Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The “utopian anarchy” that unites most science fictional wish-fantasies

We're heading out the door to San Diego's extravaganza -- even bigger than our famous Zoo -- Comicon International, with overseas guests in tow. And so, in keeping with the elevated theme of adventure and unlimited possibilities, let's set aside the political shenanigans America's civil war and briefly assume that our Great Experiment in a better kind of society continues -- a civilization that grows better as it grows more diverse and interesting and fair.

Ah, but how to get there? Does science fiction show a way?

== A future of freedom ==

Some of you have been following the debate between Elon Musk and Cory Doctorow et. al., over the meaning and ethos that underly the “Culture” series of novels by Iain M. Banks. Musk has called himself a “utopian anarchist” in a way best described by those novels.  (Elon named several of his SpaceX vessels after ships in Iain’s science fictional cosmos.) Doctorow counters with an assertion that Banks was a vigorous proponent of labor unions.

Having known all three of these brilliant gentlemen, let me avow that each has been beneficial to humanity, helping open our eyes to - variously - dangerous problems, daring opportunities and/or visionary goals. I hope all of them continue to influence us to rise into a thoughtful and bold and broadminded civilization. (And I will draw in other SF'nal utopians below, like Ursula LeGuin.)

This essay in the Guardian takes sides and is, I believe, myopically petty, especially about Elon Musk’s utopian anarchism. In fact, Elon is right that science fiction offers us the unique perspective of deep time, helping us squint far ahead to see a strangely common theme.

Three paths to very similar utopias

Libertarians often speak of a future when there will be very few limits on individual autonomy, when sovereign adults are free to form coalitions and make deals to advance both shared and personal goals, without being unduly hampered either by cloying restrictions or by cheaters.

Most folks aren’t aware that this is also — exactly, in every particular — the long range goal of Marxism! Karl Marx did not dwell on it, or supply much detail; he assumed a final withering-away of the socialist, transition state — into coercion-free individualism — would proceed out of elevated proletarian self-interest. 

Flipping that order of events, libertarians assume that individual liberation in market-driven paradise will require first dismantling the nation state.  Equality and freedom will follow.

A fascinating hybrid is the culture of Planet Annares, in The Dispossessed, by my former teacher, the late Ursula K. LeGuin. Although she was definitely a person of the left, she rejected the domineering 'socialist-transition' states she saw behaving so badly, in Leninist and Maoist realms. Her prescription seems akin -- in many ways -- more to the libertarian path: dismantle authority first. Standing on her shoulders (so to speak) is Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novels dissect many of the tradeoffs along the way to utopian freedom.

But let's get back to that simple comparison of libertarian and marxist end goals.

In sharing a perfectly overlapping, ultimate utopia of empowered individualism, these two movements differ from almost every other belief system of our long past, nearly all of which assumed that hierarchy will prevail. A perfect pyramid of Confucian noblesse oblige, for example. Or the post-apocalypse reign of Jesus. Priests for 6000 years were well paid to spread such mythologies, and Joseph Campbell extolled the pattern as fundamental to human psyches. Even today, Hollywood obsesses on wizards, kings, Jedi and demigod superheroes. (Ah, Comicon, here we go.)

Set against that most-common context, aren’t the utopian marxists and libertarians more rambunctiously similar than they are different? Elsewhere I go into detail about this strange overlap of ultimate goals… 

…and how the two movements differ profoundly over the path to get there! How to achieve that apotheosis of individual liberty from all want or coercion.  Indeed, I show that neither methodology can possibly work!  

But there is a third approach that demonstrably can take us close to that aim of utopian anarchy. 

== The Great Attractor Trap ==

For starters, it is vital to consider the human past. Across all of those long, dark eras, which failure modes generally thwarted progress?

Let’s all blame Charles Darwin. In every society that developed metals and agriculture, human males were relentlessly rewarded - reproductively - for cheating. We’re all descended from the harems of strong, ruthless guys who used metal implements to coerce others into serving them. And we carry seeds of similar behavior; a fraction of us will seek dark corners of any type of society, using any rationalization and exploit any opportunity to gain advantage and repress competitors. 

Oh, the surface incantations vary. The old USSR was run by a cabal of coercive harem-keepers no less brutal than the czars, only with different surface theology. The current occupants of the Kremlin simply tossed aside their hammer-sickle pins and returned to czarist  catechisms. (See Vladimir Sorokin’s terrifying novel “The Day of the Oprichnik.”)

