The Gong Show.

Refreshing honesty. I still think I’ll stay away from their health supplements, though.

Dateline — MidAtlantic. The BUG and I are crossing the ocean in an airbus that’s been painted a lurid mix of purple and pink— call it pinple— whose in-flight menus are refreshingly honest and whose vomit bags are volumetrically calibrated from “pan flute music” to “our competitor’s prices”. The uniforms of the flight attendants are straightforward pink. It’s like flying across the ocean in a giant pitcher of purple Kool-Aid, attended by sapient blobs of bubble gum, and— while I always insist on bulkhead seats or better on transoceanic jaunts— I can’t help but notice that the legroom is adequate even in Economy.

The Airline is WOW, out of Iceland. It might almost be a glimpse of one of the “Optimistic Futures” we’re supposed to map out when we touch down in Germany, if not for the fact that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy and might go under before our return flight.

*

Futurism— “product-testing the future”, “strategic foresight”, whatever you want to call it— seems to be big business these days. Everywhere you look corporations are scooping up science-fiction writers for keynote addresses or “consulting retreats”. Colleges offer actual goddamn degrees in the stuff; Toronto’s own OCAD University peddles a degree in something called “Strategic Foresight and Innovation”. (It’s telling that this sfnal exercise in futurism exists in an arts college which— as far as I can tell— offers no science courses in its curriculum. Why, it’s almost as if science doesn’t play any significant role in shaping the future. Or getting paid to talk about it, at least.)

Hell, look at me: I’m hardly on SF’s A-list and my presence on the X-Prize Foundation’s Advisory Council is only the tip of the iceberg. Next month I’ll be in Hungary, teaching a workshop on the use of science fiction as a tool for “Coping with a Complex Future”. A few years back I was invited onto the Futurists’ Board of something called “The Lifeboat Foundation” (which I accepted, even though that whole organization seems largely moribund— the board contains an absolute shitload of science fiction authors), and some very sketchy-sounding Russian outfit called “Earth 2050” (which I didn’t, because they kept avoiding direct answers to my questions). I continue to give guest lectures, generally along strategic-foresighty lines, at colleges and universities. I’ve even been asked to talk about “The Future of Humanity” at an auto show in Shanghai a few months down the road, although I expect I’ll have to decline (not only do I already have a lot on my plate, but they seem to be arresting a lot of Canadians over there lately).

Then there’s “Designing Tomorrow”, which the BUG and I are about to join along with an international cadre of futurists at an undisclosed location.

*

Still jetlagged, we are bussed to a lakeside retreat an hour north of Berlin, innocent of infrastructural services like grocery stores or gas stations. There are a couple of local bars but the organizers warn us away, describing them as examples of “present-day dystopias”.

The meals are catered by anonymous servers whose faces remain forever unseen. There is a sauna and three kitchens; the east wall of one of them is virtually hidden behind a scree of beer and munchies.

Uri— the dude we met at Utopia last year, and an organizer of the current shindig— has brought a great tin gong. He hangs it in the conference room, and bashes it to summon us unto duty.

Uri, Geraldine, Eden. I’m pretty sure these were the main organizational masterminds.

*

This woman prints houses out of sand.

We are surrounded by overachievers. Uri and Eden and Katharina (all from Utopia) are the only familiar faces, but the assembled crack team of experts also includes seven curators of various galleries, conferences, and festivals; seven writers; seven assorted entrepreneurs (start-up founders/VPs, CEOs, etc); five artists and design specialists; three architects; two game designers; three “digital consultants”; three human rights activists; one cyber-security expert; a playwright; an art theorist; and a Senior Fellow with Mozilla. That’s 41 callings crammed into a measly 18 participants, for anyone who’s counting— and that doesn’t include some of the more arcane skills on display, like “media activist” or “SF Evangelist” or even “former marine biologist”.

One participant runs a lottery-based Basic-Income project; another does amazing things with sand and silicon, designs and 3D-prints houses using only local materials. There’s a VR maestro building a story about dead grandmothers in the Internet of Things; one of the Human Rights Activists is working on a PhD on ethics and AI.

