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What happened to the future?  
Posted by iFaked23 on February 29 2008, 19:35 » Uploaded 29/02/08 20:46  

What happened to the optimistic dream of the future - the technological future? It wasn't all just a corporate con, it was deeper than that. Optimism wasn't always retro. Dreams have been replaced by anxiety disorders. Now that's something the media has a lot to answer for. Doom isn't guaranteed, but without an optimistic vision for the future, I'd say it looks more likely. Who is going to give us visions of the future?

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Comment 01 – Brigid February 29 2008, 23:56

Nice video!

Comment 02 – Breakfast of champions March 01 2008, 08:05

Ignoring for a moment the important question of who and what is going to fill the "vision gap" to the future, a more trivial question of my own was answered by the soundtrack, namely: what happened to those hippie musicians from 35 years ago ("the seventies") who ingested so much LSD that they caused the space-time continuum to rip open. (The polar opposite of those contemporary musicians who prefer to boost their careers by ingesting wormy black sticky stuff, as Bill Hicks famously pointed out ;)').

The real hippie hero dudes, who were never eco-fascists, who were actually technological pioneers. The dream lives on forever:

Comment 03 – Raoul Djukanovic March 01 2008, 09:53

Who? Ourselves alone...? (But not the guys with guns version).

This guy has some optimistic visions without losing sight of realism, in my opinion, having only recently run across his:

I think the root of civilization, and a major source of human evil, is simply that we became clever enough to extend our power beyond our empathy. It's like the famous Twilight Zone episode where there's a box with a button, and if you push it, you get a million dollars and someone you don't know dies. We have countless "boxes" that do basically the same thing. Some of them are physical, like cruise missiles or ocean-killing fertilizers, or even junk food where your mouth gets a million dollars and your heart dies. Others are social, like subsidies that make junk food affordable, or the corporation, which by definition does any harm it can get away with that will bring profit to the shareholders. I'm guessing it all started when our mental and physical tools combined to enable positive feedback in personal wealth. Anyway, as soon as you have something that does more harm than good, but that appears to the decision makers to do more good than harm, the decision makers will decide to do more and more of it, and before long you have a whole society built around obvious benefits that do hidden harm.

The kicker is, once we gain from extending our power beyond our seeing and feeling, we have an incentive to repress our seeing and feeling. If child slaves are making your clothing, and you want to keep getting clothing, you either have to not know about them, or know about them and feel good about it. You have to make yourself ignorant or evil.

But gradually we're learning. Every time it comes out that some product is made with sweatshop labor, a few people stop buying it. Every day, someone is in a supermarket deciding whether to spend extra money to buy shade-grown coffee or fair trade chocolate. It's not making a big difference, but all mass changes have to start with a few people, and my point is that we are stretching the human conscience farther than it's ever gone, making sacrifices to help forests we will never see and people we will never meet. This is not simple-minded or "idealistic," but rational, highly sophisticated moral behavior. And you find it not at the trailing edge of civilization but at the leading edge, among educated urbanites...

Comment 04 – Raoul Djukanovic March 01 2008, 09:55

Another comment from his site that's also pertinent:

[Feb 29:] Like most lefties and anarchists, I always assumed that "the system cannot be reformed" and that "reform is the enemy of revolution." It's a compelling idea, and my personal experience backed it up. Since I started following politics more than a quarter of a century ago, my country has just been going farther and farther to the right. The lesson I took from Bill Clinton and GW Bush is that if you put liberals in power, they just put a happy face on the domination system and energize the right, and it's actually better to put extreme right wingers in power because they wake people up and run the system off the rails.

But now I think we've just been in a strange part of history. First, late 20th century America made incredible advances in propaganda. The mind control powers of the TV leapt far ahead of our resistance, but now TV is losing to the less controllable internet, and our resistance is catching up. Second, late 20th century America had an unprecedented ability to buy its people off with toys. This is only possible in a world-ruling empire during a time of abundant energy, and both of those circumstances are now coming to an end.

And third, the baby boomers. They're probably the best generation in history at making music, and one of the worst at politics. Maybe it's because they were the first generation raised with TV, and just as the first generation exposed to smallpox has a 90% physical dieoff, the boomers had a 90% mental dieoff. Maybe it's because their lives perfectly matched the peak of the age of irresponsible gluttony. But for some reason, a disproportionate number of them are blowhards and cowards. You know that running joke in Life of Brian, where the revolutionary group just sits around talking and never does anything? The film implies that that behavior is universal. But if you look at history, you discover that only baby boomers are like that!

What I learned from Perlman's book is that revolution is completely routine. Repressive societies inevitably fail -- but when they are brought down with force, they tend to be followed by societies that are even worse. You can see this in both ancient and recent history. Revolutions in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917, and in China several times in the 20th century, led to mass murders and decades of shitty life for everyone. Conversely, Norway now has the highest quality of life in the world, and they haven't had a revolution or civil war for almost 300 years.

The old assumption was: you either have a full-on revolution, tear down the system and start a new one from scratch, or the system will stay the same forever. But no system can stay the same forever, especially not a bad one. My latest thinking is that violent revolution is a trick that patterns of domination use to renew themselves. And if we can just be patient, the inevitable breakdown of repression will happen through learning, voluntary action, and peaceful change.

Of course, I'm coming around to the presidential race. The great strength of Barack Obama is his ability to pay attention and adapt. The American Empire is falling, and he is incredibly well qualified to guide it to a soft landing, to help America find a "dignified climb down." And most of us are with him, but we are opposed by dreamers on both sides. On the left are the people who think a hard crash or a violent revolution would get us to a better world quicker, and on the right are the people who think the Empire need not fall. For example, Jeff sends this fascinating and hair-on-fire insane article, Obama's women reveal his secret:

Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother's milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.
Americans question the premise of America's standing as a global superpower, and of the promise of upward mobility and wealth-creation. If elected, Barack Obama will do his utmost to destroy the dual premises of America's standing. It might take the country another generation to recover.

That's the most inspiring analysis of Obama that I've seen, and the most depressing prediction about America -- that we might "recover."

Comment 05 – Jon March 01 2008, 13:40

Thanks for those. The reform vs revolution dichotomy is something that I've often reflected on. When I think of the things which I consider "progress" - workers rights, womens rights, democracy, benign technology etc - they all came from gradual progress, de facto reform, not revolution (although the motives behind them may originally have been revolutionary). I think thoughts and ideas are often both revolutionary and progressive, but in the material world progress is always gradual, whether you use the metaphors of natural growth or building something.

That's not to say that some institutions should not be torn down and demolished. But one shouldn't confuse that, in itself, with progress. Removing cancers is a metaphor which usually doesn't work well for social situations. You just know that human beings will end up treated as cancer cells.



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