No, this is less about left-vs-right than finding a sweet-spot optimization that eluded most of our ancestors. We who finally listened to John Locke and Pericles and Adam Smith have benefited from one trick -- never allowing power and authority to concentrate into toxic pools, but spreading it widely enough dispersed to keep cheating below a dull roar.

It’s nuts to shout “cheating” when fellows like Elon form clever alliances that deliver better goods and services. Only one society ever found the trick to truly unleash human inventiveness through competitive enterprise, and it’s the same one that got rich enough to finally tackle old injustices of poverty, prejudice and environmental neglect. Those who disparage the word “competition” would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

But we also need context on the other side. Again, look back at 6000 years of dubious “civilization” in which those with power used it to crush any competitor who might rise from below. In 99% of human cultures, vast reservoirs of talent were repressed — vigorously and actively — under fabulated excuses based on race, gender, or what caste you were born into. Markets and institutions were warped to benefit the mighty, and priests taught that it was good for the lords’ sons to inherit your sons and daughters.

Any society that doesn’t confront this age-old attractor condition — the great human failure mode — will not take us to that glimmering goal of genuine utopian anarchy.  Even Ayn Rand declared cheating to be a basic problem! She maintained that some state structure would remain needed, to counter it. (Alas, her prescription then plunges into incantatory silliness that I dissect here.)

In the long debate between Hobbes and Rousseau, it remains Locke — followed by Hume and Smith — who comes out as wise. Human societies must find a balance between curbing our cheater-devils and liberating our better angels. Unleashing the greatest creative force in the universe - competition - but regulated (as in sports) to prevent the cheating that would ruin it all. This is ruining it all.

And what works best is to keep erring, progressively, toward freedom.

== Utopian Anarchism ==

Which brings us full circle back to the Musk-Doctorow argument over the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks.

In Iain’s projected future, organic and enhanced bio-humans experience lives of near total freedom, including the ability (projected earlier, in John Varley’s cosmos) to change sexes at-whim. Personal choice and the right to “pursue happiness” are maximized and just about the only thing that’s forbidden is to interfere with others’ right to do the same.  It sure looks like “utopian anarchy”…

…till you realize that there remains a regulatory framework, a guiding hand that is lighter in daily practice, but ultimately far more powerful than Ayn Rand’s “few courthouses.” That hand is wielded by the all-powerful AI entities who actually rule the Culture. Mostly-benevolently, but sometimes with plot-propelling weirdness or agendas of their own.

Ironies abound, here, and I am not leading you to a particular conclusion. 

Sure, Banks wove tales of a future that has inspired brilliant innovators — like Elon — to help propel us starward. Whatever the terminology, I share a dream of humanity achieving levels where state authority (or any kind) can safely “wither away”… to use a phrase coined by Karl Marx. And yes, I have spoken of this at many libertarian events and conferences.

But we are not yet the kind of beings who can reliably put reason ahead of tribal emotions, or act always in enlightened self-interest. Even among our brilliant, fact-centered professions, I’d say we do that at-best on a 30% level.  And half of Americans have been talked into waging open war upon all fact-centered professions! 

Under such conditions, you can see why those who want to re-impose hierarchy — like the Chinese Communist Party — rationalize that it’s the only solution.

They are wrong. Their approach -- under all the high-tech gloss -- is exactly the one that froze and lobotomized most human societies. If it prevails, we will never have the stars.

== A difficult, achievable path ==

Oh, if we look around today it's clear that Hobbes still has a several point advantage over Rousseau. And those of us who still believe in the passionately-moderate, militantly reasonable revolution of Locke — and Adam Smith and the American Founders — have an upward path to slog. A Great Experiment to save. 

And — alas for those eagerly propounding quick-fixes — this will entail using many of the tools we already have. 

Despite setbacks, like phase 8 of the American Civil War, we are on that upward path!  Ironically, Elon and Iain and Corey and Ursula and KS Robinson were all lights along the way.

But to go much farther, we truly will need to include externalities in our market prices. And elevate all children to a level of opportunity where talent stops being wasted and all competition is joyfully flat-open-fair. And ensure that disparities of power no longer entice many to prefer cheating over innovation.

Until we’ve done all that, and taught wiser generations how to apply their sovereign individuality with truly enlightened self-interest, then we’ll still need some Lockean structure. We’ll still need to fight for a civilization that — despite a myriad flows — has been more generously helpful of our long range goals than any other.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

End the cheating...

