Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tomorrowland/Mad Max Chaser

Here are a few loose ends from the Tomorrowland/Mad Max review.

Straight out of Tomorrowland, here’s a bright, young, go-getter who seems like he just got a Tomorrowland badge dropped in his dorm room. The first paragraph caught my attention, so I decided to read further: It's up to us to create a better future for the planet (The Guardian)
As architecture design students we are taught to constantly question and reimagine the way things are. We’re taught that the world we live in is not a given. It’s the result of the best efforts our ancestors could muster at that time. If it has flaws, it is up to our generation to pick up where they left off and create the world we want to see for ourselves and our children. 
I’ve grown to understand that the society and culture I was born into is damaging the planet we live on at a greater scale than ever before. We put profit above people, economy above environment, progress above purpose. As a result, climate change has become the most important issue of our generation. 
But it’s such a meaty, complex problem that we’re not sure how to approach it. It doesn’t seem to pose an immediate threat to our everyday lives, and most of us assume that there are surely some very clever scientists somewhere who will solve the problem for us. 
I became curious. If climate change is as big a threat as I’m being told, then my work as a designer and an architect should focus on helping address the issue. I wanted to really understand, in layman terms, what it is that’s causing our climate to warm. Why is a warmer climate dangerous? And how can I make a positive difference?
Wow, he must have seen the movie! After listing all the dire effects of climate change and environmental destruction (namedropping Al Gore), he concludes:
So that’s the reality. Now what? My first reaction was to put my head in the sand. However I refuse to accept the dismal future that lies ahead. As a result of our changing climate, we have a really unique opportunity to build a better future. As humans we’re innovative and adaptive. We’re able to recognise and rectify our mistakes. 
Today, as the most connected generation in history, we have the unique ability to create a future that embraces renewable technology; that democratises the way we produce and consume energy; that encourages sharing and responsible consumerism; and that provides jobs in new sectors focused on sustainable progress.
His solutions:

1.) We ended slavery, man, which is the mic-drop of progress: “Only 200 years ago people argued that slavery was morally acceptable because it provided good, cheap energy that would help boost our global economy.Our forefathers recognised that inequity and changed that. Throughout history we’ve changed legislation, opinion and archaic systems to create a better world to live in.”

I’m not convinced that we just suddenly got more moral. In an industrial economy, wage slavery is a lot more effective than chattel slavery anyway, for a number of reasons. You don’t have to feed and clothe wage slaves, you just hand them a paycheck and tell them fend for themselves in the “free” market. There’s more flexibility: you can hire and fire people as need be. Capitalists realized they did not need the whip and the lash to motivate workers to work; the whip and the lash of poverty and destitution would work just as effectively without all the unpleasantness and associated costs. Plus you could claim the moral high ground because workers are coming in “voluntarily” day after day because “they choose to trade leisure for consumption,” or some such nonsense in the neoclassical economic formulation. In their concept of the economy, everybody is “free” – the capitalists are free to exploit workers to the hilt and the workers are free to take whatever the capitalists are offering or starve and live on the street. “They can always go someplace else or start their own corporation!” cry the capitalists whenever you bring this up.

In addition, those paychecks create customers for the products that capitalists produce, which is the only way capitalism functions(ed). The economy of the old South, for example, did not need an internal consumer class because it was mainly producing export commodities (cotton and tobacco). As the United States expanded, it needed to choose which model it would follow, and was obvious that industrialism would win out, which meant that slavery had to go. Plus, of course, we got energy slaves in place of human ones. Besides, slavery never really went away, there are more slaves today than ever before in history in absolute numbers. And a lot of workers who are technically not slaves (migrant agricultural workers in the U.S., brick makers in India, sweatshop workers in Indonesia, child laborers in Africa, Thai fisherman on shrimp boats, construction workers in Qatar, etc.) work in conditions as bad or worse than slavery even though they are not “officially” slaves.

2.) Divesting fossil fuels: “Large corporations and universities can start by divesting their investments from the fossil fuel industry.” This has always struck me as a useless feel-good solution. So Harvard divests from fossil fuels and then, what, the companies shut down, or something? Don’t they just raise capital from someplace else? Isn’t this just another form of free-market fundamentalism solving all our problems (rather than being the cause of them?) But, hey, the upper-class kids of Harvard feel like they are doing something to make a difference before they take up their jobs as corporate bankers, lawyers and lobbyists.

3.) Elon Musk is awesome! He’s, like, making electric cars and stuff! Solar panels!! Wind farms!!! “We’ve already seen Elon Musk build a billion-dollar electric car business he claims will be worth as much as Apple in a decade.” So Elon Musk is peddling the idea that if we just switch all our cars to electric we can just continue the status quo of the suburban SUV lifestyle.

4.) There’s another international conference that will fix stuff: “As for our world leaders, in December they will come together in Paris to discuss the future of our planet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.” Because international conferences run by global elites have such a great track record.[eyeroll]. They’re not even discussing the environment at Bilderberg this year (but are discussing artificial intelligence)

5.) Dude, we’ve got the Internet! “If you’re reading this article, then you have access to the internet. You have the unique ability to voice your opinion.”  In other words, ‘To save everything, click here!’ I’ve heard this trope so often, it’s hard to even read it anymore. World leader/corporate CEO: "I've totally changed my views thanks to this online petition."

