mean it's likely to happen. No builder or trainer of robots has any motivation to deploy one to take up my labor. It doesn't matter if it's technically feasible. If it isn't profitable, it won't happen.

Why Practice Writing?

I'm reading a book on Kindle called Writing Habit Mastery - How to Write 2,000 Words a Day and Forever Cure Writer's Block. Do creative ideas come to you when you're in the shower, or out for a walk, or someplace other than were we do our writing. The author's explanation for this is that we are afraid to write, so we allow our imaginations to do their thing when we're in a situation in which we know that it would be impossible (or at least damned inconvenient) to write anything down.

If your mind races all over the place in conversation with friends, or when driving, or at times when your body is engaged but your mind is free to roam, you probably think of yourself as a creative person, and I'm not saying you're wrong. Maybe you live with the characters from your unwritten stories and novels, and it seems like putting their adventures down on paper is a mere formality, and that the truly valuable and miraculous part of the process, the act of imagining your characters, is already done.

But when you make the time to start writing, you discover that the imagining is the easy part and that writing can be an ugly, humiliating and dispiriting business. Characters refuse to perform when you sit down at the keyboard. Non-fiction essays flow places other than where the outline says they're supposed to go. The structure of an argument bumps heads with the images, phrases, and rhythms that take over when the fingers are actually in contact with the keyboard or the pen with the paper.

Possibly worst of all, when social media provides our primary means of putting our "writing" in front of an audience, the essays, stories, jokes and diatribes that we pour our passion into, that we work and re-work, hacking away whole paragraphs which pleased us but which don't advance the objective of the piece, garner no response whatsoever. Meanwhile, the list of the top ten albums we remember listening to as teenagers prompts 50 replies and a spirited discussion among our friends and "friends."

If we want validation, pages views, likes or the attention of the search engines, there are definitely easier ways to achieve that goal than by toiling to produce and refine text.

I have resolved to write 500 words per day for two main reasons. First, I like to make videos and podcasts, and in both of those efforts it's helpful to have something to read. The teleprompter at the local TV station doesn't do me much good if it has not text to display. Also, I've found it much easier to read text that I have written myself. I know the intended rhythm of sentences, and I don't write words that I don't know how to pronounce.

The second reason for writing involves the cultivation of imagination. Writing at a certain time every day is like taking my imagination to the gym. Exercising when I feel like it produces no visible effect on my body. Going to the gym on a regular schedule and half-assing it when I'm feeling tired or low on energy produces much better results than not going.

Imagination that is buff from regular workouts and which I have conditioned to respond to particular cues is a lot like walking around with a smaller waist and wider shoulders than I would have if I didn't go to the gym on a regular schedule. I won't be modeling for any fireman calendars any time soon, just as I'm unlikely to be the show runner for some high-profile TV show, but I feel better knowing that I've got more at my disposal than life in techno-industrial culture regularly demands of me. Some applications for fitness or imagination present themselves in unusual circumstances, and it's good to have a little something extra under the hood.

The Doomer Dies a Thousand Times

Sam Harris has a rap about how people who like to think about the future of artificial intelligence seem unable to associate the appropriate emotional affect with the dystopian possibilities they envision around AI. Loss of human freedom? Bad in theory, but the details are fascinating. Tweak a variable and see if things get better or worse. Which is more interesting? That's not fair, peace and prosperity are pleasurable to live through but boring to contemplate.

The AI catastrophe is also fun to think about because it assumes that the present will continue in its current mode, and if you're working in the tech sector and feeling no real risk of unemployment or displacement in the short term, the basic working premise of an AI catastrophe in future decades is built on the assumption that you personally will continue to do well in the here and now.

I almost always contrast the techno-visionary mentality, the one that gravitates to the possibilities around developments in artificial intelligence, both utopian and dystopian, with the Doomer mentality. The Doomer is drawn to scenarios in which the current state of civilization is knocked back on its heels, perhaps permanently. She is less likely to have a secure and lucrative job in tech, though the Doomer mentality wins converts even in the nests of insular privilege. The Doomer is more likely to resent those who like to think about robots and advanced computation, and for her, the upside of impending collapse is that it will take down the smug and exalted ones as it grinds everyone into the dirt.

