Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Meanwhile, Back On Earth ...


Regular readers will know that if the Plausible Midfuture unfolds even remotely as I have speculated here, the vast majority of the human race will still be living on Earth after the next few centuries. Any other outcome requires either a truly staggering increase in the space population or a truly horrific reduction in Earth's population, or both.

Also bear in mind that most humans today 'still' live in the Old World.

So what happens on Earth over the next few hundred years will be overwhelmingly important to most people. Even if the space population turns out to be surprisingly large, what happens there will still be massively shaped by developments on Earth.

This is a topic that I have only sporadically addressed here, which means that it has not yet been beaten half to death. And, happily - just as I was futzing around and getting increasingly antsy about needing to post something here - Winch of Atomic Rockets sent me a link to this MetaFilter page, which in turn led me to a two-part piece on the near to midfuture by Charlie Stross.

(No more links in the body of this post, I promise!)

I come neither to praise Stross nor to bury him. Follow the links or ignore them. Like him I am generally conservative. On the whole I think we are in something of a decelerando, at least compared to the era around 1870-1930, when the Western world went pretty much from post-medieval to proto-contemporary.


I do make, as Stross does, the general presumption that post-industrial civilization is viable enough to last at least through the medium term. Obviously this is not guaranteed to be the case. Post-apocalyptic futures are a whole different matter. On the flip side, post-Singularity futures are also a whole different matter. I am fairly skeptical of either class of outcome, and will ignore them both. (But commenters are not under obligation to do so.)

So we are dealing here with intermediate cases. The future, then, is broadly recognizable to us - even, in many details, rather familiar. Our neighborhood was built some 80 years ago, and mostly still dates to that era. Newer buildings are identifiable by period, coming full circle to the post-modernist retro style.

Within the next century or so most of the old buildings will probably be worn out and replaced, by buildings that probably won't look like the zeerust future. They may get solar roofs sooner than that, barely noticeable from street level.

What things look like at street level may not be the most critical or awesome element of the future, but it is what would give us that all-important first impression. (Compare to the visual appearance of spacecraft.)

In the past month or so an interesting discussion has shown up in some corners of the blogosphere about whether the traditional fashion cycle has broken down, eliminating one of our standard markers of the passage of time. (No links - practice your Google fu!)

The argument is that while the worlds of 1932, 1952, and 1972 had obvious looks that distinguish them from each other as well as from the present, the world of 1992 looked pretty much like it does today, other than the absence of smartphones. Even pop-culture excess has hardly changed - swap in Madonna for Lady Gaga and you're good to go.

My subjective impression is this is broadly true. Hemlines no longer rise and fall consistently; post-post-modernist architecture steals freely from all past epochs as well as from itself; generic no-era cars park freely alongside evocative ones like the Cooper Mini.

Project this into the future, and 2062 and 2112 - even 2212 - might be hard to tell apart, and not that easy even to tell from the present. No monorails, no aircars.

The world of classical antiquity was rather like that (or at least my impression of classical antiquity is like that). Costume, temple design, and the like changed at only a glacial pace. Classical civilization had style, which is timeless, but not fashion.


Having said that, even if we are into a decelerando there will be a great deal of technological progress, if only working out the implications of established technologies. We see a lot of that in the cybertech industry today. We do not have HAL 9000 or anything remotely close, and so far as I can tell, contemporary programming languages are no profound advance over plain vanilla Kernighan & Richie C.

What we do have is enormous raw computing horsepower, and the large-scale computerized mediation of communication between people, of which this blog is a minor example.

The technology that might most exemplify the sort of tech progress that people at midcentury did not expect is the shipping container. It is hard to imagine anything less futuristic - just a big steel box. But it revolutionized cargo transportation, and played a substantial role in the current era of economic globalization.

Because I do not want to keep you my loyal readers waiting even longer than I already have, I will resist the impulse to speculate at length about all the usual things - from medical miracles (or lack of) to the consequences of global climate change.

On the latter, suffice to say that some places will become more or less uninhabitable; some places now subarctic may become gardens; lots of places will become more hot and humid, at times miserably so. Some places will see surprising climate changes, even becoming colder as patterns shift. If world agriculture is severely disrupted, things could get out of hand, but I said I wasn't dealing with post-apocalyptic scenarios, and I won't.

But I will toss in a speculation inspired by recent political issues. An emergent global economic elite could change power politics from horizontal to vertical alignments. Put simply, an elite that socializes and does business together, and not infrequently intermarries, could develop global solidarity. (Or not, per Queen Victoria's grandchildren.) But if they do, the lines of conflict could be within territories and societies rather than between them.

Discuss.




These two container ships entered San Francisco Bay side by side - first time I'd seen that.

172 comments:

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Also bear in mind that most humans today 'still' live in the Old World."

Well, it's just plain bigger. Afrasia is 85 Mm^2 and has 5.9 billion people, the Americas are 42.5 Mm^2 and have 0.93 billion people. Granted, looking at those numbers, the population difference is more than the size difference.

However, consider that the Americas were settled predominantly by Europeans (and natives, but those don't even apply to the analogy), not by a joint effort of all Europeans, Asians, and Africans. And not even all European countries participated. Europe has an area of 10 Mm^2 and a population of 0.74 billion. So Europe actually has less population than the Americas, though a lot more population density.


"Post-apocalyptic futures are a whole different matter."

I think we can fairly safely say that post-apocalyptic people will not be launching any space missions. They will be focussed on surviving and repairing the damage to Earth's environment, not colonizing inhospitable balls of rock or performing scientific research that doesn't have immediate tangible benefits. (There will still be people who want to conduct that kind of research, of course, but they won't be getting enough funding to launch a rocket.)


"The world of classical antiquity was rather like that (or at least my impression of classical antiquity is like that). Costume, temple design, and the like changed at only a glacial pace."

Are you sure that's not just because only a fraction of their fashions survived to be identified by archeologists?

And possibly also observer's bias - if you see a shirt you might be able to identify it as a specific type of shirt, but if you see a toga you're more likely to just identify it as "a toga". It is a fact that historical reenactors often blend features from different eras.

Mind you, I'm not saying you're wrong, just suggesting some alternatives. I don't know enough about ancient clothing to say anything authorative.

Ben Aaronovitch said...

Looking out of window in a housing block built in the 1950s I see a landscape of Victorian and earlier terraced streets mixed in with construction (mostly to replace bomb damage) from the 1950-1980s. I'm willing to bet good money that in a hundred years time most of the modern buildings will have been replaced but the Regency and Victorian terraces will, barring another area bombing campaign, remain largely intact.

There are several reasons for this. The primary one is sturdiness: brick buildings are easier to maintain and modify then the modern buildings. Work can be done on them piecemeal as and when the need arises and finances become available. Secondly these houses (even the rented ones) tend to be owned by individuals who have a vested *personal* incentive to maintain them. Thirdly the terrace has proved to be the most efficient high density housing configuration for London.

Linca said...

The global elite has existed since forever in the western world, and for quite a few decades even in the rest of the world - the aristocracy has never cared much for land borders.

Byron said...

As an engineer in training, I can't say I see any of this as a bad thing. Except the decelerando part, of course. I would view this as us finally getting used to our changed circumstances, where things like fashions can exist. I suppose we've finally run out of places to go in architecture and fashion.

Cambias said...

To a large extent the "transnational elite" is just a return to the pre-World War I state of affairs. Though membership in the club has expanded a bit.

I do worry that the absence of a "frontier" means the elite will gradually become a Mandarin caste stifling change and innovation.

Ray McVay said...

I think one of the implication of of communication technology - especially the advent of augmented reality - will lead to architecture and design that is quite bland in the real-world but lit up with virtual decoration and advertisements. These virtual augmentations would be easier and cheaper to create and replace, while the buildings they decorate are (hopefully) made to last.

Tony said...

Rick:

"...contemporary programming languages are no profound advance over plain vanilla Kernighan & Richie C.

What we do have is enormous raw computing horsepower, and the large-scale computerized mediation of communication between people, of which this blog is a minor example."


Languages have changed so little that if you know two syntactic paradigms -- C and BASIC -- you can manage to pick up the details of almost any programming language. In fact, language preferences tend to be about the style a programmer is comfortable with or the technology a company is heavily bought into. There's nothing out there to force a major change on its own merits.

The real value added comes in the availability of a wide range of task-specific libraries and programmer friendly integrated development environments. But even there, most established languages provide you the libraries you need, either as a fundamental part of the language (C#) or as add-ons that anyone can get for free (PHP, Python, Perl...).

At a more under-the hood level, standard algorithms and data structures that we still use today were all developed in the Fifties and Sixties. It's the massive and pervasive increase in cheap computing power that allows us as programmers to pile numerous procedures and structures on top of each other to make it look like we're keeping up with the hardware. People that used to complain about "bloat code" twenty years ago simply didn't realize that the only thing to do with the increased power was jazz up the user interface and expand the most sophisticated user experiences across the whole spectrum of computing. It's not like anybody was going to make anything more sophisticated in the realm of data processing and storage. That's all based on mathematics and the best answers were obvious very early on. (Compare that with liquid-fueled chemical rockets, where we're still using 55 year old technology on a regular basis.)

And, as Rick point out, communications did emerge as the killer app of all killer apps. Since i make my living in the internet developer business, I absolutely and categorically refuse to complain.

Damien Sullivan said...

Well, there's a lot of research in programming languages, most notably (to me) Haskell. Plus ideas that are a lot older in Lisp or Erlang, that still haven't hit the mainstream, plus a few that have. (Oooh, *garbage collection*.) State of the industrial art is well behind state of the academic art. And algorithms research continues, especially for machine learning, or for best advantage of cache architectures, or for a lot of the stuff Google does.

Going by _1493_, the Americas were largely settled by involuntary African immigrants, especially before the 19th century migrations. This wasn't true in New England but who cares? Also had a surprising number of Asian immigrants to South America early on; remember that South and Central America were being settled on both sides before North America really saw any action on the east coast.

Damien Sullivan said...

As for the long term PMF on Earth, I'd guess:
* slow growth, because you just can't grow exponentially forever. Static or declining population, levelling off tech progress, leveling off -- hopefully at a high level -- of bringing everyone to fully developed standards. Lots of potential capital, limited investment opportunity, long and safe lifespans, leading to low interest rates. Unless antibiotic resistant diseases take off again, which case rates might have to go up, to make people gamble on being alive to receive the profits.

* I suspect the social stable state would be either highly stratified, the case for most of history, elite and oppressed masses, or highly egalitarian, the occasional case for much of history. Capitalism as we know it breaks down without fast wage growth to buy off workers and innovations to justify radically different outcomes. The former could be good for dystopian space, cheap capital and labor (for the elites) to play with and throw at pyramid or cathedral projects. The latter could be too, if people vote for big public projects.

Fashion treadmill breakdown could also happen if people lose the idea that better and newer things are coming around the corner, and start building and buying things to last, a la the Culture. Low innovation, high capital, again. OTOH if goods longevity comes from high investment of labor, it may never take off; labor will always seem expensive to most people.

The one piece of fashion I pay attention to is fonts, which yeah, seem to have diversified amorphously. OTOH, always have to be suspicious of "end of history" claims.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Well, there's a lot of research in programming languages, most notably (to me) Haskell."

The dirty little secret is that all of these languages' runtime behavior is either the result of a compiler written in C or C++, or a runtime interpreter written in the same. In effect, all of these supposedly "cutting edge" languages are nothing more than an entire language as "syntactic sugar".*

----------
*Syntactic sugar being programmer-speak for nothing more than a convenience explicitly defined into a language. For example, being able to write:

x += y

instead of:

x = x + y
----------


Also, many of the innovations that were developed in these niche languages have been taken up either implicitly or explicitly in every industrial strength language.

"Plus ideas that are a lot older in Lisp or Erlang, that still haven't hit the mainstream, plus a few that have. (Oooh, *garbage collection*.)"

Garbage collection always has -- and always will -- have performance costs and consequences. It's not as bad as it used to be, given the much faster hardware and larger volatile storage spaces we have nowdays. So Java, C#, and everything else mainstream that uses a garbage collector has been adopted pretty widely. But the inherrent consistency-superiority of garbage collection was not enough on its own to overcome its inerrent computing overhead.

Similar arguments can be made for the vast majority of devices that niche language advocates love to tout. They are usually impractical in some way, or simply unnecessary for the vast majority of applications. They may be ideologically pure in some academic's judgment, but that's not what programmers and software managers out here in commercial world care about.

"State of the industrial art is well behind state of the academic art."

Not really. I had a college professor that got his PhD for coming up with a new (and possibly better, but the math is over my head) way to desribe and process metaballs (a type of 3D graphics element). He was hired by a 3D graphics package firm within a couple of years of his degree and was out on his ass in the next couple of years, because that company couldn't keep up and folded. I doubt that my prof's work was directly responsible for that, but it does suggest that keeping up is indeed based at least partly on having the latest techniques in your application regime.

"And algorithms research continues, especially for machine learning, or for best advantage of cache architectures, or for a lot of the stuff Google does."

Yes, but based on the standard building blocks from the Heroic Age. The hot shots at the big companies do find new ways to store data and process it, but it's more in the realm of application than it is in the realm of fundamentals.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Damien Sullivan:

"State of the industrial art is well behind state of the academic art."

That's because state of the academic art includes many things that look cool but aren't very useful.

Eth said...

While I find an apocalypse quite improbable, I still think that our world will be very different in two centuries. Those differences may not catch the eye at first, but societies will change. More exactly, our civilisation will either have deeply changed, or will be gone.

Our early XXIe century civilisation is an evolution of the XIX-XXe one. At this time, ideals rose at full strength, becoming the basis of the civ, replacing the older values like religion. Nation-states appear, based on the idea of a nation to which people can identify, instead of the loyalty to a ruler. There are also the great ideologies. Republicanism, nationalism, communism, you name it... But the XXe century demonstrated what terrifying extremes ideologies could lead to, and at the end, we begun to abandon them.

So what did we pick instead? Nothing. Or, more exactly, the lowest, most simple option, which is basically hedonism. As there is no beliefs, in ideals or otherwise, to drive people for causes 'higher' than themselves, they act for themselves. And as there is also no beliefs about how to do so, they choose the simplest solution, which is pleasure=happiness.
Unfortunately, it's been millennia that we know it doesn't work, even Greek philosophers already explained it and why. But people don't know that, or don't believe in it, as no one explained it to them, and it's not something that obvious if you don't stop and think about it.

So there are exceptions and nuances, but our entire civilisation is now mostly based on this equation of 'pleasure=happiness', in the form of the consumerist society.
And it doesn't work indeed. Reasons are varied and sometimes complex, but people simply don't work like that. We already see the symptoms. Rising inequalities, more and more widespread cynicism as well as perversions (which is, basically, seeing people as objects instead of, well, people), rampant individualism, lack of ethics, but also more and more nervous breakdowns and depressions.
And worse, people feel that they are still not happy, that something is missing. That's why there is more and more unrest. And extremisms, who give the easiest and most visible answers, now rise.
The moderate are drown in the extremists' voices, and those afraid of extremists pack them all together. Religious are seen as fundamentalists and/or superstitious bigots, moderate nationalists or reformists are seen as fascists or communists... So even those who could give other answers are often prevented to.

Some tried to counter that by making people study philosophy, as answers are there, once you know where to find and how to use them. But teaching people how to think by themselves and why they have to is one of the most difficult things.


So, to summarize, our civilisation is based on hedonism, which does not work. Which is why things are slowly going to heck. So things will change. It already begun, somehow, with the new kinds of violence, inequalities and obscurantism we can see all around the world.
The next step may be a dark age, after a complete collapse, but that's unlikely. Or it could be a societal dark age, with high technology, powerful industry, immense inequalities and blind obscurantism. Or other ideas may emerge, bringing an answer to the question most don't know they ask.

Buildings and fashions may look the same, but I'm pretty sure society itself won't be something we are expecting.
On the other hand, some people like Jules Verne sometimes described with an unsettling, almost prophetic accuracy the world one century after their deaths.

Eth said...

But note that if we are on the decline, these times of unrest are also culturally fantastically rich. We never published as much books, or as much movies, for that matter, than today. The internet, which could have been only a professional or commercial tool, is an incredible mean of expression and communication. Our culture saw more evolutions in twenty years than most centuries.

And for us, SF fans/writers, the future is so uncertain that possibilities are countless. We have believable SF settings set in twenty years, some of them wildly divergent. Story-wise, our times are just plain interesting.
What I hope is to live long enough to see what there will be next. And that it will be worth seeing it.

Tony said...

Eth:

"But note that if we are on the decline, these times of unrest are also culturally fantastically rich. We never published as much books, or as much movies, for that matter, than today. The internet, which could have been only a professional or commercial tool, is an incredible mean of expression and communication. Our culture saw more evolutions in twenty years than most centuries."

I would say that our culture has seen more pointless groping for things that aren't there than ever before. This is in fact a symptom of the information age -- there's still only so much reliable information to be had, but the noise has increased so much that people have trouble extracting the facts from the fantasy. And it's not their fault, really. Nobody becomes a critical thinker without education. But the materials that educate one into a critical thinking attitude are burried under so much easy-to-write/easy-to-profuce/easy-to-sell/easy-to-consume crud that few make their way to it.

