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Old 05-10-2012, 04:06 PM
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Default Podcast on "Techno-Fixes", Scientism and apocalyptic thinking (incl. "singularity")

I am incredibly busy these days, trying to publish my second scientific paper, but while working and commuting, I do still listen to some audio and came across this one, which I will use to speak for me, because especially episodes 31 and 37 are basically saying what I tried to bring across in many posts. So Instead of writing a lot, I will give you these links

[ Episode #31 // Simplifying Complexity ] | Extraenvironmentalist
and
[ Episode #32 // Apocalypse Never ] | Extraenvironmentalist
and
[ Episode #37 // Techno-Fix ]

These episodes feature interesting interviews with scholars and scientists about humanity.
Episode 31 is with archaeologist Dr Joseph tainter about how societies become increasingly complex as a reaction to problems but eventually run into the problem of "diminishing returns" on investments. He looks at the situation with oil (EROEI) but also in terms of energy and society in general and draws comparison to the Roman empire. He also states that we are already past the peak or many things, among them human innovation and happiness as he did a study the history and found that the per-capita number of inventions (patents) has declined for many decades now and an increase in innovation can presently only come from putting more and more people on the job. He also looked at the statistics on happiness and found a 1950ies peak happiness in the US with a decline thereafter as complexity increases more than the gains.
Episode 32 looks at different myths of apocalypse with utopian outcomes. This includes especially the 2012 myth, but also the "singularity" as a form of apocalyptic thinking.
Episode 37 was very very interesting, but Dr. Michael Hüsemann has a strong german accent. It is about how technology does not by itself save the world, the environment, society. He also describes how technology is NOT neutral and not simply a tool but has values attached to it depending on who created it. He does not want everyone to "go back" but draws attention to the problem of a growth economy in context to the failure of technology and increased efficiency to deal with the resulting problems, in fact technology and efficiency actually are shown to increase the problem of resource depletion and environmental desctruction. He proposes a steady state economy as a solution. In that context, technological improvements and increases in efficiency could actually diminish the impact of humans on the planet instead of fueling further economic growth and by that further increase of human impact.

I strongly recommend episode 37!
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Old 05-21-2012, 08:32 AM
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Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
Episode 37 was very very interesting, but Dr. Michael Hüsemann has a strong german accent. It is about how technology does not by itself save the world, the environment, society. He also describes how technology is NOT neutral and not simply a tool but has values attached to it depending on who created it.
Technology is neutral without its context, as people hardly watch TV because of what it is in itself, but because of what it is used to deliver.

Quote:
He does not want everyone to "go back" but draws attention to the problem of a growth economy in context to the failure of technology and increased efficiency to deal with the resulting problems, in fact technology and efficiency actually are shown to increase the problem of resource depletion and environmental desctruction. He proposes a steady state economy as a solution. In that context, technological improvements and increases in efficiency could actually diminish the impact of humans on the planet instead of fueling further economic growth and by that further increase of human impact.
Such steady state economy is impossible in our current capitalist system, because everything is based on, and only works because of growth and constant consumption. Efficiency always has to be compensated with increased consumption to keep the money flowing.

He is right on most occasions, but doesn't seem to understand that it's not the technology that's causing these problems, but the need for constantly increasing profits and endless growth.
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Old 05-29-2012, 05:42 PM
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He does not say that technology by itself is causing the problems, but that as you said, growth and the need for it (and consequently capitalism) is causing the problems. Hence his desire for a steady state (non capitalist) economy. This can still be a market based economy by the way. Capitalism and markets are not linked per default.

But he also says that problems are not solved by technology. Especially not if they are caused by things like growth, the economy or other social and political phenomena. This is what he calls a techno-fix - the illusion that technology can solve these problems without demanding society to change.

And of course there are some things implicit in many technologies. A TV for example is an apparatus that forces a person using it to sit down, pay attention to the screen, not pay attention to others around him and that causes some brainwave alteration resembling hypnosis. This has - no matter how great and educating the program or how dumb it is - the effect that people get individualized, separated from others, kept away from activities that requires their bodies to move. It also is a unidirectional communication device that lets one person talk to many who then cannot talk back but are passive consumers.
These are the "values" that are transported by television, idependent of how it is used or by whom. Computers and the internet have others. I think in the podcast were some other examples, I dont remember them right now.
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Know your idols: Who said "Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.". (Solution: "Mahatma" Ghandi)

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"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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Old 05-29-2012, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
He does not say that technology by itself is causing the problems, but that as you said, growth and the need for it (and consequently capitalism) is causing the problems. Hence his desire for a steady state (non capitalist) economy. This can still be a market based economy by the way. Capitalism and markets are not linked per default.
...How do markets work in a way that doesn't just default to capitalism?

