Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All watched over by machines of loving grace (part 2)

I watched the second episode of "All watched over by machines of loving grace" today and found it interesting but mildly annoying.

I'd noted the parallels in the first episode to Fred Turner's book "From Counterculture To Cyberculture", so I wasn't particularly surprised to see Turner make an appearance in this episode, along with Stewart Brand, and the tracing of these ideas back to Bucky Fuller.

What was new about this episode was the repeating of common misconceptions about "The Limits To Growth" and the strange line of reasoning that seemed to argue that the search for "equilibrium" (ie. a scenario where our overall impact on the environment is trimmed to the point where we don't end up having the population crash as we overwhelm the planet's carrying capacity) that "Limits" undertakes is really arguing for a form of political stasis where no radical change is to be contemplated.

While this may have been a goal of the Technocrats that preceded them, it doesn't ring true for the systems theorists.

Curtis even notes that Jay Forrester and the "Limits" crew explicitly said they weren't considering politics, but discounts this as a form of dishonesty rather than accepting that the book is just outlining scenarios around resource consumption, population and pollution rather than being a political manifesto (which would have been entirely counterproductive).

Where is does veer towards politics (in the section entitled "Transitions to a sustainable system", where it prescribes the changes required to make our global economy sustainable), the practices recommended are both positive and a change from the general status quo today - it doesn't read like a manual for perpetuating elite control and forbidding political change, with the non-technical recommendations including :

* poverty reduction
* nonviolent conflict resolution
* accurate/unbiased media
* “decentralisation of economic power, political influence and scientific expertise”
* “stable populations” and “low birth rates” by “individual choice”

Curtis' main point (like Turner's before him) - that the counterculture / hippie / cyberculture ideal of a world without politics is a fantasy - is valid, but he really goes off the rails trying to blame the systems theorists and ecologists for the problems of the world today.

The section about the colour revolutions in eastern europe, in particular, seemed wildly off base - he assumes that this genuinely was a case of leaderless uprising spontaneously organised via network culture - when instead they were orchestrated from the US to expand western influence at the expense of the Russians - and naturally enough faltered once the population realised that their interests weren't really being advanced at all by the changes (just as we'll most likely see with the current "Arab Spring" equivalent).

Cross posted from Peak Energy.