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Ed Webb

Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson | CCCB LAB - 0 views

  • The idea would be that not only do you have a multigenerational project of building a new world, but obviously the human civilization occupying it would also be new. And culturally and politically, it would be an achievement that would have no reason to stick with old forms from the history of Earth. It’s a multigenerational project, somewhat like building these cathedrals in Europe where no generation expects to end the job. By the time the job is near completion, the civilization operating it will be different to the one that began the project.
  • what the Mars scenario gave me – and gives all of humanity – is the idea that the physical substrate of the planet itself is also a part of the project, and it’s something that we are strong enough to influence. Not create, not completely control, not completely engineer because it’s too big and we don´t have that much ability to manipulate the large systems involved, nor the amount of power involved. But we do have enough to mess things up and we do have enough to finesse the system.

    This, I think, was a precursor to the idea of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is precisely the geological moment when humanity becomes a geological force, and it’s a science-fiction exercise to say that 50 million years from now, humanity’s descendants, or some other alien civilization, will be able to look at Earth and say: “This is when humanity began to impact things as much as volcanos or earthquakes.” So it’s a sci-fi story being told in contemporary culture as one way to define what we are doing now. So, that was what my Mars project was doing, and now we are in the Anthropocene as a mental space.

  • if humanity’s impact on the Earth is mostly negative in ecological terms, if you mark humanity’s impact as being so significant that we have produced a new geological age, then we have to think differently in our attitudes towards what we are doing with our biophysical substrate. And one of the things I think the Anthropocene brings up is that the Earth is our body, and we can finesse it, we can impact it, we can make ourselves sick.
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  • The truth is that we are actually already at that moment of climate change and crisis. The political project that my novel discusses really ought to be enacted now, not 120 years from now. In the real world, what we’ve got is a necessity for our economic system to take damage to the ecosystem into account, and pay for that damage.
  • I worry that we’ve already swallowed the idea of the Anthropocene and stopped considering the importance of it; the profound shock that it should cause has already been diffused into just one more idea game that we play.
  • there is no question that, at times in the past, the Earth has been an ice ball with none of its water melted, and also a jungle planet with all of its water melted, and no ice on the planet whatsoever. And this is just from the natural extremes of planetary orbiting, and feedback loops of the atmosphere that we have naturally. But then what humanity is doing – and the reason you need the term “Anthropocene” – is pushing us into zones that the planet maybe has been in the past, but never with this extraordinary speed. Things that would have taken three, four, five million years in the past, or even longer, a 50-million-year process, are being done in fifty years, a million times faster
  • The market doesn’t have a brain, a conscience, a morality or a sense of history. The market only has one rule and it’s a bad rule, a rule that would only work in a world where there was an infinity of raw materials, what the eco-Marxists are calling the “four cheaps”: cheap food, cheap power, cheap labour, cheap raw material
  • this isn’t the way capitalism works, as currently configured; this isn’t profitable. The market doesn’t like it. By the market I mean – what I think everybody means, but doesn’t admit – capital, accumulated capital, and where it wants to put itself next. And where it wants to put itself next is at the highest rate of return, so that if it’s a 7% return to invest in vacation homes on the coast of Spain, and it’s only a 6% rate of return to build a new clean power plant out in the empty highlands of Spain, the available capital of this planet will send that money and investment and human work into vacation homes on the coast of Spain rather than the power plants
  • If Spain were to do a certain amount for its country, but was sacrificing relative to international capital or to other countries, then it would be losing the battle for competitive advantage in the capitalist system
  • Nobody can afford to volunteer to be extra virtuous in a system where the only rule is quarterly profit and shareholder value. Where the market rules, all of us are fighting for the crumbs to get the best investment for the market.

