[p2p-research] no oil crisis?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Aug 15 04:12:08 CEST 2009

Ryan Lanham wrote:
> [with snips] I don't hold any sign humans can or will learn 
 > or respond to the issues at hand.  They haven't so far.

Try "Blessed Unrest" by Paul Hawken.

Or think about the civil rights movement. Or the environmental movement. Or 
older trade union movements. The anti-slavery movement. The women's rights 
movement. So, progress on rights of various sorts, even if some Native 
Americans had them centuries ago:
  "The Iroquois Roots of the Constitution" by Paula Underwood
Briefly put -- many, perhaps most, of our Founding Fathers were intimately 
familiar with Indian governance structures. This was especially true of 
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, the Adamses (Samuel, 
John, and Abigail), and John Rutledge. Specifically, Franklin, who was 
Indian Agent for the Colony of New York, carefully studied 
Iroquois/Haudonosaunee organization under the Great Law of Peace and clearly 
used it as the basis for his Albany Plan of Union published in 1754, under 
which he hoped to unite the Colonies. The Albany Plan was used as the basis 
for the constitution of the Colony (later the State) of New York and later 
became the basis for the Articles of Confederation, which provided in turn 
the basis for the U.S. Constitution.
   Some date the Great Law of Peace as early as 1054 -- a date my tradition 
agrees with. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League themselves say the Great 
Law is about 1,000 years old. From the beginning it included and still 
includes concepts such as democratic representation, the right to impeach 
officials, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, prohibition against 
illegal search and ceasure. It also included equal rights for women and for 
all men, the rights of children, and responsibility for the environment.

This may be propaganda to rehabilitate Bush(?), but Cheney is now saying 
that he was annoyed Bush responded to public pressure in his second term:
"The story, by Post reporter Barton Gellman—whose book “Angler” is the 
definitive account of how Cheney, as vice president, basically tried to rule 
the world—quotes a source as saying that Cheney believes Bush went all soft 
on him during the second term. That was when Bush ordered a halt to the 
waterboarding of terrorism suspects, closed the secret overseas CIA prisons, 
made diplomatic overtures to hostile states such as North Korea and Iran, 
and generally started to behave in ways that Cheney apparently deemed 
entirely too reasonable."

 > We have a long history of collapse and very little history of
> organized success.  

You might like this guy's "Beyond Civilization" writings where he says that 
throughout history, over and over again, hierarchies have grown too strong 
and been abandoned (if you have not read that book already):

But that may not be your point? Quinn suggests those "collapses" were often 
signs of social health, with people shrugging off an out-of-balance state 
that had become too dysfunctional or parasitical, and they went back to 
hunter/gatherer/local-farmer ways (essentially just by running away to the 
woods, easier back then, of course). This is a bit like Kevin's point in 
"The end of growth?" thread where he says: "A drastic reduction in inputs 
required per unit of output, and the disappearance of the price mechanism 
altogether for much of what we consume, would register in conventional 
econometric statistics as a catastrophic economic collapse.  But it would be 
entirely compatible with a radical increase in actual material standard of 

Still, maybe we're all starting to sound like Rush Limbaugh groupies? :-)
   "Don't Back Down, America! You Have the Statists on the Run"

Should we be worried? :-)

The problem is, Rush Limbaugh is right about some things sometimes 
(otherwise he would not be so damaging and persuasive), since he can take a 
center-right politician like Obama, paid for by Wall Street and other 
interest groups given the way US money politics work, and easily lampoon 
him. He can also find justifiable faults with certain more extreme 
non-profits (ones that may too somehow turn self-serving). Of course, that 
does not mean all alternatives to free marketism or extreme conservatism are 
bad even if some individuals are problem cases, which is his otherwise 
unspoken implied conclusion that everyone else and any other points-of-view 
than his is a problem too. Pointing out something is out of balance in some 
way does not mean another extreme is better. And of course a lot of what he 
says is either hate speech or full of half-truths. And, ironically, he 
supports his position in a strong hierarchy by saying shared abundance for 
all would imply a strong hierarchy, and so that is evil.

Still, there are parallels sometimes. :-) But, maybe we can even build on 
them to draw from people at the edges of his base? :-)

> I give, personally, even less hope of a
> libertarian/market solution--personally, I'd give the least hope to that.

