Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cli-Fi Predicts the Future

Perhaps you’ve heard of Cli-Fi. Science fiction takes a look at future developments in science and projects what the future will look like. This genre began with the increasing effect of science on daily life. It usually predicted some sort of progress. Cli-fi is based on the knowledge that the climate is changing and that the future is going to be dictated by that fact- droughts- rising seas, climate refugees ,and so forth. Some cli-fi also assumes resource scarcity, while at the same time looking at developments in genetic engineering and alternative energy. It’s also speculative, but based on current scientific projections, and unlike historical sci-fi, it’s future projections are much less rosy.

I find this world amazingly fascinating on an intellectual level, and would imagine that it would fire the imagination of any aspiring fiction writer. Entire nations underwater and entire national populations on the move. Europe inundated with climate refugees from Africa and Asia. Major financial centers like New York, London and Shanghai underwater. Washington DC sinking by 6 inches and returning to swamp. Florida vanished. The southwest turning into an abandoned desert, the Upper Midwest into a frozen wasteland. Drilling in the Arctic. Oceans full of plastic. The Thermohaline effect shutting down and the jet stream wobbling. Major species wiped out, from elephants to lions. New diseases emerging. In short, a world totally different from our own and yet familiar. How would humans react? It almost sounds like one of those Reddit writing Prompts.

Cli-Fi—That’s Climate Fiction—Is the New Sci-Fi (Wired)

Cli-fi novelist Margaret Atwood turns her abilities to a non-fiction essay about climate change over at Medium: It's Not Just Climate Change, It's Everything Change. In it, she outlines two scenarios that should be familiar to long-time followers of the Peak Oil community:
“We’ve gone back to small-scale hydropower, using fish-friendly dams. We’re eating locally, and even growing organic vegetables on our erstwhile front lawns, watering them with greywater and rainwater, and with the water saved from using low-flush toilets, showers instead of baths, water-saving washing machines, and other appliances already on the market. We’re using low-draw lightbulbs — incandescents have been banned — and energy-efficient heating systems, including pellet stoves, radiant panels, and long underwear. Heat yourself, not the room is no longer a slogan for nutty eccentrics: it’s the way we all live now.”
Or maybe it’s more like:
“Other authorities would take over. These would at first be known as thugs and street gangs, then as warlords. They’d attack the barricaded houses, raping, pillaging and murdering. But soon even they would run out of stolen food. It wouldn’t take long — given starvation, festering garbage, multiplying rats, and putrefying corpses — for pandemic disease to break out. It will quickly become apparent that the present world population of six and a half billion people is not only dependent on oil, but was created by it: humanity has expanded to fill the space made possible to it by oil, and without that oil it would shrink with astounding rapidity. As for the costs to “the economy,” there won’t be any “economy.” Money will vanish: the only items of exchange will be food, water, and most likely — before everyone topples over — sex.”
Atwood and her fellow fiction writers aren’t the only ones attempting to spin scenarios for the future – so are people doing it professionally for governments and corporations. For example, Shell has its two scenarios – "Blueprints," and "Scramble."
Last week, when the Obama administration gave tentative approval to Shell Oil’s plan to return to the Arctic after its disastrous attempt to find oil there in 2012, I found myself thinking of a conversation I had several years ago with a man named Jeremy Bentham. … Bentham leads Shell’s legendary team of futurists, whose methods have been adopted by the Walt Disney Company and the Pentagon, among others. The scenario planners, as they call themselves, are paid to think unconventional thoughts. They read fiction. They run models. They talk to hippies. They talk to scientists. They consult anyone who can imagine surprising, abrupt change. The competing versions of the future — the scenarios — that result from this process are packaged as stories and given evocative titles: “Belle Époque,” “Devolution,” “Prism.” Then the oil company readies itself, as best it can, for all of them.

Over the course of almost half a century, Bentham’s predecessors in the scenario-planning group helped Shell foresee and prepare for events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Islamic extremism and the birth of the anti-globalization movement. More recently — before California’s historic drought — the team focused on water scarcity. And long before most other oil companies, Shell’s scenario planners helped the company understand that climate change was a strategic and scientific reality.

