|Last night I had a strange and vivid dream. I was invited by a future unnamed president of the US (why he/she chose a Canadian was not clear) to work as part of a special team to save the world. I was ushered into a huge room filled with books where the president’s aides (all female, for some reason) began to brief me about why I had been selected and what was expected of me. The conversation went something like this:
Aide: We are very impressed with your creative thinking, and your ability to transplant ideas from one area of intellectual exploration or study to another, but we’re concerned that you’re a bit of a defeatist, or perhaps you’re too tired to really think things through because of your insomnia.
Second Aide: And you seem to use your idealism as an easy way out, an excuse for inaction. Basically we think you’re on to something with your systems-thinking chart about how nature works and why civilization doesn’t, but you need to pull it together with your ideas about The Cost of Not Knowing, both insofar as they relate to our failure to prevent catastrophes and our imaginative failure at not being able to conceive of better answers or better ways of living. Since you quoted him on your weblog, we assume you accept Lakoff’s thesis that we are incapable of thinking beyond what our embodied brains permit. But we need — you need — to do your utmost to synthesize all of the ideas you have been kicking around and apply the result to coming up with some truly practical ideas that we can implement to save the world.
Aide: You have a tendency to let everyone down after some hugely creative mental leaps, by leaving your reader with suggestions for action that are just plain inadequate, such as your terribly modest ‘What You Can Do’ article on saving the world, which you certainly must realize is just not enough to bring about the enormous changes needed, or alternatively, suggestions for action that are hopelessly fatalistic, cop-outs, we would suggest, such as your hysterical ‘Plan B’ post that advocated sabotage. Surely a mind like yours can do better than that?
Me: Well I did say that what we need is some biotech wizard to develop some airborne substance that would reduce humans’ ability to conceive drastically but in a non-discriminatory manner and not affect other life species…
Aide: Oh, come now, Mr. Pollard, there you go again. Surely you must realize that we already have a phalanx of scientists working on just such a virus, but the science isn’t there, and probably won’t be for another century, by which time it will be too late. And with respect to your related idea, we’re also working on a virus that will make livestock unpalatable or dangerous to eat, that won’t hurt the host animals but will encourage people to become vegetarian, and hence free up the 75% of arable land that’s now used for grazing and animal feed — that will take just as long to develop. There must be some better answers, some more practical answers that we can implement now?
Me: To reduce per-capita consumption we could do several things. We could create a new, responsible, sustainable economy that would undermine and destroy the old, wasteful one, and which would improve upon and use solar and wind energy and similar renewable energy sources…
Second Aide: This is exactly what we’re getting at when we say your thinking is initially brilliant but finally fuzzy, even, dare we say, lazy. Let us make this clear. We have billions of dollars that can be galvanized in moments to implement any bold, practical idea that warrants it. But to warrant it, an idea must be doable, now, without having to invent difficult new technology, without political upheaval or dismantling of economic or social systems. So use your imagination. We have lots of money but very little time. Tell us what to do.
Me: I think we have to start with the children, to teach them that the way we live is unsustainable, that there is a better way.
Second Aide: Let’s take a look at what you, yourself, have already written about how change occurs. You’ve acknowledged that the political system, the tax system and the legal system are basically designed to maintain the status quo, and that trying to bring about dramatic change in a short period through political or legal means is a waste of time. You have also acknowledged that educational and social change is cultural change, and that culture changes slowly. Unless, of course, something extraordinary happens that everyone can see — as you’ve said, you teach people by showing, not by telling. What are you going to show billions of children that’s so extraordinary it will get their attention, and change their behaviour from that of previous generations, quickly?
Me: Well, I’ve talked about building Model Intentional Communities that could show children a better way to live.
Aide: Good, we like that. It’s concrete, its globally translatable and it has a potential memetic, viral quality that could pick up steam and spread fast. We’re quietly funding several such Communities already, and we’re going to expand the program. It’s actually very inexpensive, as government programs go, and these programs can therefore operate well under the political and media radar screens. By the way, we also like your Save the World Think-Tank idea, and we’ve acted on it as well. You’ll meet the other Think-Tank members soon. And we like your novel, The Only World We Know, with the stories set in an ideal future world that teach people how to live better and more peacefully. [With a wink, she added] Something quite similar was tried about two thousand years ago, and worked exceedingly well at bringing about major social change. Perhaps too well. Imaginative, well-developed models and collaboratories and stories that develop and demonstrate radically different, viable alternatives to the status quo are the most effective means to achieve major social change. So we like some of your ideas. What else do you have?
Me: If you’re going to limit me to new technologies, and social change programs propelled by radical models and revelations, then I have to go back to my Plan B stuff that you’ve already dismissed.