  • the market is like a blind giant driving us off a cliff into destruction
  • we need postcapitalism
  • I look to the next generation, to people who are coming into their own intellectual power and into political and economic power, to be the most productive citizens, at the start of their careers, to change the whole story. But, sometimes it just strikes me as astonishing, how early on we are in our comprehension of this system
  • design is a strange amalgam, like a science-fictional cyborg between art and engineering, planning, building, and doing things in the real world
  • you can´t have permanent growth.
  • The Anthropocene is that moment in which capitalist expansion can no longer expand, and you get a crush of the biophysical system – that’s climate change – and then you get a crush of the political economy because, if you’ve got a system that demands permanent growth, capital accumulation and profit and you can’t do it anymore, you get a crisis that can’t be solved by the next expansion
  • If the Anthropocene is a crisis, an end of the road for capitalism, well, what is post-capitalism? This I find painfully under-discussed and under-theorized. As a Sci-Fi writer, an English major, a storyteller – not a theorist nor a political economist – looking for help, looking for theories and speculations as to what will come next and how it will work, and finding a near emptiness.
  • here is the aporia, as they call it: the non-seeing that is in human culture today. This is another aspect of the Anthropocene
  • Economics is the quantitative and systematic analysis of capitalism itself. Economics doesn’t do speculative or projective economics; perhaps it should, I mean, I would love it if it did, but it doesn’t
  • If the rules of that global economy were good, there could not be bad actors because if the G20,  95% of the economy, were all abiding by good rules, there would be nowhere for greedy actors to escape to, to enact their greed.

  • You can see the shapes of a solution. This is very important for anybody that wants to have hope or everybody that is realizing that there will be humans after us, the generations to come. It’s strange because they are absent; they are going to be here, they are going to be our descendants and they are even going to have our DNA in them. They will be versions of us but because they are not here now, it’s very easy to dismiss their concerns.
  • capitalist economics discounts their concerns, in the technical term of what is called in economics “the discount rate”. So, a high discount rate in your economic calculations of value — like amortized payments or borrowing from the future – says: “The future isn’t important to us, they will take care of themselves” and a low discount rate says: “We are going to account for the future, we think the future matters, the people yet to come matter.” That choice of a discount rate is entirely an ethical and political decision; it’s not a technical or scientific decision except for, perhaps, the technical suggestion that if you want your children to survive you’d better choose a lower discount rate. But that “if” is kind of a moral, an imaginative statement, and less practical in the long-term view.
  • I have been talking about these issues for about fifteen years and, ten years ago, to suggest that the Paris Agreement would be signed, people would say: “but that will never happen!” As a utopian science-fiction writer, it was a beautiful moment.
  • As a Science-Fiction writer, what is in your view the responsibility that the arts, literature and literary fiction can have in helping to articulate possible futures? It seems that imagining other forms of living is key to producing them, to make them actionable.
  • The sciences are maybe the dominant cultural voice in finding out what’s going on in the world and how things work, and the technicalities about how and why things work. But how that feels, the emotional impact in it, which is so crucial to the human mind and human life in general, these are what the arts provide
  • The way that we create energy and the way that we move around on this planet both have to be de-carbonized. That has to be, if not profitable, affordable
