[p2p-research] Bruce Sterling: The Caryatids

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Fri Aug 21 07:38:15 CEST 2009

great review Kevin,

but what about the competitive dynamics between chinese centralisation,
dispensation decentralisation, and acquis distribution?


On Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 3:39 AM, Kevin Carson <
free.market.anticapitalist at gmail.com> wrote:

> By way of caveat, let me get out front with the admission that this
> review involves mainly aspects of the "future history" scenario I find
> most intriguing, rather than with the story line or characters.  While
> I can get into a good story, I generally read near-future sci fi with
> a view primarily to the usable ideas for organizing society or for
> explaining the direction things are going in.
> The Caryatids is set in the world of 2065, a world wrecked by global
> warming, in which most states have been pushed to overload and
> collapse by the ecological catastrophes of the early 21st century.
> The world is dominated by two networked global civil societies, the
> Dispensation and the Acquis.  Both are engaged in the reclamation of
> devastated areas and oversee networks of refugee camps housing
> millions of displaced persons.
> The Acquis is largely green and open-source in ideological
> orientation, and the Dispensation is commercial and proprietary.
> The Dispensation does not adhere as closely as the Acquis to a pure
> networked form; it has a primary geographical base, in southern
> California and the Greater LA area (there's mention of a surviving
> state legislature in Sacramento).
> Like the Acquis, the Dispensation relies heavily on sustainable
> technology, but with a much more proprietary and less egalitarian
> sensibility.  The economic and cultural  core of the Dispensation
> looks like a fusion of Hollywood and Microsoft.  Cory Doctorow calls
> them "Al Gore green capitalists,"
> http://www.boingboing.net/2009/02/24/bruce-sterlings-the.html but the
> "cognitive capitalism" and "vectoralism" theses are also relevant.
> The Dispensation's approach to sustainability, in particular, looks
> like something we'd associate with Richard Florida
> http://www.thestar.com/article/656837 and William McDonough
> http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/130/the-mortal-messiah.html?page=0%2C0
> .
>  The underclass majority of the southern California core area, the
> residents of the coastal slums displaced by the rising seas and
> depression, are clients of Dispensation low-impact housing technology
> resembling Marshall Brain's terrafoam welfare dorms in "Manna."
> http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna4.htm
> The underclass is also managed with Hollywood bread and circuses.
> The leading Dispensation family in the novel, the
> Montgomery-Montalbans, illustrate the nature of the Dispensation's
> ruling elite.  The family matriarch started out as a starlet in the
> early 21st century, and founded a media and entertainment empire that
> lies at the core of the Dispensation's elite in 2060.  I vaguely
> recall a National Lampoon piece on regional economic elites, with this
> comment about a typical family in the New South plutocracy:
> Great-granddaddy started a five-and-dime store, Granddaddy sold the
> store and bought a traveling circus, and Daddy turned the circus into
> a religion and became a billionaire.  As misleading as it is in the
> particulars, that conveys something of the flavor.
> It's hard to figure out just how much "intellectual property" survives
> as the basis of a viable business model in Sterling's scenario.  He
> mentions in passing that the movie industry is dead because
> file-sharing killed it decades ago.  The M-M family's celebrity,
> therefore, involves transforming their entire lives into a sort of
> reality show.  Every appearance outside the home is a performance of
> sort; the M-Ms function as glorified emcees in the events of daily
> life, moving along from one supermarket opening or product placement
> to the next.  Even their lifestyle inside the family compound, in its
> unabashed vulgarity (every family member has a personal musical theme
> that's automatically cued when they make an "entrance" into a room),
> is reminiscent of that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer replicated the
> "Merv Griffin" set in his apartment.
> At the same time, the Dispensation's commercial ventures clearly
> presuppose IP.  John M-M, a member of the family who prefers venture
> capitalism to entertainment, is developing a sort of virtual tourism
> on historical sites, using VR goggles to create living reconstructions
> of ancient communties as reconstructed by archaeology.  The VR
> techology is proprietary.  How patents are enforced by the
> Dispensation, Sterling does not make clear.
> One Acquis project, the reclamation of the Aegean island of Mljet (aka
> Cyprus), is the backdrop for the first vignette of the book.  The
> Acquis team there is experimenting with "boneware" (enormously
> powerful mechanical exoskeletons that interface with the brain and are
> controlled like extensions of the body) as an alternative to
> conventional heavy moving machinery.  The team itself is linked by the
> "sensorweb," a neural network, with brain-computer interfaces.  They
> can maintain constant realtime communications with the rest of the
> team, surf the Net by cerebral cortex.  Especially intriguing:  the
> neural net enables the team to "tag" realworld objects with
> information.  The whole visual world is like a graffitoed wall, with
> its individual parts labeled for significance and indexed to each
> other.
> China is virtually the only large nation-state to survive as a
> unified, coherent entity.  The United States and Europe, for the most
> part, are checkered by the city-states and regional governments that
> emerged from the period of collapse; most of these entities are
> aligned with either the Dispensation or the Acquis.
> China managed to preserve its central government, largely through
> sheer will and brutality, even as over half its population perished in
> the great die-off.  The state of 2065 is obsessed with blockbuster
> mega-projects, with so many Manhattan Projects and Tennessee Valley
> Authorities puttering away in the bowels of its immense bureaucracy
> that no one person is even aware of them all.  One such project is
> aimed at restoring the flow of the Yangtse and Yellow rivers by using
> H-bombs to melt underground ice remaining in the Himalayas.  New
> ecocities in otherwise unsurvivable desert areas, covered with
> inflatable domes, preserve urban populations in something like more
> sophisticated versions of the old Biosphere project.
> Most interesting of all these megaprojects is a breakaway project that
> has defected from the Chinese government.  Its leadership is a
> genetically engineered duplicate of the old Chinese leadership,
> intended to survive the time of troubles and conquer the world in the
> aftermath.  These cloned politicians, overcome by delusions of
> grandeur, have gone rogue and adopted an agenda of their own:  to
> reengineer the human race to survive in a world where a combination of
> solar superflare and the Yellowstone supervolcano have reduced Earth's
> carrying capacity by 95%.  The human digestive system and its flora
> have been engineered to operate with near-100% efficiency.  Livestock
> have been similarly redesigned.  Human and animal excrement resembles
> crumbly ash, with no usable nutrients or surviving caloric value.  A
> sort of portable fermenting pouch, using genetically engineered
> bacteria, can transform undigestible matter like grass into something
> like yogurt.  Another artifact, somewhat like the stillsuits of Dune,
> can condense drinking water from atmospheric humidity.  The idea is to
> create a new human race of nomads with a sustainable, if limited
> high-technology adopted to nomadic survival.
> One of John M-M's unofficial activities on behalf of the Dispensation,
> in the course of his work as global venture capitalist, is to examine
> the superprojects of the Acquis and Chinese and evaluate their
> potential--and to shut them down if they threaten to get out of
> control.  John's brother, Lionel Montgomery-Montalban, stated the
> problem the myriad of secret superprojects being run by the Chinese:
> "Radical projects need *widespread distributed oversight*, with peer
> review and a loyal opposition to test them.  They have to be open and
> testable."
> --
> Kevin Carson
> Center for a Stateless Society http://c4ss.org
> Mutualist Blog:  Free Market Anti-Capitalism
> http://mutualist.blogspot.com
> Studies in Mutualist Political Economy
> http://www.mutualist.org/id47.html
> Organization Theory:  A Libertarian Perspective
> http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2005/12/studies-in-anarchist-theory-of.html
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