This time, I'll finish with a weird comparison of Donald Trump as the Bizarro Gorbachev... indeed, I believe that's how Vladimir Putin views his puppet!  

But let's start by talking about how Rupert Murdoch and his minions and overseas allies hope to continue their impressive run, having controlled the US legislature, despite losing the popular vote in ten of the last twelve congressional elections, and in all but one of the last seven presidential elections.  How do they do it? 

We know how urgently they need to control the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene against the egregiously horrific treason called gerrymandering. (Future generations will remember this craven behavior in kind with the Dred Scott Decision.)

Further case in point... Our battle for the republic just got a notch worse. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 ruling, allows states to purge voters for a failure to vote.  

The Blue Wave will be inadequate unless voter repression in swing districts is fought, tooth and nail. Elsewhere I talk about Voter ID laws, and how stupid liberals are, for opposing such laws in principle.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with asking a voter to prove who they are. Opposing it in general terms makes liberals look like would-be cheaters, themselves.

No, the better argument is that states should offer vigorous compliance assistance, to help poor citizens or women, minorities, youth to get their ID, which would help them also economically and in other parts of life. No red state has done this, spending not even a dime. They close DMV offices in democratic areas! See where I dissect how enemies of America trick decent people into opposing a wretched cheat... in stupid ways.

Instead support groups like this one, that actually get on the ground - like the Freedom Riders of old - and help poor people, the old, the young, divorced women etc to GET ID. This is how we answer: see the valuable work done by VoteRiders.

== The voting machines ==

Top Maryland officials say the FBI told them this week that the state's voter registration platform was purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2015.  And this is... news? This is only the latest, blatant example. For decades, the companies making US electronic voting machines just happened to be owned by former GOP or Murdoch operatives.  

The top job of every GOP Secretary of State in red states is electoral cheating, and they are financially richly rewarded. These states, lacking auditable paper records, will show anomalously high Republican voting this fall, in targeted swing districts, especially in state assembly districts that might tip the balance of power in statehouses.

== This is how you can be most effective, starting now ==

If you are looking for a way to help, turn your attention to some local or neighboring state assembly or senate district that might be in reach to flip. It is at that level that one person's activism could make a huge difference. Offer to host a neighborhood meet-and-greet for the candidate, for example. If they see your district is climbing out of reach, the cheaters will go elsewhere.

Oh, btw, this advice holds for decent republicans. In 2020, the decent, American side of conservatism will have its one chance to rise up and rescue something from the Trump-Murdoch-Putin-confederate ashes. But only if there are ashes in 2018! This fall... hold your nose and go blue.

== Eliminating the greatest path for cheaters ==

A petition was recently sent to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, by 36 eminent retired general and field officers from the United States Armed Forces as well as retired civilian leaders from the National Security Council; the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, and Commerce; and the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Are they concerned about foreign despots? Terrorists? White and blue collar criminals? Drug lords?

All of the above are empowered and enabled by secret-anonymous shell corporations. And surprise, the leading nexus of these dark dens is not Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands. It is Delaware. Followed by many others of these not-so-United States.

“The U.S. remains the easiest place in the world to set up an anonymous shell company according to an academic study from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University….  These companies have put Americans at risk and worse — criminals enjoy the benefits of strong investment returns and total secrecy here in the U.S. drug cartels and human trafficking operations have long understood the benefits of corporate secrecy to launder money from criminal enterprises. More recently, anonymous companies are implicated in terror financing, fraudulent contracting with our military, and even sanctions evasion.”

These eminent leaders added: “As we ratchet up sanctions against hostile nations, it is telling to note that the Iranian Government previously skirted our sanctions for years by utilizing a web of shell companies, including some registered in the United States, to buy a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”

Read the letter here, and spread the word. No, this Congress won’t do anything to benefit the nation, humanity or the future.  But tracks and seeds can be laid. This is reminiscent of the “Helvetian War” that I described in my 1989 novel EARTH. Only I never expected “Helvetia” to stand for America.

