Perhaps it should be titled “how to survive in an early post-apocalyptic zombie-infested wasteland”, with chapters like “collaborative consumption” guiding the way to how to divvy up scarce provisions and “unprepared” showing the disconnectedness and naivete of a formerly sheltered set of people (and how quickly the naivete dissipates when said people are thrust headlong intro reality.) In many ways, the rise of disaster fiction dovetails nicely with the follies and problems of our age. Originally created as a critique of mindless consumer capitalism, zombie survival-horror as a genre perhaps is now more apt as both a warning for those who have yet to experience this new world first-hand, and set of training videos for surviving it. Both the resurgence of these genres and the creation of this book, in retrospect, now seem to have been inevitable.
The book deals with a many issues related to our “New New Economy” (and I recommend that everyone read the original “The New Job Security” book, which I read back in the early 2000s. It turned out to be prescient quite quickly.) “Share or Die” deserves a lot of credit for putting personal stories and names to things that have been studied and detailed in the broad strokes, via discussions of policies like deregulation, downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing, widespread automation, and upper-income-bracket tax cuts; ballooning student debt, and the associated peonage of its debtors, as well as the fact that degrees have gone from proof of competence to the most basic of HR filters; short-lived traditions like “jobs for life” gone, and at-will employment treated the way you’d expect based on the label; the shrinking or disappearance of health benefits, our lack of universal health care, or paid leave; the dog-eat-dog economy where the dogs are getting hungrier as the opportunities shrink with each passing day; and a landscape which differs from the rosy ”you can do anything if you only try” meritocratic fairytales pushed by our institutions, policymakers, teachers, and many others who grew up in an era (post WWII to Reagan) where standards of living seemed like they’d rise forever and opportunity for everyone seemed ever-present, and never-ending.
The book offers many ideas for coping – a few of which are worth entertaining – but are mostly just the ideas of people grasping for something, anything that will deliver us from this predicament. Unfortunately, the vast majority of ideas will not serve most people very well, or for very long. In this way, the ineffectiveness, indifference, or complete absence of societal institutions present in virtually every piece of zombie (and related disaster genres) fiction look like extremely fitting metaphors for our government, corporations, and charities. From the false promises of the “governments” of “Survivors” and “Threads” to their complete absence in “The Walking Dead” or “28 days later“, these pieces of fiction illustrate quite well the plight of those under 40, and increasingly, those over it, today. Those genres also shows what happens as the supplies run out, the crazy ideas which seemed to have a hope of working (the book) stop doing so, and the nerves are well past the frayed stage.
Share Or Die is an excellent, ground-level snapshot of our new age. An age without useful answers (only the same answers that have failed us for a long time), and without the promise of prosperity returning anytime soon. An age which, to someone transported here from only two or three decades ago, would seem like a radically futuristic place (and it many ways it is.) The powerful devices in our hands, the always-connectedness, the truly instant communications, self-driving cars, the nascent “cyborging” of humanity, the medical advances, and a great many other wonderful things. It also looks like those other futures – the ones with the walled fortresses, and black seas; poverty; despair; wealth concentration; a growing underclass; social unrest and outright rebellions; rising political divisions; and a widespread lack of trust of just about everything.
Lastly, there appears to be another parallel in the book to those movies and shows. At some point a few of the characters come to a terrible realization: that no help is coming.
A response to: The Nation-State Reborn
Eventually we will probably have a global government. One language, one currency, immigration/emigration policies at parity, universal respect of human rights/civil liberties, "near-instant" transport, one system of labor and environmental laws, the works. That day, however, is a ways off. The Internet may be breaking down barriers, but not quickly enough or broadly enough to make this a reality in the next few decades. It will take time to have a global culture and consciousness, a belief in a shared set of values that people /actually/ agree on, rather than just pay lip service to. The "loyalty to real estate" that the ethicists referred to in the post decry perhaps should be considered an unfortunate relic of our tribalist past (It's an argument I'm highly sympathetic to.) An unfortunate, artificial barrier separating human beings from each other. That doesn't mean, however, that we can simply skip it or pretend it's going to disappear tomorrow. In a way, we really *need* their disdain of it; it serves to push the intellectual margin, even if we don't move towards the "ideal end game" anytime soon. We still need people thinking about it and preparing for it.
