This week → Living with just enough ⊗ Life less normal ⊗ Brace yourself for the most dangerous idea yet: most people are pretty decent ⊗ The history of the future ⊗ Sidewalk Labs
Not sure how historically accurate this is, but it seems to be a plausible interpretation. At the very least, most of the observations were true in other countries at various periods so even taken as an idealized period, there are still lessons for us.
TL;DR the resource-scarce, environmentally aware society and especially crafting of Japan’s Edo period gives us interesting lessons for finding our way amongst the crises.
The description of craftspeople as specialized in what they produced but diversified “vertically” in their understanding of all the steps and context of that product reminded me of Ursula Franklin’s description of holistic technologies in her lecture series compiled in the book The Real World of Technology. Or, for a quicker read, in Deb Chachra’s fantastic Why I Am Not a Maker (also here with Klint Finley and Sara M. Watson).
[T]he Edo period of Japan has a lot to teach us. We could in fact use it as a model of how to flip impending environmental collapse into sustainability, primarily by allowing a rich and insightful mindset rooted in centuries of experience and wisdom to guide our decisions. […]
But the culture as a whole was pervaded by a sense of time in which outcomes were measured in centuries, and in which it was nearly impossible to plan even simple tasks without a broader awareness of chains of consequences that would emerge from one’s actions, or of the origins, destinations, and connections among the people and things which supported human life like a vast web of interconnected spirit. […]
Though a very active national trade network existed, each of the dozens of fiefdoms into which the country was divided was encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible. Each village in a fief was encouraged to do the same, as was each family in a village. […]
The importance of the cross-fertilization and innovation that emerges when most people in society are designers and practitioners of crafts is often overlooked. […]
I would like to suggest that we are on the threshold of a new aesthetic shift fed by an altered awareness of our dependence on the environment and the importance of healing and preserving it that will permanently alter our sense of beauty.
Looking at the “normal” in this period of crises, this time from the practice of Human–computer interaction (HCI) which “studies the design and use of computer technology.” How technoscientific systems and infrastructures, focused on measurement, automation, and optimization affect how these systems impact society, how practitioners in the field need to consider the broader impact of their work. More importantly and interestingly, how the “normal” situation / life / world is often not a good place to be for marginalized folx, and again, as has been a recurring theme in the last few issues, how these impacts and inequalities need to be put front and center when considering which “normal” will be built or restarted.
Speaking of normals, quick blurb here where Jacinda Ardern speaks of achieving a “safer normal”, “not a return to business as usual.”
For people often assigned to the margins—people of color, the homeless, the colonized, the disabled, the low-waged, the unemployed, the displaced, and so on—normalcy relies on long histories of prejudice and continued exploitation. For many millions, globally, “the normal” is a life in precarity that demands continued endurance. […]
Technoscientific systems and infrastructures that seek to monitor and optimize human behavior and productivity, or that manage the functioning and health of bodies, enforce an idea of normal that obscures the brutal realities and erases those at the margins, sometimes violently. […]
Everything from access to testing and ventilation equipment, to the machinery for “rebooting the economy,” to distributing state-backed welfare, need to be examined to understand how the sociotechnical, the sociopolitical, and healthcare are being entangled. And how these entanglements are amplifying already deeply set injustices and discrimination. […]
It should then be clear that the technologies we are preoccupied with in HCI—technologies that count, monitor, calculate, identify, etc., all across geographically dispersed networks of fiber and wireless communication channels—are implicated in a version of normal that is exploitative and injust. […]
We need to be imagining worlds that resist singular or monolithic ways of valuing life, that question the logics of extraction and transaction, and that make possible a multiplicity of ways of living together.
Rutger Bregman (historian, author, utopian, caller-out of Davosians) has a new book coming out in a few weeks. To introduce his main thesis—that most people are pretty decent—he looks at the history and ideas of Peter Kropotkin as well as Huxley, Darwin, and social darwinism to reflect on why so many of us think people are egotistical jerks when really, people usually help each other out and are basically decent.
Kropotkin was far ahead of his time. He rejected both authoritarian communism and the iron cage of capitalism. He believed in the power of the individual, but equally that we can’t survive without each other. […]
Even today, reams of legislation are written from an assumption that most people are rotten. This assumption is constantly treated as biological fact, when nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Too many economists and politicians model society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection,’ observes biologist Frans de Waal. ‘What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature.’ […]
Kropotkin knew that nature has its share of selfishness, struggle, and violence. But he also understood that the Social Darwinists were blind to something even bigger: mutual aid. Since his book, a tremendous body of scientific literature has emerged on altruism and kindness in humans and animals alike. […]
What would happen if we turned this around? What if schools, businesses, and governments assumed that most people are doing their best? What if we rallied round our tendency to trust and cooperate – a tendency with every bit as much of an evolutionary basis, over hundreds of millions of years?