In early 2008, weeks before Shell bid a record-breaking $2.1 billion on oil leases in the melting Arctic Ocean — the basis for the newly approved drilling plan — the company’s futurists released a new pair of scenarios describing the next 40 years on Earth. They were based on what Bentham called “three hard truths”: That energy demand, thanks in part to booming China and India, would only rise; that supply would struggle to keep up; and that climate change was dangerously real. Shell’s internal research showed that alternative energy systems — wind, solar, carbon capture — would take decades to make just a 1-percent dent in our massive global energy system, even if they grew at 25 percent a year. “It takes them 30 years to just begin to start becoming material,” Bentham explained to me.

One scenario, called “Blueprints,” painted a moderately hopeful vision of green energy and concerted action within the constraints of technological change, of a swiftly rising price on carbon emissions as the world comes together to remake its energy systems. In this vision of the future, there is active carbon trading. There is a strong global climate treaty. There is still far more warming than society can easily bear — approaching 7 degrees Fahrenheit — but the world still averts the very worst of climate change.

The second scenario, called “Scramble,” envisioned a future in which countries fail to do much of anything to reduce emissions, and instead race to secure oil and coal deposits. Only when climatic chaos breaks out does society take it seriously, and by then great damage has already been done. Drilling in the Arctic, thought to hold up to a quarter of the world’s untapped oil and gas, has a role in both scenarios — but under “Scramble,” it is irresistible.

In 2008, Shell surprised observers by announcing that it had a preferred scenario. The company would prepare for both outcomes, but for the good of the world and the good of Shell itself, it hoped for the carbon-constrained future of “Blueprints.” The oil giant awaited government action: a market signal in the form of a carbon price. But when I interviewed him four years later, Bentham admitted to me that the future, so far, was looking a lot more like the chaos of “Scramble.” We had no working international climate agreement and no real price on carbon. Instead, we had a global race for gas, coal and the last drops of conventional oil.
Shell Oil's Cold Calculations for a Warming World (NYTimes)

Permaculture’s David Holmgren published a book outlying a matrix of four future scenarios based on how much technology we will be able to retain and whether solutions tended to be from top-down or from bottom up and what the nature of those responses would be: Green Tech, Brown Tech, Lifeboats and Earth Steward. And of course there are the various scenarios of Limits to Growth model published by the Club of Rome in 1973 and updated since.

Right now we’re facing some version of Standard Run + Scramble + Brown Tech. In other words, the worse-case scenario of all three. Despite this, for most of us our daily lives seem remarkably unaffected. The only scenario that hasn’t played out is the “zombie apocalypse” scenario, even though it even embraced by right-wingers who don’t believe in human impacted climate change or oil scarcity (who instead attribute to, variously, moral turpitude, runaway debt, one-world government or the Rapture). Neither has the “near-term human extinction” scenario of Guy MacPherson, although if it does get that bad none of us might be around to say "I told you so."
“Unfortunately, like every other species on the planet, we’re conservative: we don’t change our ways unless necessity forces us. The early lungfish didn’t develop lungs because it wanted to be a land animal, but because it wanted to remain a fish even as the dry season drew down the water around it. We’re also self-interested: unless there are laws mandating conservation of energy, most won’t do it, because why make sacrifices if others don’t? The absence of fair and enforceable energy-use rules penalizes the conscientious while enriching the amoral. In business, the laws of competition mean that most corporations will extract maximum riches from available resources with not much thought to the consequences. Why expect any human being or institution to behave otherwise unless they can see clear benefits?”