Those that are part of the "globetrotters" club get to experience this reality to a degree now. When they travel to another country, they meet others like themselves. Many may have similar interests, values, shared experiences and backgrounds (even if they come from different countries - they get to absorb the "culture" of the institutions they have been a part of - whether that be Harvard, Yale, or the IMF.) On top of that, they get to live life in whatever country that happen to be residing in or visiting in a very similar way. Just look at the "special zones" in various theocratic Middle Eastern countries that the diplomats, international business people, etc. stay in. You get to dress in a way you're accustomed to, drink, and socialize without interference from the national government. Tiny states-within-states.
All this perhaps gives us a preview of what a nation state-less future will be like. Combine this with superabundance and ultra-fast travel and we'll be on to the next stage of human society. A global one. A fair one. A barrier-less one. One where stereotypes about and hate towards humans goes away. Where we do not divide ourselves up based on how we look, where we were born, our what haplogroups we belong to.
Until that day comes, however, the nation state is the best we've got. We should figure out how to reboot it, reconfigure it, remake it, or whatever is necessary to make it work until we are actually able to reach that next stage of human society. I personally look forward to that day.
This article by Thomas Friedman makes a relatively new, but familiar-feeling argument. The Republican party needs to change. It's outmoded. It's conflicted. It's woefully inequiped to deal with today's realities. His criticisms couldn't be more correct. In our song A Graveyard of Elephants we offer some of the exact same arguments. He's correct as far as it goes.
Where his analysis begins to fall down is where he begins to argue that today's incarnations of Conservatisms can be salvaged. By and large, this is completely wrong. In today's America, which version of Conservatism is worth saving? Which one resonates? Which one are Americans moving toward? As Alan Wolfe so eloquently states "In this entrepreneurial, mobile, innovative, and individualistic country, conservatism was constantly on the defensive, aiming to preserve things--deference, reverence, and diffidence, to name three--that most Americans were anxious to shed." This is more true than ever.
Religious or "traditional family structure" conservatism? Religion is on the wane (recent controversies notwithstanding - study after study backs this one up.) America is becoming more secular and more accepting of LGBT rights. Birth control is used regularly. Abortion, though a perennial topic, still has broad support, and will eventually be made obsolete by better methods of birth control (permanent and side-effect free.) More people are living alone or co-habiting than ever before. Single parenthood is hardly the shocking subject it once was. Staying single for life, open marriage, non-hetero marriage, polyamory, being childfree, and various other non-traditional family/non-family structures have entered the mainstream lexicon and, while not necessarily popular, are gaining acceptance.
Market Fundamentalism, a kind of "Conservatism" *(with built in contradictions), but in its current incarnation allows massive wealth concentration and poverty? Being rejected across the board - even large percentages of Republicans have rejected our current levels of wealth inequality. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, there's a rejection of this doctrine, even if some of the members of those movements don't always know it.
Other, lesser known Conservatisms will likely never be popular. Take Bioconservatism, for example. Cosmetic surgery is commonplace. We're replacing (and now growing!) limbs and organs and putting them on and inside people. How far are we from enhanced contact lenses (permanent, with AR overlays)? Implants which help us learn faster and remember more are likely to be as eagerly embraced as "smart drugs" are becoming in many circles.
So what's left for Conservatism? Only one thing really looks promising to defend: "Economic nationalism", which will mean putting America's economic growth and innovation first. This will of course mean shedding other kinds of Conservatism. Free Markets has money go wherever it's most likely to make a profit in the short term. If we're going to try to move to the next level, we'll need to take some of that "State Capitalist" medicine that China has been popping for a while. Technology investment, items with longer-term payoffs (or that may not turn a profit), 21st-century infrastructure/transportation development, initiatives for further city densification and all its attendant benefits (idea mixing, serendipity creation, etc.)
Friedman argues these things, but implies that we can do it by reinventing the Republican party - which may be true. Doing so, however, will mean jettisoning all of those Conservatisms in the process. It's Conservatism(s) against the world, and Conservatism which will need to be sacrificed.
We need big moves, big ideas, and an international, rather than domestic-focused competitive spirit. An ideology that puts American innovation at the forefront, and all the policies necessary to make that happen. That's the only kind of Conservatism left worth defending.
Listen to this song, Our Restive Zeitgeist, on Bandcamp.
As of this writing, it's been three years since the 2008 financial crisis ended. Over this time, many have wondered just what would happen we finally stopped reeling from the confusion, shock, and bewilderment at the scale of its effects. In 2011, we finally began to move from that previous state to one disappointment and despondency. Around the world, people have wondered just what, collectively, was next. Would we deal with corporate malfeasance; massive financial fraud; abysmal governance; the globalization of capital and faux-free trade that benefits a narrow minority at the expense of the many; growing wealth inequality; crumbling infrastructure; bailouts and corporate socialism; vanishing social mobility and increasing wealth and power concentration? In terms of reforms, it seems we've barely budged from those fateful days of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Much hand-wringing, and "what is to be done?" have occurred, but very little of actual consequence to fix, or even ameliorate our many ills has been accomplished, or in many cases, even attempted in the US or Europe. The social contract in these places has been broken, and no sign of imminent repair appears forthcoming.