Quote:
And of course there are some things implicit in many technologies. A TV for example is an apparatus that forces a person using it to sit down, pay attention to the screen, not pay attention to others around him and that causes some brainwave alteration resembling hypnosis. This has - no matter how great and educating the program or how dumb it is - the effect that people get individualized, separated from others, kept away from activities that requires their bodies to move. It also is a unidirectional communication device that lets one person talk to many who then cannot talk back but are passive consumers.
These are the "values" that are transported by television, idependent of how it is used or by whom. Computers and the internet have others. I think in the podcast were some other examples, I dont remember them right now.
And if you do the science, you will learn whether or not those values affect people negatively.
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Old 05-29-2012, 07:10 PM
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Okay, that stuff is way too long and does not grab my attention, so thanks for the summaries.

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...How do markets work in a way that doesn't just default to capitalism?
I wonder the same thing; how can this work without growth?
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Old 05-29-2012, 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
This is what he calls a techno-fix - the illusion that technology can solve these problems without demanding society to change.
That is, technology can never solve problems that are the faults within the system, because each solution would automatically become part of the problem in every case.

Quote:
A TV for example is an apparatus that forces a person using it to sit down, pay attention to the screen, not pay attention to others around him and that causes some brainwave alteration resembling hypnosis.
The thing is, who is there to pay attention to?

Quote:
This has - no matter how great and educating the program or how dumb it is - the effect that people get individualized, separated from others, kept away from activities that requires their bodies to move.
Our society is built on individualism, on personal success, consumerism and all that jazz. Society needs as many separate individuals as possible, because individuals will consume the most, and each individual must be successful enough to accumulate money in order to be able to consume and so on.


In essence, I would agree on many points, but all of these social implications are something that are due to the inability to understand proper causality. Technology doesn't produce these issues, society does, but technology is there to "alleviate" the problems caused by society by giving us illusions that keep us occupied. It is society that individualizes people, and when we are all alone and separated, we need something to stop ourselves from going insane, and that something is provided by technology.
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Old 05-30-2012, 10:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Clarke View Post
...How do markets work in a way that doesn't just default to capitalism?
Why would they?
Markets are basically just ways to trade. Someone has something, someone else wants it. What leads to capitalism is to "liberate" markets and regard them as the rulers or as Charles Eisenstein puts it to make money a replacement for god (this analogy goes quite far in terms of the market being invisible, there is even the famous "invisible hand" that will regulate all things to the best and we submit everything to the market). That faith or religion that regards markets as benevolent despots that we have to submit ourselves to because they are wise is nonsense but it is the mythology of neoliberalism. Instead whenever in history there were markets and trade that did not lead to extreme capitalism, it was because it was regulated by rules made by people who imposed ethical values to it. Like a prohibition of making a profit by lending money, by disallowing large corporations or bulding of cartels and so on. Some of them had some capitalist elements but at least it was not running rampant. And in prehistoric societies, trade was also possible without becoming capitalist because simply a person that was seminomadic could never amass wealth and could never be sure to ever meet someone again to collect debt. There is a good book I am reading, called "debt the first 5000 years". It explains the origins of debt and money and ways of trade.

But to keep it simple - Germany had in the 1950ies-70ies a "social market economy". It was based on some capitalism but a lot of social elements were mixed in. People did not have to save up money for their pension, it was paid by the state and everyone paid the state a share while he was working. No huge amounts of capital was amassed, it went straight from the working people to the pensionists. The state owned infrastructure and allowed companies to build a market on using the infrastructure but did not give it away for some companies to use it as capital. If a company got too large, it was divided in smaller bits. Unions were encouraged and given a lot of rights to balance the power of employers. Sadly this is all in decline since the 1980ies due to pressure from the US and multinationals. It was far from perfect but it was a market based economy that was quite a bit away from the raging capitalism of our times.