----------

As for the rest of Eth's thesis, I think he's onto something with hedonism, but we wouldn't find a solution in philosophy -- not only because it's hard to absorb, but also because it's sterile and impractical. And that's is also something we've known for millenia. Diogenes, living in a barrel and casting about Athens, futilely looking for one honest man, pretty much demonstrated that, though it was likely not his intent.

His problem was not that honesty is valuable, because it is. Yet honesty as an absolute philosophical ideal is worthless. It only has value as a counterpoint to dishonesty, and nobody is perfect at either -- the most scrupulous paragons or the most damnable liars.

So we will go about with our hedonism until it makes too much more valuable stuff fall apart. Then some demagogue will lead us down a path of purity to some other destruction. Or, if we are lucky, some demagogue will try to lead somebody else down the path to purity, and we'll get to beat him and his minions down, only at a somewhat less catastrophic cost.

Tony said...

BTW, Charlie Stross's view is clearly rooted in Seventies politics. The coming catastrophe is just around the corner. The global-cooling/population-bomb serial number has been filed off, but global warming is the same gun. Of course, I never do expect much from Charlie ever since he villained a book (Iron Sunrise) with, among other things, Nazi ethno/psycho-types straight out of Central Casting. Even if you did it as a joke, Charlie, it was idotic in the extreme.

Thucydides said...

An idea occurred to me while reading the comments. Many periods of history were relatively static, with only gradual changes slowly filtering through the society. Attempts to impose radical changes were almost always unsuccessful, and when radical change did occur it was usually a result of the collapse or destruction of the previous society.

Ancient Egyptian civilization, the Bronze age civilizations, Hellenistic civilization, the Roman Civilization (depending on how you want to slice it, there are strands of continuity running from the Res Publica to the Imperium, and an argument could be made to include the Byzantine Empire as well), Medieval Christendom, Chinese Dynastic culture...all lasted for centuries or even millenia. While we can point to changes that took place during these periods, I think a citizen transported forward in time to a later point in that culture might not find it too difficult to integrate into their new home.

In the West, at least, the tipping point seems to have been the start of the Age of Exploration, closely followed by the Renaissance. Things really did start to change visibly over people's lifetimes, and continued to change in an ever accelerating fashion. Perhaps we have reached a point where civilization will settle back into a more static mode where things will change at a very slow pace, and a person from the 21rst Century will be able to integrate reasonably quickly into 23rd century life?

Christopher Phoenix said...

Speaking of shipping containers- some spacecraft from Star Trek took this technology to space. The DY-100 Class spacecraft (launched in the 1990's!!) carry cargo in self-contained pods that can be linked onto the cargo spacecraft fully loaded.

This is actually a pretty good idea. You can load up the spaceship with cargo for Mars Settlement 5 without having to transport each item on the ship- all you need to do is load and launch each container. When the ship reaches Mars (or wherever), the pods can be dropped to the settlement from orbit with disposable rockets, parachutes, and airbags. A bit like air drops of cargo, but from orbit...

The same basic rocket ship can carry out different missions depending on what pods are attached. You could attach cargo pods for a cargo mission, or crew space pods for a deep space exploration flight, or hibernation pods for long space voyages. The points where payload pods attach can also be used as docking points by small spacecraft.

This sort of modularity could be rather common in utility spacecraft. The same craft could do different jobs and carry different cargo depending on the mission- a bit like the Eagles from Space 1999.

Whinchell Chung's Botany Bay uses this kind of arrangement.

What do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...2032 and 2092? Stross notwithstanding, I think that at this point we can see three possible paths (or rather, I can see);2032 possibilities
1) things stay pretty much the same, but with cooler toys
2) a social revolution happens and things get to the I-can't-leave-the-house-without-my-gun state for a while before they start to crawl back to stability
3)Somebody wises up and we make hard choices and avoid collapse, thus making that year look something a little like the Rocketpunk future
2092 possibilites
1)People complain about how things haven't changed much (except for the way cool toys), since the turn of the century (2001)
2)We are recovering from a global/cultural hangover of epic proportions and learning how to deal with the new political/social/economic norms
3)The future is shiny and bright; we have survived ourselves once again and now we are going to use all that industreal power we now have in every country to make life sweat for the 5 or so billion people who live on Earth.

I didn't say anything about global warming because this cycle will have had reached it's mid-point somtime between 1980 and 2100, at which time we will have a whole sloo of other problems :0

We will either get our act together and sponser the industrealization of the rest of the world, or we will implode and have to struggle for decades to get back to where we were before...or we will muddle through, patching things up and just treading water untill something drastic (good or bad) shakes us loose and we have to make a revolutionary change. I hope, if this last happens that it doesn't last centuries.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

I said "we now have in every country to make life sweat for the 5 or so billion people who live on Earth."
Ok, that should say 'sweet', not 'sweat'...talk about a Fraudian Slip! Anyway, we can either sink, swim, or fly...so we better decide what to do pretty damn quick.


Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

Eth:

The old 'society is going to hell' crap.

You might check out Stephen Pinker's _The Better Angels of our Nature_ in which he makes a solid case that violence has been in a long term decline for centuries & even millenia. It's a sawtooth pattern but with an overall downward trend.

There is no guarentee that the trend will continue, but just maybe it is that each upward bump on the downward trend teaches the survivors one more thing not to do.

Eth said...

Tony said :
we wouldn't find a solution in philosophy -- not only because it's hard to absorb, but also because it's sterile and impractical.

I wouldn't go so far as calling it (always) sterile and impractical, all philosophers are not Kant, fortunately. But it is true that it's hard to absorb.
My country has philosophy classes in secondary school, but it is often missing its goal and only teaching that 'Philosopher A said this, philosopher B said that', instead of how to think by oneself and find themselves answers, helped by previous works. Not saying it's impossible, but it is impractical on a large scale.

Oh, and I wouldn't cast Diogenes as an example. He was the father of cynicism, which is precisely what we are adopting now. Though he asked the right questions, the answers he gave, when he gave them, were not the best ones.

But if we don't use philosophy, what could we use? It is precisely the role it is meant to have. And as you pointed out, we can't let people to their own devices, as useful information is buried by the Sturgeon's law.

Jim Baerg said :

The old 'society is going to hell' crap.

Not 'going to hell', only 'going to change'. It may mean hell, it may mean heaven, it will probably just mean something different. There were (rare) cases of non-violent changes in History (recent Portuguese or Spanish history come to mind), so change itself may even go smoothly; though I wouldn't bet on this one.

There is no guarentee that the trend will continue, but just maybe it is that each upward bump on the downward trend teaches the survivors one more thing not to do.

Overall violence indeed decreased last centuries, and the XXe century may have seen the less violent death per human of history.
But it is not so much that it decreased that it changed. We may have less everyday violence, but the kind of horrors of the XXe century were never seen. It was even more shocking as everyone in the West thought that 'we are now over those barbarian times. We are civilized.'
Everyday violence decreased because our society is more efficient to prevent it than before. Great wars are now impractical, and they are replaced by economic rivalries and sometimes proxy wars, which cause less deaths.

But thinking that violence will magically fade out is a dangerous illusion, and one which was proved wrong to the XXe century men. Our society is more effective to manage it now, because we learned some tricks from those before us, but this can change. All we have to do is to forget those tricks, or forget why we use them.
And it works both ways. We may find new, more efficient ones.
Maybe, say, confrontations in MMOs could one day replace hate wars. Or this violence can be sublimed in healthy competition driving people to give the better of themselves in a given domain. Or being ruthlessly repressed by an automated system until physical violence is simply impossible. Or all three together, for what I know...

Tony said...

Eth:

"But if we don't use philosophy, what could we use? It is precisely the role it is meant to have. And as you pointed out, we can't let people to their own devices, as useful information is buried by the Sturgeon's law."

Just let people get on with life. They always work it out in the end. As Hamlet pointed out to his BFF: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Yes, I know that's a swipe at science, but to the degree that philosophers think they are engaging in a science of correct thought, the shoe fits.)

I get the impression that when you say "philosophy", you mean old men in togas or funny coats arguing about the whichness of what. But philosophy isn't always (or even mostly) that kind of thing. It is any reasoning behind any ethical design, good or bad. Let's not forget, the worst tyrants in history were either motivated by -- or made good use of, or misused -- some particular philosophy that appealed to them.

WRT Diogenes, let's not forget that our problems are largely created by too much credulity and too little critical analysis. A little cynicism wouldn't hurt the average person.

Tony said...

Christopher Phoenix:

"What do you guys think?"

I hope that you had to look up the class of the Trek ship you quoted, and didn't just know it off the top of your head.

Byron said...

I hope that you had to look up the class of the Trek ship you quoted, and didn't just know it off the top of your head.
Seconded.
However, there is nothing at all to prevent the model from being used in space, and a lot of reasons to do so. It enormously simplifies handling, particularly due to the fact that spaceships will be limited in number, and probably will want to have as much versatility in their cargo capability as possible. Some cargoes only need a box, others require simple pressurization, and others need food, air, and sometimes even beds. I know AV:T does this. All of the freighters carry pods which can transport cargo or passengers. Also, gunboats can fit in the same docks.
And on another note, Star Wars has done much the same with the Modular Conveyor. (And, yes, I did have to look it up.)

Tony said...

Re: modular cargo in space

Sure, why not? We already have space habitats of modular construction, after all. And we tend to consider even single-mission payloads as modules to be added to a standard laucnh vehicle, possibly modified by addition of modular solid rocket boosters.

I was just being a little bit of jerk about one of my pet peeves -- unhealthily (yes, in my opinion only) comprehensive immersion in fictional universes.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Eth:

"Maybe, say, confrontations in MMOs could one day replace hate wars."

I would say that the inability to inflict lasting damage on anyone in most MMOs, where death is a minor inconvenience and stealing or breaking other players' hard-earned stuff is generally impossible, would preclude its ability to allow people to settle grudge matches to their satisfaction.



Tony:

"I was just being a little bit of jerk about one of my pet peeves -- unhealthily (yes, in my opinion only) comprehensive immersion in fictional universes."

I don't mind people being well-versed in fictional lore, so long as they remain able to tell it apart from real-world lore, and don't try to apply fictional "physics" beyond the work where it's supposed to apply, like assuming a ship in a hard sci-fi world has inertial compensators (this is not a made-up example).

jollyreaper said...

track

Damien Sullivan said...

"We may have less everyday violence, but the kind of horrors of the XXe century were never seen."

What, mass slaughter? Tell the Mongols, or the Assyrians, or Tamurlane's pyramids of skulls. Or the Romans, who used crucifixion on common criminals. Don't know if the ancient Hebrews ever committed genocide, but they certainly wrote about it.

hedonism: a broad and fuzzy term. Epicureanism is sort of hedonistic -- hedonic, certainly -- but also says that pursuit of greed and materialism won't make you reliably happy. Actually, even straightforward hedonism probably says something similar, with respect to the top 0.1% bonfire of the vanities that's wrecking society: less pursuit of money, more enjoyment of what the money can buy, and in non-status goods. Looking at what's gone wrong with society, we could maybe use some more true hedonism, not less.

syntactic sugar: I don't think it's the case that everything's written in C, and it certainly doesn't have to be. That is common, though. But one could as well say that C and C++ are merely syntactic sugar over assembly or machine language, and that there haven't been any advances since the basic von Neumann architecture. Nonetheless, 'sugar' matters for real productivity and reliability, including things like reliable data structures, type checking, and memory protection.

Given the continuous stream of security holes related to buffer overflows and other bugs, I have trouble believing that the security and verifiability features of high level languages are unnecessary. But there's been bias toward time-to-product, and corner-cutting in costs, and quite a lot of conservatism and stodginess in software development, even at the same time as lots of enterprise buzzword fashion.

"global warming is the same gun"

Funny how someone can be so big on Science and Analysis when it comes to space, but dismissive when it comes to the environment.

Byron said...

Damien:
Funny how someone can be so big on Science and Analysis when it comes to space, but dismissive when it comes to the environment.
For once, I agree with Tony on this. The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is rather weak. I'm not saying that the planet isn't heating up, but I doubt we're causing most of it. However, let's try to avoid another flame war on this. I prefer to save those for Space Warfare posts.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"syntactic sugar: I don't think it's the case that everything's written in C, and it certainly doesn't have to be. That is common, though. But one could as well say that C and C++ are merely syntactic sugar over assembly or machine language, and that there haven't been any advances since the basic von Neumann architecture. Nonetheless, 'sugar' matters for real productivity and reliability, including things like reliable data structures, type checking, and memory protection."

Actually, most system-level stuff, like compilers and drivers, are written in the C/C++ space, simply because that's the high level language family that gives generally the most efficient compiled code. Even language compilers "written in [the language]" are themselves compiled by a previous version of the language compiler that was wrtten in C/C++.

And C/C++ is not syntactic sugar for the very reason that it is a compiled, high level language family. It represents a distinct level of abastraction, whereas notionally distinct languages with compilers written in C/C++ (or traceable to a C/C++ compiler somewhere upstream) are really just window dressing designed to protect the programmer from the jagged edges of C/C++.

Yes, in that, they do have a definite value. But we have to realize that they are not advancing the state of the art as much as implementing conveniences for the programmer downstream. Working in C# as I do everyday, I certainly appreciate the conveniences that the language and associated .NET libraries provides me. But I never fool myself that these are anything new or amazing. They're just things that people have known about for years and have finally gotten around to implementing.

"Given the continuous stream of security holes related to buffer overflows and other bugs, I have trouble believing that the security and verifiability features of high level languages are unnecessary. But there's been bias toward time-to-product, and corner-cutting in costs, and quite a lot of conservatism and stodginess in software development, even at the same time as lots of enterprise buzzword fashion."

You've been reading too many maifestos written by hairy, foul-smelling basement troglodytes.

"'global warming is the same gun'

Funny how someone can be so big on Science and Analysis when it comes to space, but dismissive when it comes to the environment."


Single-stage-to-orbit and reusability in general have manifestly demonstrated themselves to be a pig in a poke, and I deprecate them. Global cooling was a hoax. I deprecate it. The population bomb was a hoax. I deprecate it. School is still out on anthropomorphic global warming, but it bears so much of the same DNA as global cooling and population that I take it into account.

See, it's not that I am particularly or even categorically dismissive of this, that, or the other thing. I've just seen too many flights of fancy in my life, both possitive and negative, to really give much credit to any cause anymore. In my experience, they all come a cropper in the end.

For example, SpaceX, which was going to make access to orbit cheaper and more reliable. Well, this week we've learned that they have to slip their next launch to ensure that all of the proper safety checks are completed. It also turns out that their (former astronaut) chief of astronaut safety quit sometime last month. I refuse to speculate why, except to point out the obvious coincidence. It seems that even Elon Musk can't circumvent real engineering and economics issues, no matter how much he wants to believe that he can.

Rick said...

On global warming et al - I certainly don't want to provoke a flame war on my own damn blog. But my views, and therefore RM's Official Position, FWIW:

Global cooling: I am old enough to remember this, but so far as I can recall it was never even remotely a matter of public policy or even much scientific debate - just a sort of urban legend among proto-geekdom. (It figures in a Clarke story or two.) I kinda sorta assumed there would be another Ice Age ... in 10,000 years or so.


The population bomb: This seemed like a rather legit concern around midcentury and a decade or two after. Populations were rising dramatically, and we had not yet observed that as mortality fell and economic levels rose, reproduction fell to more or less replacement level.

More recently there was some brouhaha about population decline in developed regions, but the latest indication points toward variation around replacement rate.


Global warming: See this old post.

Other things equal, if you add lots of CO2 to an atmosphere you will warm up the planet. This is a discovery we owe largely to space exploration - I can remember when we found out how hot Venus is.

Earth's very complex (and largely biogenic!) atmosphere may react in more complex ways. Or not. But anthropogenic global warming strikes me as the sensible baseline assumption.

Having said that, the discussion of global climate change, at least in 'Murrica, gets entangled with our cultural history of puritanism and general crankiness.

On the one hand you have people who have had a beef with science ever since Darwin came up with that old devil monkey theory. On the other hand you have the lineal intellectual descendents of the Puritans, who for the last few generations have generally enrolled in the Henry David Thoreau fan club. Thus they jump at any excuse to disapprove of hedonism in forms ranging from thick rare steaks (which I like) to SUVs (which I don't).


I rather approve of hedonism, on the whole, but that is another discussion!

Christopher Phoenix said...

"I hope that you had to look up the class of the Trek ship you quoted, and didn't just know it off the top of your head."-Tony

Don't worry- the DY-100 class is really the only Trek ship I know much about- and most of my knowledge is related to Paul Davies re-interpretation of DY-100 as it might have looked if NASA actually had built one. I suppose the S.S. Botany Bay would have carried genetically engineered frakenfood instead of supermen if we had actually launched her in the 1990's...

The submarine-like DY-100 fascinated me, especially after I saw Whinchell Chung's blender images of Paul Davies' interpretation of the ship. It looks like a ship we could actually build, and I really like the modular cargo containers.

Matt Jeffries' original sketches of an "antique tramp freighter" show modular cargo pods. He seems to have liked submarine-style spaceships and bizarre space drives. Project Rho's page on space submarines notes a connection between space subs, the NCC-1701's impulse drive, and the Dean Drive. It seems Matt Jeffries thought of the impulse drive as being some advanced space drive.