The countries of the Middle East and North Africa have been different stories. Suffering for decades under tyrannical regimes, people in these countries have, one after another, been rising up and ousting their rulers. Much of this continues today, and the outcomes remain highly uncertain. Each country, of course, has its own set of unique historical circumstances and local grievances. One thing that has united them, is that in many of these places, a sort of social contract existed: trade your loyalty (and liberties) for guaranteed income streams, a sinecure, and fixed prices for staples. For a variety of reasons, this has broken down; we've been seeing the results.
Aside from the broken social contract, the one thing has united people in all these different regions and countries: disappearing opportunity. We've relied on governments and (mostly large) businesses to remedy our situation, but as has become abundantly clear, no help is coming. The latter was perceived to be reliable out of a mix of national interest-tinged self interest, the former because it is what we elect them to do. Instead, many of these large businesses have become untethered from their home country in this era of frictionless globalized capital, and easy access to low-cost (and in some cases, suffering under Mercantilist regimes) labor. Governments, on the other hand, have succumbed to Neoliberal, non-Ricardian-Free Trade ideology, internal division, pure incompetence, and myopia. Both, of course, have become parties to corruption, influence peddling, and the system of revolving door jobs. These last issues have become a central focus of many extant protest movements (and are the subject of our song "Mussolini's Revenge.")
Now, we've begun to reach a boiling point. Inchoate, at times unfocused, but rapidly coalescing around many of the issues above, this worldwide crisis has been decades in the making, and is the subject of this song. It's particularly focused on the crisis in the US and the attendant "Occupy" protest movement.
Lyrics start with a ">" and are italicized. Full lyrics without the explanation at the bottom.Read more
Many articles about technology replacing labor, the future of the human workforce, and the potential for mass unemployment (and what that means for the welfare state) have been making the rounds lately. I'm listing some of the best here (some are older, but still very important) so there's a single place for them - and because it is one of the most important issues in the world, and will only continue to get more important:
A post of my own on the subject:
Very interesting and important video. It starts getting especially interesting around 1:00:00 when Cowen and Ford start talking. A few things:
- The idea of "personal shoppers" being a growth area seems dubious. With recommendation and predictive desire systems getting better all the time, I think this is probably a no-go.
- Nannies might be a growth area for a few decades, but decent AI will likely obviate the need for these as well. I'd give this one 50-50 odds over the next 4-6 decades.
- Basically everyone on that panel endorsed the guaranteed income. The fact that people from so many different perspectives had their policy prescription converge to that is really striking.
- This also brings us back to the "how do we occupy the unemployed masses?" question yet again. Arts and leisure activities will likely not need much support from society, as they will just happen. Sports might (stadiums, etc.) Other things we'll probably be looking at will be extremely powerful, long-lasting, side-effect-free (or tolerable side effect having) drugs. That road of course leads to wireheading, but I think that denying that as a possibility now is extremely naive.
A cultural shift will be required, as several people in the video make clear. Having one's self worth (and respect of one's peers/society) be defined by a traditional support-one's-livelihood "job" is going to have to disappear. Demonization of those "lazy, ne'er do wells" is just not going to work in a future where much human labor is not needed.
Another thing this brings to mind is the effect on the labor market that does continue to function: a great deal less unemployment, at least for a long while. For those skills that are essentially not able to be automated any time soon (let's stay over, the next 50-100 years) those that stay in the labor market will not be doing much competing for open positions. It may in fact be an employee's market in those cases where someone is not simply their own business.
Money in politics has become a singularly important issue in today's America. As discussed in our song "Mussolini's Revenge", the influence of said money runs through every part of the system. No person, agency, or office is untouched by it. Given that, and given that there's likely no way to truly remove it (even with a repeal of the Citizen's United decision or the elimination of SuperPACs) without stepping on the First Amendment one way or another, perhaps there's a whole other way of dealing with the issue: get rid of the popular vote.
So how would politicians get into office? Anyone interested in being in office would have to get a minimum number of signatures, register with the appropriate agency, and wait. Instead of elections, they would be chosen randomly from the pool of applicants. Simple. Now, some would argue that this might get us less than perfect candidates or that it's undemocratic. This is true, but the current system has essentially the same problems, just for different reasons. It would also mean that we could perhaps move more towards a system that focuses on governance instead of celebrity and the horserace.