Apparently we’re here to help save the world.

Chronocartographers.

*

Don’t laugh. The subtext is ubiquitous: mandatory upbeats run through most of these events like candy-coated blood poisoning, ever since Neal Stephenson internalized the accusation that Science Fiction was to blame for the sorry state of the space program— you remember, because we weren’t being inspirational enough— and booted the whole Optimistic SF movement into high gear. The years since have been sprinkled with Sunshine anthologies and editorials hectoring us to Stop Writing Dystopias And Write About Solutions— as though solutions haven’t been staring us in the face for decades, as though it weren’t obvious what we could do to avoid catastrophe. (Stop breeding, for one thing; how long does it take to get a fucking vasectomy?) What the haranguers are really demanding is easy solutions, magical ways to save the world without having to reduce their own comfy standard of living[1] and their own rutting proliferation. They’re not peddling optimism so much as denial.

This desperate upbeatiness has found its way into the think tanks. The guys at the Shanghai auto show want my talk to “provok[e] people to think and act towards a better future”. The whole X-Prize initiative is explicitly founded on the belief that Technology Can Save Us. Uri told me up front that “We want to create visions for desirable tomorrows”, before admitting that he was struggling with that imperative himself.

These are worthy sentiments, of course. Noble, even. Who doesn’t want to strive for a better future? Who wouldn’t work whatever optimistic angles they could find? Does anyone think that those of us in the doomsayers camp are here because we want to be?

By the same token, though, I’m not entirely sure why Uri— why anyone familiar with my work— would want to include me in such an exercise in the first place. Maybe he needs an outgroup to anchor the discussion. Maybe he wants to force me to think outside my own box, expand my horizons a bit; I could do with a bit of that, I have to admit.

Maybe he doesn’t really want me there at all. Maybe, given his druthers, he’d have just invited Caitlin, but he didn’t want to leave me feeling left out.

*

In direct contrast with what you read in the accompanying text, here Eden is talking about EVE Online.

Eden lays out two sets of tools: Fore/Back-casting and Four Futures. Fore/backcasting is pretty much what it sounds like: Instead of starting at the present and following the trend data into the future— a methodology that, given the available indicators, is pretty much guaranteed to serve up Hell On Earth— you instead start with the future you desire, and back-cast to the present. We want a society that’s entirely carbon-neutral by 2050? Okay, what would the world have to look like in 2049 to make that attainable? 2045? 2040? At the same time you also take the more conventional approach of moving forward from the present in similar increments, but with your desirable endpoint in mind: what kind of changes can one reasonably project over the next year, the next five, that would head us in the right direction?

I feel a mild shock of recognition; in principle, backcasting is identical to a kind of back-to-front ecological modeling I learned about back in grad school. I’m a little embarrassed that in my focus on crafting plausible futures, I’d forgotten such an obvious method for trying to map out better ones.

The tricky part, of course, is what happens when fore- and back-casting run into each other in the middle. The tricky part is in stitching them together. Eden’s been down this road before; during past workshops, forecast and backcast have been so incompatible that the participants have resorted to invoking a convenient apocalypse to wipe clean the forecast slate, allowing the happier backcast to emerge from the ashes. Eden has grown uncomfortable that so many paths to Utopia seem to lead through seven-digit death tolls; this time, he tells us, we can’t use global disaster to stitch our timeline together. This time we have to assume that civilization persists as it improves.

The Four Futures approach— taken from a book by Peter Frase— is new to me. You imagine the futures of two things— say, “the future of networks” and “the future of capitalism”. Plot one along the x-axis (from “everything partitioned” to “everything networked”), the other along the y (“capitalism dismantled” to “hypercapitalism ubiquitous”). You now have a 2-dimensional space split into 4 quadrants, which you can use to explore various scenarios (“a hypercapitalist world with minimal telecom networking”).

