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Arcologies and Climate Refugees

Tonight, Olga and I went to a book discussion at our local library. The book, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, is one that I had read before, but I re-read most of it for the book club discussion. I needn't have bothered, at least not for the purposes of contributing to the discussion. The majority of the people in attendance claimed to have read the book, but when it came time to discuss its themes, most everyone wanted to tell stories about their own experiences around water scarcity with nary a passing reference to the events, settings or characters in the novel. I sat quietly most of the time, but when I did speak out, I always referenced something from the book in the service of whatever point I was making.

The events of the novel mostly unfold somewhere near the middle of this century in Pheonix, Arizona, a city that is contracting and collapsing due to its insufficient supply of water and over-abundance of climate refugees, mostly from Texas. The wealthy and their well-heeled servants live in a giant, Chinese-built arcology, a closed habitat which recycles its own water. The residents, known in the world of the novel as "fivers" for their five-digit addresses in the ecology, venture out into the city to take advantage of the desperation of the refugees much like American, Japanese, Arab and European tourists go to places like Thailand or the Philippines. The party favors are cheap and the Texas bang bang girls will do just about anything for a hot shower and some pocket change.

Outside the glass walls of the arcology, street kids, desperate and dehydrated, dream of getting inside and dipping a cup into the water features and koi ponds which provide not only luxurious ambiance but also serve as stages in the water filtration and purification process that makes the arcology largely self-sufficient. One member of the discussion group, an older gentleman who came with his wife, talked about how nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can make their own drinking water from sea water and have all the power they need from their nuclear reactors. He seemed to be implying that we can build nuclear-powered desalination plants on the coasts and create plenty of fresh water and thereby maintain the status quo in the American southwest. He didn't mention building arcologies. I'm not sure if he was familiar with the concept.

I made a note to look up how much a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier costs and how many people can live on board. I was assuming the price per head would be astronomical. A Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier costs about $5 billion dollars and can accommodate a crew of up to 5,000. Those figures make the math pretty easy. That's a million bucks a head.

"Hmmm..." I thought, "that's not all THAT much." It's conceivable that as a society we could embark on a monumental engineering project in which we spend a million dollars for every citizen. And it's also conceivable that such a project could be undertaken in a way that avoided the absurd cost overruns of military projects. What if we could do it for six hundred thousand dollars a head? That's the average cost of keeping someone in prison for ten years. Is that in the realm of possibility?

Then I decided to do an image search for aircraft carrier crew quarters. What I found were photos of spartan, windowless rooms with bunks stacked from floor to ceiling and tiny built-in lockers. Not very appealing. A far cry from the atriums, waterfalls and pleasant mezzanine cafes of the novel's archology.

Nuclear aircraft carriers can go 20 years without refueling, but even though they can supply all their own water, they don't grow any crops on those things. Sure, a desperate person might take a berth on such a ship to escape the misery and predation of a refugee's life, but they'd soon pine for something less stark. Do an image search for "seasteading" and you'll find lots of lovely images of utopian-looking floating habitats, and if such things are possible in the ocean, surely they are possible on land. I think arcology-like structures will probably play some part in the human future, but I think Paolo Bacigalupi got it right in the novel. These will be the redoubts of the wealthy and the people who serve the wealthy. They will not be sanctuaries for thirsty climate refugees.

What's in a Number?

In recent conversations, I've been returning to the idea that Facebook and social media generally are driving us insane. Social media, and Facebook in particular are certainly useful. I went to my 30-year high school reunion last year, and Facebook played a major role in shaping that gathering. The Friends of the C-Realm group on Facebook puts me in touch with listeners to the C-Realm Podcast, and probably more importantly, puts listeners in touch with one another. That notion, that C-Realm listeners can be "in touch" with one another via the medium of Facebook hints, in part at least, how social media makes us crazy.

We can't touch one another on Facebook, though we can have conversations. We are social primates adapted to band together for mutual protection and to help one another "make a living," which is to say, to meet our basic survival needs as well as our need for intimate contact with lovers, parents, children, friends, and rivals. Even when we are not physically touching one another, being in close proximity to the people we know and depend on  has a strong physical component. Our empathic brain circuitry prompts us to project ourselves into the skin of the members of our tribe. Based on their posture, their facial expressions, their gate and even their smell, we can not only determine their mood and disposition, but we have a very good idea of what they're feeling. This is not an intellectual capacity. It is something we feel, and this sort of familiarity and proximity counts as being "in touch" in a way that being able to share text, images and hyperlinks does not.

