The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The future

Reasonable accommodations of people’s needs will be made. If they are not, unreasonable ones will be.

Those who cannot understand that will have blood on their hands along with those who decide they have had enough.

Too many have spent too long with generations raised in affluence, scared of losing what they have. They do not understand the lessons of history. And so they will reap what they have sown, though some will be lucky enough to die first.

Their children will see what they have wrought and pay the price of their greed, stupidity and selfishness.

If we will not make an honest attempt at societies which work for all, this future will arise.

Take this as prophecy. And if you are wise, understand that it is prophecy that those who created the social welfare states after WWII were trying to avert.


The Problem with Basic Income


Donation Drive: Set the Schedule for 2015


  1. markfromireland

    Yes reasonable accomodations should be made but won’t be and I think you’re right that to point out that those who created the social welfare states after WWII were trying to avert massive internal conflict. Conflict so massive that it can only be described as that most catastrophic of forms of warfare — civil war. For completeness’ sake I’ll add that in so doing they were following the successful example set by Bismarck.


  2. V. Arnold

    @ MFI

    Yep, agreed. Denial is strong with the masses…

  3. JustPlainDave

    I don’t think this:

    …generations raised in affluence, scared of losing what they have.

    …is quite right. Politically, this is much more a “nouveau rich” and even more a “nouveau upper middle class” thing.

  4. Mr.Murder

    This theory is wrong, been field tested 3 times in Bosnia, Ukraine, Palestine. The have more than you do crowd takes everything.

  5. Ian Welsh

    Does till it doesn’t. And then the guillotines reap their deadly wage.

  6. MartyH

    Oddly, I agree quite strongly with both the original post and Mr. Murder’s point. Populations are supinely letting really quite terrible things happen all around them while seemingly calmly going about their day. One is tempted to go all Orwellian or “Brave New World”ian and point to highly advanced propaganda or something. But my reading of the history tells me this is pretty normal. Lots of people willing to buy almost any weird or wacky party line and megalomanicacs taking advantage.

    The guillotines and pitchforks come out eventually. More often, competing thugs foment a self-promoting overthrow and perpetuate the old normal in new colors. Not sure who they’d be with “The Right” well enthralled to :”Wall Street.” The fundamentalists are having a field-day in the theme-park created for the acting out of their passion-plays in the Middle East and the Ukraine but it took a lot of finagling to push back even bad governance far enough to give them room.

    Deep down, somewhere, I want the post to be right. I’m not seeing much evidence from here though that people are getting particularly close on the ground here.

  7. alyosha

    There’s a favorite passage describing the events just prior to the sack of Rome, from Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization:

    “Somewhere about the year 409, Alaric and his Visigoths parked themselves at the gates of Rome. He might as well have been the king of the Fuzzy-Wuzzies, or any of the other inconsequential outlanders that civilized people have looked down their noses at throughout history. The Romans, supremely confident of handling this nuisance, dispatched a couple of diplomats to conduct the tiresome negotiations with Alaric and rid themselves of these smelly barbarians.

    “The Roman diplomats played poker with empty bluffs. They tried to intimidate. The “invincible strength” of Rome’s warriors will doom any of your misguided attacks, warned the Romans. But Alaric the Barbarian, a humorous as well as sharp man, responded gleefully, “The thicker the grass, the more easily scythed.”

    “Recognizing now that they had no fool on their hands, the Romans finally asked, and in desperation, what was Alaric’s price of departure. Alaric answered somewhat matter-of-factly: his men would sweep through the city of Rome, take all the gold, all the silver, and everything of value that could be moved. They would also take with them every barbarian slave in Rome’s custody.

    “The Romans protested hysterically. But through their now anxiety-ridden laughter and feigned anger, the Romans asked Alaric, “But…what will that leave us?”

    “Alaric paused. “Your lives”, he said.

  8. Peter

    I believe TPTB are totally ok with the increasing inequality that we’re seeing because unlike the periods preceding the New Deal in America and the rise of the welfare states in Europe after WWII, it has the benefit of a technologically and militarily advanced police state apparatus to snuff out any violent/non violent dissent to the present arrangements. It had its dress rehearsal dealing with Occupy in America and with oligarch opposition in the UK. So it’s ready and waiting for the next waves.