Of course, a measly 2-variable interaction is pretty simplistic. You could add as many other variables as you like, along as many orthogonal axes as you can keep track of. But given the way our brains work, that’s not likely to be too many; and two variables are still enough to explore some pretty interesting and unexpected interactions, while being easy to plot on graph paper.

To prepare for the Four Futures exercise, Uri has asked each of us to come up with at least three plotable “futures”. Scribbled onto Post-It notes, they accumulate on the windowpane: The Future of Gender, The Future of AI, the Future of Empathy. The Futures of Nation-States and Space Exploration and Privacy— even, in a very cool backflip, The Future of the Past (which questions the degree to which everything from memories to historical records can be edited). Split into pairs, we each pick two futures to work on. We’re forbidden from selecting our own suggestions.

I’ve suggested “The Future of Climate Change” and “The Future of Pathogens”, among others. Nobody chooses them.

I am sad.

*

Scenarios in progress.

This is the scenario I wish I’d been in. (The Future of Capitalism crossed with The Future of Gaming, in case you were wondering.)

Team BUG

The scenarios we do come up with range from whimsical to dystopian to whimsically-dystopian. Imagine a corporation-approved robot cat for company on long space voyages, which dispenses narcotics from its space-anus and records your every move for the corporate database. (That was The BUG’s group.) Imagine the UN replaced by an API, a reformed open-source Facebook for which clicking “I agree” on the User Agreement is an official part of coming-of-age and citizenship ceremonies. Imagine wallpapering your room with a representation of your own genetic code; imagine an identity-stealing drone drifting past your window, reading that personal art and reverse-engineering the code it was based on. Imagine a society so diffused across the solar system that actual face-to-face meetings are rare high-status events commemorated by the exchange of physical DNA samples. Imagine those samples incorporated into facial photophores— like the ones on deep-sea fish— coded to flicker in certain sequences when they encounter kin; imagine those handshaking protocols coded to provoke dopamine cascades to enhance social cohesion. Someone learning to hack those protocols, using optogenetic trickery to make everyone she meets trust and adore her implicitly.

Fernanda, from Brazil by way of Ireland by way of Berlin. I spent most of the workshop thinking this was some kind of orchid.

No shortage of imagination in this group. Even our off-duty time keeps us hopping; we have wine-suffused evening tete-a-tetes on everything from Galaxy Quest to the ethics of self-aware masochistic sexbots.

And yet, none of our scenarios so much as hint at the rising ocean in the room.

Of course, when you’ve been explicitly told to aspire to positive outcomes, there’s going to be a natural inclination to avoid the nasty shit. Eden has told us to eschew apocalypse— and admittedly, kicking over the game board is the easy way out, a failure of imagination: arbitrarily grabbing a new hand rather than playing the hand you’re dealt. I can see why he wants us to put in a bit more effort.

Still. There’s a huge difference between eschewing a convenient fictitious apocalypse and ignoring an inconvenient real one. The first just forces you to work harder at the whole futurist schtick: the second constitutes wilful ignorance of a real-world catastrophe that’s already baked into the timeline.

To put it another way: If we know that an asteroid is on course to smash into the Earth five years from now, what’s the use of any twenty-year forecast, however inventive, however positive, that doesn’t address that threat? Are we really so far down the road to perdition that the only way to conjure a positive future is to ignore reality?

*

For a while I’m paired with a very nice person whom I literally can’t understand. Her words make sense on a sentence level, but their underlying meanings seem predicated on axioms I can’t quite figure out. When it comes time to present our preliminary findings I suggest that she take the lead, because I don’t think I can do justice to her perspective. Instead, she gives me our notes and, as I stumble through them, throws herself into some kind of interpretive dance in the middle of the floor.

She finds me at least as frustrating as I find her. We come to loggerheads over whether a desired outcome can be achieved without re-engineering Human Nature itself. I tell her about studies on cheaters and altruists; exasperated, she tells me that “science is just another belief system”, and reminds me that she’s a trained philosopher.

