Bruce Sterling on our global psychosis, ca. 2009

Bruce Sterling's lead editorial in SEED Magazine's feature on the 21st century enumerates the disastrous contradictions and changes in the shifting global mindset, and scathingly demands that we fix them. This is inflaming, heady stuff:

7. Science. To be a creationist president is not a problem. A suicide cult is the most effective political actor in the world today. Clearly the millions of people embracing fundamentalism like to make up their own facts.

Standards of scientific proof and evidence no longer compel political and social allegiance. This is not a return to the bedrock of faith — it's an algorithm for ontological anarchy. By attacking empiricism, the world is discarding all of the good reasons to believe that anything is real.

If science is discredited, why should mere politics have any intellectual rigor? Just cobble together a crazy-quilt mix-and-match ideology, like Venezuelan Bolivarism or Russia's peculiar mix of spies, oil, and Orthodoxy. Go from the gut — all tactics, no strategy — making up the state of the world as you go along! Stampede wildly from one panic crisis to the next. Believe whatever is whispered. Hide and conceal whatever you can. Spy on the phone calls, emails, and web browsing of those who might actually know something.

If that leads you to a miserable end-state, huddling with the children in a fall-out shelter clutching silver bullion, then you can congratulate yourself as the vanguard of civilization.

2009 Will Be a Year of Panic


  1. Be sure to click on the “better” link on the bottom, for an essay by Bruce’s Italian twin brother Bruno Argento.

    * * *

    According to the dipshits on one hobby blog I hang out on, it’s all the fault of Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. You know, for giving mortgages to poor people. That explains everything. Except global warming, which doesn’t exist.

    I think I need new hobbies.

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    1. h8fulgod,

      You didn’t actually say anything substantial and yet you managed to annoy everyone. You might want to take a gander at the Moderation Policy before you comment again.

  3. You are not safe now. You never were safe. You never will be safe. Any strategy you pick to make you think you’ll be safe has intrinsic flaws, any of which might pop up at any time. You will eventually die, probably unpleasantly, no matter what you do. Don’t worry about the people running around screaming about disaster– human history is a story of going from one distaster to another– ice ages, plagues, near-species-destroying megavolcanoes, climate changes, blah blah blah. Nothing new under the sun.

    Now go eat a doughnut or a good steak and enjoy it. Sure it might be your last. Or your next to last. Or just the first of a few thousand. Still tastes good.

  4. Interesting list.

    I’m not sure what he means that we’ve “pretended real estate is worthless”… since when? Isn’t drawing lines on territories and defending them with blood and concrete the basis of our wonderful system?

    I also don’t have a lot of fear of insurance systems collapsing creating slums everywhere, but like his point on the elderly it’s an interesting situation to ponder. I’ve always considered private insurance a genuinely evil institution, but like many parasites I see how the host has become dependent on it. Same thing goes for Westphalian nation-states.

    Thankfully, people in crises don’t always panic… sometimes it leads to the sudden flourishing of enlightened self-interest, to community and solidarity. The more we work on that now, the more skill-sharing, alternative infrastructure, and general organizing we can accomplish, the easier we’ll ride the storm.

  5. Also, h8, I think these lines are for you: It’s become an item of fundamentalist faith to maintain that the climate crisis is a weird leftist hoax…. Since the fear has been methodically obscured, its emergence from the mists of superstition will be all the more powerful.
    Extinction doesn’t lie.

    BTW, relying on contempt to sell your message is propagating the most boring aspect of the internets. It’s lazy writing. It doesn’t convince anyone but dittoheads. And it gives me a headache.

    How I wish rhetoric was still a basic part of every education…

  6. Yes, 2009 will be a great year for shrill panicky bullshit like this apparently. It’s already happening, just read this article! I’m so tired of this fear mongering disguised as the clear voice of reason, especially when it can’t even help but contradict itself. If Bruce really wanted us to return to the steadying bedrock of scientific empiricism he certainly shouldn’t be parroting the climate tipping point hysteria that James Hansen/Al Gore have turned into their own fundamentalist cult. Empirical Science requires that you provide some evidence, not just make over arching speculations about what you think will happen.

    2009 will be a squalid year if you listen to people like this, who continuously underrate humanity and want to shit on the idea of progress at every turn. My advice? Just don’t listen.

