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Gardenworld Politics Chapter 4. Where are we? -Draft
Chapter 4. Where are we? A deeper look.
What is behind the rough politics and the sickness of Covid and an afflicted environment? Marc Block writes that history is about “humanin beings in time”. We humans expected that growth focused on the economy was going to provide us with a well provided consumer paradise. The expected growth was going to provide us with a future, but with that growth we have used the internet to coordinate the world, but not change it for the better. Millions were lifted out of poverty into high rises and detachment from the earth and community. We have been living in a world where our focus is on the material, and we have lost touch with the psychological, the expressive, the world of feelings and intuition.. But we seem to be entering a new phase, where digitalization shifts us from the material to the psychological, the mental, the realm of ideas. The mind has been treated as an artifact of matter, but as we live into the digital period, where digital seems more mind-like than material-like, our emerging age is already more psychological, nore mind based, less materialistic. This is a huge shift.
“The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. ”
Excerpt From: Paul Mason. “PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.” Apple Books.
We — all of humanity, this generation, and the next few — are in a dire situation. The world is in a mess; consider the environment, governance, economies, and international conflicts. For the latter, our dealings with China offer perspective for where we are and where we could be, if we acted with cooperation on shared problems rather than acting the role of a fying empire that wants to fight back.. Government managers are afraid to take any initiative and corporations want to maintain their income and status.
We have moved from being citizens to being consumers, driven by competition to have a palace when places are disappearing. Musical chairs. Everyone is nervous, and the world under the cahirs s also in motin. While he iar is aksive with death and the sky carries metors and asteroids that can wipe us out as they have in the past. Not for nothing thta the moon our dead cousin is so pckmarked.
The increased concern about climate change and the extraordinarily hard to grasp management of COVID-19 brought me to the realization that Gardenworld is not just an alternative waiting for consideration, but a way forward that is urgent, the only way forward that doesn't continue the destruction of the livability on the planet.
At best given climate change and a handful of other problems, we need something like Gardenworld just to hold on. At the worst we will need something like Gardenworld to survive. It is much easier to take difficult steps if they are moving us toward a congenial goal. Let's make the best of it. Gardenworld takes us into the forefront of plausible approaches to the mess where creativity and cooperation work together,
While the damage to our climate accrued over many years, our sense of its impact has remained peripheral,. We are neither stopping our use of fossil fuels nor are we planning for catastrophe. The problem of atmospheric heating appears clear in peoples’ minds, but their thinking about what to do is undeveloped. Stopping economic activity is not something anyone wants to urge, especially those with an important role in government or business. This is a major aspect of the current situation.
Most discussion is about what is wrong, and very little discussion about what to do . What we must do can start with thinking about the two most critical realms: food and habitat - housing, helping those who are hurt by the rapid emergence of cascading crises.
A feeling for ‘throwing the bastards out’ will not improve a failing government. At this point it is the structures (for example, the problem of the small states having an equal number of senators with the large ). The program of democracy and bureaucracy, integrating elites and marginalized people, needs to be seriously rethought. Technical and policy proposals aimed at preventing or at least reducing harmful effects to the atmosphere and biosphere do not cut deeply enough to make a difference.
Whether we are able to successfully modify our institutions and ways of living, or collapse as a civilization, re-centering our lives on earth, food and local projects organized around face to face encounters will take place from necessity. The governance to manage and culture to cohere us will likely mean a mix of local and hierarchical -- regional, national, and global initiatives, reinventing regulations, as local projects unfold. The purpose and relevance of markets, states, and communities will need rethinking. We cannot have an economics which stresses rationality as we manipulate markets through irrationality. We like the idea of democracy as a way of making decisions about the future, but technology and capital are just as important forces. We have yet to find a way to integrate the three into powerful lines of action sufficient to stop temperature rise. Will we create a future for the good of all or support a politics which continues to take our wealth from us, leaving behind third world poverty?
People are not acting on what they know because they have no idea what to do. If we take the recent Australian fires, we have heightened awareness with confusion. From living on the fruits of the surface of the earth, we shifted to using coal and oil which allowed the human population to expand. In turn, we’ve become dependent on these sources of energy and cannot easily, gracefully, free ourselves. Cutting fossil fuel use means something like musical chairs, where vital resources are given up, things like no flying, no heating with gas, threats to food supply, the closing down of jobs that are part of the old economy. The cascading effects — inability to pay mortgages, collapse of banks — will follow. We are moving into a new world that presumes AI is the major tool. This digital culture leads to a focus on mind, replacing the industrial focus on material. Yet, we need both for managing the emerging world. Hope requires that we have a vision that is both possible and worth waking up for.
We have been oriented towards competition more than compassion and cooperation; we have made a world difficult for children, parents, elders, poor, and animals. Children can no longer just ‘go out and play and come home for dinner as it gets dark.’ Our world now fits fast careers and traffic. We have built society around the part of the life cycle that has income and freedom to spend on marketable technology while forgetting relationships. We remain divided in our aspirations between wanting a life of security, continuity, and rewarding work, versus seeking ownership that maintains control and guarantees dividends for the rich.
Integrating humans with the earth requires deep study of both our surroundings and human nature, where the latter developed from our mammalian and primate past. How do we design an approach to society that honors that deep core? Current social frameworks are not up to the task. Capitalism is too exploitative. Socialism feels like a bureaucratic form of capitalism. Perhaps we can learn from an approach the Chinese offer for governance: a technocratic class at the top, well educated in technology, history, and what makes a good life; their stewardship encourages grassroots, local initiatives, where national funds for projects marry the two. This blend of hierarchy and localism affords taking on complex projects which integrate expertise in systems at the top and democracy from local conditions.
The primary needs for humanity, growing food and developing meaning, call for integration from landscape to mindscape. How do we create the conditions for both? We are so used to specialization and isolated conversations, but not in putting things together. We know there will be a post crisis world that will require that we change many habits, many assumptions. Let’s build for it, joining what emerges. At first it looks like a tsunami of tragedy, with rethinking it appears as an opportunity -- dealing with the economic and political crisis as we deal with the climate crisis.
I have to point out that if we listen to neighbors and coworkers their conversations are much more about what is wrong than what might be right. We need to learn how to do the “what would be better” conversation. IOs it that we look smart if we are critical and naive if we are positive?
This can be fairly short because most of us are fairly well informed and understand that climate is already changing and automation is a threat and governance is not working. What is missing in our thinking and crucially important is the culture which makes things worth the time. Understanding where we are includes understanding the origin and impact of more objective thinking.
“As leading green economists Peter Victor and Tim Jackson have shown,31 the rapid reductions in overall ecological footprint that we need in order to live as if we only had one planet are not compatible, according to our best models, with any net-economic-growth-paths at all.”
Excerpt From: Rupert Read. “This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the End of Empire - and What Lies Beyond.” Apple Books.
Facts to enlighten us and set the stage for what to do.
Temperatures around the world are rising, in all places, and all seasons.
More water is pulled from the earth and returns as stronger storms.
Species are in decline
The economy is brutalizing some to maintain the lifestyle of the rest. This is true for plants and animals, especially farm animals, as well as brutalizing humans.
Strong current policy proposals: use less energy, eat less meat, fly fewer miles, don’t quite add up to what is needed.
Old land use divided the world into parcels that no longer fit needs or desires.
Young people are confused about school, career, and children.
We are increasingly aware of the extent and fragility of systems.
Caring for each other depends on the culture - the ethos - we live in.
Yet part of where we are is that nothing is happening. That is, clarity about climate existed many years ago and we haven't done much. To take one example, Theodore Roszak in his then popular book The Voice of the Earth wrote in about 1990, “today we have reports of ozone depletion, toxic waste and the greenhouse effect.” co2 releasef in to the atmosphere is increasing and the prognosis for plastics is that there will be much more.