“Planet Earth — the Goldilocks planet we’ve taken for granted, neither too hot or too cold, neither too wet or too dry, with fertile soils that accumulated for millennia before we started to farm them –- that planet is altering. The shift towards the warmer end of the thermometer that was once predicted to happen much later, when the generations now alive had had lots of fun and made lots of money and gobbled up lots of resources and burned lots of fossil fuels and then died, are happening much sooner than anticipated back then. In fact, they’re happening now.”
Atwood takes a detour into a couple or writers who draw the connection between art and culture and the energy sources of a society. For most of human history, ideas of growth and progress were foreign – the golden age was in the past, not the future, and our desires would be satisfied in the next life, not by transforming this material world to conform to our desires.
Briefly, [Barry] Lord’s thesis is that the kind of art a society makes and values is joined at the hip with the kind of energy that society depends on to keep itself going…Those living within an energy system, says Lord, may disapprove of certain features, but they can’t question the system itself. Within the culture of slavery, which lasted at least 5,000 years, nobody wanted to be a slave, but nobody said slavery should be abolished, because what else could keep things going? Coal, says Lord, produced a culture of production: ...Oil and gas, ...fostered a culture of consumption. Lord cites “the widespread belief of the 1950s and early ’60s in the possibility of continuing indefinitely with unlimited abundance and economic growth, contrasted with the widespread agreement today that both that assumption and the world it predicts are unsustainable.” We’re in a transition phase, he says: the next culture will be a culture of “stewardship” the energy driving it will be renewables...

The second book I’ll mention is by anthropologist, classical scholar, and social thinker Ian Morris, whose book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, has just appeared from Princeton University Press....Roughly, his argument runs that each form of energy capture favors values that maximize the chance of survival for those using both that energy system and that package of moral values. Hunter-gatherers show more social egalitarianism, wealth-sharing, and more gender equality than do farmer societies, which subordinate women — men are favored, as they must do the upper-body-strength heavy lifting — tend to practice some form of slavery, and support social hierarchies, with peasants at the low end and kings, religious leaders, and army commanders at the high end. Fossil fuel societies start leveling out gender inequalities — you don’t need upper body strength to operate keyboards or push machine buttons — and also social distinctions, though they retain differences in wealth. The second part of his argument is more pertinent to our subject, for he postulates that each form of energy capture must hit a “hard ceiling,” past which expansion is impossible; people must either die out or convert to a new system and a new set of values, often after a “great collapse” that has involved the same five factors: uncontrolled migration, state failure, food shortages, epidemic disease, and “always in the mix, though contributing in unpredictable ways–- climate change.”
The coal-based society produces mass production, and the oil-based society mass consumption. That ties in with the previous post, where mass consumption had to be created to deal with mass production. With oil you get the automobile, and hence the suburbs, which is critical to mass consumption (as is the media). The most important oil side-product you get is probably plastic - mass consumption would be impossible without it. Go into nay big-box store, and literally everything you see in there will be made of plastic or have plastic as a major component.

Of course the values of the Middle Ages were humanism, stability, and social harmony, all regulated via religion by the institution of the Catholic Church. The central emphasis of society was the glorification of God, and this was the society that produced the great churches from the Basilicas to Gothic Cathedrals to Bernini to Christopher Wren, and artworks from altarpieces to Michelangelo. Art and architecture were dedicated to glorifying God. After the Enlightenment, the emphasis was Reason, which began elevating science, and the rise of the idea of the citizen and the nation-state which produced national armies, the civil service, colonialism and scientific inquiry. That society builds civic buildings and the City Beautiful movement. Our modern fossil-fuel derived vales are  individual wealth accumulation, materialist consumerism, meliorism, managerialisim, Taylorism, self-aggrandizement, individualism, technological invention, novelty, risk-taking and productivism, all of  which combine to form the Idea of Progress, a sort of secular religion. This society builds banks and skyscrapers and freeways and Wal-Marts. Even religion transmogrifies - Christianity once preached a stable social order, a Great Chain of Being and alms for the poor. Then along comes Calvinism and you get work as a form of salvation, wealth as a sign of God's favor, and contempt for the poor. Today's most vocal Christians embrace a philosophy almost the mirror opposite of the one they once did - one of incessant social striving, ladder-climbing, wealth accumulation as righteous and helping the poor as immoral. Christians in the U.S threw in their lot with the Republican Party and reacted with horror at the Pope’s recent criticisms of capitalism and acknowledgment of climate change.