Audrey Watters always creates brilliant talks, long articles, and analysis even if, while justly calling out the blindly optimistic, she does (imho) tend to be overly pessimistic, assigning dastardly intent when the protagonists simply don’t know any better (also an issue of course, but less egregious). Here Watters looks at some of the reasons why she studies the history of the future, how scenarios made-up by futurists, even if they don’t come true, affect politicians and enterprises, orient decision-making, and influence the direction of the future we do get saddled with. Additionally, this kind of data-based, pseudo-scientific, corporate futurism forecloses “other ways of imagining the future — those based on emotion, care, refusal, resistance, love.” (Also covers RAND, game theory, and behavioral psychology.)
The future — as Macbeth figures out, I suppose — is a political problem. The history of the future is a study of political imagination and political will. […]
It doesn’t account for precursors that make acceptance of a new technology happen more smoothly — new technologies rarely appear out of nowhere. Nor does it address the political or social occurrences that might prompt or preclude technology adoption. […]
We have to think about, we have to talk about, we have to make strides toward an open future before the futurist-consultants come in with their predictive models and techno-solutionism and tell the bosses they have to sell off the world to save it. These futurists promise certainty. They promise inevitability. And with their models, no one bears responsibility. “It was the algorithm,” they shrug. […]
And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
Bye Bye Smartypants
Under cover (excuse) of Covid-induced economic uncertainty, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs have given up on their smart city project in Toronto and are packing their bags. Hooray! Thanks to all the activists and @blocksidewalk for raising hell and making this happen.
- After Sidewalk Labs, Toronto should get smart
- Alphabet’s Dream of a Smart City in Toronto Is Over
- The real reason Sidewalk Labs failed in Toronto
- 😰 😱 🤯 🥵 One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study. “In a worst-case scenario of accelerating emissions, areas currently home to a third of the world’s population will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years, the paper warns. Even in the most optimistic outlook, 1.2 billion people will fall outside the comfortable ‘climate niche’ in which humans have thrived for at least 6,000 years. The authors of the study said they were ‘floored’ and ‘blown away’ by the findings because they had not expected our species to be so vulnerable.”
- Very good 🧵 by Jason Hickel on what is and isn’t degrowth. Just to be clear: the economic contraction that’s happening right now is *not* degrowth. If you’re ever confused, you can consult this handy list of questions:1. Is it part of a coherent policy to reduce ecological impact and improve well-being? If not, then it’s not degrowth.
- 🇳🇿 🇩🇪 🇮🇸 🏴 🇳🇴 Women Leaders Aren’t Better. Strongmen Are Worse. “The final potential explanation for why countries with female leaders appear to have done better in this crisis is the most thought-provoking. Women find gaining power easier in ‘a political culture in which there’s a relative support and trust in the government,’ Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at NYU, told The Guardian. A country that elects a strongman—or where a strongman can hold on to power, once elections become a sham—is an already troubled country.”
- 🍄 ⚡️ 🤯 Fungal Lightning. Paging Nikola Tesla to the mushroom counter. “These electrical storms do not have to be nearby, and they do not even need to be natural: ‘In a series of experiments, Koichi Takaki at Iwate University and colleagues showed that artificial lightning strikes do not have to directly strike shiitake mushroom cultivation beds to promote growth.’ Instead, it seems one can coax mushrooms into fruiting using even just the indirect presence of electrical fields.”
- 🇰🇭 😍 🎥 Great 🧵 by Paul Cooper One thing that has made Episode 5 of Fall of Civilizations TV so exciting to work on is the digital recreations of the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor, done by Thomas Chandler and his team at Sensilab, Monash University.
- 👀 🤔 Short 🧵 by Jack Clark Playing around with notion that we’ll evaluate 21st century geopolitics through lens of ‘information empires’. It’s going to be increasingly apparent that AI-driven OODA loops are going to define competitive dynamics in many areas of life.
- 🏁 🚗 Indycar’s Virtual Race Crashes Sparked Real-World Controversy Among Drivers. “An inherent tension in F1 and Indy racing is that drivers are in ruthless competition at the same time that they are all trying to prevent crashes that can easily turn deadly. Now that these same drivers are competing in a space where the deadly physical consequences are no longer an issue, the sport is changing fast, and in ways that can carry over to real-world tracks when drivers are able to race on them again.”