There’s something more to say about the work that lies ahead, if it’s seriously the case that we are in territory where archdruids and zine writers and collapse bloggers and mythtellers are the ones who still have maps that seem to make sense. I notice that there is a part of me that would like not to be serious, that would like it to be secretly a bluff, a puffing of the ego, when I say that it feels like there’s a new responsibility landing on the ragtag of thinkers and tinkers and storytellers at the edges, one edge of which I have been part of over these last years. And for sure, this is only one map I’ve been sketching, others will have their own that may or may not overlap. But the way it looks from here tonight, the people who are meant to know how the world works are out of map, shown to be lost in a way that has not been seen in my lifetime, not in countries like these.
Posts tagged collapsonomics
Last year I spent a lot of time covering the Greek crisis for Newsnight. Much of what I learned then feels relevant to Brexit. So, here are a few of those lessons.
While degrowth does not have a succinct analysis of how to respond to today’s shifting socio-technical regimes—accelerationism’s strong point – at the same time accelerationism under-theorizes the increased material and energetic flows resulting from this shifting of gears. Put another way, efficiency alone can limit its disastrous effects. As degrowth theorists have underlined, environmental limits must be politicized; control over technology must therefore be democratized; metabolic rates must be decelerated if Earth is to remain livable. To conclude, accelerationism comes across as a metaphor stretched far too thin. A napkin sketch after an exciting dinner-party, the finer details colored in years afterwards—but the napkin feels a bit worn out. Big questions need to be asked, questions unanswered by the simplistic exhortation to “shift the gears of capitalism.” When the gears are shifted, the problem of metabolic limits won’t be solved simply through “efficiency”—it must acknowledge that increased efficiency and automation has, and likely would still, lead to increased extractivism and the ramping up of environmental injustices globally. Or another: what does accelerationism mean in the context of a war machine that has historically thrived on speed, logistics, and the conquest of distance? Is non-violent acceleration possible, and what would class struggle look like in that scenario? To be fair, the word “degrowth” also fails to answer many big questions. There has been little discussion on whether mass deceleration is possible when, as Virilio shows, all mass changes in social relations have historically occurred through acceleration. Can hegemony decelerate? If degrowth lacks a robust theory of how to bring about regime shift, then Williams and Snricek’s brand of accelerationism doesn’t allow for a pluralist vocabulary that looks beyond its narrow idea of what constitutes system change. And yet, the proponents of each ideology will likely be found in the same room in the decades to come. Despite their opposite ‘branding’, they should probably talk. They have a lot to learn from each other.
The following are the key “lenses” through which I view and discuss the ongoing transformation to panarchy. Each of these lenses provide crucial understandings and insights into facets of panarchy, but panarchy itself emerges only as a result of the interactions between all of these elements. Like all complex systems, panarchy itself is an emergent property.
A model with this few equations will always provide egregious predictions about “industrial collapse”. Anyone who spends more than two minutes looking on Gapminder will recognise that inter-country differences are so vast that using eight equations to accurately model humanity is like replicating the Sistine Chapel using a crayon.
How can any nation that came up with the BBC and the NHS be considered in the same breath as India or China? Let me refer you to one of the first lines of The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor, in which a wise old man warns International Monetary Fund officials and foreign dignatories: “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
I admit it: in my last book, The Five Stages of Collapse, I viewed collapse through rose-colored glasses. But I feel that I should be forgiven for this; it is human nature to try to be optimistic no matter what. Also, as an engineer, I am always looking for solutions to problems. And so I almost subconsciously crafted a scenario where industrial civilization fades away quickly enough to save what’s left of the natural realm, allowing some remnant of humanity to make a fresh start.
It wasn’t the rise of digitization that killed the middle class. It was the insufficiency of protests among U.S. brain power, including publicly-funded academics, failing to advocate for labor and home-grown innovation; their ignorance about the nature of blue collar jobs and the creative output they help realize compounded the problem. Manufacturing has increasingly reduced man hours in tandem with productivity-increasing technological improvements. It wasn’t the internet that killed these jobs, though technology reduced some of them. The inability to plan for the necessary shift of jobs to other fields revealed the lack of comprehensive, forward-thinking manufacturing and labor policies.
To the problem of narrative collapse, Rushkoff suggests that young people have reacted to the loss of storytellers by realizing they have to become the storyteller. The gamer can write his own next level. We can be fragmented by allowing ourselves to operate on the (non-temporal) time scale of computers or we can program our computers to keep us in sync with our own goals and our own lives. Technology is, in fact, neutral. It doesn’t “want” things to be a certain way. But all technologies are ste up by people with certain biases, but those biases are often unclear until they play out in the real world. So civilians do have an opportunity to intervene in technologies that they dont’t fully understand because they do have the capacity to understand the impact of those technologies on their lives.
In late 2009, the Ministry organized a 1,000-member strong national gathering - a drill in collaborative “Where do we go from here?” brainstorming involving randomly selected citizens and a few handpicked prominent thinkers (Magnusson and Jónsdóttir were there). Groups of participants bounced ideas off each other, ultimately formulating a list of shared values. The summit organizers, through Magnusson and his tech-nerd compatriots, took those suggestions and came up with an aggregation of cherished mores in short order. Not long after the discussions finished - thanks to social media crowdsourcing - Iceland had a decent estimate of its moral compass.
The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing. There is no likelihood of the world going their way. In most green circles now, sooner or later, the conversation comes round to the same question: what the hell do we do next?
Why did the projected explosion of technological growth everyone was expecting—the moon bases, the robot factories—fail to happen? There are two possibilities. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic (in which case, we need to know why so many intelligent people believed they were not) or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects).
According to the private intelligence industry’s view of itself, a phalanx of analysts collect data, assess the risks and opportunities inherent in trends, and provide a series of scenarios that help their clients make contingency plans, such that no matter what future arrives, people will thrive. But the reality of 2012 is quite different. A large number of people promise these services, from generalist mega-consultancies such as Booz Allen, Accenture, and McKinsey, to more boutique providers such as Global Business Network, the Institute for the Future, Frost & Sullivan, and countless individual practitioners. And many executives claim to practice state-of-the-art strategic management, dutifully using the insights of these providers in their day-to-day operations. Still, the culture of intelligence has been in free-fall since the financial crisis of 2008.