Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Are humans even necessary?

What a terrible question to even ask! Of course, we are necessary: it is the function of the universe to serve our needs and wants, isn’t it? Isn’t that the point of everything—to provide for our well-being and security? Well, that’s one way to look at it, and it is based on a certain assumption: that humans are in control. But humans have been steadily relinquishing control to machines for a couple of centuries now, and by now the vast majority of us is unable to comprehend, never mind control, the machines on which our survival depends in all of their awesome complexity. A few highly placed specialists can still get at the levers that control some of the machines, but their function has been reduced to serving the needs of the machines themselves, not human needs. The assumption that humans are still in control is starting to seem outlandish.

The next assumption to question is that the machines serve human needs and wants. Yes, there is still plenty of evidence that they do, for quite a lot of people, and in the more stable and prosperous societies most of the people are provided for in some manner. But there has been a marked tendency for societies around the world to become less stable and less prosperous over time, as resources are depleted and the environment degrades. The typical solution to that has been the imposition of austerity, which deprioritizes human needs over those of the machines—industrial, commercial and financial—which must continue functioning in order for the rich to continue to get richer. Perhaps the situation where the machines serve human needs is a transient one? Perhaps most humans are just a legacy cost, to be eliminated in the next round of cost-cutting?

To be sure, the machines would still be required to serve the needs of the billionaires, and the millionaires who serve them. But as for the rest of humanity, perhaps at this point it is just an unnecessary burden from the machines’ point of view? Indeed, it would appear that many different efforts are underway to whittle away at this burden. Let us take a trip down memory lane, to see where we came from, and then try to catch a glimpse of where we might be headed.

Continue reading… [2524 words]

Monday, June 19, 2017

Prince Kropotkin is for sale!

I am selling my sailboat in preparation for building the first Quidnon. It's a proven and capable ocean cruiser set up for living aboard, either at a marina, at a mooring or anchor, for coastal cruising and for the open ocean. It's in good condition, carefully maintained, reasonably priced at 28,500 USD and is a turnkey solution for someone who wants to live aboard and cruise around. Here is the full listing with all the details. If you are interested, please contact the broker, Capt. Mark Covington.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Terrorizers, the Terrorists and the Terrorized

The word “terrorism” is getting thrown around a lot. Wipe it out in one place, and it pops up in another. Outside of various places in which terrorism forms a backdrop of foreign invasion and civil war, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the drumbeat of terrorist attacks is constant and increasing, terrorism is not one of the primary causes of death. Among Western nations, death due to choking on food is still far in the lead, not to mention fatal falls due to broken furniture and accidental impalements on household implements. But such deaths are hardly ever staged as public art pieces, whereas acts of terrorism are quintessentially public acts, designed to panic large numbers of people and cause even larger numbers feel unsafe in public spaces and while traveling—for a while, until the effect wears off. And then it’s time for another one.

Continue reading... [1926 words]

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Past-Peak America

Most places we care to look, we can observe a commonplace pattern: some phenomenon reaches its all-time peak shortly before commencing a swift or a steady decline. Drug habits reach their maximum dosage right before the addict overdoses. Morbidly obese patients attain their maximum weight right before their internal organs give out. Fever reaches its peak right before it breaks, and then the patient either recovers or dies. Water surges to its highest level right before the dam breaks. Financial pyramid schemes reach their pinnacle right before they fail.

Even during the downward slide a temporary improvement is sometimes possible. For example, the US reached its all-time peak in crude oil production around 1970. After that, oil production declined for decades, with a minor, temporary improvement when production from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska went on stream in the summer of 1977, and a major one achieved using hydrofracturing technology and a very large and mostly unprofitable speculative investment.

If you still think that “fracking” is a game-changer, consider that the technique was pioneered by the Soviets back in the 1950s, but they determined it to be a waste of resources and have never used it. What made the Americans turn to this old and discarded technique was desperation: they had virtually nowhere else left to drill except in shale. While fracking has produced a temporary glut of both oil and gas, fracked wells deplete extremely fast, and thus the surge in production is going to be but a blip—an impressive one, but still just a blip—on a trajectory of overall decline.