So, maybe post-capitalism is not entirely rubbish if we really need to 
invent something else for a likelihood of survival? :-)

Still, with that said, if for the free market we can control externalities 
with taxes and regulation, manage systemic risks with taxes and regulation, 
deal with wealth concentration and related anti-democratic influences with 
taxes and a basic income and the government holding a lot of wealth, handle 
strong market actors defining social network standards with arbitrary 
decisions, and so on, then "free" markets may do amazing things as a servant 
instead of a master. :-) Until we automate everything or redesign most labor 
out of production or make things locally, as people like Marshall Brain says 
is happening. :-) Or until the state enforcing those rules on the market 
gets too strong and stuff is so out of balance again and we get another 

Example failure mode on that:
My ideas are all theoretical and impossible to implement because politics 
cannot be overcome. There are too many vested interests and there always 
will be. For example, if you say "Let's tax negative externalities and 
subsidize positive externalities" then you instantly create massive, 
well-funded lobbies of pseudo-scientists who are paid to say that "this is 
bad and that is good" on behalf of whoever hired them. Politicians are not 
able to sort out the huge amounts of information needed to make smart 
decisions, so they will rely on the doctored summaries they get from 
lobbyists. And that family vacation they'll get to the French Riviera will 
seal the deal.

But, to get past that, we need a more general social awareness of that, and 
a related infrastructure of ideas and processes. For example, no Republicans 
voted to end Medicare when that was proposed recently to call them on hypocrisy:
None would vote to reinstitute slavery or repeal a womans right to vote. So, 
there are some basic things that may ratchet up.

Still, here are a bunch of seniors arguing against free-to-the-user medical 
care for their children and grandchildren, while they already have it and 
are the most expensive users of medicine:
Before lunch was served, Weiner took about a dozen questions from the group, 
including a heated claim that the plan was "Communist."
   "Are we going to have a say in this or are we becoming a Communist 
country?" demanded a 61-year-old man named Bill. "I've never heard of a 
government program that doesn't explode in costs. This is a joke."
   One elderly man yelled out, "It's a Socialist country!" Others clapped.
   Weiner tried to calm them down.
   "Let's turn down the rhetoric," he pleaded.
   One senior wanted to know how the government would pay for a program to 
cover some 47 million uninsured Americans.
   "Where are the doctors and nurses going to come from to cover all these 
new people?" he asked.
   Sheryl Debling, who declined to give her age, but was not a member of the 
senior center, came to the meeting to get some answers.
   "Where is the money going to come from?" she asked. "You are bankrupting 
our country. You guys are crooks."
   "You have a lot of good talking points," Weiner told her, clearly 

Again, this is all old people with free-to-the-user health care paid for by 
a tax on young people who often don't have health care.

So, some of this is leadership.

   "The Healthcare Speech Obama SHOULD HAVE Delivered"
"Of the $2.5 trillion we presently spend on healthcare my plan will save 
more than $3/4 trillion (that’s $750 billion) in money that is now wasted on 
unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork and insurance policy provisions."

Instead of:
   "Obama giving health care critics upper hand"
In trying to avoid Bill Clinton's mistakes, Obama may be repeating them. 
Instead of concocting a secret White House plan and releasing it to a 
dubious public, he let key members of Congress meeting for months behind 
closed doors do the same thing.
"They learned the process mistakes," said GOP strategist Karen Hanretty. 
"They thought, 'If it comes from inside the White House, then we own it, so 
we'll give it to Congress and they can own it and we'll just talk about 
these issues from the 30,000-foot level.' "
   That doesn't work with such an emotional issue, she said, and the White 
House wound up substituting the popular Obama brand with a tarnished 
congressional one.

So, I have some hope that we could get some market-related solutions to work 
with leadership.
   "Planning Through the Market: More Equality Through the Market System"

And there are aspects of a market that can co-exist (at least for a time) 
with peer-production, with both a peer gift economy for some things 
(Wikipedia) and a peer market economy for other things (vegetables), until 
the dynamics completely shifts to new modes.

> I try to run my own
> numbers.  It's become a way of thinking for me.  I always run my own
> numbers, even if I see them in front of me--I just don't trust conclusions
> unless I do the math, if it is worthwhile and feasible to do so.

How about running the numbers on this?
Grid parity is the point at which renewable electricity is equal to or 
cheaper than grid power. It is achieved first in areas with abundant sun and 
high costs for electricity such as in California and Japan.[1] Solar module 
prices are falling so fast that solar may be able to cost-effectively 
compete with fossil fuels within a matter of months in 2009.[2] Grid parity 
has been reached in Hawaii and other islands that otherwise use fossil fuel 
(diesel fuel) to produce electricity, and most of the US is expected to 
reach grid parity by 2015.[3][4]

If that is true, then what is the problem about energy? Links for 3 and 4 
(both from BP though):

 > Overall, I try to make myself believe this or that based on empirical
 > facts.  I'll confess to panic and jumping to conclusions.