We were encouraged to go for walks in the nearby woods, although people who wandered down this path never came back. More beer for the rest of us.

Days later, during the think-tank postmortem, one of the Human rights activists suggests that these events might benefit from having scientists on board. She does it in strangely grudging tones, though, adds “even though scientists are a pain in the ass” and that their discussions are always so “completely apolitical”. I chip in that our survival— and more importantly, the survival of the millions of species we’re dragging down the toilet with us— ultimately comes down to the laws of Physics, and Physics doesn’t care about politics.

She asks me later if I’ve read The Three-Body Problem, lets out a small whoop when I admit that I have. “I knew it! I knew when you made that comment about physics, you had to have been influenced by that book.”

Well, no. I’ve known about physics pretty much since high school. And I have to wonder about any mindset that regards the primacy of physics as such an alien concept that it could only have come from the depths of a nihilistic science fiction novel. But I am starting to see a pattern; of the eighteen people gathered here, I think I’m the only one with a degree in science. All these other polymaths— curators, activists, artists and architects— their careers center around people. The challenges they face are largely, essentially political; the solutions are political too. Their whole lives come down to negotiations, to meetings in middles. Such insights would have been invaluable back before things got this bad, back when What Has To Be Done could still fit into the set of What’s Politically Doable. But now the cascades and feedback loops have kicked in; now we’ve got to deal with Physics, and Physics does not play politics.

When your life has been spent putting people front and center, putting human welfare and happiness above all, is it any wonder that you might want to look away from a scenario in which Humans get what they deserve? Everyone in this room is looking for a desirable future. I may be the only one who defines that as a future without us.

*

I have no idea. Missed this entirely. They were just there one morning.

We gather one last time to figure out next steps. This was a pilot project; the expectation is that it will become an ongoing affair, with an ever-shifting pool of contributors. Some see future manifestos, handed to People of Influence who might make a difference. I myself have always been sceptical of the whole SF Changes The World narrative. I don’t think we have nearly as much influence as some want to think. The examples most often cited strike me as either trivial (Star Trek inspired the Flip Phone!) or ominously cherry-picked (would Reagan have really listened to those SF writers urging him to implement SDI if it hadn’t been just the kind of thing he wanted to do anyway?)

Others set their sights somewhat lower, would be perfectly content to produce a modest document stocked in libraries, something that might inspire the next generation given that the current one seems such a writeoff. (But do we have time to wait for another generation? Haven’t we just awakened to find ourselves already in the end game?)

Ultimately, we converge on some kind of document affiliated with a website which interweaves fiction and the science that inspires it: a site in constant motion, bits of journalism and literature feeding off each other, sharing the splash page for a while before some more-current work takes their place and relegates them to the archives. The crew had already started on implementation before the bus even rolled away.

I don’t think any of it will save the world, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. I’d do it again in a second, for utterly selfish reasons: recent friendships renewed, new ones made. New tools acquired, not just for workshops but for my own writing; you can be damn sure I’ll be incorporating these tricks into my own work, going forward. And who knows? Maybe someone with a bit of influence will take notice. Maybe, if our ideas are good enough, they’ll catch on.

The Departure Lounge. WOW really pulls out all the stops.

If not, maybe the Extinction Rebellion has a chance. Hopefully they’ve got more steam than the Occupy movement. Hopefully they won’t be crushed so easily.

In the meantime, the stone that Adam Etzion first threw at me back in 2013 keeps right on skipping, in apparent defiance of nonnegotiable physics. Skip: we go to Tel Aviv and discover Utopia. Skip: I make contact with the good folks at One Hamsa. Skip: Uri invites us to design tomorrows in Berlin. And now, impossibly, yet another Skip: Shalev Moran (who I met here) and Mushon Zer-Aviv (who we met in Israel) are taking their Speculative Tourism gig on the road, and expect to be landing in Toronto sometime over the next month. Our turn to play host for a change; if the cats don’t win them over, maybe the raccoons will be out by then.