But this, most likely, won’t even matter. If you look at other things that have recently peaked, are peaking now, or are likely to peak in the near future, there aren’t going to be as many reasons to burn oil in the US. If inexorable decline in crude oil production is paralleled by inexorable decline in other areas, then it will all work out nicely, at least in the sense that it won’t be an oil shortage that will be the main driver of collapse.

Instead, there are many drivers of collapse, and they are of two kinds: the waning of all that has so far prevented collapse from occurring, and the waxing of all that accelerates it. Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading... [3067 words]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Collapse Mitigation Strategies

Almost a decade ago I wrote an article in which I defined the five stages of collapse, defined as inflection points at which faith in key aspects of the status quo is shattered and a new reality takes hold.

It is useful to have a taxonomy of collapse, even if it’s a tentative one. Treating collapse as one big ball of wax is likely to cause us to believe that everything will melt down all at once, and, barring certain doomsday scenarios, which are probably not even useful to consider, this is probably not a realistic or a helpful approach.

Also, one big ball of wax is not what we have been observing in the years since I wrote that article. By now, the Earth is a petri dish populated with various strains of collapse—or a collapse soup, if you will. It is an open-air collapse laboratory running many uncontrolled collapse-related experiments at the same time. Perhaps, if we observe carefully, we can learn to discern the various stages and to determine how they interact.

In this update on my February 2008 article, I tackle the issue of collapse mitigation: What can we do to avoid the various worst-case scenarios?

Continue reading… [2884 words]

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Speech

How would you like to build yourself a free place to live that doesn't take up land?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Walk in the Garden of Unintended Consequences

“Blow a horse in the nose, and it will swish its tail,” goes one saying. It’s a silly one, but it captures a common thought pattern: do A to achieve B. As we grow up, we learn many such thought patterns, and as adults we expect them to continue working. We don’t necessarily know why they work. We don’t have time for complicated explanations and rationalizations; but we do know that they work. A time-saving approach is to simply try them and see. Do they still work?

And then there is a thought pattern that work at a meta-level: use any given trick too many times, and it will stop working. Blow a horse in the nose too many times, and it will will bite or kick you. “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” one might say. This is something else that we learn growing up, and it tempers our enthusiasm as adults for pushing things too far. Very interestingly, this only works at the level of the individual or the small group; as societies, we always push things too far—to the point when they stop working.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Boat for the Reluctant Sailor

A couple of days ago I conducted an interesting social experiment. I joined the largest Facebook group dedicated to sailing a cruising, and started a discussion thread about QUIDNON:

“Looking for some advice from group members. For the past two years I have been working on a boat design with two other engineers. It is a 36-foot houseboat, with private accommodations for 3 couples and 2 single people. It is also a surprisingly seaworthy and competent sailboat. We've tested a radio-controlled scale model and it sails really well. Now we are looking forward to building the first full-size hull. It's going to be a kit boat, featuring high-tech manufacturing and rapid DIY assembly. Don't hold back, what do you think?”

The results were roughly as follows:

Continue reading...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Venerating Stalin’s Ghost

Stalin’s Funeral
A few days ago, on May 9th, Russia celebrated the 72th anniversary of its victory in the Great Patriotic War, or, as it is known in the West, World War II. All but unnoticed in the West, this is a very big deal in Russia. All elements of the parade, the speech, the music—the iconography—are by now beautifully polished. It is a key ritual of Russia’s state cult. Its religious nature is manifested by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, who, emerging from within the walls of the Kremlin standing in a classic Soviet-era limousine, makes the sign of the cross: if you are still stuck in the frame of “godless communism,” you need a rethink. Although the parade is a display of military might, unmistakable in the collection of modern military hardware that rumbles through the Red Square, the overall message is one of peace. “Russia has never been defeated, and never will be” is the overarching message. And although Russians want to be recognized for their tremendous sacrifice in pursuit of victory, they see this victory as everyone’s: everyone—even the Germans—benefited from the Soviet destruction of a perfect evil in the form of Nazi Germany’s genocidal machine.