Dunbar's number is the number of people that we, as social primates, can maintain stable relations with. I think of this as the number of people we can know as people. I have, at present, 2,097 "friends" on Facebook. Obviously, most of them are not friends in any meaningful sense. I don't know how many of them I've actually met face to face, how many are friends of friends or acquaintances of acquaintances, or how many are just people that know of my existence through the podcast.

There is a continuum between Facebook friends that I have a real sense of and those who are complete strangers to me. Some of those Facebook friends are people I've never met but who I have spoken to over Skype. Having a voice to go with a name and whatever I can learn from someone based on what they write and post makes them more real to me than people I've never heard speak. When I meet an online acquaintance, even people I've interacted with online for years, they take a quantum leap toward being "real" people in my experience. Being a podcaster, there are many people who know my voice, who have listened to it for years, and who feel a familiarity with me that I don't feel with them. I've found that when I meet such people face to face, even if I've had only minimal contact with them online, that their sense of familiarity is infectious, and very quickly I come to feel a much stronger connection to them than my very limited experience of them would suggest is possible.

Some people I've never spoken to or met in person still occupy a category of familiarity beyond he level of mere acquaintance. The distance and disembodiment of on-line relationships can prompt a level of sharing that would require more trust and familiarity to match in face to face coimmunication. This willingness to share and be vulnerable with people online seems to have withered away in recent years, but I don't know if online culture has changed or if if it's just me. Maybe I've grown older and developed less need for the sorts of interactions that lead to that kind of openness in online communication.

My Facebook friends occupy positions on a spectrum. At the near end of that spectrum are people I knew before there was such a thing as Facebook and other people who would be important to me if the internet disappeared tomorrow. At the far end are people I don't know from Adam. In between lie people who I don't know as people, but who are not complete strangers. This portion of the spectrum is a spectrum unto itself with people at the closer end seeming like real people compared to those at the far end, who are just an iota away from being complete non-entities. These are the poeple with whom I am most likely to get into dysfunctional exchanges. Mostl of what I know about these token people is how their opinion differs from mine. They become the embodiments of opinions that I see as flawed, which turns them into essentially flawed beings. Of course, the people I know in real life are flawed, but the kinship mechanisms instilled in us by our evolutionary history keeps me from seeing the real people around me primarily in terms of their flaws. Those mechanisms do not work in cyberspace. Not yet, away.

I hope and suspect that human culture will evolve to overcome some of the most dysfunctional aspects of how we relate to one another online. Transhumanists may envision upgrades to our neo-cortex that will allow us to know hundreds or thousands of people as intimately as our pre-historic ancestors knew the 150 people with whom they lived and faced the challenges of making a living. Perhaps AI intermediaries will help us interface with distant humans and cooperate and learn from one another without getting hung up on our differences, but I'm betting on cultural adaptation playing the crucial role.

Psychonauts and devotees of the late Terence McKenna will probably remind me that, "Culture is not your friend." This is true. Culture doesn't care about any of us as individuals, and some of the compromises it demands of us strip the joy and spontaneous self-expression from life, but culture does allow us to live in nation states comprised of hundreds of millions of individuals when our biology still wants to gravitate to groups of 150.

Things that Used to Work

When you were a little child, your parents would probably make allowances for you when you cried. As you got older, if you lived with your mother and your father, they probably diverged in their response to your tears. If you were still crying as a teenage boy, your mother may have continued to concede to your wishes in response to your waterworks while dad told you to quit your sniveling and act like a man. Flip that for girls. Daddy was still a sucker for his little girl's tears. Mom, not so much.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but you probably get my point. There are behaviors that work for a time, and then a time comes when they don't. The longer and the better they worked, the harder it is to come to grips with the fact that they don't work anymore. If crying got you out of punishment once but then not the next couple of times, you'd probably stop crying and experiment with new behaviors pretty readily. If crying worked for decades and then stopped working, you're likely to keep crying for quite some time. Even after you understand, intellectually, that circumstances have changed, bursting into tears when things aren't going your way may be so ingrained that it's hard to change that behavior, even if you want to.

