[p2p-research] Dystopia in the Outlook Section

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Aug 11 07:41:45 CEST 2009

Kevin Carson wrote:
>  Sent to you by Kevin Carson via Google Reader: Dystopia in the Outlook
> Section via Ezra Klein by Ezra Klein on 8/10/09
> Sunday's Outlook section had two pieces outlining pretty dystopic
> scenarios. The first was a back-to-the-land manifesto from someone
> who's building a self-sufficient farm in rural New Mexico in order to
> protect against the inevitable chaos of peak oil and resource wars and
> trade disruption and general technological collapse. I've never really
> understood that thinking. If humanity goes all state-of-nature, having
> a lush and self-sufficient farm is as likely to make you a target of
> the desperate many as a member of the privileged few. If trade doesn't
> survive peak oil, property rights probably won't do any better.

I completely agree with your point. Also, by investing in surviving 
dystopia, you actually make dystopia more likely, compared to using the same 
amount of time and money to build up the commons.

> The second piece is by Gregory Clark, and it outlines something I worry
> quite a bit more about. Technological change, he says, will only
> accelerate. Whatever worries you had about outsourcing to China and
> India, that's "may be only a brief historical interlude before the
> great outsourcing yet to come -- to machines." In recent years, wages
> for America's unskilled have stagnated, and there's no real reason to
> think they'll pick up. "We may have already reached the historical peak
> in the earning power of low-skilled workers," Clark writes, "and may
> look back on the mid-20th century as the great era of the common man."

I agree strongly with what you quote here of Clark. :-)

> "How do we operate a society in which a large share of the population
> is socially needy but economically redundant?" Clark asks. "There is
> only one answer. You tax the winners -- those with the still uniquely
> human skills, and those owning the capital and land -- to provide for
> the losers." Clark doesn't argue in these terms, but his conclusion is
> that only socialism will be capable of saving capitalism. "In the end,"
> he writes, "we may be forced to learn to live in a United States where,
> by stealth, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to
> his need' becomes the guiding principle of government."

Yes, the issue has to be, does everyone have a claim on the commons as a 
birthright, not just by an "income through jobs" link? See "The Triple 
Revolution" memorandum from 1964.

> Melancholy Elephants, a story by science fiction writer Spider
> Robinson, explores this topic pretty effectively. I thought his
> treatment was really profound when I was young and now think it's
> didactic and overly blunt. But it's still smart. Sort of like a Kilgore
> Trout novel. Robinson argues that we'll need some way to preserve human
> dignity in an economy when human beings are fundamentally unnecessary.
> As such, a large portion of the population will live on subsidies and
> handouts but register as professional artists. They won't be
> professionals in the sense that their work will earn money, but in the
> sense that they'll be able to lay claim to a pursuit that gives their
> life meaning and their days structure.

That stuff about dignity is bunk in specifics (even if I agree dignity is 
very important to people). But we have a world of work that strips people of 
their dignity every day, so clearly something is wrong.

Again, the issue is, do people have a claim on the commons as a birthright? 
Why should only some people own the oil by some quirk of history? Why should 
only some people own the waters? Why should only some people own copyrights 
forever now? Why should only some people own the results of agriculture when 
it depends so much on the soil, a common agricultural heritage of plant 
breeding, a common biosphere, and so on? Sure, maybe there might need to be 
incentives to get people to do hard manual labor (or not?), but there is a 
bigger issue here of a right to access the physical commons.

Does Spider Robinson think people can't come up with stuff to do if they 
have free time? Why does *he* write?

Parenting, to begin, with takes about as much time as you can put into it, 
even with just one kid, let alone two or three. And kids like it when both 
parents are around. Contemplating the mystery of the universe likewise can 
take endless time. Yoga can take hours a day. Parents who do Yoga and are a 
bit contemplative have pretty full schedules for twenty years. :-)  So, be a 
kid for twenty years, a parent for twenty years, a grandparent for twenty 
years, an elder for twenty years more. That's a lifetime of hard "work", 
learning, parenting, grandparenting (and puttering), and then just 
contemplating. So, a recipe for a full life even without "work". Likely it 
would be a very satisfying life for most real people.

And, that's without engaging in peer activities and gift economies and 
contributing to a commons and so on.

Or without dancing, laughing, loving, singing, swimming, exploring, 
learning, and so on.

Don't get me wrong. I think people will want to give back to society. I'm 
just saying that they will find a way if they can. And they will have plenty 
of time to think of ones. James P. Hogan has some lines about that in Voyage 
from Yesteryear, that as kids grow up they feel a desire to contribute.

And parenting (or uncle-ing and aunt-ing or whatever) is one way many will 
find to contribute to society, to pay it forward to the next generation.

Anyway, I find these sorts of arguments very dismissive about parenting. I 
assume most authors advancing such arguments just assume children won't 
exist or that they will be programmed in factories? Frankly, that's probably 
true for many parents these days (either no kids or the school does a lot of 
the parenting but badly). But, many parents are often forced into that by 
work situations or other social pressures.

How much time does it take to be a good neighbor, too, or a good friend? And 
endless amount of time, really.

Hunter/Gatherers spent very little time hunting and gathering and most of 
their time socializing or doing personal tasks (cooking) or parenting. They 
were pretty happy it seems. Likely happier than most of us.

Are most grad students unhappy being students as far as learning? (Even if 
the submissive part to academic hierarchy might be awful.)

There is so much to learn. Just this topic of open manufacturing already is 
more than one person could know. So much biology. So much history. So much 
about new synthetic stuff -- even the history and biology and artifacts of 
new virtual worlds. :-)
"Virtual Worlds: Synthetic Universes, Digital Life, And Complexity"

Anyway, I think that problem of people being bored or not having dignity if 
they had a basic income is overblown. It's kind of like Civil War era 
Southerners saying stuff like, "Let's keep all the blacks as slaves, because 
being a free person would be too painful for them. They'd feel like they 
were undignified if they were free."

--Paul Fernhout

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