RECOMMENDED READING: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012


Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky have just begun their 13th annual "State of the World" conversation on The Well. (2011's State of the World here.)

inkwell.vue.430 : Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012
permalink #6 of 13: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 4 Jan 12 18:06


It's surprising how little vitality these have nowadays. Instead of fanaticallly dedicating themselves to narrow, all-explanatory cults, people just sort of eyeblink at 'em and move on to the next similiar topic. In a true Network Society, all fringe beliefs about the future seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and Mastercard. "Conservatism" conserves nothing; there is no "progression" in which to progress.

Peak Oil. Oil probably "peaked" quite some time ago, but the "peak" itself doesn't seem to bother markets much. The imaginary Armageddon got old-fashioned fast. Peak Oil has peaked.

Islamic Caliphate... With the collapse of so many Arab regimes, these guys are in the condition of dogs that caught a taxi. "Sharia Law" is practically useless for any contemporary purpose, and Arabs never agree about anything except forcing non-Arabs to believe.

Chemtrails. These guys are pitiable loons, but they're interesting harbingers of a future when even scientific illiterates are deathly afraid of the sky. It's interesting that we have cults of people who walk outside and read the sky like a teacup. I've got a soft spot for chemtrail people, they're really just sort of cool, and much more interesting than UFO cultists, who are all basically Christians. Jesus is always the number one Saucer Brother in UFO contactee cults. It's incredible how little imagination the saucer people have.

BitCoin. An ultimate Internet hacker fad. You'd think they were encrypting food and shelter, what with the awesome enthusiasm they had for this abstract scheme.

Space Travel people. Visible mostly by their absence nowadays. About the only ones left are nutcase one-percenters of a certain generation, with money to burn on their private space yachts. This was such a huge narrative of the consensus future, for such a long time, that it's really interesting to see it die in public. There's no popular understanding of why space cities don't work, though if you told them they'd have to spend the rest of their lives in the fuselage of a 747 at 30,000 feet, they'd be like "Gosh that's terrible."

Transcendant spiritual drug enthusiasts. People consume unbelievable amounts of narcotics nowadays, but there used to be gentle, unworldly characters who genuinely thought this practice was good for you, and would give you marijuana and psychedelics because they were convinced they were doing you a big, life-changing favor.

You go into one of those medical marijuana dispensaries nowadays, they're like huckster chiropractors, basically. The whole ethical-free-spirit surround of the psychedelic dreamtime is gone. It's like the tie-dyed guys toking up in the ashram have been replaced by the carcasses of 12,000 slaughtered Mexicans.

Nuclear Armageddon enthusiasts. Kind of a flicker-of-interest for this around Iran right now. Nothing compared to the colossal cultural influence that this paradigm once commanded. The WMD invasion of Iraq, kind of the last hurrah for this, it's tragedy redone as farce.

You show somebody a Dr Strangelove mushroom cloud these days, they're like, "What is that, Fukushima? I don't get it."

I could go on about other people's futurisms. Doing Italy and Serbia is tempting. But despite the variegated change-drivers that these interest-groups imagine, I remain pretty sure that all these groups are heading for a future world where they're elderly, urbanized and afraid of the sky.

Even if you believe in reptiloids, you're gonna be a reptiloid-believing guy in a pretty big town with a lot of your neighbors pushing walkers in a heat wave.

inkwell.vue.430 : Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2012
permalink #7 of 13: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jan 12 22:09

I'm thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic "Mind at the End of Its Tether" if he'd had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Our heads are buzzing with possibility, spinning ever faster into the alternate realities that your various futurisms suggest. I say "realities," but I'm not sure the word "reality" has much weight these days - more like competing fantasies, in the sense that Kesey et al talked about "the current fantasy" and others of us talked about "believing your own bullshit." Conflicting, competing narratives are the real games we play. Wells thought he was seeing human extinction, though it might have been his own personal extinction getting under his skin. We all have an expiration date, and that can be liberating or maddening, depending how you take it.

The Pentagon is bending light to hide events: "This is the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, though research teams have in recent years made remarkable strides in cloaking objects." They've teleported Obama to Mars:

One more from Wired... the more we know, the less we understand: "... a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we’ll still be telling stories about why it happened. It’s mystery all the way down."