Frankly, I don't find the more "futuristic" NCC-1701 very interesting- it's just based on made up science. The later trek designs are really distasteful, in my mind. I haven't watched Trek past TOS- and while I don't mind Trek, some people's almost religious obsession can get frightening.

Byron- I've never heard of a "modular conveyer"- you might need help. (That's in jest, by the way...)

Modular cargo pods are an excellent idea. I expect that real cargo spaceships might do something like this in the future. Such containers work well on modern sea-going ships, after all. The DY-100 adds the twist that the cargo pods can also be livable space, hibernation chambers, or anything else. That's why I love the DY-100 class- it really has some interesting ideas in its design, unlike most other Trek designs.

I can imagine that such a design would grow naturally from the nuclear-powered space tugs NASA planned to deploy all the way up to a large interplanetary spaceship with a set of nuclear rockets and modular cargo pods.

Byron said...

Christopher:
I've never heard of a "modular conveyer"- you might need help. (That's in jest, by the way...)
It only appeared in TIE Fighter, which I played a couple times. And I haven't needed help for Star Wars for several years. This site, among others, cured me of most of that.

jollyreaper said...


On the one hand you have people who have had a beef with science ever since Darwin came up with that old devil monkey theory. On the other hand you have the lineal intellectual descendents of the Puritans, who for the last few generations have generally enrolled in the Henry David Thoreau fan club. Thus they jump at any excuse to disapprove of hedonism in forms ranging from thick rare steaks (which I like) to SUVs (which I don't).


You've got three competing human inclinations here.

Inclination 1: I don't like something, therefore I'm looking for facts to comport to my bias. I for one hate smoking and would do so even if it proved as benign as drinking water. That it causes cancer and death only makes it slightly more disgusting than it already is. While I tend to be a live and let live kind of guy, I have a real problem with the promotion of tobacco use and trying to rope more people in. In a world with advertising, I don't think we're really looking at free and informed choice here.

Inclination 2: People who like the way things are just fine and don't want to hear anything to challenge their world view. They could just be reflexively contrarian or they hear what's being proposed and don't like the implications so they feel vociferously condemning the findings will somehow make them not true. This would be the smoker who points to George Burns' longevity and says it's just a bunch of hippies and granola-eaters trying to tell him how to live his life.

You could also color those two narratives from the scifi perspective of "Gee, aren't humans neat?" vs. "Gee, aren't humans sinful bastards?" People predisposed to follow one point of view or the other don't want to hear anything to challenge that. And it is funny to see the parallels between agnostic or atheist SF writers with a "humans are bastards" bent and the religious types who hammer the same themes from the religious angle.

Inclination 3: Forget about what my prejudices are, what does the science tell me and I'll go from there?

It's rare to find people who can go with the third one.

Damien Sullivan said...

The idea that the abstraction of C, which is a step away from portable assembly language, is 'real' but that of Haskell, with function objects and closures and type inference and generic types, is just "syntactic sugar", is laughably parochial to me. Everything can count, or everything is sugar on the CMP and JMP of assembly language, which they all get reduced to.

"they are not advancing the state of the art as much as implementing conveniences for the programmer downstream"

C's just a convenience. There hasn't been an increase in raw theoretical power since the Turing machine.

"Languages have changed so little that if you know two syntactic paradigms -- C and BASIC -- you can manage to pick up the details of almost any programming language"

Actually those prepare you pretty poorly for thinking in the details of Lisp and its successors, Scheme and ML and Haskell, which latter two are fairly different from the former, and Haskell is in turn radically different from ML. Then there's Prolog in a whole different space of its own; there's a reason we have categories like imperative, object-oriented, declarative/logic, and functional programming. One imperative language is usually much like another, yes. Imperative dominates; whether this is because it's superior in inherent productivity, or because it has a self-reinforcing dominance in training, is another matter.

Damien Sullivan said...

"I've just seen too many flights of fancy in my life, both possitive and negative, to really give much credit to any cause anymore. "

Yeah, something endorsed by a near unanimity of climatologists is obviously so like the fancies of a handful of SF writers or the dubious business plans of a space startup.

jollyreaper said...


Yeah, something endorsed by a near unanimity of climatologists is obviously so like the fancies of a handful of SF writers or the dubious business plans of a space startup.


Put the right way, any idea can sound stupid but that doesn't mean that's really so.

And quite frankly, my gut instinct is to believe the side that doesn't have big business bankrolling supporters. I have a reflexive distrust of things that are advertised. If the oil companies and the GOP are telling me global warming isn't real and the scientists who abandoned big dollar careers in industry to work in academics are telling me otherwise, I'm inclined to believe the scientists.

That in itself proves nothing, of course. And few people here are qualified to interpret the data. In the absence of an ability to judge the data for ourselves, all we can do is judge the experts. And I don't trust big business.

Sadly, this is the case for pretty much all technical problems. You can go to your doctor and get a second opinion if you don't like what you hear but it comes down to trusting your impression of the person and how qualified they seem because you can't judge the tests for yourself.

Thucydides said...

Yeah, something endorsed by a near unanimity of climatologists is obviously so like the fancies of a handful of SF writers or the dubious business plans of a space startup.

Since Rick has already put out the warning, I will only point out that there is not "near unanimity"in the climate science community, nor the scientific community in general, nor in fact even if there was would it mean these people are correct, since science is based on examination and reexamination of the evidence rather than "consensus". (Just think about how we think about dinosaurs now compared to the pre 1980 "consensus they were slow, dull witted reptiles).

The efforts of the people promoting this viewpoint in hiding, suppressing and discouraging examination of their data should also be a warning flag as to their motivation, regardless of the validity of their hypothesis.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"The idea that the abstraction of C, which is a step away from portable assembly language, is 'real' but that of Haskell, with function objects and closures and type inference and generic types, is just 'syntactic sugar', is laughably parochial to me. Everything can count, or everything is sugar on the CMP and JMP of assembly language, which they all get reduced to."

I made a very careful explanation of my point, which you apparently failed to read. Please read this time:

All of the languages that people think are somehow superior to C/C++, or somehow different, are, these days, generally compiled by compilers written in C/C++ or runtime interpretted by interpreters written in C/C++. That's because its been a long, long time since anybody has actually hand-crafted a compiler in assembly language. Everybody has worked off of K&R C and its derivatives. Heck, the compilers class at my college used C++ as a language to write a C compiler.

WRT abstraction, C is not the original high level language -- that would be FORTRAN -- but it is pretty much the base high level language currently, on which much is built. Most of everything else is just an extension of its basic capability to address system resources using a natural language-like syntax.

"C's just a convenience. There hasn't been an increase in raw theoretical power since the Turing machine."

Just so.

"Actually those prepare you pretty poorly for thinking in the details of Lisp and its successors, Scheme and ML and Haskell, which latter two are fairly different from the former, and Haskell is in turn radically different from ML. Then there's Prolog in a whole different space of its own; there's a reason we have categories like imperative, object-oriented, declarative/logic, and functional programming. One imperative language is usually much like another, yes. Imperative dominates; whether this is because it's superior in inherent productivity, or because it has a self-reinforcing dominance in training, is another matter."

Oh brother.

"Object-oriented" is a paradigm for program organization. They were doing it in C with structs and functions long before languages had classes and methods as first class citizens. Yes, languages have been introduced that have tightly integrated object support, or in which everything is an object, but those are language design choices, not necessities for working with objects.

Likewise, functional programming is an organizational paradigm more than anything else. One can use it implicitly, as in Unix-style piplines. For example, "cat example.txt | grep pig" is always deterministic in the best functional sense (as long as the contents of example.txt are not changed, of course). It's also declarative; utilizes modular applications, written in imperative language, as functions; and redundant, because grep can read text files for itself. Functional facilities can be provided in otherwise imperative environments (i.e. LINQ). And, of course, functional programming can be enshrined in a language. But, just like object-orientation, it's a language design choice, not a fundamental principle that can only be expressed as a whole language.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Yeah, something endorsed by a near unanimity of climatologists is obviously so like the fancies of a handful of SF writers or the dubious business plans of a space startup."

Actually, pretty much, for one important reason -- AGW has become a movement, and in some ways a secular religion. IOW, it is a cause. I have learned in my life to be paranoically suspicious of causes.

On a more scientific level, the Earth has had a nitro-ox atmosphere for 2 billion years. In that scale space, data from the time of Christ is current weather.

Yet AGW touters insist that what has happened over the last 50 or 100 years is "climate", and insist they can point to the cause of any changes that can be detected. Simply put, there hasn't been a long enough data run of sufficiently comprehensive data to predict anything with any kind of reliability, or to attribute effects to causes.

Rick said...

I will stay out of the computer language argument, since my experience is overwhelming with C, and almost entirely amateur.

On AGW, I disagree with Tony's 'current weather' argument, but I can at least understand skepticism about causes in general. Having said that, like jollyreaper I also tend to deprecate arguments that are roughly equivalent to someone selling corn flakes.


More to the point ... I have long been a fan of modular cargo arrangements for spacecraft. I'd carry passengers the same way, except that the high desirability of spin for long-haul trips pushes toward spin hab structures.

I do tend to regard the whole payload section as distinct from what I call the drive bus - engine, tankage, etc.; everything that pushes the payload to its destination.

In space* there is no inherent reason for a 'hull' to physically contain either the payload or drive bus, though convenience might favor it in some cases.

* Excluding aero-anything, which means interacting with an atmosphere.

Thucydides said...

The only reason we don't have anything like the Space 1999 "Eagle" is there hasn't been enough demand for cargo shipping to make building anything like that worthwhile. Not that people haven't thought of it; I recall beautiful Robert McCall paintings of NERVA powered Lunar space tugs carrying stacks of containers shaped like flat drums or poker chips (and little work pods to stack and unstack them).

The idea of modular construction is almost certain to happen, although I suspect it will happen in ways that we don't expect. My guess is the scale of the modular units won't be the ISO shipping containers, but probably something a lot smaller, given that mass is the key issue in effective spaceflight. Perhaps the spacecraft bus will house modules of common size and built in common interfaces for quick assembly and checkout on the factory floor. This is essentially modularity for unmanned satellites, but perhaps can be extended to form a "Service Module" with the manned portion attached (or any larger instrument like a telescope optic).

Anonymous said...

I don't know enough about programing to comment on the relitive merits of C++ vs. Haskell so I'll leave it to the experts.

On Global Warming; what I opject to is the assertion that you are either a complete skeptic (and therefor deranged) of climate change in any way whatsoever, or you must subscribe to the notion that Global Climate Change is primarily driven by human activity (and by implication that it was started by humans); all I'll say about it is this; check out this site and then form your own opinions.
http://personals.galaxyinternet.net/tunga/OSGWD.htm

On the main point of modular spacecraft; most are, to some degree. I'll bet that a future man-capable spacecraft will have a mission module (or stack of them), a command/hab module, and a power/propulsion module; mix and match various module types to meet mission requirements. The only question would be how to name the resulting ship...

Ferrell

jollyreaper said...


More to the point ... I have long been a fan of modular cargo arrangements for spacecraft. I'd carry passengers the same way, except that the high desirability of spin for long-haul trips pushes toward spin hab structures.

I do tend to regard the whole payload section as distinct from what I call the drive bus - engine, tankage, etc.; everything that pushes the payload to its destination.


The only problem is that efficiency gets in the way of romance.

The old riverboats were a very romantic sort of thing, moving cargo and passengers up and down the river, chugging along Old Muddy. Did river traffic go away? Nope. We move more stuff on the rivers than ever before but we're doing it with barges and tugs. Efficient? Yes. Romantic? No.

Regardless of whether we're sticking with ultra-hard SF or include semi-hard FTL, I can't get around the idea of a typical starship being a spine with mount points for standard canisters.

The TIE Fighter games went a bit nuts with all the different models of modular carriers. I saw someone mentioned them above. They're pretty much an extrapolation of what we already do in the here and now. Nobody runs box cars on trains these days. You'll see 18 wheeler trailers loaded on flatbed cars. You'll see modular shipping containers from the container freighters fitted with wheels and hauled to their final destination by short-haul tractors.

Of course, by the time we actually build the starships, we might have advanced to the point where we've got rapid manufacturing down to an art and there's no comparative advantage to making widgets on the other side of the world. We might trade rare stock materials back and forth but everything we use is made within 20 miles of home. Making things by giant factory could seem as antiquated as making things by hand and scifi featuring mass-production goods is all zeerusty.

Geoffrey S H said...

There can be kinds of modules that might be optimal for a particular spacecraft, thus letting it retain a continuous shape and capabilities that romance and opera demands, but also allowing for it to get new capabilities- "new powers as the plot demands".
Of course, one could simply name the core module and have that be the spacecraft- the modules being extra stuff.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps modular cargo containers will be practical for small-scale "near-mid-future" space shipping, if indeed there is any such industry. However, I'm skeptical of their utility for the large-scale shipping in space most sci-fi authors envisage. Why? Mass.

The "typical" 1 TEU sea shipping container weighs about 5,000 lbs, empty, with a maximum cargo load of around 48,000 lbs. This means that there is roughly a pound of container mass for every ten pounds of cargo transported. On a planet, where you carry only fuel and the environment supplies propellant, this mass penalty is negligible compared to the efficiency gained in handling containerized cargo portside. In space, it's a heck of a penalty to pay where every gram counts. Especially if you're trying to lift them from a planetary surface.

Containers could be made from lighter and/or thinner materials, but would they then hold up to portside handling, shifting of goods under acceleration, etc?

Of course, you can reduce the relative mass penalty by making the containers bigger. But follow that trend to its logical conclusion and you end up with a bulk freigter with a handful of huge cargo holds rather than a container transport. Those holds might be detatchable, customizable modules, but they're not really containers, and they lack any of the associated handling benefits.

--Rumrunner

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

On modularity and names. In current practice bulk cargo doesn't go by containership - it goes by bulker. I would expect cargo payload options to vary likewise, from racks for fairly small 'standard' pods to big shells or tanks for bulk cargoes.

Also, conceptual modularity need not mean physical modularity. A drive bus is conceptually distinct from the cargo it pushes along. But there is a cost (even if modest) to providing connectors that disconnect readily. So if drive bus and payload housing are expected to stay together in service, it may be cheaper to 'permanently' bolt them together.

This could especially apply to passenger ships that combine a spin hab with a human-rated drive bus, even if the ship also has some clamps for express cargo.

Having said that, if ships are highly modular, names could attach to a service rather than particular structures, as in railroad practice. The Super Chief was defined by the timetable, not its physical consist. But high-status components could have their own names, as sleeping cars often did.

Geoffrey S H said...

If there is a small amount of them then they may be named as well as have numbers. Laserstar 342 may make sense, but the heavy warthrust Amethyst might be applicable if there only eight of such craft in a national space force- especially if there are only eight engine sections to attach modules to. makes it easier to remeber which is which and where.

Geoffrey S H said...

Anyways, to parhaps get closer to the origional topic, I would like to ask someone if they have any ideas concerning the future of air and sea travel that could be applied up to the end of the midfuture (i.e.: 500 years). We can all speculate on the replacemen for nuclear electric space engines, the nuclear thermal, etc, but what replaces the modern frigate or passenger liner? What could the imagination come up with that replaces that?

If you want to describe the earth at the dawn of the popular space faring era (assuming it takes place towards the second half of the PMF) in addition to your space shenanigans, you might need to think about this sort of thing.

Thucydides said...

For future air and sea travel. I would vote fpr beamed power as the primary means of transport in the PMF.

Ships and aircraft will be more flexible in design, and somewhat safer since they will carry little or no fuel (maybe a small amount for taxiing or to run the APU). This should also please the environmentalists, since the use of fuel will be minimalized or centralized in large, efficient plants which can afford to carry and run pollution control equipment. Better yet would be nuclear of orbital solar powerplants to supply beamed power.

The other plus is beamed power works for spaceships as well (especially in LEO and cis lunar space), so the PMF has the technology to support surface, air and space transportation.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"I would vote for beamed power as the primary means of transport in the PMF."

The beamed power would have to go via satellites, since planes and ships spend a lot of time out in the middle of nowhere with no line of sight to any ground installations. Earth's atmosphere is also prone to a lot more random phenomena that can eclipse your beam than outer space.

But I've never been a fan of beamed power to begin with.

If you can make small-scale fusion reactors, though, then nuclear-powered airplanes could make a resurgance.

But I think power isn't the most interesting concern here. Future vehicles will have the best available power source that can be economically fit on something their size, as adjusted for your preferred assumptions on future tech. But what about the rest of the vehicle design? Will the ratio of surface ships, submarines, and air vehicles change? What will war vehicles be armed with? Will we see suborbital passenger flights? Will there be giant humanoid walking machines? (Hint: probably not.)

Tony said...

I'd have serious reliability concerns about beamed power as applied to aircraft in-flight or surface vessels in-transit.

Geoffrey S H said...

They'd still need an auxiliary engine if the beam fails. Why not just have the enghine on each ship do the main work. Fuel isn't as massheavy as propellant for space craft. Unless oil prices rise ridiculously high and there's no cheaper fuel available, I wouldn't bet on a change from traditional engines. Of course, if satellite launches get any cheaper, then I might be willing to rethink, but at the moment I wouldn't put that until near the end of the pmf at best.

