Current situation


(new posts below this sticky post)

The current situation.

Apocalypse we have to say,  is not coming – we are already in it. Climate, finance, impact of robots, health, population. and more.

We have two populist Partie vs. one mainstream “progressive”. . If we end with Clinton vs Trump it is just possible that Trump will raise real issues to get at Clinton. Could actually be very interesting season of more than usual open debate.

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1712. Energy and knowledge

This came to me by email.  I do not know the source. Via Paul Ehrlich.

Very VERY challenging.

Energy, Environment, and Knowledge

Marcus Kracht (( )
This text is based on a talk that I gave at the Koinonia Meeting in Transsylvania
this summer (2016).
I am writing this translation while the experience is still fresh.
Let me start with the personal background. I studied maths and physics,
while I actually had a deep interest in linguistics. This led me to pick up
mathematical logic, which then led me into philosophical logic. From there
the step to linguistics was rather small.
While in my daily research the knowledge of physics is of little relevance,
it became more important when I started researching our energy predicament.
It was roughly 10 years ago that a student of mine showed me a little
newspaper article about peak oil. I quickly realised that this may fundamentally
change our civilization. So I started digging deeper. As a result I
became convinced that we have now reached peak energy and that this will
have profound consequences for our lives. And though in the short run they
may be painful, actually I am quite optimistic that they will end a development
that we have long recognized as fundamentally wrong headed and
In this talk I will focus on one important issue, that of knowledge. I hope
you are curious to see what the connection is between energy and knowledge.

….In fact, science education borders on the verge of nonexistence. Ask
students a few easy questions about energy, and they probably will not be
able to answer them. They simply have no idea. There is indeed a sea of
ignorance surrounding the question: how much energy do we use, where does
it come from, and how much would a man be able to supply using only his
2 hands? Yet, while we talk of energy transition and what not, this ignorance
is not tolerable.
1.2 Knowledge and science
One origin of science is quest for safety. For the most part, our surroundings
were and are dangerous places, not only because of animals, but also because
of other people. The fact that there could always be an animal or another
tribe attacking or a disease threatening us has been a constant source of
worry. As part of the effort to counteract that insecurity, people have tried
all their wits to better understand nature.

Thus we can say that science was born in part because of the threat
posed by nature. I am putting aside here things such as simple curiousity
(a big driver of science today, I would say). But the problem is that the
further mankind went the more the surroundings changed. They changed
mainly because of our own intervention. The science used to tame nature
was also used to colonise the world. Until there was almost no wilderness
left. However, the dream that once we understood nature we would be safe
proved to be an illusion. Because the more more nature was in retreat, the
more mankind became threatened by the world he made for itself.

We are nowadays producing chemicals and outright poisons in ever growing
quantities, and we are constantly developing more and more of them, so
that we are forced to study not only the effects of a single of them on the
environment or the human body, but also the interaction of these substances
in case they would be released together. Likewise we are forced to study
not only the mechanism of a single drug but also in combination with other
drugs that a patient is likely to take as well.

There is no escape. A new discovery typically leads to the production
of some new chemical, and the faster science becomes, the faster it is at
throwing out new kinds of substances. And the more of them there are the
faster we have to do the research. Da capo al fine. (In English: repeat until

Let us pause to consider the kinds of knowledge that society and its
individuals have.

1. There is basic knowlegde and skills: writing, elementary maths, and
facts of daily life.
2. There is knowledge of history, be it of humanity, the nation, individuals
or families.
3. Knowledge of the environment and nature.
4. Abstract knowledge (science in the proper sense of the word).
5. Cultural knowlegde.
6. Administration

The last of these points may require some comments. Administrative knowledge
is not universal, it is about particular things or people; it consists in
knowing where they are and what relations exist between them. Think of a
registrar, think of townhalls and governments which store incredible amounts
of data of their citizens. Think of enterprises, universities, and so on that
generate data on their employees, clients, students. Think of warehouses and
storage facilities and you get an idea of the breadth. My estimate is that half
the knowlegde is of this kind.

Finally, let us turn to the scientific method. I have not been overly clear
in the definition of knowledge. Let us say that knowledge is a kind of belief
where what you believe is true. But how do we know that something is true?
This sounds circular, because to know that we know that S is true we need
to know that S is true. In fact, more often than not we are simply convinced
about the truth of something, without further confirmation. But in science
this is not enough. Rather, something is either true because it cannot be
false by definition (this is the domain of mathematics) or because there are
enough instances we have seen of it to be sure of its truth. This is a statistical

While with ordinary laws like the law of gravity it is not hard to witness
instances, many of the modern scientific discoveries are the fruit of laboratory
experiments that have been conducted a few times and documented. In these
cases there is nothing we can do but trust the people involved that they did
a proper job. This is the point where belief comes in: knowledge cannot exist
if we are not prepared to believe some people some times. Notice that there
is a community out there that thinks, for example, that the pictures of the
first moon landing have been created in a studio and that no one has been
up there on the moon. Whatever we may think of them, we have no proof
that they are wrong. We simply choose to believe otherwise (and think that
we have better reaons for that).

