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Civil Energetics

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Re-thinking THE END [Nov. 6th, 2010|02:48 pm]
Civil Energetics


I was just reading some urban legend version of the story of Victoria's Secret. Some bored husband notices something about the way frilly underthings are sold, comes up with a seemingly minor innovation, and becomes a multi-millionaire.

OK, fine. We all love a success story. The Social Network has a similar sort of narrative: build a better mousetrap, and the world is your oyster... or something like that.

Then, in another corner of the story-space, is the account of how some money nerds learned how to invent deeper abstractions of money than the regulatory system could deal with, and they made a zillion dollars by pumping up the Ponzi scheme a few levels deeper. Same kind of genius innovation, same kind of capitalist success story... different ending.

I'm reflecting lately on how many kinds of addiction this world can celebrate, and asking myself what it would feel like for enough people to collectively go cold turkey, and make it stick.

...and the cliched image leaps to mind, some post-apocolyptic world that's made up of blasted landscapes, young desert ecologies, and mostly dead people and their leftover belongings.

So here's my idea: I'm thinking of a better mousetrap, a vastly superior, highly competitive economic idea, and it doesn't need anywhere near the kind of technical footprint that the others examples do. No expensive computer network, like Facebook. No mail order catalogs, snail mail infrastructure, or intimacy-starved buyer's market like Victoria's Secret. And nothing so esoteric or complex as fictional real estate futures.

The only problem I can see with my better mousetrap, is that it's allergic to addiction: it can't function well at all with people who are addicted to oil, or money, or Legos, or computer games, or any of the zillion things we've invented addictions for.

After this economy crumbles, it's a different story. People will still have innovations in that future world, people will still grow prosperous from working with better ideas and better infrastructure, and people will still compete with each other for opportunities. It's a world much like this one... except better informed, less violent, and far less addictive behaviors. (certainly fewer sanctioned ones, and less celebration of such insanity!)

The only real confusion I have about this transition, is how violently people are going to resist giving up these addictions. It might indeed take a nuclear war or something like it, before we can slow down, endure the withdrawal, and move ahead with a better story.

But I think it's more likely that the apocalyptic version of things is really the addictive part of us that doesn't want to be confronted with a deeper examination. If people decided to skip the whole apocalypse stage, and move directly to recovery, I don't think it would be nearly as painful as the most frightened among us would insist.