You're in good company. I used to believe more of that too. Look at my grad 
student plan from twenty years ago:
Why do I want to build these habitats? Most people would agree there is at 
least a one percent chance the human race will wipe itself out within the 
next century through a nuclear or biological war. The issue isn't even 
necessarily about our politicians making mistakes. The fallibility of the 
Soviet missile command computer technicians is what worries me most. Like 
anyone else familiar with computers, I know how easy it is to make a mistake 
with one. Beyond accidental warfare, expanding populations and industrial 
pollution threaten our lives just as much. I feel that even if there is only 
a one percent chance of ecological disaster over the next century, I want to 
do my best to ensure human survival in that case.
   Most people do not think about these issues, or if they do, rapidly 
dismiss the problems as too large and impossible to do anything significant 
about. I feel I have an alternative to apathy or despair. Some habitats in 
space or underwater would probably survive a nuclear war. Unlike bomb 
shelters, they would provide an intact technological and cultural base from 
which to regrow our civilization. If there is not a war, they would still 
serve the useful function of providing more living space for expanding 
populations. Being a closed environmental system, they would also make 
people focus on recycling industrial pollution back into raw materials, 
leading to safer industries and a cleaner environment.

So, that's pretty dystopian compared to my focus now as an emphasis (even if 
it is still linked to what I do now).

Anyway, lots of people miss obvious trends, like falling solar costs. Look 
at the history of flight, for example.

     "10 impossibilities conquered by science"
The number of scientists and engineers who confidently stated that 
heavier-than-air flight was impossible in the run-up to the Wright brothers' 
flight is too large to count. Lord Kelvin is probably the best-known. In 
1895 he stated that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible", only 
to be proved definitively wrong just eight years later. Even when Kelvin 
made his infamous statement, scientists and engineers were closing rapidly 
on the goal of heavier-than-air flight. People had been flying in balloons 
since the late eighteenth century, and by the late 1800s these were 
controllable. Several designs, such as Félix du Temple's Monoplane, had also 
taken to the skies, if only briefly. So why the scepticism about 
heavier-than-air flight? The problem was set out in 1716 by the scientist 
and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg in an article describing a design for a 
flying machine. Swedenborg wrote: "It seems easier to talk of such a machine 
than to put it into actuality, for it requires greater force and less weight 
than exists in a human body." Swedenborg's design, like so many, was based 
on a flapping-wing mechanism. Two things had to happen before 
heavier-than-air flight became possible. First, flapping wings had to be 
ditched and replaced by a gliding mechanism. And secondly, engineers had to 
be able to call on a better power supply – the internal combustion engine. 
Ironically, Nicolaus Otto had already patented this in 1877.

Like Nanosolar has patented great thin-film solar modules,
and many other companies have many other innovations?

Anyway, we know the sun's rays can be converted to useful energy in a 
variety of ways. It's just a matter of doing it in the most cost-effective 
sustainable way that also meets other goals like for intrinsic security or 

> My justification is that I work with citizens and have done so in many
> formats. I know how hard it is to compel action--even in an obvious crisis.
> People will cheat, twist, distort and frustrate things for reasons that are
> beyond me...sometimes I suppose people just feel pain and need to bleed it
> out somewhere.  That's the best explanation of social irrationality I can
> give.  I work to educate people...it's a long, slow sometimes seemingly
> hopeless endeavor.   But the best I can do personally is to try to figure
> things out and then to teach what I have learned to people. It is those who
> teach from what they know in their core, what they have personally verified,
> that I always have trusted most.  It was the educational philosophy I was
> brought up with, the one I chose in a university, and the one I espouse.
> Verify.

You are right, and you are doing a great public service. Although, as with 
free and open source, it is really more like herding cats -- you can't 
compel so much as encourage.

     "What Dreams May Come" (the novel)
     "This is their composite mental image?" I asked. Soundless; hueless; 
     "It is," he said.
     "And you work here?" I felt stunned that anyone who had the choice 
would elect to work in this forbidding place.
     "This is nothing," was all he said.

