Tagsustainable energy

Techno-utopianism and system fragility

Late night rant about techno-utopianism and passivity in dangerous times:

I think there’s a great value in technology, and I think much of our ability to survive in the future will be based around technological innovation. But a lot of it is going to also have to depend on adaptation. We simply cannot continue our current path and expect technology to solve all our problems. It’s faith in technology for salvation. It’s not science, it’s religion.

Our systems are much more fragile than we often want to think. We talk about how the Internet was designed to keep functioning after a nuclear attack, feeling secure that our drip-feed of information will survive whatever we throw at it. Yet, as Abe Burmeister pointed out in late July, the Internet is already showing strain from global warming:

The current summer heat wave has been blamed for taking out MySpace for 12 hours, and more anecdotally the internet does not seem to be weathering the weather to well. The few mailing lists I subscribe to are filling up with tales of server fires and emails failing or being delayed far more than usual. Tales that are mirrored pretty accurately in my own webhosting and email accounts.

The internet is a big network of servers, and servers are hot. They devour electricity, they run hot and they mainline air conditioning. When the global thermostat goes up, the servers start going down. It is all a bit of sci-fi now, but could it be that one of the big casualties of global warming might just end up being the internet?

That same heat wave took down Dreamhost, which hosts both Abe’s blog and Technoccult (along with many other blogs, like Sauceruney‘s). Wireless mesh networks take some of the pressure off big hot servers, but they will require a pretty radical change in how the internet operates. And without adequate energy, we could all be using low-fi hand-cranked laptops in the future (if we can even build enough to go around). Effecient energy generation is the biggest stumbling block towards a post-scarcity society, and peak oil may already be here.

And, as wu just pointed out, even after 5,506 years of civilization, we still haven’t figured out not to shit where we eat. Forget food replicating machines or whatever the hell, we still need to figure out how to grow food without poisoning ourselves.

So for a moment, can we stop dreaming about a future where all our wants and needs are served by technologies (conveniently created by other people, of course), and start thinking about how we can alter our world *right now* to live both more comfortably and more sustainably? World Changing seems to provide the best resource for this right now.

A couple weeks ago I was asking about post-civilization thinkers, and was kind of dismissive of Terrence McKenna. This was unfair. McKenna was an advocate for a more simple lifestyle, sustainable energy and agriculture, and, most importantly, a sort of DIY approach to utopianism. He really wasn’t into the “kick back and wait for the nanotech revolution” thing. I remember one interview, I think it was in the Archaic Revival, in which he speculated that the “big event” in 2012 might be space travel. He said something about how we would be traveling to the heavens, and that maybe “heaven” isn’t something that we’re meant to just be handed by the gods – but something that we have to build ourselves.

So, on that note: the question is, what can each of us do as individuals to ensure our collective, comfortable survival? Even if we’re not engineers? The answer will be different for everyone, but will likely involve a combination of lifestyle choices and pro-active work.

For my part, I’ve been working on driving less, radically reducing my consumption of meat and other animal products, living in dense housing, and helping out with that whole e-waste thing. It’s a start, I guess. I’m curious about what others are doing. I’m always looking for ideas.

Don’t call it a come back

Daniel Pinchbeck, and the fine folks at FutureHi, are starting a project called Metacine: a Magazine for the New Edge. It’s about stuff like Burning Man and, like Future Hi, “new” psychedelic culture.

It sounds a lot like Mondo 2000, a magazine for the new edge that ran sporadically from the late 80s (under the title Reality Hackers) until around 1997. It had articles about Burning Man, raves, designer drugs, smart drugs, etc. and basically spawned the magazine Wired. Burning Man’s been going for nearly 2 decades now. Nothing new there. All the sustainable bio future stuff they’re talking about on the Metacine web site? Sounds like Mother Earth News or the Whole Earth Catalog.

So what’s “new edge” about all of this? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of what they’re doing. I’m excited about all of it, honestly. But trying to package it up as some sort of new movement sounds like journalese to me. I’ve been as guilty as anyone else about this. Just look through the Technoccult archives and you’ll find plenty of evidence.

Why this obsession with doing “new” things? Finding the trends, the edge, blah blah blah blah blah. Seems like we’re all still stuck in the past, rambling about sustainable energy and Leary’s 8 circuit model and all that. But is that really such a bad thing?

Then there’s Jason Louv’s attempt to create a new occult ultraculture. Rather than trying to document a new culture, Jason’s trying to will a new one into existence with his book. I admire what he’s doing, and I know he’s doing it for the right reasons. He wants to see a new generation of socially consciousness occultists. It actually reminds me a lot of Terrence McKenna’s stuff though, about the role of shaman as a healer for the community. McKenna called his vision of the future an “archaic revival,” because everything he expected to occur was actually ancient.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Jason and for the Future-Hi cats, and I’m sure Pinchbeck has the best intentions. I’ll be pre-ordered Generation Hex and will probably be a Metacine subscriber. But I’m worried that an obsession with novelty and “the next big thing” will only hurt all our long term goals, stunt our personal development by making us trend whores, and blind us to realms of less glamorous possibility.

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