We have used our talent to make a civilization out of our dependence on oil and coal, and encouraged population growth for more soldiers, more workers, and more consumers. We seem locked in because there is no way to stop burning that coal and oil, because it is - so far - necessary for generating electricity running cars, fertilizing fields, moving stuff around, in a crowded hungry world. What we are doing however while knowing the facts, not acting as if they were true. We have become fragmented and lack leverage to change anything and choose to just hold on. We are supposed to be a democracy and a democracy responds to the needs of the people. But we have representative democracy where we get to vote, not on issues that concern us , but for candidates the system of nominations presents to us as choices. It isn’t working. The news channels, owned almost exclusively by a few large corporations, seem to provide “news” but many themes are just left out as editors understand what the bosses want and don’t want. Much of it is unsaid and guessed at. (see Michael e. Mann’s The New Climate War)
We are so used to having the media think for us with concepts like “per capita GDP” but as you know, one rich person can make the average go up while everyone else is going down.As we look at the state of the world and its civilizations, avoid thinking in terms of averages. People don’t live in averages.
It is much easier to see where we are on the material plane because material things are present to the senses - sight, touch hearing, smells even. But the more important part of where we are, culture, is invisible and has to be inferred from the way the material things are handled. This is crucially important for thinking about the future because, under the pressure of cascading events, there is likely to be a major shift in the way people treat each other and things. The shift from the christian culture of Europe to the market and merchant culture and on to colonization to globalization driven by the flow of money is the depth of change we should anticipate, maybe even in some ways welcome. The breakup of the monasteries and the craft guilds as the major centers of production in the later christian centuries, and the shift to markets and merchants and labor is massive. I doubt that a person living in one epoch could easily adapt to living in the other.
Where are we should include a discussion of systems of belief, feeling for the texture of reality, and the arguments it makes us likely to embrace or resist. 1
We might have continued on in a more slow egalitarian and thoughtful path without the discovery of oil, the dark invisible matter under ground. The world was kind of OK2 before the discovery of coal and its marriage to steam and heating houses in cold winters.
here we are is also on a planet that is not stabile, but has been through many cold and hot spells, with major shifts in atmosphere, occasionally hit by large asteroids and even enduring flips in the magnetic orientation of north and south, and the slow motion collision of tectonic plates. What would it be doing if not for human activity, and what does human activity add to it, and then, what should we do?
We know there are going to be major effects but we don’t know enough about their distribution in space and time. It is for this reason that a major piece of guidance coming from Gardenworld is, whatever else, build for flexibility, redundancy and mind changing.
Our current world has developed complexity that is not being well managed, maybe not even managed at all. Population, institutions, corruption, a struggling musical chairs middle class, militarism This is the core of where we are. But there is more we need to be conscious of.
If the French Revolution had …
If Christianity had …
If slavery hadn’t …
If native people had been appreciated …
The French Revolution was the hurried continuation of the emergence of individual rights and concern for workers , but the revolution is threatening those who held and still hold great wealth. The revolution turned bloody and abstract, and we got Napoleon. Christianity started the guild movement and had a sense of rights and humanity of workers, but lost the initiative by focusing on its own bureaucracy and organization. It would have been a more globalizing and less nation based culture. Slavery financed the industrial revolution, but leaving a huge wound, still bleeding. Native people knew how to sustain the land and grew healthy people, till Europe brought smallpox that killed a hundred million.
But here we are. Most of us clothed housed and fed, but storm clouds keep passing and we don’t ask where they came from nor whose community they will dump on. The long aftermath of the treaty of Westphalia, which established nation states to stop wars, set the conditions for new ones.
Climate is turning warmer - in some cases hotter - agricultural land is threatened as are the fish in the sea and the coming North of southern species, algae , jelly fish, tropical diseases, will require new ways of living to meet new concerns. Safety is less guaranteed.
I highly recommend reading Andreas Malm’s Fossil Capital_ The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming. And his The Progress of this Storm. Also Uninhabitable Earth by David-Wallace-Wells. By comparison, efforts underway or proposed are extremely weak though the number of test projects andinventions under way is a hopeful sign. But so far, taken together they do not yet scale to full fledged adequate solutions. There is an effort by a few corporations and government to shift to non fossil fuel substitutes, but the numbers are huge - maybe out of reach. Think of how many solar panels would be needed to capture say fifty percent of society’s energy use! Just manufacturing those panels would have intense environmental impact - mining material, heat for manufacturing, transportation of raw and finished materials from mine to factory to installation. Some of this activity is altruistic, some profit seeking, some pernicious, but the secondary consequences are not bing thought through. The most previous are the many articles that propose some kind of energy change without entering imaginatively into the lives of those doing - or being forced - to change.. We need to recall that the big oil companies knew use of oil would lead to increase in warming - but they hid it, ran campaigns against it, paid off congress people.
We are not educated by government nor corporations nor media to grasp the scope of seven billion people living on the edge. But yet the general population is fairly well informed. seem to be passive, even stupid, but not because they are not smart or thinking it through, but because they cannot imagine possible solutions that would leave their lives more or less intact. People are appalled by the lack of leadership. What is striking so far is the limited range of thinking by the younger leaders that are emerging. Problems are intertwined, wicked, having to be lived through since they can’t be solved. But the younger leaders (got to start somewhere) seem to not speak to the complexities. Especially the problem of disruptions.This is where government and corporations fail to reach the level of adequate global management - neither in fact nor in aspiration. Those close to the top suffer from the same hesitancy - why say anything if you have no idea of what to actually do that would be adequate to the problem?
We lack imagination about the simplest like the effects of Burning the gas from one car gas tank is about 300 lbs (300!) of CO2 put into the air. And then we have some billion vehicles. We do have a fairly corrupted business community seeking advantage at the obvious cost to the rest. The corporations have done their best to keep us immobilized. But things are afoot and we don’t notice. Many people have traded their home with its community for an apartment with an iPhone, paying rent to anonymous landlords. They didn’t chose this, but increased housing costs led to a slow migration to the new conditions.
We now have a chess board of complex gaming for life where we used to see a simpler checkerboard. The simpler game of going to school, getting a job, having a family has turned to the much more complicated game of near daily re-contracting for work, place to live, how to spend time, and who with.
Half the population in the US live alone. We have a generation - those between 60 and 80 (or more) the majority that has no savings (only have of those have social security) and is retiring or being fired into an increasingly expensive world.
The landscape of homelessness is increasing. But most of the land is in protected private property and empty. The increasing homeless are confined to interstices between the freeways, downtowns and the railroad tracks.
Christianity as love of neighbor, or at least felt compassion, seems nostalgically gone. The christian community yearns for a bygone simplicity of life, property and security that never existed - and was never part of the christian vision . Somehow ww1, ww 2. The cold war, nuclear threat - conveniently forgotten. Most people fell for the opportunities of local advantage, ignoring those who are ghettoized, incarcerated, or rich. But local advantage worked for a minority of the population, those with good schooling, help from parents, good connections, and lets face it, luck of health, employment and spouse, while we thought it worked for most.
&[ do i wan to add robeer kagan’s view of auocratic regmies and liberal..]
Technology is certainly a big part of the present. But as prices have doubled (say for a washing machine or refrigerator), incomes for most of the population have stayed constant and the number of disemployed has steady increased. There are costs to being a participant in society that make living at the lower end harder. Children need a lap top, commuting distances are further, and the result is the cash a family has available is less than it used to be.
Debt is weird. People are aware of being in debt but not aware that what they pay goes to the rich. The national debt is also for many rich a natural resource, a constantly flowing stream of wealth protected by the military and the police. Among people I know, owning a house (a second house often) that is rented and the rent pays the mortgage, tax and insurance is common. But note, at the end the owner owns the house and the renter is back paying rent.
This is just one part of a very complicated pattern of paying and receiving, that is part of the governance and stability of society. But it is not working. On a typical day internet mail is passed along that offers opportunities for tech companies to get an advantage (“Use of AI to support innovation”, for example. ) But at the obvious, if you think about it, cost to the rest of humanity. The email supports small group advantage rather than societal progress.
Part of what is at stake here is the need for stability in society, with stable roles around assets: neighborhoods, life style. People need to know where they are when they go to bed and where they will be when they wake up.