  • This is what bothers me in economics; its blind adherence to the capitalist moment even when it is so destructive. Enormous amounts of intellectual energy are going into the pseudo-quantitative legal analysis of an already-existing system that’s destructive. Well, this is not good enough anymore because it’s wrecking the biophysical infrastructure
  • What would that new way of living be? The economists are not going to think of it. The artists are often not specific enough in their technical and physical detail, so they can become fantasy novelists rather than science-fiction novelists; there is too much a possibility in the arts, and I know very well myself, of having a fantasy response, a wish fulfilment. But when you’re doing architecture you think: “Well, I need ten million dollars, I need this land, I need to entrain the lives of five hundred people for ten years of their careers in order to make something that then will be good for the future generations to use.”
  • After the 2008 crash of the world economy, the neoliberal regime began to look a bit more fragile and brutal, less massive and immovable. I see things very differently, the world reacting very differently since the 2008 crash to how it did before it. There was this blind faith that capitalism worked, and also even if it didn’t work it wasn’t changeable, it was too massive to change. Now what I am pointing out comes from the radical economists coming out of political economy, anthropology and leftist politics saying that international finance is simply overleveraged and therefore is extremely fragile and open to being taken down. Because it depends on everybody paying their bills and fulfilling their contracts.
  • Human extinction, this is bullshit. Humans will scratch around and find some refuge. You could imagine horrible disasters and reductions of human population but extinction is not the issue for humans, it’s for everybody else. All of our horizontal brothers and sisters, the other big mammals, are in terrible trouble from our behaviour
  • I actually am offended at this focus on the human; “Oh, we’ll be in trouble,”: big deal. We deserve to be in trouble, we created the trouble. The extinctions of the other big mammals: the tigers, rhinoceroses, all big mammals that aren’t domestic creatures of our own built in factories, are in terrible trouble. So, the human effort ought to be towards avoiding extinctions of other creatures. Never waste a worry for humanity itself, which, no matter what, won’t become extinct. Ten centuries from now, humanity will be doing something and that something is likely to be more sustainable and interesting than what we are doing now. The question for us is. “How do you get there?” But ten centuries from now, there might not be any tigers.
  • There’s an Antonio Gramsci idea you have used to explain your position: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” Your optimism is a moral and political position, it’s not just hoping for the best. Why do you think we need to defend optimism
  • Use the optimism as a club, to beat the crap out of people who are saying that we are doomed, who are saying let’s give up now. And this “let’s give up now” can be very elaborated academically. You can say: “Well, I’m just into adaptation rather than mitigation, there’s nothing we can do about climate change, all you can do is adapt to it.” In other words, stick with capitalism, stick with the market, and don’t get freaked out. Just adapt and get your tenure because it is usually academics who say it, and they’re not usually in design or architecture, they aren’t really doing things. They’re usually in philosophy or in theory. They come out of my departments, they’re telling a particular story and I don’t like that story. My story is: the optimism that I’m trying to express is that there won’t be an apocalypse, there will be a disaster. But after the disaster comes the next world on.
  • there’s a sort of apocalyptic end-of-the-world “ism” that says that I don’t have to change my behaviour, I don’t have to try because it’s already doomed
  • Maybe optimism is a kind of moral imperative, you have to stay optimistic because otherwise you’re just a wanker that’s taken off into your own private Idaho of “Oh well, things are bad.” It’s so easy to be cynical; it’s so easy to be pessimistic
Ed Webb