With the office of the President now costing over a billion dollars, it's really time to start thinking about alternatives to our current system. It just no longer works as intended.
Related: America for Sale
Edit: one thing that would also make this more useful would a universal election recall directive (and upon reflection seems necessary for this to work.) Everywhere, every office would be subject to recall, no exceptions. You might even think of this as a "reverse voting" system. It's still subject to democratic checks and balances, but without money influencing every part of the system. Yes, people could spend money to try to get someone recalled, but the difference here is that the results of the person's governance are already in place and can be judged. Real, on-the-ground results. Getting someone who has done an obviously good job thrown out would be hard - much harder than "getting a good candidate without enough financial resources" elected with our current system. This seems like a potentially large improvement.
Military interventionism is back in the news again with the situation in Libya. Let's run through the calculus that would-be interventionists have to go through.
If we go in unilaterally, we may look like we're doing so purely out of self-interest, and are after something (like access to a natural resource, a staging area for other operations, etc.) We will wind up being painted as colonialists, imperialists, and people who don't respect national sovereignty. This tends to inflame those who despise us even more, strengthens their resolve to harm us and drive us out of places, and opens us up to reprisals. It also places all of the (logistical, financial, equipment, and human) burdens on us, ultimately leaving us weaker, and leaving us more vulnerable in the event of a conflict of our own (do we have enough troops? Are they worn out? Is our equipment in tatters?) It's also possible that we can make things worse, either in the short or long term (we empower the wrong group, who turns out worse than the last or winds up our enemy; collateral and infrastructure damage; logistical mistakes that lead to the side we support losing.)
If we try to intervene multilaterally, we have another set of problems. We may spend too much time dithering, discussing the morality, ethics, politics, outcomes, and logistics of the issue, that by the time we get ready to do anything, the facts on the ground have changed (the rebels lose/win, the genocide is complete, etc.) We also have the issue of double standards; we intervene when it comes to smaller, weaker countries (particularly those without nuclear weapons), but when it comes to larger, more powerful (and in some cases more brutal) countries, we all have to play nice. This has undermined the credibility of all sorts of international organizations (the UN human rights org., the Hague, the UN Security Council, etc.) On top of this, many of those on these councils, if we were to judge objectively (in terms of human rights records, etc.), do not deserve to be there. The other perverse effect is that, knowing that intervention is possible pushes countries to get armed with extremely powerful weapons as quickly as possible to prevent being attacked (as we've seen with North Korea and Iran.) Also, just like with a unilateral approach, we may make things worse.
If we do nothing, many may be tortured, imprisoned, or killed. Entire regional populations could be wiped out. The winners of the conflict (if power changes hands) could be even worse than the previous hegemons. It could spill over into surrounding areas, or ignite an even larger conflict (a civil or regional war.) Huge amounts of infrastructure can be destroyed, leaving survivors without clean water, access to transportation, or access to health services, leaving many to die of starvation or disease.
It may seem like an easy choice, regardless of which option you support. In reality, those faced with these decisions have anything but an easy time of it. As we can see from the above, the reality is that there are often no good options.
I think it's important for critics of the idea of universal health care systems/reform (whether it be single payer or any other system more sane than we have now) that what many of us want out of a universal system has much less to do with outcomes, per se, and more to do with freedom and security. Outcomes should be reasonably good (certainly better in the median case than we have now - let's say, outcomes on par with Canada, which isn't perfect), but the main thing is *we want to stop worrying that care will not be there when we need it or that we'll go bankrupt if we have a serious illness or injury.* We want to NOT have to consider "can I change jobs? Can I quit my job and start a business? Can I afford to hire an employee? Can I risk going skydiving? Is it safe to ride my bike? Damn, I can't because I won't be able to afford health insurance/care!"
Many universal care advocates (though my no means all) would live with "smart rationing" if it meant we could get care when we /really/ needed it and not go bankrupt-like when we break our spines or get cancer.
The other things that I think need to be made more obvious to everyone, though they already should be is the following two facts:
1) If people believe that more care (meaning more doctor visits, tests, etc.) means that they are "healthier", then they will over-utilize it. If we had a universal system, we could have doctors say "based on what you tell me, these are the tests/whatever I am going to order. This is included in your tax-funded care. If you want special tests beyond this, you can pay for it out-of-pocket." Then we have a shared database which shows what a patient has complained about, had tested, etc. Then, if they show up at doctor #3 (maybe we allow two opinions to be safe), they are refused further tests or treatment without paying. Also, convince people that what they need is smarter, not more, care. This could be everything from lifestyle education to understanding medical diagnoses better. There's a lot to be done here.