To create that stability, how much does a society need an educated elite? If so how are they to be educated and how rewarded? Elites may be necessary, but they then take over the development of the planet for their own benefit. But their efforts to respond are undermined and thwarted by counter proposals. Instead of focus we might get dispersion, fragmentation. More, does a society need a belief system that can hold them together? The towns that were dominated (graced) by a church steeple. Is something like civic architecture based on belief needed?
We talk of the right to private property as a key part of the modern state, but that actually was quite recent. Kings owned the whole society. The ownership of property is the result of struggle, competition, cheating, luck. And the result treated a right. But what a strange thing for a society that treats a right as ok to be owned by some and not others. This requires some deep rethinking as we move toward a different future. Very ew of us will be content to have strangers move in with us because there is nowhere else for them to go. climate breakdown, natural and industry induced, has social implications in the way the environment supports where people live, how they are to eat, their morale, and culture. climate breakdown will produce migrations and threaten existing relationships. Rethinking land use is in our future and we should see it as an opportunity. I suspect that land use is one of the key issues for the future, driven by new population, climate breakdown, and changing sources of energy trending toward local energy production – which requires land for solar or biofuels. The Democratic and Republican leadership never mention this issue. Even “housing” goes unmentioned. The threat is so high and the fallout likely to be so extreme, but the living conditions for the lower half of the population are increasingly expensive, and there will be consequences. The hope in the “climate breakdown” debate is that technical and regulatory solutions will emerge – and we will not have to do anything. But the reality is that increased population and climate breakdown, will force the need for action. We need solutions.
The promise of a better life after WW2 has not been realized. Progress for all turned into a privilege for ever fewer in a great game of musical chairs. The image of the future and the promise of progress have languished, under the pressures to adapt to “modernism”, through a failure of imagination, leadership, and resources. Both major political parties are stuck. Political attitudes are a way of saying “no” to the whole system when “no” is not something people can vote for. Is the apparent turning toward religion a way of saying “no”?
There exists a political agenda that 80% would agree to. Not an agenda of mere platitudes, but deep, dealing with real issues. It requires mixing a new business climate with environmental rigor and using health and education as enablers. At the simplest, simply turning downward the rising curves of inequality and environmental degradation would be sufficient for a vast increase in hope.
The merry-go-round economy,
working for those who are in it,
but marginalizes those who are not.
This book is based on the core idea that we have lost a public vision of the future. Democracy and technology no longer seem to reliably mobilize hope, but, increasingly, fear. And yet a direction already exists in the minds of most people, and they would embrace it if it were offered by the political leaders. The desires for a nicer home, a more livable community, more attractive vacations, nicer schools, more attractive places to work. TV ads for cars tell the story. So many are pictures of the car going too fast and almost out of control - our present life - while the world we desire is portrayed in raw nature without others or even structures. These hopes and images dominate consumer advertising but with no responsibility, just , to break out of the constraints over built high control modern environments.
The tendency is to think the economy is the dominant factor in our lives, but the economy and economics are determined in large part to what is happening in society: capitalism, class divides, gender anger, Look at the sequence from the breakup of the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of Christianity and feudalism, the French Revolution, Colonialism, WW1, the depression, WW2. The cold war and now, coping with a fractured polluted environment and a large human population. The transitions are powerful and while dangerous yet driven by hope. The growth paradigm is near finished. Can it revive with a deeply greening strategy? The question is difficult because we might shift from material growth to a designed growth which is no longer so extractive of wealth from the earth, land and people.. “We can have growth without development and development without growth” wrote Aristotle. That second idea is shocking, and gives a serious nudge to rethink the meaning of growth and development.
This book is about that possibility. I want this to be an invitation to your participation in the extraordinary task of making a civilization that provides quality of life for all.we have been very smart about seizing opportunities but those opportunities have turned out usually to work for some against the interests of others. We have not been smart about the consequences of what we do. The beautiful challenge is to put together the planet and humanity in an attractive and working project. driven by necessity, pulled forward by its compelling attractiveness. We need a sense of the future which builds on all the worlds best thinking. This means calling each of us to the respect for human life in the world's religions and respect for the world in the exploratory curious and constructive sciences.
Climate, ecology, automation, wars, motivations. We face rough time. Apocalypse for many is not something coming, it is here. The transition will be disruptive of how we work, where we live, snd if we are not successful also huge disruptions and uncertain future.
If we are unsuccessful huge changed will be imposed on us.
If we are successful, Huge changes will be necessary, implemented by us.
Private property in land used to exist in the context of public spaces, national parks, local civic centers, sidewalks, country roads used to lead past fields no one complained if you walked on or picnicked on. . The cost now of entering a “public” park is a real cut to the life possibilities of ordinary people who cannot afford the cost. Same with the art museums that in my youth were free and now maybe $25. In catholic countries the poorest person had the right to enter the cathedrals and experience the high end of the art, sculpture, music and architecture of civilization. Today, in most places, no such access exists.
Where are we? Too many exponential curves driven by profit seeking. Capitalist organization of ownership and decision making is an extension of earliest humans reliance on the strong man alpha male. The unfinished French Revolution through reason is still in part in the service of human development through education, but elites are striving for restoration of feudalism.
It is important to know the history of gardens, farming, agriculture (they are not the same.) The struggle for urban population to force farmers to a smaller reward has been long standing. As a result farming life has been hard. Gardenworld is based on the hope that the need for food, especially locally produced, will lead to fairness and real cooperation.
This is the context - sketchy for sure, there are so many possible narratives - of where we are as we face climate breakdown and hope for a good outcome, the tentative place holder being GardenWorld, the essential blending of greening with civilization.
1 Highly recommend Jeremy Lent, Patterning Instinct, for a vigorous straightforward history of these issues.
2 see Malm, Andreas, Fossil Capital.
We have built a society where owning things is more important than having relationships. What is in play for Gardenworld (or any alternative) is the development of an attractive civilization and your own personal development as a thinking feeling reflective healthy person. Can caring, art, love, curiosity, appreciation replace “mine”, fences, door locks, anger, addictions? We must try.
One way to see the current situation i htween fine arts and commercial art, with pop in between.
The society of the spectacle.
A growing population combined with the fragmentation of cultures has produced the incoherence and lack of belief that characterizes our decades. Few people have taken in the innovations of this culture, Picasso Stravinsky, Proust, Joyce, Frank Lloyd Wright - but they have taken in much of the material side of the modern with its mass produced plastic metal and glass. But even this it is class based: skyscrapers, jet travel ( about 10% of the world population has flown) . The modern as a culture and society is a very complex interweaving of tech and culture and expanding population and new media, but weak on human feeling. The political attempt at democracy we have seems way too weak to govern such complexity, and old hierarchies holding on are preventing the innovations and imagination we need. The result is a breakout of irrationality that builds on human feelings without coherence of a culture. The emergence of science with its abstraction and its focus only on “truths” which hold for all time missed the emotional and the individual (only universal cases mattered to science) we got the rise of romanticism, and with it regressive politics of strength, violence and nationalisms.
The modern, as a replacement for the medieval christianity that broke down with wars, population and the reformation, is not an adequate culture. It leaves people too anxious, too competitive (meaning making losers of others).
Modern has already, in some parts of culture, turned to post modern and beyond to trans-human. We see what happens when all thinking is technical in style and method, and we are not teaching about the humans to which tools are attached. There is little doubt that the future will keep some aspects of the modern even as the movement is away from modern being the central image of the future. Post modern so far seems to be lean and a bit mean, but ore interest in relationships and caring seems to be emerging. We have too many children who cannot draw nor feel in their hands any music making beyond button pushing. Human relationships require a development of the sensuous, a feeling for texture and the body.
The Modern is peculiar.
(Tate modern Gallery)
Swirling and interesting as if organic but cold as dry ice. To touch, the marble and the railing are cold and the feeling is one of potential falling. Attractive, interesting, but devoid of human feeling or care. Note how few people, no place to sit
We Westerners (the Chinese equivalent is easy to find) have been convinced that our our superiority is the leading edge of an ever-expanding destiny. In the West that means in science, technology and abundance. In China it means longevity and coherence of the culture. Most cultures believe social life to be circular - what goes up comes down.