1.3 Knowledge consumes more and more energy and
stuff.  Not only research, also learning is a tiring exercise. And every generation
needs to learn anew. We all know it: learning something takes time. Humans
are not computers, their brains are not hard drives on which you can
dump information in an instant. So while the child is learning, it is sitting
on its chair consuming energy, literally. The human body is a bread-andcereal-
motor. And its nervous system consumes around 25 percent of the
total energy. My own estimates are that it is the same with society. If you
add up the figures for education (schools, universities), research and development
and, finally, administration, you get about the same figure. I used the
figures of the European Bureau of Statistics, but there you can find only the
figures for the first two items, which is above 10 percent of GDP. The cost of
administration needs to be added, but no figures are available. Considering
that they are at least that of the previous, we easily get above 20 percent.
People used to believe that the computer has changed everything. The
price of information (say, in dollars per bit, or maybe nowadays in dollars
per MByte) have dropped enormously. And the physical limit seems to be
awfully small, it is kB ln 2·T Joule per bit. (kB = 1, 38·10_23 J/K). The entire
universe is equivalent to 10120 bit of information (1080 protons or neutrons,
and 1040 bit information per particle). The entire internet stands at 1 Yotta
Byte = 1024 Byte. Not even the energy contained in an elementary particle.

Yet, in practice matters are much different. I have been unable to find
estimates of a practical lower limit. The problem with the physical calculations
is that the energy contained in a bit needs to be focussed in some way
so that it can be addressed and manipulated. (In quantum physics one talks
eg about coherence of states. The coherence in quantum computers vanishes
in a fraction of a second, so you need to store the result very quickly on a
conventional device.) It makes a difference that we humans are such large
animals compared to atoms. We can’t read from hard drives, for example, we
need instruments to do that, and they too consume energy; energy to do the
job but also when we produce them. As matters stand now, the real energy
needed is 1 million million times what is theoretically needed. The real internet
consumes more electricity than India (and even more than Germany).

Moore’s law, according to which the speed of computers and their storage
capacity double roughly every two years, no longer applies. The speed of
computer chips is not growing since 2006, and the density of storage does
not increase since 2015. Also, every new generation of chips requires factories
that cost twice as much as their predecessors.

In addition to all that, almost all elements of the periodic table are now
being used, some in quantities that means they cannot be recovered any
more. Armin Reller speaks of “spice metals”. The industrial process thus
leads not to concentration (so that we can use urban mining once we have
exhausted the mines in the countryside) but instead it leads to dispersion.
It is a one way street. Once consumed, they are lost. What used to be the
success-story of solid state physics will eventually be the cause of its demise.
The electronic equipment will eventually become much more expensive.

1.4 The more information there is the shorter its lifespan
You may think you have heard that before. But I am not going to talk about
the fact that scientific discoveries have a shorter lifespan because the army
of scientists is growing and new evidence is brought to light faster and faster.
I am talking about something more radical.

Consider what is called the event horizon. It is by all means a curious
thing. Once you cross the horizon, you have no choice but to fall into the
center. This is a necessity because of the structure of space-time. Even
light is trapped inside. That is why black holes are actually black. Black
holes have an event horizon larger than themselves so that you can actually
physically fly into them. Once you are there, however, there is no way out.
The way I see our own path of civilization is somewhat similar. We are
slowly approaching the “memory horizon”. The Codex Hammurapi, around
6000 years old, is in parts still legible. Parchment lasts 1000 years, paper
300 or more, depending on quality. In the Middle Ages, monks devoted a
lot of their time to copying manuscripts. Thanks to them we have so many
documents by Greek and Roman authors. Not the originals, but at least

Modern hard drives have a life span of five years. You need to change
them and then copy all the information from them to another that hopefully
lasts you another five years. You can argue with that as much as you want
but the physics is simple. The more information you have on your disc, the
more energy it will cost to copy it. So, if the amount of energy is not allowed
to rise (because you need to pay for it, for example), the energy per bit
needs to be reduced. But that means that the lifespan of your information
gets shorter. Less energy to store the informantion means that less energy is
necessary to destroy it. That’s all.

And thus at some point in the future we will reach the “memory horizon”.
That is the moment when the information has become so ephemeral that once
it has been written on disc we have to copy it somewhere else in order to
keep it intact. In other words, the information becomes useless, and we will
forget everything the minute we store the information somewhere.

The subtext is that this is also the moment when paper and pencil will
celebrate their revival. Because they will still be there when computers refuse
to do their service. But then all that information of the past will be gone. Or
does anyone think that cloud services will continue to store any information
under these conditions?

1.5 Big science is the big problem

The modern mythology maintains that we owe the world we live in to the
advances in science. It took three industrial revolutions to get us to this
advanced state, where life is so easy that no one needs to do any physical
work, he just controls a machine to do it for him. And almost everything
that we use today is the fruit of some human invention. Armies of physicists,
chemists, and engineers have worked hard to make them. Not to forget all
the drugs that doctors have invented or discovered.

