inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #0 of 223: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Wed 30 Dec 09 13:57
For the eleventh time, Inkwell rings in the New Year with a visit from Well
member Bruce Sterling, to address the State of the World and Things Various
and Sundry. Bruce used to write novels when there were bookstores, and used
to write for magazines and newspapers when magazines and newspapers existed.
Nowadays he travels a lot when trains are running and when airports aren't
clogged by security theater.

Once again, Bruce's interlocutory partner is Jon Lebkowsky. Jon writes about
culture, society, technology. He is an Internet pioneer and thought leader
immersed in contemporary social technologies, with expertise in digital
communication and collaboration. An early online community moderator on The
Well, and a founder of Fringeware, Inc., Jon has been a direct participant
in the formative conversations that generated our contemporary global
digital society. He's worked with bOING bOING, HotWired, The Whole Earth
Catalog, Electric Minds, Whole Foods Market, and many other web and
cyberculture projects and endeavors during the World Wide Web’s first
decade. With Mitch Ratcliffe, Jon co-edited the book Extreme Democracy, and
he was one of the web’s first bloggers, having blogged regularly since

Gentlemen, the turning of the calendar finds me vacationing in Times Square.
Where are you, and what's on your minds? Is it me, or is there a lot to talk
about this time around?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #1 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Dec 09 15:54
I think you're right - the polarity of the world is changing,
literally and figuratively; the climate's wonky, the economy's tumbling
like a house of cards in a demented wind, political will is weak and
the body politic is disfigured in ways that are gross and fascinating.
It's a circus, and the tent's on fire.

I asked around for thoughts about what we should discuss, and got this
from science-fiction author, Internet maven, and new Dad, Cory

"Bruce, you're godfather to my daughter Poesy. As I type this, I am
sitting in the driveway with her while she finishes her nap in the back
of the rental car we picked up on our Xmas holiday with the rest of
our family. I listen to her snoring away back there, and I think about
the enormity of fatherhood, and I realize that I've never been
confident enough in the future to make any kind of long-time plans...
Instead, I've always treated the future as a kind of unpredictable
lurching thing, and tried to keep my stance loose and wide so that I
could adjust my center of gravity from moment to moment as it shifted
beneath me. As a father, that strategy seems somehow irresponsible. Now
I'm thinking about college funds, about my will, about where I'll end
up living, all this stuff, and I realize that in order to do any of
this I have to have some coherent picture of where the future is
heading. If you were in my shoes, what concrete, discrete, individual
steps would you take on behalf of your snoring little toddler? "

I think that's a great first question.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #2 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 31 Dec 09 02:03
*Great to see that the burdens of fatherhood have succeeded in
rendering even Cory Doctorow all bourgeois.  A decade will do that to a

*Godfathers should be giving great advice, right?  No.  Actually, what
godfathers should be giving is MONEY.  If you're a comely young
goddaughter, your godfather should knock it off with his sermonizing
and give you, like, a car.  

*Well, I don't have any money now.  Neither does anybody else.  Even
the smart operators with truckloads of money, like Gates, have lost
more money than the GDP of Nicaragua.  So it'll have to be the advice. 
Brace yourself.

*Okay, first, the college funds.  Cory, you're a guy who rather
famously dropped out of college.  I completed college with a lucrative
degree in (wait for it) JOURNALISM.  There are people coming out of
colleges now with humanities degrees and debtloads of $100K.  What
precise benefit are you trying to confer here?  You want your kid to go
to some college?  Move to a country like Italy where they've got FREE
college, and people don't leave school till they're 28 years old.

*Okay, you've treated your future as an "unpredictable lurching
thing..." and now you're all morose about that...  You and your
generation CREATED that situation!  Ever heard of "disruptive
innovation," "disintermediation," "offshoring," "small pieces loosely
joined," "de-monetization," "plug and play," "the network as a
platform"?  Of course you've heard of all that crap, because you've
been tub-thumping it your entire adult life,  but what the hell did you
think that was all about?  Did you think you were gonna bend every
effort to virtualize reality, and then get a gold railway-retirement
watch and a safe place to park the cradle?  Guys with stacks of gold
bars and working oil wells don't have any stability now!   Much less
guys like you, who move their fingers up and down on keyboards for a

*You want some security?  Demand government housing subsidies and a
guaranteed minimum income!  They bailed out every broke mogul on the
planet, they might as well bail out the civil population.