When it comes to emotional affect, the Doomer is not the mirror image of the technophile. When the Doomer contemplates the seizure of the technology-enabled processes that support billions of people on a planet suited to sustaining half a billion without industrial agriculture, she is quite likely to imagine, in vivid detail, the grief, the sense of loss, and the despair that would be the common experience of humanity during the dieback.

The worst case scenario for the Doomer is the crash that crushes everyone EXCEPT the elite. Somehow, their plans for underground luxury bunkers, or mountaintop resort strongholds, or libertarian seastead paradises work out, and they do quite well while everyone else suffers. In this scenario, the Randroid Lords of Silicon Valley hold self-congratulatory colloquies on their artificial islands and cluck in false pity for the poor, clueless masses.

"They were always stupid, and vulgar and lazy, but it's too bad they had to die in such abject misery and barbarism. And it's tragic that the last of them have prolonged their misery for so long. It would be so much easier for everyone if they'd just get on with it and cease their interminable, pointless strivings and make way for the rightful inheritors of the Earth."

In my own skin, I don't worry about the big picture much. My genuine fears are mostly personal, and sometimes, admittedly, quite irrational. I fear for my sons, for the economic landscape in which they will be expected to carve out a living, for their likely encounters with police, with opiates, with self-sabotage and low expectations. Those fears, I think, are rational. The irrational comes when I'm alone in the dark and feel a tingle of supernatural dread. I turn on the lights, even though my rational mind knows that I am alone. My rational mind provides poor comfort.

575 words

A Consultation

The scent of incense that filled the consecrated space lulled the querent into reverie. Only the soft note of the gong brought him back to his intention. He prostrated himself, placed the bouquet of silk flowers on the alter and addressed the woman with the spiral on her brow.

"Beautiful and compassionate Oracle, what should I tell my sons about constructing private worlds and retreating into them?"

The Oracle sighed, stroked the querent's cheek and gestured to remind him that she was consulting a higher order Oracle, an Oracle he could have consulted directly if he dared. Anxiety melted from his energetic form at her touch, but his intention kept him anchored.

The sigil of his resolve glowed like the afterimage of the sun behind his eyes. He considered the possibility that he'd gotten the dose wrong. Too little would likely do nothing. Too much? Time would tell.

The woman whom he called the Oracle was actually a graceful proxy, a sentient user-interface for the Oracle that received his question and dispatched reminders to the would-be "superior man" from within the Cloud.

The woman with the Spiral above and between her eyes nodded as if receiving instructions.

"Tell them anything," the woman said as she leaned back on her hands and looked away over her shoulder into the rising and twisting ribbons of incense smoke. "Just get them talking and then listen with sincerity and sensitivity. Your words have less power than you imagine. Set an example for them and show them the interplay between resolve and spontaneity.  Show them the rewards that come with consistent effort, but also adapt yourself to unexpected situations. Resilience is not rigid. Strength yields."

"Oracle, the private worlds I inhabited in my youth were built from imagination. The Archons imagine FOR my children. Their own capacity for it has withered from disuse. I never faced the temptations they face. Surely there is some guidance I can provide to them."

The woman, echoing the writhing smoke, rose to her feet and began a rhythmic swaying. Music demons roused to life and made her gentle undulations into a dance. The man hoped she would try to arouse his lust with her movements and glances. Any resistance to her here, and the whole experience would melt away. As it was, he knew his lucidity was not as self-perpetuating as his resolve. That glyph had already succumbed to the dream currents and morphed into another shape as it blurred into meaninglessness.

"It really doesn't matter," the dancing woman whispered. He followed her gaze to her feet, saw packets of representation glow in her tracks and shift the context of their conversation to something perfunctory and rote. He wanted to give her something extra, to demonstrate his sincerity, though what he had been sincere about was already beyond his recall.

