I suddenly notice that the EU commissioner of science is frightened. On the screen he is reading the latest bill about a ban on nanotechnological research with a solemn face, but underneath he is frightened out of his mind. I get it. I realize why he is so frightened. Because he knows that bill will not -- can not -- work: and if it doesn't he and his world are doomed, just like the dinosaurs. The trouble is, they will do everything to survive. As will we. Mammals against dinosaurs -- Darwin Days.
We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.There is no doubt that the old systems are breaking down. A century of accelerating change has weakened the institutions. Nobody trusts politicians (but most still vote for them -- after all, what's the alternative?), the nation states are slowly loosing to the onslaught of global markets, daily it becomes obvious that traditional values and systems don't work in practice. Desperately many cling to the old, since it is the only thing known, the only security they have. To protect themselves they try to keep things as they are, even if it means they will get much worse in the future.
In this chaos, subcultures, radical movements and special interests proliferate. There is no shortage of ideologies competing for the future, the trouble is that most would be disasters.
Hmph! The world can't be run by spotty old men forever!The youth is under great pressure, and deeply resent it. They realize that society is run by the old, for the old, with no real place for youth, creativity and iconoclasm. At the same time they feel that there is not much they can do, except rage on in institutionalized youth rebellion. This feeds their anger and sense of futility.
While many groups do their best to recruit and conformize the youth, the young have long since learned to recognize lies and manipulation far better than even their parents did. While many certainly fall for the promises of order and a future sprouted by fascist groups, churches, new age mysticism, social activist groups, political movements or media-designed lifestyles many see right through it and turn their backs on the "future" and society. They become bunkers, neoliberals, changelings or other things, shocking and confusing the rest of society.
You have to make do with what little you've got.The people born in the 60's, 70's and 80's are the adults and middle aged of today, "the middle", caught between the angry young and the strong old. They never really got the chance: they never managed to become unified in any way and the old never let go of their power.
If there is anything that the middle has learned, it is that security is everything. They have experienced huge social and economic changes, a decrease in living standards and uncertainty on every level. While a few individualists have embraced change, most instead desperately seek security and protection. Sure, society isn't what they would like it to be, they see through many of the lies the FOG spreads and the future looks dark, but at least they have a job, family and some social security to protect them. Hopefully.
From the earliest time the old have rubbed it into the young that they are wiser, and before the young had discovered what nonsense this was they were old too, and it profited them to carry on the imposture.Once, the old were frail and dependent on the young to survive. Today they are strong, refuse to take no for an answer and demand their rights. Across the world there have been a huge increase in the number of elderly people, and they have become a powerful social force.
William Maugham Somerset
The roots of the gray boom lies in better nutrition, medicine and education across the world throughout the 20th century, as well as the decrease in births among most western societies. Gradually the proportion of people over 65 increased; today they number around 20--25% in most western nations.
As the elderly became more and more populous, they also began to recognize their power and the fact that they didn't have to meekly accept their fate. Investments in medicine were encouraged, political parties supporting elderly-friendly causes could gain votes from this large group, rules against age-discrimination were enacted. While most elderly are comparatively passive and spend their retirements doing their hobbies, they can be roused by questions important to them (like changes in the pension system or the threat of street violence) to become a very powerful pressure group. In addition, there are some very active elderly who thanks to modern medicine, personal character and lifestyle remain in touch with power and politics directly. These gerontocrats are the true movers and shakers, having accumulated their skills and power over a lifetime.
Many middle class elderly move to sun cities, newly built small towns adapted to their needs. They support an active lifestyle and a feeling of security -- most sun cities look almost like caricatures of suburbia, with one story buildings, golf courses and empty, clean and quiet streets. Security is high, both from electronic surveillance and from volunteer "security guards". Since there are no schools and very little need for social services other than medical care local taxes can be very low. Volunteer activities are usually popular, keeping local taxes down even further. The only young people around are professionals running the city, and the occasional visitor.