The Democratic Party is in a bit of a pickle these days for similar reasons. They've been pandering to bankers, CEOs and upper-middle-class professionals and paying lip service to the plight of working people for a couple of decades with great success. Candidate and now President Trump has poured a bucket of sand into that machine, but the DNC is still trying to start it up and use it as they have grown accustomed to using it. It probably won't ever work for them the way it did in the 90s, but they've been riding that train for so long, they can't imagine looking for a new one.

Some collegiate social justice crusaders will graduate and get jobs in universities or in tech companies, in which case, their conditioned response of accusing people who defy their dictates with racism, sexism, ableism, or whatever will continue to work for them. Working professionals, many of them white men, fearful for their reputations and jobs, will cut these SJWs considerable slack. But many a campus crusader will graduate and find either no job or one that doesn't require a college degree and they will enter into a very different lived reality, one in which accusations of oppression don't get them what they want. They may have proof positive that their landlord used "the N word," and it won't change the fact that their rent is due. And if they end up back in their childhood bedroom, mom and dad will have no fear of being denied tenure, and all the behaviors that worked on campus will produce very different results in their post-college lives.

Slickwater hydrofracturing from long laterals (fracking) is such a neat trick and worked so well for a time that oil companies continue to borrow money to do it even when the returns on their investment aren't sufficient to service their debt. This isn't like a teenage boy crying in front of his father, however. The situation with the oil companies is a little different. For a long time, they knew how to frack, but oil was so cheap it wasn't worth going to the trouble. They'd spend more getting that oil out of the shale that held it than they could sell if for. So they didn't bother. But they knew that there would come a day when oil prices would climb high enough to justify the added expense. So they waited.

High oil prices arrived in the first decade of this century, and suddenly fracking was the golden ticket. Until it wasn't. Now that oil prices are low again (though not as low as before the fracking boom) and fracked wells are being mothballed, it's not habit or psycho-emotional inertia that keeps the oil companies from changing their behavior. There's just nothing else for them to do. Oil only comes from underground. There's no other way to get it than to drill for it. It's not obstinance that keeps the oil industry from changing their behavior. It's geophysical reality.

All of us are habituated to living in a certain way because living that way has worked for us for as long as we can remember. A time may be coming when the only way we've ever lived won't work anymore. Then we will live differently. Some will make the transition gracefully. Others, not so much.

Niche Fame and Online Feuds

A seemingly unavoidable hazard of internet celebrity, no matter how minor, is the argument that spills out into the public view, attracts gawkers and commentators and makes you known not for any cause you advocate or topic that inspires you, but for being so-and-so's enemy. How tedious.

Given that I've been podcasting for more than a decade, I think my total feud-count is pretty low: well below one a year. Some feuds are like herpes. They flare up again out of the blue for no detectable reason after a long period of dormancy. There's this one character who seems to still be re-hashing a disagreement we had four years ago and who will occasionally tag me in a Facebook post and challenge me to a public debate or cast me as the champion of some position which I have no particular stake in. I've learned to ignore these provocations. There is no prize money awarded to the winner of such fights. A marketing guru might tell me that no press is bad press and that it's good to "get your name out there" by whatever mechanism presents itself. To which I say, no effing way. Life is way too short to focus on such nonsense, and the last thing I need is to have crazies fixate on me. That's happened as well, but far less often for me than for other podcasters I know of. That is one upside to having a smaller audience; fewer crazies.

To avoid getting entangled in old and useless public feuds I avoid ever mentioning my fuedmates by name. I may describe an altercation or allude to a type of unpleasantness that I associate with certain people on my personal blacklist, but I avoid mentioning them by name so that no late-night, drunken vanity-Google brings me back into their sights. The problem with this approach is that people I wasn't thinking about and have no beef with mistakenly conclude that I'm talking about them. If they complain, I can explain, via private channels, that I was really talking about so-and-so and not them. I'm glad when someone gets in touch with me about a misperceived slight because it gives me the opportunity to smooth ruffled feathers. The ones who take offense and don't let me know are like lit cigarettes between the couch cushions. There's no telling how long their hurt feelings will smolder before either extinguishing themselves or setting the couch on fire.

It could be that not naming names isn't good enough. Even mentioning unpleasant interactions focuses attention, mine and that of the audience, on an unworthy topic. The things we focus our consciousness on tend to grow. If I keep my gaze consistently skyward, or on the distant horizon, I might discover that I attract only angels and bold explorers to my side.  Keeping a tight reign on my thoughts and words might not only produce better results, it might be a moral or ethical duty. Unfortunately, if keeping my mental gaze permanently and exclusively fixated on "the positive" is an ethical duty of some sort, I don't understand the source of the duty. What's more, I'd like to engage in less self-censorship, not more.

