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Civil Energetics

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Language of the invisible [May. 11th, 2010|12:37 pm]
Civil Energetics


The teabaggers are teaching me something. As well as the climate change denial overlap, and any number of other fringe movements who don't think of themselves as fringe.

The problem with trying to talk to someone in this category, is that I don't live in the same reality as they do. We don't have enough of a language overlap to agree on anything substantial.

While I violently disagree with one of their premises, I can certainly understand it: It's unthinkable that human activity could significantly change the planet's life support system, to the point where any humans would feel it.

Christian Capitalists have been granted title to the planet by Yahweh itself: it's up to them to decide how best to invest the talents. If someone comes along to say that they're not in ownership of the world, they have no alternative language for who *does* own the world. And if the world is not owned by someone, then that's a problem in need of fixing.

Agnostic Capitalists don't need Yahweh to legitimize their claim: They are in competition with other capitalists, and the threat of another company far outweighs the threat of a broken planet. On the micro economic scale, they're right: no single cow can be blamed for the tragedy of the commons. On the biggest scale, the end result is inevitable no matter who you decide to blame.

The copyfight is another place where I'm not on the same playing board as my opponents: I'm not even playing the same game. They've got a highly evolved system that's worked out very well for them since Gutenberg's time, but the carpet is being pulled out from under them. Rather than learn new ground rules, it's easier for them to try to nail down the carpet.

The biggest problem I have in these arguments, is that I'm arguing a case built on ideas that aren't immediately visible. The reality I'm trying to protect can only be addressed indirectly. You can tromp through the seedlings in this garden without even noticing anything has changed.

Probably the closest pop culture analogy I've seen, was The Matrix. It was clear to me that it wasn't so much that we literally live in some physically controlled, simulated environment, but rather our language is controlled and the significance of the physical world is open to interpretation. And that interpretation can be manipulated.

These days when I go into the city, I don't think of the Matrix as a metaphor representing a physical reality, rather it's the city itself that's the metaphor, representing a deeper reality.

Just as a trivial example: the buildings themselves are pretty much functionally identical. For the most part, they could house any sort of human activity. It's the software that determines that this building is going to be office space and another building is going to be sleeping quarters, while a third is going to be shopping.

That software is weightless, it doesn't exist on any central filing system, but in its own way, it is more durable and harder to change than the physical structure of the city itself. Easier to build a fresh city than to change the rules of the existing city.

So I started this blog to try to talk about this software. And if I couldn't talk about it, I'd point to it instead. But it's hard to develop any sort of complexity when the basic premise is continually open for debate.

And it just this morning occurred to me that this kind of thing has happened before. Nobody really knew what a chemical element was, until someone isolated the vital principal from air and demonstrated the difference between lead and gold.

The germ theory of disease was quite controversial in its day until enough people had demonstrated that it worked.

These days, if someone comes along with a claim that contradicts the periodic table, or sells a cure for a disease unrelated to germ theory, we're skeptical, even though we can't directly see germs or atoms.

So I guess I'm looking for the same kind of credibility with my idea.

So far, the best I've got is an analogy with the Hohmann Transfer orbit: Without knowing astrophysics, you can intuitively guess that there's a single 'easiest' way to get from one planet to another. (Easiest in this case means the least delta-vee)

This could be completely wrong: someone else might come along, claim they'd solved the three body problem, and by the way here's another orbital trajectory that's just as fuel efficient as the Hohmann Transfer. They might make that claim, but we'd be skeptical until shown otherwise. It's our collected knowledge of physics that gives us confidence that they're probably pulling our leg.

There are minor adjustments you'll have to make to your spacecraft that Walter Hohmann can't talk about. Solar wind, Gas Giants, astroids... they'll impact your calculations and you'll have to correct for what can't be predicted. But the basic trajectory doesn't change.

...And that's what I want to puzzle out for Politics, Economics, and Military Strategy: What's the planning equivalent to the Hohmann transfer, as applied to human affairs?

Let's try to be a little more rigorous: Given what we know about the planet's ability to support (human) life, and given what we know about human needs and wants- what course of action gives the most people the best chance of survival in the highest style?

Already that question rubs some people the wrong way. Do "most people" really deserve to live? What are the threats to survival that we face? And who gets to decide what high style means?

One problem I have with the "most people" idea, is that nationalism is still used to keep human beings under control, but it no longer means anything at all to the corporations that we must compete with. Multinationals live by a completely different set of rules from mere citizens, and the only way to get some of that privilege, is to align yourself with one of these bad boys. As far as Fuller's World Game is concerned, nationalism is just an obsolete way of coloring the pawns on the board.

Threat to survival can be manipulated quite easily, if you're willing to live with blood on your conscience. The sky's the limit when it comes to protection from violent terrorists, but if you want to talk about education, health care, or environmental safeguards, that's a different budget entirely.

How to describe 'living in style' is the hardest of all. Experts all agree that the world will demand more energy than is used today, without taking into account how much of that is wasted or is used to keep some of us at a relative disadvantage. Having great wealth in contrast with your neighbors means safeguarding that wealth- and there are some mathematical limits to how cost-effective it is to be much richer than your poorest neighbor.

Even with the controversy around these ideas, I can still entertain the concept of a single best set of solutions. These hypothetical 'orbital trajectories' all share some defining characteristics:

They don't contradict each other- one strategy isn't at the expense of another.
They can be politically defended. They serve the most people in the least controversial way.
They all keep some resources in reserve, for rainy days and better opportunities ahead.

If an agenda can be shaped that conforms to these limits, then it shouldn't require any sort of powerful central authority to push that agenda. We don't have to wait for World Federalism to swoop in on a black helicopter, to displace this bully that's running the world into the ground. The same rules of physics that define how much delta vee you need to change a spacecraft's orbit, also apply to how much physical force you need to change the course of history.

[User Picture]From: erauqs
2010-05-14 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. Unfortunately we haven't the time to sufficiently read it at the moment, but nonetheless, fascinating to read.
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[User Picture]From: anansi133
2010-05-14 09:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading *any* of it.

Part of the problem I can tell, is I'm not good with whittling ideas down to size. There are probably 12-14 distinct ideas in here that could each use developing in their own post. But once I get cranked up, it's hard to slow down enough to fully develop each chapter.

Someday maybe I'll try to put this stuff into a more accessible form. I hear this thing called "book" is pretty popular...
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