Quote:
And if you do the science, you will learn whether or not those values affect people negatively.
The effects of many technologies are known, but they are still used widely. Sadly, knowledge alone does not create change.

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Originally Posted by Moco Loco View Post
I wonder the same thing; how can this work without growth?
In fact market based economies work especially well without growth. Take gold as a currency - the reason it was used and it was a stable currency for a long time was that its amount globally did increase only slightly. This creates a situation in which things that are limited are also expensive, meaning they are valuable trade goods. Of course growth boosts profits and people are addicted to it but looking at history, there have been many times that had no economic growth to speak of and still they had markets and trade.

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Originally Posted by Aquaplant View Post
That is, technology can never solve problems that are the faults within the system, because each solution would automatically become part of the problem in every case.
Exactly!

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The thing is, who is there to pay attention to?
Sigh - yes I know you are lonely

Quote:
Our society is built on individualism, on personal success, consumerism and all that jazz. Society needs as many separate individuals as possible, because individuals will consume the most, and each individual must be successful enough to accumulate money in order to be able to consume and so on.[...] Technology doesn't produce these issues, society does, but technology is there to "alleviate" the problems caused by society by giving us illusions that keep us occupied.
This sounds a bit like a hen-or-egg problem here.
Lets say that at least there is a correlation here between individualizing technology and the rise of individualism and consumerism. Both are rather new. Consumerism was actually "invented" (literally by some people sitting together and thinking of it as a concept to make profits) in the middle of the 20th century, about at the same time as the TV and individual cars. At the same time the family size was declining to the "nuclear family" and people started to live in seperate houses. Before, people were living in larger houses with a whole family or maybe several families (e.g. a farm), people were talking to each other and spend time sitting together talking or playing games or doing choires or work at home. Now it certainly is possible that some freak human desire got expressed by chance at that time that sparked extreme individualism and consumerism and technology jumped in to fill that gap, but I think the likelyhood is more, that certain technologies at least co-evolved if not determined the outcome of how society changed. They transported the values of their inventors to the ones that applied it. The inventor of the TV thought it was a good idea to have a box to stare at - maybe because he was a loner or bored in the evenings - and by spreading that technology he spread the conditions that led hin to tat invention. Ok, that is hypothetical now - I have no clue of what the inventor of the TV felt, but I use this fake example to show what I mean by transporting the values of the inventor and what I mean by technologies having values embedded that actually shape society.
As I said - maybe it is a co-evolution and a feedback loop - that is possible, but I always am cauteous if something is called "human nature" or a fundamental desire that is expressed only for a very very limited amount of time in human history.
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"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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Old 05-31-2012, 12:55 AM
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Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
In fact market based economies work especially well without growth. Take gold as a currency - the reason it was used and it was a stable currency for a long time was that its amount globally did increase only slightly. This creates a situation in which things that are limited are also expensive, meaning they are valuable trade goods. Of course growth boosts profits and people are addicted to it but looking at history, there have been many times that had no economic growth to speak of and still they had markets and trade.
That isn't an example of one working "well", just of one working at all. When you say "a long time", I wonder what you mean. Long relative to what?
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Old 06-01-2012, 02:45 PM
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Moco, you asked "how can this work without growth" - not "how can this work well without growth". So it is an example of something that worked, disconnecting the need for (substantial) growth from the concept of markets as part of an economy.
Define then, what you mean by "well". I guess it is up to thode who will create such an economy to think about how to make it work "well" in respect to what they want.
If "working well" means to have a lot of growth and people getting rich, then that whole train of thought runs into itself here. If working well means distributing existing wealth more equally, I guess things have to be found that make it so that are beyond the simple concepts of markets and growth. If working well means that it is stable, I think my example showed a system that worked more stable than the present one.

I have to add a few things - I do not endorse gold as a currency - I think it is a stupid idea - I used this only as an example of a market economy that works without the need of massive growth.

Talking about timeframes is difficult of course - and unpredictable. Historic economic systems worked on the scale of centuries and usually ended for reasons outside of the economy, like countries being invaded, kings changed, governments changed, collapse or defeat.