Modernity is dependent on fossil fuels. The quantity is almost unimaginable. A trillion tons of co2 each day. A car driven on a tank of gas adds almost a ton of CO2 just by itself - one car? And we drive the freeway looking at the long stream coming toward us - and fail to imagine this weird use of energy.
But we long prepared for it, using black slaves the way we use black oil. Then facts of slavery are terrifying to anyone who looks. Slavery was the machine of British wealth and empire. Slavery profits financed much of the industrial revolution.
An over-reliance first on slavery, then coal, then on oil, “fueling” population increase. Populations breed till they come up against the limits of their food supply, currently dependent on oil for transportation, mechanization, and fertilizer. We are reaching limits, dependent on the tech mix and social organizations we use (building tract homes on the best agricultural land is not smart.). Humanity on the surface of the earth did fairly well, then coal and oil discovered, and humanity expanded to fit the new sources. Using that coal and oil under the earth led to our population and material increase on the surface, now finished. Not because we have used it up but because what was mined and pumped was burned into the atmosphere and the whole hiden world of fossil fuels under the earth is now surrounding us in the air near. This sets up crucial conditions for why we need Gardenworld. We are being killed by the ghosts of past carbonozed lives.
To show more of the complexity ( a major theme in Gardenworld is that we have lots to learn from the details of actual lived lives in the past), a long quote.
Iconologia, overo descritione dell’immagini universali, an influential encyclopaedic repertoire of human images personifying abstract concepts, composed by the Perugian academic Cesare Ripa as an aid to artists and printed in Rome in 1593, had no image for Economy.1 Only in the revised 1603 edition, consulted by Jan Vermeer and the artisans decorating Versailles, was Economy offered: a ‘matron of venerable mien, crowned in olive leaves, holding in her left hand a compass, and in her right hand a wand, and having by her side a rudder’. This, Ripa advised, was her aspect ‘for the happiness of common political life requires the union of many families, which live under shared laws and with them govern themselves’. And since ‘for each family to support itself with proper decorum, it needs laws that are more specific and limited than universal [laws]’, the ‘private order of family government is passed on to us in a word that comes from the Greeks – Economy’. The literally familiar dimension of the word-concept oikonomìa induced Riva to suggest that artists who might wish to represent it should elaborate the profile of a mother ‘with the wand signifying the authority the householder has over servants and the rudder signifying the care and guidance a father must exercise over his children’. The olive-leaf chaplet with which the woman was crowned further showed that ‘the good Economist must of necessity keep the peace in her home. The compass marks how much each person must measure his forces and, govern himself accordingly, in spending as in other things, to support his family and perpetuate it through careful [management].’ Guidance, consensus, measure: these were the characteristics of all good economy and, in virtue of this, ‘it is to be pictured as a matron, almost as if that were the age most apt for the government of the household, because of the experience she has of worldly things’.1
What is noteworthy here is the centrality of well lived personal lives summing up to an economy. We have replaced this focus with the market and finance. I highly recommend reading his chapter 6, including the footnotes.
Science is the weak leading edge of our expectations for the future. But what is science? We can treat it as a social institution that evolves according to its own criteria. But science has since Francis Bacon been an instrument of the state, of ambition, of power. It is skewed in method toward a focus on the eternal, downplaying the individual, the unique, the personal. In this way it is much more political than usually thought.
I like the view that science is a phase in the history of art that came into prominence as artists thought more about chemistry of the material for making art: dyes, bronze casting, pigments and binders. Science, as organized curiosity, is one of the great humanities.
The role science played in the evolution of economics is a study in shifting source of power in society, from agriculture, land and tax to craft, trade and finance. Quantity and calculation rather than understanding. Why did this happen? Great culture is human centered with recognition of the larger sense of space and time. Weak cultures are struggling with the conflicts of the moment with focus on the technocratic. In our time this come down to a struggle to mechanize the world2 or thrive in it.Take as an example, a computer playing chess (or go). When it “wins” it has no experience of winning. Humans play to experience the drama of playing. Not the computer, which has no experience of playing. It dies not knowing that it won. It is impossible to imaging a computer saying “that is disgusting” other than by a release of pre-pgogammed text the computer would have no experience of having said.
For economics this comes down to data sets that can be put in mathematical form: differential equations or matrix algebra. Science has taken the view that things that can be made into “laws” are worthy of science. Unique events not so. This is political because it implies that he economy should be left alone to equilibrate, avoiding interference by the state and the rest of society.
Mary is standing by herself on the living-room floor. Newton’s f=ma tells us how much she weighs. But Mary sees Jane’s dropped handkerchief, which suggests a drama. Economics deals with things like the first but ignores (as unscientific) things like the second. Bt real life, including economic life, is vastly more made up of events like the second. This is important for climate breakdown discussions. Economics talks easily about shifting energy source from fossil to wind and solar but does not discuss how Harry will need to get rid of the family’s gas heater an replace it with electric. Who pays? How many such heaters have to be made? How long will it take?
If science was interested in the world it would explore both kinds of events. In that sense science is not scientific but ideological.
Tech is the extension of the human body and mind - this is conventional hope. Tech is also is the suppressor of the human body and mind. War, prisons, invading technologies which make us passive. Surveillance moves people to remain in conformity. Amazon is moving toward sending me books it thinks I may want and I can send them back no charge if I don’t. Googel knows who I will vote for , or should vote for, before I do. When will someone just suggest that Google actually vote for me, since it knows better than I do which candidate favors my interests?
Here is a fantasy. You get a note from your iPhone this afternoon reminding you of a meeting you have in two days. The note says a driverless Uber will pick you up at 1 in the afternoon, conveniently after lunch, to take you to the meeting. (Place unspecified click for more information). Also here are attached two papers you should read before you arrive you will be expected to comment on. In two days, after some more messages, the car is in front of your house and shortly you arrive at the meeting in a place you have never been (click for more information). You walk into the meeting - all formalities handled by your iPhone and electronic badge. You listen, are invited to make a few comments, and get a message on your phone “A driverless Lyft will pick you up at and take you to a hotel because at commute time traffic would take too long to drive you home. We have arranged for dinner at 7 and arranged a date for you. Have a good evening Your loyal Everywhere Concierge.” The next morning picked up and driven home.
Very convenient, but you were never engaged as a person, yet armies of young are working to make this a reality.
Tech is complicated. We have never been able to figure out how to integrate it with democracy. We did not get to vote on cigarettes, TV, nor cars but these are market rather than democratic procedures for making social decisions, one dollar one vote. Advertising replaces conversation.
The earliest compounds - walls around a collection of huts- wee long considered means for keeping others out, to avoid their stealing crops, cattle, woman and children. It turns out those walls were to keep prisoners in and early humans fought hard to stay outside. Inside was a loss of diet, freedom to move, slave labor (how much of modern society is like this?)
In the flow of technology and power, money and status, in a bath of fear and insecurity, empires clashed and millions died in the 20th century. It is hard to recall the scale of those events, given that contemporary events, such as Iraq, Grenada, Afghanistan, are so much smaller in scale, and even Katrina was small in comparison to the great wars of the last century. But huge movements are afoot today, stalking in like Eliot’s London fogs. The flow of digitalized property, dominance of financial institutions, people pushed off the land, and the promises of new bio and nanotechnology are flooding our old expectations. Space, time and life are redefined. Not what they are, but what we do with them.
Obvious tech will be a major part of a successful GardenWorld, but how? I take as a model the career of Fredrick Law Olmsted who used parks in Boston, New York, and others as the liver and kidneys and lungs of the cities that surrounded his parks. He used the capacity of nature to clean the environment. But he also enhanced the beauty of each project and made it a real extension of the quality of life of the people. Try to imagine Manhattan without Central Park.
If we think of Olmsted's approach to the aesthetics of the land and its use of the technology of his decades, we now face many more choices. We have probably overused cars and roads, but autonomous cars widely owned may reverse this in interesting ways. Air traffic is out of control and greener fuel use not yet obviously achievable.