Semi-submersible freightors and trimaran craft though seem a good bet though for certain situations. Do you know if ther are any flaws with a trimaran design as opposed to a mono-hull Tony?

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

"Semi-submersible freightors and trimaran craft though seem a good bet though for certain situations. Do you know if ther are any flaws with a trimaran design as opposed to a mono-hull Tony?"

Trimarans offer superior stability at smaller scales, because it significantly increases the effective beam WRT the amplitude of sea waves. At larger scales, ships have a significantly different relationship with the water surface than smaller ones, thus they are naturally much more stable in any given sea state. Also, due to the square-cube relationship, trimaran hulls would add too much weight to the ship for the marginal stability increase. Finally, the larger cargo ships already challenge the available room in port facilities. Ports are very hard and expensive to expand.

WRT semi-submersibles, I really don't see the point. The ship is still in contact with the water surface. So it will still roll and pitch to a certain degree. Also, since most cargo is mostly air, one would have to add significant ballast water. That leads to using more fuel in bigger engines to push all of that ballast. It just doesn't make one whole heck of a lot of sense to me.

This leads me back to my favorite melody, the one that aggravates so many people. Technologies mature. When they mature, that's it. Maybe changes in allied technologies changes how artifacts are made and maybe even improves their durability, or marginally improves their performance. But a nail is still a nail, a gas-operated self-loading rifle is still a gas-operated self-loading rifle, and a subsonic jet aircraft is still a subsonic jet aircraft. If you can think of a viable technology to totally replace them in their tasks, okay. If you're trying to think about how they could be made significantly better at what they already do, it ain't happenining.

Tony said...

Hey, I'll actually say something of my own about the subject of the post.

I think I have to agree with those who say we'll have way cooler digital toys, but that gross technological artifacts are pretty much set for the foreseeable future, except for details where digital control enhance performance (e.g. anti-lock brakes). I think for some things we really have reached the limits of knowledge.

Byron said...

I think I have to agree with those who say we'll have way cooler digital toys, but that gross technological artifacts are pretty much set for the foreseeable future, except for details where digital control enhance performance (e.g. anti-lock brakes). I think for some things we really have reached the limits of knowledge.
I'm in limited agreement with this. I can't see us making drastic improvements in most areas of technology. At the same time, there is room for incremental improvement. Take airliners. Broadly, a modern 737 (or what have you) looks like a 707, and performs similarly. However, it's cheaper to operate, easier to maintain, and more fuel-efficient. Admittedly, those aren't core technologies, but it has gotten better. And while we may spend more time looking for smaller gains, it's never going to be complete.
The thing is that I'm not sure how far into the incremental improvement cycle boosters are. We'll have to see how SpaceX does.

Tony said...

Byron:

"The thing is that I'm not sure how far into the incremental improvement cycle boosters are. We'll have to see how SpaceX does."

The answer to that is that SpaceX will never improve rocketry in material terms. Their business model is based on conservative engineering at the lowest possible cost. And at that they may find themselves, as they become more successful and settled-in, refusing to take the risks they did under startup capital. Meaning they may not even present a price advantage ten years down the road. (And they may already have an internal conflict over safety vs cost, given the recent resignation of the astronaut safety chief.)

Thucydides said...

The putative advantage of beamed power isn't so much mass and wieght of fuel, but rather the ability of the central powerplant to be much more efficient in the use of fuel and in pollution control by using technologies that might not be practical to carry aboard an aircraft or ship. If we are not using fossil fuels, then whatever powerplant you are using should gain efficiency over smaller ship and aircraft sized systems through economies of scale.

If you follow the work of Leik Myrabo, his thought is that beam powered aircraft would not resemble today's airplanes, and would have different flight regimes. Indeed, his "lightcraft" have more in common with rockets flying ballistic paths than 747's cruising at a set altitude for most of their flight path. Given the easy evolution from beamed flight to beamed rockets, this fit a Rocketpunk PMF very nicely.

Since the question was a pretty open speculation of how people on Earth would get around in a PMF, YMMV.

Tony said...

One has to balance the putative efficiency and emissions advantage of centralized power generation with the cost of transmission losses and redundancies built into the system for the sake of safety and reliability.

Also, I'm not sure that very many people would be sanguine about bouncing aroundthe planet ballistically in the functional equivalent of large, economy size artillery shells. Aside from the public acceptance aspect, ballistic flight is pretty energy intensive.

Byron said...

Tony:
The answer to that is that SpaceX will never improve rocketry in material terms. Their business model is based on conservative engineering at the lowest possible cost. And at that they may find themselves, as they become more successful and settled-in, refusing to take the risks they did under startup capital. Meaning they may not even present a price advantage ten years down the road.
I'm not sure I'd say that. While factor of ten is sort of out there, they did start with a blank piece of paper, and there are lots of peripherals that can be improved. There was a very interesting article in Air and Space a few months back about them.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I'm not sure I'd say that. While factor of ten is sort of out there, they did start with a blank piece of paper, and there are lots of peripherals that can be improved. There was a very interesting article in Air and Space a few months back about them."

Yes, they started with a blank sheet. But they have only so much to work with if they're going to remain conservative in their engineering. And the big cost of a launch vehicle system is not so much the hardware and other consumables. It's the ground infrastructure, reliability and safety engineering, andthings like that. SpaceX skimpedo n those as a startup company. Now that they're going to be flying revenue cargoes and people, they'll have to put on the cost-savings brakes and start acting like aresponsible aeorspace company.

IOW, it was all smoke and mirrors, based on the claim that a profitable major player could be run like a startup. Bull.

Geoffrey S H said...

@ Tony:

I agree. TBH, I see watercraft staying the same for a few centuries at least. The ship of the line laster roughly from 1500 to 1880. Cargo transport changed cosmetically but little else.
In my little thought experiment on this, I kept things the same until the 2600's. Then I tried to replace things totally. Most importantly, I tried to make things so that any new technology would be easily to implement. If there are semi-submersibles, then they are there because construction materials are good enough and technologies to keep them under the water and away from the worst of a storm do not have too many bad-side effects. None of this "revenue returns will balance costruction costs out" like one sees with some Zubrinist fanatics on bringing space launch costs down. The setting I thought up did extend into the year 3000 though so I did feel obliged to change a few things by the end.
If none of those are there then we'll still have what we have now.


So far as digital stuff goes, I predict alot of it will be so unobtrusive to be virtually invisible in 500's years' time. USb's (or what ever replaces them) will be clunkier though- some are so small as to be rediculously difficult to hold right now.

@ Thucydides:

As to beamed power, why would someone want to get in a craft with little capability of manourving itself? Don't say trains are like that- they are safe ion the ground. A light craft would be in big trouble if the power went off or a fault developed- parachute or no parachute.

Anonymous said...

Air and sea travel in the PMF will outwardly look basicly the same as now: but look under the hood and you'll see some differences; fuel made from algae, high-strength-low-cost-low-weight composits, better electronic controls, new hardware components that improve single aspect performance...an multitude of little things that add up to better performance overall. Nothing revolutionary, but a big surge in evolution. The only radical (in a retro type of way) change in air travel will probably be a renewal of airships for passenger and cargo transport. These new airships will incorporate a host of new technologies to make them safer, more effective, and (if they catch on), profitable than the previous generation of airships were.

Ferrell

Damien Sullivan said...

I'm not sure airships have any non-niche role. From what I've seen, they're about as energy-consuming as an airplane, while being a lot slower. Yes, they're much more efficient at hovering, but if you want to go places than pushing all that air aside will cost you.

I too would expect very familiar transportation infrastructure, though in the long run running on atmospheric synfuels. It'd be nice if we got suborbital hoppers for long journeys, beamed power or otherwise, but I won't bet much on it. I would bet on a growing emphasis on electrified public transportation and high speed rail.

I wonder if an older population would start demanding more safety features, in the direction of Niven's "Safe at Any Speed".

Byron said...

Why did you have to bring up airships? I seriously doubt that they will catch on, despite the continued predictions of their fanatics. That's not to say that we won't see more in niche roles, but for passenger transport, airships are expensive, hard to handle on the ground, and vulnerable to weather, just to name a few. Not to mention slow.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



So what kind of niche roles would they work for?

Michael said...

As a guy who thinks airships are neat, but rather not a fanatic, the big thing airships bring to the table are low infrastructure requirements. They don't need runways, but can carry decent cargo sizes. That makes them pretty useful for areas that are difficult for infrastructure development.

Tony said...

Michael:

"As a guy who thinks airships are neat, but rather not a fanatic, the big thing airships bring to the table are low infrastructure requirements. They don't need runways, but can carry decent cargo sizes. That makes them pretty useful for areas that are difficult for infrastructure development."

Infrastructure development begins with roads, not air transport facilities.

Thucydides said...

Anyone who thinks airships don't have infrastructure requirments needs to Google images of the airship hangers in New Jersy and California; they are some of the largest man made structures ever built.

WRT PMF transport which isn't just a minor tweak of today's transport, the only other one that comes to mind is maglev or "gravity" trains running in evacuated tubes. The theoretical top speed is actually orbital velocity from point A to B, but for practical reasons we won't be going at more than a fraction of that speed. Still, even running trains at airline speeds would fill several nices in the transport picture.

Whatever you might think of SpaceX, they have certainly taken a hard stand; it will be a bit difficult to tell everyone you can launch for $50 million then after the contract is signed say "oh, by the way...."

Damien Sullivan said...

AIUI airships need big ground crews. And large hangars if you want them out of the weather.

Niche roles:
people keep talking about using them to send cargo to remote locations, so I won't rule that out, though I don't know if they're really better than building a road or clearing an crude airstrip for a robust plane.

Possibly slow aerial transport of large bulky cargo.

I'm fairly surprised that we don't have cruise airships, analogous to cruise ships. They do after all get to hover and linger and go slowly.

Could have a comm-sat like role.

But for general transportation? If they're as energy consuming as planes, but 5x slower, or as fast as trains (or slower, in a world of high speed rail) but using far more energy, it's hard to see any mainstream use for them. They keep getting invoked for the post peak oil future but don't seem to actually be suited for that role.

Byron said...

Milo:

So what kind of niche roles would they work for?


The one that immediately comes to mind is surveillance and remote sensing work. High speed isn't needed, and endurance is important. The downside is that it's neither fast (long-range stuff is out), stealthy (no covert monitoring) nor survivable (which defeats lots of fun military uses). And it doesn't have to be manned for these.

Cargo lift is something that I want to see before I start believing. The problem is that, besides the aforementioned infrastructure, lots of undeveloped places have bad weather. Which airships cope with very, very poorly. The idea is good, but for a reasonable lift capacity, an airship needs to be large, and that makes it expensive.
Plus, helicopters seem to do fine for most uses, and the development is already paid for. And an Mi-26 has about the lift capacity of a C-130, which is more then enough for most loads.

Thucydides said...

Geoffrey S H

As far as the ability to manouvre, beam powered vehicles would probably be following a known flight path just like current aircraft. IF there was a need for free flight, then the beam would probably be more of a "cruise" mode to get you to and from the scene of the action. Assuming there is a need or desire to have the vehicle powered by the beam at all times, then there would have to be some sort of "handshake" or cooperative targeting between the beam source and receiver. (This isn't as hard as it might sound, model helicopters demonstrated the principle of flying from the energy of a microwave beam in 1964). And of course the most likely safety feature of all would be the ship needs to have a handshake from two separate power beam sources.

Other safety features would be installed just like the ones we have in commercial aircraft today (few people worry about the lack of parachutes on their Westjet flight), but since the question is about PMF travel, I suspect people would adapt to conditions the way they did to other forms of travel should beamed propulsion become an option.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"...I suspect people would adapt to conditions the way they did to other forms of travel should beamed propulsion become an option."

That's just it -- it doesn't seem likely that beam power could ever be made reliable enough over hundreds or thousands of miles to ever make it reliable enough to even think about putting cargo, much less people, at risk. It's not like the internet, where if you drop a few packets, you can always ask for a resend.

Anonymous said...

Large freight-carrying ground-effect vehicles might be developed for long-distance sea journeys, since they would theoretically have greater fuel efficiency than conventional planes, while combining their speed with cargo capacity more like a ship's.

R.C.

Tony said...

R.C.:

"Large freight-carrying ground-effect vehicles might be developed for long-distance sea journeys, since they would theoretically have greater fuel efficiency than conventional planes, while combining their speed with cargo capacity more like a ship's."

I'm just not seeing the requirement. Taking the North Atlantic as an example, what cargo does a receiver need in two days that he can't afford to wait six to eight days for? And if he needs it in two days, why not pay for it to be flown over in one. Also, counting all of the origination and destination processing and shipping that doesn't involve actually crossing the ocean, the difference between ground effect vehicles and displacement ships would be more like four to six days vs eight to twelve days.

Thucydides said...

Power beaming may or may not be to everyone's taste, but since the question was how things might work in the PMF, it is an option, and one of the few ones that does not involve refining existing technologies or reviving extinct ones.

If nuclear fusion were to be perfected in the conventional form, we would see fusion reactors the size of sports stadiums (ITER is supposed to be a scale model of a working fusion reactor), so the idea of portable power in that scenario devolves to conventional chemical energy. IF there is a concerted push by "greens" to limit or ban conventional fossil fueled engines, then a beamed energy scenario might make economic sense, so scenario writers can use that as a starting point.

Like I said, YMMV

Rick said...

Beamed power for terrestrial vehicles has one other problem. I'm not sure of the exact constraints, but the beam can't be much wider than the receiver, meaning multi-megawatt beams no more than a few dozen meters wide max.

Not quite weapon intensity, but waaay too intense to be safe!

I suspect that midfuture jetliners will look pretty much like ours, though there could be a few surprising changes in details, such as nano strips for flaps.

(Or not. Swing wings were the wave of the future, until it turned out they weren't worth the complexity and weight.)

The age of sail is a good comparison. In outward appearance, ships changed dramatically from 1400 to 1500, quite a lot from 1500 to 1600, less from 1600 to 1700, and only rather subtly from 1700 to 1800.

Geoffrey S H said...

Some fanastical and some more grounded ideas in this vieo. Make of it what you will.

http://port2060.cargotec.com/

2060 is supposed to be a restrained time for all this developing according to the narrator. I'd say 100 years at the very least.

Thucydides said...

PMF and Beyond:

http://www.futuretimeline.net/index.htm

http://blog.longnow.org

Speculation from outside our little circle of fun.

Tony said...

http://www.futuretimeline.net/index.htm

21st century

An increasingly globalised humanity is faced with climate change,
dwindling resources, overpopulation and technological upheaval.

22nd century

Diverging paths for humans and transhumans, as conditions on Earth continue to deteriorate.

23rd century

Humanity spreads throughout the local stellar neighbourhood,
as Earth is restored to its former beauty.

The Far Future

Post-biological humanity begins to spread throughout the Galaxy, transforming dead worlds into computational substrates.


Gee, that takes a lot of imagination...

Tony said...

Oh, and by the above, I don't mean that its obvious. I mean that it's a recapitulation of all of the trendy things to predict. Meh.

jollyreaper said...

The forum spammers are getting so annoying. Is there any way to block them?

Rick said...

Re forum spammers - are you talking about the email messages? Blogger does a pretty good job of blocking spam from the actual online threads.

(Though they must hate Milo's Internet provider - I'm always having to let his posts out of spam jail, though they lack even superficial indicators like links.)

I don't know if I can do anything about the email copies of spam posts, though.

Thucydides said...

It isn't too often the real world intersects with this blog (grin), but Speaker Gingrich reviving his proposal to have a Moonbase erected by 2020 through the use of prize based incentives certainly qualifies.

Regardless of what you think of the proposal, Speaker Gingrich or his chances of ever becoming President and putting the plan into action, this has caused a lot of excited buzz throughout the blogosphere. Even Canadian blogs with little connection to space have commented on it, and I imagine space oriented blogs around the world have picked up on this as well.

If anything it shows that "Black Swan" events (or the "unknown unknowns" of Donald Rumsfeld fame) can exert influence when and where you least expect it. A large number of people have been exposed to the idea, a certain percentage are now excited about it, and an even smaller percentage are probably thinking about how this is done (the X prize was created by a private foundation, after all). Perhaps there is a critical mass of people created now, that will strike out on their own, with unknowable consequences.

Tony said...

Congress would never vote the money for a prize program and no private company or companies is going to put billions up to encentivize a stunt. A few million, sure. Write it off as an advertising expense, under "Corporate Image". But the tens of billions it would take to reward a Moon base program sufficiently? Not happening.

Rick said...

I cheerfully exploited the advantages of having a blog to post on Newt's Lunar Pander.

Brett said...

A couple of things about the PMF:

1. I tend to agree with Ray McVay, in thinking that Augmented Reality will tend to "personalize" our surroundings. In fact, I'd go further and say that our descendants will likely live in a kind of "animated reality" of interactive computers (think of Siri's descendents) and personalized visuals/sensations/advertising that can be projected right to them and only them. It would almost be "magical", like how our ancestors tended to believe in an "animated world" filled with spirits, ghosts, and magical creatures.

I actually have this mental image of a late 21st century girl walking past what would look like a completely bland, non-descript white building to us. But what she sees through her eye implants is a world of brilliant colors and personalized images, with all the interactive A.I.s chirping "hello!" as she walks down the side-walk.