  9. Monster from the Id

    As Ian keeps saying in one way or another, every police state works–right up to the day it fails.

    If the rich and powerful in general had the wisdom of the aforementioned Bismarck, they would restrain their appetites enough to give the poor enough of a decent life that too few to matter would want to rebel, and their class could rule until global warming overthrows civilization–but if they would restrain their appetites enough to pour resources into stopping that, they might even beat that.

    But if they could restrain their appetites, they would be something other than members of the species Homo sapiens.

    As a noted intellectual–amazingly, of the conservative persuasion–said: “The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn.” 🙁

  10. Monster from the Id

    Not that I expect anything better to take their place, since their successors will also be members of the species Homo (not quite) sapiens (enough).

    “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss”

  11. X

    In my humble opinion, you’ve got to take care of, be guided by, and guard your souls, or your spirits, or whatever you want to call them. Not everybody will do this, but in the end, it’s the only thing you really have, and it can protect you from all these toxins around us. (X)

  12. nihil obstet

    We all need to keep plugging at it. While history may be littered with self-destructive societies, people are not by nature callous and greedy. Societies have to be devised, with social and economic infrastructure, laws based on reasonable moral consensus, and cultural transmission of values. Beliefs don’t occur randomly throughout the society — there’s a reason that Quakers led the anti-slavery movement, and it derives from the beliefs that they actively supported. Powerful, greedy men have shaped the society we live in, to make greed the measure of all things, especially over the last 35 years.

    Reason is a fairly weak motivator. “This path will lead to doom”? “Maybe,” is the response, and “Trying a different path makes me worse off,” is the clinching argument. We’re better off with the simple (and to me true) statement that “This path is wrong. Default to kindness.”

  13. Everybody is in such a rush, calmed down, and is coming, in just not as soon as think.

  14. Spinoza

    “Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.”

    -Rosa Luxemburg

  15. Everythings Jake

    Absent successful colonization of other planets, an incredible technological advance, or natural or bi0-engineered evolutionary changes, humanity’s day is done. The sociopaths don’t know how to stop; the rest are unaware or unwilling to do what is necessary to stop them. We might make the remaining years (decades at most) more equitable with revolution that takes the heads of the worst of our elite, but that’ll be as good as it gets.

  16. Trixie

    And if you are wise, understand that it is prophecy that those who created the social welfare states after WWII were trying to avert

    As opposed to the Wall Street welfare that’s dominated policymaking over the last 30+ years. And when those choices culminated in a financial system meltdown in 2008 that brought the global economy to its knees (from which the masses have yet to recover), it occurred to exactly no one in policy making circles at the time that the solution was to PULL HARDER. Because bootstraps. And all that.

    It’s gov policy that largely determines who benefits from economic growth. And since we have two distinct policy regimes from which to compare — post-WWII era* vs ‘trickle-down’ era — pick one. Because what you don’t get to do? Is have both.

    *Yes, I’m well aware of those who were excluded. But here again, it was gov policy that was specifically designed to result in that exclusion. And notice how well it worked.

    (Always remember, ranters are people too.)

  17. Monster from the Id

    Can we please lose Marxism? The grotesque crimes of the gulag states have discredited it, whether or not that is fair to it.

    The Communists, however unwittingly, proved to be the plutocrats’ best friends, by enabling the propagandists of plutocracy to smear all alternatives to plutocracy as Communism–understood to mean “mass murder, torture, unjust imprisonment, slavery, constant surveillance, enforced atheism, etc.”

    Compared to the gulag states, plutocracy is, however marginally, a lesser evil.

  18. Monster from the Id

    Riffing off Trixie’s comment:

    My fellow non-elite European-Americans tend to moan and groan about the pennies a handful of poor chiselers manage to “game” out of what’s left of the social welfare system, while ignoring the megabucks rich chiselers “game” out of the government (our tax dollars) through their control of the political system.

    My fellow peasants moan and groan about the mosquito bite, while ignoring the Dracula bite.

  19. jump

    Can we please not confuse Communism with Marxism. They are so not alike although one was done in the name of the other.

  20. Paul and mary


    I’ll see your “police state apparatus” and I’ll raise you 300,000,000 privately owned firearms.

    Occupy was hippies with tents. And I salute them for their effort.