 == Who are the best cheaters? ==

Evonomics – the smartest site online for economic/social analysis, aimed at saving free markets from the oligarchy that’s ruining them – features Steve Roth’s article: “Capital’s Share of Income Is Way Higher than You Think.” Roth dissects how almost half of the market income arriving at U.S. households is received for just being wealthy: owning stuff, and not either work or active investment. In other words, most of the rich are doing exactly as that liberal – Adam Smith – described aristocrats always doing… pouring their excess wealth into “rent-seeking” or “rentier” vampirism, instead of creative enterprises.

Oh, there are exceptions! Investors like the west coast tech zillionaires who recycle their extra capital into new ventures, new goods and services and productive capacity. That’s what the Mad Right has said would happen with Supply Side “economics!” But for 90% of the oligarchy, it never, ever happened. Moreover guess how that risk-taking, investor 10% votes?  With a few exceptions, like Peter Thiel, they are mostly democrats, agreeing that markets must be regulated to reduce the age-old enemy of enterprise –


Seriously, where do the proto-feudal oligarchs think this will end? Will the war on all fact users truly cow all the folks who stand in their way to total feudal power? Or will we fight back?

And finally, as promised...

== Is Donald Trump our Bizarro version of Gorbachev==

I was about to claim this as an original-weird idea, but searching uncovered a guy who thought of it first - that Donald Trump's best historical analogue is Mikhail Gorbachev!

Oh, they are opposites in almost every way - as were the systems they undermined! But look at it from the perspective of Puppetmaster Putin, who calls the fall of the USSR 'history's worst tragedy.' Putin openly calls Gorbachev a western agent, who used the Soviet presidency to systematically bring a communist superpower down from within. So, why not use that template to retaliate, in kind?

Gorbachev applied intelligence and decency to reforming his nation away from dogmatism and incompetence. He might have saved the USSR in some form - (I portrayed it, in EARTH) - had not a final attempted communist putsch led to the total breakup.

Now mirror-reverse every single adjective above. Rupert Murdoch and Putin now have an agent in the White House who applies stunningly stubborn stupidity, indecency and a complicity to plunge his nation toward dogmatism and incompetence, while dismantling every single strength that led the West to Cold War victory - from strong alliances to science to a confident service class and basic social cohesion.

Yes, it is a mirror-reverse image, because the US and USSR were opposites in nearly all ways. Ours is a Bizarro Gorbachev, but the fundamental is the same... figure out the empire's greatest weaknesses. Then use a suborned leader and party, plus a massive propaganda mill to demolish morale, undermine institutions and bring a mighty nation down.

More and ever-more, I am convinced Putin and Murdoch are very smart, indeed... though not science fiction smart. They are unable to grasp where waging war on the West's fact-using professions will inevitably lead, once we let ourselves perceive the full extent of cheating.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Liars, cowards and scoundrels

== Defectors and clingers….  and a truth teller who can go to hell ==

Top GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, long a vocal critic of Trump, sees his party as cowardly and "irredeemable" for not standing up against the president. There are dozens of such adults who are saying they’ve had enough. Alas, almost none of them are in the right’s political caste.

Mitt Romney – for his own benefit – spent a year trying to get “moderate republicans” like John McCain and Susan Collins and the rest to join in a conference to save their party, the way the Democrats saved theirs in what I call the “Miracle of 1947.”  Alas, Romney failed to find more than three grams of cojones among all of them, and now he has shrunk back from the challenge, too, sucking up to the Trumpists. We’ll get no help from such cowards.

And there’s backpedaling and lying hypocrisy on the rise. Take Ralph Reed who was always among the smartest of the fanatics pushing us hard into a dark age. His recent missive declares that the countless, volcanically-vile personal faults of Donald Trump are irrelevant:

I said the same thing in the 1990s when I argued strongly against attacks on Bill Clinton’s character. In my book “Active Faith,” I wrote: “I have always deliberately confined my criticism of Clinton to public policy issues, not his character or moral shortcomings” and “If Bill Clinton is a sinner, he is no worse or less than you or me.” That was not a popular position at that time in my community, but it is one that I felt very strongly about then, and I feel the same way about President Trump.”

Oh, how charitable and all-forgiving! And spectacularly hypocritical and openly lying, given his earlier words. Here's a quote from Ralph Reed in a 1998 NY Times article''Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message…. We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.''

Okay, so now his excuse for the pyrotechnically immoral behavior of almost every to GOP official, from Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert to the present occupant of the White House is: "Yes, our leaders are deeply immoral... but democrats are the same!"