But there are many other parts of tech in GardenWorld. The Internet will allow, among other things not so terrific, the sharing of best practices across decentralized communities. Humanity is much more aware of innovation and imagination in all things, and this is being applied to an increasing range of organic practice, in food production and decorative gardens. Standard agricultural and landscape practices are going to be vigorously modified.
The human species is successful, to the point of outdoing itself. We are in a terrible balance between the technologies of living and the technologies of war, and between tech that serves special interests and what serves the general good. GardenWorld is aimed at creating the conditions for a better balance, with much less war, and a meaningful approach to population and climate. Which means being smart about energy and agriculture, water and pollution. Technology is not going away and it will either be used to further centralize power and authority or to help open it up, as in the promise of the Internet and be a major part of GardenWorld. This chapter is not going to be a Whole Earth Catalogue of potential GardenWorld technologies, but a framing for essential tech choices in the context of politics, economics, and human nature. It is obvious that tech and community are in many ways almost the same topic. because no tech will take hold unless it is attractive to actual humans with their desires and ideas, their culture and image of life.
Integration of humans and nature
Tech has evolved rapidly, in a process probably still accelerating. In this context, tech has taken the role of religion, a belief in an all-powerful force that can save us. On the extreme, we have writings like Brian Arthur’s 2009. The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves. and Kevin Kelly’s 2010 What Technology Wants. Both look at technology as evolving without human participation, as if parts of tech automatically unite. Obviously, this cannot happen unless humans see the potential of a new combination of technologies, and that means a better understanding of what is on the minds of those humans. The Aztecs had wheeled chariots as toys for kids but did not make adult models for work. Why? because humans would rather fit in than innovate.
But “fitting in” is not just a blind reaction to circumstances. It is feeling good about belonging by getting in step with the dance of one’s civilization. It is conversation, rhythms of work and the day, it is relationships in all their complexity. Those who choose to innovate in the traditional world are doing something quite strange and Of course, serious innovation did not appear until quite late, perhaps the 13th century. The innovator’s world is often lonely and, as a social mechanism, relies on the single inventor and the small market that is attracted. Innovation makes small moves that are isolated from the rest of society, and society becomes an ensemble of such small moves. Anything like democracy doesn’t apply to the paths that emerge. “One dollar one vote,” goes the logic, but the outcome can be a random walk away from the centrality of human concerns, starting with survivability - witness climate breakdown through fossil fuels - and the resulting system is a hodge-podge of incommensurate pieces and fragile to shock and maintenance problems.
The cleverness of innovation is not a high priority for most people in a society. A small percentage enter into the financing, the banks and venture capitalists and a very small percentage are producing the actual innovation, motivated usually by money. The broader society is indifferent, just trying to live their life with a desire for a background of stability. Advertising enters in as an industry trying to link innovation to customers an take their cut from the money flow. Though it must be said that retirement funds are dependent on that financial activity, which makes a large part of the population complicit in the necessity for growth. How much pension funds can live on dividends and not on "growth" is a good question.
The drive for innovation probably only becomes a strong motivator when the innovator is in some state of alienation from society. To get the best of society and innovation aligned we need a heightened awareness of the purpose of innovation beyond ego and money.
What we need is a commitment to reworking the integration of nature and humans and then the technology that will be needed to support that integration will be more obvious.
But we do not have a good vocabulary for that integration. Even the words fail us. Just as “law” is used in most cultures for both the basis for the legal system and the regularities of nature, we are facing ideology masked as words. Nature, human, human nature… They don’t get at what we want, which is a recognition that human nature is part of nature but not reducible to a mechanical view of what nature is: that who we are is profoundly interrelated, with air, water, soil, geography, love, literature, and meanings. Think of Jarrad Diamond’s Guns, Germs, Steel, showing how human fate and large geographical features are defining for human possibilities.
Our ability to be reflective, relatively underdeveloped or at least underutilized, gives us the capacity to play out the integration in a way faithful to both. Surely the better human is in better connection to the environment inside and out, body and earth. Our thoughts are supported by our body which is supported by the environment, which is affected by what we do. It is a complex circle from the environment through our body and mind and back.
GardenWorld is not an anti-technology project. There are too many of us, and it is too late. We need the smart use of technology in all forms: biotech and nanotech at the lead, with an Internet infrastructure. Most of us have hoped that the Internet would be an infrastructure for democracy allowing us to take place seriously without giving up the cosmopolitan world of serious interaction with other people and societies. But we also have our worries. One danger of the Internet is that it encourages democracy for all online, but may support a political and economic process that leads to democracy for none in the real world of jobs, land, food, energy, security, and services.
The standard alignment of technology with “progress” is unfortunate. Progress is highly aligned with growth for the sake of profit. It is a smokescreen for hiding the social costs of change, change that often leads to wars, pollution, and the trashing of communities. The processes of change really are supported and encouraged by a small part of the population. This argument is hard here because most of the readers of this book are in that minority, a minority that makes its living through inventing, implementing, selling and maintaining change.
The idea of progress, with its thrust toward the future, makes all "present” less interesting, discountable. Reproducing the present is not a project of much good for those who live by growth alone.
Aristotle wrote, "we can have growth without development (adding water to wine) and we can have development without growth." The better picture might be, not progress, but selection. How do we select from what we have what we really want, and make more of it? It might be leisure, art, relationships and thinking about the meaning of life and our own contribution to it. If we could free up technology from “progress” we could use it to enhance life, not replace it.
Part of this is the political question of who decides and who benefits. Elites have always used tech to control and exploit the population, win wars and look good. This will not go away but it is open to pressure, including revolts, to rebalance.
The issue of balancing so that the environment and humans both survive – and thrive – will require smart design and lots of tolerance in policymaking. Bucky Fuller once wrote "we have the planet and a few billion people. Putting them together is just a design problem." But it will require us to be smarter than maybe we can be. Over-reliance on protecting old structures will get in the way of needed experimentation. Yet the old often contains unrealized possibilities. Needed change requires the full participation of the old and new, rich and poor, grassroots and abstract thinking, and the promise could be cut short by authoritarian dominance. The great spoiler of our better future would be increasing polarization of what has been often called the haves and have nots, but really are the over consumers and the under consumers. The difference, if we are honest, is based on circumstances of birth and access to paths of “advancement” in the current arrangement. We need a new arrangement. The technology issues get at the core of the existential questions: who we are, what we can do with our lives that make sense. Narrow technical/financial choices are to be avoided.
Tech has always been encouraged and chosen by elites to enhance their grip on things and milk wealth from the epoch.
The social contract that ties us all together is broken. Elites needed woerkers in agricultural and industrial society, , but maybe no longer. If we are to survive, nature and the humans need to be worked together, with their dignity enhanced, in mutual respect and perhaps even love.
“When Heaven and earth are united down comes sweet dew.”(Lao Tzu chapter 32).
Humanity and technology are intrinsically bound together. Early technologies are easy to forget – language, song, fire, pottery, weaving. Much was copied from the observation of other species – how they hunt, dwell, organize, decorate themselves. Our current advanced technologies are easily seen as extensions and elaborations on much earlier technologies. Internet and voice over smoke signals, rocket launchers, and slingshots, cars, and horses: roads are still roads, after many millennia.
The choice of war and power
The use of technology to enhance daily life is often overshadowed by war and power, profit instead of community. Humanity is in a crude balance between the technologies of life and the technologies of war. The result is not going well. New technologies have continually upset the balance and the deciding factor is: who gets to make the choices? Our dependence on oil has invaded a previous society of villages and craft and farms and fundamentally changed its character at just about every point. Moreover, it created a new ensemble of corporations that, through their owners and regulations, have a powerful determining effect on what our future course can be. As that industry and all who make a living from it is threatened we find they are fighting with everything in their power to maintain their economic dominance. As a shell executive said when asked by a reporter about green technologies, “When the new green industries are mature we will buy them.”
The general public view is that such use of tech and money is responsive to threats, but there is another uglier side. War can be used to burn cash that otherwise would have been available for social good - education, health, greening.
