part two: life on the edge of the power curve 2012-2050
Okay, so let’s change our approach a little bit. I’m assuming you can and have read this… so what might that look like, in a little more detail?
Let’s start with the basics: chances are, within a few years, you will have been more or less priced out of the market for oil and gas. You might be able to snag a bit for emergency use, or critical transport, but most everyone has to carpool, bike or bus it. If you’re fortunate enough to have trains where you live, then that’s great. This trend gets worse as time goes on. Expect something similar to cuba, where traffic cops routinely stop and stuff cars with extra seats, or huge flatbed trucks take on the function of busses.
The good news is, the cottage industry for ethanol is ramping up. And no, I don’t mean this corn ethanol bullshit. I mean decomposing waste matter into alcohol on a radically decentralised basis. Eventually this becomes an integrated part of all farming operations, as the technology for alcohol distillation is refined and the design of organisms that digest sugar ( and eventually cellulose) efficiently become more common. There will almost certainly never be enough of this to replace all the gas we used to use, but it will be able to take over the critical stuff. The need will create the results. This is not new technology mind you. The first diesel engines were made to work on alcohol, after all, and it’s only a historical curveball that hooked us into ‘rock oil’. Most people will eventually have something the size of a rainbarrel that breaks down kitchen waste and dead plant matter into usable fuel. You will occasionally have to deal with the nuisance of these mutant bugs eating holes in your clothes, or some minor structural damage to wood objects… but hey, shit happens.
Something similar starts to happen with food. A combination of price inflation, wage deflation and contraction of economic activity makes imports of food pretty dodgy, and expensive. Wall mart, Safeway, all the globalised chains…these all go away. Food in general gets more expensive, and most people take up gardening on their balcony, backyard or community park.
This is all well and good until people start actually starving. You’d yank a couple tomatoes if you were starving, right? Eventually a combination of food riots, influxes of starving refugees, and general anxiety lead to most communities, or even neighborhoods, to form up into gangs/militias for self protection, and preservation of resources. You will probably have to deal with the sad spectacle of families going door to door begging for food, or offering to work for it.
One starts to spend a lot of time pulling up pavement to expose useful soil, composting waste and capturing rainwater. There’s a pretty good chance you don’t have a job anyway. If you do, you probably work from home. It’s cheaper for everyone that way.
Which brings us to the low end of the technology situation. I mean, we have iphones now, and wireless broadband is becoming ubiquitous. Eventually technology will be cheaper than food. You can already talk to anyone on earth with a device in your pocket, and carry around every piece of music you own. Eventually it’ll be all the music, all the video, all the pictures and all the books. In your pocket. You can put on a headset and carry on a conversation as if you were in the same room with anyone, or any number of anyones, from anywhere. Why even leave the house? Except to harvest the garlic, that is. The ability to make and hyperdistribute your own cultural material worldwide only accelerates the breakdown of centralised forms of media.
A small blip occurs when the rolling blackouts start. Or depending on where you live, they started a long time ago, and become permanent. Most of the essential widgets are run by efficient integrated solar panels, and everything else gets run by ethanol generators. Once again, not enough electricity to run your air conditioning, or baseboard heaters; but enough for the lights, the cooking and to recharge your widgets.
Now all of this so far presumes that you’re really lucky and you live in a (reasonably) sane part of the world. Either that, or you’re smart enough to see the writing on the wall and get the fuck out of dodge when things get bad. A lot of places will be subject to the no-go zone effect. The government loses the ability to project force, and provide services to a region, and said region is simply dispensed with. No cops, no soldiers, no utilities, and no trucks bringing anything. It is entirely possible to fill in all those parts of the equation, as I’ve said above, but the story of any particular place comes in how well that happens, or doesn’t.
All of this really means a radical redefinition of the power dynamics in society and in the world. What happens when you have the ability to provide your own security, your own services, your own food, energy, culture? Whether by your choice or not, this is what is going to happen. Embracing it will make it easier. The whole idea of ‘top down’ is going to fall by the wayside. Technology, the proliferation of ideas and institutional de-evolution will level the power curve for everyone to large degree.
No, you won’t have cruise missiles, tanks and stealth bombers, but within a short time those things will be mostly irrelevant, just as they are mostly irrelevant in iraq or afghanistan. You don’t subdue a wireless, super-empowered, self-sufficient open source retribalised 21st century hyperculture with tanks and bombs. It’s impossible.
But there are bound to be those stupid enough to try, and this is where it gets a bit scary. You see, it’s already possible right now, for someone of modest education and skills to manufacture a deadly infectious pathogen and it’s only going to get easier. The kind of people who do this are mostly dysfunctional reactionaries, but when you place the whole world in a hyper-connected echo chamber of threatening ideas, there will be no shortage of people with intelligence, equipment, and substandard coping skills.
The biotech revolution is following an accelerating curve even faster than the one for computing. Eventually, you will know at least a few people who are running a gene sequencer in the basement. Which is good for when some fuckstick lets loose a hemorrhagic fever in your vicinity, and you need a vaccine, but not so good when the backlash comes from what remains of the ‘powers that be’, and a platoon of special forces drops out of a helicopter to machine gun you and burn down your neighborhood.
I mean, yeah we expect government to protect us from psychotic people with bioweapons, that’s a good thing. But they won’t discriminate. The crackdown against biotech will threaten to take away the radical life extension, disease elimination, stem-cell regeneration and every kind of weird gene alteration imaginable being cooked up in an environment like this.
The instructive analogy is filesharing. Every so often, the big boys smash a central hub of filesharing with lawsuits, raids and jail time. And then what? They can’t arrest everyone, they can’t even find everyone, so all that happens is darwinism. The survivors get smarter, sneakier, harder to track and develop more and better ways to keep filesharing.
But what if that file is a complete genome? And if people these days can crack iphones, they will sure as hell be able to make biotech equipment, when the time comes.
The sort of chaos you see in the world of intellectual property, will soon be the chaos of our own genetics. And all of this taking place in the social and political chaos of what was the world we once knew. And this is chaos in the mathematical sense, which opens the doorway to a hidden order…