[p2p-research] P2P and Post-scarcity Propaganda

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Mon Nov 2 21:43:43 CET 2009

Edward Miller wrote:
> Documentaries can be one of the most effective ways of getting a message
> across. We don't have a lot of really slick propaganda for our cause, but
> recently I have seen some nice indie documentaries that advocate very
> similar positions as us. I have a few quibbles with these videos, but
> ultimately they are excellent works and should be widely distributed.
> http://www.workersoftheworldrelax.org/
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlqU1o3NmSw&feature=player_embedded
> In addition to more documentaries, to improve the effectiveness of our memes
> we need to rally around certain easily recognizable slogans, logos, and so
> forth.
> There are some slick enterprises, no doubt, such as MakerBot, Ponoko, MAKE
> Magazine, etc. Though, these are for specific for-profit organizations
> rather than our ideas or our movement as a whole. The best example currently
> is probably the Pirate Party which ironically embraces the term pirate,
> despite the real pirates being their enemies, the RIAA and MPAA. A sense of
> humor helps. Though this is only one small piece of the puzzle. Their
> reaction against intellectual property only seems to extend to media and
> information.
> We need to construct a coherent narrative, and in these dark economic days
> it should be easier than usual.

I agree with the general theme of taking these abstract messages and making 
them accessible to others. I see there being three ways to do that.

One is to make new media things, like drawings, videos, songs, novels, and 
(cooperative) games that engage people with these themes. James P. Hogan's 
"Voyage from Yesteryear" is an example sci-fi novel from 1982, but we need a 
lot more of them, and ones updated for today. Iain Banks Culture series is 
another. But we could use a lot more stuff, especially free stuff.

Another is to make better information management tools so that an 
intelligent and curious person can put the pieces of the puzzle together. I 
have some ideas I've posted here before, and refined further, in that 
direction, essentially linking the idea of simulations with collaborative 
analysis and discussion tools. This is a way, assuming these trends are 
valid, and the related assumptions and values worthwhile, of letting people 
figure out for themselves where we have come from, where we are now, and 
where we are going or at least want to go. And maybe to help invent part of 
a better future.

The third way is documentaries like these.

I like these videos (having seen only part of the second one). I think I'll 
like the second a lot better than the first, having seen the beginning.

The first one, Workers of the World Relax, echoes Bob Black's theme line at 
the end:
"The Abolition of Work" by Bob Black, 1985
"Workers of the world... RELAX!"
instead of the historic "unite".

While I agree in general with it, I have problems with in the first half 
where it talks about how we can't grow infinitely. and we have been 
polluting a lot, like in "The Story of Stuff". I think there is a real 
conceptual problem with their argument, even ignoring how we have had all 
the basic technology we have needed to expand into space since the 1970s. By 
the way, I outlined back in August how in theory we could evacuate the Earth 
and move into space habitats in a few decade crash program with only the 
loss of a few hundred million lives:
"[p2p-research] Fwd: 20 Theses against green capitalism"
Now, would I suggest we do this? No. Would there be obstacles and so on?
Yes. Would most of humanity go along with this? Probably not, as many people
have an attachment to the land of their birth. Would lots of people die of
heart attacks on the way up? Probably. Would plenty of stuff go wrong and
hundreds of millions of people die (10%? 20%? 90%? 99%?) if this sort of
thing got rushed, like entire habitats and space ships blowing up for stupid
reasons, or there being unforeseen cancer hazards, or there being malicious
computer viruses destroying life support systems, and so on? Almost certainly.
   Would the money be better spent fixing up the Earth first, just from an
ethical perspective? Surely -- maybe the last thing we want is a solar
system filled up with the same kind of people who could not make a good
thing work out on Earth when they had it easily within their technical
grasp. As I say, the best reason to go into space is because we are happy
down on Earth and think it might be fun to have cities in space too. And as
above, I am guessing we could support more than ten times our current
population in urbanized seasteads.
   My point is not that we *should* do any of this evacuation into space, but
that we *could*. It is to suggest that, with a little imagination based on
existing research studies done by NASA (and then buried), the numbers
actually work out (with some handwaving. :-) So, a total evacuation of the
Earth for space could be plausibly done within the lifetime of probably
anybody on this list (even though you might have to go on a starvation diet
for many months, and you'd need to leave everything behind except your
underwear to cut launch costs. :-)

As a proof of concept of making things work on Earth for our current 
foreseeable population levels in the next hundred years, we can (in theory) 
use biotech to grow trees and genetically engineered creatures that produce 
biological computers powered by photosynthesis which compost easily as 
almost all biological things do. After all, human brains are essentially 
computers that are compostable. So, in theory, we can have a net zero impact 
on the environment even with a high tech industry that is based around 
biological computing. That's not how I'd do it, not being a huge biotech 
fan, plus worried about sentient biomachines being exploited, but that's 
just an example. We could do the same with inorganic technology, even if it 
is harder, as long as we don't have an economy that makes it profitable to 
pass on external costs like pollution to the community, socializing costs 
while privatitizing profits. So, if demand is limited, then we will end up 
in a situation where humanity has negligeable environmental impact, using 
advanced technology (like Star Trek replicators that can print and recycle 
solar panels and physical resource extractor units). So, I think there are 
conceptual problems with the first half of the first documentary.