*Your will. Great.  I think it's a good idea to write one of these. 
It's clarifying to contemplate mortality.  Try not to get all hackerly
about it and make it all super-complicated so that your heirs are
"protected forever."  Dead guys don't protect anybody, and the
survivors don't care.  When you're dead, mostly the survivors want to
grieve, sweep up after you, and stay out of endless court proceedings. 
A guy like you, you're gonna be too clever by half with the damn will,
lots of spreadsheets, flowcharts....  Basically, you want to save
people trouble sweating over your obscure 12-dollar Latvian royalties
getting probated in Canada.

*"Where I'll end up living." You're a Canadian always in California
who's married to a Briton who's always in Japan.  Obviously you're not
gonna "end up" anywhere. Forget about that.  What are you worried
about, your IKEA furniture?  There is no "end up."  Someday they're
gonna bury you someplace -- that's likely relatively permanent -- or
they might lock you in a prison or a clinic where they won't let you
out.  Other than that, you have made your mobile bed and you oughta lie
in it.

*You're thinking: "got some money here, might as well settle down in
suburban Shepperton where the kid has a stable neighborhood with those
delightful Ballard children." That's a joke.  They're ALL FOREIGNERS in
Shepperton now, just like you.  They're living in DISINTEGRATED,
ROOTLESS, MULTI-ETHNIC HOUSEHOLDS where people relate through SMS
messages.  Go outside, walk around in extremely globalized London,
count the number of exiles in the streets.  Is that Christopher Robin
and Pooh at the gates of Buckingham Palace?  The Buckingham Palace
charades are wall to wall Brazilians, Indians and Chinese.  That's why
they put up with YOU.  And the genuine kids there are even weirder than
their parents, because they're multi-ethnic Brazilo-Indian-Chinese

*"A coherent picture of where your future is heading."  Okay, fine.
Let's imagine you're three years old again.  You want to give your Dad,
back in 1974, a coherent picture of what 2010 looks like.  You know,
something very actionable, lucid and practical, where he can just slap
the cash on the counter and everything works out great for the family. 
Okay: given what you know now about the present, tell me what you
oughta tell him about 2010, back in 1974. Use words of one syllable, so
he doesn't have a stroke.

*Then, I'll give it a shot.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #3 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 31 Dec 09 07:38
While we wait for that, how about a coherent vision of where the
*present* is heading? Various entities and institutions have scrambled
together safety pins and gobs of glue to rig the global economy so that
it appears to be ambling along, but isn't it a great conceptual Jenga,
ready to fall if you move the wrong block? What kind of shuffling and
reshuffling can we expect, if there's a global economic meltdown? And
has the collapse already happened - are we like the coyote, run far
beyond the edge of the cliff, waiting for gravity's effect?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #4 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 02:39
I'm liking the Jenga analogy, but not the collapse, too much -- the
folk-notions people have about collapse and meltdown are way too
parochial, they're very Teabagger, very prepper.  

Basically we've got an emergent, market-driven global financial system
that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism.  It was
deprived of oversight for three good reasons (a) it rapidly brought
prosperity to billions (b) under globalization, money is inherently
global while governance is inherently local (c) complete regulatory
capture of the system -- nobody but bankers understands how to bank.
There's no caste of regulators left anywhere who have the clout or even
the knowledge to do anything usefully stabilizing. No, not even if you
give them guns, lawyers, money and back issues of DAS KAPITAL.

*Too big to fail.  So, what can you do?  Cross your fingers,
basically.  Make some reassuring noises.  Cheerlead instead of
reforming the infrastructure.  And pawn what's left of the credibility
of government.