Second Aide: What we didn’t like about some of your Plan B ideas is not that they were too radical but that that they were ineffective — blowing up dams and pipelines won’t get people to lessen their reliance on these technologies, and such petulant acts tend merely to entrench people’s thinking, make them change-resistant, and undermine your credibility. What do you have that will work, big time, fast?
Me: OK, then we’re back to disruptive technologies. How about new drugs that make it easier not to conceive and easier to die? Like an abortion drug or self-sterilization drug that you can take that works painlessly, instantly, anytime? Or a suicide pill that’s simple, cheap and painless? Or some drugs that feel really good but aren’t addictive, expensive, or dangerous. If people can feel good easily, they’ll be less prone to violence, jealousy, greed and all the other negative emotions behind many of today’s problems, and less preoccupied and paranoid about personal possessions, most of which are extravagant wastes of the planet’s natural resources. Of course these drugs would never be approved by any government, but my experience is that if a technology is invented and made available affordably and people want it, it will find its way around.
Second Aide: Now you’re rolling. Some ethical and tactical issues there, but go on.
Me: How about a very cheap, tiny camera that anyone can plant anywhere and broadcast wirelessly on the Internet to show the world what goes on in backrooms, in abusive homes, in factory farms, in old age homes and prisons and refugee camps and war zones and other places where atrocities depend on restricted access or closed doors and privacy. Not government controlled, but something anyone could buy at Radio Shack, or at least over the Internet. It would of course mean the end of privacy, but perhaps if the world could see what goes on in these places of horror they just wouldn’t tolerate the atrocities and would cede their privacy as a difficult but fair trade-off — to deter and drastically reduce human violence and crime everywhere.
Second Aide: Everyman as Big Brother. Terrifying but fascinating. Could backfire but perhaps not. Don’t let me stop you.
Me: And how about a technology that lets people understand what animals are saying, so that we could realize that our fellow creatures live lives as rich, emotional, sentient as we do, and that they therefore have every bit as much right to a fair share of the planet’s land and resources and a life free from harassment and suffering as we do. That might convince a lot of people of the intrinsic value of biodiversity and of wilderness, and the need to use land much more carefully, delicately, sparingly. Or how about an inexpensive technology that jams electromagnetic fields, so that we could literally take back the air from the internal combustion engine, and the airwaves from the oligopolistic media, by rendering these technologies sporadic and unreliable, and hence cause the vast majority of people to abandon them for cleaner, more reliable, less oligopolistic alternatives.
Second Aide: Now you’re wandering dangerously close to science fiction. These last two ideas are intriguing, and might work, but they would probably take longer to develop than we have. But you’re on the right track — disruptive technologies that don’t rely on political will or laws to make them effective, that are essentially voluntary technologies (which people can choose to adopt without coercion), and that yield drastic, rapid, healthy social change.
Aide: OK, so we have Model Intentional Communities, the Save the World Think Tank, The Only World We Know, instant and cheap abortion, self-sterilization, suicide and feel-good drugs, and mini-cameras to blow the lid off nasty behaviour. Three social and five technological ideas to save the world. Not bad for a start. Let me show you your quarters so you can rest up for tomorrow’s session.
[At this point, I’m ushered through the library’s huge doors into an incredible forest full of life and colour, but the light is blinding, and… I wake up].
And all day I’ve been thinking about “disruptive technologies that don’t rely on political will or laws to make them effective, that are essentially voluntary technologies (which people can choose to adopt without coercion), and that yield drastic, rapid, healthy social change” — the first words I wrote down, verbatim, when I awoke.
(Iris photo courtesy the inestimable and still blogless Steve Raker)
Great Dream Dave! I really like the Model Intentional Communities. Which communities were you talking about from 2000 years ago?
Interesting dream. I don’t dream much and when I do they are pretty bland and I rarely remember much about them aside from some vague details.I am wondering why you think that such radical measures (such as animal-human translators or drugs to make people conceive less and die sooner) are required to ‘save the world.’ Personally, I think all it takes is some education and a little will. Educating the children is an important step but education business and political leaders is equally important. The key is not to lecture them as to why they should save the world in an idealistic environmentalist way but rather to talk to them in business lingo. Show them it can be profitable to be environmentally friendly. There are many examples where corporations being environmentally friendly in fact improve business. The example that comes to mind is Interface Flooring (and to some extent Husky Injection Molding). Interface makes carpets and modular flooring products but they have a strong emphasis on sustainability and reducing waste and emissions. They still have a long way to go to perfect the processes but they are making huge advancements. You can read about some of the stuff they are doing at http://www.interfacesustainability.com/ or their corporate http://website interfaceinc.com. Interface is a growing company so clearly being environmentally friendly isn’t a huge drag on business.If you educate the buyers on what companies are environmentally friendly and educate the companies on how to be environmentally friendly we can achieve a lot without society having to go through drastic changes in lifestyle (which is a completely unrealistic unattainable goal over anything less than several generations).
Sorry, that should read:…or their corporate website http://www.interfaceinc.com
Dewayne: Thanks — the Model Intentional Community idea seems to be attracting a lot of interest — Glenn Parton’s Humans in the Wilderness essay was its inspiration. And the culture and book the winking aide was referring to was early Christian and Judaic cultures and their holy books — I swear this was in the dream and that it never occurred to me while awake that my novel could be construed as an attempt to write a new age bible!David: Please don’t take my dream too literally. I reported it as it happened, but my views are not quite as radical and fatalistic as portrayed in my dream. But I don’t think ‘some education and a little will’ can possibly be enough either, for reasons I’ve articulated elsewhere. The number of companies that are socially and environmentally conscious is few, and many business gurus argue that in fact they should not be, because that could interfere with the duty to maximize profit. That’s where the structural obstacles arise that make me pessimistic that most large corporations will ever be better than a sizeable cause and part of the problems we must address.
“That’s where the structural obstacles arise that make me pessimistic that most large corporations will ever be better than a sizeable cause and part of the problems we must address.”I guess I am a more optimistic guy. I have a belief that most people really do want to ‘save the world’ but most of them aren’t willing to make huge sacrifices to do so. This means that people won’t want to start growing their own bio-friendly gardens as you have once suggested but they would be willing to purchase enviroment friendly products. The people just need to know which companies are the best environmentally. If somehow we could inform the public which tomato sauce company or which automobile manufacturer is the most environmentally friendly then I am confident consumers will factor that into their decision making process and the environmentally friendly companies will be rewarded.I also believe that most corporate leaders want to help the environment too but I also believe that if you did a poll that 99% of them see being environment friendly as being counter to making the most profit possible. But that is not always the case. Interface adjusted their processes to reuse most of the manufacturing wastage and this reuse allowed them to cut input costs as well as waste management costs (less cost hauling the garbage away).I think education and some will can get us a long way and I believe it will take us a lot further than asking people to start growing their own bio-friendly gardens (which just isn’t going to happen).
Wonderful dream indeed! Reminds me of Gary Alexander’s “miracle question” technique. (What if you woke up one morning and a miracle had occurred; what would your world be like?)Re intentional communities: there are many examples out there that could be used as models — not demonstrations, but living role models for various aspects of community. Damanhur comes to mind, as does the Sarvodaya/Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka. Both of them have been going for long enough to prove their viability and worth. (By the way, I consider such communities to be examples of the kind of disruptive technology you described. Yes, I consider social constructs to be technology, at least in a loose sense.) By the way, if anyone knows of other such “model communities”, I’m informally making a collection.For a good source of “disruptive technologies that don’t rely on political will or laws to make them effective…”, take a look at Janine Benyus’ book “Biomimicry”, for technologies of both potential value and ongoing development. Suppose, for example, that when unsustainable industrial agriculture finally collapses, the alternatives are already in place and widely practiced (and indeed, might contribute to the collapse)?As for a suicide drug, that’s mostly dependent on people and communities developing new attitudes toward death. Dr. Kevorkian and others have pioneered the technology, and it’s in the early adopter phase in many places.The feel-good drug reminds me most of Aldous Huxley’s “soma” from “Brave New World” — probably not the kind of association you had in mind. (Is a gram really better than a damn?)Similarly, the mini-cameras remind me of Orwell’s 1984. The problem is not affordability, but legality — who gets to use them, and for what? Remember, copy machines in the Soviet Union were rare, not because of any inherent scarcity, but because they could be used to copy and spread anti-soviet propaganda.I think one essential characteristic ofan effective disruptive technology will be that it can’t be effectively controlled by a repressive state, either because it operates “below the radar”, or because it would be prohibitively difficult or expensive to suppress. Another highly desirable characteristic would be that it couldn’t be corrupted to serve repressive purposes.Thanks again for such stimulating material.
Don: I’ve done some study of the Damanhur community. Like most of the ICs, it has a spiritual foundation — I don’t have a problem with that, but I wish I could see some more secular examples. Appreciate the ‘Biomimicry’ reference — I’ll add it to my list.
I’m a young man from America and I don’t know much about formal scientific physicology but I do a little reseach and I read this article and its very fasinating. I’m at a loss of words, quite frankly. I guess thats just my ignorance. If I had the thought capacity to read and understand your ideals and such, I would definatly do so, but as it is I doubt I would be able to. My spelling isn’t very effecient, please excuse any typo’s.
green <email@example.com> wrote: HELLO,I,M CALLED THE THINKER,WELL THAT GREAT BUT I,VE GOTTEN,NOTHING,EVEN THRO,I PUT IN IDEA TO MAJOR CO,LIKE USADOAY,PRINT PAC,LTV AIRCRAFT,ARMY,AND MORE WELL AT LEAST I DID GET AWARD FOR THEM EVEN,TEXAS JOB,TRC,OH WELL ALL I ASK FOR IS A VAN WITH A LIFT,FOR A IDEA THAT WHERE 200,000,I KNOW I VE SAVE AND MADE I HAVE THE PROOF,WELL LETS GET TO MY NEW IDEA,JUST MAYBE I,LL GET A FREE DINNER OUT,HERE WE GO,WE LIVE IN WHAT IS CALLED A ”THROW AWAY ‘ SOCIETY SEE EA AND EVERY DAY,WE GO OUT AND JUST BUY AND BUY,WELL LET,S SEE WHERE THIS LED US,AND THIS CAME OUT IN 1990.PEOPLE TRY TO GET RID OR DISPOSE OF THESE TYPE OF ITEM,NEW PAPER,CARDBOARD PACKAGING,TIN CAN ALL TYPE,BOTTLE PLASTIC ALL TYPE AND COLOR,NOT COUNTING THE RED FLAGS FROM HOSPITAL,FOIL,AND EVEN DUMP BATTERY OF ALL TYPE,,REFRIGERATORS,ALL TYPE F TRANSPIRATION,AND MORE AND YOU SEE THAT,S NOT JUST HERE IT,S ALL OVER THE WORLD,AND NOW WE HAVE MORE AND MORE DUMPED ,GROUND.AND NO WAY TO PUT THEM,SO THAT DO WE DO WE CHARGE TO DUMPED,ON THAT,S A GREAT IDEA,NOW THEY JUST WAIT UNTIL NITE AND GET RID OF IT,WELL WE DON,T MINDS,,YOU DO ,SMILE WELL I CAN,T THE THEM THAT WE THEN MAKE A JOB FOR SOMEONE TO PICK IT UP,WELL THAT NOT WORKING EITHER,JUST LOOK AT THE HIGHWAY,PAPER,GLASS,TRASH EVERYWHERE,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,SO NOW I,M HERE TO TRY TO HELP ,US SAVE OURSELF AND KID TO COME,THERE ARE PEOPLE SMARTER THEN ME,SO I KNOW IF THEY CAN BUILD THINGS FOR THINGS FOR FUN AND MOVIES,THIS IS A WALK IN THE PARK,BUT WHILE WE ARE DIEING FROM THE BUSES ,DUMP GROUNDS,JUST DIRTY ECT,WELL THIS IS ALL WE HAVE TO DO,STARTING,NEXT TWO MO,SEND OUT NOTICE,OUT SAYING THAT WE WILL DO BETTER,AND HAVE TO OR WE WILL NOT BE HERE IN 3001,NO ONE THIS WILL BE A REAL MOVIES EXPECT THEIR BE NO AWARD TO PASS OUT,WE WILL BUILD A BIG GRINNER TO PUT ALL TRASH THAT CANT,BE RECYCLE,I MEANS ALL GLASS ,BOTTLE,PLASTIC,METAL,ANYTHING THAT WILL GO IN THERE,MAKE MAYBE 3EA OF THEM,THEN WE TURN THEM INTO CASKET OF ALL COLOR THEN PUT INTO THE GROUND,NOW MANY MIGHT SAY THAT,S NASTY BUT,BUT I SAY,GIVE OUR LIFT TO SAVE OUR KID,S AND GRANDKID,S WE WILL SEE IF THEY REALLY LOVE THEM,WILL AS I SAID I HAVE MANY IDEA,WHICH I PUT IN BUT GOT NOTHING BACK BUT TO ALL THE RICH,AND KINK PEOPLE AGAIN ALL I WANT IS ENOUGH TO GET MY IDEA GOING THANKS AND STAY BLESS,,,,,,,,,,922W 9TH ST APT 311 DA 75208,,,,,,,,,THE THINKER,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,—————————————————————————–Do you Yahoo!?Yahoo! Mail Address AutoComplete – You start. We finish.s time is now.—————————————————————————–
This dream, quite frankly really scares me. Was this ment to be some type of vision that you think will happen in the future? The reason is scares me so badly is because it seems as if all of your ideas for “Saving the world” would really be completely destroying it, worse than it already is. To put cameras every where or give people feel good or suicide drugs would be to take away freedoms and even personal freedoms. Also putting something in the air would do the same thing. If there are cameras everywhere, regardless of who can use them ALL of our privacy is gone and with zero privacy there is zero freedom. There has to be a better way… I dont even know if you are saying that you believe that those ways will work or are a good choice or if you just dreamed them and dont even believe in them. Anyway very intresting and its always great to read people viewpoint or dreams as well! Peace and Love ~ Dorrie
pray tell, mr pollard…what sort of disruptive technology could eliminate profit (or hideable and dangerously hoardable wealth)? that does seem to be the underlying motivation for much of the ill-will interfering with world-saving efforts.