2. We could potentially end up in a situation where the cost of extracting and processing the natural resources used in manufactured goods makes up the majority of the cost of making consumer goods. That might be an incentive to do asteroid mining, but I think it would more likely lead to an insanely developed recycling industry, one that recycles almost everything (not just aluminum).

I'm not convinced this would lead to fewer, more durable consumer goods. In fact, it could lead to an even more "throw-away" economy. Imagine a world where people buy dirt-cheap, customized clothing for a week that's spun out by the local 3D Print Shop, then dump the clothing out for the Recyclers at the end of the week to get new clothing. That's what has happened so far in the US - higher income and cheaper prices often mean that we spend more, consume more, and waste more.

3. We could end up with a society heavily stratified by wealth . . . but I'm not sure as to what exactly it would buy the super-wealthy. I suppose the main thing they could buy would be human services, such as servants, adult services, real-life entertainers, and so forth. The predominantly Service Economy of this future might be rather interesting looking.

4. Someone brought up the "emptiness" of Hedonism and that this causes depression and dissatisfaction, but I'd argue that we're just not good enough at it yet. There have been experiments stimulating the pleasure centers of monkeys' brains. What if in the PMF, you could get an implant that periodically stokes the pleasure centers of your brains, keeping you in a generally happy, up-beat mood most of the time? I don't think people would be complaining about the "emptiness" of their lives.

5. Games and virtual reality are a big question mark. Depending on how good they are in an Augmented Reality sense, they could displace a lot of the normal luxury consumption and mollify extreme income inequalities. People might not care much about the fact that they're relatively poor, as long as they can get all the sensations they want.

jollyreaper said...


I actually have this mental image of a late 21st century girl walking past what would look like a completely bland, non-descript white building to us. But what she sees through her eye implants is a world of brilliant colors and personalized images, with all the interactive A.I.s chirping "hello!" as she walks down the side-walk.


There's a video showing exactly that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbn5p56vvps

Girl discovers a mysterious thing that opens her doors of perception a little too wide. The color of madness.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Brett:

"I'm not convinced this would lead to fewer, more durable consumer goods. In fact, it could lead to an even more "throw-away" economy. Imagine a world where people buy dirt-cheap, customized clothing for a week that's spun out by the local 3D Print Shop, then dump the clothing out for the Recyclers at the end of the week to get new clothing."

There is an inevitable overhead to recycling. Even with good recycling techniques, the more frequently you recycle something, the faster the material will degrade. Eventually it will still need to be replaced.


"What if in the PMF, you could get an implant that periodically stokes the pleasure centers of your brains, keeping you in a generally happy, up-beat mood most of the time?"

We can do that already. Using drugs.

jollyreaper said...


"What if in the PMF, you could get an implant that periodically stokes the pleasure centers of your brains, keeping you in a generally happy, up-beat mood most of the time?"

We can do that already. Using drugs.


Far short of what would be theoretically possible. Theoretically we should be able to do complete mood synthesis. If we run with the notion that consciousness arises from the physical structure of the brain and everything that makes us us then if we have mastery over the brain we could induce whatever state we desire. Right now we're still trying to do needlepoint with a croquet mallet. Our drugs are terribly unsophisticated.

Tony said...

"[M]ood synthesis", huh? If ever a tyrant had that kind of lever to move the world...

jollyreaper said...

"[M]ood synthesis", huh? If ever a tyrant had that kind of lever to move the world...


That's what public relations is about. Take it a few steps further. A happy populace is a sedated populace.

The urge is already there in authoritarian governments. Painfully awkward and unsuccessful attempts have been made but the goals were never attained in practice. Brainwashing is far more the stuff of scifi than reality. But you have to wonder at the possibilities, given time and technology. Ingsoc wanted to remove the ability to even consider disloyalty to the state.

That's one of the logical outcomes usually overlooked in fantasy stories that feature such things as love potions. If you have a perfect drug for altering someone's mental state, just how far can you take it? Can you remove memories of unpersons? Can you instill loyalty to a leader? Suicidal fervor in your soldiers? Turn an enemy's closest friends against them with a single drought of potion? How can you detect whether someone has been dosed? How can you be sure you yourself haven't been?

jollyreaper said...

Re forum spammers - are you talking about the email messages? Blogger does a pretty good job of blocking spam from the actual online threads.

(Though they must hate Milo's Internet provider - I'm always having to let his posts out of spam jail, though they lack even superficial indicators like links.)

I don't know if I can do anything about the email copies of spam posts, though.


They may be blocked online but half the posts I get relayed via email are spam. Gotta say, not feeling the love for my fellow man at this point. Thinking the shark pit could use a little action.

Rick said...

the more frequently you recycle something, the faster the material will degrade.

Is this true even at the level of basic raw commodities? Atoms don't degrade (well, except for radioactive ones!).

'Deep' recycling takes energy, but solar energy, direct or indirect, should end up being relatively cheap, even if not quite as cheap as oil was in its cheapest days.


Regarding spam comments, so far as I can tell there is no way to keep them from showing up in email - short of going to comment moderation. Which I'm reluctant to do unless readers would generally prefer it.

Comments on comments?

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Atoms don't degrade (well, except for radioactive ones!)."

No, but they can get lost. Anytime you work on something, some metaphorical "sawdust" is going to get scattered around too thinly to be worth salvaging.

Furthermore, a significant part of a chemical's value lies in its bonds, not just the atoms it's made of, and this situation will continue to pertain as long as we don't have a post-scarcity economy. It is especially true for organic materials (including plastics).

The effect is weakest on materials that actually are monoatomic, like metals, but weakest does not mean nonexistant (with weekly recycling, it's bound to add up eventually), and even then, those materials are only a small portion of all consumer goods.

Anonymous said...

I like the site as is...warts and all.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Milo:

"No, but they can get lost. Anytime you work on something, some metaphorical "sawdust" is going to get scattered around too thinly to be worth salvaging."

Hardly metaphorical. Any dynamic system leaks. Even if the "sawdust" is on the atomic level, it's real enough.

Taking aluminum recycling for example, a little bit of metal gets tossed when skimming impurities off of the top. A little bit of metal sticks to the crucible. Even a (very tiny) bit of metal escapes as gas from the surface of the melt. All of this could theoretically be recovered, but not at a practical cost.

WRT where the energy is going to come from in the future, we'll eventually have to learn how to collect huge amounts of solar energy in relatively efficient ways. All energy is solar to begin with. Fossil fuels are highly concentrated, relatively easy to use solar energy. They gave us a window of opportunity to develop our methods of concentrating and using solar energy directly. But that window will close, and we'll need solar to work in much bigger and more affordable ways than it does now.

Of course, the decreasing availability of fossil fuels will eventually make solar economically competitive. But we have to be ready to use it when that time comes. I think we're a good deal of the way there, but I wonder what kind of energy crisis we're going to have when crunch time comes...

jollyreaper said...

Dismalists will say that our window of opportunity has opened and closed. We are at the end of the brief bubble of prosperity and Malthus is getting back in the driver's seat.

The optimists will say that this is nonsense, we have enough fossil fuels, don't worry about anything, drive happy.

I think the optimists are smoking some serious dope. I hope the dismalists are being a little too gloomy. What I'd hope for is a softer landing. More expensive energy balanced out by less waste, smarter engineering. Reversing a lot of the terminal stupidity such as suburbs, car culture, wasteful living. But to navigate the decline will require the kind of leadership and intelligence and vision that our political system is incapable of producing.

Not meaning to go Godwin but I'm thinking back to descriptions of how utterly inadequate to the crisis at hand the traditional German parties were in the '30's. They were completely irrelevant. I'm not saying we're due for another Hitler, just that I think we're approaching a crisis point where we could see the collapse of a major party in this country. We haven't seen a party turnover since the slavery crisis.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I think the optimists are smoking some serious dope. I hope the dismalists are being a little too gloomy. What I'd hope for is a softer landing. More expensive energy balanced out by less waste, smarter engineering. Reversing a lot of the terminal stupidity such as suburbs, car culture, wasteful living. But to navigate the decline will require the kind of leadership and intelligence and vision that our political system is incapable of producing."

Our current economic dynamism is built on high social and physical mobility as much as it is a cause of it. We had better hope we don't have to abandon it, or we won't have the flexibility necessary to manage the transition to solar (in all its direct and indirect forms).

"Not meaning to go Godwin but I'm thinking back to descriptions of how utterly inadequate to the crisis at hand the traditional German parties were in the '30's. They were completely irrelevant. I'm not saying we're due for another Hitler, just that I think we're approaching a crisis point where we could see the collapse of a major party in this country. We haven't seen a party turnover since the slavery crisis."

But it did take a civil war for the Republicans to replace the Whigs.

And I think that you're personal prejudices make you start at shadows that are projections of much different shaped realities.

Rick said...

Of course, the decreasing availability of fossil fuels will eventually make solar economically competitive. But we have to be ready to use it when that time comes

Which (IMHO) is very good reason to support the relevant techs as a matter of policy, so that an ample toolkit is available, rather than depending entirely on market imperatives. (Remember that the Internet was available before it became profitable!)

And I don't see any reason why mobility should be seriously constrained, even if the typical car of 2112 is more like a Cooper Mini descendant than a Hummer descendant. And the overall mix is heavier on trains, lighter on cars and airliners.

jollyreaper said...

the typical car of 2112

Gleaming, alloy, two lanes wide. Just sayin'.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Which (IMHO) is very good reason to support the relevant techs as a matter of policy, so that an ample toolkit is available, rather than depending entirely on market imperatives. (Remember that the Internet was available before it became profitable!)"

I don't have a philosophical problem with that. But the problem with the analogy is that the internet was first developed to solve a specific military command and control problem (how to route around knocked-out command and control nodes in a nuclear war), grew organically outward from the various institutions that developed it, then serendipitously -- and by accalmation rather than plan -- acquired a standard (http/html) for explosive penetration into every possible niche, in a world of rapidly multiplying and mutating niches. IOW, there was no plan, and couldn't have been.

So, for practical purposes, how does one decide what solar technologies should be developed, which ones are economically viable, and what applications they will have to support? It's become painfully obvious that scattershooting direct funding and loan guarantees at commercial companies for various philosophical and political reasons ain't gonna work. So how do we decide, without locking ourselves into technological product cycles that hinder us more than help us? That's why I think there will be a crisis while all these things sort out, and, more philosophically, maybe there has to be a crisis for humans to work these kinds of things out.

"And I don't see any reason why mobility should be seriously constrained, even if the typical car of 2112 is more like a Cooper Mini descendant than a Hummer descendant. And the overall mix is heavier on trains, lighter on cars and airliners."

Unnnhhh...I seem to want to disagree with the bolded text above, but I logically can't. I guess the SoCal boy in me just wants the unrestricted freedom of the road.

What's really funny is that it used to be a bit of conventional wisdom that the railroads lost out with the coming of the automobile and the airlines because they forgot that they thought they were in the railroad business, rather than the transportation business. (As if steam navigation companies, which were often commercially and legally at odds with railroads, weren't in the transportation business as well.) It may be that sticking to their knitting was the smartest thing all along, in the long run.

jollyreaper:

"Gleaming, alloy, two lanes wide. Just sayin'."

I saw what you did there.


Bet you didn't hear about that on FM radio in the early 80s, however.

Tony said...

Just so nobody takes anything too personal, the above was meant to end with:

[SnobAppealMoment]
Bet you didn't hear about that on FM radio in the early 80s, however.
[/SnobAppealMoment]

(I forgot Blogger eats non-standard HTML tags.)

jollyreaper said...

My opinion about cars is similar to my opinion about tobacco. I intensely dislike tobacco as a matter of aesthetics and wouldn't be a fan even if the health effects were completely benign. That it's also terrible for you is simply one more reason not to like it.

I find car culture distasteful and wouldn't like it if it were perfectly sustainable. I wouldn't have any argument against it aside from aesthetics, of course. But given that it's unsustainable and ruinous to our environment and quality of life, I'm not simply going by prejudices.

There have been some very sound arguments made about how "happy motoring" is a state of mind and those of us who grew up in suburbia have a very difficult time seeing it with the same eyes as our parents and grandparents who flocked to it. It's akin to a sort of religious idealism. Your invocation of "the unrestricted freedom of the open road" is exactly the sort of thing that made it seem like something to aspire to.

I dislike car culture because everything gets too spread out. It's cheaper for developers to build out than build up and so everyone else is stuck carrying the cost of living this way. But most people don't even feel "stuck." Getting your first car is one of the few rites of passage we have left in this country. Everyone wants to own their own home, have their own castle.

The question now isn't whether or not we should have suburbia but whether or not it can be sustained and I don't think it can be, not with the rise in the price of energy, the lack of capital to maintain the sprawling infrastructure and the lack of jobs to create a tax base to pay for all of this.

The doomiest of the doom and gloomers are saying we should look at a 19th century scale of living. I don't know about that but barring any kind of cheap energy revolution, I think that car culture as we know it is going to be on the way out. As to what kind of time scale, hard to say. But it just doesn't seem in any way sustainable.

Bet you didn't hear about that on FM radio in the early 80s, however.


Audio cassette. Can you believe it? "What's an audio cassette, old man?" It's like a VHS tape for your ipod except we called them walkmans. "What's a VHS tape?" It's like a DVD that sucked more. "What's a DVD?" Physical media. "What's physical media?" lol

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

I can see why the Huns/Mongols had a hard time living with city-dwellers, aside from wanting their resources. A lot of people find cities soul-deadening. Living in crowded, built-up areas is just not how many humans desire to exist. Building suburban homes is no cheaper than building appartments. People wanted to move out of the city. Nobody forced them.

People who like cities are not in the majority of anybody I know, and I used to live in one of the biggest metropolitan areas of the world. They think they're hip, or preserving some kind of special urban culture, or saving the majority of the planet from man's suburban sprawl. IMO their really just misguided.

Damien Sullivan said...

I live in cities. "Freedom of the open road" looks like "rush hour gridlock" and "circling for ever for parking" to me.

How to pick technologies? We could let markets do it -- markets with suitable corrective pricing from the government for externalities. A stiff fee-and-dividend system, leveling high pollution fees on fossil fuel, and returning that cost per capita. So people initially have the money to pay high prices, but also have the high prices to incentivize saving. Instead of picking who to subsidize, you make up for the implicit subsidies of fossil fuels.

That said, renewables are capital-intensive compared to fossil fuels, and government has low borrowing costs, so there's a legitimate role for direct involvement as well. At some point the difference in profitability of a solar plant will depend entirely on whether the financing is public or private. And of course basic research is a public good. (I've read the government spend 10x as much on fusion as on solar and battery research, which seems a poor bet, especially when the numbers are like $600M and $60M. Granted, those are good enough that private research has a toe in as well.)

Republicans had already replaced the Whigs when the Slavers' Rebellion happened, I think. Whigs didn't even have a candidate in 1860.

Coincidentally, I have a comment summing up comments elsewhere, suggesting 1950s energy standard is more defensible:
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/#comment-3469
I.e. solar electricity is already cheaper than 1947 electricity, and we could synthesize ammonia for less than in 1955.

Damien Sullivan said...

"People wanted to move out of the city. Nobody forced them."

Well, in the US there's also that whole white flight thing, running away from the terrors of school integration.

In the UK, central London seemed quite lively, and I got the impression housing projects and estates are more to the edge. Ditto Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid...

I know plenty of people who genuinely like cities, thank you very much.

Thucydides said...

Railroads, busses and even ships to a certain extent are constrained by their "point to point" nature. Since they have economies of scale, it is much better for the operator to increase volume on routes, cut down on way points to whatever extent possible and pack as much "stuff" into the vehicle to amortize his/her expenses.

Sucks if you want or need to get off somewhere else, or your appointment isn't near a time when the train/bus etc. is running. (Where I live, the local bus arrives at the neighbourhood starting at 0900hr local and finishes its run at 1700hr local; a massive waste of resources since people are already at work by 0900 and usually are leaving work at 1700).

That is the real reason that automobile technology took off so fast and is so deeply embedded in the culture; it provides options and freedom that trains etc. do not. You can bet a lot of time and energy will be spent chasing market incentives to continue to build and sell automobiles (I use the term automobile in this case because they might not end up being cars in the way we understand them).

Damien Sullivan said...

"Where I live, the local bus arrives at the neighbourhood starting at 0900hr local and finishes its run at 1700hr local"

That is indeed a massively sucky bus system. But that's not intrinsic.

Cars also took off with a lot of government help, like the interstate highway system, and GI Bill, and support for sprawl (business parking requirements, for one), and of course subsidized gasoline.

Not everyone can drive, so it's not universal freedom.

jollyreaper said...

Street car lines helped create suburbs in some cities. The lines were built, the housing followed.

The flawed comparison is for people to go "poo on mass transit, it never pays for itself, it's subsidized by the government" because that is EXACTLY the situation the automobile is in. Drivers do not pay for themselves with usage-based taxes. If I'm a working, taxpaying citizen who bikes or walks everywhere I go, I'm still paying for the Team America global police force to secure oil for the drivers. And the stores I shop in are serviced by semi-tractors that drive on roads and burn diesel and are part of the oil economy.