  7. Assuming #7 (Science) is singled out in this post as an example of the “headiness”–what exactly is heady about opposing the two most common and simpleminded positions on climate change–that science will magically fix everything on the one hand, and on the other the straw man notion that everything that isn’t science is fundamentalist creationism–against each other? Can’t we get that anywhere?

    The “Science can fix this” mantra (from the cover of the magazine linked to) is nauseating, because science has never fixed anything; it is always slightly behind in catching up with the problems it created in the first place. I prefer the wisdom of TV On The Radio: “Dear Science, please fix all the things you always talk about, or shut the fuck up.”

  8. I think he makes it pretty clear that humans are great at denial. He has been talking about the vulnerability of the internet for quite some time, and yet I don’t think most of his advice has been embraced. And #9, science has fixed a lot of problems. Did you get your vaccination shots?

  9. Hmmm, he doesn’t seem to be a copyfighter:

    2. Intellectual property. More specifically, the fiat declaration that properties that are easy to reproduce shouldn’t be reproduced.

    Declaring that “information wants to be free” is an ideological stance. A real-world situation where information can’t be anything but free, where digital information cannot be monetized, is bizarre and deeply scary. No banker or economist anywhere has the ghost of clue what to do under such conditions.

    I’m not so worried about the poor poor bankers and economists, but this was a deft rhetorical move, exposing the political rhetoric of copyfight, which so often gets buried or ignored, and presented instead as a self-evident rights-based “truth.” Nice.

  10. Nice to see the denialists out in full force spreading their filth and shitting in the punch bowl. They overwhelm just about any post on Digg about the climate or the financial crisis with their lies.

    I read both articles and enjoyed them. They’re well written, clear and to the point. It’s… reassuring isn’t he word I’m looking for… validating, perhaps. It’s a confirmation for me of what certain thinkers have been saying for some time.

    The World is too much. We want to escape it because when it isn’t hell bent on exterminating us it is merely indifferent to our desires. One response would be to simply accept that we won’t get all we want and work within what we know. Scientific knowledge enhances our ability to survive in the real world but it isn’t magic. It isn’t going to deliver all our dreams, only those that are possible.

    The other response is to flee into delusion. So we believe that the magic, invisible hand of the free market will do the heavy lifting for us. Or that if we ban stem cell research we don’t have to confront those choices. Or that if we pretend that climate change is not real, or alternatively that we can do nothing about it, that we will not be forced to change some very fundamental things in our lives.

    Reality won’t leave you alone. It comes after you and hunts you down. Then it laughs at you while your fantasy world dissolves before your eyes. This is called the return of the repressed. In economics it’s called “the business cycle”.

    There was one part I didn’t care for:

    “The year to come is best approached as a learning opportunity.”

    I HATE learning opportunities. I really do.

  11. Banquo was the blameless, upstanding, loyal friend who stuck by Macbeth even though he suspected foul play in Macbeth’s ascendence to the throne. Macbeth murdered Banquo out of paranoia. Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth for his crimes against nature and his fellow man.

    I fail to see how Enron = Banquo.

  12. @3 and other trolling climate change deniers:
    Do you mean alarmism such as that just published in the pseudoscientific rag Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences?

    “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions”

    Sorry h8fulgod and pals. Those annoyingly liberal CO2 molecules just continue to absorb long-wave radiation, no matter how much you blather on.

    Meanwhile, the reality-based community will need to rely on peer-reviewed science and proceed like rational human beings. Feel free to maintain your ideological cave dwelling, but can the rest of us move on?

  13. Noen, BoingBoing is (or could be if you’re smart enough to take advantage of it) a learning opportunity/entertainment.

  14. @ Jeff — I said that more for effect. I debated in my mind ways of putting it differently but that only made is less funny. Yeah, learning opportunities are “good things” but they aren’t very fun to go through. I mean sure at first there’s the oooooh’s and ahhhh’s, that’s how it always starts. It’s all the running and screaming that gets on my nerves.

  15. Noen, I agree that getting over the “hump” while learning something new can be difficult. I just figured you enjoyed this place and that you do in fact learn stuff all the time. I know that one of the Wonderful things about BB is that it really does offer a large number of interest vectors. I mean, where else can you learn about knitting and steam punk and Cathulu birthday cakes…?