*Twenty years ago, it seemed like this situation might lead to
shareholder power, a kind of pension-fund ownership society.  It kind
of did, for a while.  But over a longer term, the poor engineering told
on the rickety, fungus-like structure of finance.  The wealth and the
executive capacity drifted into the hands of moguls.  Not governments,
big institutions, megacorporations, multinationals, but moguls, weird
eccentrics, like Russian moguls.  Madoff figures, Enron.  Nobody was
left to look.  Even if they did look, all they could possibly see in
Madoff and Enron was a genius, highly charitable head of the NASDAQ and
the world's most nimble and innovative energy company.  It's like
looking at your SUV and seeing drowning polar bears.  Just a minority

*So we've ended up with our current "It's a Wonderful Life"
Pottersville, where Rupert Murdoch plays our Mr Potter.  Everybody who
should have been down at the mall last Christmas stocking up at the
Sharper Image is ruined, corrupted, prostituted, miserable, or a
hysterical librarian.  That includes the boisterous high-tech guys at
the deceased Sharper Image.  And, really, including Murdoch. 
Everything the guy touches turns brown.  

*Societies that are top-heavy in this way are just not gonna have
major prosperity.  Too much of the civil population has been fenced off
from the trough.  The wealth-generating capacity of the society has
been short-circuited.  There's zero political will to socialize the
entire planet and re-channel its currency flows, so that's not gonna
happen.  Basically, the political class is waiting for the civil
population to come back to the church of the free market and get over
the fact that its cardinals walk in public with no clothes on.

*So you're just not gonna see a lively, vibrant scene in Pottersville.
  You can have a Japanese Pottersville, where everybody's getting
older and they're building huge concrete bridges to nowhere.  Or a
Managed Democracy Putin-Pottersville, where everybody agrees not to say
anything much about the many Potemkin aspects.  You could even get
some Rio de Janeiro Pottersville full of armed, dropout-ethnic
shantytowns where everybody's high on medical marijuana.  But not
prosperity.  Because Madoff can't give you that.  For thirty years,
yeah, but for forever, no.

*People have stymied sense of denial about the situation.  It's very
neurotic, anxious, and repressed.  It's feeding into a strongly Gothic
political temperament where popular culture is haunted by vampires and
zombies.  The population *identifies* with vampires and zombies, wants
to marry them, settle down with them.  There's an autumnal hush over
the cultural landscape.  People really hope they won't be hit between
the eyes with the two-by-four again, but they also know that they are
helpless to defend themselves against the sources of the blows.  

*You're starting to see weird forms of acting-out, neurotic
displacement activities.  Fetishes, even.  Sarah Palin, for instance. 
I could go on about that woman every day.  And so can everybody else,
which is why they do.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #5 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:07
*I'm looking over my Twitter stream here, because it seems a more
useful barometer to me now than Google News.  Google News definitely
has that rickety Jenga feeling that JonL is talking about.  Whenever
you see something on Google News nowadays, you have to wonder: "who
owns this so-called news organization now? What's left of them
financially?  Is there even a shred of objective fact in this?"  

*It's like looking at something that used to be a warm, thick,
consensus-manufacturing comforter, and realizing that it's built
entirely out of Gothic spiderwebs from Mountain View.

*Most of my Twitter tweeple, in expressing their mild hopes for the
decade, seem obscurely terrified. "Well, it couldn't possibly be any
worse than last year," seems to be the consensus notion.  I haven't
seen any Scrooge-like spoilsport remarking on the prospect that the
twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes.  The
Depression of the 1930s was followed by the 1940s, right?  It's casino
thinking to imagine that the next poker hand is bound to be great just
because you lost your ass in the last one.

*There are some certain people in my Twitter list, though, who do seem
genuinely perky about last year and in a buoyant mood for the next.  I
can list them pretty easily, because they are so few.

A.  Augmented Reality people.  They're all like, "Wow!  What a ride! 
The wife is pregnant!  I bought a house!  When do we cash out?"