Will Durant advised, "To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism. If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say."

Will Durant's advice becomes an obstacle when combined with regular production deadlines and daily word counts, but obstacle courses are a time-honored way of developing endurance, dexterity, and strength. That said, when running an obstacle course, we do not avoid every obstacle. We climb them, crawl under them, and swing accross them. In macho terms, we conquer the obstacles. In less confrontational language, we navigate them. How much trust would you place in a navigator who made a policy of systematically ignoring a known category of hazard? Successful navigation involves rules of thumb, charts and compendiums handed down from forebearers, and sensitivity to changing conditions. I can't commit to systematic ignorance, but I can commit to cultivating sensitivity to changing conditions. In fact, I'm making that commitment right now.

Care to join me?

Open Season on the Poor

A while back, before it got cold, Olga and I went to a fund-raiser for an organization that helps veterans become organic farmers. It was a pizza dinner at a family farm, and I found myself across a long picnic table from a Vermont police officer who was telling everyone in earshot about the need to sterilize Holyoke, Massachusettes. Holyoke is full of people of color, many of them Dominicans. And there's a fair amount of crime. This Vermont policeman was telling us it needed to be nuked. "Turn the ground to glass and start over," he said.

He talked about how easy it was to spot drug couriers coming up from New Jersey. He said it was always the same combination: a haggard looking white girl driving a car that used to be nice. A black man in the passenger's seat with the seat reclined so far that his face, with its telltale dark skin, was barely visible. Pull them over, search the car, and you're guaranteed to find heroin.

He looked over at me and said, "If I was ever going to be a drug dealer, I'd want to look just like this guy."

By that, I took him to mean that I am white, middle-aged, conservative haircut and no visible tattoos. I told him about the time I was driving across Ohio in my '92 Ford Ranger and I got pulled over by a sheriff's deputy. The lead deputy approached my window, and I could see in my passenger's side mirror that his junior partner was creeping up with his hand on his holster. The deputy told me my plates (they were Arkansas plates at the time) were registered to a different vehicle. At first, I thought it might be possible that he had entered the wrong data and come up with a different registration, but more likely an automated camera scanned my plates and he was just lying about the mismatch as a pretense to start prying.

He asked me where I was going, and I told him my business was my own. He asked me if I had any weapons in the truck and I just glared at him. He told me, "I asked you if you have any weapons." With words, I told him, "No. I don't have any weapons in the truck." With my eyes and tone, I told him, "You disgust me. You deserve to die in agony."

As he continued to ask me questions about the contents of my vehicle, a voice came over the radio attached to the front of his uniform verifying that the truck was registered to my mother, who has the same last name as I do. The lead deputy reached up and turned off his radio. He was maintaining the pretense that my plate didn't match my vehicle, even though we both heard that it did. He told me to wait, that he was going to get a canine out of his vehicle. He trotted once around my truck with a german shepherd, put the dog back in his SUV and returned to tell me that the dog signaled the presence of narcotics in the vehicle.

He told me to get out of the truck so he could search it. I told him I didn't consent to a search. He said, "That's fine. This is happening." And he put his hand on his gun. I glanced over at his junior partner and saw him tensed. They were ready to rock. I got out of the truck, endured a search of my person, and then stood by the side of the highway under the supervision of a third, older deputy, who asked me if I had seen any rain that day and made other innocuous small talk while the other two turned my truck inside out.

I didn't have any drugs in the car, and they didn't find any drugs. Eventually, the lead deputy told me that I was free to go. I asked him where the "narcotics" were. He said he didn't find any. I asserted that the dog had made no signal, or if it did that he might as well have left the dog in the kennel and claimed that it sent him a psychic signal for all the credibility his trot around my truck provided. He responded with unwavering arrogance saying, "NOW I know that there are no drugs in the vehicle."

I wanted to punch him right in his arrogant cop mouth, but I knew that it would be the last thing I ever did, and it wasn't worth my life, so I told him that he was destroying the fabric of civil society and eviscerating the constitution. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said, exuding smug self-assurance. At this point, I was so angry and amped up on adrenaline I could have ripped his throat out with my teeth, but again, I knew that it would cost me my life, and so I continued to tell him what a disgrace he was, that he had committed multiple crimes. He gave the same response to every accusation. "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Eventually, I got in my truck, reassembled my thrashed belongings and drove away, seething with humiliation and rage.