  16. I just can’t believe, how at this late point in the game, there are people who deny that human instigated global climate change is not real. Who are these people? After so many studies – going as far back as the early 60s – the answer is very clear – irrefutable. This is not doom/gloom – this is reality. You can then ask – well, what are we going to do about it? The answer is has many shades to it but I think you can rely on the following:

    1. If you live within several miles of ocean coastal land, move inland.
    2. If you are an insurance professional – you no longer write policies for residences that are on the water.
    3. If you live in Florida – pack your belongings and make arrangements to move – sorry but that is the way it is. Many other places are going to be inundated.

    4. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There will be so many other challenges this century that from the distance seem insurmountable and intractable (nuclear proliferation,starvation,water shortages,plague). Science will not solve these problems – people will solve them using science! Those persons who immediately reacted to Sterling’s writing do not want to wake up. They want to keep driving their SUVs, they want to keep eating McDonalds Big Macs, they do not want to change – but they are going to have to . This is not doom/gloom – this is reality.

  17. I think Noen was using “learning experience” in much the same way that Zen Buddhists might call something a “practice opportunity”, or the way my mother used to remark, “Oh, great, AFGE — another fricking growth experience!”

    In other words, you wouldn’t sign up for the experience in question ahead of time if given a choice, but once you come out the other end, you may find yourself profoundly grateful for having gone through it. The sort of thing that prompts people to say things like “We should be glad when things are difficult, because we don’t grow when things are easy!”

  18. there are people who deny that human instigated global climate change is not real. Who are these people?

    They’re the ones making money off of fossil fuels. ExxonMobil had record profits last quarter, so they can afford a HUGE megaphone.

  19. Lexica is correct – um… what he said. As I live in Minnesota I have written a new marketing slogan for our state. “Minnesota, it’s the New South!” Yay! (we’re going to need to plant some palm trees)

  20. It seems to have escaped most people here, but both articles were written with the purpose of being wrong.

    As Bruce Sterling and “his Italian brother” know, the reality of the situation is almost always to be found near the centre between these two extremes.

  21. Oh dear, back to AGW denial again. Deniers, please explain how you refute ΔF = α ln(C/C02), and form an orderly queue for your Nobel Prizes.

    Physics has a well-known liberal bias. /That/ old anvil laughs at many broken hammers, too.

  22. Imipak, Arrhenius’ high absorption values for CO2, were criticized by Knut Ã…ngström in 1900.

    Ångström published the first modern infrared spectrum of CO2 with two absorption bands.

  23. @#27, I don’t think physics gives two brown squats about whether the scientists performing the experiments are liberal or not.

  24. I’m still waiting for my cheques from ExxonMobil. Meanwhile the East Coast is still under a three foot sheet of ice. But don’t confuse weather for climate peepull! Soon it’ll be colder than ever and we will be intoned to “Not confuse short term weather patterns for climate” and then as it becomes colder still because the sun goes on a sunspot blank mission for 10 years it’ll be “Don’t confuse the sun for having an effect on the weather, clearly cutting back on CO2 emissions is working!” Denialists indeed.

  25. Mr. Gibson says: “As 2009 opens, our financial institutions are deep in massive, irrational panic. ”

    He’s rather badly wrong right at the outset – the current distress about as irrational as being upset by your liver cancer. There’s a systemic crisis with no obvious solution and prospects which are scaring the hell out of a lot of serious people who don’t get paid to make pithy observations.

    We will probably find a new metastable state, but the thing about that is, you don’t get to decide what it looks like.

  26. Palindromic, it’s really, really hard for humans with mostly sub-century lifespans to grasp the finer points of systems operating on a millennial scale.

    And modeling leads to uncertain and contradictory outcomes when we have less than a century of reasonably reliable data from which to extrapolate. It’s like trying to determine the plot of every Star Trek episode and movie ever made based on a few still frames of film.

    Our great-grandchildren will be born into a different world than we inhabit. How different is something we won’t know for certain in our lifetimes.

  27. #33: That is a fine and cogent explanation as to why both sides of the Climate debate find difficulty with the certitude of each other’s position.

  28. @Noen

    In the ancient days a compsci prof at Mankato State made the first web page for the college. It showed the lovely campus with all of its palm trees and described its 70 degree Januarys. I work at a sister college and whenever I talk to their IT Dept I ask about the palms.


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