Who knows where that stone lands next?


Postscriptual Note:

You’ll have noticed the ‘crawl’s been pretty quiet lately, on account of all this unexpected prep and travel. It will continue to be quiet for the next few weeks, on account of more prep and more travel (at least one trip to Hungary, probably another to Bergen, maybe— just maybe— a bounce dive to Shanghai in between). Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me; I’m probably not dead.

[1] All that said, the assignment isn’t impossible. Even I have written the occasional story about happy endings and world-saving technology. why, one of them is right here, in case you’ve forgotten.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday March 08 2019at 08:03 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

26 Responses to “The Gong Show.”

  1. (note sarcasm)
    “Eden has grown uncomfortable that so many paths to Utopia seem to lead through seven-digit death tolls”

    How can you get to utopia with fewer than ten megadeaths?
    (end sarcasm)

    More seriously, even if Iain Banks’ Culture arrived tomorrow and announced that all our physical and health problems were solved, money no longer existed, and our planet was being assimilated, how many people would have a terminal hissy fit that their beard in the sky didn’t exist, humans are not on the top of the cosmic pecking order, and, all the wealth they accumulated and/or stole to insulate them from and cement their place above the rest of civilisation was no longer relevant?

    Having said that, the line that “Science is just another belief system”, sounds as if it should be translated as “I want a Darwin Award, and I want one for ALL my friends too!”.

    PS: like the uterus giving the finger to $PATRIARCHAL_FIGURE.

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  2. Very synchronous, I’m currently nerving myself to read this paper:
    http://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf
    Which apparently is the “unvarnished truth” as to what we’ve got coming to us, and causes a significant percentage of people who read it to require therapy.

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  3. Nestor,
    This seems a strange paper. It veers from traditional academic paper style, to very emotional outbursts.
    There seems to be a lot of focus on the climate change mechanisms, but less detail about expected effects on human societies….where? How? How much? Why? When?
    There are lots of instinctive ideas of how, for example, rising sea levels could affect coastal settlements. But this paper doesn’t really spell out how various factors will cause societal collapse. It just seems to jump to it.
    Strange document.

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  4. Well, for me main problem with _today’s_ science (today ~ last 50 or so years, when science become ultrainterleaved with economics and politics, but also before ..this unfounded, as it turned out, optimism in humans can be traced back ..for centuries at least) – it fails to deliver real answers to most urgent questions. Data? Yes, *may be* even accurate…enough. Papers? Millions of them, often behind heavy paywalls [but scihub exist]. Relaitively big following among ‘progressivists’? Surely. But when it comes to raw questions like’ And _what part_ of human nature (pff) we really need to change, what kind of tools we _realistically_ have or can develop now?’ – THE science become unusually silent and not providing any real answers..Yes, this in itself probably result of overoptimism – future generations (us) were supposed to be automagically smarter, better, etc, etc. So, we are here, with all our papers and orbital interconnects. What next?

    Well, while sci-fi obviously not as influental as some past writers assumed and/or hoped ..some good writing _can_ inspire some thinking in ..most _uninfluental_ persons ..like, me.

    For the sake of interconnecting – because I already posted it this way (Watts blog -> Chatoyance) I think I should post it other way around. So, enter ponies. Alien sci-fi (well *) ponies from outer space. I hope you will enjoy them (and associated commentary. I think it really impossible to understand accurately why those novels were written without reading pre(hi)story).

    https://www.fimfiction.net/user/1291/Chatoyance

    *one can argue ‘magical ponies’ can’t be count as _science_ fiction. Well, most of sci-fi actually much closer to sci-coated fantasy. But without specific *kind* of thinking science IS impossible – it may look like sci, sounds like sci, smells like sci ..yet produce garbage. Well-selling in human sociospheres garbage ….. So, i think those ponies are important as some example of very unorthodox thinking. (relative to fandom at narrow, and … this kind of USA/global misview on science/progress in general).