As for the limits of scenarios, here are some thoughts from Ran Prieur:
So given severe climate change and human survival, how will we be living? This is an impossible question, because a few people at comfortable desks in 2015 cannot imagine the options and the creativity of millions of people with their backs to the wall in 2025. On the subreddit a reader mentioned the 1972 Limits To Growth model. It's been pretty accurate so far, and I think it has proven that we can't go on living exactly the way we've been living. But other ways of living are outside the scope of the model. I can't find the link, but someone took Limits To Growth and applied it to the year 1400, and it also predicted near-term collapse.
I’ll interject here and say that model would have been a very shitty model given how little of the world’s resources had been tapped into in 1400. The only way I can see is if the model did not include untapped resources of the Americas, Africa and Australia. Now if the model was run without the knowledge of those things (which Europeans did not know about in 1400), then I could see it. The massive reduction of the population of the Americas was also a variable that you wouldn’t see even if you did have knowledge of the whole earth in 1400. In fact, if you just considered Europe alone as a closed system – a collapse is exactly what happened from 1000-1350, concluding with the Great Famine and the Black Death. You would get the same result from around 1650-1750 without the New World. In fact, you can argue that that’s what did happen in Asia, which did not have the Americas to exploit – look at China and it seems this explains the history of China from 1780-1930 and it looks like a long collapse due to overpopulation and resource overexploitation. A similar thing happened to Japan and they built one of the few steady-state societies during the Edo Period as a response.
“There are two ways of thinking about future social adaptations -- or two extremes on a spectrum. At one extreme, any society that we haven't seen cannot exist, and our options are limited to what we have already tried. So if late 20th century industrial civilization can't keep going, then we have to go back to the 19th century, or the 13th, or the negative 100th. At the other extreme, what we have already tried is nothing, and there are unlimited options that we have not even imagined. Of course we're still constrained by physics, which rules out sustained exponential growth.”

“This whole subject keeps reminding me of Anne's comment that every model serves a purpose. When you build the worst scenario you can imagine, the purpose is to mentally prepare yourself so that whatever actually happens will not crush your spirit.”
What I worry about is this scenario: The people who control and manage the money tokens that society uses to ration its limited resources genetically engineer themselves to be “superior”, and use that as a moral justification for the elimination of everyone else aside from their immediate offspring. You’re already seeing this with the merging of two movements – Libertarianism and Human Biodiversity, which is the modern version of Social Darwinism. It postulates that one’s value as a human being is entirely what one can command in the Market, and that these superior traits (typically framed as I.Q., “self-control” and “time preference”) are passed down through a predictable process from the superior rich to their offspring, with the rest of us as useless eaters and barriers to progress. Furthermore it posits that the free market is teleological and inherently superior because only by its ministrations are we freed from the Malthusian trap. This thinking is very prevalent nowadays among elites and is behind a lot of things like eliminating the social safety net, automating all jobs, privatizing the world’s resources, and kneecapping democratically elected governments. Under this scenario, the changing planet will introduce a “survival of the fittest” regime and turn the world into a Hobbesian war of all against all where the naturally superior will rise to the top and engender the next phase of human evolution– immortal cyborgs who travel the stars! Don’t laugh – there a lot of powerful people who adhere to this ideology even though they don’t acknowledge it, even to themselves.


  1. I'm grinding my teeth, once again, at the notion of one of your authors that certain societies "need" slavery. True enough that oil and machines replaced slavery and allowed the moral revulsion against it to triumph, which might not have happened otherwise...but the idea that absent oil we will of course have to have slaves, is schizophrenic. It assumes that "we" are the slaveholders, who by outrageous, inhuman cruelty can arrange to have very cheap labor. It doesn't imagine "us" as the slaves. But humans are both, and does it somehow benefit a society as a whole to have some of its citizens living miserable lives so that others can have luxurious lives without work? I don't buy it!

    1. There has never been a civilization sans slavery. If that is something we want for our future, it will be a new thing under the sun and very, very difficult to birth.

    2. Slavery is a remarkably durable institution, lasting from before recorded history until the nineteenth century. As I’ve pointed out, there are actually more slaves alive today than ever before in history (due to our enormous population). I think the author’s point (extrapolating) is that a society constructs narratives to justify whatever economic arrangement benefits those at the top of society. You could say that the Capitalism narrative (“free enterprise”) is just a narrative designed to rationalize wage slavery (“they can always go into business for themselves!”). I would argue that wage slavery is a form of slavery that differs in form, but not *substance*, than chattel slavery. Just try explaining that to people and see the reaction you get and you’ll see what he means by self-justifying mental narratives that bind us to our current social arrangements. People literally cannot even *conceive* of another way to run things.