Technology and finance
Another threat to technologies that can support GardenWorld is the financial community. Finance was created as the mechanism to make capital in the social system available for projects. In fact, it was created by people who held previous profit as capital and wanted to make more with it. The story of capital funding projects for the population that desired goods is belied by the history that says early finance was mobilized to lend money to Kings for national wars. Yet the system more or less worked. Interesting patterns of public belief and realistic conditions in the world led to cycles and depressions and then new euphorias.
In 2007 financial services were on the order of twenty percent of the entire US business, activity crudely summed into GDP, way too much, making finance not a service to economic activity but a core piece of economic activity itself.
But worse, over forty percent of all profit in the US economy went to finance. Its participation at 20% yielded 40%. As finance led corporations to be downsized, divided, arbitraged, merged – all so fees can be made on the transactions and a percentage of the extracted “savings”, as those responsible for the future of the corporation, innovation labs, and marketing, are reduced and productivity, the amount produced per worker, increases. Carlotta Perez, the Brazilian economist, has eloquently analyzed how such a diversion of profit from the productive ground means that less money is available for investment in new tech. She has suggested rather strongly that the promise of, for example, computerization, moving from broad adoption to ubiquitous computing, has just begun, but cannot be realized without much more capital investment, capital which is not available because it is off bubble making elsewhere in the economy, or invested in private islands and safe enclaves.
Technology is deeply “owned” by money. And the partnership continues with the problems of climate breakdown and global systems collapse. In tech circles, much recent discussion is on the ability to bubble the green. In an example, I know an engineer had a very clever technique for distribution of a green product. He went to the bank with a business plan and asked for ten million. The bank said “too small.” Our hero went home, scratched his head, did some more numbers (they are very plastic actually, despite the reputation for exactness), and came back and asked for a hundred million, and got it. 2.5 million went to legal fees and a couple of percentage points up front for bank fees. The whole deal depends on the continued existence of some fairly obscure federal subsidies. If they disappear, the project fails. But the actors don’t care. The bank, the lawyers, and the borrower all were paid off.
The problem is, this kind of operation continues the process of making the rich richer without much work (having become rich the game is to lend money) and helps continue the bad distribution of wealth in society. In this transaction, technology is seen not as a way to solve social problems, but as a way to make money. The balance (never 100 % either way) shifts between product focus and deal focus.
My understanding is that this use of technology, helping put the society at risk in terms of wealth, is giving it a bad name. People are not happy with much current use of technology. Technology advocates, in fact, seem unaware of the negative consequences most non-technologists have a feel for. The obvious, Hiroshima, Chernobyl, thalidomide, pollution, climate breakdown, and turning to the dominance of finance based on computerization.
This gets crucial as we consider earth crises including climate breakdown. The sustainable future, given the size of the population and dependence on tech, has to be a high tech future, especially using nano-tech and biotech in combination with small local craft production. This is a new world, and it can be an attractive one, but if technology is seen as self-serving of financial interests, the willingness of the public to support
There is no question but what rethinking tech and society is underway. I have long admired the mayor and now ex-mayor of Bogata, Enrique Peñalosa, who exhibits humanity and imagination as he forthrightly questions the role of the automobile (“auto” implies it goes by itself- better to call it the oil-mobile).
Man With a Plan Interview by Deborah Solomon
Q: As a former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world.
A. What is the first thing you tell them? In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality.
I wouldn’t think that sidewalks are a top priority in developing countries. The last priority. Because the priority is to make highways and roads. We are designing cities for cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Not for people. Cars are a very recent invention. The 20th century was a horrible detour in the evolution of the human habitat. We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness.
The question of the control of technology has been around for a long time. What is often missed is that the problem is not the tech but those who invest to develop it in ways that are self rather than socially serving. Technology is part of a solution to a real problem. Writers like Erik Erikson and Erich Fromm shared a belief that humans have the instinctual energy of animals, but not the instinctive hardwired solutions animals are born with. For humans a rigid pattern of inheritance of the well adapted animals gets replaced with open-ended culture: beliefs, habits and technology, Culture becomes the “second nature” that provides us humans with a way to live, work, and mate. Obviously, technology, from pottery and speech to the Internet and genetics, forms the core of our “second nature” capacity. But the underlying emotional integrity, the integrity of the instinctual, remains intact, despite whatever technologies emerge. Mood and mind-altering drugs can only play on the chromatic spectrum of feelings given by our inheritance. Genetic modification, by playing with our DNA, and all efforts so far are for profit, is the new mouse in the inkwell of the human story.
GardenWorld raises the technology issue to one of policy and choice – what kind of world do we want our efforts to work toward? The more open culture of GardenWorld should support our rethinking the mix, development priorities and ownership of technologies. My hope is that shifting social awareness toward GardenWorld will lead to market corrections and make much of this happen without much interference. Simply removing existing subsidies on old technologies would do a great deal, though it is increasingly realized that these may not be enough to move us toward graceful sustainability. Part of the reason why such changes are not enough is that those “old technologies” and “existing subsidies” are a very complex web of interwoven institutional arrangements that are getting in the way of technical innovation for human good.
Freeman Dyson argues persuasively that three facts will take us toward a new green civilization: solar energy, which is vastly distributed; genomic innovations which can create crops that otherwise could not grow; and the Internet which connect everyone and make knowledge of solar distribution and genomic innovations more widely available, because of access to power and money, less meaningful. Being in the flow of relevant information and sense of participating in the leading edge of the culture(s), have the power to create a better future through the widespread distribution of the knowledge.
This optimistic view has to be seen in the context of the difficulty of governing society. Dyson does not touch on this issue. The tendency is toward centralization of wealth and power through the use of technology. How inevitable is this? Are we locked into a move towards soft fascism, or is open more democray still a real possibility? The way we use technology, and the way we make choices, will be crucial. Dyson’s argument is typical of technological enthusiasts: our solution, widely adopted, will solve the problems. But this leaves out how and by whom it will be adopted (and modified). Technical solutions are different from biological ones in that they stress survival along a few variables, such as more output of electricity. But nature looks at all the contingencies that are present in its living field. As a result biological “evolution” is much slower but more accurate than technical “evolution.” Bringing in a greater sensitivity to the full implication of a new tech, what are often called “secondary consequences”, will be very important in the future, or the population will turn against tech in destructive rage (It had happened before, from the principled Luddites to those who murdered Lavoisier).
Technology plays a central role in GardenWorld, but by using its understandings to enhance, not suppress nature. The conquest of nature, its replacement by machines and sanitized living, is the current official future. GardenWorld moves towards a balance and integration of project, design, and problem-solving, with an appreciation for the flow of the environment, the seasons, and growing. Bio-mimicry, from products to arts, extends the natural and the technical in mutually compatible ways. But this requires deep understanding and involvement with nature and technology. I have met a number of young people, say at Planetworker meetings, who have several degrees in diverse fields, say a first degree in technical and a second in ecological approaches, and they have traveled the world and worked in demanding projects in the poorer regions, inner cities, or rugged environments. They are models of what we all need to learn.
Understanding technology is one key part. The problem is for a generation that grew up with computers, games, cell phones and cars they never thought to try to repair, technology is treated as a background reality, not something man-made and political and financially managed. A project such as that of the Dutch Architectural Firm gets at the immensity of what needs to be considered.
Perhaps MVRDV’s most ambitious theoretical exercise was the traveling computer installation they called MetaCity /Datatown. Predicting that globalism and an exploding planetary population will push certain regions throughout the world into continuous urban fields, or megacities, MVRDV conceived a hypothetical city called Datatown, designed solely from extrapolations of Dutch statistics. (“It is a city that wants to be explored only as information; a city that knows no given topography, no prescribed ideology, no representation, no context. Only huge, pure data.”) According to its creators, Datatown was a self-sufficient city with the population of the United States (250 million) crammed into an area the size of Georgia (60,000 square miles), making it the densest place on earth. MVRDV then subjected this urban Frankenstein to 21 scenarios to see how they would affect the built environment: What if all the residents of Datatown wanted to live in detached houses? What if they preferred urban blocks? What could be done with the waste? (Build 561 ski resorts.) What kind of city park would be needed? (A million Central Parks stacked up over 3,884 floors.) “The seas, the oceans (rising as a result of global warming), the polar icecaps, all represent a reduction in the territory available for the megacity. Does that mean that we must colonize the Sahel, the oceans or even the moon to fulfill our need for air and space, to survive? Or can we find an intelligent way to expand the capacities of what already exists?” nytimes.com/2008/06/08/
Once we understand the dynamics of mathematics, and its appeal to the compulsive prone mind we all share, we can better understand the problem of why and how societies chose their technologies. Technologies are attractive because they imply a degree of control that is mostly illusory.