Half a billion dollars of mostly our money was spent — across 25 years — investigating the Clintons, the most thoroughly probed humans in the history of our species. Half of all subpoenas issued by the lazy-ass GOP Congresses were in futile search of some "smoking gun." In 2001, George W. Bush diverted many agents from counter-terror duties to go through Clinton Administration files... in the run-up to 9/11.

 And after all that, what did we wind up with? A husband fibbed about some third base adult-consensual infidelity in a hallway... and the wife was later caught using exactly the same sort of somewhat improper email system as Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Mike Pence, George Bush and Jared Kushner.

Meanwhile, the GOP, which used to oppose gambling as a vice, is now dominated by casino moguls and slumlords with mob ties. A movement that despised divorce now shrugs when far more of its politicians are on multiple marriages (or caught in sexual perversion) than democrats. Red-confederate America leads the way in STDs, teen sex and pregnancy, domestic violence, gambling, addiction, murder and opioid addiction… and yet continues chanting about how much more moral they are.

Reed knows the chant is unraveling. “It’s about the policies,” he now maintains.  

I know several “ostrich” or residually sane Republicans who fall for this mantra. “My side has gone insane and sunk into turpitude,” admitted one of them to me, just days ago. “But if Trump and Fox are monsters, at least they have good effects.”

Alas, when I ask them to cite actual, measurable positive outcomes from the GOP controlling Congress for twenty of the last twenty-three years, they all stammer and then desperately try to change the subject. Because in all metrics and all ways - even things they should care about, like deficits and the health of entrepreneurial enterprise ... and military readiness(!) - the record of outcomes across Democratic administrations is universally and unambiguously better. 

See this proved, in detail: Outcomes Matter more than Rhetoric.

I repeat this too often, I know. But I will keep doing so, until you - yes you - and others start using it as a powerful polemical weapon: Name a fact profession - from science to law to the military - their cult is not attacking.

Name a strength that won us the Cold War - from alliances & science to citizen cohesion and a confident civil/military serving caste - that is not being systematically demolished by the Foxites.

When these purported ‘anti-communists’ are all chummy with Kremlin lords - just because those ex-KGB agents switched from wearing hammer/sickle pins to orthodox crosses, you know hypocrisy has hit new levels.  When their greatest pals are communist tyrants, you realize this was never about the health of market enterprise, but the revival of a confederate plantation caste.

“By his fruits you shall know him.”  And by his every fruit, we know Ralph Reed is what he’s always been. A lying beast, slouching toward Meggido.

== A man who could always see where this must lead ==

Oh, but they fall into a spectrum, a bestiary. Ralph Reed, while feral-clever enough to be evil, shows no sign of what I (or any star visitor) would call “sapience.” But there are some who I know to be easily as smart and perceptive as I am… or more… who have deliberately chosen treason.

Take the man I call "The Worst American".  George F. Will now asserts that only time spent in the wilderness can possibly save a Republican Party that's been hijacked by monsters. Oh, sure, he's very smart. He can tell that his entire conservative movement could wind up going extinct, if it remains under the control of casino moguls and slumlords with mafia ties, foreign despots, fox-traitors and confederate trogs. His point in this essay (Read it! Show it to your uncles): that only a crushing defeat this fall might force the GOP to re-evaluate and replace ol' Two Scoops in 2020.

Only a pyre that burns today's GOP will let a phoenix rebirth from the ashes. And Mr. Will asserts that rebirth could be dazzling.

He has a point. Democrats frittered away the last two times they retook Congress, allowing the Republicans to come roaring back. So, as a purely tactical move, GOP voters might follow Will's advice to rescue their party, ideally restocking their political caste with fresh voices who aren't crazy, or anti-fact - or beholden to Rupert Murdoch.

Only here's the thing. George Will remains unrepentant that he helped architect this present freak show. His brilliant incantations - like those of the protagonist in Vonnegut's MOTHER NIGHT - helped to keep tens of millions of residually sane "ostrich" republicans loyal to the undead elephant for two extra decades after Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert and his crew destroyed politics in America. For 20 years, Mr. Will cast soothing spells, delaying the arrival of this crisis till the very lives of America and the Western Enlightenment Experiment - hang in the balance.

He continues rationalizing... e.g. that Democrats kowtow to their executives -- an imbecilic falsehood belied by history, including California's Brown administration. Will knows this; he's offering his conservative readers a way to save face. 