There's massive government subsidies to make the driving economy a reality. So it's a completely unfair position to say that car culture pays for itself. it manifestly doesn't.

Per above, freedom of the open road vs. gridlock, that's exactly right. Car ads show vehicles driving on empty coastal highways or tearing up scenic offroad vistas. They don't show you stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405.

It's incredibly telling to go from South Florida (total car culture) to Boston. While there's a lot of dying infrastructure and too many cars, people in the city center do a lot of walking. Even with our shitty, poisonous diet, there are less horrendously fat people there than in South Florida. Walking helps.

Some doctors will equate a terribly sedentary lifestyle with being just as bad for you as smoking. Sit at a desk, get in a car, drive home to sit in front of a TV and sleep, it's lethal. Humans didn't evolve to thrive in this kind of environment. Sea slugs would be more suited to it.

Damien Sullivan said...

Oh yeah, I grew up in a streetcar suburb of Chicago. Streetcars were gone, but the L came out to us.

Apparently insofar as cars ever did pay for their roads, this is decreasingly the case. Federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993, and is 2/3 the value then due to inflation. And the car fleet is getting more economical -- but still chewing up the road as much. Highway Trust Fund is headed to insolvency.
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/02/why-your-prius-will-bankrupt-our-highways/252397/

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"I live in cities. 'Freedom of the open road' looks like 'rush hour gridlock' and 'circling for ever for parking' to me."

As opposed to queueing for subways, waiting on the bus, and having to leave the ballgame early in order to catch the last train?

"How to pick technologies? We could let markets do it...Instead of picking who to subsidize, you make up for the implicit subsidies of fossil fuels."

There's no guarantee -- in fact little likelihood -- that markets would pick the right long-term technologies. You're just artificially inflating the cost of energy, incentivising anybody who can get under an arbitrarily elevated maximum competitive price per kw/hr to play. That's going to keep a lot of businesses and technologies in the market that shouldn't be there.

Also, I find this whole unpaid environmental cost of fossil fuels thing to be a sad comment on the level of economic education in this country. Those costs, to the degree that they are real, are absorbed every day by individuals and institutions throughout the economy. They are accepted as societal overhead. There's no unpaid bill for the "real" cost of fossil fuels. We all pay the bill all of the time, in a thousand little ways, both direct and indirect. The vast majority of us who appreciate the advantages of fossil fuels just live with it.

"That said, renewables are capital-intensive compared to fossil fuels, and government has low borrowing costs, so there's a legitimate role for direct involvement as well."

Government is unlikely to make all of the right research choices outside of a crisis that holds their feet to the fire.

That's why crises in human affairs have to come -- collectively we're poor planners, but high performers in a tight spot.

"Republicans had already replaced the Whigs when the Slavers' Rebellion happened, I think. Whigs didn't even have a candidate in 1860."

Please, no derogatory epithets about either side in our Civil War. I think slavery was as wrong as could be, and that the war was indeed rebellion rather than revolution. But that's no excuse.

Anywho, Republican ascendency in politics took the war to be secured. In fact, their gaining a foothold in national office was the proximate cause of the war. (Though all of the underlying causes would have led to a war eventually.)

"Well, in the US there's also that whole white flight thing, running away from the terrors of school integration."

You're from Chicago. You don't have a lot of room to be snarky about that.

"I know plenty of people who genuinely like cities, thank you very much."

Cities have their place, both economically and socially. I just object to romanticising about them and about their culture. They may be a necessary place for a lot of people to live, but they're really not a very good place to live at all.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"The flawed comparison is for people to go 'poo on mass transit, it never pays for itself, it's subsidized by the government' because that is EXACTLY the situation the automobile is in. Drivers do not pay for themselves with usage-based taxes. If I'm a working, taxpaying citizen who bikes or walks everywhere I go, I'm still paying for the Team America global police force to secure oil for the drivers. And the stores I shop in are serviced by semi-tractors that drive on roads and burn diesel and are part of the oil economy."

First of all, who here has deprectated mass transit on the basis of economic viability? I know that my personal objections are based on lack of flexibility.

Aside from that, except for not owning a car yourself, you benefit as much as anyone else from the fossil fuel economy. You get electricity from it. Your mail is delivered by it. So are things you buy on the interwebs. So is all of your food -- grown more abundantly, delivered fresher, and almost all of it available in almost any season due to fossil-fueled mechanized agriculture, motorized domestic distribution, and overseas shipping. The roads you ride your bike on were created for it, many of them using materials (asphalt) left over from fossil fuel processing.

On the other hand, riding a bike and walking, you don't pay the federal, state, and local taxes people like me pay at the gas pump. You don't have to purchase automobile insurance. You don't pay registration and licensing fees. And, if that wasn't enough, as a taxpaying citizen I help pay for the sidewalks you use that I almost never walk on.

IOW, you can come down off of your high...bicycle. The air up there is a bit thin, it seems to me.

"There's massive government subsidies to make the driving economy a reality. So it's a completely unfair position to say that car culture pays for itself. it manifestly doesn't."

No, we all help pay for it and we all beneift from it. Even you yourself, in all of your ill-informed reverse snobbery.

"Per above, freedom of the open road vs. gridlock, that's exactly right. Car ads show vehicles driving on empty coastal highways or tearing up scenic offroad vistas. They don't show you stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405."

If I'm stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 405, it's because there's something about a car that suits my intentions more than taking the bus or the Metro. And I literally have been in traffic on the 405, on numerous occasions. So if you've never lived and driven in LA, who are you to complain? Come on, I'm waiting...

"It's incredibly telling to go from South Florida (total car culture) to Boston. While there's a lot of dying infrastructure and too many cars, people in the city center do a lot of walking. Even with our shitty, poisonous diet, there are less horrendously fat people there than in South Florida. Walking helps."

More reverse snobbery. Our "shitty, poisonous diet" is better than starving to death on the streets of Mombasa, Kenya, eating fresh, "healthy" food, just nowhere near enough of it. And to the degree that you get to eat fresh greens, nourishing lentils, ocean fish, and skinned (grilled, not fried, of course) chicken breast (in Boston, of all places), all has to do with the fossil-fuel economy.

"Some doctors will equate a terribly sedentary lifestyle with being just as bad for you as smoking. Sit at a desk, get in a car, drive home to sit in front of a TV and sleep, it's lethal. Humans didn't evolve to thrive in this kind of environment. Sea slugs would be more suited to it."

Labor all day in a field, get skin cancer from the sun (or kicked by a mule, cut by a scythe, electrocuted by lightning, or whatever), die at 50 -- if you're lucky. Yeah, man evolved for that. You really are a snob, you know that?

jollyreaper said...


Labor all day in a field, get skin cancer from the sun (or kicked by a mule, cut by a scythe, electrocuted by lightning, or whatever), die at 50 -- if you're lucky. Yeah, man evolved for that. You really are a snob, you know that?


Ad hominem again, Tony.

The biologists are arguing back and forth as to the selection pressures present in our current environment. What's clear, though, is that it works on some pretty large time scales, of which agriculture and civilization are really new developments. According to the anthropologists, agriculture wasn't much of an improvement over hunting and gathering for quite a few generations. Pre-agriculture skeletons show an easier lifestyle and better nourishment.

As for sitting at a desk being bad for you, this is medical science talking.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/06/08/healthwatch-sitting-vs-smoking/

“Smoking certainly is a major cardiovascular risk factor and sitting can be equivalent in many cases,” explained Dr. David Coven, cardiologist with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.

“The fact of being sedentary causes factors to happen in the body that are very detrimental,” said Dr. Coven.

Dr. Coven says when you sit for long periods of time; your body goes into storage mode,

When that happens, it stops working as effectively as it should. What’s worse, the more hours a day you sit, the greater your likelihood of developing one or more of these diseases, just as with smoking.


So, is civilization a bad idea? No. It is a decidedly mixed blessing. The question is whether we can maximize the good while minimizing the bad.


Also, I find this whole unpaid environmental cost of fossil fuels thing to be a sad comment on the level of economic education in this country.


So you say.

Those costs, to the degree that they are real, are absorbed every day by individuals and institutions throughout the economy.


Pollution is the classic example of this. If I spew my waste into the water and sky, I don't have to pay to process it. If I mitigate my impact, that costs me money. Therefore I lobby to prevent regulation that forces me to clean up my act. Other people suffer but I don't care because I'm making bank.

What's so difficult to understand here?

They are accepted as societal overhead.


Not really accepted since we're incapable of even having a rational, informed debate on the matter due to the intentional FUD spread by interested parties.

jollyreaper said...

There's no unpaid bill for the "real" cost of fossil fuels. We all pay the bill all of the time, in a thousand little ways, both direct and indirect. The vast majority of us who appreciate the advantages of fossil fuels just live with it.


We don't know if energy independence is technically feasible. We know it's not possible with fossil fuels. But any effort put into creating an alternative gets kiboshed by special interests who are happy with the status quo.


Aside from that, except for not owning a car yourself, you benefit as much as anyone else from the fossil fuel economy. You get electricity from it. Your mail is delivered by it. So are things you buy on the interwebs. So is all of your food -- grown more abundantly, delivered fresher, and almost all of it available in almost any season due to fossil-fueled mechanized agriculture, motorized domestic distribution, and overseas shipping. The roads you ride your bike on were created for it, many of them using materials (asphalt) left over from fossil fuel processing.


If you would read my post above instead of snarking, you'd have seen I already said I know that fossil fuels are behind everything we do in this economy.


No, we all help pay for it and we all beneift from it. Even you yourself, in all of your ill-informed reverse snobbery.


You're begging the question in the classic use of the phrase, "when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof." In this case, you assume that civilization and fossil fuels go hand in hand and one must either embrace everything that comes with it or go back to living like it's 2000 BC.

There are two separate questions here.

1) car culture and urban sprawl, good idea or bad?
2) does civilization as we know it require fossil fuels or are there feasible alternatives?

I would like to note that I've kept the conversation civil, have taken pains to point out where my views and opinions are merely matters of aesthetics and subjective and where the concerns are of a more technical and pragmatic nature. I've not insulted, belittled, condescended or name-called which you continue to do in your comments here.

Frankly, you're wearing a bit thin here.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Ad hominem again, Tony."

This isn't a high school forensics contest, j. Your prejudices and motivations are relevant. So are mine, BTW. If you feel they say something about my opinion, please feel free to address them.

"The biologists are arguing back and forth as to the selection pressures present in our current environment. What's clear, though, is that it works on some pretty large time scales, of which agriculture and civilization are really new developments. According to the anthropologists, agriculture wasn't much of an improvement over hunting and gathering for quite a few generations. Pre-agriculture skeletons show an easier lifestyle and better nourishment.

As for sitting at a desk being bad for you, this is medical science talking.

So, is civilization a bad idea? No. It is a decidedly mixed blessing. The question is whether we can maximize the good while minimizing the bad."


The problem is the evangelical tone in your talk of a poisonous diet, unnatural lifestyle, and "car culture". Who gave you the right to decide what is "good" and "bad", and what civilization should do about it. In my travels I've seen numerous people who would absolutely be better off, in simple terms of comfort and longevity, if they lived our poisonous, unnatural lifestyle. I can't help but see self-satisfied hubris in your writings here.

"Pollution is the classic example of this. If I spew my waste into the water and sky, I don't have to pay to process it. If I mitigate my impact, that costs me money. Therefore I lobby to prevent regulation that forces me to clean up my act. Other people suffer but I don't care because I'm making bank.

What's so difficult to understand here?"


As I said earlier:

They are accepted as societal overhead.

But then you say:

"Not really accepted since we're incapable of even having a rational, informed debate on the matter due to the intentional FUD spread by interested parties."

I completely agree -- but only as long as we include among the "interested parties" people who spread semantically-loaded, demonizing FUD (your own words) about how posionous our diet is, how unhealthy our lifestyle is, and how awful "car culture" is.

"We don't know if energy independence is technically feasible. We know it's not possible with fossil fuels. But any effort put into creating an alternative gets kiboshed by special interests who are happy with the status quo."

Ever hear of Solyndra? They got half a billion dollars in government loan guarantees. Leaving the politics totally aside, nothing kiboshed them but their own incompetence -- presuming they had a viable and usefull product to begin with.

"If you would read my post above instead of snarking, you'd have seen I already said I know that fossil fuels are behind everything we do in this economy."

Then why do you juxtapose your bicycle-riding/walking lifestyle with the fact that you have to pay to support it? Can't have it both ways, j. But you keep trying...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"You're begging the question in the classic use of the phrase, 'when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof.' In this case, you assume that civilization and fossil fuels go hand in hand and one must either embrace everything that comes with it or go back to living like it's 2000 BC."

Sorry, but no. I'm merely recognizing that the civilization we have is based on fossil fuels, that the costs are acceptable to the vast majority -- and implicitly accepted by them -- and that the benefits outwiegh the costs, all things considered. I have also said that if we want to keep it going, we'll have to eventually convert to more direct means of using solar energy.

"There are two separate questions here.

1) car culture and urban sprawl, good idea or bad?
2) does civilization as we know it require fossil fuels or are there feasible alternatives?"


1) Car culture and suburban (much more than urban) sprawl are questions of convenience and flexibility, not questions of civilization. Car culture allows for individual flexibility and societal mobility that are hardly unalloyed evils, despite your personal preferences. Suburbs are about living a more open, more human-scaled life. If there's energy for them, they'll continue to exist, regardless of jollyreaper's preferred aesthetic.

2) As already stated, alternatives will have to be found, whether we like it or not. So it's not even a question.

"I would like to note that I've kept the conversation civil, have taken pains to point out where my views and opinions are merely matters of aesthetics and subjective and where the concerns are of a more technical and pragmatic nature. I've not insulted, belittled, condescended or name-called which you continue to do in your comments here.

Frankly, you're wearing a bit thin here."


I'm being 100% honest here, j, so let's not have any misunderstandings. You can't inject aesthetics and semantics into a technical conversation and expect to go unanswered. You can't engage in evangelism and expect to evade personal criticism. You think I'm evangelizing? You think I'm letting personal prejudices interfere with reason? Please feel free to sound off. I've got broad shoulders.

Damien Sullivan said...

"As opposed to queueing for subways, waiting on the bus, and having to leave the ballgame early in order to catch the last train?"

The last assumes there is a last train (or bus), which doesn't have to be the case. The others happen, yes, but what of it? I wasn't the one extolling "freedom of the road".

"You're just artificially inflating the cost of energy... I find this whole unpaid environmental cost of fossil fuels thing to be a sad comment on the level of economic education in this country."

Yes, this is a sad comment on economic education. The basic concept is externalities, here negative externalities.

"We all pay the bill all of the time"

That's exactly the point! We all pay the bill for the decisions individuals make. If my burning $3 worth of gas causes $4 of medical and environmental problems for the people around me, tough -- I'm not paying the $4, they are. The people choosing to burn fossil fuels aren't paying the full costs of their choices, and therefore burn more than they should -- than is economically efficient. This is Econ 101 stuff, though commonly denied by conservatives and libertarians.

Thus pollution taxes -- which I wrapped as fee-and-dividend -- as the professional economist approved way to internalize the cost of fossil fuels. Economists will accept cap-and-trade too, but tend to prefer taxes.

Derogatory epithets? They were slavers, who rebelled, for the cause of slavery, as they themselves said. It only became 'derogatory' after they lost and tried to whitewash history.

"You're from Chicago. You don't have a lot of room to be snarky about that. "

Sure I do, I'm not responsible for Chicago being segregated. And FWIW I went to public schools in Chicago.

"I just object to romanticising about them and about their culture. They may be a necessary place for a lot of people to live, but they're really not a very good place to live at all."

You object to romanticising them, but happily continue the long tradition of demonizing them.

You not liking cities is not the same as their being "really" not good places to live.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"The last assumes there is a last train (or bus), which doesn't have to be the case."

Yet it often very much is the case. Better hope that game doesn't go into extra innings or overtime...

"The others happen, yes, but what of it? I wasn't the one extolling 'freedom of the road'."

Neither was I, I was just expressing what I like about owning and operating my own automobile. I also don't recall ever denying the financial and opportunity costs that are consequent to it.

"Yes, this is a sad comment on economic education. The basic concept is externalities, here negative externalities."

and

"That's exactly the point! We all pay the bill for the decisions individuals make."

When you buy meat from a chicken grown in Kentucky, or order a book online, or flip a light switch, or whatever you do that uses energy either immediately or somehwere upstream, you're making just as much of an individual decision to benefit from the fossil fuel economy as I do when I turn the key to start my car. That's the part you're missing -- we're all in the same boat. There are no externalities.

"Derogatory epithets? They were slavers, who rebelled, for the cause of slavery, as they themselves said. It only became 'derogatory' after they lost and tried to whitewash history."

They were otherwise Americans, before, during, and after the war. They were wrong about slavery, and wrong about rebelling. But they were still Americans. Let's not forget that.

"Sure I do, I'm not responsible for Chicago being segregated. And FWIW I went to public schools in Chicago."

If you went to a mostly white school, you probably benefitted greatly from segregation, which affects what your schools could spend money on and what kind of teachers they could attract. No, you're not responsible, but unless I miss my guess, you have benefitted materially. Not all schools in Chicagoland are like Shermer High you know.

(If I have missed my guess, BTW, you have my sincerest apologies in advance.)