I did not include all of the details when I relayed this story to the Vermont cop at the pizza dinner in the barn, but I included enough of the details to communicate the hatred for police that that sort of behavior engenders in me. He shook his head and asked me how long ago that happened. I guess he was expecting me to say that it happened years ago because he looked shocked when I said that it happened about four months prior. "Well, there's always some," he said.

I asked him why he thought they'd pulled me over, and he responded that I fit a profile. "What profile?" I asked. Old car. Out of state plates. "What profile is that?" I asked. He didn't answer. He didn't have to. The answer was obvious. In that old, beat-up farm truck I looked poor. There is no need to obey the law when hassling poor people. They can't afford to take a police officer to court.

I love my 24-year-old truck. It still runs. It's useful for a variety of tasks. I have many reasons to keep driving it, but it makes me look poor, and that's dangerous.

Maybe the Truth Doesn't Always Set You Free

Are there people you admire but don't like to talk to because you don't like your side of the conversation whenever the two of you get together? I really notice it as a podcaster. There are some interviewees with whom I fall into an easy conversational vibe and the hour flies by. Other conversational partners are like my counterpart in a duel, but the spirit of competition is engaging and enlivening, and, again, the hour flies.

Then there are the difficult people. Some of them are just rude or demanding, and they typically get blacklisted. That rarely happens after just one conversation, but occasionally it does. Sometimes I can tell just from my initial email exchanges with a potential new guest that they're going to rub me the wrong way. In those cases, I just let the email back and forth go cold.

Sometimes the person I'm talking to is very smart, but they need the person they're talking to to be not as smart as they are. They communicate it in their word choice and in the assumptions they make about me, and I typically go along with it and play to their expectations. I figure I don't have to prove anything to my regular listeners, some of whom have listened to my weekly podcasting (and now radio) efforts for a decade. The guest may assume that I'm mostly ignorant on a topic that I've been discussing with various guests on the program for years, but there's no need for me to "stand up for myself" and let them know that I didn't just fall off the turnip truck.

Even in the conversations where I'm playing the naif who needs to be schooled by the master, if the master is dropping good science and I know I'm getting good material for the audience, then I am engaged in the process and the time flies.

When does the time not fly? When a guest doesn't have their thoughts in order and needs me to draw them out and my questions and prompts don't seem to help. That's when the time drags.

I bring this up because I've been more inclined in recent weeks to think that there's more than just poetic language at work when say that I'm a different person in relationship to one person than I am in relationship to someone else. The personality that I think of as mine is not wholly contained within my skin. It seems like it arises out of interactions with other minds. Perhaps the potential to take on a certain personal dynamic is always latent within me, but if I never encounter the person who will awaken my dormant potential, then it's as if that latent persona does not exist.

This has political implications for me as it pushes me further from my libertarian propensities than I have already drifted away from over the last few years. The libertarian ethic stands on individual responsibility and individual autonomy. If the sovereign individual is a fiction, a trick of the light, or merely a rhetorical device, then the rights of individuals could be equally contingent.

I say that these questions about the nature of personality have political implications, but perhaps it's better to say that, while I feel their gravity, the exact implications remain obscure because we might have good utilitarian reasons for maintaining convenient fictions. It might be that the belief that individuals don't exist outside of their social relations reliably leads to oppressive social orders. We might need to maintain the pretense of the individual even if there is no such critter to be found outside of a story book or a court of law.

I live in a walkable village, but I rarely walk anywhere. I'm usually picking up or dropping off cameras and recording equipment when I leave the house, or I'm going to the grocery store, so I need to drive, even though the distances involved are ones that I could easily cover on foot. Easy in the summer time that is. I was filming a selectboard meeting tonight in which the town manager was asking the board for authorization to order more sand. At the beginning of the winter we supposedly had plenty of sand to put down on the roads, but we've had a lot more snow this year than last year, and we're running low.

I spoke to Liam Scheff last week, and his advice to anyone he talks to is, "Move to where water falls from the sky and where there is viable soil under foot and start growing food." Or words to that effect.