But there's nothing left to save. Not when your party is now a cult, waging war against every profession that uses things called facts. Not when each and every strength of the American Pax that won the Cold War is being systematically dismantled or torched.

No. This man gets no forgiveness. Sure, we must welcome every American who returns home to the Union side, in this phase of the Civil War. And if some are turned back toward the light by words issued by George F. Will? Let's make them feel welcome under a very broad tent.

But not him. I forbid it. He might earn a prodigal son's forgiveness from Washington and Lincoln, perhaps in the great beyond. But the Worst American gets no pass from me.

== Speaking of whom… ==

The Nazis, according to this new book - The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic - were above all “a nationalist protest movement against globalization.” Even before the Great Depression brought huge unemployment to Germany, the caprice of the global economy offered an opportunity to politicians who had simple answers. In their 1920 program, the Nazis proclaimed that “members of foreign nations (noncitizens) are to be expelled from Germany.” 

Next would come autarky: Germans would conquer the territory they needed to be self-sufficient, and then create their own economy in isolation from that of the rest of the world. As Goebbels put it, “We want to build a wall, a protective wall.” Hitler maintained that the vicissitudes of globalization were not the result of economic forces but of a Jewish international conspiracy.

And then… more surprises?

This actually appeared on Fox News?  What’s their game? NASA's chilling 30-year-old warning: “We were warned. On June 23, 1988, a sultry day in Washington, James Hansen told the US Congress and the world that global warming wasn’t approaching — it had already arrived.  The testimony of the top NASA scientist, said Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, was “the opening salvo of the age of climate change.” 
"Thirty years later, it’s clear that Hansen and other doomsayers were right. But the change has been so sweeping that it is easy to lose sight of effects large and small — some obvious, others less conspicuous. Earth is noticeably hotter, the weather stormier and more extreme. Polar regions have lost billions of tons of ice; sea levels have been raised by trillions of gallons of water. Far more wildfires rage. Over 30 years — the time period climate scientists often use in their studies in order to minimize natural weather variations — the world’s annual temperature has warmed 0.54 degrees Celsius, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the temperature in the United States has gone up even more — nearly 0.85 degrees.”  

Are the Kochs and their pals backing off?  Or preparing their case against the inevitable lawsuits?

Nope. As I'll tell in a coming missive, they are preparing freehold redoubts in Patagonia... where they will die at the hands of the very guards they have hired to protect them.  The ones left? Surviving "fact people" will know how to find them and have the ability and means to dig them out, or bury them with their useless gold...

...before we resume upward progress, and mine gold from asteroids.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Alternate Visions of the Future

Some bold proposals. But first... Those looking for a "best-of" Brin blog could try subscribing to my monthly column at Phil's Stock World. This was their pick from May, and I've had a lot of mail from those glad to have the most crucial of all economic indicators - "money velocity" - explained clearly. No indicator shows more explicitly what's been done to us... and how it could be fixed.

== Peering ahead ==

Whose depictions of the future should we heed? I've long held that we need both dark warnings and visions of hope. Hollywood's emphasis is generally on the former -- simplistic mistakes that lead to jeopardy and danger for a clearly-identifiable protagonist -- because that's what drives a box-office-winning plot. 

Only seldom does a director have the guts and creativity to mix innovative plot-driving with both some credible warning and a general sense of a promising tomorrow. That's certainly what I try to do, in my fiction. But it's harder. 

Anyway, which stories have effectively changed the world most? I talk about the "self preventing prophecies" of Orwell and Huxley and Kubrick, that motivated millions to act, and arguably saved us all.

Dialing in: which visions of augmented reality are shaping folks' expectations? Vernor Vinge (Rainbows End) and I (Existence) struck for that balance of positive and negative. But none of our careful extrapolations got as many "hits" as this online video by Keiichi Matsuda  who, in 2015, depicted the potential world of hyper-reality we may face - a vision of riding a bus while using a smartphone to play a game, getting alerts, being inundated with advertisements and calls.  It's just as scary for its depiction of addicted shallowness as for the disturbing end result.

Another short film, Sight, creates a scenario of an augmented reality contact lens.

== Shell Companies ==

Someone has been listening to me? Seriously, this is what I have been shouting, since writing about the "Helvetian War," in EARTH:

The Guardian reports: "After publishing the Panama Papers, we have heard a lot of promises from politicians around the world. They have talked about the need for transparency, and while the discussion is warm, the details are complicated: a multilateral exchange of information and stronger anti-money laundering regulations are as difficult to implement and control as they sound.