      I’m convinced people can be made to rationalize anything. Just look at college. It’s considered “normal” to graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I’ve personally heard conversations where someone asks someone else how in debt they are, and they’ll answer something like “twenty thousand,” and the other person will remark, “That’s not so bad.” And this is just one generation – our parents didn’t have to worry about this, and our grandparents didn’t need higher education at all for a job- it was a choice. So things can change pretty rapidly. College isn’t just like indentured servitude, it *is* indentured servitude, with the slight change that we can choose our employers. In fact, it’s even worse – indentured servants didn’t have to worry about finding a job. Also see the return of backdoor debtor’s prisons – also in just one generation. So it seems that creeping normalcy will allow people to rationalize almost any outrage (with the help of the media).

      Does that means that slavery is an inevitability? No, of course not. Neither is it unimaginable. It has a lot to do with the underlying society and its values. But look at how we treat African-Americans even today and I’m not too optimistic about this side of the Atlantic.

    3. ”There has never been a civilization sans slavery.”

      Depends on how you define slavery. Some people would point to today, but as I argued above, I believe wage slavery to be just another form. If you are coerced into doing what you don’t want to do, and where the result of your efforts goes to someone higher up in the hierarchy pyramid, that’s slavery, whether the coercion is by force or by want, and whether you can pick your master. Slavery also virtually dies out in the Middle Ages, but in its place you have serfdom (which takes a hit during the Black Death). Coincidentally, I ran across this history from Terrence McKenna:

      We all know that slavery ended in the United States in the Civil War. And most people, if you question them, think that slavery existed before the Civil War in many places back into ancient times. This is not true at all. Slavery died in Western civilization with the collapse of the Roman empire. During the Dark Ages and the medieval period, if you owned a slave, you owned *one* slave. It was the equivalent of owning a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. It was an index of immense wealth, and social status, and that slave would be a houseboy, or a cook or something like that, someone close in to you, taking care of you. It was inconceivable to use slave labor in the production of an agricultural product, until Europe acquired an insatiable desire for sugar.

      Now, let's think about sugar for a moment. Nobody needs sugar. You can go from birth to the grave without ever having a teaspoon full of white sugar. You will never miss it. Throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, sugar was a drug, a medicine. It was used to pack wounds, to keep wounds septic. And it was very expensive and there was very little of it. Nobody even knew where it came from. It was called cane honey, because they knew it came from some kind of jointed grass, but nobody had a clear picture of what sugar was.

      Well, when you extract sugar from sugar cane, it requires, in pre-modern technology, a temperature of about 130 degrees. You cannot -- free men will not work sugar. It's too unpleasant. You faint, you die from heat prostration. You have to take prisoners and you have to chain them to the sugar vats. And so, before the discovery of America, in the fifty years before the discovery of America, they began growing sugar cane in the east Atlantic islands, Medeira and the Canary Islands. And they brought Africans, and sold them into slavery specifically for sugar production.

      Now when we get American history, they tell you that slaves were used to produce cotton and tobacco. In fact, this is not quite the truth. They had to find things for slaves to do, because they brought so many slaves to the New World to work sugar, and they had so many children, that then they just expanded and said, 'Well, we've used slaves to work sugar, we might as well use them in cotton and tobacco production.' In 1800, every ounce of sugar entering England was being produced by slave labor of the most brutal and demeaning sort. And there was very little protest over this. It was just accepted. To this day, sugar cultivation in the third world is a kind of institutionalized slavery. Christian, you know, the Popes, the kinds of Europe, all of Christian civilization acquiesced in the bringing back of a practice that had been discredited during the fall of Rome, in order to supply the insatiable need for sugar. It was an addiction. It had no cultural defense whatsoever.

  2. Slavery to allow leisure by the non-slaves is a need in the sense sex and drugs are needs. In fact, they are wants not real needs, but wants so strong that humans have no hesitation in throwing morality overboard to satisfy them.

