Just after recovering internet access (off several days!) and doing a big event at Second Life...
Amid last week’s terrible ructions in air travel, will no one point out the part of all this that is most politically and socially significant?
No, I am not referring to the stunning levels of ineptitude, revealed by the FAA -- a story that has grown commonplace, under a regime that relentlessly undermines professionalism at every turn. Although it is meat for passing headlines, the real story is something more insidious. And politically devastating, if the public is ever finally roused.
Would this state of affairs ever have come to pass, if society’s elites had reason to care about the health of modern commercial air travel?
Gradually, people are growing aware that the rich, famous and powerful are abandoning our crowded airports, evading the painful security queues, the germ-laden air and uncertain schedules. Leaving all of that for little folk to endure, elites are even staying away from First Class. (Have you noticed, most of the people up front are either exhausted upper-middle managers or frequent fliers, traveling on upgrades? And first class service has deteriorated, accordingly.)
So where have all the aristocrats gone? The movie stars and banking moguls? Just look a few hundred meters away from the main terminal, at the luxurious private and charter hangars that seem to burgeon and grow, monthly. And no, the rapid increase in travel by corporate jet and luxury charter is not much of an outrage in its own right, not as much as it is a symptom and a warning...
...that the members of civilization with the most influence and political power will not be on our side, when it comes to improving air travel. They’ll not be adding their voices to the lowing of the steers, down in the cattle cars. Rather, they are abandoning the rest of us to our fates.
Moreover, it is symptomatic of something more.
Let’s get familiar with our masters. An article in Newsweek by David Rothkopf distills the essence of his book SUPERCLASS, about the uber-elite who make capital decisions affecting millions or even billions of people. “They ride on Gulfstreams, set the global agenda, and manage the credit crunch in their spare time. They have more in common with each other than their countrymen. Meet the Superclass....It is a much more concentrated world.”
“The iconic symbol of superclass unity is the Gulfstream private jet. In fact, one way to measure the clout of an event is to count the private jets at the nearest airport. According to Gulfstream, traditionally attracts more of its planes than any other gathering, drawing up to 10 percent of the 1,500 planes in service to Zurich airport. But this year's Olympics in Beijing will give it a run for its money, as typically do events as diverse as the Monaco Grand Prix, China's Boao Forum, the Geneva Auto Show or Allen & Co.'s annual getaway for media magnates in Sun Valley, Idaho. Globalization looks different when you can tell the pilot when to leave and where to go, and when there are no security lines to wait in when you are heading off for distant destinations. Those who are free to move about the planet this way come to have more in common with themselves than with their own countrymen.”
This is all grist for my next novel, of course... and take this futurist’s word for it. The next few decades will in part revolve around whether these people decide to side with Western Civilization... and with our children ... or instead, they give into the blandishments of ego and human nature, doing what you or I might do, if we stood in their $20,000 loafers. Giving in to the seductive temptations of privilege -- especially rationalizing reasons to cheat.
Do not mistake any of this for left-wing, class-warfare ranting. I have nothing against capitalism or rich folk, per se. Heck, I am richer than most, and I know maybe eight billionaires on a first name basis... and ALL of them have chosen - to one degree or another - to side with us, with the Western Enlightenment! Every one of those tech moguls is doing his best to look forward, to promote great new things, and to help the good tide lift all boats.
But I also know that my own experience results from a selection effect. These eight all hang in the same circles I do... that of modernist citizens of a profound new renaissance. Guys who would be just about as happy with a decent normal wage, if it still meant they could do all the cool stuff and help exciting dreams come true.
Alas, not all zillionaires are like that. And thereupon, let me commence an allegory.
The lesson of the levee.
Levees are left-handed... welcome to the world wrought by global warming.
The life of a contrarian is inherently frustrating. Whenever you point out the flaws in a particular dogmatic position, there is a tediously-predictable, reflex reaction that you must be a dogmatist, for the opposite extreme. I’ve run into this over and over, in one realm after another, often regarding causes that I (generally) approve-of -- like feminism, ecology and philanthropy! For example, in propounding the public argument for an open society -- one of reciprocal accountability and a knowing citizenry -- I find that the arguments for transparency are seldom viewed as simply standing up for what we already have - but rather, as “David Brin advocating universal nakedness and an end to privacy.”
Likewise, when it comes to the hoary, centuries-old French curse called the “left-right political axis,” just look at the all-or-nothing choices we are offered. Societies have long had two ways to get things done -- typified by the “Cathedral and the Bazaar.” Organized projects, paid-for by pooled resources and planned through some kind of legal consensus (generally government) illustrate a “left-handed” approach,” while the “right hand” of progress was propelled by free individuals and groups, competing with each other (generally through markets) to do, achieve, create and excel.
Suppose you favor one approach. Must you advocate amputation of the other?
Indeed, let me offer a clip from my ”Questionnaire on Ideology.”
