This week → Planning an eco-socialist utopia ⊗ How to eat the future ⊗ Your kids are not doomed ⊗ Boundary objects and decentralised innovation ⊗ Libraries, a love story
A couple of weeks ago I listened to a podcast episode of Tech Won’t Save Us with Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese about their book Half-Earth Socialism, the article above is an essay adapted from it, but the podcast is also excellent. The first part of their proposal of course comes from E. O. Wilson’s idea of the same name to curtail our current extravagant land-use—often carried out by the meat industry, the principal driver of the current mass extinction.
The second part is based not only on ideals of a farer, more democratic world, but also on some concepts I think we should pay a lot more attention to. The scientific or technical one is that “capitalism is an inherently irrational system because the pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all other considerations leads to disaster, such as the climate crisis and the sixth mass extinction.” The irrational part comes from the belief “that any single metric, like money, could guide all decisions within any system, economic or otherwise.”
The premise of whole essay is that we now have plentiful data and simulation systems to look at the world as a whole while considering more than one metric. Under a global socialist governance, we could develop a “‘scientific utopianism,’ in which planners would lay out their goals and constraints in natural units and then devise different plans that could be chosen by an informed public.” (‘Natural units’ of land and carbon emissions, for example, but not money.)
Even though they talk about socialism and planning, it’s of course not Soviet communism, it’s a truly democratic society and the planning ‘trickles down’ from high level guidance, each level then being responsible for the planning within their purview. For example mandating a 2,000 per person power quota globally and countries or regions deciding on other priorities within that quota. This type of idea often brings images of surveillance and micromanagement, that’s because we extrapolate from the current internet platforms, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Benjamin Bratton made a similar case with “societal self-sensing” in Revenge of the Real; what needs to be measured to understand our systems and ecosystems has nothing to do with the personal data collected by the Facepalms of the world. Monitoring ecosystems and what an economy consumes and produces doesn’t require individuals to be tracked around town.
Finally, this is one of those inventing futures and Le Guin divine rights of kings situation; we have to stop taking for granted the ‘unmovable’ ‘common sense’ we now live under, and propose different worlds, Pendergrass and Vettese offer a convincing one.
Half-Earth socialism requires a similar balancing act, supplying everyone with the material foundations for a good life — sustenance, shelter, education, art, health — while protecting the biosphere from destabilization. […]
Pseudorationality has now given the illusion that climate change can be reduced to a simple algebra problem. Clearly, another kind of political economy — eco-socialism — is needed. This method should allow us to think in terms of trade-offs between discrete and incommensurate goals. […]
Although critics of the left often accuse socialists of magical thinking, the real fantasy is a future where capitalism is constrained within planetary boundaries. […]
Meeting the needs of nature and humanity is fundamentally a material goal, measured in food and carbon molecules, and seeing the world in natural units allows us to directly confront trade-offs without the obfuscation of money. […]
The goal of socialism is not to replicate the market, but to allow humanity to consciously regulate itself and its interchange with nature.
At Real Life, Cameron Kunzelman reviews Jane McGonigal’s career and most recent book, Imaginable. The article was discussed in the members’ Discord, Johannes had some follow-up thoughts you should read. Basically, in corporate foresight “most scenarios are evaluated simply on metrics of success (from revenue to attention) and not on aspects like indirect consequences, possible discrimination, exploitation, and many other effects on people and groups in society or even the planet.”
Kunzelman and Kleske make good points I agree with, and some have raised the argument that it’s hard to get this kind of nuance and critique done in a corporate setting. I’d like to go less “pro” and recommend the piece as a good opportunity to see that the ‘s’ in futures is not only for the multiplicity of possibilities to invent, but for the multiplicity of sources and biases in those already in use and being sold. We need to invent new one, but also to understand those that already exist.
People are already speculating about the future, they are doing it in large groups, and they are doing it structurally. We do not have a shortage of future-thinking. We have a shortage of thinking about how different ideological futures compete with one another, a problem that McGonigal is not interested in addressing. […]
The problem is not getting people to dream together; the problem is in how to bring dreams together in a way that is good, equitable, and just in a way that the past has not been […]
Our era is governed and embattled with the imagination, and it is not clear to me McGonigal’s self-help of the imagination, does much more than allow me to play with a mental model of a catastrophe of my own invention, rather than the disaster we’re living through in the present
Ezra Klein gets asked these two questions constantly: “Should I have kids, given the climate crisis they will face?” and “should I have kids, knowing they will contribute to the climate crisis the world faces?” He makes a good argument that the answer to both is yes, but I’d like to tack on another layer. He basically says that it’s hopeful to have kids, that we can’t give into doom, and that for most people it’s going to be a hard life but worth living.