So as not to accused of stomping on youthful idealism, what’s my solution? Well, it starts by recognizing a toxic economic system based on growth for starters. If I were asked to write this I would mention overproduction, planned obsolescence, a financialized, debt-based economy that yokes us to eternal growth, an economic priesthood that clutches its peals and reaches for smelling salts at the very idea of population decline or growth rates less than 3 percent a year; bond market “discipline” which keeps governments from helping their own people; the incentives of capitalism which are to immiserate people who draw a paycheck; our agricultural system based on overproduction of monocrops via fossil fuels while condemning animals to incomprehensibly cruel concentration camps. Heck I could go on all day. But you’re never supposed to think of the system as being part of the problem. Just screw in some LED lights, buy a Tesla, and sign an online petition. Sigh. Maybe if this guy showed some awareness of the problems inherent in the system a la Naomi Klein  beyond the typical fell-good bromides (electric cars, solar panels, online petitions) I would be less judgmental. But his whole article is redolent of Tomorrowland’s simplistic attitude.

As for architects changing the world, we do what people pay us to do –all the ideas in the world don’t work without money. If we were paid to give shelter to everyone, we’d do it. Instead we’re paid to build palatial school buildings, ten-story gold-plated hospital buildings, titanic shopping malls in China and Pikettyscrapers for the one percent.  Architecture in the West is being kept on life support by the eds and meds economy – this is where our paychecks come from. Art museums are pretty much status-symbols put up by wealthy patrons in the manner of Renaissance barons like the Medici, and stadiums are the most egregious form of corporate welfare imaginable. Architects aren’t changing anything; ideas about “changing the world” wither and die on the vine without corporate support. This is what happens when you get out of school. You also realize the rich and well-connected monopolize all the design opportunities while you are just another cog in the wheel poring over Excel spreadhseets and shop drawings. But maybe I'm just bitter, lol.

As for where all the bright young people go, it’s not for lack of idealism that problems are festering. I recently listened to a live podcast with Duncan Trussell and Abby Martin recorded in the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area. That area is truly the belly of the beast – an alternate reality where government Mandarins and toadies, lobbyists, financiers, generals, contractors, profiteers, media personalities, and other assorted sociopaths and grifters attend cocktail parties in an alternative-universe bubble that makes Panem in The Hunger Games look like a model of democracy. This comment later in the podcast made me think
[1:052] [audience member] “Abby, I think you said something really important earlier, and that’s that, a lot of the violence that goes on in the world is not motivated by maliciousness. And I wanted to offer a little bit of insight into that. I went through seven years of really rough graduate school. And at the end of it I knew a lot of physicists and mathematicians--PhD.s, and I had an option of ‘where was I going to go to work?’ And I could continue in academia and make something approaching assistant manager in retail. Or, and I know lots of people who chose this path, make three times that amount and go work for Ratheon, go work for Lockheed-Martin, go work for the NSA, go work for NGIC. And these are sweet people. And they just looked at, ‘well, how much am I going to make?’ And they’re not making--a lot of them aren’t making weapons, they’re not doing something directly applicable to killing people…” 
[Abby Martin] “Yeah, the compartmentalized and, yeah…” 
[audience member] “Right. But they’re working for companies that benefit from people dying. And they make more money when people die. And they’re supporting an industry that makes money from death. And these are some of the smartest people in the country and this is the choice they’re faced with. And that’s, like--'what are you going to do?' It’s a brain drain because of economic incentive unless…you know, Google’s sort of like a godsend; they’re offering lots of money for smart people to do things that aren’t violent. But outside of that, where are people going to work, because there’s not enough room in academia. And I don’t know what the options are.” 
[Duncan Trussell] “What did you do? What was your decision?” 
[audience member] “I’m working for a salary that’s approaching assistant manager at retail. And I will sweep floors or sort shit before I work towards something that contributes to violence. [applause]. But that’s what we’re faced with. You know, I want people to realize that all the violence that goes on, the people behind it aren’t necessarily being malicious. They’re making a choice that not necessarily related to what actually happens. And so, this consciousness raising, like you talked about, is what has to happen to see past that strictly economic decision.”
These are some of the smartest people in the country. And this is the decision they are faced with. No wonder we aren’t getting anywhere.

Tomorrowland contends that there aren’t enough smart people, or we’re too gloomy to solve problems. But this comment gives an insight into what’s really going wrong beyond the simplistic Disney formula. Instead of designing jetpacks, Tomorrowland is conducting cyber warfare, building killer robots, creating "designer babies" and stopping the one percent from aging. Meanwhile, the rest of us are having the water shut off.

Meanwhile, Mad Max 4Real:  More than two-thirds of the Humvees the US supplied to Iraq to fight terrorists have ended up in the hands of Islamic State militants.

ISIS is turning US Humvees into Iraq's worst nightmare (Business Insider)

I’m sure they make great tricked out vehicles, if a bit slow. Maybe they will stick those giant areal poles on the back. I don’ think these guys would go with a doof warrior, though.

Syrian Civil War - Homemade Tanks and Armored Cars (YouTube)

As for where the money went: Yahoo Money’ The Daily Ticker  is reporting that is has discovered a Reuters investigation that reveals$8.5 trillion – that’s trillion with a “T” – in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for. Report Reveals $8.5 Trillion Missing From Pentagon Budget (Disinfo) Probably enough for a space colony right there.


  1. There are only two kinds of movies in this world: Mad Max, and Mediocre.

  2. That Finn Harries guy from the Guardian is so typical of the noxious do-gooderism I've found everywhere in the Ivy League

    1. As if we can do good and keep rapacious global neoliberal capitalism going...that never is addressed


    Electric cars will save us? It's ocean-going supertankers that are going to kill us.

  4. If bitterness be the food of great prose, write on.


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