The Sci-Fi Roots of the Far Right-From 'Lucifer's Hammer' to Newt's Moon Base to Donald... - 0 views

  • Strong leader Senator Jellison (who is white) then asks former Shire founder Hugo Beck what went wrong, and Beck says his fellow hippies just never realized how great technology and laissez-faire economics were, and now all his old friends are dining on human flesh under the thumb of a scary black communist.
  • Today, Lucifer’s Hammer reads as a depiction of a post-apocalyptic war between Trump counties and Clinton counties, simultaneously promising American renewal even as it depicts unavoidable catastrophe. The comet acts as a cleansing, wiping away so much dead wood of civilization. (Feminism, too, comes in for repeated knocks.)
  • SDI was only one part of a larger right-wing techno-futurist project. SDI historian Edward Linenthal cites a 1983 interview with Newt Gingrich in which the young conservative Congressman predicted that SDI would not just destroy Russia’s Communists but liberalism, too. SDI would be “a dagger at the heart of the liberal welfare state” because it destroys “the liberal myth of scarcity,” leaving only “the limits of a free people’s ingenuity, daring, and courage.”
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  • Gingrich subsequently secured a job for Pournelle’s son with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in 1994, who like Gingrich is now a stalwart space booster and Trump supporter.
  • What Trump does is less important than the fact that he kicks over the table, strengthening America’s military state while demolishing bureaucracy and ignoring niceties. Democracy and law matter less than security and innovation
  • with communism a fading threat by the late 80’s, Gingrich shifted his focus to the specter of a new enemy, arguing in 1989 that “Islamic extremism may well be the greatest threat to Western values and Western security in the world.” Such fear-mongering—Islamic extremism remains a fraction as destructive as the nuclear Soviet Union—may seem ill-suited to optimism in mankind’s future, but as a political project it can be uncannily effective. Pournelle wrote that Islam demands adherence to a principle of “Islam or the sword,” and that an aggressive military response is not only justified but demanded: we are at war with the Caliphate.
  • Gingrich and Pournelle’s enthusiasm had less to do with Trump’s particular ambitions than with his capacity for destruction of the status quo. Much of the chaos Trump foments is, to Gingrich and Pournelle, a key feature to induce the future they want—the one where the feminists and “eco-terrorists” and university professors are soundly defeated
  • In their science fiction as in life, Gingrich and Pournelle shared an optimistic belief in power of technology—and an equally powerful insistence on the inevitability of conflict. They believed this required a robust, authoritarian state apparatus to preserve order and bind citizens together. Indeed, while backing Reagan, Gingrich had promoted a techno-futurism that was less conservative than it was authoritarian: he called for pruning inefficiency while aggressively promoting expansion and military technology. For his part, Pournelle published anthologies of science-fiction and techno-military essays through the 1980s under the name There Will Be War.
  • No science-fiction writer since has exerted as significant a political influence as Pournelle. But Pournelle does have a spiritual successor in Castalia House, the independent science-fiction publisher run by white nationalist Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day. Beale, like Gingrich, has said that his job is to save Western Civilization—and that it is in dire need of saving. Beale, however, is far more explicit about race.
  • Pournelle has dissociated himself from Beale’s politics, but Castalia House’s republishing of Pournelle’s 1980s There Will Be War series (as well as publishing a new volume 10) is no mere coincidence. Rather, they are indications of a shared worldview. To these writers, civil rights, equality, and civil liberties are irritants and impediments to progress at best. At worst, they are impositions on the holy forces of the market and social Darwinism (“evolution in action”) that sort out the best from the rest. And to all of them, the best tend to be white (with a bit of space for “the good ones” of other races). If there has been a shift in thought between the 1970s and today, it’s that the expected separation of wheat from chaff hasn’t taken place, and so now more active measures need to be taken—building the border walls and deportations, for example. Trump is an agent of these active measures—an agent of revolution, or at least the destruction that precedes a revolution.
  • Trump was far from the first to eliminate the line between right-wing thought and outright bigotry.
Ed Webb

"We will need writers who can remember freedom": Ursula K Le Guin at the National Book ... - 0 views

  • I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
  • We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.
katiegimbert

Going up! Cosmic elevator could reach space on a cable made of diamonds - 0 views

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    A Japanese construction company, Obayashi Corporation, has been investigating the concept for a space elevator. Their researchers believe that advances in carbon nanotechnology could make a space elevator possible as soon as 2030. (CNN) -- Want to ride an elevator into space?
colburcl

The Right Chemistry: Soylent is no longer just a science-fiction concoction - 0 views

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    Soylent Green is here, people. Kind-of. The bigger question: can they make it taste like Nutella?
straussr

Light Memory Experiment Affects Mice Brains Like An MIB Neuralyzer - 1 views

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    Scientists think they've found a way to alter memory using beams of light... Freaky stuff.
Ed Webb

FreakAngels - 0 views

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    For those who enjoy Transmetropolitan, a different kind of treat from Mr Ellis.
Ed Webb

THE MACHINE STOPS ... E.M. Forster - 2 views

  • like the cell of a bee
    • Ed Webb
       
      Why this image?
  • She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously
    • Ed Webb
       
      What is the weight of that "in certain directions"?
  • I can give you fully five minutes
    • Ed Webb
       
      Does this seem as outrageous today as it must have in Forster's time?
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  • wasting my time
  • "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine."
  • The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you
  • the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people - an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit.
  • "It is contrary to the spirit of the age," she asserted.

    "Do you mean by that, contrary to the Machine?"

  • The surface of the earth is only dust and mud, no advantage. The surface of the earth is only dust and mud, no life remains on it, and you would need a respirator, or the cold of the outer air would kill you. One dies immediately in the outer air
    • Ed Webb
       
      In common with many other dystopian writers, Forster predicts environmental catastrophe.
  • For a moment Vashti felt lonely.

    Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There were buttons and switches everywhere - buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

    • Ed Webb
       
      What of this seems familiar?
  • To most of these questions she replied with irritation - a growing quality in that accelerated age
  • Her lecture, which lasted ten minutes
    • Ed Webb
       
      Forster predicts the TED talk?
  • Vashti was seized with the terrors of direct experience
  • I will not tell you through the Machine
    • Ed Webb
       
      Is this due to concern about surveillance, or due to the personal nature of what he wishes to communicate, which needs nuance?
  • thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.
  • her horror of direct experience returned. It was not quite like the air-ship in the cinematophote. For one thing it smelt - not strongly or unpleasantly, but it did smell, and with her eyes shut she should have known that a new thing was close to her.
  • The man in front dropped his Book - no great matter, but it disquieted them all
    • Ed Webb
       
      Why? Is this society not governed by reason?
  • they seemed intolerable
  • When the air-ships had been built, the desire to look direct at things still lingered in the world. Hence the extraordinary number of skylights and windows, and the proportionate discomfort to those who were civilized and refined
  • illegal, unmechanical, and punishable by Homelessness
  • People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the Machine
  • "Cover the window, please. These mountains give me no ideas."
  • She might well declare that the visit was superfluous. The buttons, the knobs, the reading-desk with the Book, the temperature, the atmosphere, the illumination - all were exactly the same. And if Kuno himself, flesh of her flesh, stood close beside her at last, what profit was there in that? She was too well-bred to shake him by the hand.
  • "You think it irreligious of me to have found out a way of my own. It was just what the Committee thought, when they threatened me with Homelessness."

    At this she grew angry. "I worship nothing!" she cried. "I am most advanced. I don"t think you irreligious, for there is no such thing as religion left. All the fear and the superstition that existed once have been destroyed by the Machine. I only meant that to find out a way of your own was----Besides, there is no new way out."

    "So it is always supposed."

    "Except through the vomitories, for which one must have an Egression-permit, it is impossible to get out. The Book says so."

    "Well, the Book"s wrong, for I have been out on my feet."

  • Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him
  • Man is the measure. That was my first lesson. Man"s feet are the measure for distance, his hands are the measure for ownership, his body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong
  • all the food-tubes and medicine-tubes and music- tubes that the Machine has evolved lately
  • Kuno had lately asked to be a father, and his request had been refused by the Committee. His was not a type that the Machine desired to hand on
  • I felt, for the first time, that a protest had been lodged against corruption, and that even as the dead were comforting me, so I was comforting the unborn. I felt that humanity existed, and that it existed without clothes. How can I possibly explain this? It was naked, humanity seemed naked, and all these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we are here
  • There was not room for such a person in the world. And with her pity disgust mingled. She was ashamed at having borne such a son, she who had always been so respectable and so full of ideas
  • Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now
  • I fought till the very end
  • Beware of first- hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. "First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation
  • in theory the Machine was still the creation and the implement of man. but in practice all, save a few retrogrades, worshipped it as divine
  • No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence
  • Time passed, and they resented the defects no longer. The defects had not been remedied, but the human tissues in that latter day had become so subservient, that they readily adapted themselves to every caprice of the Machine
  • mankind was not yet sufficiently adaptable to do without sleeping
  • Under the seas, beneath the roots of the mountains, ran the wires through which they saw and heard, the enormous eyes and ears that were their heritage, and the hum of many workings clothed their thoughts in one garment of subserviency. Only the old and the sick remained ungrateful, for it was rumoured that Euthanasia, too, was out of order, and that pain had reappeared among men
  • there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended
    • Ed Webb
       
      How would we respond today if the internet and all media it supports suddenly stopped working? People dial 911 when Facebook goes down...
  • She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her - it did kill many thousands of people outright
  • man who had once made god in his image, and had mirrored his strength on the constellations, beautiful naked man was dying, strangled in the garments that he had woven
  • some fool will start the Machine again, tomorrow
  • scraps of the untainted sky
    • Ed Webb
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