Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Jerome Said

There are some reasons to be reasonably optimistic, even if you know how utterly fucked up things actually are.
Right now, it may look like if anything, the political framework is still moving in the wrong direction and, worse, if there is any popular backlash, it seems more likely to come in the form of a reactionary populism (ie scapegoating, fearmongering fascism) than the required progressive soak-the-rich kind. But while you can debase a currency and lie to people, you can't cheat with nature. You can't print megawatthours or joules or molecules of helium or rare earth metals. You can't drink poisoned water or non existent water. At some point, the very survival of any form of public authority will be at stake, and politicians will suddenly remember that States have incredible powers, do not actually need to be subversient to short term private oligarchic interests, and will start yielding that power towards strategic objectives. And when the goal is full scale mobilisation towards survival, resources will go where they need to go, not to death-inducing capture by parasites. Of course, this begs the question of what will trigger this survival mechanism. Do we need to get to the brink, and see thing worsen yet again (possibly a lot more) before we get there? I guess this is where my optimism comes in: I think the natural constraints are going to come for a while in the form of steadily increasing constraints (via prices, for instance) rather than outright shortages, and this will trigger enough action to move us on a different path, even if this is not immediately obvious. Oil at $70 per barrel in the midst of a massive recession and demand reduction is an unmistakable sign. Or, in other words, the one hundred billion euros in the stimulus and TARP that went to renewable energy and bailing out GM will matter more, ultimately, than the trillions handed out to banks and bondholders, as one created or saved vital industrial infrastructure while the other just moved some electrons around, with no large scale long term consequences in the real world. And if it takes yet more trillion-scale hand outs of fiat money to the parasites to authorise yet more real investment, this is the sneaky route that our adaptation to reality will take.

I largely agree with all this. And if you follow the link you will discover a richer analysis involving resource-descent in the North Sea Oil fields and in Asian coal reserves, as well as Chinese labor market demographics. However: Keynes said that in the long run we are all dead, which was his way of pointing out that market-based solutions to business cycle crises can take too long to be of use to majorities of actually living people, all of whom, properly speaking, should be of concern to economists, not just the wealthiest most privileged minority of their contemporaries. And so, too, the future of environmental catastrophe has already arrived, it just is not evenly distributed, and human beings who are dying for the lack of clean water, and food, and climate-change exacerbated instability and warlordism in the present day are already past "the brink." That gives special urgency to such longer-term and larger-scale calculations as these (and they do for Jerome, I'm not accusing him of indifference at all, just making a point with which he would surely agree too). Because even if one wants to be disgustingly selfish about it, as certainly none of us should be, one has to wonder just how far our own fellow citizens' apparent indifference to climate catastrophe in the overexploited regions of the world today would cheerfully extend to the mega-rich contemplating our own lot not too far down the road.


jollyspaniard said...

I agree with just about everything you said except for the last two sentences.

I'm not sure if middle aged to elderly Albertans opposed to a swerving from BAU are necessarily being irrational. They have plenty of water and may not suffer any negative consequences to Global Warming in their lifetime. And it's not clear how global illwill towards their views is really going to effect them.

So their stance might be moraly repugnant but I'm not sure I'd call it irrational. They don't care about the rest of the world anyways.

Factor in that most of these people think the world is 10,000 years old and I wouldn't hold your breath into talking sense into them. Hopefuly we can effect change without them.

Dale Carrico said...

First of all, surely it is a distortion of meaning to describe sociopathy as rational?

But I think it is actually delusive to imagine [one] that anyone is immune to the pandemics incubated in slums, [two] that anyone is insulated from the unrest of the precariat, [three] that anyone can count on winning indefinitely in a world of commerce without real rules, and -- you will likely think me naive in saying so -- [four] that anyone can be immersed in increasing networked awareness of the costs and consequences of one's exploitative and unsustainable practices without suffering devastating personal trauma.