Well, boy howdy. Water sure does fall from the sky around here. I told him that I live in a village that is right on the Connecticut river, that we have a dam and a hydroelectric power plant here (though it is owned by distant masters). We have two fairly large farms right outside of the village, and the place is totally walkable. Sounds like a post-petro-collapse paradise, right?

Liam said that life here will be hard. It gets very cold in the winter, and we have a short growing season. Yeah, but there were people living here 300 years ago. I'm pretty sure there will be people living here 300 years from now. We're on a mostly navigable river, though, because of the dam and the falls, would-be river travelers can't just float right past us with thier cargo. They'd need to unload and then reload on a different vessel on the other side of the falls. That gives this village a purpose and an economic reason to exist all by itself. This town is full of formerly single family homes that have been broken up into apartment buildings. That's because this place used to be a center of timber-generated prosperity, and everybody and his brother built himself a mansion. Now, it's fallen on relatively hard times, and times are likely to get worse, but this place has a future in a way that Pheonix, Arizona does not.

Every time I hear someone predict the near-term collapse of techno-industrial civilization, I think of Rome's Third Century Crisis. In the Third Century AD, Rome was screwed. Barbarian invasions, internal conflict, plague, and a perpetual scramble for power by various factions within the military made it seem like the fat lady was warming up for her solo, and then along comes Emperor Diocletian. He instituted some reforms, persecuted Christians like it was going out of style (which, in fact, it was. His successor, Constantine, would convert to Christianity), and stabilized the empire enough to endure another 200 years. And he wasn't living in an age of rapidly evolving technology. I expect that our expert jugglers will keep the plates spinning a lot longer than the prophets of doom predict.

This could be normality bias talking, but I no longer expect a precipitous collapse. Nor do I expect a Star Trek future. I don't know what the future holds, but I expect that it will occasionally seem marvelous and "historic," but most of the time it will feel excruciatingly normal.

Advice to self

Start in the middle, loop back to the beginning, when you reach the middle you already wrote, scrap it and keep going from the beginning you looped back to. Write clean through to the end and then pour gasoline over the whole mess and make it sacred.

When the creativity really feels like it's flowing, you're most likely fooling yourself. Let it flow. Keep writing (or whatever) but know that it probably won't be any better than the stuff you had to force out 'cause you just weren't feeling it that day. Writing is writing, and the work is the work, and the best thing you ever write, if you're lucky, is still out there in the future. How shitty to know that you've climaxed and you'll just be aping your own style from here on out, or worse yet, trying to emulate the style of the people you inspired.

Get fit. Physically fit, as in push-ups and sit-ups and burpees and all the new exercises that look girly until you try them. Why? What does it have to do with writing, or doing whatever creative work it is you'd like to be known for? Why? Because ill health is a distraction, and if you get famous, you're going to see a lot of pictures of yourself, and the the fewer chins you have in those photos the better.

Humility is the key to something, or so I'm told. Pride cometh before a fall, but doesn't it seem like the world is full of assholes who just breeze through to success on nothing but good looks, self-confidence and a refusal to recognize what undeserving hacks they are? Admit it, you'd be willing to step into their shoes. You might have self-respect, but they have something that substitutes for self-respect. Maybe it's external validation. Maybe it's money.

Don't listen to advice from people who haven't achieved what you hope to achieve. Their motivation is suspect. If they knew how to get where you want to go, wouldn't they have done it by now? Careful, though, not to blow off the advice of people who made it and then lost it. They might know how to keep from losing it again if they could get back up to speed a second time.

Satiety is for losers. Learning to be satisfied with what you have is the justification for giving less effort than you knew you could; less than you promised yourself you would. You've left a mess for your future self, but don't divorce your past self. You remember his good times, and his pains are just abstractions to you now. The pains that are real are yours, not his.

On the other hand, if you can't enjoy what you have achieved thus far, your chances of enjoying whatever you might achieve in the future are dim. Don't be dim.

Just do the fucking work. The weed and the TV and the gamified distractions will be there when your work is done, and you'll enjoy them more if you actually earn your rest. Once you're rested, any additional rest is just sloth, weighing you down, making you slow.


I mentioned recently that it's hard to hang tough with the Peak Oil narrative when the mainstream media narrative is that oil has never been more plentiful and that the real problem is low prices. Add to that the techno-utopian narratives of electric cars and power walls and super batteries, and the idea that industrial civilization is crucially dependent on petroleum seems, if not far fetched, at least an example of seeing the glass as being half-empty.