Let’s face it; technologies replace the complex with the simple. No human invention is more complex than a frog or even a blade of grass. The machine is designed to be coherent without reference to its full environment, but only to the most limited aspects necessary for its participation in some part of current society. But the frog or blade of grass is clearly part of a whole system of which the foreground and background are intimately interwoven, of seasons predators and prey.
Both technology and corporations are simplification machines, replacing complex process with simple ones in the case of tech, or taking complex outputs and reducing them to simple inputs in the case of corporations (skills and culture and raw materials in – product and profit out.)
Joseph Tainter, in his powerful 1990 book The Collapse of Complex Societies shows that those who have power misuse the technologies available to them, seeking more power and profit, seek ever more complex and expensive solutions to the next challenge facing their civilization. Civilizations collapse because the increasing costs of complexity overtake increases in productivity. The elites are the elites because they own the infrastructure of the state (as in GE, Shell, and the Carlyle Group, ConAgra and Citicorp) and, when things start looking bad, instead of trying to fix the system, they ramp up their exploitation of it, to get the cash to survive, by cutting costs, which further degrades the systems performance and capacity to innovate. Watch how those institutions are able to take the federal budget and bail themselves out, as has been happening with Bear Sterns and others.
Some argue that technologies are neutral, but almost all invention is done up with a market in mind (Or, in earlier times, to attract the support of Kings and ministers, not bakers, bricklayers nor mothers). There is a web of feedback such that as society chooses technologies, society changes, which in turn changes its priorities for new technologies. The result is not a clear causal chain but a true mess of feedbacks and resistances. A few sellers, a few buyers, and a trend can be set. Take tobacco and compare the incredible costs and the extraordinary effort that society had to take to reverse a decision made by a minority of the population as what was ceremonial in the Native American World, became big business, stimulating slavery and shipping and land settlement (The first slaves were brought to the US for tobacco farming) in the British Empire. So too for the car, the phone, and a computer. Stories of their deep penetration in the society is not a story of decisions taken either in a democratic or a more authoritarian way, but based on the small number of decisions made by critically placed people, decisions amplified by the “ah ha’s” of multitudes seeing local opportunities, such as having a car, a cigarette, or a cell phone, and avoiding thinking about systemic costs. The railroad is a good example of how an invention, improved over time, provided the opportunity, and then men with means brought together political and economic arrangements to make the railroads happen. The outcome was social good and social damage. [fn: see the wonderful exploration of the early observers of the railroads in Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden. The choice was made by the economic opportunity which engendered new economic opportunity – realistically available to only a few. i[i]
In traditional societies leaders feel themselves to be part of a culture and community, and the choices they make reflect shared tastes while also enhancing their power. The leaders and the led remain part of a coherent culture of interdependencies. Take for example the Italian hill town or city-state such as Florence. Things cohere. The leaders can see from their windows the people, the essential farmers, and potential soldiers, all those the leaders are counting on to enhance the city.
Industrialization maintained this pattern because it required workers and it required managers to hold together complex systems. Information systems weaken that connection.
Late industrialization broke apart the interdependencies of industrial owners with managers and workers – first to be noticed were the missing workers, then the disappearing managers, but they really lost out together, as we now see in the de-middle-classification of so many who used to feel quite secure. In modern times, given that the economy of capital tends to set the capitalist in the midst of his owning, choices made fit the limited sense of taste and opportunity offered to the rich: Hamptons, Paris, Resort Islands, shopping, cars, boats, clubs and spas. and this world of choice is not inclusive of the rest of the surrounding population. It is remarkable how many trophy houses do not have places to create art or otherwise experiment with aspects of culture.
The result is a continually distorted community. Cell phones on airplanes is a good example of how the balance between economic opportunity, customers and annoyed non-users will play out. Look at the way FedEx made us feel good by allowing us to look up a delivery on the Internet – saved them from having to answer the phone. Much more irritating are the many phone button choices necessary to get to a correct line and then a long wait. In these cases, corporations are passing off the costs of transactions onto the customers. Sometimes increasing but more often decreasing customer well-being.
Tolls on highways and higher plane fares play into class lines. With GPS it will be possible (London is doing this) to tax on the basis of use, but since the rich can continually move rules and incomes to their advantage, they can cover their new costs in such a way that at the same time increased costs are born by the middle class downward.
We do not have any democratic mechanism for deciding what technologies will dominate society. People used to define themselves as citizens where voting was the way they made their important choices. Today that identity is fading and replaced by that of the consumer who makes choices with dollars. The technologies that win do so because of the dollar votes of corporations, by their high payoff, and the manipulation of regulations, from bandwidth to building codes.
The imagination of the reader can further integrate how the quantification of society and money, the mechanization of things, and the impoverishment of people all go together. We have created the dominance of the economy with all that is good and distressing about its dominance as nearly the “only game in town” in the modern world – “Machine Dreams”.
Stephen Jay Gould argued that the only reason we have not been visited by intelligent life from other parts of the universe is because no species has been able to develop the technology to get here along with a strong enough social system that prevented collapse through technology. Nuclear war always precedes intergalactic travel.
Dee Hock, who started VISA said: “The purpose of business is to separate the consumer from the conditions of production.” That is, bad working conditions and environmental impacts are part of the cycle but unseen.
A problem is that key trends associated with our current economy, especially the marginalization and impoverishment of too many people and the destructive effects on the environment, probably are not reversible under the current rules. The forces making the rich richer and the rest poorer are systemic and powerful. Powerful because the motives to make it this way are huge payoffs in dollars and power.
I think we see that we need, for our sanity, an alternative path – actually system – for the development and deployment of technologies, a complex path large enough to be a viable alternative to the momentum of the current system. I say “large enough” to make clear that partial solutions are not strong enough to create a new set of rules. Government financing of elections, rather than getting the media exposure that benefits the largest donors to a campaign, might be one of the essentials, lessening the power of money in congressional choices.
It is not going to be sufficient to just add on mechanisms which alter the balance but keep the current forces the same. This is the approach of many of the non-profit socially motivated organizations – they thrive on opposition to institutions they assume will stay in place. We need to prune.
In the county where I live, the green progressives are against the use of “packaged waste disposal systems” because they would allow people to develop on land that otherwise is unbuildable (lack of septic system possibilities). The result is that progressive environmentalists are against a technology that would help the environment. But the county manages to point out that the only people applying for permission to use the new systems are indeed those who have land that otherwise can’t be developed. The leadership of bringing the two together to work a deal – permits only for land that would be conventionally suitable – does not emerge. Hence the shift to a new technology that, system-wide, would be an advance in terms of costs to owners and to a better use of water which could be returned to the proximal land after processing
I think it is still true that most engineering and science students and professionals have some view that technology and science will be of human benefit. They also believe that the fruits of science and the great inventions of mankind should be owned by society and not by individuals or corporations. When pressed, they will have a hard time supporting this belief with arguments. They tend to think that individuals are real and a society is no more than the aggregate of its individuals. So they will tend to support the idea that, yes, if something exists, it must be owned by somebody or some group of people smaller than that of society itself. The very meaning of “us” has shifted. If one is a member of several generations of the well-adapted middle class, ” us” no longer includes a sense of citizenship that spreads further outward into the population of different geographic origins and economic circumstances. Newcomers, either as children born in the nation, or immigrants choosing to come into it, align with the existing society, and adapt to living within a narrow sense of “us”.