    Where ranprieur and a lot of cornucopians are right is that, when humans have their backs to the wall, they get really creative really fast and what seemed impossible before suddenly is very much doable. The idea that alternative energy can't replace carbon energy is particularly dubious. With our backs to the wall, I'm sure we'd have thorium reactors all over the place in less than 5 years. That's how long it took to get the first nuclear bomb going and they didn't have any of the computing power or knowledge of materials we have today back then.

    Standard Run + Scramble + Brown Tech sounds about right. It's going to get nasty.

    1. “a few people at comfortable desks in 2015 cannot imagine the options and the creativity of millions of people with their backs to the wall in 2025…”

      Yeah, I was going to comment that this was Malthus’ mistake, and the reason he’s been pilloried ever since. Ironic, since Malthus was the first person to have the official title of economist, yet “Malthusian” is a term of derision for any economist today. I can’t remember if it was Gus Speth or Lester Brown who talked about how fast the U.S. mobilized for WW2, but the statistics were astounding. It’s worth noting that the system that accomplished this was War Socialism – the Right’s worst nightmare, and what they’ve been fighting to prevent ever since 1950. Then again, as I’ve said, I think the “free market” is just a fiction designed to get us to not question the system – we’re just as top-down controlled as then, it’s just unelected corporations running the show with the government as a veneer to keep up the fantasy of democracy and prevent revolt.

      As the Archdruid pointed out, a lot of collapse scenarios assume that the authorities will just sit on their hands and do nothing – clearly not what history shows. But I think he makes similar mistakes – that debt is a real constraint (it’s just accounting gimmicks) or that fracking bubble will pop and vanish (our oil today is just as propped up with subsidies). For example, I hear that L.A. toast. But in extremis, can they use desalinization? No? Are you *sure?* Similarly, I hear a lot about Thorium reactors, but I don’t see even one proven in operation anywhere in the world, much less in the quantity needed to make a dent in power generation, so I’m skeptical. But am I *sure* it can’t be done? That’s the blind spot of Doomers.

      The problem with the Cornucopians is they forget the limits of human cooperation – that humans are ultimately small-scale tribal apes who are each competing for reproductive advantage, not to go to the stars or understand the universe or solve the world’s problems. Those were side-effects, and they may have reached their limits. They assume cooperation only goes one way – up. Just as history shows how fast people can solve problems, it shows a heck of a lot of societies that didn’t and collapsed. Plus, in many cases, the math just simply doesn’t work. As Scotty said, “ye canna change the laws of physics!”

    2. Thorium was used successfully several times. See In countries controlled by the carbon industry (especially the USA) political forces halted R&D into nuclear power starting in the 1970's and in countries controlled by the Greens (much of Europe), it was the Three-mile-island and Chernobyl disasters that shut down nuclear (though even Chernobyl caused far less death and cancer than coal causes, also thorium designs are inherently much safer than the Chernobyl design). But the low price of carbon-based fuels (especially oil after 1980 or so) is what really stopped nuclear power, since otherwise China and India (which don't have a carbon-fuel lobby or significant environmental movement) would have stepped up their nuclear power R&D long ago. China and India ARE currently doing considerable nuclear power R&D, but not with urgency, since the consensus is that we still have several decades before the carbon-based fuels start to become really expensive. Might as well burn them all up while they are still cheap and save the nuclear for later. Of course, in doing so, we might destroy the environment, but most humans are short-sighted, as everyone posting here seems to agree.

      Also, you might want to use a different term than "societies collapsing". More like "societies reorganizing" into a form that no longer produces fancy monuments to dazzle posterity. When climate change hit the Mayan civilization, the people didn't all die. Maybe they weren't building pyramids anymore, but ordinary people don't care about such things. I know I wouldn't care if there were no more skyscrapers. Ordinary people care about surviving and enjoying day to day life. When climate change hit the lowlands where the pyramids were located, a lot of people died, and the survivors moved to the highlands, where there was a big population when the Spaniards arrived. Same thing is going to happen if we have a climate change (short of a McPherson total disaster scenario). Lots of people will die, but the survivors will somehow adapt.

  3. RE Slavery: Homo Servitus

    The need for a reliable Labor Force is one of the oldest and most difficult issues of human civilization.