2) Much bigger issue: we only get one life, and we may (rightly) believe that any ache, pain, strange feeling, etc. could *actually* be life threatening, so we go and have everything under the sun tested. This is not a crackable nut with current technology. There are a zillion things which *might* be killing you at any given time, and we are understandably worried about them. What we /really/ need is technology that monitors everything in your body, in real time. You should be able to see not just the basics like blood pressure or heart rate, but real-time cell growth/tumor growth, you should get real-time signaling about *actual* potential problems based on sophisticated, always-on in-body devices that are checking every organ and system to alert you of potential problems. We should be able to see when a pathogen enters our system. We should be able to see *exactly* what nutrients we need. Bottom line is that our technology is very, very far from our health visibility needs. What we have now is the equivalent of trying to diagnose transmission problems by looking at the *outside of the car.* Is it any wonder we're "wasteful"? We grasp at the only things we have to even ATTEMPT to monitor our health (going to a doctor and explaining), pathetic though it may be.
You might have nascent brain cancer right now, but you have no symptoms, and you aren't in a high risk factor group. You never even consider that it might be the case. It never enters your doctor's mind to test for it. Then, a few months later, you die. I'm sure this idea has kept many an over-utilizer up at night, because they HAVE considered it (I've seen this happen with cancer several times - young, seemingly healthy people who go for regular checkups and don't do anything out of the ordinary to endanger their health have just died of cancer very quickly.)
If our cars were as prone to exploding without warning the way our bodies are prone to disease and death without warning, we'd be at the mechanic every day.
To sum up, the current health insurance system doesn't feel like insurance. It feels like a very expensive straitjacket when it should feel like a lifejacket, and
the /real/ visibility into our own health is laughably bad due to the state of our health technology so we turn into over-utilizing fools who don't get better outcomes. We want a health system AND technology that makes us feel free and secure, like any useful safety net. We have neither.
Revolution U is an excellent article charting the history of CANVAS, a non-violent revolution organization that has taught resistance and protest movements around the world how to apply the idea of "nonviolent conflict as a form of warfare." They've taught groups in Burma, Egypt, Zimbabwe and others how to use a variety of tactics to weaken, and ultimately overthrow, dictatorial regimes. Their work is very important, and I strongly recommend reading the article.
There are some problems, though.
First, there's the implication that non-violent resistance alone can work. I can't find a source for it at the moment, but there's an argument that basically says that non-violent resistance only works when there's the implied threat of violence behind it. The idea is that things like Gandhi's resistance movement only ultimately worked because there were potentially millions of people willing to do violence on his behalf. This fact remained unstated, but it was always there, silently confronting and confounding the British occupiers. Whether this is true or not is very difficult to say, but I don't think any discussion of non-violent resistance is complete without it.
Second, it's easy to imagine people here in the US attempting to apply these lessons to deal with our current problems. I think it would be extremely worthwhile for activists and organizers here to learn from CANVAS, but should do so knowing that we have a fundamentally different problem in this country. We don't have dictatorship or anything like it. We do have a serious issues with Corporatism and Crony Capitalism (our song "Moussolini's revenge" deals with this very issue) but to think that it is a "dictatorship" implies a fundamental misunderstanding of the things that prop up much of the current power structures. As described in our song "A Graveyard If Elephants" and books like "What's the matter with Kansas?", we have a population of people who continually vote against their own economic interests over social issues; because they've actually bought into an ideology that says that Negative Liberty is the only kind of Liberty, and that the means justify the ends (see "The Washington Consensus") - so even though these people are hurt by these policies, and they often know it, they continue to do it anyway because they actually believe it's justified with that conception of liberty. Here in the US, what we have is a bitter, slow motion civil war with divisions along many different lines. It's nothing like the simple and traditional oppressor/oppressed situation you see in many dictatorships.
Finally, I believe we need to think more about the imbalance between illiberal movements/regimes and liberal ones (in the classical sense.) Liberal regimes tend to only work where there is at least some level of broadly shared prosperity, even if it isn't all that much. Illiberal regimes, on the other hand, can survive (with a powerful enough system for keeping resistance in check) through both economic hardship and prosperity. This fundamental imbalance means that the scales are always tipped against liberalism, and its a constant fight to keep it in place. The only answer here is to improve and maintain living standards and prosperity. Will alone has not, and does not work.