B. Cellphone guys, or rather, guys in the handset PDA Google-Android
Iphone-Appstore weird flaky gizmo in your pocket space.  They're used
to working in corrupt dungeons covered with moss and rusty manacles,
because they have to hang out with telephone companies.  Business is
great.  Mostly political rather than technical, but great.

C.  Brazilians.  I don't understand why Brazilians don't whine and
complain more, because by world standards their country is still awful,
with weird crap going on like armed dope favelas that shoot police
helicopters and even ethnic pogroms of harmless Brazilian merchants in
Surinam, but Brazilians are like, "Wow!  I'm big on Orkut!  Look at my
new haircut!"  They're like the least High-Tech Gothic and most Favela
Chic of all the emergent powers.  If they'd just grin more and say
"have a nice day" they could be the new Norteamericanos.

D.  Bollywood guys.  I think everybody on Twitter should follow at
least some celebrities.  Celebrity-followship is a major part of the
Twittersphere. I wouldn't dream on wasting any time on Demi or Oprah,
but Bollywood fan culture is fascinating.  The hero-star contingent are
getting a little more boring since they're getting the hang of it, but
those first few months, when they were just sorta blurting out
whatever they wanted off the Blackberry, that was awesome.  You really
get a feeling for Bollywood stars as a semi-solid, political-feudal
caste from a massively populated, deeply troubled, hugely resilient,
titanic emergent world power.  

*They're all Indian patriots.  Every one of 'em.  They're not
pollyannas about it, but you never hear a cynical or dismissive or
despairing remark from them.  About the press, certainly, but about the
Indian government or Indian civil society, never.  Tremendous work
ethic. Even the ones who come across like half-naked decadent femmes
fatale are complete Type A overachievers.  Very bouncy, very focussed. 
Educated.  World travellers.  It's impressive.

*I don't follow Chinese guys on Twitter yet.  Trying to figure out
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #6 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:11
*Oh yeah.  One other guy on my Twitter list. I forgot him.  Andrew
Keen.  "Cult of the Amateur" Andrew Keen, "Antichrist of Silicon
Valley" Andrew Keen.  This is obviously a guy with a very dark,
combative temperament, a Lenny Bruce figure almost, but he seems
convinced that time is on the side of his analysis and that vindication
awaits him.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #7 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:57
This view of the present feels right, and in a sense hopeless. But the
future is opaque, it's hard to imagine any optimistic scenario that
feels real. Throughout the 20th century we could imagine a "great
society," a "space age," a "long boom." We presumed future
social/technical advance, progress, improvement, a presumption that was
inherent in cultural and political artifacts of the time. Though we've
seen ongoing technological progress, But for thinking people assessing
today's reality, I think it's harder to imagine that the world twenty
years from now will be better than the world today. 

However Sarah Palin's world-view seems to disregard any sense that
we're fragile or imperiled, and of course that sells, the way that a
self-help book or a Zig Ziglar seminar sells. It's an assertion of
optimism, however unfounded. And I think it's a dangerous optimism,
because it assumes that we can do business as usual, and everything the
world will just work.

What vision for the future could a leader offer today that doesn't
ignore troubling but real issues like climate change and economic
instability, but doesn't feel hopeless?

(Posts 5 and 6 slipped in while I was writing this one.)
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #8 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Jan 10 07:09
The best tweet I saw New Year's Eve was Dusty Reagan's: "2010 and
still no flying cars...*sigh*." 

And today, the first day of the new year, Thomas Vanderwal says:
"Rather tired of 2010 predictions already. Most are stating what
happened in the last 2 years or so when they weren't paying attention."

We're in a world where everybody can have a top ten list and the means
to publish it. When I Google "top 10" + 2009, I get 115 *million*
hits. Predictions + 2010 has 12.8 million. 
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #9 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 02:47
Well, the Chinese world is better.  China's like flying-car and
personal-robot better, compared to China in 1969.

India's better.  Fantastically better.  India used to be in more or
less the same cramped livestock-stall as Sri Lanka, Myanmar (okay,
"Ceylon" and "Burma" -- this need to rename cities and nations is a
sign of mental illness) Pakistan, East Pakistan "Bangladesh" --
nowadays the Indians get all kinds of juice and respect from the
"international community," and better yet, all their local rivals are
in the charity ward without the Indians even firing a shot.