This is the story underlying the talk of Big Science. After the Second
WorldWar, the US government tasked Vannevar Bush to recommend a policy
to advance the sciences. He advised them to finance basic research in a big
way. And so they did. Billions of dollars went into pure research, often with
spectacular success.

But this success story is coming to an end. Not because of lack of intelligent
people. But because on a global scale the energy harvested for human
use is not increasing any more. It remains at 600 – 700 Exa Joule per year (=
600 · 1018 J/a), depending on count. Again this is not due to lack of trying.
It is due to an exhaustion of existing resources. The usable energy from oil
is determined by the so-called energy return on energy invested (EROI). Today,
the EROI to get oil pumped out of the ground is around 10:1, enough to
power a society of the complexity of North Corea. For an advanced society
you probably need 20:1 to 30:1. It is clear that the mechanization will soon
stop. We cannot create more machines to do the work we used to do while
the net energy is receding.

Consider now what happens in circumstances as these when as I said
one fifth to one fourth of the society is devoted to information processing
(no matter which society we look at, by the way). It is evident that the
overall energy consumption of the information sector will drop as well. And
so we have to expect less information processing (aka administration), less
research spending, less university degrees, less money for schools. Of course,
not necessarily all of the above, but at least one of them.

But the energy is also needed to perform all the magic that big science
was able to show. No energy, no magic. And that is dangerous for the myths,
for which not only scientists themselves but also managers are responsible.
For they need technical wonders to make money. Let’s see examples.

1. The Volkswagen scandal

The more cars were on the road the more air quality became a concern.
The European government therefore introduced air quality norms for
cars. When the EU 4 went into force (2005) it was expected that
the NOx concentration should drop. But it didn’t. Carmakers were
actually unable (or maybe in part unwilling) to fulfill the norm. When
this was found out, it was reported to the authorities in Brussels. But
nothing happened. No one wanted to admit that we did not actually
go forward. When the scandal broke out it became clear that the game
of stricter and stricter norms has become something of a public event
more than a matter of actual progress.

2. The drugs and genetic industry

When a patent for a drug expires everyone is allowed to manufacture
that drug. Accordingly, there is no way the original maker can set the
price for it. Whence the need to keep the search for new drugs going,
independently of their added use. A big share of the cost is the testing.
Up to this day, however, testing is done by the manufacturers themselves,
and they choose how much and what to disclose. Similarly with
genetically modified organisms. Government oversight is not stringent,
decisions are often overruled by high political bodies. Too much money
is at stake. Yet the costs of developing new pesticides and organisms
are rising, and the added benefits are not.

So while it gets harder to make progress, the temptation is there to hide
the facts behind a smokescreen. This is where paid professionals of the PR-
industry come in, who are tasked to make look good what is not. And with
the backing of the industry they keep distorting the picture to the point
where there is no open debate any more. Try to discuss openly for example
climate change, nuclear energy or genetic research and you see what happens.
The consequence of this is that people start to believe what they want to
believe and care less and less about actual reasons. I give a personal example.
I have become convinced that genetic research is largely dangerous. Certainly
in the form of GMO research. Now you can tell me that I have no degree in
genetics and should therefore leave the verdict to the scientists. But I don’t
want to. First of all, I am not sure experts think what they say. A geneticist
depends on the genetic industry for his salary. So he is likely to defend it.

And surely he became a geneticist because he thinks this is fascinating and
is therefore likely to downplay the risks. (People want to keep on doing what
they used to do; I have seen that also with set theorists who do the craziest
research because they like it when the maths is complicated. There is littel
money involved, for sure.) And secondly, mostly the matter at hand is not
a scientific one but a moral one, too. My particular knowledge of all the
scandals and broken promises in the nuclear industry make me doubt that
the genetics industry is any different. When it comes to earning money, safety
issues take second place. So all that talk of harmless-if-done-appropriately is
simply wishful thinking. We need technology that is in certain respects fool

The consequences of this are more than alarming. Nassim Taleb claims
that the majority of people have enough of what he calls elitism. He says
people wanted Brexit precisely because they were told by the upper class
that they should not vote in favour. And they might vote for Donald Trump
or Marine Le Pen. Not so much because they like them but because they do
not believe the elite any more and don’t want to be told by them what to

And scientists are part of the elite, let’s not forget that. So it might well
be that the people will simply ignore scientists and form their beliefs without
their help. To the point where we will not have any rational debate any more.
There is a common theme according to which the majority is simply too
stupid to understand rational arguments. The problem is that they are in
any case clever enough to spot the point where the elite is arguing in their
favour. And that will be the point where argumentation will break down. It
will frustrate all those who have tried to use genuine arguments. However, it
also is the backlash against a habit of advancing technology and rationality
beyond any limits. We will soon pay a price for our hubris.

2 What are the implications?

I would like to just mention three points.