Among the ruling elite there is a subtle difference between the middle aged and the true gerontocrats from the baby boom generation. The middle aged have grown up in the system, have been lifted up by and made a career in it -- but the gerontocrats were already on the top, and they won't let go. While both groups realize the magnitude of the change that will inevitably come, they react differently. The middle aged are desperate since they realize that without the system they are nothing. They struggle to keep the status quo from day to day, secretly believing that their efforts will be futile; "after us the deluge". The gerontocrats take the long view: change happens, the only thing important is to remain on top -- forever. They will gladly sacrifice the others to achieve it. The middle aged somewhat realize this and resent the gerontocrats, but at the same time they know who is in power and the futility of fighting them, so they continue their desperate struggle to remain in the same place.
The future is not something we travel to; it's something we build. All of us. But at their party conferences, and in the coming election campaign, our politicians will be trying to orchestrate that future, and getting it horribly, dangerously wrong.
But the ruling classes will not release their grasp on the present to reach for the future. They reflexively prefer the big and controllable over the small and self-organizing. They want a world of nations and governments not of sovereign communities choosing their own limits. They pretend that democracy is best served by eliminating voices that might shock, offend, or threaten. They encourage us to think the worst of ourselves, with endless moral panics and dishonest nostalgia. They treat us like idiots while campaigning for office, pay lip-service to our wisdom over the ballot box and then ignore us in the conviction that they know what is best.
Through technology we can acquire the knowledge, and the freedom, to act. Government cannot stop this. It can hinder -- or it can help, and cause alienation to wither. The future belongs to those who build it. Let's start building it now.
The Wired Manifesto for the Digital Society Wired October 1996
A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood... A day will come when we shall see ... the United States of America and the United States of Europe, face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas.
Eurasia, Oceania and South-East Asia have always been at war.The world is dominated by the three economic blocks: "Oceania", consisting of the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Korea, "South-East Asia", PRC, Australia and much of the nations in between, and "Eurasia", the European Union and Russia. Together they completely dominate the world economy and international politics. Each of the blocks is held together by strong economical and political ties, and the member nations cooperate to stay competitive on the world market while retaining their political and social stability.
George Orwell, 1984
Since no block can dominate the market alone, they exist in an uneasy balance, a kind of economic cold war where no single block is allowed to move ahead too fast by the other two. International politics has become an elaborate and slow struggle of compromises, trade agreements and veiled threats, where media and the environment have become weapons.
In the struggle to retain the status quo, the blocks have to keep the independent nations in line; they cannot allow anybody else to develop the technologies or economic systems that would threaten their lead (and hence the stability of the world system). At the same time many formerly poor and weak nations have become stronger, and they could in principle take the step into the first world if they were not held back by a variety of factors. India, Pakistan, Turkey, the Arab states and South America are just a few example of the "middle world", straining against the restrictions imposed by the blocks but too weak to challenge them. The third world is a mess, and the trouble (in the form of refugees, ethnic violence, terrorism etc) always threatens to spill over into neighboring nations. They cannot get much aid from the middle world, and the first world gives a spotty aid with strings attached. The situation can be described as the first world against the middle world against the third world.
In general, Political Correctness is the norm. It permeates everything: you have to embrace certain values, otherwise you are asocial or evil. Speaking out against these assumed values is an easy way of being disregarded - you are not a serious debater and your views are clearly not worth listening to. What values are correct depends on which block you are in; PRC PC is utterly alien to an european, and vice versa. The PRC embraces social conformity, loyalty to ones organisation, harmony and modernized confucian values, (as one official once said, "when you have one billion people to feed, human rights are secondary"). Western political correctness tend to be more about protecting "minorities" (which can be anything), avoiding causing offense to anybody, as well as upholding the values of democracy (as defined in the US and EU, respectively). Of course, political correctness in the end kills all real debate and cements the FOG in power.
In most cases politics is a kind of ritual, where the voters dutifully elect politicians they don't trust because they feel a need to protect democracy (yes, even in the PRC). The politicians usually have little understanding of what is going on, and rely on their departements which at least seem to know it. In the end this creates an environment where nobody wants to take the blame for anything, cheap popularity boosting is preferred before tackling real issues and moral panics are a welcome rallying point - by doing anything resolutely you can look decisive in a moral panic. Since anybody speaking against the system obviously must be antidemocratic, it cannot be critizied seriously.