    When the guns come out, the police best run.

  21. subgenius

    Compared to the gulag states, plutocracy is, however marginally, a lesser evil.


    I think you are talking as a privileged jerk from a continent that is shitting from great height on a higher percentage of foreign territories than even the British empire managed. Take a fucking trip to any one of the places that is the target of a team america police action, and don’t come back

  22. Monster from the Id

    My bank account wishes I was even half as “privileged” as Subgenius thinks I am. 😆

  23. Monster from the Id

    Now that I think about it, our plutocrats have spent years doing their damnedest to turn the USA into the plutocratic version of a gulag state. One gets the impression that our “conservative” Cold Warriors (Darth Cheney comes to mind) did not despise the Communist police states so much as they envied them.

  24. subgenius

    Of course you are privileged… That’s the bounty afforded by the continuing refusal of the population to actually demand accountability in any of the western nations.

    Just wait, though, and soon enough ma nature will deliver an object lesson in the idiocy of running civilisation on a set of arbitrary rules designed by self-serving oligarch asshats, rather than say thermodynamics.

  25. subgenius

    Sorry for the snark, not meant to be a personal attack… I am in a bad mood as a result of failing totally, even with my privileged position…

    And agree re. Cheney….though you need to go bigger – pretty much all elected officials at this point seem to me to be apologists/2-faced bastards that only go more extreme (whatever lip service they give to any decent ideals – Obama – case closed) as time goes on.

  26. Regarding 300 million privately owned firearms, the reality is that firearms have never been an impediment to the creation of a police state. Saddam’s Iraq was very heavily armed — Iraq had more firearms per capita than the United States, even — but his police state was quite effective up until the point we kicked the props out from under it, because here’s a secret nobody ever tells the patriots in their own imaginations: most people seem to *want* a police state. Most people *want* order. We are getting a police state here in the United States not because it’s being imposed at gunpoint by a hostile foreign regime. We’re getting it because we *voted* for it, because we want to feel “safe”.

    If you do not believe me, go to an airport and stand in the security lines that snake out the doors on a holiday. Start griping about how it’s all a sham and a farce (which it is, not a single terrorist has ever been caught by one of those security lines). You will *immediately* have a dozen people turn to you and scream that you want terrorists to kill them. I’m not joking. I’ve seen it. The majority of people *want* those useless police state “your papers please” lines. It makes them feel safe.

    I have seen the enemy and it are us.

    The reality is that police states are very effective at dealing with well armed populaces, they do it the way Stalin did it to the UPA in 1947 — by infiltrating secret police operatives and informers into its ranks, then destroying its ability to organize. A single man with a gun is a criminal. Two men with guns are terrorists. A thousand men with guns are an organized resistance movement. Destroy the ability to organize, track and monitor people with computerized help (and we are swiftly coming to the day where ubiquitous security cameras can track people in real time as they move through the city based on face and gait), and it’s done.

    Now on to Ian’s notion that police states invariably fall: Yes, they do. In the long run. And in the long run, we’re all dead. There were babies born in 1919 who were dead by the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1993. Plus, our oligarchs are betting that technology changes things. They believe that we can be turned into passive consumers by technology, and passive consumers do not create revolutions, and furthermore that all-pervasive monitoring and surveillance of all communications and pretty much all public spaces thanks to new technologies will no longer be so expensive as to collapse the police state, as happened to East Germany in 1989. Are they right? Are they wrong? Regardless, I think this underscores the importance of not having a police state in the first place. This is not something we want to find out the hard way….

    Now, on to Ian’s notion that economic dispossession and hardship will cause a revolution: Mexico. Enough said.

  27. subgenius

    Re. Guns

    If you want to fight an insurgency, you should go for heavy engineering equipment …you are unlikely to win a direct engagement with a professional force, but infrastructure is so much softer a target, no need for immediate casualties (longer term, admittedly, there may be much greater effect than any fight short of heavy bombardment), and is much easier to disrupt than create. Plus the licenses are less onerous than those for the publicly available milspec toys.

    Obviously there are factions looking at this kind of target – ref. the guys who shot up that substation – but they are obviously still focused on their gun pr0n (assuming it was non-state actors, rather than a demonstration to scare more resources for the stazi) – and we were saved from pretty serious issues as a result.