She ignored his parting formula and opened her arms and let her head loll back on her shoulders as she spun in place, retaining the understanding of her situation.


Sometimes I peruse Amazon.com for melee weapons. I think about the trusty blades I'd want to have by my side in the zombie apocalypse. I don't tend to dwell in those fantasy hellscapes where my antagonists are living humans. They would likely have guns, and my kickass pair of kukri knives wouldn't do me a whole lot of good. In the actual post-collapse environment, assuming you want to survive as something other than some warlord's slave, weapons may be a consideration, but the team you're on will be a more important factor.

But if The Walking Dead is to be believed, that will be true after the zombie apocalypse as well. If the zombies are going to get you, it's likely to happen early. If you survive the first few months and create a secure living space for yourself with access to food and clean water and get to know the ways of the undead, your biggest concern is avoiding the armed gangs who will make poor house guests should they discover your little stronghold.
I used to love that show, and the comic book that it is based on, but now I watch it grudgingly, mostly because I'm the co-host of a podcast about zombie media. I still resonate with the zombie apocalypse imagery, but the human brutality on the show seems really over the top. The premise of all human interactions in that universe seems to be that peaceful, cooperative, techno-industrial society is sprinkled with would-be Ghengis Khan's who are just champing at the bit to lead bands of psychopaths on a never-ending joyride of rape, murder, torture and enslavement across the post-apocalyptic landscape. All they need is a breakdown in civil authority, and they're ready to rip.

I just don't think that's the case. And seeing Robert Kirkman and crew present that scenario over and over again is really wearing on my willing suspension of disbelief. But I have concocted a fan theory to account for this. The zombie virus has infected everyone. That's cannon lore on the show. No matter how you die, so long as you don't suffer severe trauma to your brain, you will re-animate and seek the flesh of the living.

Here's my theory which makes the show easier to swallow: the same virus that has infected everyone and causes people to become cannibalistic revenants also activates latent psychopath genes which are quite common though rarely expressed in behavior.

So, that takes care of The Walking Dead. That rationalization should keep me going at least through the second half of season 7. But what about the real apocalypse that may or may not arrive sometime in the foreseeable future?

I live in Vermont where lots of people own guns. I could get one, find people to train with, and maybe get halfway decent in their use and maintenance. But, again, weapons may come in handy from time to time, but in tough times what really matters is the team you're on. My plan... and I call it a plan, but really it's just a fanciful justification for doing what I'm already doing, is to make my face and voice known quantities in my village. I shoot video at municipal meetings. I do a weekly radio show. I hang out at the local community access TV station. I am insinuating myself into the social fabric of this town so that in a crisis situation where your fate depends on whether you are part of the in-group or the out-group, I'll be in the in-group.

And I'm taking out extra insurance by driving an old, beat-up truck and not making any vulgar displays of wealth (not that I have the means to do so). I don't want to be the focus of anyone's envy or resentment or set myself as an attractive target for the local psychopaths who are quietly biding their time, waiting for their day to come.
666 words

What's all the fuss about normalization?

Click here to listen to a reading of this blog post.

Recently, the word "normalize" has bubbled to the surface of punditry and social media conversations. When I look it up, I get vacuous definitions like, "to bring or restore to a normal condition."

When I was a kid, a teacher told me that if I couldn't define a word without using a form of that word in my definition, then I didn't know what the word means.

Putting that quibble aside, I will certainly admit that the 2016 election cycle was not normal. I would think that returning to normality from the abnormality of the 2016 freak show would be a good thing. But, no. When paid pundits and volunteer keyboard warriors inveigh against normalization, they are alerting us to the dangers of treating something that is definitely NOT normal as if it WERE normal. This makes intuitive sense to me, but it raises a dangerous question:

What is "normal?"

I watched a YouTube video in which a guy walked up to people on the street and asked them, "Have you seen any normal people today?"

Almost everybody he talked to either asked him what he meant by "normal," or they struggled with the ambiguity of the question.

