Regular readers will know that I have a new policy of waiting a while before I comment on current affairs. I have been tracking the economic stimulus debate since the summer of 2008 and now, on the day the latest gargantuan jolt is signed into law, I think I might as well take a position.
I do not think it will work, well not long term anyway.
I think the system is fundamentally broken. Growth as we have know it for most of the last 80 years is unsustainable. We need a radical rethink on how we as a planet operate and organise ourselves economically.
I am not a Collapsarian, but I have believed this for quite some time:
“Venturing out each day into this land of strip malls, freeways, office parks, and McHousing pods, one can’t help but be impressed at how America looks the same as it did a few years ago, while seemingly overnight we have become another country. All the old mechanisms that enabled our way of life are broken, especially endless revolving credit, at every level, from household to business to the banks to the US Treasury.
Peak energy has combined with the diminishing returns of over-investments in complexity to pull the “kill switch” on our vaunted “way of life” — the set of arrangements that we won’t apologize for or negotiate. So, the big question before the nation is: do we try to re-start the whole smoking, creaking hopeless, futureless machine? Or do we start behaving differently?
The attempted re-start of revolving debt consumerism is an exercise in futility.We’ve reached the limit of being able to create additional debt at any level without causing further damage, additional distortions, and new perversities of economy (and of society, too). We can’t raise credit card ceilings for people with no ability make monthly payments. We can’t promote more mortgages for people with no income. We can’t crank up a home-building industry with our massive inventory of unsold, and over-priced houses built in the wrong places. We can’t ramp back up the blue light special shopping fiesta. We can’t return to the heyday of Happy Motoring, no matter how many bridges we fix or how many additional ring highways we build around our already-overblown and over-sprawled metroplexes. Mostly, we can’t return to the now-complete “growth” cycle of “economic expansion.” We’re done with all that. History is done with our doing that, for now.
So far — after two weeks in office — the Obama team seems bent on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs, to attempt to do all the impossible things listed above. Mr. Obama is not the only one, of course, who is invoking the quest for renewed “growth.” This is a tragic error in collective thinking. What we really face is a comprehensive contraction in our activities, especially the scale of our activities, and the pressing need to readjust the systems of everyday life to a level of decreased complexity.“
“One of the most important group decisions made by a bee colony is where to locate the hive. Bees use a kind of “idea market” to guide their discovery: The colony sends out a small number of scouts to survey the environment. Returning scouts that have found promising sites signal their discoveries with a vigorous dance, thus recruiting more scouts to the better sites. The cycle of exploration and signalling continues until so many scouts are signaling in favor of the best site that a tipping point is reached.
The bees’ decision making highlights both information discovery and information integration, two processes that are crucial to every organization but that have different requirements. A centralized structure works well for discovery, because the individual’s role is to find information and report it back. In contrast, a richly connected network works best for integration and decision making, because it allows the individual to hear everyone else’s opinion about the expected return from each of the alternatives. The bees’ process suggests that organizations that alternate as needed between the centralized structure and the richly connected network can shape information fl ow to optimize both discovery and integration.”
I have noticed a massive upsurge in interest in Visual Thinking and Information Design.
Whilst Edward Tufte is no doubt the prime mover in this field, I think Dan Roam’s 2008 bestseller “The Back of the Napkin” (website) has given a huge boost to the field by popularising Visual Thinking and giving people simple tools to apply it to the problems in their lives.
Here are some good links on Visual Design and Information Design
The ever superb Kevin Kelly look at George Dyson’s networked minds and the 4 possible futures of humanity:
One species, many minds: The official future. We interbreed among our genetic improvements and keep our individuality distinct, and our species identity intact.
One species, one mind: Through electronic mediation, we join together to create a superorganism. A suprahuman. I originally called this the Borg but was reminded that the Borg is many species assimilated.
Many species, many minds: Star Wars World. Ultimate diversity. Humans fork in their evolution to create new breeds. Some may even join machines in cyborgian partnerships.
Many species, one mind: We fork in biology but unite in the noosphere. Millions of species share the same mind. The scariest and hardest scenario to contemplate. The dark version of this is the Star Trek nemesis, the Borg. I don’t know if there is a welcoming version in science fiction.
Steve Roesler from All Things Workplace has some great advice on real influence and co-operation. He points out that the “real objective of influence is gaining co-operation. We all want a reason to cooperate. That’s just, well, reasonable.” He outlines 3 things to do when you are seeking co-opertaion:
1. State Your Intentions Up Front 2. Explain Your Reasons. Why? Because. 3. Emphasize in clear words what you want to happen.
Via Wired comes truly horrific story from Afghanistan.
Paul Loyd was young anthropologist attached to the US Army’s Human Terrain social science project (essentially putting social workers into places like Iraq and Afghanistan).
Whilst on patrol in an Afghan village, man she had been cordially talking to for 15 minutes doused her in cooking oil and set her on fire. She was severely burned, and after 2 months of agony, died in hospital.
The man who attacked her was caught and arrested by her colleagues. When they learned of the extent of her injuries, one of her Human Terrain colleagues, Don Ayala, executed the man by shooting him in the back of the head.
Now Ayala has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and faces up to 15 years in prison. Paula Loyd’s family is asking the judge to be lenient with Ayala.
Its a terrible and tragic story. Burning someone is the most grievous and brutal of attacks. When you read about Paula Loyd one could not think of someone less deserving of such an horrific fate. I completely understand Ayala, I would have wanted to shoot the attacker in the head too. That said, what separates us from the barbarians we fight – the sort of people that will douse a woman in accelerant and set her on fire – is that we do not condone or tolerate breaches of the law like summary execution.
I expect (and hope) that the judge will be lenient to Ayala.
Army Social Scientist Set Afire in Afghanistan – Wired
Army ‘Human Terrain’ Contractor Charged with Murder – Wired
‘Human Terrain’ Contractor Guilty of Manslaughter – Wired
Family of Afghan victim seeks to help her avenger – Nola.com
Anthropologist’s war death reverberates – Boston.com (all about Paula Loyd)