    The harsh truth is that we Baseline Humans are too varied, too impulsive, too inconsistent and always dissatisfied with something. To create order among us eventually requires lies and coercion and as such leads to Tyranny, which damages the Oppressor as much as the Oppressed by brutalizing both.

    Better then to turn the Means of Production to the production of Workers themselves, a genetically engineered Servitor Class, beings who are happy with their lot and take pleasure from performing their duties. Such beings would have simple needs, requiring only humane treatment and modest comfort beyond their Purpose as Workers to make their lives pleasurable.

    Many of you will react with horror at this entire line of thinking. Yet consider this; the device upon which you are reading these words requires a number of Rare Earths to function. Many of those elements are mined in the Congo by people who are essentially slaves, most of them war refugees and quite a few survivors of War Rape. Their lives are a daily regime of brutality and for most their only escape is death. I'm sure you're horrified by that as well, but you're not going give up your device, are you?

    The technologies necessary to create Homo Servitus are already under development. The parsing of genes that guide certain behavioral tendencies. Cloning from ordinary human cells. Uterine Replicators. Cerebral implants to guide and control behavior.

    Many of the various members of this Servitor Class would be designed and grown with their specific tasks in mind. A small number would be more generalized servants. But they would all be grown, which is their major advantage over robots. Robots require complex engineering and lots of raw materials. This type of biological Servitor Class also avoids the existential danger of creating independent and mobile AIs.

    On the other end of the scale, we need to evolve a type of Homo Superior..but that's a tale for another time. Either way, we Baseline Humans will soon need to move off the stage before we wreck the whole place.

    1. Huxley beat you to that one, although I think his Gammas and Epsilons were more subject to Skinner’s behavioral techniques rather than genetic engineering, but that’s progress for you. Maybe that’s why the government is so big into funding all that genetics research. I suspect that a similar process of selecting the most obedient and docile specimens for breeding went on about 8,000 years ago or so and civilization is the result. Even without kings or masters, millions go to churches, mosques and synagogues where they grovel before an invisible “Lord” who gives them instructions on exactly what to do with their lives and how to obey “His will.” I suspect this has to do with that genetic experiment. Hunter-gathers do not display this behavior. It’s worth noting that religious people tend to be the most approving of the existing social order, whatever it happens to be.

      Today, I think we’re already achieving the same result with our “tiered” university structure with its strict admission criteria (based on your performance/malleability in our Prussian-derived school system). Add to that economically segregated neighborhoods and associative mating and you get Huxley’s results with less coercive and less transparent means. Female employees in Silicon Valley are already freezing their eggs. And is marijuana legalization allowed to succeed because it is our soma? As I’ve said before, when the elites read 1984 and BNW, they saw it not as a cautionary tale but as an instruction manual.

    2. It's not necessary that humans are transformed into 'Homo Servitus' when genetic engineering is in vogue. Rather, something which is designed for the tasks required by society would be invented. I call them 'intellos', as they would be intelligent animals. In a different context:

    3. It's not necessary that humans are transformed into 'Homo Servitus' when genetic engineering is in vogue. Rather, something which is designed for the tasks required by society would be invented. I call them 'intellos', as they would be intelligent animals. In a different context:

  4. There were some French and Russian aristocracy and priest classes who thought they were naturally superior to the useless eating peasants. That did not work out so well for them in the end. Sometimes it does, but never forever. Nazi's and Imperial Japan thought the same thing about their neighbors. Then the Soviets ended up starving 7 million useless eating Ukrainians (my ancestors) and the communists too are now gone to the dust bin of history. Seems to be a never ending cycle (shorter cycles?). Throw in increasing climate chaos, shrinking resources and growing populations and what could go wrong? Same shit, different century.

    1. The wealthy have outreproduced the poor in every society since the rise of agriculture (a major problem with Gregory Clark’s hypothesis). Then again, when a society’s elites embraces an attitude of superiority over anyone who is not in the inner circle and actively tries to eliminate them it’s a sign of the beginning of the end for that society (or ‘senility’ as Spengler might put it). The examples you cite are apropos. People tend to not just roll over and die. Our elites are betting that a combination of thought control via the media and oppression via digital technology and a police state will make it work *this* time. I hope they are wrong.

      Elites tend to take steps to cement their power and status and confine it to their offspring because we’re hardwired to do so for Darwinian reasons (see above). “Meritocracy” via genetic endowment is just the current justification, but it’s just the latest self-congratulatory bullshit. The problem is, limiting social mobility always implies institutional sclerosis and/or repression. That’s why it tends to fail.

  5. "The people who control and manage the money tokens that society uses to ration its limited resources genetically engineer themselves to be 'superior', and use that as a moral justification for the elimination of everyone else aside from their immediate offspring."

    They do already regard themselves as superior, without the genetic engineering. Nearly everyone regards the world through the filter of whatever feeds their ego. Doctors, for example, will not have equal regard for non-doctors, and college professors will not have equal regard for non-Ph.D.s outside of their field. Those with great wealth measure the world by that yardstick alone, and so the non-wealthy are already regarded as sub-human, and this has been the case since money was invented. And I argue that "the elimination of everyone else" takes place as they consider necessary, and always has, with no more grinding of conscience than if they were flushing a dead goldfish.

    However, in my opinion the viciousness of the upper classes vs everyone else escalates with each generation, until the upper classes are decimated by revolt. The current generation of rich old white guys are attacking and looting the entire western world through neocon austerity, a transparently nonsensical economic system that is nonetheless enacted faithfully by useful idiots in purchased positions of power.

    Austerity economics and the return to feudalism indicates to me that we're either 1) soon to experience another Franklin Delano Roosevelt-style reining in of capitalism (go Bernie!), or 2) the rich will be hung from lampposts like Il Duce. (They keep bringing this karmic doom on themselves, they can't help it.)

    Any advances in longevity and genetic engineering will be restricted to those who can pay for it, certainly, but probably at least the top 10% will be able to afford it at first, especially since such industries will want as many customers as possible for the growth of their bottom line.

    With the commercialization of space will come the privilege of the ultra-rich to abandon Earth entirely and live literally "above us", as predicted in science fiction for nearly a century, and even in the original series of Star Trek. The rich will be first to populate the space colonies, but even there they will want wage slaves to do the work.

    Everything can be explained and predicted by the irresistible need to feed the ego.

  6. firstly, Fan-Forking-Farking post! per usual. You may be right about genetics funding (as partly an issue of control, gawd knows Skinner was mad (and completely wrong to boot! (check out the glorious issues of "misbehavior of organisms" from Marion & Keller Breland, as well as more recent work from Bill Timberlake et al., and the Gardners of sign-language chimps fame (feedforward vs. feedback))), however, "DNA-->RNA-->protein," in fact, remains the central dogma of biology. Lineal heritage is perhaps over-rated, compared to such blow-out-events as endosymbiosis (e.g., photosynthesis & oxidative metabolism), but lineal heritage via Misters Darwin & Wallace also remains a huge fricking deal.

    I think I sed it before: great blog. Damn! I mean that from the bottom of my stupid little heart.

  7. Breland (full text)

    Timberlake (mother-effing pay per, grrrrr!):

    ah ha! the pdf here:


    Login if you have a Gold, Gold plus or Platinum package; individual journal subscriptions; or an APA username and password.

    mother effers controlling sci publishing. Eff them to the end. I've written about this sad state of affairs before.

    It's not that I don't have citations, and it's not as if you haven't paid for those citations already; we have; it's the middlemen skimmers who need to die, the academic publishers who do nothing but skim $35- $100 for every work. At best. they provide proof-readers, in this day and age of self publishing. UCSF, the actual publishers & editors of "Cell," went nuts when their own library couldn't afford the subscription.

    Here's one of my own on the same subject of Skinner's demise:

  8. I think collapse will be a unique experience for different people since the lives of some individuals could improve while other people's lives might worsen. Right now, I don't think the average person is really going to notice many changes within their lifetime since social engineering happens alongside societal changes over generations then either succeeds or fails because things engineers don't always anticipate occur. This is why, while more developed countries continue falling below 3rd world living standards over the next few decades, almost nobody will know what they've really lost overtime since collapse will happen slowly enough that stock market crashes become normal news as more individuals begin caring less about searching for meaning then learn to just enjoy the moment.


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