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  5. I just went and read the paper as well, and was pretty unimpressed. The author is someone whose research has been in corporate sustainability or the like, and this paper was turned down by peer reviewers (although the author argues that they just don’t want to hear the depressing truth). He points out, reasonably, that current climate trends are at (or sometimes beyond) the bad end of the consensus predictions from IPCC. He then assumes global civilizational collapse without really making any argument for it (and I think that’s far from being a settled question — at or below a few degrees Celsius, some regions will certainly be completely devastated, but others will probably get off relatively lightly, and most developed countries aren’t in clear danger of full collapse, as far as I know). He dismisses geoengineering as hopeless without making any argument for that either. Then he spends much of the paper talking about the psychological impacts and his own personal crisis of professional faith.

    Please don’t get me wrong! I’m not claiming that any of the above is definitely wrong, and I certainly think the climate change we’re facing is a horrific thing. It just doesn’t seem to me that this paper makes any significant contribution what we already know, except maybe for readers who have had their heads buried in the sand for the last decade. Anyone who’s been reading this blog, for example, probably isn’t going to find any big surprises in the paper.

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  6. It was rejected for publication, so I’m not surprised it has issues. Like I said, I haven’t got around to reading it yet but it seemed to fit the theme. It’s been floating around as the new “thing” to perk people’s attention. Even if it were alarmist we probably do need some alarmism to shake people out of their complacency

    Found a video version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daRrbSl1yvY&feature=youtu.be

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  7. Yeah, be more positive. What this actually means is come up with solutions that will make someone who is already rich richer or at the very least don’t require any sacrifice from them whatsoever. Because to ask that is to be somehow unfair even in the face of a quasi-extinction event. Humanity may die, but, by Bezos, they will die knowing that the rules of vulture capitalism and “we took it by gunpoint fair and square” were adhered to, as God intended.

    This was the reason, I think, dystopia became a thing in the first place. People were ignoring reality. The problem is it is also at times gamed by politicians to lead to the demoralizing “there’s nothing you can do/such a bill will never pass,” which then pushes people back into the escapism pay line.

    Then there’s the “make an example” camp, which is sort of a mix of the two now I think of it. In appearance only, since it again asks nothing of power except for one sacrificial buffoon they didn’t like anyway, and solves nothing, therefore is a form of pretend action, eg, escapism.

    Wait. Did I drift off topic? ;D

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  8. “These are worthy sentiments, of course. Noble, even. Who doesn’t want to strive for a better future? Who wouldn’t work whatever optimistic angles they could find? Does anyone think that those of us in the doomsayers camp are here because we want to be?”

    There are, of course. There are a whole lot of them actually, mostly religious people and some of those who don’t think religion but rather argue that some epoch before was better – and not even those of older age. Personally, I’m not with them, but I’m also not with modern “creative” futurists also (like those who discuss futuristic capitalism and hyper-networking in a way the corporations understand it today). Those by default I regard as pompous profanes who would break everything they care to lay their hands on. I am tech specialist, I have a degree, so there are few things I am not not allowed to break.

    I believe that there are paths that we have chosen and they led us astray – it is a normal process of trial and error. If they lead us to some dead end situation and we have o get out, even if we have to backtrack a but on some assumptions. I like your Climate Change or Pathogen ones – I can believe in them even if they are those hypothetical extinction events. Worse part comes if you don’t follow trial and error method and continue press on even if the evidence suggests the situation is not going to improve any more.

    Especially if it suggest that things are close to breakup. In one particular case IRL, one certain country to be exact, I am thrilled to see what happens after such event.

    “We were encouraged to go for walks in the nearby woods, although people who wandered down this path never came back. More beer for the rest of us.”

    Ominous green glow suggests the place had enough of some other infernal brew to keep them there, but I guess we will never know now.

    “When your life has been spent putting people front and center, putting human welfare and happiness above all, is it any wonder that you might want to look away from a scenario in which Humans get what they deserve? Everyone in this room is looking for a desirable future. I may be the only one who defines that as a future without us.”