A managed democracy is a wonderful thing, Manuel, for the managers... and its greatest strength is a 'free press' when 'free' is defined as 'responsible' and the managers define what is 'irresponsible'.
Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
The media is like the weather, only it's man-made weather.
Natural Born Killers
It was during the 20th century the media industry gained the primacy of influencing public opinion and culture; no politician, businessman or Concordat member can afford to ignore it. Everybody acknowledges the power of media, everybody in the InfoWar tries to manipulate or use it for their own purposes.
The media industry is run by a few powerful conglomerates. While governments worldwide have tried to prevent single owners from gaining too much power over the media, they didn't count on how the entertainment, computer, games, movie, broadcasting, music, telecommunications and virtual industries has melded together -- there may not be any monopolists controlling what is said in the media, but instead the industry has coalesced into several powerful conglomerates, a few per trade block.
The media doesn't support FOG directly, in the end everything is about the bottom line: how many viewers/subscribers/listeners/users, how much profit? If something grabs attention it is worth something. All journalists dream about the great scoop, and the media industry thrives on controversy. Even if the FOG collapses utterly the media industry will be there and afterwards -- "Worldwide cataclysm: film at 11!". Big media can utterly ruin the career of a politician, no matter how powerful, and change public opinion in ways that make the FOG scream.
But there is a problem: the media doesn't care for boring, complex stuff that doesn't bring any revenue. If a political affair involves sex and drugs the media will cover it eagerly, but if it is something abstract and complicated like a constitutional crisis within the EU monetary administration only the specialist media will care, and most lemmings might miss it altogether even if it is vitally important. The media wants to have something concrete to show if they are going to make it big -- this is a great defense but also a problem in the InfoWar.
There is also the problem that many journalists and others are deep down loyal to the FOG; they might ruthlessly expose corrupt officials but they never question the whole system or where it is going. Some might refrain from "irresponsible" reporting, or want to play it safe. It is a larger problem in the PRC, but even in the US many newsagencies think twice about certain news.
Finally, there is the small matter of truth. While relatively few news-sources deliberately lie, most gladly slant their information. And many journalists read press releases and what other journalists write more than they try to find out what is really happening. A faked story can easily pass around the globe from news-source to news-source without being checked -- a great weapon for all the participants in the InfoWar. Even debunked lies can take on a life of their own and enter public thinking, becoming part of "common knowledge". The power is frightening.
There are no shortcuts because there is no goal line.If there is anything everybody agrees on it is the importance of education. Unfortunately the quality of education around the world isn't very good, not even in developed countries. The educational systems are old and ill adapted to the new time, and are slowly loosing their strength. What is happening is that people are turning away more and more from traditional education (which cannot keep up with the rate of change anyway; what is the point of learning obsolete knowledge?) and finding new sources of knowledge -- unfortunately most of them are bad: television, lobbying groups, new age superstition, net forums and their own subcultures. At the same time FOG desperately tries to keep people at school and feed them a suitable education for it's needs -- which of course the youth resent.
The classical academic tradition is dying. This isn't just the FOG's fault (even if everybody in the TU loves to blame them). The industry is desperately trying to suck up all the engineering and research talent it can -- not that it uses it well, but it is better to have the bright Ph.D.s oneself than let the competitors have them. The academic disciplines that cannot get money from industry grants become dependent on government grants, having to become intellectual yes-people for the people in power in order to retain their support. Add to this the influx of badly educated and poorly motivated students, and it is clear that the universities are in trouble.
Naturally, there are people working against it. IAFAI and similar organizations are loudly protesting and trying to find ways around the problem. Unfortunately it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming just another lobbying group demanding more money to the universities; as the UA points out the problem is deeper than that. What is needed is likely a complete change in how education is done. Perhaps it is just as well to leave the old institutions to die and work on creating better replacements. New forms of collaboration like net-based publishing and research, scholarly networks, academic think tanks and of course the UA are growing up, and may in time form the basis for a new form of academia. The UA envisions the creation of a knowledge culture spread by the net; so far it is just a vision, but it seems possible to bring about.