The main proponents of the Peak Oil narrative whom I followed in the latter half of the previous decade (have we decided on a name for that decade yet? The oughts?) have either shifted their focus to other topics or dropped from public view. Or, to be fair, they may still be doing their Peak Oil thing, but I stopped following their on-going analysis.

I recently recorded an interview with Liam Scheff, the author of Official Stories: Counter-Arguments for a Culture in Need, and Liam is definitely hanging tough with the Peak Oil narrative, but like most everyone else who ever hitched their wagon to the Peak Oil horse, he is now talking about the net energy we receive from oil rather than raw supply. The more energy we have to expend to extract oil from the ground, the less net benefit we get from it. We may be bringing up as much as ever, or nearly so, but at ever-greater cost.

Even so, given that the fast collapse continues to defy the prophets of doom, I've shifted my focus to other matters. Even though I realize that agriculture runs on fossil fuel inputs and that no amount of crash course gardening can realistically be expected to make up the shortfall should the industrial model falter, it takes a certain sort of personality to stay focused on this critical dependence and the fact that this planet simply will not support 8 billion human beings in the absence of our current ability to turn oil into food and move it great distances so that people can live in places where rain doesn't fall from the sky and fertile soil is nowhere to be found.

Liam Scheff told me that given our evolutionary heritage, there is simply no reason for us to think critically about the future when our bellies are full. So long as we are comfortable, we have no reason that makes sense to our monkey minds to do anything differently than we're doing now. The environment in which our species is adapted to live simply didn't throw exponential curve-balls at us. Or if it did, we survived by luck rather than by an ability to think in exponential terms. The techno-utopians love to talk about exponential phenomena like Moore's Law, and they agree that most humans just don't grok the implications of a doubling of computing power every 18 months, but their bellies are full, and so they use their understanding of exponential increase as a framework upon which to hang wish-fulfilment fantasies.

I understand that I am a humonkey and that my psychology is prone to focus on my status in the group when I'm not in immediate danger or suffering the pangs of hunger. That's why it's easier to stay focused on politics and culture war issues. The antics of our new POTUS and the wall to wall media coverage he garners provides a constant backdrop of chatter which confirms at a subliminal level that there is nothing more important to worry about than which faction is in power. Granted, a lot of the people who hate Donald Trump claim to take the specter of climate change seriously, but their behavior doesn't bear out their rhetoric. Nobody who REALLY believed that industrial activity is changing the climate in unprecedented ways would replace a 10-year-old car that still runs or upgrade their computer or their smartphone every couple of years.

I'm not throwing stones. My own house is clearly made of glass. I drive a 24-year-old pick-up truck, but that's only because I don't have the money to step up to something shinier. I've been eyeing a nifty new Lenovo tablet for several weeks, and one of these days, in a moment of weakness, I'm going to make that final mouse click and set in motion a series of transactions that will culminate in the brown truck of happiness pulling up out front and the nice man who drives it walking up the garden path with yet another box from Amazon.com for me.

Since the Internet ate television, it has issued a seemingly never-ending bounty of innovative, high quality, and occasionally challenging original programming. There are so many shows with committed fanbases to attest to their worthiness that I couldn't possibly follow all of the ones that I have reason to believe would be worth my time. I still haven't seen Transparent or the third season of House of Cards. I have a long list of shows bookmarked on Netflix, but as often as not, when my day is done and I climb into bed, fire up my non-work laptop, and look around on Netflix, I decide to watch an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a show from the 1990's which I watched sporadically and haphazardly when it was originally broadcast. Later, I watched it from beginning to end on VHS tapes rented from a local video store when I lived in Australia in 2002-2003.

Now, 13 years later (I started late last year), I've been watching the series in order starting with the last episode of season 3. Last night, I watched the 20th episode of season 6, "Good Shepard." It's a strange compulsion that has me watching Voyager because, as much as I love the show, I have to admit that it's really not all that good. The writing and acting are both stiff, the plots formulaic, and the multitudinous alien races who all are human-sized and human-shaped except for some novel arrangement of latex on their heads ridiculous. But something about it still works for me.

The best part of any episode usually comes in the set-up. The resolutions are typically formulaic, chock-a-block with technobabble, and absurdly tidy. Last night's episode was a paradigmatic example.