1. We throw too much technology at every problem
The future we dream about largely consists of robots that help in the
factory, elderly care and the household, we dream of intelligent cars,
intelligent houses, intelligent refrigerators … And we constantly fight
the problems induced by our technology with even more technology,
preferrably of intelligent design. But where will the energy (and the
materials) come from? The OECD states are busy funding research
into fusion (fourty years away since my childhood), nuclear energy,
“green technology” and so on. The future energy crisis however puts
all that into question. When the development halts, the technology
will simply whither away without further possibility of reigning in the
damage, like with nuclear power plants. Can we even think a future
with less technology? Can we imagine a future where products will be
much simpler in design than the ones we have today? We should give
these thoughts a real chance.
2. It is important what we decide to do with our time
What we decide to learn or not to learn influences our life. Most people
draw a line, however, between learning for the job and leisure, where we
can simply do what we want. Moreover, all learning seems to be geared
towards getting or keeping a job, nothing else. As if earning money is
the only skill we need. But nothing is further from the truth, even now.
There is so much we do not get taught anymore that is nevertheless
important (how to cook and eat well, how to raise children, how to
keep healthy). In the future, when information is no longer readily
available when we need it, one will have to use the spare time to learn
useful things rather than check your facebook account or watch another

3. The education system needs to change
The structure of our society is not sustainable. The middle ground is
being lost. On the one hand, there is an overemphasis on what we want
to do, as if necessities take second place in view of our desires. Nothing
against asking what we want, but the seduction of modern lifestyle has
corrupted our selves. There is too much focus on leisure. This problem
is being recognised frequently, but its consequences are more dramatic
in view of what lies ahead.

On the other hand there is too much emphasis on abstract, academic
skills. Almost everyone is advised to get a college degree—but what
for? Consider what happens when people decide to return to the land
to become a farmer in place of an academic? They will have to learn
all those things their ancestors grew up with. Not only will they have
to learn how to grow their food or tend the chicken, but also how to
medicate yourself in absence of a doctor—until the doctors themselves
return to the countryside. (I did not invent this: it happens in Greece
already. And in Venezuela, the president advises the people to pick up
farming in the city.) Up to now children learn all kinds of things that
are useless in practical life. They learn about lions and marsupilamis
but have no idea what goes on in the forest near to them. They learn
to handle computers but hardly do they learn to cook or grow food.
Factual knowledge, reciting poems by heart, all this is ridiculed. But
it is an important ingredient in our culture. Moreover, it really makes
a difference whether we know something by heart or not. You cannot
speak a language if you do not possess a decent vocabulary. In the
same vein, you cannot be part of the culture if you do not know some
of its poems or its songs by heart.

It may be that we will run into very big problems. Or maybe not. But if
there is only a slight chance that we will then we need to take all this very
seriously indeed.

But as Friedrich Hölderlin once said: “Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das
Rettende auch!”

1711. Two kinds of socialism

Interesting thinking.

“That’s the choice. Social Democracy or National Socialism. Good and bad. Social Democracy works. It works wonders for human prosperity, any way that you care to measure it. It’s one of humankind’s greatest creations. National Socialism, on the other hand, is the very opposite. It’s search for blood and gold leads inevitably to violence, war, catastrophe. It is one of humanity’s ugliest creations.”

– The Choice — On Techne — Medium (——0-7&sectionName=single)

Good distinction, and I like the idea of the two in tension with each other. The problem with the socialism we have had is its alliance with industrial – hierarchical – forms of social organization. Too easy to corrupt and  create privilege.  Good societies I think,  dealing with human nature, require a certain lack of integration, crating interstices where people if they chose can be freer in attitude and creativity.

1711. No more outsourced prisons?

This could be really good news.

Washington Post today

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.


1709. Development without growth.

We can grow with an economy that heats the planet and
concentrates wealth and increasingly produces goods for the 1%,
Or recognize that we have enough stuff badly distributed.
Aristotle said we can have growth without development
and development without growth. The reuse and the
redeployment of what we have is plausible
And actually attractive.

Both paths require high innovation.

Unfortunately the political and social path
for better distribution with growth does not exist
nor does The path of the redeployment of
people and the material world.

We will keep moving toward collapse until we recognize
that we need deep social innovation.
Otherwise out of desperation felt necessity
will drive us towards radical authoritarian solutions that protect elites
And militarize society.

1708. A new 10 Commandments.

I think we need a modified Christian (Buddhist, Hebraic, Islamic, Confucian, Hindu, Scientific.) attitude. And a new equivalent of the ten commandments.
1. Each day do something for the person you know who is having the worst time.
2. Each day do something for the person you know *of* who is having the worst time.
3. Each day do something about the very worst situation you know about (its ok to be myopic – just do it) in the world.
4. Network the resulting projects.
5. Teach others to participate.
6. Leave your local habitation more beautiful, at the end of the day, than you found it. Do something about it.
7. Do something, each day, to weave the tapestry of community conversations, consciously, by having at least one conversation you would not have otherwise.
8. Create culture with your children
9. Study harder beyond current affairs or narrow profession.
10. Smile honestly and enjoy this life, even in its worst moments.