“But why bother? There is a far less bureaucratic and more powerful measure: public beneficial ownership registries. Databases in which citizens can easily access and explore the owners of companies. Not the nominee director, not the fake shareholder – the real owner. The person at the center of the matryoshka-like corporate structures, or, as experts refer to them: the ultimate beneficial owner of a company.
“A database of actual owners would enable companies to check with whom they are actually doing business. It would enable activists, journalists and skeptical citizens to investigate the individuals running dubious companies which earn millions in alleged “consulting contracts”, which are in many cases nothing more than concealed payments of corruption money. It would also give prosecutors the opportunity to follow dark money without having to rely on nerve-racking, time-consuming legal maneuvers with foreign governments." – Frederik Obermaier and Basian Obermayer in The Guardian.

Elsewhere, I've long been pushing the concept of a worldwide treaty for transparency of ownership. Basically, "If I own something, I must state publicly that I own it." 

Oh, sure, It would be a pain to list all you own... and then to look at others' lists to denounce unmerited claims. Computers could zero in on any overlap and yes, lawyers would have a few very good years. But what would be the chief effects?

1. A widening of the tax base, to cover all the cryptic hidden stuff, allowing tax burdens of honest citizens to go down.

2. A flood of abandoned property that will go unclaimed, because it was never acquired legally, in the first place, or gets ditched by drug lords and other kinds of cheaters.  My own instinctive estimate is that it could wipe out half the public debt of the world's nations, removing a desperate Debt Bubble problem that economics mavens like John Mauldin worry about.

3. Chains of accountability and liability will be clarified.  No more sheltering of hidden owners, like that tanker that befouled the beaches of Brittany, and no one could find any owners to nail for damages.  (You Randians, would you really be so hypocritical you'd oppose this? In fact, no measure would be more likely to result in simplification of bureaucracy than this one, the market-stimulating opening of information.)

Those who object to this either are members of the cabal of cheaters... or else have been cozened into thinking that transparency is the same thing as more Big Government. It's not. It's the opposite. And with this knowledge and flood of released capital, voters would then be free to insist that regular, honest folks' taxes go down.

Do I deem it likely anything like such a treaty might ever be passed, while a cryptic world oligarchy is exerting vast power to control or shut down every strength and capability of the Open-Accountable Western Enlightenment?

Well, that depends. Are you made of lesser stuff than your ancestors? When these rich and powerful fools get their wish, crushing the middle class and every single knowledge and fact profession, what do they expect the outcome to be? Seriously, I'd rather not see the Helvetian War, or its equivalent.

But it will happen, if you try to carry through on this program, fellahs. And you really need to know the word: "tumbrels."

== We need a Lincoln ==

Abraham Lincoln speaking in 1858 about the Declaration of Independence: 

They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. The erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. 

"Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.”

How many ways can you find, in that one paragraph, that today’s Republicans have betrayed both Lincoln and the Founders? Now the party of oligarchy, fighting only for the privileges and property of a kingly-lordly-owner caste? 

Lincoln does speak of “humane and Christian virtues —” as do today’s Red Letter Christians, who emphasize the caring, generous words of Jesus, and not the bilious hate-drenched Book of Revelation, or BoR. 

Notice that Lincoln gets almost science fictional, in speaking of “farthest posterity” — an implicit utter-rejection of the gleeful apocalypse yearning expressed by today’s End Times junkies, like president-in-waiting Mike Pence.

Read this appraisal of Lincoln’s 1858 speech… from The Atlantic.

…though the author seems to be under an impression that the Great Commoner won his senate race against Stephen Douglas. He did not. Indeed, the 1850s were a hellish era, when aristocratic forces seemed hell-bent on ending our revolution. When plantation lords held the federal government for three decades, sending platoons of irregular southern cavalry rampaging across northern states.

Today, in similar dark times, remember that. Gird yourselves, patriots, to defend this great experiment, as our ancestors did at Cowpens and Valley Forge. At Antietam and Gettysburg. At Normandy and Dachau. At Little Rock and Selma.  It will be hard. The Confederacy has powerful foreign backers, this time, and they have taken Washington. But we are made of no lesser stuff than those forebears! And we can still be a light unto the world.


P.S. Get even angrier at the site of today’s Patrick Henry: Jim Wright on Vice, Folly and Madness.