  28. Monster from the Id

    @ Subby: Apology accepted. Praise Bob! :mrgreen:

  29. someofparts

    I agree about the chickens coming home to roost part, but the part about people or their children ever, ever having the smallest clue about what happened or their role in it … not possible, not even imaginable.

  30. different clue

    Maybe the current oligarchs don’t feel the police state has to last forever. Maybe they just need it to last long enough for them to prepare their Galt’s Gulches and quietly retreat there when the time is right and let the police state societies and policed peoples collapse into whatever collapse state they expect us to collapse into.

    I sometimes ask myself . . . if the Global Overclass wanted to kill 6 billion people over the next 100 years and make it look like an accident, how might they do it? Might unrestrained global warming help them achieve that goal? Might that be why they are so invested in global warming and so determined to prevent any global de-warming or global re-cooling action?

  31. Lisa

    Off topic, but germane as yet another example of the insane stupidity of our current poltcal ‘elites’.

    Looks like the ‘carrots’ are coming out for IS. Two UK planes shot down dropping supplies to them and now a US helicopter.

    Seems the ‘coalition of the clinically insane’ have modfied their position a bit. IS is getting the green light to generally attack Shias in Iraq, if they do that and attack Syria and leave the Kurds alone then they are ‘our boys’ again.

    The Iraqi Kurdish areas are a sticking point for Turkey (their credo the only good Kurd is one killed a hundred years ago) and SA (make that two hundred years ago) but the US and Israel have significant interests there, so they just have to suck it up.

    The US has modified it’s position, probably from Israeli/Saudi pressure, to let IS go full on against the Iraqi Shia, something they were nervous about before, mainly because they would prefer IS to do over Syria first. Israel has complelety drank the extremist Sunni cool aid and now seems to see all Shia (and moderate Sunni) as the enemy.

    So provided IS sticks to this script then the heavens will (quietly) open for them, though we will still publically demonify thm for domestic reasons.

    So Israel/SA have got their way into pressuring the US greenlighting of a full on Wahabbi Sunni/Shia religious war. What could possibly go wrong, apart from planes and choppers being shot down that is.

    Sigh, future generations will not be kind in their assessments of us.

  32. I sometimes ask myself . . . if the Global Overclass wanted to kill 6 billion people over the next 100 years and make it look like an accident, how might they do it? Might unrestrained global warming help them achieve that goal? Might that be why they are so invested in global warming and so determined to prevent any global de-warming or global re-cooling action?

    Funny you should say this, because I just saw the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending in the theater — it’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s much better than the critics would have you think (22% on Rotten Tomatoes). However, the above is clearly a part of its premise, if you swap out the “Global Overclass” for the “Galactic Overclass”. Basically (and this is part of the premise, not a plot spoiler), the Galactic Overclass waits for the native inhabitants of planets to reach a point where their world can’t sustain the population. Since everyone is going to die anyway, they swoop in, kill everyone, and process their bodies into Magic Glowing Youth Elixir, with reduced guilt because they were all dead ducks anyway. Earth is close enough to “fruition” that the refineries on Jupiter are already up and ready to slice and dice.

    The rest of the plot either doesn’t make any sense or is totally predictable, but the scenery is beautiful, so just ignore the plot and enjoy the rest.

    The Wachowskis are very rich and surely hobnob with the real life overclass. I wonder if they’re trying to tell us something…

  33. Lisa

    “If we will not make an honest attempt at societies which work for all…”

    Yep, but it is going to get a lot worse before (if it ever does) get better in western countries.

    If for no other reason than virtually the entire political/economic/media/military/national security/etc elites are totally owned by the US. The US is dominatd by neo-liberals and neo-conservatves, therefore their satraps are the same.

    Everyone of those will sell out their own people and national interests to suit the US.