    Recently I am interested more in those futures. They just do not naturally follow from officially declared goals, rather, from some those scary things we keep at the back of our minds rather than admit them outright. Making optimistic or emergency plans will have no effect on these possibilities.

    “Some see future manifestos, handed to People of Influence who might make a difference. I myself have always been sceptical of the whole SF Changes The World narrative.”

    This is not how it works, for what I can recall. People of Influence come out of ideas, not the other way around, so if you hand out them some of those New Future projects, a lot of things will happen, but making a difference is not one of them. They will rather keep to their ideas than something that will destroy their very reason to be influential. However, if you do it towards broader population (which can include those important people too), then you will have to wait for some time to pass, years, maybe a generation or even more, for the society to generate new People of Influence. So they can take over the decision-making and make difference.

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  9. Welcome to my world.

    See you Tuesday!

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  10. A good digest on the matter:

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/586541/the-uninhabitable-earth-by-david-wallace-wells/9780525576709/

    A chapter in Part IV, “The Church of Technology” takes a pretty critical look at the Gong Show’s search for “solutions” that are really just diversions which will actually require increasing consumption.

    The endnotes are full of useful references (the various articles on billionaire doomsday preppers reminds me of this book too, a similarly critical look at the transhumanist project: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/252017/to-be-a-machine-by-mark-oconnell/9781101911594/).

    New York Times article for people in a hurry: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

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  11. Quoth David Wallace-Wells in The Uninhabitable Earth:

    Perversely, decades of climate denial and disinformation have made global warming not merely an ecological crisis, but an increasingly high-stakes wager on the legitimacy of science and the scientific method itself. It is a bet that science can only win by losing. And in this test of climate we have a sample size of just one.

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  12. Ian Mackenzie,

    google” f u middle finger uterus t shirt “and it can be yours.

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  13. “…reminds me that she’s a trained philosopher”

    I thought that this sort of post-modernist get-out-of-jail card was being largely eschewed these days, at least by the Left.
    When it comes to climate change and the Right, of course, it’s an unacknowledged but critical assumption that any science that does not pass the political sniff test is, ipso facto, untrue. Climate science is a myth of leftist hegemony, enabling them to take our SUVs away, the meanies.

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  14. — “science is just another belief system”

    Spoken like a true antivaxxer/flat earther/science denier. There is no arguing with people like this, no swaying their opinion. They have chosen to believe a certain thing, and anything that contradicts them is false. How do seemingly smart people fall into this trap?

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  15. “But I am starting to see a pattern; of the eighteen people gathered here, I think I’m the only one with a degree in science. All these other polymaths— curators, activists, artists and architects— their careers center around people. The challenges they face are largely, essentially political; the solutions are political too. Their whole lives come down to negotiations, to meetings in middles. Such insights would have been invaluable back before things got this bad, back when What Has To Be Done could still fit into the set of What’s Politically Doable. But now the cascades and feedback loops have kicked in; now we’ve got to deal with Physics, and Physics does not play politics.” <— This hits home. I think a large part of why things are happening the way they are is that too many people who are too disconnected from physical reality have too much influence.

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  16. Dont you worry, if we just tell the laws of physics that they are oppressing us and start a right proper shitstorm on Twitter, i am sure they will pay attention and behave. They wouldnt want to be accused of mianthrophy after all!

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  17. As someone once said, “If you think everything is socially constructed, I invite you to step off my 21st floor balcony.”

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  18. Hey Peter,

    You could always join Extinction Rebellion and help it have a chance (same goes for everyone else reading – it would be more useful than criticising the deep adaptation paper on somebody else’s blog).

    We don’t have many chances left.

    http://extinctionrebellion.ca

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  19. I’m already quite convinced that collapse is, to some degree, inevitable. I used to think that maybe community organizers could do something, pull people together, but in the past couple years they’ve accomplished practically nothing. I am not optimistic about the chances of *any* meaningful large-scale change towards sustainable society, and I am also not optimistic about the chances of eventually having to tell some gestapo that I don’t have any Mexicans hidden in my home.

