"...it's going to be a world of old people living in big cities who are afraid of the sky." (Charlie Stross, 2012)

(which is something of a misquotation from
Bruce Sterling's original,
which is short and worth reading)

How are these Futurists doing as Cassandras? Charlie Stross's 2012 blog post World building 301: some projections is, a decade later, surely worth a careful read. What has he been RIGHT about, 10 years later? How does the next decade look from today's perspective? The comments (2012 vintage) make interesting reading too.

...but Wende sagely nudges us in another direction:

The elephant in the living room that I've ignored in this discussion is the effect of all these changes on the psychology of the people living through them. And so I'm going to try to find time to talk about the psychological effects of the 21st century later this week.
One of this week's rediscoveries (in the context of exploring the afraid of the sky synecdoche) is the degree to which a cluster of books taught and encouraged me to look at the world, and to explore what's around me. That turned out to be the armature around which I constructed my own learning and teaching, and the bibliography includes John Dos Passos' USA trilogy, Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday (both of which were in our Peace Corps book box), and John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (Hugo Award winner 1969—see Fantasy Literature review). All of those books are kaleidoscopic: the reader experiences a cascade of shifting characters and viewpoints—in the case of Stand on Zanzibar, there are (at least) four interdigitated narrative modes: Context (news stories and metacommentary), The Happening World (snippets of mass media), Tracking With Closeups (minor characters' lives), and Continuity (in which the main characters' stories are told). I've read Stand on Zanzibar several times, and one year I tried the experiment of using it as a text in an Intro Anthro course, but I didn't then have the chops to carry it off as I'd imagined I might. Now I'm listening to it via Audible, and discovering facets I hadn't wrangled in the print version. It's a marvelous example of projective world-building, imagining the world of 2010 from the perspective of the mid 1960s, prescient in some areas and heuristically wrong about some things.

Anyway, for me an important book on several grounds. See this couple of pages about Education and Learning, and reflect with me that egregious David Brooks certainly has my number:

...highly educated, curious, ironic, wittily countercultural ... a higher, hipper sensitivity

In Chapter 0, Brunner establishes the fundamental perspective of the book via a quote from Marshall McLuhan:

The Innis Mode
There is nothing wilful or arbitrary about the Innis mode of expression. Were it to be translated into perspective prose, it would not only require huge space, but the insight into modes of interplay among forms of organization would also be lost. Innis sacrifices point of view and prestige to his sense of the urgent need for insight. A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding. As Innis got more insight he abandoned any mere point of view in his presentation of knowledge. When he interrelates the development of the steam press with 'the consolidation of the vernaculars' and the rise of nationalism and revolution he is not reporting anybody's point of view, least of all his own. He is setting up a mosaic configuration or galaxy for insight... Innis makes no effort to 'spell out' the interrelations between the components in his galaxy. He offers no consumer packages in his later work, but only do-it-yourself kits...
That's Harold Innis (1894-1952), Canadian professor of Political Economy, author of The Cod Fisheries and The Fur Trade in Canada, both of which I absorbed in my early years of trying to understand Canada from a Canadian perspective. But that's another story. It was Brunner who turned me on to Innis, and so encouraged my penchant for kaleidoscopic study and presentation.

Anyway, this has been a week of discovering a pretty broad array of Examples/Exemplars of the afraid of the sky ilk. These seem to be Innis-like nuggets of Evidence decorating the media I've consulted during the week (early August 2021). Some will pique you to click the links and discover your own galaxies.

If the Evidence says you're wrong,
you don't have the right theory.
You change the theory, not the Evidence.
Stand On Zanzibar
At the Global Scale
AR6: Synthesis Report

Half a dozen takeaways from a first read of the new IPCC AR6 report

a few things that mark this report out from previous versions that relate to issues we've discussed here before:
  • Extreme events are increasingly connected to climate (duh!)
  • Sea level rise is a big deal
  • Use, abuse and misuse of the CMIP6 ensemble
  • The radiative forcing bar chart has gone full circle
  • Droughts and floods are complicated
  • Don't mention the hiatus

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (the generally authoritative Real Climate blog)

Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin Reads the Sixth Assessment Report

IPCC Climate Apocalypse Maps

The Global Heating Predictor: Climate Impact Map

IPCC: Carbon Dioxide concentrations highest in 2 mn years, Provoking ever more Extreme Weather

IPCC Alarm Bell: burning gas, coal is Intensifying Water Cycle: Expect more and worse Storms, Floods such as hit Germany, China this Summer

On inappropriate reactions to COVID19 (Charlie Stross)
the news media are saturated every day by shrieks of defiance directed at the "enemy" (as if a complex chemical has a personality and can be deterred). The same rhetoric comes from politicians (notably authoritarian ones: it's easier to recognize as a shortcoming in those of other countries where the observer has some psychological distance from the discourse), pundits (paid to opine at length in newspapers and on TV), and ordinary folks who are remixing and repeating the message they're absorbing from the zeitgeist.
I think the widespread tendency to anthropomorphize COVID19, leading to defiant behaviour (however dysfunctional), emerges from a widespread misapplication of the intentional stance to natural phenomena—the same cognitive root as religious belief. ("Something happens/exists, therefore someone must have done/made it.") People construct supernatural explanations for observed phenomena, and COVID19 is an observable phenomenon, so we get propitiatory or defiant/adversarial responses, not rational ones.

Atul Gawande discusses the COVID-19 resurgence (podcast, 15 minutes)

Startling Discovery Suggests 40% of Wild Deer in The US Have Had The Coronavirus

(son John's comment: And that means the little piles of deer pellets left behind are likely emanating plumes of virus particles. And when the lawnmower goes over them, sploosh all over in a huge cloud.)

How will the Coronavirus evolve? (New Yorker)

"It's the Delta Variant, Charlie Brown"

Eye-Opening Photos Show How Plastic Waste is Polluting Our Planet
The UN has a new online photo exhibition titled Plastic is Forever. Captured by photographers from around the world, the stark images reveal how mankind's use of plastic has impacted the daily lives and environments of people and animals across the globe.

UN Exhibit (more photographs)

Consider this figure: 8.3 billion tonnes is the total amount of plastic ever made, half of which has been produced in the last 13 years. Microplastics in particular have been found in every corner of the globe, from the peak of Mount Everest to the trough of the Mariana Trench. In fact, it has been estimated that humans ingest a credit card worth of plastic per week!
American Zeitgeist
We're Living in the World the War on Terror Built: How the politics of the 9/11 era produced Donald Trump
...what's right below the surface of all the policies and operations that make up the War on Terror is this aggrieved, vengeful patriotism that opens a doorway to power to all of the ugliest currents in American history, all of the most brutal currents, the forms that say we should not only confront an enemy, we should dominate that enemy. And that enemy is defined not by what they do, but by what they look like, by what they believe, by what people who seem in superficial ways like the people we say are enemies also operate as.

Getting Old Is a Crisis More and More Americans Can’t Afford

...Most insurers have abandoned the long-term care business. Remaining policy options are limited. They tend to be prohibitively expensive or provide insufficient benefits—or both.

Iceberg Wall Collapses at Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge NC (no folks, YCMTSU)

U.S. Kids Are Now Getting Nearly 70% of Their Calories From 'Ultra-Processed' Foods

Of Armageddon

How Worried Should You Be About a Key Atlantic Current Collapsing?

Scientists spot warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse and Climate emergency: world 'may have crossed tipping points' (Guardian)

We're Worried About the Wrong Volcanoes

Dead zones spread along Oregon coast and Gulf of Mexico, study shows

Thousands of fish killed by toxic red tide wash ashore on Florida beaches

...While red tides occur naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, experts feared a large bloom was imminent after a toxic breach at the Piney Point phosphate plant in late May. In order to prevent a devastating collapse of the site's reservoir - which held some 480 million gallons of wastewater - state officials pumped wastewater out of the reservoir and into storage containers and a local seaport, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In a More Philosophical Vein

Popova on The Optimism of the Oyster
(From the rudiments of consciousness to the redemptions of conservation, with a side of existential reckoning.)

A dog's inner life: what a robot pet taught me about consciousness

...But it is meaningless to speak of the soul in the 21st century (it is treacherous even to speak of the self). It has become a dead metaphor, one of those words that survive in language long after a culture has lost faith in the concept. The soul is something you can sell, if you are willing to demean yourself in some way for profit or fame, or bare by disclosing an intimate facet of your life. It can be crushed by tedious jobs, depressing landscapes and awful music. All of this is voiced unthinkingly by people who believe, if pressed, that human life is animated by nothing more mystical or supernatural than the firing of neurons.

AGI (Artificial General Intelligence); see also What is artificial general intelligence?

Three Personages of note

Wikipedia on Bill McKibben

On Time and Water: An Interview with Andri Sær Magnason (59 minutes audio, Emergence Magazine)

Now you could say the paradigm has shifted. What needs to be done is obviously in front of us, and it's not essentially negative to be a generation that has to rethink and reinvent and redesign almost everything.

Steerforth's Journal of the Plague Year

And Finally
from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
  1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.


(Daniel Heïkalo is the genius behind this)