What he doesn’t mention directly is that the people who will have it very or even impossibly hard are, by and large, in the global south. So if you start advocating that the world will be too hard for kids and to stop having them, and the kids who will have it hardest are in poorer places, you’re basically back to the old ‘argument’ of overpopulation and ecofascim. Make your own decisions, obviously, but it shouldn’t be a movement, and if there’s a fight to be fought, it’s not about whether it’s going to be too hard for kids in the west, it’s to fight for decent lives for all the other kids.
The fear about the future our children will face, when voiced by well-off residents of wealthy countries, sometimes strikes me as a transference of guilt into terror. To face what we’ve done to others is unimaginable. It is easier, somehow, to imagine we have done it to ourselves. […]
“Almost all pollution is fixed by the structure of society,” Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told me. “The goal is to undo that structure so children can be born into a society that is not putting out carbon pollution. That’s the project.” […]
A climate movement that embraces sacrifice as its answer or even as its temperament might do more harm than good. It may accidentally sacrifice the political appeal needed to make the net-zero emissions world real.
Boundary objects and decentralised innovation → Short post explaining boundary objects, as a perspective on Web3. Perhaps what’s most distributed about Web3 right now isn’t the tech, money, or power, but the innovation. “A ‘boundary object’ must meet 3 criteria: 1. Interpretative flexibility—people can understand it to mean different things 2. Practical value—different groups derive value and use from it 3. Translocal meanings—it shifts back and forth between specific meanings in local contexts to a fuzzy meaning in a shared context”
Libraries, a love story → “[E]ven in our networked age, there is still something magical to me about the physical institution of a library, something uniquely inspiring. We create tools to help us think or remember more effectively, but we also create spaces that serve those same purposes—libraries most of all.”
Futures, foresights, forecasts & fabulations → Sensemaking and APAC: A Window into a Possible Just and Regenerative Future? ⊗ Could have been featured but since I’m Musked-out, I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on it, still and excellent read on the influence of scifi. To Understand Elon Musk, You Have to Understand This ’60s Sci-Fi Novel. ⊗ Anab Jain, Curating the Future, an interview at On The Edge. ⊗ No major new insight but interesting to hear about futures, imagination, and solarpunk from a different angle and profile of person: Imagination Activism.
- 🤩 New issue of New_ Public Magazine, The Trust Issue. “Trust is an elusive variable that lies within most of the key questions about tech’s role in our lives. How do we know a machine, or program, will work as planned? How do we determine if someone online is who they claim to be? How can we make sure a digital space is truly safe?”
- 🗺 😍 Felt “The best way to make maps on the internet. Marker, Highlighter and Notes allow you to treat a map like a pad of paper. Smart, map-aware tools like Route and Clip make drawing along roads and boundaries a snap. Photos, Links, and Videos make maps internet-native for the first time.”
- 🤔 😎 Not always the most useable websites, but definitely unique and eye-catching. The Era of Rebellious Web Design Is Here. “Code and Theory's approach to editorial web design is equal parts strategy and sprezzatura” (Via Zine.)
- 🧫 🤖 🥽 AI-designed enzyme devours plastic trash in days. “The new enzyme works at lower temperatures than previous ones, which would make it greener, faster, and cheaper”
- 🇳🇱 🌳 💚 Bosk. “Every day for a hundred days, a different part of the city centre of Leeuwarden will be coloured green. That is because over one thousand large and small trees will be walking around the city. This ‘walking’ forest will give the trees – and with them, nature – a voice: what can we learn from trees and how does the forest view the human world?”
- 🕸 System. “A knowledge base of the world’s systems. System is a free, open, and living public resource that aims to explain how anything in the world is related to everything else.” (Via Naive Weekly.)
- 🇺🇸 🔭 ⬡ ⬣ MIT Media Lab trials tiles that assemble into space architecture. “Called Tesserae, the project aims to create future space habitats from reconfigurable tiles that assemble while in orbit around the moon or Earth.”
- 🇨🇳 🚚 🤖 Makes a lot more sense than privately-owned Teslas running around. WeRide Launched Fully Autonomous Sanitation Vehicle Fleet In China. “The truck was jointly designed and produced by WeRide and the Yutong Group for cleaning public roads. A fleet of more than 50 units of the Robosweeper will conduct a public road test in the Nansha District of Guangzhou starting in May.”
- 👾 📘 I don’t usually link to Kickstarter project but this looks excellent. The 50 Years of Text Games book is now on Kickstarter. “From Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon. A definitive book about the first half-century of interactive fiction.”
- 📈 💵 The first-ever Patreon Creator Census. “Video is the most popular primary medium on Patreon (used by over a third of creators), followed by writing and podcasts.” (Via Zine.)
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