"You object to romanticising them, but happily continue the long tradition of demonizing them."

"[D]emonizing"? Not so much. Deprecating the wilder flights of enthusiastic fantasy associated with them? Guilty as charged. And it's not exactly like I'm doing so from a distance. I lived and worked in the LA metro area for the first 37 years of my life. I can tell you I was glad to grow up in the burbs, because the city was not a very nice place, even in sunny Southern California.

"You not liking cities is not the same as their being 'really' not good places to live."

I've also been to cities all over the world. Many of them weren't the "international" cities that make the covers of magazines, with the revitalized and gentrified downtowns. Many were the real cities where most of the world's population lives. You can say what you want about Paris, London, wherever. Until you've been to Mombasa, Olongapo, or almost any city in Mexico, you haven't seen what cities are really like for the vast majority that live in them.

Thucydides said...

What a lot of people seem to ignore is fossil fuels are practically miracle products compared to any current or near term alternatives.

They combine high energy density, ease of handling (they are solid and liquid at sensible temperatures, unlike, say H2), relatively non toxic (remember that next time you are at a self serve gas station or using a charcoal barbeque) and globally accessible. They are also quite cheap on a relative basis, compared to alternatives.

Even many of the so called "externalities" are artifacts of politics rather than intrinsic to fossil fuels themselves. If you were to import more oil from a close, continental ally in North America rather than send lots of cash to hostile nations overseas, then the rational for massive military deployments would be much lower. (Note, the primary reason for US intervention in the Persian Gulf region has more to do with providing stability for US Allied nations and trading partners; the United States imports the bulk of its oil from Canada and Venezuela rather than the Middle East. The benefits of global stability and trade far outweigh the cost of stationing troops and warships in the region).

Spewing pollution into the air and water without direct economic penalty can be partially explained by "the tragedy of the commons"; you would fight bitterly to prevent contamination of property that you owned, and could charge the polluter accordingly. Since ownership of the atmosphere is impossible, and bodies of water problematic (except for small ponds), externalities cannot be priced in an efficient timely manner through the market mechanism.

Some "solutions" have even bigger problems than the problems they are supposed to solve. Electric cars actually predate fossil fuel powered cars, and were the largest fleet ov vehicles very early in the last century. The electrical infrastructure simply could not supply enough electrical energy to power a growing fleet of vehicles, while fossil fuel infrastructure could quickly adapt to the expanding market. IF we were to try and electrify the fleet today, the electrical infrastructure would still not be able to deal with the current fleet of vehicles, and the amount of investment needed to do so would be far greater than any industry or government could afford.

Damien Sullivan said...

"we're all in the same boat. There are no externalities."

You don't seem to understand what an externality is. It's any cost or benefit from an action that's not borne by the actor. The fact that everyone else is doing it too doesn't make it stop being an externality.

If when I burned gasoline I had to catch the CO2 and other emissions and store them somewhere safe, I'd be bearing the costs. If I didn't burn it, I wouldn't incur the costs. Instead, I get to disperse them into the atmosphere, causing health and environmental problems for other people. My burning gasoline is almost costless for me in those senses... while on the other hand, I bear the costs of everyone *else* burning gasoline.

This is basic economics. You're coming across like someone who talks about space travel without knowing F=ma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

60% black high school.

LA is not a very good city. And there's a lot of crappy suburbs too. But when you're comparing a US suburb with Mombasa, you're comparing a very wealthy place to a very poor place. The big differences there aren't urban vs. suburb...

Damien Sullivan said...

Yeah, fossil fuels are really neat. http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/ has a comparison.

But the miracle is running out, and the environmental externalities are catching up to us. Party's winding down.

'Spewing pollution into the air and water without direct economic penalty can be partially explained by "the tragedy of the commons"; you would fight bitterly to prevent contamination of property that you owned, and could charge the polluter accordingly. Since ownership of the atmosphere is impossible, and bodies of water problematic (except for small ponds), externalities cannot be priced in an efficient timely manner through the market mechanism.'

As I was saying. So a sensible government would be correcting the price via taxes. As it is, we got regulation of the more toxic stuff, acid rain and mercury, which is something.

Thucydides said...

So a sensible government would be correcting the price via taxes.

But the State does not have the ability to calculate the cost of externalities (you can get wildly varying estimates), indeed no one does, so the "price" is either something they pull out of their a**, or is set for political considerations to fund something else.

Overall, I think I would rather not have the State demand that I pay a made up cost to fund thier pet projects.

jollyreaper said...

As I was saying. So a sensible government would be correcting the price via taxes. As it is, we got regulation of the more toxic stuff, acid rain and mercury, which is something.

This is actually one of the key failures in libertarian, free-market thinking.

customer: Yeah, I don't like all the crap they put in the meats.

libertarian: No worries, my friend! Vote with your wallet and the free-market will take care of the rest.

customer: Yeah, but all the companies are doing the same thing. I have no choice.

libertarian: Then the market demand isn't there. Sorry, bub.

customer: Great, there are now people doing organic foods. This is good.

libertarian: All praise the free-market.

customer: Only now the bigger companies are lobbying to change the definition of organic so they can do the same things they've been doing and call it organic. Lobbying is bypassing the free-market and asking to change the rules.

libertarian: Money is free speech, my friend.

customer: Ok. So how about we citizens form an activist group that will pool money and lobby politicians for the banning of hormones, animal byproducts in feed, and mandatory testing for diseases that currently aren't tested for?

libertarian: But that's a violation of the free-market! You can't shackle the job makers with these rules! You can't bypass the free-market to do that!

customer: Ok, I think I understand. You want to do what you want to do and all this talk about free-markets is just a sophist argument to rationalize self-interested behavior at the expense of everyone else.

libertarian: Socialist.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"They were otherwise Americans, before, during, and after the war. They were wrong about slavery, and wrong about rebelling. But they were still Americans. Let's not forget that."

And does being Americans make them morally superior to being not-Americans?

Thucydides said...

Libertarianism is the use of rational self interest indeed, but your example is just silly. If there is a demand for a product there will be a supplier (free range meat, in your example). The real issue is usually either the consumer is not willing to actively seek out what they claim they are looking for (absurd in the Internet age, but still true, nevertheless), or the State intervenes in favour of one party or the other.

Here in Ontario, there is now a "food police" (there is really no other term) which arrests people for supplying or purchasing raw milk, shuts down bake sales and church kitchens, all in the name of "food safety". I wonder who benefits from that activity?

Since the only one who can reliably be counted on to look out for my self interest is me, I do make a point of carefully shopping to ensure I get what I consider good quality food. I don't go to the extent of joining the underground food market in Ontario (Truth! there is such a thing), but do avoid products produced or processed in China, for example. Lots of people are doing similar things for themselves and not involving/invoking State power; libertarianism (small "l") is growing as a social rather than a political movement.

As for the trying to make an equivalence between Libertarianism with Socialism, that is as illogical as saying Fascism is Right Wing.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"You don't seem to understand what an externality is. It's any cost or benefit from an action that's not borne by the actor. The fact that everyone else is doing it too doesn't make it stop being an externality.

If when I burned gasoline I had to catch the CO2 and other emissions and store them somewhere safe, I'd be bearing the costs. If I didn't burn it, I wouldn't incur the costs. Instead, I get to disperse them into the atmosphere, causing health and environmental problems for other people. My burning gasoline is almost costless for me in those senses... while on the other hand, I bear the costs of everyone *else* burning gasoline.

This is basic economics. You're coming across like someone who talks about space travel without knowing F=ma."


Oh, I know precisely what I'm talking about. I'm just not beholden to the arbitrary constraints you want to impose on the discussion. At the level of granularity you choose to suit your argument, you have a technically correct case. But at the level at which everyone is a participant in and a beneficiary of the fossil fuel economy, there simply are no externalities. Some people and organizations may at some level or in some ways pay more or less of their share in direct and opportunity costs. But since the fossil fuel economy is not severable from the overall economy, those are only relative advantages or disadvantages.

Everybody pays a share of the price as a cost of having the high levels of flexible energy production and consumption that we do. Trying to separate all of that out would just add an accounting overhead that in the end would only change things in the margins.

"60% black high school."

Now, I could be a real ass and ask for a district, school name, and date range. The National Center for Educational Statistics has free, public data products to check up on that kind of thing, you know. I know how to use them.

But...okay, apology confirmed. Sorry I implicated you in something you had no personal hand in, and no significant benefit from.

"LA is not a very good city. And there's a lot of crappy suburbs too. But when you're comparing a US suburb with Mombasa, you're comparing a very wealthy place to a very poor place. The big differences there aren't urban vs. suburb..."

More artificial constraints here, Damien. When we're speaking about cities qua cities, most people don't live in the trendy faux-Bohemian downtown revitalizations or a nice suburb of a flagship international city. Most people living in cities don't live in places even as nice as Boyle Heights or South Central. All the places that are cities are relevant to the discussion, not just the places that the rich have made their business addresses or night spots.

"As I was saying. So a sensible government would be correcting the price via taxes. As it is, we got regulation of the more toxic stuff, acid rain and mercury, which is something."

The problem is that your scheme of taxing fossil fuels to help pay for a solar conversion doesn't fix the problems you're going on about. It just redistributes funds towards a pet project, without directly addressing the cost of using fossil fuels. One could do that with any tax, not just one targetted at fossil fuel use.

And even if you did direct the fuel taxes to environmental mitigation or recovery, you'd just be adding a bookkeeping overhead to activities already built into the economy. Instead of paying for it through other channels -- which people already do -- they would pay for it through a fuel tax channel. It would still cost them the same.

Tony said...

Milo:

"And does being Americans make them morally superior to being not-Americans?"

Not one bit. But outside of slavery and rebellion, there was nothing particularly wrong with them either -- at least not anything more wrong than their fellow racists in the North, who only differed on slavery and rebellion. Otherwise, they too thought that negros qua negros were not, and never could be, their racial or social equals. And both factions conspired before and after the war to ethincally cleanse the American Indian.

And it's not exactly like the North wasn't itself complicit. Northern states ratified the Three-Fifths Compromise right along with Southern ones. In the first half of the 19th Century, they engaged in further compromises, rather than let the issue come to a head. Mills in New Hampshire made the Southern cotton into cloth. Northerners smoked Southern tobacco. They sweetened their food with molasses made from Southern sugar. All Americans were responsible for and benefitted from slavery.

Rick said...

Continues to be an interesting discussion!

The subject gets onto contentious ground, but I appreciate the general restraint being shown.

I'm not making any substantive comment because the points I might think of making are already being made.

Carry on!

Damien Sullivan said...

I'm going to exert even more restraint and leave. I've had enough economic and sociological crackpottery for this time period, not to mention veiled accusations of dishonesty

Rick said...

Apparently I spoke too soon - or maybe too late. So I will say a thing or two right now:

Tony, you are a blowhard of the first order. As a side note, your apparent eagerness to defend the slave system of the antebellum South is ... a bit creepy.

I have been inclined to let those things speak for themselves, and despite trollish behavior you also make substantive contributions here.

But ever since you showed up, there has been a level of tension in these comment threads that was never here before. (For example, accusing one of this blog's logest-time commenters of being a troll, on crackpot evidence.)

I don't need this sh!t. Keep up the combination of rudeness and crackpottery and I will elf your ass out of here.

Rick said...

that is as illogical as saying Fascism is Right Wing.

Oh, come on. The original, real Fascists understood themselves as being of the Right. So has basically everyone, until some people on the American Right decided to play word games.

Yes, extreme Right and extreme Left end up producing nearly indistinguishable authoritarianisms. But not totally so.

The fundamental line of distinction is in the treatment of previously established social and economic hierarchies. Put bluntly, if you were a rich aristo in Fascist Italy, and you kept your nose clean, you retained your wealth and status. In Leninist Russia, not so much.

The Right cannot scrape Mussolini off its boots, any more than the Left can scrape off Lenin.

jollyreaper said...

The socialism comment on my part is a joke about how people on the right view anything to the left of worship of capital is socialism. Regulate the markets? Socialism. Enforce contact law? Socialism. Prosecute securities fraud? Socialism. Tax the wealthy? Socialism. Cut taxes for the poor? Socialism. Look at me funny? Socialism.

jollyreaper said...

The Right cannot scrape Mussolini off its boots, any more than the Left can scrape off Lenin.


I think the real question is how willing people are to accept evidence of how wrong their views were. Lefties were willing to see the USSR as a worker's paradise until the truth came out. Then some of the harshest critics were former supporters. The same dynamic played our with Hitler and Mussolini.

Proponents of an idea will usually denounce notorious supporters but the real question is if they see it as a failure of the man or the idea.

I don't really see anyone on the left who days Lennin and Stalin had the right idea. I don't see them restating the same ideas with a different name. I do see a lot of fascist concepts recycled but really, fascism is just a new name for authoritarianism from the right.

Rick, you are correct that we tend to get the same screwed up results pushed too far left or too far right but it's really cults of personality we are looking at, ideology be damned. It's like crazy religious cults, whatever doctrine the leader is espousing doesn't matter, the failure of human thinking is all the same. Jonestown or Waco or Scientology, it's cult behavior.

I really don't think left or right means a damn thing when it comes to diseased minds seeking power and people following them. People don't even seem to pay attention to doctrine. I doubt the average Pol Pot fan could articulate his views any better than the average Hitlet fan. You get people who voted for Obama because he's black and who voted for McCain because he wasn't black.

I think talking doctrine is only sufficient for someone to get support within an existing political structure and then it turns into a cult of personality after a critical mass is achieved.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Yes, extreme Right and extreme Left end up producing nearly indistinguishable authoritarianisms. But not totally so."

So wait. If both political extremes are pretty much the same, then does that mean the political spectrum behaves more like a circle than a line?

What would the hypothetical ultimate extremist authoritarian look like, who is even more extreme than fascists and communists and is exactly antipodal from centrists?

*is more interested in geometry than in politics*

jollyreaper said...

So wait. If both political extremes are pretty much the same, then does that mean the political spectrum behaves more like a circle than a line?


Funny you should mention that. Political circle.

http://thoughtsaloud.com/images/political_circle_small.jpg

I don't quite agree with the layout of that particular graph but it illustrates the general principle. I doubt you could come up with labels everyone would agree with on it.

In my personal version of the chart, the top of the circle at 12 would represent complete centrism with people swinging from left to right on various issues as warranted. That would probably be the best balance of necessary social change and necessary preservation of useful, traditional institutions.

Pushing to the extremes at 3 and 9 are rigid, ideologically pure concepts of left and right that are unwilling to compromise or see reason. But you have to give them their due, at least they're consistent.

As you descend to 6, you pretty much lose any distinction between right and left because it just really freaking sucks. Does it matter if you're rotting in a stalag or a gulag? You're pretty much boned either way. Does it matter if you're being burned at the stake for heresy against the Church or shot against a brick wall for treason against the atheist State? It sucks either way.

Here's another circle.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-MTb5j7XcARM/TdFKpPFxYzI/AAAAAAAAAMs/nTRx8FtXfJU/s1600/Spectrum-Circle.jpg

Now from talking to some friends in Europe, they've actually experienced governments pushing too far towards the 9 position, that is ideologically pure leftiness. Some really well-intentioned, terrible mistakes being made there. I've never felt the US has been anywhere near that. It's always felt right-leaning to me. There may be some sops to personal liberties here and there with civil rights but the business of America is business as the man said and what we do there really isn't open for debate. Dems and Pubs will argue about culture war stuff like abortion, gay rights, porn, etc, but nobody touches questions of business and finance. There's not any disagreement between the two parties. They know how their bread gets buttered.

jollyreaper said...


What would the hypothetical ultimate extremist authoritarian look like, who is even more extreme than fascists and communists and is exactly antipodal from centrists?


Ingsoc from 1984. While their name nominally means English socialism, O'Brian made it quite clear that the difference between them and all other previous governments is that they make no pretense as to what they're all about. They're about power, nothing more. No cloak of ideology, no attempts at justification. Power. Boot stamping on the human face forever, that sort of thing.

The question is one of how a system like that could even function effectively. If you have an immortal dark lord with a ring of power, fine. I suppose that could go on indefinitely. But the worst dictatorships we've ever seen depend on that strong leader who embodies the state and allows for no proper succession. Of the major 20th century dictatorships, I think North Korea is the only one left?

I don't know if a declared Empire of Evil is possible. Even the worst cases like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia had happy shiny communist ideology. We really don't see very many religions of evil, i.e. adherents swearing that what they do is horrible, bad, not very good. Plenty of religions that have done evil things, of course, but the faithful believe they are in the right.

Aside from highly dysfunctional and short-lived crazy dictatorships, I think that any awful and nasty extreme authoritarian government still needs to rely on a core of supporters who have it good and don't feel threatened. Witness how Russia moderated after Stalin. They were doomed by a dysfunctional political system but it wasn't open civil war after Stalin's death. Many kingdoms and empires fell into civil war after a king's death.

Rick said...

Yes, even bad governments need some base of support. A broad base of support confers greater stability, at the price (for the rulers) of having to keep a coalition of factions happy. 'Soft power' is very much cheaper to exercise than hard, military power.

Anarchy has such a bad reputation because it tends toward rival warlords who can't build a broad base even if they wanted to, and resort to plain old gangsterism.

Thucydides said...

