This week → Designing without depletion ⊗ This heatwave has eviscerated the idea that small changes can tackle extreme weather ⊗ Crimes against Transhumanity ⊗ Towards data neutrality
Welcome to this slightly different (and shorter) issue, I had planned on being about 50% on vacation this week, but it turned out to be more like 75% and the bulk of work taken up by non-newsletter things. I did want to send something anyway, since I had yet to announce the coming vacation break. To wit; I’m taking the next three Sundays off, issue No.230 will come to you on August 21st.
Fascinating interview with Joseph Grima about his firm’s new book, Non-Extractive Architecture. The gist of his argument is that architecture/constructing buildings uses materials that are not only physically extracted but also economically and socially, with no regard for the repercussions on ecosystems and communities where the materials are taken. He presents two main solutions: more local production and local materials, not only to save on transport but as a way of integrating better tracking of responsibility and impact. Second, by re-imagining architects as advocates, as “points of intersection between actors that make up the production of the built environment.” Architects would not design buildings apart from the systems, but rather in the full knowledge of how impacts reverberate across the sourcing and construction, and they would expand their agency to orient the whole for less extraction and more sustainable models.
Grima is one of a few ‘non-architecting architects’ I follow, people who spend more time thinking deeply about the practice and reinventing it for our current challenges than they do with the ‘classical’ tasks of architects. In other words, doing what I mentioned in the last issue, thinking about the world through a specific toolkit. I’m talking about people like Bryan Boyer, Fred Scharmen, Liam Young, and Dan Hill (who’s not a trained architect but threads many of the same paths as this group). For me this view of architecture has a lot of overlap with Shannon Mattern and Drew Austin “the city is a really productive and ripe area where a lot of different disciplines are converging in their thinking, it’s already a very interdisciplinary field of study.”
Two things; all the architects I mentioned are men, please recommend women doing this type of work. Second; are there economists reflecting on economics in similar ways? Not necessarily practicing but completely re-assessing the place of their discipline within our complex now and futures.
The marketplace as it exists and operates today depends entirely on the invisibility of the consequences of production and manufacturing, often located on distant landscapes. Making these consequences visible again and rethinking the supply chain is going to be one of the great challenge of the 21st century. […]
What if we suddenly decided that we’re going to stop pretending those things don’t happen? What if we embrace the consequences of what it means to manufacture products and to build, and to price its full cost? If the sticker price included the full cost of everything we build, then suddenly making things locally and sourcing materials locally would become much more attractive. […]
[T]o reposition the architect as the guardian of the landscape and the guardian of the environment. This means finding ways to produce beauty in a way that is much more about the creation of a pleasant and liveable environment, in the sense that Christopher Alexander often wrote about. […]
[I]ndividuals and societies need to rethink our existential practices to be able to live in a way that is not the predatory practices that our current societies do, especially Western developed economies. […]
What is core to this kind of cross-disciplinary work is the need to work in teams and networks rather than the idea of the architect as heroic, centralized figure.
George Monbiot on the climate crisis (of course). Silence as “a fierce commitment to distraction and irrelevance in the face of an existential crisis,” and on the grave mistake environmentalists made. By focusing on small changes, they left the door open to stalling, and let one kind of massive systemic change off the table while enabling another kind brought by neoliberalism. Included here largely for the last quote below, it’s all there really.
But while they have been playing patience, power has been playing poker. The radical right insurgency has swept all before it, crushing the administrative state, destroying public protections, capturing the courts, the electoral system and the infrastructure of government, shutting down the right to protest and the right to live. While we persuaded ourselves that there is no time for system change, they proved us wrong by changing everything. […]
All this time, environmentalists have been telling people we face an unprecedented, existential crisis, while simultaneously asking them to recycle their bottle tops and change their drinking straws. […]
Some of us know what we want: private sufficiency, public luxury, doughnut economics, participatory democracy and an ecological civilisation. None of these are bigger asks than those the billionaire press has made and largely achieved: the neoliberal revolution that has swept away effective governance, effective taxation of the rich, effective restraints on the power of business and oligarchs and, increasingly, effective democracy.
Charlie Stross, who these days is a transhumanist skeptic and singularity curmudgeon, asks “in a transhumanist society, what currently recognized crimes need to be re-evaluated because their social impact has changed? And what strange new crimes might universally be recognized by a society with, for example, mind uploading, strong AI, or near-immortality?” He gives a few examples through various scifi books where the conditions of intelligence or ‘aliveness’ change so much that they force a redefinition of law and/or what is considered ‘good.’ I’d especially like to draw your attention to a short story he mentions, Lena, which is “structured as a Wikipedia monograph, and absolutely horrifying by implication, for various reasons.”
A corollary of the Divine Right of Kings is that some people really aren't equal--monarchs, and by extension, aristocrats, have more rights (by religious decree) than other people, and some categories (chattel slavery springs to mind: also the status of women and children) have less. But if the People could try the King for crimes against the state, then what next? […]
Here's the thing: our current prevailing political philosophy of human rights and constitutional democracy is invalidated if we have mind uploading/replication or super-human intelligence. (The latter need not be AI; it could be uploaded human minds able to monopolize sufficient computing substrate to get more thinking done per unit baseline time than actual humans can achieve.)
Guest post by Jacky Zhao at Reboot on internet platforms, massive data, moats, interoperability (or lack thereof), data-neutrality, non-blockchain options, and his own proposal. We often find ourselves in a discussion that seems to be ‘blockchain, yes or no.’ Zhao sagely answers that it’s yes for some things and no for others, showing why some types of application (“data-intensive or real-time applications (e.g. file sharing, games, collaborative text editing)”) need a different kind of decentralized underpinning than what the blockchain can provide. You can skip over some slightly more technical details if you want, but the underlying “ideal world” principles he mentions are important to ponder.
These services almost entirely depend on making sure that only they have access to that valuable data. Interoperability, on the other hand, means you no longer have a data moat, or a privileged hub position in the network. […]
In an ideal world, instead of being forced to accept package deals we cannot customize, we get modular, interoperable, local-first software which we can stack to a global scale. Apps and platforms in this model follow the Unix philosophy: expect the output of every program to become the input to another, as yet unknown, program. […]
In an ideal world, there is data-neutrality. Much like how the Net Neutrality debate strives to maintain the separation of the content and connectivity markets, data neutrality strives to maintain the separation of data and application markets. […]
In an ideal world, we focus on local-first software that works independently of large platforms – at the end of the day platforms should be used to support efficiency of collaboration at scale, not to gate users from moving their data for the sake of retention.
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