1707. New opening to GardenWorld Politics.

As events unfold, this needs nearly daily rewriting.  The book is under major revision. This the new opening to the first chapter. Sorry for the length.

We are near and possibly past the point of no return on climate warming. People are divided between hysteria, depression, or tuning out. But fortunately an increasing number are tuning in and ready for news about what to do. The future for humanity must include technology, democracy, science, biology, human history, personal life, culture, civilization and a theory of governance. It has to do with putting the ambiguous “human” together with the ambiguous “nature.

But we are stuck at a bottleneck  of interlocked issues we are all aware of but in isolation from each other, not together as a system:  population, inequality, robotization,  climate, war, weak and corrupt governance,  and poor quality of life, all issues of human making on the planet, that keep us from getting to the future.  I would like to add that culture too is in decline: the appreciation of art and music, poetry and dance, architecture and landscape. The pain felt by almost everyone is not represented in the press or policy. It is all kept  numerical and cool.

The vision of GardenWorld, or something like it, is necessary to have an organizing leverage point for our efforts at making a better world. Popular culture tends to be pounding and rude, not encouraging of creativity, reflection and compassion. The book is about GardenWorld as a viable and shared image of the good life in the future on this planet in this century, what it is  and the politics of and economics and the legal structures for getting there. We cannot get to GardenWorld without some serious rethinking of politics and economics. Corporations, “bodies”, are designed to treat the society outside themselves as food to digest, not a source of partnerships among peers. Politics, which was hoped to be representative, only allows the choices it wants.

We have discovered our interdependence with nature, but don’t have a view of what to do with it. GardenWorld replaces that vacuum with a promise. Whether the world falls apart, or hangs together, GardenWorld would be helpful. It is, as the futurists say, robust across scenarios. We need an image of what we are trying to accomplish and how we want to live. There is so much green talk, but we lack a vision of how it coheres around the way we might live our lives. An uncomfortable result now is that we are both anxious to hold onto old ways and anxious to move to new ones. Should we give up on economic well being for the environment? No way most have been saying. Should we ignore the ecological impact of a full speed economy? Not wise, most would say. So we are stuck between these two plausible attitudes.

Much of the life as we have known it is over. The apocalypse is not coming. It is here. We are in it. Living it. As the weeks go by it seems increasingly more essential to understand, develop and broadcast what I’ve called it GardenWorld. We need a view of greening our world and loving our children that is aesthetic, providential, flexible, and doable. We need an image of where we could evolve to, starting in the very near future, that is positive.

We need to like each other which means we have an obligation to be likable. Adam and Eve were beautiful in the Garden of Eden,  and we have to learn how to find the garden of the future also beautiful and to find ourselves beautiful in it. We need to learn how to make each other feel secure in the world that, for a while a least, will be full of anxiety.

GardenWorld is essentially a return to the core of human life, production and reproduction, companionship, culture, and food. Early human communities grew people and used the environment to do it. Its meant knowledge of plants and animals and of each other. The use of the land was to nurture communities that blended the human and the organic in a fully engaging culture. Art and meaning were central to the project of growing humanity. Human activity was simultaneously pragmatic and aestheticized. Utility was always embedded in stories, myths and design. We have reduced too much of the land to a commodity owned by corporations for the purpose of growing more commodities.

The present emerges from the past over many generations. In one important aspect the past contains a clue to our present and future possibilities. The word for capital come from the greek cap, meaning head, as in baseball cap, capital of a country or the top of a column. For the romans it meant also a new head of cattle (chattle, cattle and capital all related words). Cattle was the main measure of wealth in the Roman Empire, as it had been for the Greeks. A new head of cattle, one plus one equals three, is hence about growth, and the question has been, who owns that cap, who gets to decide its fate and its use? The rules around cattle reproduction moved with commerce n cattle to commerce in things as the Italian city states emerged with more affluence an complex tastes in decorative things.

Hence what we mean by economy has its roots in the most profound aspect of the universe, the production and reproduction of life in all its organic messiness. Sex and growth and economy are thus deeply connected. I conclude that treating the economy as about managing growth in its organic connection to biology and evolution and the environment is the basis for GardenWorld and its politics. GardenWorld is about generativity, and how to manage it so that the next generation is, as it often has been, a blessing and not a problem.

GardenWorld is about sex and children and parents and food and flowers and art and culture and reflective adults who appreciate having lived.

We have unfortunately built up  habits and expectations that are going to be hard to give up. But as you know from experience private spaces for quit with books or friends and family are harder to find as th space of relationships is replaced by the internet of all things and we experience ourselves as points in the grid rather than as a person. To get the attention of another, which used to mean just being ourself, we now have to break trough their concentration of the flow of information they are a part of.

The idea that relationships with people and the land would replace these technologies seems a bit far-fetched though we are ambivalently attracted to such a future. In too many ways we have learned to dislike each other and to live with it. As a result we are not good at growing food nor each other.