    For me it’s really a matter of how quickly things will go to shit, how best to weather the storm, and who to weather it with. I still think we might see relatively smooth sailing for a few more years(maybe, 5 or 6 at most?), which means time to figure stuff out, on a personal level. Time to start thinking about this stuff.

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  20. popefucker:
    I’m already quite convinced that collapse is, to some degree, inevitable. I used to think that maybe community organizers could do something, pull people together, but in the past couple years they’ve accomplished practically nothing. I am not optimistic about the chances of *any* meaningful large-scale change towards sustainable society, and I am also not optimistic about the chances of eventually having to tell some gestapo that I don’t have any Mexicans hidden in my home.

    For me it’s really a matter of how quickly things will go to shit, how best to weather the storm, and who to weather it with. I still think we might see relatively smooth sailing for a few more years(maybe, 5 or 6 at most?), which means time to figure stuff out, on a personal level. Time to start thinking about this stuff.

    Oh, I do think about the collapse. And honestly, I volunteer to die first 🙂 Not that I’m suicidal or don’t enjoy life… I just think living in the USA during a complete societal collapse would be a living hell.

    Starvation. Disease. Freaky weather. Those things don’t worry me. It’s my fellow citizens that worry me. Between the religious nutcases that would start trying to control everyone (think that crazy lady in the movie Mist), the White Supremacists, the Street Gangs (18th Street, Abergil, various flavors of the Crips and Bloods)… I don’t think there would be anything peaceful about it. The cities would go first with their high concentration of desperate hungry people. The Walking Dead had that portrayed perfectly, just replace the zombies with measles laden anti-vaxxers.

    Those in small towns might make it longer. As long as they had enough supplies and ammunition to fend off the starving hoards from the cities. Maybe if they were smart and quickly eradicated those among them that were already boarderline radicalized into one of the groups mentioned above.

    Honestly those idiots on TV that convert those missile silos into doomsday prep shelters might be our last hope. I’m not sure I want to live in a world were their progeny have repopulated the earth though.

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  21. Jeremy J:I just think living in the USA during a complete societal collapse would be a living hell.

    definitely, and you’re right that any major urban center is in for a really bad time. I think we’ll see the rise of (more) authoritarian government rather than chaos though, at least at first. That might actually blunt the impact of famines and diseases on social order. However it also makes nuclear warfare more likely.

    BUT, in true disaster situations people have a remarkable tendency to self-organize for mutual aid, especially small communities. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that some small towns would make it through the collapse. I’m thinking the most long-term security you can have these days is to live in the country and get to be really good friends with your neighbors.

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  22. Seems pretty ludicrous to be trying to sell these kind of future-projects as an actual useful venture if the subjects covered involve robot cats (really?) and genomic wallpaper (really?? I want more details – how does anyone argue this is either likely or at all interesting beyond the most superficial aspect). Good work P-Watto, trying to steer the conversation towards some actual issues – the four-way axis of climate and pathogens is actually a very interesting one (a naturally sterile but disease-free future vs an ecological wonder where we’re plagued with disease, then the obligatory utopia/dytopia). As an infection/immunity-boy this is super cool! Alas, the cat anus beckons.

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  23. popefucker,

    Sounds like you were hoping that somebody else would solve everything for you. I hope you can at least see that you bear some of the responsibility for where we are today.

    There are too many people lamenting the lack of action, too few actually doing anything useful to avert disaster. Incredible level of entitlement and learned helplessness. Think about that.

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  24. Alex,

    I have no people skills, no network, very little social capital, no decision-making power. I had, and continue to have, no tools with which to accomplish anything large-scale. If we’re going to be moralizing individuals, moralize at the people who had the opportunity to do something but didn’t, not at people who just weren’t heroic enough.

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  25. Its always a masochistic vasectomy but never a one child policy

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  26. What about a two child policy + simulated dystopian gauntlet (one child later after get people used to the idea)

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