    So the first sign of any hope whatsoever is greater national independence. Sadly in the west this will only come from the far right as nearly all the left parties have been totally coopted and corrupted. Some countries are futher along this route than other, the UK is a vanguard for the US model, but the others are not far behind. You look at Germany and it is now neo-liberal to the core with its crushing of wages. Which I suspect is why the German busniess opposition to Russian sanctions has been a damp squib, they have been offered a quid pro quo of even lower wages. Judging by a (clever) analysis the German media is #1 in anti-Russian propaganda, so it is becoming ever more neo-conservative too (

    You can make some basic forecasts of the next 10 years with a high degree of certainty:
    Socialised medical systems getting the boot, one of the purposes of things like the TPP and TAP is to put the final nail in the coffin of those and raise the cost of medical care to the insane US levels.
    Lower wages for the proles.
    Lower social security benefits.
    Lower pensions.
    More financialisation of economies.
    More war.
    More ‘national securty’.
    Total (duh) support for Israel.
    Total support for Wahabbi Sunni extremism.
    War against Shiias.
    Support for nazis and fascism wherever they pop up.
    Ever more ‘cold’ and economic war against Russia, ever more’ hot’ war via proxies.
    And so on.

    These trends are pretty much set in stone now in a heck of a lot of places. You would have to throw out pretty much the entire number of those elites to get any significant change. How are you going to do it? The media/military/national security elites would turn on any Govt that tried to deviate from the US party line too much. So you have to clear them out real fast first, not easy to do, they’ve got the guns and bugging and propaganda outlets.

  34. Anon y Mouse

    We are getting a police state here in the United States not because it’s being imposed at gunpoint by a hostile foreign regime. We’re getting it because we *voted* for it, because we want to feel “safe”.

    If I voted for Democrats, did I vote for the police state? If I voted for Republicans, did I vote for the police state? If I voted for third parties, did I vote for the police state? If I didn’t vote, did I vote for the police state?

    If the answer to all of these questions is “yes” then your assertion is meaningless.
    Quit blaming the victim.

  35. JustPlainDave

    Yeah, so Fars is reporting that supplies are being dropped from a AH-64s? Might want to look up what the cargo capacity of that type is. (Hint: the “A” in the designation means it’s an attack bird.) Might also want to be a little suspicious when the provided still shows a bunch of guys standing in front of a downed Mi8/17…

  36. subgenius

    @anon y mouse,

    You may be looking at it with an incomplete framing –

    If you vote for a party because you are engaged by the policy, and that includes the above, then yes, you are complicit.

    Even if you do otherwise you may be complicit in a technical term (you are guilty even if you don’t know the law…)

    I am amazed by the complete railroading of what are supposed to be constitutional protections, and consider that the many upper level players cannot possibly all be too stupid to realize what is happening. In such a case, surely, complicity is rife and is shown by the regular failure of ‘due process’ in almost every case – it seems it is a big deal when something occurs that the majority of the general population agree with…

    It is pretty obvious that all of the drum beating and scare stories are just that, stories we are told in order to control us, in the same way that the ‘constant technological progress’ stories and ‘growing economy’ stories are there to keep us playing; this is made even more plain by the almost complete silence on the true understanding of current inequality, climate disruption, and the age of limits (Seneca cliff, ugo bardi – or Malthus), all of which are clearly seen by multiple strategic groups worldwide as primary threats.

    Looking at the constitution it appears more that there should be no adventurism and a focus should be on developing a more local/regional inward development than the current permanent domination outwards. No standing military. A well-integrated population capable of working together in forceful terms should the need arise. A system of ALL the people for ALL the people.

    What resources that do remain should surely be directed toward a resilient diverse humane and equitable (to life as a whole) solution working within true renewable sources.

    I say this as an outsider, looking at the situation here in the US, but I see a similar fear-and-control pattern in most other places, though far less developed.

    There is no equitable humane way for any group selected purely on a basis of power to fairly represent an underclass. They simply have no valid perspective on the reality of the power-deprived.

    (Side note.. Power, wealth-same thing, basically:


    [power]=[connections]x[wealth squared]

    Sub’s law, after Einstein

    Also..see the other insights, which explain the bought nature of the public faces:

    Wealth is the square root of power multiplied by connections – wish I was prez, rather than broke and unemployed… )

    No a/c? Then don’t be a dumbshit and build a huge structure of cardboard concrete and glass in direct sun in a hot climate…reality doesn’t do what you desire…but I digress…

    Non-complicity requires non-compliance. The level to which we are compliant with the existing system determines our complicity, NOT how we voted – which (think about it…) obviously indicates nothing but complicity with the system. But that is a taught response – so are you guilty even if due to ignorance).