Probably neither democracy nor a government of the expert elites can make adequate choices about technology. Democracy does not frame the issues, and elites frame the issues for their own career enhancing interests. Here we are on the leading edge of the need for new thinking about governance. Many, but not enough people, are thinking about the ethics and wisdom of technical interventions. It started with Hippocrates thinking about the ethics of medicine and saying, “First do no harm”. We now have the “Cautionary” ii[ii] principle which is a way of asking for more time to understand the implications of what we’re doing. “Sustainability” is another way of saying let’s keep doing what we’re doing without rocking the boat. The shift from “sustainability” to “sustainable development” is a rhetorical opening for a Trojan horse of keeping things the way they are. Things have to change in order to remain the same.” The values behind the idea of sustainability are guidelines but hard to apply in practice. What is sustainable for a bank is not the same thing that is sustainable for a small scale organic Farmer, or for a salmon fishermen. And “cautionary” just slows down the process which might not be the best when facing dramatic climate breakdown or the discovery of a severe new threat, such as bird flu.
The problem of tech is profound, and vastly limits other aspects of life. It is fair to say that politics is the supreme form of social innovation from early empire days, through the renaissance when authoritarian nation-states came to dominate. But technology has undone this dominance, and it may be that technology, in combination with elites and finance that use it, is the determining fact of our lives now the way politics was in the past.
In fact, politics now is just a tool bought and manipulated by the combination of tech and money. The implications here are powerful and suggest that GardenWorld will come about more by thinking about technologies than by politics. Technology, because of its interconnections, is increasingly important to governance and hence to the combination of state and corporations.
Technology is an extension of the body. Just as it would not make sense to discuss the meaning of a disembodied hand or eye, it does not make sense to talk about the meaning of technology without reference to the person or persons or community of which it is an extension. Hand and eye only take on significance when seen as a part of a person, and persons in a community of symbols and discourse, and community in the environment to which it has adapted itself.
But technology tends to remove us from the body and history. The way we slaughter an animal or make wine were and still are complex processes, but the way we interact with them as consumers removes us from the organic, soul-making (strong feelings that provoke reflection and awe about “nature”), and experience enhancing ‘meaning” of the use. At the same time, we have created “jobs” where labor is paid minimally to do these things, not to feed a family or a community, but working ten hour days cutting up cattle or chickens, which have been treated badly through their life, for unseen millions.
Computer manufacturing is, so far, a very dirty business, and hence is located in parts of Texas, Mexico or Asia, where folks like us will rarely show up.
Many people live difficult lives and their economic difficulties are combined with the complexities of technology. A local clinic sees a mother who has five children; two by a first marriage and three by her current husband. All three parents have different racial national backgrounds. The mother’s mother lives with them all in a two bedroom apartment of a total of 600 square feet. The grandmother is there to help but is tense about the racial differences and takes it out on the children. All three of the adults living in the apartment work part-time jobs in order to survive and the husband has two full-time “part-time” jobs – that is, jobs paid by the hour with zero security in local grocery stores. His main aim is to get enough money for a down payment on a House. Technology for them is simple: car, phone, the television, a shared washing machine, heat, and air conditioning. We need to be aware of how in the web of events and other choices of technologies by the rest of us affect the many people whose lives are like this.
In the county where this family lives population growth is predicted to be 30% by the year 2030. Yet all existing housing is more than filled and to new permits are very few. Land use, population, technology, and the economy set the conditions we have to cope with.
The major political issue in this century may be technology. It goes to the core of war, economy, the environment, and poverty. Nanotechnology, hydrogen cells and biotech for medicines, foods, and growing things like continuous wood panels, will arrive rapidly. The issue is that these technologies will be mechanisms of money transfer to the owners, not social benefit. They are high-cost investments, and owners will seek power and rewards. In order to work these technologies, of course, must attract enough customers, managers, and regulators, but that will always be a subset of society, not the whole. Every change (and not changing) has winners and losers.
As we face climate breakdown we can see how hard it is to make changes because the losers, in that case, traditional lines of business, have a lot, they perceive, to lose.
During the Y2K period, much work was done inside organizations to cope. This made Y2K a “non-event” by actually making it a big deal.iii[iii] What I learned, working as a consultant where Y2K one of the emerging issues, was that with Y2K accountability could be assigned internally to the organizations. With climate breakdown, that is not nearly as possible, so I think dealing with climate breakdown will be much harder. We are beginning to see movement however at the more macro-political and economic levels that are beginning to address the problem. We will see (and participate, willing or not).
An image of GardenWorld as the goal, the design principle, would help clarify what is at stake in climate breakdown, and provide guidance and motive to make climate breakdown innovation more attractive and livable.
Dealing with climate breakdown will require lots of flexibility and innovation and critical thinking. Just recently there has been a discussion of the problem of planting trees as CO2 traps – the reality is that trees absorb heat and heat the atmosphere more than offsetting the effects of the trapped co2 sustains cooling.
Technology and the mechanical often are seen as repressing life. GardenWorld is an approach that highlights the organic as we learn to integrate tech in ways that enhance rather than replace nature. The aim is a better world for all, through the use of human reason in the context of compassion and imagination under the guidelines, the design template, of the human life cycle, remembering that technology is only part of the human condition and only partly constitutive of human nature.
The idea of design could be a big help. Design is about the way things are put together to meet human needs and realities in ways that are attractive and implementable. As we shift from small part systems to truly holistic awareness, design may be the core discipline for putting it all together.
This section should convince the reader that computation is not an aid to existing society, as originally understood, but its transformation. The computer is moving toward obliterating individuality, the organic, the transcendent. It is fascinating but a major threat to humanity.Anything that a computer can do is with known categories. It cannot introduce new ones. It is a totally terrible way to deal with a changing future.Take earth temperature as an example. Before we looked at climate breakdown and had to take it seriously, many data sets about the earth and its uses existed. But changes in temperature outside of seasons not included because not relevant to anything.
The computer cannot put numbers into a new category that emerged, or name that category.
WE, you and I - cannot see an object, say a coffee cup on a table, without attributing the cup the table, the room and beyond to being somehow in the whole universe. The attribution is always there, often not conscious. Try it. No computer can do this. A computer is a large army of well organized zeros and ones.
Imagine a chessboard. The pattern of the 8x8 board is some kind of material, paint, ink, ivory inlay, solidly attached to the board. But the pattern cannot be derived from the properties of the board even though it could not exist without those properties.
Commercial activity and political power.
Big data can find very weak correlations in a large data set, but cannot deal with unique individuals.
The great hope,
All connected simultaneously, the only message that gets through is contemporary. What Trump did to France and what he did on the golf course are equalized , not only that but what Tom Friedman says and what a marginal angry person in the provinces think gain equal access if only for a moment. Google selects stories that balance even if one is far frim reality. A look at google news shows a balance between the Washington post and the much more marginalized Washington times, same with NBCCNN and fox.
Rise of Management
From tribal chiefs till now, a story of continuity, no substantial change just as from the horse to the car, each with four on the ground, the basic configuration has remained remarkably constant.
The impact of WW2 on management. The war accelerate the size and standardization of manufactured products. But these developed needed managers and soldiers returning from war, often having missed out on college, were eager. This led to government funding of education and the standard model was that of general management. The result was that manufacturing refrigerators, tourist sites, government agencies were all treated as the same. ZZAnd we lost the sense of the spirit and sensuality of the human made thing. The quality of US manufacturing suffered and the Japanese, much closer to craft skills, dominted the 60’s. The US recovery wa thwarted by the shifting of US production to China, which quickly came to dominate quantity and quality.
The result is that the US has poorly developed skills for the advancement of gardenworld.
Separation of management from craft
Anticipated by Hoover. But what of machiavelli, Venice, the di Medicis?
Berle and Means, etc. The biz schools, the GI bill. The French and Chinese examples of morally driven bureaucracy based on excellence.
1 Manfredo, From oikonomia to PoliticalEconomy.
2 See Mirowki, Philip: Machine Dreams: how economics became a cyborg science.
3 add Leo Marx The Machine in the Garden.
Arthur, W. Brian (2009-07-24). The Nature of Technology (Kindle Location 366). Simon & Schuster, Kindle Editio