Am I normal? I'm a white, heterosexual man, so surely I should count as normal in some respect, but I would probably bristle if you described me as normal. I think a lot of people would. Maybe most people, in which case it wouldn't be normal to think of oneself as being normal. But that doesn't make a lick of sense.

I think most everyone living in the English-speaking techno-industrial world has felt terrorized by normality at one point or another. Who is normal in high school? The prom queen? The captain of the football team? The class president? There's only one of each of them. They CAN'T be normal. They're exceptional, but exceptional people get held up as examples of normality all the time, like the disadvantaged kid who worked hard, said no to drugs, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made a fortune.

A one-in-a-thousand case can't be normal, but we're indoctrinated to think that if we fail to meet that standard that it's a matter of personal failure on our part, rather than a normal outcome given the circumstances.

Social media and the fragmentation of the traditional media have given us another reason to push back against the constraints of normality. Facebook and it's ilk allow us to surround ourselves with our ideological soul mates and never have to suffer the inanities, manufactured obsessions, and paranoid fantasies of the lumpen masses, whom we regard as occupying a continuum that runs from "freaking clueless" at one end all the way to "straight-up evil" at the other.

If those people get to decide what counts as normal, then we want nothing to do with it because normal doesn't just mean what's typical or familiar, it also means what's right. Whether or not we subscribe to the doctrine of moral relativism, we're not about to let some idiot from outside our micro-tribe tell us we're wrong about anything.

That's probably the source of the worry about "normalizing" Trump. If we treat him as if he were a normal occupant of the Oval Office, that also means that we have to admit that, on some level, he and his knuckle-dragging supporters are right. But we know they're not right, which means, no matter how many people voted for him, Donald Trump being the president of the United States is not and cannot be considered normal.

601 words
I don't own a television, and yet I watch quite a lot of it. The television I don't own is an appliance.  I watch the programming called TV on a laptop computer, usually in bed.

The programming, judged on the basis of my 20th-century expectations, is out of this world. Long-format dramas with top notch acting and compelling special effects are proliferating to the point where I couldn't possibly watch all of the shows that I hear people raving about.  I did a search for the best TV shows of 2016, and here is the first list I found. You may not agree with these picks, but that's not really important. The shows listed below are highly acclaimed. Notice which networks produced them.

(The ones in bold are ones the I have seen.)

25. Insecure
Network: HBO

24. Jane the Virgin
Network: The CW

23. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore
Network: Comedy Central

22. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Network: The CW

21. Documentary Now!
Network: IFC

20. American Crime
Network: ABC

19. Rectify
Network: SundanceTV

18. Steven Universe
Network: Cartoon Network

17. Transparent
Network: Amazon

16. Last Man on Earth
Network: Fox

15. Silicon Valley
Network: HBO

14. Black Mirror
Network: Netflix

13. Game of Thrones
Network: HBO

12. Fleabag
Network: Amazon

11. Westworld
Network: HBO

10. Halt and Catch Fire
Network: AMC

9. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Network: HBO

8. Better Call Saul
Network: AMC

7. Veep
Network: HBO

6. American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
Network: FX

5. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Network: TBS

4. BoJack Horseman
Network: Netflix

3. Atlanta
Network: FX

2. Stranger Things
Network: Netflix

1. The Americans
Network: FX

HBO: 6
FX: 3
Netflix: 3
AMC: 2
The CW: 2
Amazon: 2
FOX: 1
Sundance TV: 1
IFC: 1
Comedy Central: 1
Cartoon Network: 1
TBS: 1
ABC: 1
NBC: 0
CBS: 0


I've been fascinated by Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. As various reviewers have pointed out, the pacing and plot are inconsistent, the acting uneven, and the special effects are just barely good enough to maintain the suspension of disbelief, but in other ways the texture of the show is compelling. Because of long production lead times for shows like this, a Donald Trump presidency was never the subtext for this show, but it has become the subtext retroactively. The vision of a functioning fascist America is three-quarters of its draw.

Today, I saw a trailer for a new Hulu show based on Margaret Attwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale. I was excited and I posted the trailer to Facebook along with a comment about how traditional TV is in sad shape compared to what the new venues like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have to offer.