    Thus, to be fair, occupy was pretty good in their stance. But I was only comfortable as an occasional visitor to our local demonstration, and thus obviously I myself am mostly complicit, i.e. complicit – its an either/or western kinda concept.

    I hope understanding of the big picture grows, and that minds clearer than mine can and do develop a strategy that we, as a whole, can execute and that results in some degree of success. Because otherwise its all pretty moot.

  37. subgenius


    So on further investigation (or just outright need for hope) it seems my prior analysis may have been a little premature.

    It is.possible that I got the primacy if wealth and connection inverted in the original.

    From my perspective its an easy mistake…

    P = 100 person network of influence x $0²


    P = $0 x 100 people²



    P=wc² means a little money COULD go a long way, with a big enough popular call, so maybe there is hope. I am going with hope (yeah I am living proof of how that turns out, but we all got our crosses).

    Therefore this marks release v2.0 of Sub’s law: P=wc²

  38. markfromireland

    How exactly will peeing in a square toilet help make the world a better place? I confess to being intrigued.


  39. Different clue:

    “I sometimes ask myself . . . if the Global Overclass wanted to kill 6 billion people over the next 100 years and make it look like an accident, how might they do it?”

    It would be difficult to do better than continue doubling down on an industrial agricultural system guaranteed to collapse while using every economic and, increasingly, political means to quash attempts to build a more decentralized, sustainable agriculture.

    And if in the course of doing this they can systematically wipe out antibiotics as an effective medical treatment, as they’re effectively trying to do via promiscuous antibiotic use in factory farms, that’s an added vector of extermination.

    An especially nice touch is if along the way their commodified agriculture can force billions off the land and into shantytowns lacking basic sanitation, which can then double as incubation centers for epidemics.

    Yes, I’d say it would be hard to do better if one set out with the conscious goal of killing billions.

  40. Anony Mouse,

    The answer to the first two questions is Definitely Yes, the answer to the third is Maybe, it depends on which alternative party. The answer to the fourth is that not voting in itself is just a negation and doesn’t give an indication of what one supports.

    So you left out the fifth question – What DID one do besides refusing to participate in fraudulent elections* which are really more like old-style fascist plebiscites? Did one at least try to oppose system lies to whatever extent one can and, with whatever so-far meager means are available to us, propagate the truth?

    *Local elections may involve real differences among the candidates, and ballot questions often present a stark choice. I’m talking about the central presidency etc.

  41. Xco

    Off topic, but germane as yet another example of the insane stupidity of our current poltcal ‘elites’.

    Looks like the ‘carrots’ are coming out for IS. Two UK planes shot down dropping supplies to them and now a US helicopter.

    It’s only stupidity in the press release version of reality. ISIS has been a means to the end of “regime change” in Syria right from he start. Had there ever been any actual intention of suppressing them they would had been bombed into powder like Libya and Saddam-era Iraq. Instead, we get this painfully obvious Orwellian war theatre.

  42. Xco

    ‘constant technological progress’ stories

    I’m going to vomit the next time I see a “3-D printing will change everything!” story. VR got the same kind of ludicrous hype in the early 1990s (including an entire prime-time TV series) though it was still far, far from being ready. To add insult to injury, now that VR actually is technically feasible the corporate world seemingly can’t torpedo it fast enough (the coverage of the Oculus buyout was positively gleeful.)

    I’ll further note that telepresence was being mooted as the next big thing around 15 years ago, and has barely gone anywhere apart from its all too well-known lethal applications. Why not let construction vehicle operators, high-rise window washers, heavy machine operators etc. telecommute?

    There’s a moment in the documentary Men At Lunch (about the “lunch atop a skyscraper” photo) when an interviewer gets just a little too enthusiastic while asking a modern construction worker to detail the extreme dangers faced by ironworkers in the ’30s. He hastens to point out that no-one would expected to work under such conditions nowadays (while his expression suggests he’s starting to wonder just what sort of ghoul he’s talking to.) Perhaps there are those who feel that certain kinds of progress spoil the fun.

  43. Apropos of the basic income discussion, there are very many jobs that can be automated, but it would be socially very challenging to do so, because we haven’t decided that people who don’t have work should nevertheless have an opportunity to live comfortably. Most people in developed countries should only have to work a few hours a week, really, to achieve more or less the same thing. Perhaps there are some specialized professions that aren’t yet automatable, but that just means training more people for them who would otherwise have worked on some other, automatable job. But we must have employment or we are undeserving.

