Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Best Way to Prepare

Along with this, the arrogance we show toward the past is staggering. Over not so many years, the people of the past invented so many things, and then they (or rather, we) slowed to a crawl. The sizable leaps of the past are not quite so primitive as a Larson cartoon might suggest. Think of inventing and standardizing types of writing or speaking, or of figuring out how to develop a bow and arrow. Yoking and training a beast of burden, starting agriculture from scratch, storing and deliberately burning wood for heat and light, crafting cloth and making it into clothes, mortaring castles, catching wind to drive sailing ships, etc.

Now, we're so proud of ourselves when we slightly shrink the size of our smartphones. "Yeah, I work in computer engineering, I'm pretty brilliant...I work on ways to further condense the condensed chipsets based on the condensed chipsets based on the...etc...figured out by this guy in the 90s, who read about this thing in Popular Mechanics discussing the work done in the '60s..."

The "cave man" had to identify a problem, form a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, and postulate a conclusion, all without decades of education, government grants, peer review, and establishment journals. And once he'd drawn a conclusion and decided to put its results to practical use (into "practice"), his life often depended, quite immediately, upon the veracity of such conclusion.

Now, wild-haired "social psychologists" think they're doing science when they try to obtain grant money by producing click-bait studies on what kinds of fabric make women more turned-on, or "evolutionary biologists" try to determine what kinds of genetic mutations produce a 3-cent increase in per-kilogram profit on corn, to the ultimate benefit of some asshole who already has twenty-four million dollars and a private island.

While we consider such issues, we need to be careful that we don't slip from the drunken tightrope-walking of liberalism into the crocodile-infested sewage drain of conservatism. It's easy to identify problems, and say, "They did it better in the past," and then try to vindicate our elders by re-living our imaginary versions of their lives. That's the fire on the other side of this frying pan, into which many well-meaning proto-philosophers have jumped: taking shelter in subjugation to hungry ghosts, believing that sufficient self-mutilation and fetish sacrifice will bring Grandpa's Grandpa back to show us how to be real men. For one, it was their mistakes that brought us here. Even if there was an invasion, it was one that they either permitted, or were too weak to stop. More importantly, they had their own problems, too--we neither honor them, nor make ourselves look intelligent, by duplicating the bad parts.

Much has been written about how there are no "new" inventions these days, only variations of old ones. That can be said about all inventions, of course, but the comparative newness makes the latter argument useful--e.g., a faster computer or a computer network isn't "as new" as a computer is relative to an abacus. March on, by all means, but what is holding all this back is the lofty arrogance of those who have inherited so very many nice things, and then decided that they are the greatest because they've made those things a little smaller, faster, and more aesthetically pleasing. The internet's great, but it's had a less-dynamic effect on society than the printing press. To whit, it's resulted in fewer revolutions, less aggregate personal liberty, and even greater polarization of survival potential. At a higher scale, these electronic printing presses have been conjoined to reduced social ability to distinguish complex arguments or detailed descriptions from purple prose (leaving most modern usage of the term equivalent to saying, "Too much think make head hurt"), whereas the printing press can at least lay claim to a few revolutions, as well as jumps in literacy rates.

I hate to toss out the predictable old Crichton quote, but via Ian Malcolm:
You know what's wrong with scientific power? It’s a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are. It never fails...Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it’s your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline...Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control...But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify--it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast...And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it; patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary.

Certainly there would be self-absorbed people at every point in history; one need look no further than the Victorian soldiery mocking the crude villages and dress of the Africans they were murdering. Picture this: a bunch of pasty-faced, inbred Celt-killers crawling out of the shantytown hells of London, where they are able to survive only by huddling in the stony rubble of castoff industrialism, gobbling up meat pies made from the bloody scrapings off the factory floor, and feeding their stunted children pap. They put on a uniform tailored for the Crown, get on a ship someone else built, and ride down to Africa to kill some darkies for the hideous prude-queen. They struggle to learn how to load ball and powder into their guns, regularly jamming them, blowing off their own fingers, or setting off flammable drums in the hold.

Once they arrive, the troops stumble ashore, reeking of naval grime and cholera, covered in lice and cholera from back home, and so drunk a couple of them get shot to make an example to the others. They realize they've wet their powder, and their officer is demoted; they take several days to dry it out, get more, tamp it in, ready their balls, etc. Another guy gets shot in the leg by accident, and has it amputated by a drunken surgeon who learned medicine by watching someone else bleed sick children and cut off anything he didn't recognize.

Thusly prepared, the soldiers get ready to face their enemy: the remains of the native cultures the Afrikaner hadn't been able to finish murdering on their own, despite a large influx of weapons and gold, bibles and booze. Stumbling out of camp, the soldiers at last find themselves face to face with taut-limbed, dark-skinned warriors. These men know how to hunt, farm, gather their own edible food, and fashion spears by hand, which weapons they can throw with deadly accuracy from fifty feet. They can run and jump and crouch without panting or clutching their head from hangover pain, they can bind their own wounds and make poultices to stave off infection. They can make children, build shelter for them, and raise them to do everything they can do, living in harmony with their environment in a way that, absent interference, could last for millions of years.