Someone asked me to define "traditional TV." From his perspective, "traditional TV" is experiencing a golden age. I explained that when I say "traditional TV," I'm mostly thinking about ABC, CBS and NBC. Those were the 3 broadcast networks I grew up with. Notice that the three of them combined produced as many of the acclaimed shows in the list above as the Independent Film Channel. They may still be making money, but in terms of influencing the culture, their best days are clearly behind them.

Why are the big boys of yesterday the pathetic also-rans of today? I think it's their intended revenue model. The big three make programming that advertisers will pay to embed their ads in.  HBO, Netflix and Amazon make programming that viewers will pay to watch.

Many advertisers won't pay for the kinds of shows that make lists like this because the people in television advertising live in a fantasy land where every suburban home is clean, well-appointed, scrupulously maintained, and drenched in natural light and every city-dwelling 20 something lives in a million dollar loft apartment. Nobody in TV commercials has anything more pressing to worry about than looking good, eating processed foods and ensuring that they can watch "the game" on the biggest TV screen possible.

Advertisers want programming that doesn't expose the la la land quality of their manufactured worlds. Basically, on "traditional TV," the programming carpet needs to match the advertising drapes, which is to say that everything must be uniformly fake. Even when it attempts to address (i.e. exploit) the social worries of the day, it must first translate them into the fake TV idiom and THEN see what sense can be made of them in that context. TV shows about white people living comfortably in the Great Nazi Reich while blacks toil on plantations and Jews and cripples are put down to protect the purity of the populace are incompatible with the prerogatives of the people who inhabit the multi-cultural consumer paradise depicted in TV advertising.

I agree that we're in a golden age of TV right now, and SOME of the good content is coming out of places like FX and AMC, which are based on the advertising model, but they are exploiting a niche that was created by HBO and Showtime, and they are failing, in my opinion, to keep pace with Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.

The shows that these new outlets (they don't seem like "networks") are producing are often fantastical and don't aspire to a Cinéma vérité depiction of the real world. The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history tale and so is clearly not of this world. Most of the central characters are still improbably good looking, and convenient coincidences abound. But it still achieves a level of reality (or maybe "honesty" would be a better word) that is out of step with the fake reality that advertisers need to project. A Best Buy or TGIFriday's commercial dropped into the middle of an episode would stand out as toxically contrived in a way that it wouldn't if it appeared in an episode of Law and Order or The Walking Dead.
The teacher of a voice class I took in 1995 gave us a questionnaire to fill out. The first question asked why I wanted to improve my speaking voice. I answered that internet bandwidth would soon increase to the point where it would be routine to communicate by voice online and I wanted to be able to present myself well when the time came.

I was a technophilic grad student at the time; the only grad student in a class full of freshmen and sophomores. I doubt that more than one or two of my classmates could have produced a workable definition of "internet bandwidth." They couldn't have Googled it. The company wouldn't exist for another year.

At the time, having read Hans Morevec, Eric Drexler, and Marvin Minsky, my head was abuzz with fantasies of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Voice over the internet seemed like small potatoes compared to the stuff I was I was expecting to come spilling out of the technological cornucopia.

The term 'podcast' hadn't been coined yet, so I couldn't say I knew I would one day host one, but I knew voice over the internet was inevitable. If you had told me in 1995 that Skype and podcasts were still ten years off, I would have given you a pedantic lecture on the accelerating pace of technological evolution.

From my perspective, that stuff was the low hanging fruit. Now, more than two decades later, artificial intelligence finally seems to be picking up steam. Virtual reality too. The world I thought was five to ten years away in the mid 90s seems like it might actually be five to ten years away now.

I like to play the curmudgeon on the topic of technology these days. I have zero interest in Oculus Rift and whatever the other big names are in VR gear. I see Facebook as a cross between technologically-induced OCD and a heroin habit. The less I use it the better I feel about myself and my choices.

But I do like YouTube. And my current livelihood would not exist without Skype. And computers are finally starting to get good enough at voice recognition and natural language processing to be useful, though I have no plans to incorporate an Amazon Echo or Google Home into my life.