  44. Xco

    I have to say I find it surreal that the bulk of the automation discussions that are so ubiquitous these days could have been taken almost verbatim from The Road to Wigan Pier, which was written in 1937.

    Would anyone reading Wigan back then have seriously believed that automation would still be “just around the corner” nearly 80 years later?

  45. Xco

    A short excerpt:(ch. 11)

    A generation ago every intelligent person was in some sense a revolutionary; nowadays it would be nearer the mark to say that every
    intelligent person is a reactionary. In this connexion it is worth comparing H. G. Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, written thirty years later. Each is a pessimistic Utopia, a vision of a sort of prig’s paradise in which all the dreams of the ‘progressive’
    person come true. Considered merely as a piece of imaginative construction The Sleeper Awakes is, I think, much superior, but it suffers from vast contradictions because of the fact that Wells, as the arch-priest of ‘progress’, cannot write with any conviction against ‘progress’. He draws a
    picture of a glittering, strangely sinister world in which the privileged classes live a life of shallow gutless hedonism, and the workers, reduced to a state of utter slavery and sub-human ignorance, toil like troglodytes in caverns underground. As soon as one examines this idea–it is further developed in a splendid short story in Stories of Space and Time–one sees its inconsistency. For in the immensely mechanized world that Wells is imagining, why should the workers have to work harder than at present? Obviously the tendency of the machine is to eliminate work, not to increase it. In the machine-world the workers might be enslaved, ill-treated, and even under-fed, but they certainly would not be condemned to ceaseless
    manual toil; because in that case what would be the function of the machine? You can have machines doing all the work or human beings doing all the work, but you can’t have both. Those armies of underground workers, with their blue uniforms and their debased, half-human language, are only put in ‘to make your flesh creep’. Wells wants to suggest that ‘progress’
    might take a wrong turning; but the only evil he cares to imagine is inequality–one class grabbing all the wealth and power and oppressing the others, apparently out of pure spite.

    Ah well. Score one for Wells…

  46. I haven’t read that book, but I’m not surprised at how long the discussion has been going on. Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto held that work was a male conspiracy to make the world boring and tedious, and the female revolution would abolish it forthwith.

    A lot of things people used to do by hand *have* been automated, but we came up with other forms of work. The question is, can we indefinitely come up with new forms of work for which an automated alternative does not exist that are in some manner or another drudgery we force on each other? It seems harder and harder to do.

  47. Ian Welsh

    Sometimes the future takes longer than people expect.

    As for tech progress, it’s quite common for people to envision something, have a lapse, then have a real version, etc… It’s also common for there to be gaps. For example, the Concorde going out of service meant that air travel got slower; but we’ll have suborbitals at some point which are fast and far more affordable.

  48. alyosha

    Sometimes the future takes longer than people expect.

    I remember a 1976 college class (COBOL programming of all things, thank God I never used it real life), teacher was telling us in a side note about this amazing invention she read that IBM was working on. IBM was the biggest, most respected computer manufacturer at the time, and had plenty of money to throw at various research projects. The invention was about using lasers to print computer output, and their gadget that did this was the size of a small garage. It was expected that only the biggest companies would be able to afford one, as the price tag would be well into the 5 or 6 digits.

    About ten years later, in the 1980s, I saw ads in manufacturing trade journals for gadgets that could build up prototypes, layer by layer, out of raw plastic. These exotic machines, early 3-D printers, had similar price tags going well into the 5 or 6 digits, and of course would only appeal to companies doing a lot of R+D and who could justify such an expensive machine for the sole purpose of realizing prototypes.

    It only took about 10-15 years for laser printing to become an ordinary fixture in most businesses or homes, and 30 or so years for 3-D printing to gain general mindshare, and to spread beyond creating prototypes.

    There’s countless examples like this. I find it useful to think of our time as an “electrical age”, beginning in the late 1800s, and we simply haven’t seen the end of everything that is going to be created with this style of technology, for better or worse.

    To point at earlier writings forecasting this or that kind of technological future, noting how they missed the mark, misses the larger trend. It’s redolent of how right wingers love to exhume earlier, missed predictions about global warming as a way of discounting the overwhelming evidence for global warming.

