I almost closed this blog today, January 1, 2017.
Upon2020.com had been intended as an optimistic outlook into a beautiful, technology-enabled future. Instead, 7 years after I started this blog, we are sliding further and further into a scary, technology-enabled dystopia. How could I continue?
Civil liberties are under assault everywhere. Constitutional rights have come to exist in name only. Surveillance is ubiquitous and completely unaccountable. Limiting global warming always was a near-impossible project; now it seems hopeless. Racism is acceptable again. Fake news and fake facts are everywhere, demanding equal attention, and pushed shamelessly by the few to enrich themselves at the expense of the good-natured masses. Many now even consider truth itself to be irrelevant or even impossible. With technology, in particular social media, at the center as the core enabler.
I won’t bother with links to back this up. If it isn’t obvious to you already, dear reader, I’m sorry, a thousand links won’t convince you either.
And clearly, it’s going to be worse. A few years ago, to drive my point home that the massive, centralized data collection by Facebook and the like is wrong, and dangerous — possibly mortally dangerous — I asked my typically upper-middle-class, California-sophisticated audiences to consider this:
Imagine that Facebook isn’t headquartered in liberal California, but in territory just run over by ISIS, and you are a Christian. Or in the liberal Netherlands just run over by Hitler and you are a Jew. In both of these examples, the likelihood that you will get gravely harmed — given that Facebook and its data exists and is now under control of people who want you harm — has just jumped an order of magnitude: all the new powers-that-be need to do is check on all your Facebook friends, and they will find you, regardless with whom you went into hiding. You already had been quite helpful when you labeled yourself as Christian or Jew or whatever in your Facebook profile, and “checked-in” when you visited church, synagogue, mosque, or whatever, every time you went. And no, deleting the profile won’t save you because none of the centralized social networking services ever promised to actually delete anything when hit that button. Just hide it from most people. The first order of business of the new powers-that-be to Facebook and the like would be to stop deleting any data whatsoever, the second to write some custom queries, and the third to send the results, daily, to the head of the local, regime-friendly “law” enforcement agency.
And then, the US election happened. Do I need to say more? There is no need for a Muslim registry. It exists, and we ourselves built it. And a registry of dissidents. And their friends. Mix in the end of Habeas Corpus and so forth, and be afraid, very afraid.
Of course, more or less the same thing has been happening in Turkey, Hungary, France, the UK, the Philippines and so forth, joining places that have been like that for a while, like Russia, and China. Currently, Germany under Merkel is holding out, but I’m not holding my breath. This is a world-wide trend: some places are further along, some behind, but all are moving in the same direction.
So I felt there was no way of continuing this blog. (After considering emigrating to Mars, ritual suicide, and other many equally productive possibilities.)
The existing political-economic order — let’s call it capitalist democracy or whatever you like — clearly has become a runaway train accelerating into dystopia. But do we have to be on that train? Are there other trains we might be able to be on instead?
Back in the 19th century, say, if you didn’t want to be a monarchist any more, you could become a republican. Or a nationalist. 100 years later, if you didn’t want to be a capitalist any more, you could become a socialist or communist (or vice versa, of course). But then, the communism train derailed 25 years ago and the socialist train lost power and is stalled somewhere in neverland. A few religious-fundamentalist trains have been assembled since, but anybody who got on one of them almost immediately wants to get back off, so they are not helpful. All that’s left is the once-proud capitalist train that is now speeding into dystopia.
So it may seem, but it turns out: that’s not true! Not true at all, but in order to see that, we need to take our eyes off our morbid fascination with impending doom — I’m as guilty as anybody — and look in places other than central station in which all platforms have been closed except for Platform D, for Doom.
The new stuff, as always, is found off the beaten path in the corners of the train yard where, as it turns out, a whole range of smart, resourceful people are assembling train cars that are just entirely different from anything we’ve seen before. No full-fledged trains exist yet that we could jump on, but the cars that have been assembled, and some that are under construction, are marvelous and very intriguing.
This is our task for 2017 and the years to come. We must take our eyes off the doomsday train and find the projects that strive to build much better trains, and help! Some of us will be good at helping build individual cars. Some at decorating them. Some at assembling them into trains. Some at griding the powers-that-be down to obtain their grudging acquiencense to run some new trains on some of the railways currently monopolized by the doomsday train. And then learn, iterate, repeat, and eventually win: hearts and minds, and the train tracks.
Unfortunately, until we have won those, some of us will be hit by the doomsday train, and some will be thrown off it. We must acknowledge that lots of pain will be in many people’s future, given where this train is going, and there is little we can do about it. But a silver lining that makes up for all this pain and eventually ends it only exists if we work really hard to make alternatives functional as soon as humanly possible.
Enough of metaphors. Here are some random pointers from all over the place that I consider highly intriguing:
- The Story of Ahora Madrid. How a non-hierarchical movement is subverting hierarchical politics from the inside in Spain’s capital city. If it can be done in Madrid, why not everywhere?
- Closely related, Democracy OS and its origins in the Partido de la Red in Argentina.
- Cooperatives. Marginalized by capitalism, but resurgent now. (Overview and pointers) Why does your new startup need to be on the doomsday train?
- Liquid democracy. We change photo sharing apps every couple of years. Can’t we change the way we vote every couple of centuries, at least?
- Open source software, open hardware, makers. Let’s buy from them, not the overlords, whenever we can.
- Centralization, whether in technology or in society, is a bomb waiting to be hijacked by those who like to further their own interests by hurting others. Whenever possible, choose decentralized or nothing at all.
- Respect and tolerance, as practiced in much of Northern California tech communities (example). Let’s expand it into everything we do.
- The many good people who have publicly stated “no further, we will not stand for it”. Stand with them, vote for them, donate to them, help them out.
- Almost anything published by Michel Bauwens’ P2P Foundation (Facebook group)
Start there, and keep on digging. There is lots to be found. Some utopian, and not likely to work. Much needing improvement. All needing more assembly and polish. But enough to make it quite clear that an alternate, better future, can exist.
All it needs for us all, who care:
- to stop spending our time being scared and helpless and outraged without accomplishing anything that changes things;
- to start spending the time and energy to get informed about the marvelous things that are going on, to get charged up, to get involved and to keep pushing.
Ignore the haters. They are not worth your time or attention. Start building with the builders.
It’s time for a new beginning. Let’s go, 2017!