Still, the things that I find most valuable now;  yoga, weight-lifting, gardening, radio, were freely available to me in the mid 90s. It never even occurred to me to get involved with the college radio station when I was in school. It was there. A friend of mine did it. Not me. I was looking ahead to the whiz-bang technology I knew was glittering on the near horizon.

That near horizon was a temporal mirage. It was a shimmer of heat above the desert sand, but I was convinced that I could smell the fresh water and hear the wind blowing through the palm trees of the oasis.

Now, my rational mind tells me that it's okay to get excited about the stuff I was dreaming about back in my late 20s. But I'm not excited about it. I tell myself that I got tired of waiting, but it was more than that. I got pissed off waiting. I resent the future for taking iso long to arrive and for failing to mention that the first thing it would do when it got here was make everybody poor. Well, not EVERYBODY. It's making some folks extremely rich. That's even worse.

I'd rather be tired of waiting than pissed off and resentful. Impatience would be a step up from my current attitude toward information technology.

611 words.

"No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance." -Leonard Shapiro

If there is one thing that techno-industrial society (i.e. the technosphere) cannot abide it is a community in which the members feel a greater sense of solidarity with and loyalty to one another than they do to the technosphere. What's worse is when that community rejects some supposed benefit of the technosphere and thereby gains some measure of resilience that "properly socialized" humans lack.
The ideal humans, from the technosphere's perspective, are completely dependent on the technosphere for all of their physical needs, for their sense of identity and values, for the means to interact with other citizens, and for their entertainment. Those humans who have been optimally socialized by the technosphere see their socialization in moral terms and feel righteously superior to the fellow humans who have either failed to fully adopt the prescribed technosphere morality or, even worse, deliberately reject some aspect of it.

"Doomers", which is to say people who like to think about scenarios that would pose serious challenges to the technosphere, such as the depletion of critical resources like fossil fuels, or events that disrupt the operation of electronic information and communications infrastructure, say a massive solar storm, like to think of the Amish as a group of people who will be largely unaffected. This is simply not true.

Unless you live in or near Eastern Pennsylvania or Central Tennessee, it's likely that your mental image of Amish life comes from movies or television documentaries, or possibly from books. I have lived in Amish country both in the East and in the South, and I have had many interactions and conversations with Amish people.

Yes, Amish homes are usually not wired for electricity, so when the solar storm knocks out the lights and leaves their "English" neighbors in the dark, the Amish will still have light. Their stored food won't go bad because they don't depend on refrigeration. Their hens will still lay eggs, and their gardens will still provide produce, but the Amish are far from self-sufficient. They buy much of what they need from the sorts of stores that depend on long-distance trucking, computerized supply chain logistics and, at every step, electricity.

When I lived on The Farm, a former hippie commune in rural Tennessee, I interacted with Amish people all the time. Sometimes I purchased goods from them. Sometimes I gave them rides. (They don't own or operate internal combustion vehicles, but they sure do ride in them.) Sometimes I lent them my cell phone because theirs had a dead battery.

I could always count on seeing Amish people at Wal*Mart. The one in Lawrenceburg had a McDonald's in the back. I have a vivid memory of a group of Amish women chowing down on Big Macs and McNuggets while just outside the dining area, a man in typical Amish costume, complete with thick beard and clean-shaven upper lip, stood talking with a guy whom I can only describe as a biker. I could describe his hair and clothing in detail, and you would also come to the same "biker" conclusion, so I won't bother. The one notable detail was that the biker had a cane and stood in a way that spoke of a vicious motorcycle accident from which he never fully recovered.

The Amish guy and the biker stood talking to one another for a very long time. I noticed them. I shopped for a while, and then I passed by them again to see that they were still talking. They seemed completely at ease in each others company. It was an incongruous pairing to me, but seemingly not to them. They were not ambassadors from alien civilizations.

The Amish don't use electricity in their homes, but they depend on it. More than that, they depend on the money that they get from the "English," and we "English" depend on the technosphere for the functioning of our monetary system. Only a tiny fraction of the money that people hold in bank accounts could be converted to physical cash at any one time.

The Amish are slightly less dependent on electricity than the rest of us are. Also, they don't watch (much) TV. They don't send their kids to public school. They do put their kids to work, which makes their kids more confident and capable than the kids of generic techno-slobs like me. They speak English to the "English" and their own language to each other.

Their's is hardly a mysterious or impenetrable society, but they do maintain their own identity, reject some of what the technosphere has to offer, and live in a way that is slightly more collapse-ready than the rest of us. And for this, the technosphere views them with extreme skepticism and suspicion.

Their kids work and don't go to public school. The technosphere defines this as child abuse and keeps a sharp eye on the Amish, alert for actionable infractions.
Men and women have distinct modes of dress and clearly defined roles within the family, which, according to technosphere values, is patriarchal and sexist.

Thier vehicles, horse-drawn as they are, are much slower than ours, and so local drivers occasionally have to slow down and pass Amish buggies with care. As a result, local police see the Amish as presenting a hazard and ticket them aggressively.

I would say that the Amish in Tennessee were between 60 and 80% socialized by technosphere standards. The ones in Pennsylvania and Maryland were more on the order of 85 to 95% socialized in the values of the technosphere, and for this they are seen as deviant and suspect by technosphere elites and exotic and robustly resilient by cantankerous doomers.

The takeaway: minor deviations from technosphere norms and anything less than complete dependence on the technosphere reveal themselves as a jarring dissonance.

1018 words. A total blowout by the standards of this exercise.

A Citizen of the Technoshpere

Kevin Carson, author of The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and The Desktop Regulatory State once described himself to me as a techno-utopian, by which he did not mean that he subscribed to the wish-fulfillment fantasies of the Singularity crowd. He meant that he envisioned a re-localized future where technology allowed communities to meet their material needs without the huge and sprawling systems of governance, business and production which eliminate region distinctiveness and force every local culture to adapt itself to the generic global culture. (The cultural emphasis is mine in this re-telling.)

If, for example, as Americans, we shop in the same national chain stores, watch the same television, listen to the same national radio programs, be they high-brow lefty fair like NPR, or right-wing populist talk radio like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, and if we are governed by a uniform set of laws at the federal level and are subject to a single legal framework from coast to coast, we tend to lose our cultural distinctiveness and our local loyalties.

Worse than the uniform demands of corporate culture and the legal system is how we are expected and willing to relocate to different parts of the country, to completely new communities, half a dozen times or more over the course of our working lives in order to make a living. In being so willing to sever all ties to our local community in order to seek better pay or "advance" our careers, we will, by default, make ourselves into generic citizens of the techno-industrial system (or the technosphere or the technium).

I'm particularly sensitive to this because when I was growing up, my father worked a government job that required him to relocate to a different city every time he got promoted. I lived in five different states by the time I finished elementary school. I lived in Kansas City, Missouri from the 4th grade through two years of community college before I left town to complete my undergraduate degree at a state university, so I think of Kansas City as my "home town," but I don't have any family there because neither of my parents was from there.  That just happens to have been the place my father was stationed when my parents got divorced. My father and his mother are buried there, but that was basically the result of a roll of the dice. They were both Brooklynites.

As an adult, I've lived in 8 states and 3 countries. It's said that travel broadens the mind, and I suppose it does, but in terms of feeling like I belong anywhere in particular, my serial existence has broadened me like a squirrel that's been run over by a steam-roller.

I like to think that I'm embedding myself in the local community of the Vermont village in which I now live, but I still feel like a tourist; like my hold on this place is tenuous. I try to identify with my Arkansas roots, but that's easier to do when I'm not there, because when I do visit Arkansas, it's quite clear that, while I may be FROM there, I don't BELONG there. It's about a meaningful as identifying with my Irish ancestry, never having been to Ireland.

I am a citizen of the technosphere, which is to say I'm about as generic a human being as the North American continent produced in the 20th Century.

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