Brazilians are better.  Lula's been a great Brazilian president.  The
currency's stable, there's low inflation, there's oil money and ethanol
money, and when the Brazilian cop SWAT squads go gun down leftist
evangelical drug gangs wholesale in the ghetto, sometimes people even

Americans who really needed some Vision Thing could go read some Lula
speeches -- he's done about a million -- all about peace and justice
and decent housing and ecology and the achievement of zero hunger and
all that.  You know, it's like a multiracial labor-union socialist
community-organizer thing, the Lula regime in Brazil.  

Surely Americans wouldn't go for that, though. There's just no way. 
Not the American Way.  American Way of Life Not Up For Negotiation. 
End of story.

Americans really want and need and desire a Futuristic Vision Thing,
they get all lonesome and moody without one, but it's absolutely gotta
be one of those good-old-fashioned American Futuristic Vision Things,
just like the Americans had in the 1950s when everybody else was still
on fire from total war and cleaning up the death camps.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #10 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 02:50
Hey look, I wrote a new architecture-fiction story.  Just for you guys
who can't pay for printed magazines any more, and therefore doomed
literature to an Andrew Keen descent into half-baked Internet

"The Hypersurface of This Decade" 
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #11 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 05:25
    <scribbled by jonl Sat 2 Jan 10 08:10>
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #12 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 08:19
Jamais Cascio suggested in a private email that we consider whether
California's travails are predictive of a broader failures within the
USA, and asks "if we're not seeing many signs of real hope, are we at
least seeing signs of getting through the problems we face?" I can
imagine complex yes and no answers...

But that's the U.S., and you make the point that other parts of the
world appear to be swimming along pretty well. 

But I wonder whether they're becoming more 20th century U.S., i.e. are
they firing up high-standard economies and lifetyles by burning
through finite resources?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #13 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 14:33
Well, there's no question that California's beloved of futurists,
maybe because California's got so many futurists in it.

It's hard for anyone from Texas to find the chutzpah to complain about
California's state politics.  For instance, Enron, a Texas company,
basically decapitated California by illegally gaming the natural gas
pipelines, and then getting a surprised and hapless Gray Davis run out
of office.  Ever since then, they've been stuck with Schwarzenegger,
who's a cartoon figure.  California's never done anything half that
wicked to Texas.

There are other states with state governments that are worse and more
irresponsible than California's.  There's Louisiana, Arizona, Oklahoma
of course, and when it comes to electing swaggering guys with a lot of
muscles because they can supposedly bench-press the state legislature,
I'm looking at you, Minnesota.

But there aren't any state governments with absolute tons of money and
colossal populations that are as doctrinaire, hog-tied and amateurish
as California's state government.  They've become scary rather than
enviable.  I'm very fond of the culture of the Golden State, and there
are many admirable people there who are both wise and inventive, but
their state politics are just dreadful. It's like they re-invented
Sacramento as a highway snarl.

I'd never write 'em off, but I don't think they deserve their former
reputation as a leading polity among American states. These days they
serve as an exemplar of how not to go about things. 

The USA has fifty different states. It seems pretty likely that at
least some of 'em are gonna manifest some hopeful signs of getting
through the general problems the nation faces.  Maybe it's time to stop
kicking Californians when they're down, and search for some other
bellweather state that seems to be getting a grip.  California's been
losing population for the last four years.  They've gotta be going
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #14 of 223: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 2 Jan 10 14:39
North Dakota is doing pretty well.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #15 of 223: KUMBAYISTA! (smendler) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:02
So are we simply moving into a time of more *efficient* suffering?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #16 of 223: Sebastian Mendler (smendler) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:08
(btw, loved the story - hopefully the guy extrudes himself a machete
while he's at it)
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #17 of 223: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:21
What about green energy? It's not covered much by the press, but it
seems like the investments made by the Chinese government and the U.S.
Department of Energy are looking pretty encouraging.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #18 of 223: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:37
After reading the story: so the next thing is to extrude habitat like
some kind of caterpillar?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #19 of 223: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 17:33
What Jamais actually wrote, when I asked him for thoughts about what
we might discuss, was this: "California as a foretaste of where the US
as a whole seems to be going." I think he's focused there because he
lives there; didn't interpret it as a bashing. Good point that the
fifty states (and all the various global nations, for that matter) are
unique entities with diverse strains of legislative DNA.

While we're at it, here's another from Jamais' missive:
"Geoengineering: 2009, Geo went mainstream in the media; 2010, it's
probably going to hit the political world. It looks very likely to
happen, but also looks very likely to trigger conflict. Would love
Bruces' thoughts on the subject."
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #20 of 223: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jan 10 18:22

Bruce, when I read your response to <doctorow>'s e-mail re-examining his
life with a new father's eyes, I didn't see a response to the
sentimentality underlying his question, which made me wonder if there was
some subtext I was not aware of, and if not, could I ask you to revisit
his questions, being a father yourself?  Did you have similar questions
about navigating aspects of parenthood when you were a new father?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #21 of 223: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jan 10 18:23

jonl slipped.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #22 of 223: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 2 Jan 10 19:21
<The wealth and the executive capacity drifted into the hands of

Hello again, Bruce, and welcome.  Do you see any way to make these
plutocrats more accountable for the warming air that the rest of us
mortals must breath?
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #23 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 01:53
"Making plutocrats more accountable."  Dunno.  In the past decade we
seem to have created two new social classes, unaccountable global
moguls with no regulations, and global unlawful combatants with no
civil rights.  It's either the penthouse or Guantanamo, and they're
both invisible netherworlds out of reach of the rule of law. Both very
dangerous to the rest of us.  Not just that they assault us, but that
we neglect the issues there.

Putin more or less solved his own mogul problem by picking on one
scapegoat mogul and having the guy railroaded into the slammer. 
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was as crooked as a dog's hind leg, but clearly
he's in the Russian Bastille there at the pleasure of the state, so
Khodorkovsky's kind of a unique example of a guy who's both an oligarch
and an abductee.  You'd think this was a pretty likely treatment for
oligarchs, actually.  Given that they create so much misery, destroy so
much wealth, and harm the interests of so many other social classes,
why not just car-bomb them?  Russian moguls used to car-bomb each other
with great glee.  The same goes for mafia chieftains -- anybody with
tremendous wealth and influence outside the rule of law ends up in
great fear of others with similar characteristics.

Jailing Khodorkovsky sure didn't make anybody more "accountable" to
the civil population, though; it's just another example of Putin's
political genius for fighting ugly wildfires with dirty water.  The
Russians sincerely love that guy Putin.  I think his policies are
spooky and pernicious, but Putin's so much better than the normal run
of leaders the Russians get that you have to understand why they
genuflect to him.

There are some societies today completely untroubled by moguls, like,
say, Sweden.  You look at all the statistics that technocrats use to
determine where people are doing just great, where society is thriving,
and Sweden's been in the top five percentile for decades.  Sweden does
everything perfectly from a technocratic policy perspective, Sweden's
like Oz, apparently.  

And then you ask Swedes about their future and so forth, and they're
like: "Bring the razor and the bathtub!  When can I die?"  There are
penniless, vitamin-deprived guys in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai who are
upbeat and perky compared to Swedes.

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever
made," as the philosopher used to say.
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #24 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 03:32
On the subject of geo-engineering, I think it's a crock. We'll never
get there.  They're all techie fantasies, far-out sci-fi notions, Star
Wars physics-style.  The cheapest and most effective method of
geo-engineering is to cut the world's population in half.  

Just a tremendous massacre. That's the genuinely effective
geo-engineering: it's fast, it commonly works, it's been proven
effective for centuries by lebensraum exponents everywhere,  and if you
chose the right tactics and weaponry it might even look like a big

  You don't have to put on a fascist armband and start ranting for the
public's blood; an effort like that could be quite subtle and covert,
the very opposite of showboat geo-engineering.  "Mysterious deadly flu
in the Congo?  We'd better keep all our health workers right here,
they're badly needed in New York!"