I'd say if we'd manage to get an economy going that is stable for a century without the need for massive growth or even with decline in some parts, it would be a great step forward already in terms of sustainability. All indicators show, that what is needed is a reduction in consumption of resources and the only way to get there is by an economy that does not depend for even some shaky stability on massive increases in consumption every year. It has to be economical within that new economy to use less resources without compensating this with increased production. It does not help at all to build light sources that are 5 times more efficient if the result is that people use 5 times more light.

So I'd love to hear some more of that guy in the podcast who recognized that problem and proposed a steady state economy as a solution. I bet he has created some ideas on that. Certainly it cannot involve cutthroat capitalism or runaway "free markets", becuase neither of them has shown to possess any self regulating capacity that conserves resources.
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"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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Old 06-02-2012, 06:08 AM
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Sorry, you hung on to my word "well", when really, the more important thing was the duration of this period, and that becomes even more important with more people in the world. I apologize for the "well" thing; that's not something you said, just something that's important in general.
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Old 06-04-2012, 03:04 PM
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The duration of any economic system is limited by the circumstances - political mostly. Modern capitalism (the whole thing about consumerism, infinite growth, fractional reserve banking, etc) plus the lack of taxation and regulation for those who are wealthiest are rather short lived actually. Since the economy as we know it was installed in the 1940ies, it went rather well for about 20-30 years (fueled by cheap oil and coal plus economic imperialism), then it started to level off. Same thing on the other side of the iron curtain. In 1989 then, the "other side" collapsed, leaving people only one option. This led to a short rush and in the 1990ies it was going rather ok again, then in the later 1990ies it was levelling off again. In many aspects it is in decline since the 1970ies. True per-capita income (measured in what one person can afford, not in how many $$ one earns as this is of course subject to inflation) is in decline. The time spent at work is on the rise. In 1970, one man could feed a family with a 39 hours a week job and provide them with a home, he was (at least in Germany) sure that he will get a state-funded pension when he gets 65. They had good health insurance and the kids will have free education up to university level. Now it is the norm for people to work more than 40 hours, 35% of the people work regularly on the weekends, another 33% do so occasionally, usually both parents have to work to provide enough money to rent a home and get low quality food from discounters. The pension age is up and state pension is going down, people are expected to invest money to save up funds for old age. Health insurance is divided in private and state health insurance with private insurances being too expensive for most, but providing a lot more services.
So I think that capitalism seems not to be working all that well anymore, after only 50 years. And clearly it was only working well under conditions of immense growth, when in the 1960ies a lot of factors grew exponentially - population (demographics), energy resources, food. Capitalism cannot deal with a situation that is not strongly growing. Hence it certainly is not possible to keep that. But market based economies existed before capitalism and even the Soviets did have some sort of markets in their economy. Certainly most pre-industrial economic systems had markets in them and many of them had little growth. There were times when people were miserable for sure, but those originated in wars, famines or epidemics, not in economic failure. So while many thigns were unstable, the economy seems to be something that was holding up rather ok in those historic times that lasted for much longer than the 30-50 years of capitalism as we know it.
By the way - interestingly the time capitalism as we know it started to not work well anymore, the 1970ies and 1980ies was also the time when the neoliberal agenda ("free market economy") was pushed, taxes for the wealthy was cut down from 90% in post-war USA to next to nothing in comparison in our days now. So in a way, capitalism does not even work well with "free" markets itself. That is because clearly, the combination of capitalism and "free" (e.g. unregulated) markets is a recipe for a boom-and-bust economy with a minority making huge profits and the rest staying near the bottom. Also it is a recipe for war, bubbles and inefficiency, because these are classical examples of overproduction crisis. It is so funny how well capitalist theories of Marx from over 100 years ago still is valid. The whole housing bubble is a textbook example of an overproduction crisis in which capitalism needs tomake a profit by production, so it produces stuff, tries to keep the price up, but eventually produces too much of that product (houses) to the point where the price cannot be artificially held up and the excess production has to be destroyed. There was no war to destroy these houses and there was no other good reason to destroy them on purpose (e.g. new building regulations), so that crisis was not averted and eventually ended up in "inefficiency", meaning a lot of homeless people and a lot of empty houses.
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Know your idols: Who said "Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.". (Solution: "Mahatma" Ghandi)

Stop terraforming Earth (wordpress)

"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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