Cybernetic sex kitten, 7 of 9, has conducted a ruthless efficiency evaluation of every department and traced all of the crew's shortcomings to three individuals.

Billy Telfer is competent at whatever his job is, but he is a cartoonish hypochondriac who is always pestering the ship's doctor about some imaginary illness and thereby decreasing the sickbay's efficiency rating. He's a throw-away character who's just there to make the misfits a trio rather than a mere pair. The other two misfit crew members are what make the episode worth watching.
Crewman (the lowest rank for any Star Fleet personnel on a starship) Tal Celes is Bajoran and comes from the same war-torn culture as Major Kira on Deep Space Nine and Ensign Ro on The Next Generation.  Unlike those other two characters, who were effortlessly competent at their jobs but hamstrung by anger issues and conflicted loyalties, Tal is ruled by frustration. She works under 7 of 9 in astrometrics where she makes so many mistakes that she is a liability to her department. We see her staying up late doing work that is unnecessary but which should have been completed hours ago. She hides under the covers of her bunk and makes secret calls to her friend, Billy, for help. Later, in  a heart to heart talk with Captain Janeway, Tal admits that if she hadn't been Bajoran, a favored ethnic minority in Starfleet, she never would have graduated from Starfleet Academy, where she had to work three times as hard as everyone else and rely on the charity she received because of her race in order to barely squeak by. She says that if Voyager weren't decades away from Earth that she would have been transferred off the ship years ago, a claim Captain Janeway can't dispute.

The third misfit is a genius cosmologist named Mortimer Harren. He needed one year's experience in space in order to get into a prestigious institution of higher learning, and he was serving out that token year onboard Voyager when it got flung to the far side of the galaxy. Now that his promising career is on ice indefinitely, he is surly and embittered, and he uses his condescending attitude to rebuff all potential friends and allies. He works alone in the bowels of the ship doing a task that seems like it could easily be automated and which requires only the tiniest fraction of his attention. He spends his days immersed in the abstractions of theoretical cosmology.

Captain Janeway reviews the service records for all three square pegs and notices that none of them has ever been on an away mission. She decides that she's going to take them on a mission in the Delta Flyer (a tricked-out, delux shuttle craft) to explore some novel astrological phenomenon. Of course, they experience unanticipated peril, and all three misfits overcome their personal shortcomings in order to meet the challenge. By the end of the episode, everything is all better. Yawn.

For me, the high point of the episode came near the beginning when Commander Chakotay made what I thought was a very sensible and humane suggestion. He reminded the captain that a certain percentage of starship crew members reliably don't last a year onboard before they are re-assigned. It's not a life for everyone, and if the ship weren't stranded on the ass-end of nowhere, none of these three misfits would still be onboard. He argued that they were of no practical use and that forcing them to go through the motions of pretending to contribute to the functioning of the ship was pointless and cruel. It would be better to release them from service and let them pursue their own interests.

Janeway will have none of it. She likens freeing them from their busy work to the Borg deactivating a defective drone. No, she's going to bring them into the fold with a weekend of Outward Bound adventure. I was reminded of Colonial Jessup, Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men, who told his colleague, "Maybe, and I'm just spit balling here, maybe, we have a responsibility as officers to train Santiago. Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals. Yes, I'm certain that I read that somewhere once. And now I'm thinking, Col. Markinson, that your suggestion of transferring Santiago, while expeditious and certainly painless, might not be, in a matter of speaking, the American way. Santiago stays where he is. We're gonna train the lad!"

Voyager has replicators to supply all of the food, clothing and manufactured items the crew needs to survive. It has practically limitless clean energy from the magic crystals at the heart of the ship's warp core. The dangers they encounter often stem from Janeway's choices, as is the case in this episode. Given this wealth of technology, the competent members of the crew could easily afford to let Billy, Tal and Mortimer pass the decades immersed in engaging hobbies. There is no reason, except for some unspecified moral principle which I assume boils down to the Christian work ethic, to force them to do work which is stressful to them and of no practical benefit to anyone.

As is so often the case on Star Trek, the writers use stories of high technology in the far future to validate our cultural assumptions of the moment. In this case, the assumption is that everyone has to work;  not because their labor is necessary, but because sloth and indolence are sins that imperil the soul. I see that as a maladaptive mindset and one that will bedevil our civilization as we try to come to grips with the reality that automation and artificial intelligence continue to render an ever-growing portion of the population economically redundant.

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