Things we thought we like, all the technology, the availability of data, the numeracy in the accounting of things, efficiency, and industrially supplied and corporate manipulated markets are beginning to wear down and we do not know how to replace them with things that are more deeply spiritual and organic, and lets face it, humanly successful in terms of lives we are happy to be living.

The very idea of organic frightens many people. And spirituality for many is Halloween and nightmares, the mumbo-jumbo of the ju ju man whose wife is selling unwholesome looking hot food over a kerosene stove down the street in some unpronounceable city.
I am not prepared for the world I think is coming. I am too soft. Too old. Maybe too sentimental. Maybe too indoctrinated by technical perspectives to be truly warm hearted. But we will all need to extend our basic skills of material reuse and basic habits of compassion and companionship – and broad eclectic study of the world.

Quality of life choices are easier in the GardenWorld context because such a context tells us about what we are trying to achieve. If people are facing a deteriorating social and physical environment the choices they make will not be the ones that align personal well being with the environment. In moving toward GardenWorld, where alignment of the human and nature is the intent, a convergence of desires and actions is more likely. Simply being in a more natural environment, a city garden, a suburban back yard, often reminds us of who we are and how to live a little better.

Living in a por neighborhood of rundown houses does not encourage us to fix up our own. Not because it looks bad, but because the landlord will raise the rent.
The Garden of Eden beckons, but we have lost our way – Waiting for Godot – like people milling around the gate after the flight was cancelled. We act as if we no longer know where we are going, and tend to drift off, one-by-one to nowhere in particular. But I think this is only on the surface – what we are willing to show. Hidden inside our private experience I think we have a robust image – often without words – of what we want from a good life. Good people and an attractive setting. Most people, across class lines and national boundaries, would like to live in a blend of nature and civilization. Why do we not use our resources and technology – our wealth – to go there?

Most people would like to live in a blend of
nature and civilization. Why do we not use
our resources and technology– our wealth
to go there?

GardenWorld is a turn away from the rationality of production with its irrational conclusion that more stuff means more happiness. Clearly “happiness” is a deeper problem to which “more” is a pathetic and destructive answer. This book is based on the core idea that we have lost a public vision of the future and our education has stunted individual imagination for the better life. Democracy and technology no longer seem to mobilize hope, but apprehension. And yet a direction already exists in the minds of most people, and they would vote for it, if were offered by the political leaders. And it will not be, at least in the early phases. Politicians vote for what is. The hope is that people will do some inventing and creating themselves. With the Internet creating the possibility of discussing everything, including why, and how to live, the hope is not impotent.

GardenWorld is that vision, a world where advanced technology and natural growth are blended through design (including architecture, city planning, landscape planning, food, recreation and institutions, and more) in a robust economy of local and regional experimentation in restoration, development and local business initiatives, all under the guidance of GardenWorld as an intent, blending aesthetics and pragmatics. In GardenWorld health and education are seen as enablers of participation, and tough environmental regulation drives technical innovation. Doing a better job on local development and retrofitting for energy conservation, and growing green for energy and food independence creates potentially a very large number of local jobs that are much harder to export. Democracy would expand and complexify locally, moving from mere voting to conversational networks across generations and class lines.

GardenWorld is more of an intent to experiment than a plan to follow. The idea is simply, from the window box or roof top in the inner city, through the malls and the suburbs, to the fringe wilderness, we should be looking for ways to enhance the aesthetics and the usefulness through landscape design, from the micro to the macro: gardens, food, parks, paths, climate amelioration through tree planting in hot cities.

GardenWorld is not just the sum of these practical activities but an intent to realize a vision. It is how we can put together a goal, with the positive potential of technology, capital, human lives and politics. By vision I mean something like what the Impressionist painters, Monet, Renoir, Bonnard and all their friends, did for the emerging bourgeoisie middle class life – enhance every space with color and life, mixing nature and human relationships in a new harmony and meaningful discord. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Central Park, the British estate gardens, Architectural Digest, and the impact of simply putting flowers in our living room – bring human relationships into a better balance with plants, as food and beauty, as a core design principle, throughout our entire environment.

GardenWorld is not a plan for what you should do. It is an invitation to creatively participate as you help invent, from the very local, to neighborhood, regional, national and global as we explore how to replace the techno-mechanical image of the potentialities of the use –and misuse – of our wealth with a goal of a more humane, democratic, organic and natural environment. If this isn’t the world you want, what do you want? As Socrates asked, “What is a fit life for a human being?”

But readers might be surprised that i think Technology must be a major part of the future. The problem will be the mix technology with sensitivity to the needs of a cultural and spiritual humanity. The people who tend to develop the technology tended to see him in mechanistic and digital terms. To get the cut the logical future will require a lot of serious The people who tend to develop the technology tend to think in mechanistic digital terms. Achieving the technological future will require a lot of serious thinking.

I have been deeply influenced by Erich Fromm’s books, especially Escape From Freedom    and The Sane Society,  and GardenWorld is an answer to the question I have mulled over for a few decades:, “If we don’t escape freedom, but stick with it, what then?” Fromm talked about the ways our fears shut down our social imagination, but he did not explore what kind of realizable society might support freedom. GardenWorld is my project to explore the realizable possibilities, given our moment in history.

Many new books and articles point in the direction of GardenWorld. If I make any claim it is to showing the common source of the problems of both the Democratic and Republican leaderships to fail to respond to real needs yet, the existence in the minds of most people of a common agenda around the desirable qualities of living, and the need for a vision of GardenWorld to bring that agenda to life. I am also profoundly influenced by the work of Fredric Olmstead. He created the design plans for the Stanford campus, Berkeley, the entrances to Yosemite and Niagara Falls, the Fens in Boston, and most famously, Central Park in Manhattan. The design was always to purify the pollutions from the city using natural processes,  and in the same design, to create attractive spaces for people.

The context of current events in which I write and probably you reading is dynamic. Our leaders have a too narrow focus on extremely complex events. We have been drawn into a financialized and militarized frame of mind, rather than facing our real problems, which would support dealing with the climate, environment, strengthening the people through education and health, and thinking about the quality of life and its distribution. Better security would follow.

I am proposing three groups of ideas.

1. There exists an agenda that 80% of the population would vote for if it were offered.
2. GardenWorld is an integrating vision that already exists in the minds of many.  It would include the 80% and go beyond it.
3. Build a resonance in the public mind with 1 and 2 and a campaign to get us there.

I believe the vision articulated here, GardenWorld, has world-wide application, and there are many vital experiments outside the US we can learn from. There is a valley I’ve heard about in India where “progress” is measured by the increase in biomass and the number of species of songbirds. The US is best at being a beacon, not a bully, and our narrowed views of economy, democracy and governance, the significance of culture, and the aims of life, are due for repair.

The current situation is that the West, with empires and wars, beginning in the 15th Century with Portugal’s intrusion into the peaceful and extensive trade in the Indian Ocean, and represented now by the US and its oil, dollars, and military, has increasingly come to be seen by the rest of the world as a tragic costly culturally narcissistic outrage that did not live up to its own values, the ones the world admires: success with participation and justice. We are isolated and broke.

An alternative view is that the country is doing basically well, as we manage the world the US inherited at the end of WW2, and we are in a phase of institutional experimentation with digital tech and globalization. American productive power is still sound and, with the flow of money and ideas in the system, we can remain the most dynamic country.
There is some ambiguity about which view is correct. probably both, but the first seems increasingly salient, conscious and requiring a coherent response.

The narrowing elite in the country have an increasing share of resources available to them, and that money is used for the exploitation of existing or obvious cash producing “opportunities”. There is much less money for R&D. This is not good for business, science, technology, wealth creation, human development nor the environment. It is not a path to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. The United States is not paying attention to “..the decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

We need to find a way to, as the musicians say, re-mix. GardenWorld, because of its existing, but latent, attractiveness, in the hopes of people across class and national lines, is very possibly the way to re-jazz our life, and to recall that the Declaration says “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The book has six core ideas

1. The promise of a better life after WW2 has not been realized. The slavery of the field turned into the slavery of the Factory and then into the slavery of the cubicle. Progress for all turned into privilege for ever fewer in a great game of musical chairs. Chapter 1 and 2. The image of the future and the promise of progress have languished, under the pressures to adapt to “modernism”, through a failure of imagination, leadership, and resources.
2. Both major political parties are stuck. Chapters 2
3. Political attitudes are a way of saying “no” to the whole system when “no” is not something people can vote for. Chapter 2.
4. There exists a political agenda that 80% would agree to. Not an agenda of mere platitudes, but deep, dealing with real issues. (See chapter 1,5,6,7). It requires mixing a new business climate with environmental rigor, and using health and education as enablers. At the simplest, simply turning downward the rising curves of inequality and environmental degradation would be sufficient for a vast increase in hope. Chapter 8.
5. An analysis of why we are in this jam. The merry-go-round economy, working for those who are in it, but marginalizes those who are not but having to compete  in the brutal life denying game of musical chairs, Chapter 2.
6. A vision is necessary to make the 80% solution come alive and be evocative. GardenWorld, a blend of the organic and the technological, entrepreneurship, and serious environmentalism, oriented for human development, is that image. Chapters 3 and 4
And there are some more philosophical, historical and psychological discussions in chapter 7, 8, and 9. And some specific discussion of economics and technology in chapters 6 and 8. Chapter 7 is a riff on human nature which is really what it is all about nurturing.

The context as I write, most observers agree, is  that:
The economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer in almost every country (including the Middle East, creating the conditions for chaos there) and that the legal structures of corporations are a major factor. Everyone now knows this and frustration with the politics is increasing. The plausibility of global climate change is also now conventional wisdom. But the actionable conclusions have not been architected by the politicians. There is no easy win win, solid and difficult choices will be made. The idea and practice of democracy have been corrupted and nothing yet replaces them. The Internet is in trouble. Security in a crowded world is better achieved by diplomacy and pinpoint police professionalism than by militarism, but the militarists, driven by those who want to protect the current bad distribution of assets, are in the ascendency. All these problems affect the local quality of life.

The long term divides more or less among three major scenarios .

1. Technocratic centralist control of the world economy as a single integrated machine, a police world with strong media control. This is a new feudalism with corporations and a weakened system of national state. A population scared by climate and migrations, will be attracted to this, maybe even demand it.
2.  A shift toward more participation and democratic unfolding and the supporting human development in health and education, toward GardenWorld. This is regional networked market democracy. This scenario fits our philosophical tradition and does not have to invented but renewed.
3.  And, of course, one must add, the possibilities of collapse where human needs overwhelm the social system.[i]. Rwanda, Syria, Ukraine, and too many american cities are already there.
The book proposes that GardenWorld, the second scenario, is the viable and more attractive possibility. To get there, as I’ll describe in Chapter 3, might require some more aggressive changes, such as rethinking corporate charters, the way interest on capital works, the way Congress works, land use, and international cooperation. Great progress can be made simply by shifting the rules enough so that increasing concentration of wealth and income stops and measurable and visible decreases are sustained. Rethinking bureaucracy, as Gore rather successfully attempted with the National Performance Review, and a better distribution of resources from the Federal to the local level are probably also necessary.

“Sustainability” has emerged as a consensus word to describe where we going, but “sustainability” for a farmer or soap manufacturer is different than sustainability for a bank or a brokerage house. This second group, the financial houses and extended broker relations, depend on expansion of economic activity beyond population growth and force all of us to align with that financial agenda.

Financial services, which ought to be the oil that makes investment function, is about 15% of all US economic activity, and pulls out  about 40% of the profit. This is intolerable. GardenWorld helps give meaning to sustainability, making clearer what can be sustained and what cannot. Choices have to be made. One of the first and most oft-cited definitions of sustainability is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, sustainability “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A good starting point, but need is too often limited to economic need, such as “basket of goods”, and not the requirements of quality of life based on a better human understanding.

Aristotle wrote a little book, Coming to Be and Passing Away, in which he argues that we can have growth without development, and development without growth. (fn) Pondering this may be the key to the 21st century. When I read it I felt intense relief. It gives license to think beyond the usual growth or climate trade off we are mostly stuck in. Development without growth? The rearrangement of what we have, not extracting from earth or each other. Development without growth provides us with an opening to a more interesting, humane, intelligent, intuitive future we can start on now in this first decades of the 21st century, as we replace more with better. What really is quality of life for humans and the planet, and what have we sacrificed that was precious for growth and the rat race?

We can have growth
without development,
and development
without growth.

There may be a deep continuity running from Napoleon, Bismarck and then Lincoln, through WW1, WW2, and the Cold War to our present situation. Communism and Fascism (think Mussolini) were attempts to solve the problem of how to integrate capital, corporations, governance, status and power. Those attempts fortunately failed. They both tried to be technocratic and control oriented. But the problems of the organization of the state and the corporation, elites and the people, capital and benefits, are unsolved, and current politics may be a replay of the 20th Century, showing we are stuck in an endless loop, “sustainable” in the worst sense. Market capitalism in the US and its partnership with government might be a third attempt to solve the problem of capital and technology, and it too might be failing through narrowing ownership and increasing militarization.

How will we negotiate the difference between the growth forces and the development possibilities? I’m convinced that getting to a sustainable future is possible and attractive, but the story needs filling out, a lot of creativity, a lot of seriousness, and lot of tolerance. In particular, to protect and give hope and some measure of security but the many of us who are not developing time to thinking about it. They didn’t ask for this. GardenWorld is an attempt to provide an integrating vision for action that creates a vibrant and attractive economy without technocratic and bureaucratic over-control, and with concern for the environment and quality of life.

Simply think of what it would be like if our cities and towns were organized like most college campuses, with green space between buildings, where walking to work and small stores is possible, in the midst of green space that mediates between humans and nature, rich in species variety and providing local niche crops. Connections to the global through a ubiquitous Internet would be even easier, and It is entirely within our means to do this local design and global connectedness for everyone. And we may be forced to.

Recent work in hierarchies and meshes, networks, self-organization and emergent phenomena, led by writers like Prigogine, Castells  and de Landa, and Chris Alexander’s ideas about liveliness in architecture, provide some helpful ideas for thinking about the future. It is not a question of hierarchies or networks, but how to combine them. Not one issue at a time, but integrated interdependent multi-feedback loops and emergent effects should change the way we think about historical causality and politics. Ideas do help. But the current political leadership is still framed by Democrats and Republicans who, fighting, like Don Quixote over what is not real, define a nearly imaginary landscape of issues, while the real world lies spread out in the face of their voters many of whom see through the fog what is happening, and have no adequate response available on the ballot.
Let’s combine the quality of life vision of a GardenWorld with the practical task of wider participation in income, wealth, education, and health in a vital economy of entrepreneurship and technical innovation that is environmentally and humanely sensitive.