Here is one such program in progress:
"Sustainable and Lifecycle Information-based Manufacturing"
"The United States needs to prepare for a future where products are 100% 
recyclable, manufacturing itself has a zero net impact on the environment, 
and complete disassembly and disposal of a product at its end of life is 
routine. To document and monitor these changes, US industry will require key 
resources and methods that will enable it to measure sustainability along 
several dimensions (such as carbon foot print, energy accounting and 
recyclability of materials) allowing accurate assessment of status and 

And as I point out here, demand for personal stuff by healthy humans is 
ultimately limited, because the best things in life are free or cheap:
"Why limited demand means joblessness (and what to do about it)"

That said, I can agree wholeheartedly with that first movie when it talks 
about how to shift the equity in terms of what the average worker get. 
Western Europeans I know seem happier overall, even with ups and down in 
their lives (deaths in the family, illnesses, career setbacks, and so on, 
same as anywhere).

I like that scene in the Workers of the World Relax about 80% through where 
the woman from the Amsterdam (I have relatives there) in the bicycle parking 
lot gasps being told how much people in the USA work.

What they don't mention is that because benefits are supplied by companies 
per person, not so much for all through the state. So, there is a big 
incentive in the USA to get as much as you can out of an employee to the 
point just before collapse before hiring another.

But ultimately, the answer is probably not enforcing shorter work weeks as 
much as a "basic income". But I agree with their point about society being 
better when people have more free time, and Europe's choices being an 
example of this. And I would agree.

That point is also made here, about a UK that is often more like the USA 
than the rest of Europe, and both those countries have young people at the 
bottom of a recent survey on child wellbeing:
"Generation F*cked: How Britain is Eating Its Young"
"“The reason our children’s lives are the worst among economically advanced 
countries is because we are a poor version of the USA,” he said. “So the USA 
comes second from bottom and we follow behind. The age of neo-liberalism, 
even with the human face that New Labour has given it, cannot stem the tide 
of the social recession capitalism creates.”"

So, I have trouble with the first half of the documentary (only half 
agreeing, about the present but not the future), but I really agree with the 
second half (like the guy at the end who says happiness is not to *have* 
more, but to *be* more).

Still need to watch the rest of the second video, which is more about themes 
I've long been interested in, like the ability of groups no do new things. 
Example from 2001:
Most people attending this conference want to see space settlement happen. 
It would be preaching to the converted to speak, for example, about how 
self-replicating Bernal spheres  (J.D. Bernal, 1928, "The World, the Flesh, 
and the Devil: Three Enemies of the Rational Soul") might house a trillion 
humans across the solar system by 3000 AD through exponential growth (making 
nonsense of projections of limits to growth), or how humanity might 
terraform Mars over an even longer time period, or of how technological and 
social spin-offs from space studies might benefit humanity here on Earth in 
the short term (as they already have). We all know these things. What we are 
all looking for is ways to collaborate with like-minded individuals in the 
grand endeavor of space settlement.
   At this moment nearly every engineer on earth has a powerful and globally 
networked computer in his or her home. Collaborative volunteer efforts are 
now possible on an unprecedented scale. Moores's Law predicts continued 
reductions (see for example the writings of Raymond Kurzweil at 
http://www.kurzweilai.net/ or Hans Moravec at 
http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm) in the cost of bandwidth, storage, CPU 
power, and displays - which will lead to computers a million times faster, 
bigger or cheaper in the next few decades. Collaboration software such as 
for sending email, holding real-time video conferences, and viewing design 
drawings is also reducing in cost; much of it is now effectively free. This 
means there are now few technical or high-cost barriers to cooperation among 
engineers, many of whom even now have in their homes (often merely for game 
playing reasons) computing power and bandwidth beyond anything available to 
the best equipped engineers in the 1970s.
   However, the internet is already littered with abandoned collaborative 
projects. Productive collaboration requires more than technology; it 
requires the sustained energy of many positive contributions and 
interactions, which arise from common goals and mutual trust. The refinement 
of commonly shared purposes and principles takes time and work. Intellectual 
property licensing is often overlooked, primarily because collaborators 
would rather be working toward a common goal than arguing legal issues. An 
appropriate licensing strategy based on a shared purpose and principles 
helps to build and maintain trust and promote spontaneous participation. But 
there are many licensing options, each with compelling arguments for its 
use, making it difficult for collaborators to choose the best licensing 
strategy for their needs. In the long term, these issues can make or break a 
collaborative effort. It is our hope that more spontaneous productive 
collaboration will occur if the entire space-settlement community is better 
informed on these issues.

Now, that was not very well received in 2001. :-( But I would think that for 
many people, after seeing the second video, it might seem self-evident. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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