I am actually a fan of Jerry Pournelle's two axis model of political alignment, but since most people don't know it, discussion still has to be framed in the popular terms that everyone does understand.

I will make a stand on the Fascism = right wing trope, because I think the evidence is on my side.

Fascism is a subset of Socialism, since the primary political message of Fascism is the State should direct the output of the economy through taxes and regulations of property owners. (Communists, of course dump private owners and have the State own the means of production as well). Fascism has ugly connotations today because of the ultimate historical outcomes, but at the time was considered pretty forward thinking, and FDR's "New Dealers" embraced a lot of the programs of the Italian Fascist State as models for what they wanted to do.

Mussolini explicitly considered himself a man of the Left as well, and would probably be puzzled or offended if anyone called him a right winger.

It is also an interesting historical footnote that H.G. Wells made a speech in the 1930's calling for a "Liberal Fascism", since like many other intellectuals of the era, felt that the Liberal Democratic model had failed, and a powerful, progressive State should direct people and the economy to prevent things like wars and economic calamities.

Now Fascism is an impossible project (even a friendly "Liberal Fascism" like H.G. Wells called for), not because it is inherently evil, but because central planning (even if you leave the actual assets in the hands of private owners) is inefficient, due to the Local Knowledge Problem (i.e. no central agency can gather enough information or process it fast enough to make informed and correct decisions in ay large system).

So I hope this explains my POV.

jollyreaper said...

I disagree with putting fascism under socialism. That doesn't make sense.

Turns out the quote I'm thinking of can't be found in original documents, Mussolini citing fascism as more accurately being corporatism.

http://www.publiceye.org/fascist/corporatism.html

The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State--a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values--interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people. (p. 14)

Fascism recognises the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade-unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which diverent interests are coordinated and harmonised in the unity of the State. (p.15)

Yet if anyone cares to read over the now crumbling minutes giving an account of the meetings at which the Italian Fasci di Combattimento were founded, he will find not a doctrine but a series of pointers… (p. 23)

"It may be objected that this program implies a return to the guilds (corporazioni). No matter!... I therefore hope this assembly will accept the economic claims advanced by national syndicalism." (p. 24)

Fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of liberalism, both in the political and economic sphere. (p. 32)

The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State. (p. 41).

Anonymous said...

Milo said;"What would the hypothetical ultimate extremist authoritarian look like, who is even more extreme than fascists and communists and is exactly antipodal from centrists?"

I'm pretty sure they were called "Absolute Monarchs" :(

Ferrell

Tony said...

Fascism in theory was just what the (German) label said -- nationalist and socialist. In practice it was pure opportunism, with a strong militaristic flavor (thanks to Der Fueher's preference for frontkaempfer ("front-fighters") and Il Duce's "trenchocracy").

The rightism or leftism of fascism -- in practice, since the theory seems to have been honored almost exclusively in the breach -- was a moving target, depending on what year you are talking about and sometimes what particular department of government or policy you are addressing. Like I said, it was all opportunism.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can remember my history class, Socialism and Facism have different idiologies, but manage to produce the same general political/economic results and street-level conditions for those unluck enough to be living at the bottom of the power structure. North Korea may 'say' that they are Communist, but they exibit more charcteristics of a monarchy than a single-party oligarchy.

The root cause of the ACW was, as I understand it, the failure of two sides holding extreme views to compermise and so they came to blows because they not only couldn't modify their views, but insisted that the other side abandon theirs. And they dragged the whole nation into their fight, resulting in more American deaths then all other wars we've been in combined.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"As far as I can remember my history class, Socialism and Facism have different idiologies, but manage to produce the same general political/economic results and street-level conditions for those unluck enough to be living at the bottom of the power structure."

Way back in 1978, Mrs. Painter (nee Swofford) explained to us that socilaism was significanlty further to the left than fascism, because fascism allowed for certain amounts of private property, even if liable to state requisition or control. But both were far to the left on a scale where the right end was anarchy, the left end was totalitarianism, and classical liberalism was somehwere between the middle and the right.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"Yes, even bad governments need some base of support. [...] 'Soft power' is very much cheaper to exercise than hard, military power."

Even if you build your empire on military power, you still have to keep your soldiers happy!

Because having a bunch of people with heavy firepower who hate your guts is a good way to become an ex-ruler.

Keeping your arms manufacturers happy is probably a good idea too.


"Anarchy has such a bad reputation because it tends toward rival warlords who can't build a broad base even if they wanted to, and resort to plain old gangsterism."

The problem with having no government is that it allows anyone with a reasonable amount of power - like a warlord or the mafia or a megacorp - to just up and declare itself the new government. And this claim can only be seriously contested by someone else that is also in a position to declare itself the new government.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Fascism is a subset of Socialism, since the primary political message of Fascism is the State should direct the output of the economy"

A basic test of whether you understand an idea you don't believe in is whether you can describe it in a way recognizable to people who do believe that idea. You have just failed that test, by implication of how you'd describe socialism, the central message of which is about equality, not government control of the economy. *That* is a means, not an end.

Government running the economy is not a very distinguishing feature, consider mercantilism or dirigisme or Imperial China or the Incas or most centralized societies; the distinguishing feature of Smithilan liberalism, after all, was government relinquishing such control. Control isn't socialist or fascist, it's just normal.

The Nazi party name comes from "national socialism", but ignoring for now the transformations Hitler made to the party he took over, the *national* bit was what distinguished it from normal socialism: socialism for one country, one race, whereas mainstream socialism has always been a universalist and international idea, meant to embrace humans of every nationality, gender, and race. And it's that universal egalitarianism which makes it part of the Left.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Government running the economy is not a very distinguishing feature, consider mercantilism or dirigisme or Imperial China or the Incas or most centralized societies; the distinguishing feature of Smithilan liberalism, after all, was government relinquishing such control. Control isn't socialist or fascist, it's just normal."

I think it would be more correct -- and certainly more instructive -- to say that the various isms, in practice, rare associated with relative levels of government control. As stated earlier, back in the Dark Ages the spectrum was absolute economic and social control to the left, total lack of economic and social control to the right.

In that sense, socialism, whatever its egalitarian rhetoric, tends to partake of significant social and economic control. Fascism, not so much. Compare the wartime economies of Germany and the Soveit Union.

Of course, one can point out that the Germans ran large parts of their economy on slave labor that was worse than anything any commisar ordered in a tank plant or artillery factory. So its a bit of a muddled story. What is not open for debate -- or at least shouldn't be -- is that capitalism a la Adam Smith is significantly further to the right on the scale of social and economic control. Of course, there never has been perfect Smithian capitalism, and I doubt we would really want it, despite the rantings of the libertarians. I do think though that we can agree that real world, more-or-less regulated capitalism is way to the other end of the scale from either socialism or fascism.

Damien Sullivan said...

Back in the Dark Ages there was no left-right spectrum, let alone one running from totalitarianism from anarchy; those terms come from the French Revolution, and meant republicans vs. monarchists. All other uses are derivative from that, with some conceptual wandering, but claiming anarchy is definitive of the right is hilariously bad revisionism. The legitimate abstraction of the Revolution's contrast is equality vs. privilege. This would place libertarians -- or classical liberals -- on the left in 1789, and on the right now when inherited property is the main source of inequality and privilege.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Back in the Dark Ages there was no left-right spectrum, let alone one running from totalitarianism from anarchy; those terms come from the French Revolution, and meant republicans vs. monarchists. All other uses are derivative from that, with some conceptual wandering, but claiming anarchy is definitive of the right is hilariously bad revisionism. The legitimate abstraction of the Revolution's contrast is equality vs. privilege. This would place libertarians -- or classical liberals -- on the left in 1789, and on the right now when inherited property is the main source of inequality and privilege."

"Dark Ages" was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Late 70s, when I first took a government class. Despite assertions to the contrary, I don't think my economic views are particularly radical or preposterous. I think I was taught government and economics -- in the Dark Ages, you didn't teach government without an understanding that the classical 20th Century isms were at least as much about economics as politics -- from a different viewpoint than a lot of younger people have been. I was just having a little bit of fun with that.

In that respect, in American 20th Century discourse, left and right didn't have the meanings you ascribe to them. Left was the direction towards more government social and economic control, eventually ending in totalitarianism, while right was the direction towards less government control, eventually ending in anarchy. That's because in the US started out a democratic republic with very little government interference in people's daily lives. So the laisez faire, minimal-government-intervention position was the conservative, and thus on the right of the scale. Movement towards progressivism, fascism, socialism, and eventually totalitarianism was movement towards the left end of the spectrum.

So, you see, it's not revisionism that I'm writing, but a more traditional view than you seem to have, as far as the American political and economic contexts are concerned.

Thucydides said...

Damien, you cannot separate the means from the ends, otherwise you are not talking about politics (or any subject at all) but simply about daydreams. Perhaps a unicorn will arrive to grant equality to everyone, but until that happens you need to seriously discuss how things are going to happen and how things work in the new order.

National Socialism, while also a form of Socialism, is not Fascism, and even exists today; for example in the Bloc Québécois, a political party devoted to directing the resources of the State to a particular ethnic group ("pure laine" Québécois); although their commitment to blood and thunder is fortunately very limited.

Rick said...

I'll just say (again) that identifying right and left as being about the absence or presence of state power is thoroughly idiosyncratic. From the French Revolution on the terms have been understood as a spectrum of attitudes toward social hierarchy and established/traditional elites.

Like the astoundingly silly coinage 'Islamofascist,' this whole attempt to redefine long-established if imprecise terminology seems to derive from US neoconservatives - people now on the right, but intellectually derived from the left.

Put another way: Come on, guys! If you want a different terminology that seems more relevant, come up with one and see if it catches on. Hijacking terminology will only lead to a muddle.

Tony said...

Rick:

"I'll just say (again) that identifying right and left as being about the absence or presence of state power is thoroughly idiosyncratic. From the French Revolution on the terms have been understood as a spectrum of attitudes toward social hierarchy and established/traditional elites."

If it's an idiosynchracy, it's a widely subscribed-to one, Rick. And it often has a lot to do with where you stand and what you focus on. I was educated in relatively conservative, Christian schools, where the various 20th Century "isms" were judged on their practical implementations, not their ideological claims. So, while socialists, communists, etc. would be put on the left and free market capitalism on the right, the important thing to the people who taught me was that broadly "progressive" politics led to repressive government, while traditional free markets, for all of their faults, were found in less restrictive states. Fascism and naziism wound up to the right of socialism, but still on the left, both for their semi-socialistic ideals and for their repressive governmental styles.

In short, whatever the ideologies of the left claim, in practice they wind up repressing the people, while for all of their identified inequalities, ideologies of the right (in the American context) work best with minimal government control.

Anonymous said...

I know that the traditional way of thinking about political oreintation is the 2-d spectrum, but I seem to remember a three-d grid; anarchy in one corner, totaltarism in the opposite corner, with total free market-but-social-tyrrany inanother corner and total-social-freedom-but-centralized-market-control in the last corner; all known governments and political systems should be able to fit into ths grid. I can't remember who came up with the grid, however. Any clues?

Ferrell

Damien Sullivan said...

"I was educated in relatively conservative, Christian schools, where the various 20th Century "isms" were judged on their practical implementations, not their ideological claims"

And I'm *sure* those judgements were entirely objective and not distorted by the ideological blinkers of those conservative, Christian, schools.

"In short, whatever the ideologies of the left claim, in practice they wind up repressing the people, while for all of their identified inequalities, ideologies of the right (in the American context) work best with minimal government control."

Hmm, what did someone say in another thread?

"I simply don't believe that all points of view are equal. I certainly don't believe your point of view is credible in any way, shape, or form."

Tony said...

Damien,

I spent 36 years in the 20th Century, 10 of them in uniform, guarding against (and sometimes cleaning up after) failed ideologies. These things aren't anywhere near as abstract to me as they are to you.

You might want to think about that for a while. You don't have to...but you might want to.

Tony said...

Damien,

Oh, BTW, I can distinctly recall sitting in a history class in 1982, being told by the instructor that within ten years somebody in that room would be fighting in a war in Asia. Guess where I was in 1991?

So whatever you think about my education and it's results, I've got better reason than personal prejudice or idle speculation to believe that it was administered by people who knew what they were talking about.

Big kiss.

Rick said...

Tony - My patience meter is running VERY short with all this self-righteous superiority about your personal experiences, et al., ad nauseum.

Either act civilized or find a bridge to crawl under.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Ferrell:

"I know that the traditional way of thinking about political oreintation is the 2-d spectrum, but I seem to remember a three-d grid; [...] I can't remember who came up with the grid, however. Any clues?"

The only thing that comes to mind is the political model used by NationStates, a light web game where you get to run your own country (and watch over-the-top unexpected side effects of your policy decisions).

In that game, the most prominent measurements of your country are three axes: civil freedoms (which represents how much the government tries to control people's private lives), economic freedoms (which represent how regulated your market is), and political freedoms (which represent things like democracy and free speech).

Tony said...

Rick:

"Tony - My patience meter is running VERY short with all this self-righteous superiority about your personal experiences, et al., ad nauseum.

Either act civilized or find a bridge to crawl under."


Well, my patience has run out with naive young punks and naive older blog hosts that don't live in the real world. Adios.

Rick said...

Well ... this has been a thoroughly unwelcome experience.

I very much hope that this community can return to the amity it has generally shown, even across strong differences of opinion.

Thucydides said...

Politics with multiple dimensions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pournelle_chart

http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_spectrum

Stevo Darkly said...

@FERRELL:

I know that the traditional way of thinking about political oreintation is the 2-d spectrum, but I seem to remember a three-d grid; anarchy in one corner, totaltarism in the opposite corner, with total free market-but-social-tyrrany inanother corner and total-social-freedom-but-centralized-market-control in the last corner; all known governments and political systems should be able to fit into ths grid. I can't remember who came up with the grid, however. Any clues?

I was going to say that sounds an awful like Jerry Pournelle's proposed multidimensional chart -- and then I say that Thucydides linked to it above. (Although for some reason his links aren't clickable for me; you may have to paste that Wiki link into your browser.)

I first ran across that chart in an essay in one of the Pournelle-edited military SF anthologies. Not There Will Be War, though. I'm almost positive it was in The Stars at War, Vol. I: Republic and Empire but I don't have that book handy. I'm going to guess that, given your interest in the subject of this blog, that's where you saw it too.

Anonymous said...

"The Stars at War"...I'll have to dig that one up; thanks!

Ferrell

Rick said...

Not strictly on this topic, but I'm puzzled by the trouble people have posting links. Note that Milo's links in the first comment on this thread came through fine.

Blogger may only accept links when they are done in HTML format: [a href="http://link.url"]link text[/a] - with angle brackets instead of square ones, of course.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

Yes, that is correct. I have typed up all my links explicitly, as Blogger does not automatically convert them. It's just a matter of style choice that I often have the link text be identical to what it's linking to.

Rick said...

Thanks for this confirmation!

Stevo Darkly said...

FWIW:

Milo's links in the first comment work for me.

Christopher Phoenix's link to "Winchell Chung's Botany Bay" works for me.

Christopher Phoenix's link to "space submarines" does not work for me.

Rick's link to "old post" works for me.

Thucydides' links do not work for me.

Stevo Darkly said...

I took a look at the page source code. FWIW, it looks like the links that DON'T work are preceded by a rel = "no follow" tag; and the links that DO work are followed by a rel = "no follow" tag.

I have only a vague idea of what that means, or if that makes any sense, or is just a dumb observation, but it is a pattern of correlation that seems to be consistent, and I thought I would point it out in case it means something useful.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



The space submarines thing doesn't have a link. It just says [a rel="nofollow"]space submarines[/a] (with angle brackets, of course). I have no idea why Blogger decided to mark that with an [a] tag at all, since it doesn't even look like a link, unless Christopher Phoenix actually typed [a]space submarines[/a] for some infathomable reason.

Hmm, I wonder if I could do that. Test: broken link.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Hmm. Blogger does seem to automatically add a rel="nofollow" attribute to all anchors, as well as editing out invalid attributes (i.e., stuff that isn't href=).

Let's do some more testing.

<a notvalid="notvalid"> (Blogger processes this but the notvalid tag doesn't appear in the source)
<a href="relativelink.html">
<a href="http://somewhere.net/absolutelink.html">
/* <a href="htp://somehwere.not/typolink.html"> */ (Blogger refuses to process this)
<a href=http://somewhere.net/noquotes.html>
<a name="label">
<a href="#label">

Blogger doesn't allow strikethough text either, hence the C comment. But Blogger DOES accept &lt; for <, &gt; for >, and of course &amp; for &.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



So Blogger refuses the notvalid= attribute, but allows the name= attribute. It also allows other protocols besides http://, such as ftp://. It doesn't allow linking to about:blank, either :)

Anyway, the short of it is that links work fine if you type them right.

Oh, one more test: http://i.didn.t.actually.type.a.link.for.this.one.com/it.s.just.text.html

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Okay, okay, one more post :(

I think some people might be getting confused by the common markup language called BBcode used by many forums, which resembles HTML but allows [url]http://somewhere.net/absolutelink.html[/url] as a synonym for [url=http://somewhere.net/absolutelink.html]http://somewhere.net/absolutelink.html[/url]. (If that's too wide to fit in one line, copy-paste it to see the full code.)