THE LEFT HANDED APPROACH: concerted action by tribal or national units, organized by leaders who gather social resources (e.g. taxes or tithes) and apply them to attain goals in an organized manner.
THE RIGHT-HANDED APPROACH: create loosely regulated markets wherein free individuals compete and/or cooperate, making the best deals they can for their own self interest.
In 10,000 years we’ve seen countless left-handed projects - pyramids, canals, wars and universities...
...and countless market contributions - industry, medicine, slavery, and bookstores.
Radical socialists demonize the right-hand as inherently corrupt/immoral/exploitive, often prescribing its complete amputation.
Radical libertarians/anarchists call the left-hand inherently coercive/immoral/stifling often prescribing its complete amputation.
If you prefer one class of problem-solving methods, would you amputate the other entirely?
Or help try to discover which types of tasks each class is best at, and assign them accordingly?
Does your preferred ‘hand’ solve chronic problems, e.g. create abiding conditions for personal satisfaction & generation of wealth? How well does it deal with acute problems, like crimes, natural disasters or Adolf Hitler?
Which approach focuses on anticipation and which fosters resiliency? Which serves professional problem-solvers? Amateurs?
Can you see why my investment banker friends snif at me as a crypto-leftist, while my big-L liberal friends moan when I quote Adam Smith and call him the “first liberal”? It is easy enough to find faults with either stifling, state-bureaucratic paternalism or rapacious, cheating-infested thievery by conniving cabals of CEO golf buddies. But, in fact, we should have outgrown all of that simplistic nonsense long ago! And we should be - at long last - studying the things that each hand is good at.
And here is one foremost example, that shows just how stupid the dogmatists are.
Levees are the most fundamentally left-handed project of them all.
Only governments build levees on a large scale. Only governments can, or ever will build levees on a grand scale. When private interests feel threatened by floods, they use political pressure and any means possible to get governments to spend money, even taxed from faraway mountain dwellers, in order to save their precious lowland property. And, yes, rich men who despise taxes and big government will do this, as they always have. (See: Listen to Nature and Accept her Adamant Plan.)
And what big projects do you think we have in our future? When the Greenland and Antarctic ice plateaus melt and the oceans rise? Will the deniers of global climate-change stick to their tune, when their lowland property is threatened by new sea levels?
If we are to be ruled by New Aristocrats... oh please God, don’t let it be these fools. These awful, monstrous fools.
Just a bit more about climate change.
If any of you do have a relationship with one of the obstinate global-warming-deniers, here is my usual recommendation. Never confront a dogmatist with sumo opposition. Letting them choose the battleground is silly. For example, trying to offer mountains of scientific evidence only validates them, by making it seem that their own position is about evidence at this point.
Consider how it workd, psychologically. Influenced by a million courtroom dramas, the deniers seem to be saying ”You must prove this beyond all reasonable doubt... and I can use any doubt, any doubt at all... to reject all of your evidence.” In other words, it will never be enough. It CAN never be enough.
So. Instead of sumo, try a jiu jitsu move on guys like this. For example:
"Despite there being a 99% consensus on the part of mainstream scientists, demonstrating that climate change is human generated, that it will be titanically costly and dangerous and that it can be at least partly remedied if we act soon... we will nevertheless and willingly admit there is always room for more research. More discussion.
“But that isn't the issue. The issue is - what should a wise civilization be doing right now?
"What reasonable people propose - and the deniers oppose - is simply that our nation and world give high priority to becoming more efficient and to try to foul our nest a little less.
“That is it. The “waste-not” wisdom of an older, truer conservatism. The thing the deniers are opposing is that we put some effort toward having a wealthy and happy civilization, on less oil and waste. Period! That’s it.
“And here’s the crux: even if (unlikely) it turns out that all the scientists and intellectuals and tree-huggers and pointy-headed liberals prove to be wrong -- even if it all turns out to be an exaggerated, chicken-little panic -- what’s the worst that could happen, if we put in a little work and investment and effort to become more efficient?
“The worst that would happen is that... we'll all be more efficient. (Guess who are the ONLY people who don’t want that! Who don’t want us to get free of dependence on forieign oil? Gee, I wonder.)
“On the other hand, if the deniers prove wrong (very likely), then their dogmatic, writhing, series of excuses for delay will prove extremely costly to us all. And they will be among the first demanding vast new government levee projects, to save their precious homes.
“But, oh, here is the one thing that proves how shortsighted and stupid they really are. They can expect civil lawsuits commensurate with their unscrupulous delaying tactics. Don’t think we’re joking! By comparison, the tobacco lawsuits will look like nothing. Exxon stockholders, take note."
The latest Armageddon Buffet is on the stands! Well, online, that is.http://www.armageddonbuffet.com/
Finally, under comments, I’ll post a few links showing the other side of things. The world of transparency in action.