Nobody's gonna sit around watching Copenhagen delegates debating giant
phony orbital solar mirrors if the windmills in Copenhagen harbor are
blowing over  When and if it becomes obvious that we truly need
massive, ultra-costly geo-engineering interventions, that we have no
other choice, then somebody -- likely some traumatized veterans of
weather havoc who are full of Al Qaeda self-righteousness -- they're
gonna cut emissions in half by cutting people in half.  Mankind
wouldn't lack for means, motive, opportunity and eager volunteers.

Genocide has much more proven shelf-appeal than any of these hokum
Rube Goldberg geo-schemes.  It's by no means easy to kill off half of
everybody, but we've already invented a wide variety of ingenious ways
to attempt that, and almost all of 'em are much simpler, more rugged
and more plausible than putting the North Pole under a tinfoil hat.  

You don't see these Gothic issues raised in public discourse much, but
you go hang out with some Beltway thinktank asymmetric-warfare types,
and man, they talk this kinda stuff all the time.  Kind of a Herman
Kahn think-the-unthinkable industry.   "Should the Center for Disease
Control be scanning flu-strains for signs of designed interventions?"
"Gee uh, maybe not, could cause panic... but if we had some
off-the-books funding for that, that capacity could be pretty handy." 
inkwell.vue.373 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2010
permalink #25 of 223: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 04:05
*Y'know, these very dark imaginings of utter civilizational mayhem --
I have to confess I don't find them very interesting. People always ask
me about 'em, more so now than before, but I'm unmoved.  It's routine.

*When I was a college student in the 1970s, cataclysms were pretty
interesting to me, in a kind of edgy "No Future" punk way.  By now
they've been almost completely mainstreamed.  As a creative, I find
that they lack their old charm.

*Standard Hollywood fodder, full of this stuff now: "2012," "The
Road," comic shoot-'em-up zombie movies... people are *keenly* aware
that Banquo's ghost is hammering the front door.  They don't really
need to be beaten over the head with this by doomsayers.  

*Yeah, sure, people, we could all die suddenly and horribly, but we
could have all died suddenly and horribly any time after the invention
of the hydrogen bomb.  That's not really news, it doesn't attract or
inspire me; I write about in the obligatory way that I have to write
about, say, heroin or traffic jams, but my former interest in these
issues is kinda crotchety and banal.  It makes me feel middle-aged,
quite frankly: way too much chewed cud there for us ahead-of-the-curve
cyberpunk dystopians.

*Then we've got entirely other kinds of stuff like this:

*Guys hanging around figuring out what Saturnian moons are made of. 
Pretty boring, apparently.  Even Star-Trek geeky astronaut worshippers
glaze over when they look at this stuff.  I have to say I adore it. 
It's really vivifying for me.  I truly feel proud and glad to be alive
in a time when my civilization can figure out -- with some actual
evidence and calculations, with on-site inspections even -- what
Saturn's moons are made of.  

*I don't even have the excuse of any Carl Sagan mystic-scientism
bullshit here, either; I don't think we climbed out of the primal muck
to go mess around with sulfates on Io. 

*Io is a complete mess.  It's a world much like our world, a neighbor
world of ours,  but it's utterly beyond all redemption, it's off the
charts alien.  We have no instrumental uses for the place, it's not
worth a dime, it's way past each, all and every standard of Earthly
ruin.  But it's a world, all right.  It's just great that we've got it
together to take a coherent interest in such things.

*Kind of a minority taste of mine there, but it's kind of like the
minority taste for a really great vintage Barolo.  "Weird red wine from
some rural village I never heard of?  Who cares?"  Then you have a sip
of a great Barolo and it immediately transforms your backward
personality.  Two bottles later, and you're a more civilized human
being.  You never go back, either.  You get stretched by the experience
and you grow.

*The good life is like that.


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