As a technologist, I do think there *is* plenty to despair about on the 
social side. :-( Just not the technological side. :-)

See, we need to merge these ideas with the social activists here who are 
optimistic about the social side, :-) but despairing about the technical 
side. :-(

Hopefully, that match up will not end up with despair-despair :-( but 
optimism-optimism. :-)

G. William Domhoff has some ideas:
   "Fresh Start For the Left: What Activists Would Do If They Took the 
Social Sciences Seriously"
"Transform the Democratic Party through the creation of Egalitarian 
Democratic Clubs. Build social movements that use strategic nonviolence in a 
creative fashion to win over neutrals, divide the opposition, discredit 
government authorities, and reassure police officers about their personal 
safety. Advocate extensive economic planning through a reconstructed market 
system that aims for greater economic equality, worker rights, and 
environmental protection. No one of these points is original or 
earthshaking. Taken together, however, they add up to a package that never 
has been tried. They unite the electoral and non-electoral. They by-pass the 
structural impossibilities of third parties and non-market central planning, 
and they eliminate the self-defeating resort to violence. They are the 
central pieces that would make it possible for a new egalitarian movement to 
create alliances with mainstream liberals and work with elected liberal 
politicians on some issues."

I'd add a few other aspects related to decentralized intrinsically-secure 
sustainable technology, a free digital commons, peer-production, rethinking 
education, a basic income, but I can agree with that core. :-)

> As to neo-agrarian societies, you are preaching to the choir.  I love a
> garden and a compost pile, but I have no intention of moving back to 1850.
> I like stem cell transplants, cell phones, jumbo jets and laser-guided
> drone-launched anti-terrorist missiles.  One thing I have found out about
> this little mailing list of 200 or so people is that it is filled with some
> very smart, often highly accomplished and frankly weird folks. I suppose I
> am one of the latter.

Well, you had me with everything except the killer robots. :-(

Do you really think you want to go up against this tech if society really 
collapses in a chaotic way? And considering where this will be in ten years?
   "Samsung develops machine gun sentry robot costs $200k"
"Samsung has partnered with Korea university and developed the machine-gun 
equipped robotic sentry. It is equipped with two cameras with zooming 
capabilities one for day time and one for infrared night vision. It has a 
sophisticated pattern recognition which can detect the difference between 
humans and trees, and a 5.5mm machine-gun. The robot also has a speaker to 
warn the intruder to surrender or get a perfect headshot. The robots will go 
on sale by 2007 for $ 200,000 and will be deployed on the border between 
North and South Korea."
There's a video with catchy music on that site too.

As I just wrote to someone else:

So, again, it's a social problem. Or a psychological one. Albert Einstein 
said: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes 
of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."

Using robotics as killing machines in order to defend a pyramidal social 
order based around perceived scarcity is ironically stupid. Why not use 
robots instead to produce material abundance for everyone, and start 
shipping free stuff to North Korea?

Using nuclear energy as bombs to fight over the remaining oil fields and a 
perceived scarcity of energy is ironically stupid. Why not just use the 
power of the atom to cure the sick and build power systems? (Even as I 
generally prefer renewables and alternative medicine over nuclear solutions.)

Using biotech as plagues (weaponized Lyme that accidentally infected Bush?) 
to fight over a perceived scarcity caused by sickly people is ironically 
stupid. Why not just use biotech to feed and cure everyone?

Using the internet to locate and destroy alternative groups so a few can 
have abundance while the many are poor and ignorant is ironically stupid. 
Why not just use the internet to make more tools like Wikipedia and 
GNU/Linux and Google to help in bringing prosperity to everyone and create 
alternative visions to a society going over a cliff?

Using artificial intelligence to spy on people to arrest them in order to 
preserve a failing social model built around perceived scarcity is 
ironically stupid. Why not just use AI instead to design better materials 
and drugs and social policies?

Using bureaucracy to mobilize big armies in order to fight over perceived 
scarcity from a lack of innovation, is ironically stupid. Why not just 
instead support collectives of stigmergic innovators like with a basic 
income funded through taxes or the rental of government controlled assets 
(like Alaska does with its Permanent fund)?

Using digital ration units (dollars) to enforce scarcity is ironically 
stupid, when the same computers could implement a basic income and give 
everyone an instant access to a share a digital commons (using Google, 
Wikipedia, and so on).

The biggest problem of the 21st century is, ironically, post-scarcity 
technologies of abundance in the hands of scarcity-preoccupied people who 
use them to create artificial scarcities.

I see I have a lot of work to do yet. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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