Who wins the war? The slobby Harry Potters, of course, because daddy had bought them all Nimbus 2001s before the fight started. The power comes by virtue of being born: inheriting the collective science of several thousand years, we proclaim ourselves masters of the universe.

Not only do we think of ourselves as Harry Potters, we cheer on our social betters--the Gateses, Jobses, Hiltons, and Buffetts of the world, who are nothing but fatter heirs. Lacking anyone actually achieving anything, we see clowns parading around TED stages and think, "Wow, ingenuity!" because satires of the sequels to old rebooted franchises is all we have to which to compare them.

If you feel bad about it, just go watch The Walking Dead, and learn white people are all Alphas who can indeed reconquer the land that their fathers conquered for them. Because, like, knowing how to fix a toilet, rewire the fuse box, or turn recycled milk cartons into a cardboard house for Somalian refugees is equivalent to developing alloys or agriculture.

How do you solve the problem of bratty little heirs? Because that's really what the problem is; we're all Paris Hilton or Ayn Rand, imagining that the stuff we do is self-generated. Solving the problem is not as easy as you think, because if you just cut everything off and throw the little brat outdoors, he starves to death while deciding he hates the world. That's why we love apocalyptic fantasies, now: we imagine ourselves clinging to bits and pieces of our inheritance, using existing cars and buildings to shelter ourselves even in the event of an "ultimate" disaster. We know it can't last, and the characters' obsession is always with "preserving" society, and "re-learning" the knowledge that has been "lost."

Even our most enthusiastic "preppers" are obsessed with preserving slices of old culture. Bagging dried food, stocking up on old batteries and diesel generators, planning a home garden next to the ammo shed where we keep our military-grade water purifiers--that's no different than Paris Hilton stashing money in the Caymans in anticipation of a lawsuit. There's no self-generated survival, there; there's only a refusal to make new things. We just love our zombies-as-metaphor, don't we? There's no humility before the ancients in that kind of fantasy; only a promise to keep riding that corpse downhill at top speed, as fast as Mad Max in Waterworld.

On that note, real preppers would be inventors, rather than cowardly huddlers. If we're "prepping," we ask ourselves, "How do we stop genocidal warlords like Barack Obama from gaining power?" and "How do we end a financial system that incentivizes global catastrophe?" "How can we make sure everyone gets enough food without simultaneously making everyone die of autoimmune diseases and cancer?" "How can we stop killing each other?" "How can we provide populations of people with sufficient farmland to sustain themselves over generations without allowing thieves to forcibly tithe that land into oblivion?" Almost all today's preppers are on an insanely selfish quest, trying to come up with ways to preserve their lifestyle in the face of the loss of the civilization that sustains it. And what could be a more slovenly, post-modern way to behave than that? A real prepper would try to save humanity by ensuring that freeze-dried beef stroganoff is never necessary.

At some level, we all know that the hardcore survivalists are looking forward to it. They're little different than the apocalypse-happy western elites of the Cold War, building themselves gigantic fallout shelters under state land, complete with hundreds of years of food and water, gyms, dorms, libraries, and olympic-sized swimming pools, to escape to after they murdered the rest of the world.

Sure, the money needs to be taken away from Paris and Warren at some point. They'll hide it in charities for a few generations to throw the proles off the trail, but at some point, that will get figured out too, and then the future's little bratlings will have to come up with a new way to pretend at meritocracy.

The obvious answer in human terms is holding the Earth in trust for its inhabitants, with all interests non-transferable and bright-line fiduciary bars to self-dealing, no matter how much it appears to be in everyone's best interests. Ownership, rather than stewardship, is among the great diseases that segregates people into elites and non-, creating the idea of uniquely strained genetic inheritances. Modern "property" was the British (of course) idea, traced through from the Jenome impact and the first Barian god-king refugees, such that even the pursuit of knowledge has become an aspect of inheritance, subject to Warren's spending sprees. No matter how angry you are at Paris Hilton for spending however many hundred thousand dollars on designer purses, you have to be willing to see Warren as a far more vile creature, for spending so many dozens of millions of dollars ceaselessly putting that goddamned cartoon gecko-picture next to every major freeway in America.

A picture of a gecko. Seriously? And you thought people like Paris wasted our resources?


  1. So, what's your take on the possibility of a future collapse and de-industrialization as postulated by John Michael Greer ( and suchlike ?

    Climate change? Lots of disaster scenarios gaining popularity in the blogosphere in that regard, near term extinction by 2030 being the most dreary one from what I know.

    Do you believe technological process can be maintained?

  2. that's progress* not process, hah.

  3. heh heh. Works either way. ;-)

    Technological progress here is stagnant. Humans are great at that stuff, and have been able to do reasonably well considering their constraints, but a massive transgovernmental force remains in place, trying its best to ensure that technology develops at a slow, steady, rent-producing pace. Your question was well-timed, because this one just finished up a follow-up post to today's post, which will come out sometime next week, discussing more of the ways that rentiers are going to use tithing to repress another century's worth of inventions.

    Disaster scenarios gain popularity in the blogosphere in correlation to disaster scenarios gaining popularity with various governments' propaganda arms.

    Can technological progress be maintained? Of course. Accelerating the rate of growth will require primarily emotional progress on the part of the people here. They'll need to start genuinely believing that they don't need to pay and obey managers and bankers in exchange for the privilege of producing wonderful things.