  49. subgenius

    Re. tech progress…

    Look at environmental costs over a lifecycle, and supply chain complexity, of a Tesla.

    Compare with model T.

    Even the model T was not a sustainable development. What does that make a Tesla?

    One of Orlov’s ‘boondoggles’ I would suggest.

  50. Lisa

    Agree subgenius. best mix is what we had in the 50s and early 60s. Electric trains, trams, electric trolley buses, small motorcycles and scooters.

    Any realistic alternative depends on a magic breakthrough in battery tech, which is like fusion..decades away.

    We can do good reliable, safe and cheap nuclear fission plants, good large and local scale solar (inc thermal), good wind usage. Tidal is in the pre-production phase. Iceland is totally powered by geo-thermal (might end up being the last place on the planet with electricity) and a fair numberof places in the woeld could use it too. Hydro is just about totally exploited in most of the world.

    Though there is a lot of geographical luck in how much you can exploit the ‘renewables’. For example, if you are in Finland it is coal, gas or nuclear…not many other options.

    But hard choices have to be made. Take Australia, my calculations is that we could easily do a 50% renewable (mostly wind/solar) mix, 70%+ if we exploited Tasmanian hydro properly. The rest by nuclear power for baseload and night power. However it would require significant investment, grid upgrades and a political will that hasn’t been seen since the Snowy scheme.

    But sadly, there isn’t a political Green in the world that wouldn’t vote for coal over nuclear (or here in Australia coal over more Tasmanian Hydro).

    So we are politally caught, the fossil lobbies want (duh) to keep ther monopoly on power generation, the greens hate coal but hate nuclear and hydro even more. Solar and wind are cursed by intermitancy and cyclic issues, fat lot of good generating huge amounts of power if no one wants to use at the time and you have no way of stroring it.

    And here is the rub, if we want to significantly reduce our fossil fuel usage in transport and manufacturing we have to increase cheap electricity generation to a far greater extent. QED.

  51. While I wholeheartedly agree that electrified public transit is the way to go — although it would require the complete abolition of Phoenix, Arizona — here’s an interesting article on the problems in new battery development that suggests the main issue is institutional, not technological/physical:

    The comments are interesting too.

  52. Xco

    I seem to have been misconstrued. I wasn’t denying the validity of the technologies themselves, I was angry at the sheer disingenuousness of flogging technological progress in the media while simultaneously fighting it tooth and nail in reality.

    VR got hyped back when it wasn’t possible, is possible now, but isn’t being deployed.

    Telepresence has been possible for ten years, but isn’t being used for much besides telesurgery (and, of course, you-know-what.)

    Gigabit home internet has been possible for five years, and is being fought tooth and nail by the existing players

    Online music distribution was possible in 1999, existing players fought it for nearly a decade, and lost mostly on account of massive flouting of the existing copyright regime by the public, making it possible for Apple to move in and pick up the pieces.

    As for the internet–the “information superhighway” hype of the early ’90s* was in actuality vapor as well, as the implication at that time was that the “information superhighway” would be a brand new system of high-bandwidth digital communication that would be created by the telecom giants. The hype went on for several years, with the telecoms never anything concrete to realize their promises.

    The bombardment got the public to casting about trying to find this “information superhighway”, and people seized on the internet, which, while nothing at all like the promised “information superhighway”, sounded vaguely similar and so it was concluded that this must indeed be the “information superhighway” that everyone kept talking about.

    Even though at the time it was still little more than the academic counterpart to the commercial X.25 packet networks that had been around since the early 1980s, it came with a killer app in the form of SMTP email, which provided a free alternative to the X.400 email system that the telecoms had rolled out a decade earlier and promptly price-gouged into irrelevance. (In their boundless greed they’d managed to discover a price point so high as to be less economical than giving the service away for free.)

    Even by the late 1990s the internet was still, in its essentials, not much more than a colossal bubble-financed Minitel with GIFs. The originally promised “information superhighway” functionality didn’t really appear until the subsequent decade.

    *and even earlier–though it would appear that NTT (the sponsor) really was making moves in this direction before it was privatized…

  53. Formerly T-Bear

    The future? No tenemos.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén