The Future Always Wins

Paul Raven @ 22-02-2012

Soooooo, yeah – I’ve been busy. Did you miss me? New job, Masters degree… doesn’t leave a lot of spare time, so it doesn’t. But it’s been quiet here too long, so it’s time to dust down the soapbox and run a mic-check. One-two, one-two.

The Future Always Wins

OK. So you may have caught wind of the launch of ARC, which is a new sf and futurism e-magazine from The People Who Bring You New Scientist; issue 1.1 was launched on Monday, and the various ways you can buy it are listed on its masthead website. Yes, it comes via an app or via the Kindle, and as a result it’s DRM’d; this is not ideal, I know, but this ain’t an ideal world. You can buy a POD dead-tree version, too, but it’s fairly pricey by comparison.

Why would you want to buy it? Well, it contains fresh new fiction by Margaret Atwood, Stephen Baxter, M.John Harrison, Hannu Rajaniemi and Alastair Reynolds, and non-fiction essays and articles by Simon Ings, China Miéville, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Leigh Alexander, Simon Pummell, Adam Roberts and Bruce Sterling… oh, and some guy called Paul Graham Raven, too, but don’t let that put you off.

ARC is being touted as something a bit like OMNI reborn. The important thing to note here is that this is a proper paying market for both fiction and non-fiction, and it’s a professional Big House magazine publishing fresh stories by Big Name science fiction authors. So here’s my request, which I’d be making even if I weren’t enjoying the privilege of being on that TOC: buy a copy.

Seriously. If you’ve ever lamented the dwindling number of venues for professional sf sales, or the editorial policies of the Big Three magazines, or if you’ve ever thought that you’d like to read a magazine that took a long professional look at the sort of stuff Futurismic talks about – buy a copy of ARC, and keep buying them. £4.99 in Airstrip One money, which is maybe eight of your Yanqui Dollah; that’s not a bad quarterly price for what you’re getting, I hazard to suggest, and comparable to the prices of extant magazines. So support a brave new market, why don’t you? By doing so, you also support writers and the sf short fiction scene in general.

OK, plug over. :)

There’s No Tomorrow

My article in ARC1.1 is about the Collapsonomics crowd – those voices online and on the ground who’re insisting that Capitalism1.0 is nothing but a shambling zombie of a thing, and trying to map a way forward into a very uncertain future. (Long-term followers of this here blog will certainly recognise some of the names and ideas that get mentioned.)

Due to the nature of the publishing process, most of the research took place in the latter half of last year, in the aftermath of the London riots and the emergence of Occupy, and all the other upheavals that will make 2011 a banner year for the historians of the future… provided, of course, that we actually get a future wherein “historian” means what we currently think it to mean, rather than “addled bard with vague handed-down memories of life before The Fall”.

Ah, it’s still so easy to joke blithely about imminent civilisational collapse… but it feels more and more like gallows humour every time. As a species, as a race, as an ecosystem, a civilisation, a genome, however you want to categorise it – we’ve grown right up to the edge of the petri dish. Everything is running out, including – or perhaps especially – time. Peak Oil is just the start, but it’s an exemplary start. The assumption that infinite exponential growth is not only possible but laudable is very close to running into the brick wall of reality, if it hasn’t already.

I want you to watch this [via ClubOrlov]. It’s not cheerful, but that’s why it needs to be watched. We can’t pretend this stuff isn’t true any more.

I’m sure some of you will have refutations of things that get mentioned in that video; if so, I’m happy to see them in the comments, but they’ll need to be supported by links and citations. Any “[x] is a Liberal Leftist Conspiracy OMFG!!!” stuff will be deleted without prejudice; I’m all done tolerating scientific myopia and wilful ignorance in the name of politeness and deference to the shibboleth of “balanced debate”. This isn’t about left and right any more. It’s about what Bill Hicks memorably referred to as “working out this whole food/air deal”.

One planet, folks. That’s all we’ve got. The way I see it right now, that leaves us two basic choices: either we stay here on the mudball, which means we need to sort our shit out with respect to the distribution of resources before the ecosystem around us takes population adjustment into its own hands (which won’t be any more pleasant than a global war for survival), or we scramble out of the gravity well to an environment where our greatest addiction – energy – can be sustained for (maybe) long enough to solve said addiction.

Make no mistake: if you want a future humanity that has all the fun things and glorious technologies we enjoy at the moment, and if you want that future humanity to last for more than a couple of centuries, then we have to recognise the limits of our environment, and either work within them or work to transcend them.

The universe doesn’t care whether we live or die. I don’t want to hear that any more than you do, but that doesn’t make it any less demonstrably true.

There is no “business as usual” any more. Deal with it.

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14 Responses to “The Future Always Wins”

  1. Dave says:

    As denying the problems becomes less and less tenable, I think we’re going to see an explosion of fervid techno-optimism, about things like geo-engineering, alternative energy, space colonization. Some of these might work (except space colonization — pure pie in the sky) to some extent, but it seems clear that almost all of us are going to see a sharp decline in the portion of our wealth that can be attributed to our planetary environment, with consequences that will be flatly catastrophic for many of us and bad for everyone.

  2. Sterling Camden says:

    Welcome back, Paul!

  3. Laura says:

    I heard a saying once that sums this up perfectly. Earth: Leave it or lost it.

    Good words to live by. Thanks for the post.

  4. SpeakerToManagers says:

    Space colonization isn’t completely pie-in-the-sky; doing it in the sense of creating self-sustaining civilizations off Earth will take several centuries, but it could be done eventually. But that isn’t any sort of a solution to the problem of what to do about the impact of the human race on the Earth itself. Emigration off Earth can never remove more than a tiny fraction of the human population (though that population could eventually grow immense through the magic of exponential increase). So no matter what we do about space we still have to deal with how we live on Earth.

    In the long run we need to reach a stable maximum population; what that is depends on what kind of technologies we can use sustainably over an indefinite future, and just where we’re willing to set the standard of living using those technologies. It’s at least theoretically possible that we could develop technologies that allow a total world population of 7 to 10 billion to live comfortably at the current average level of the citizens of the US. That would require the use of technologies we don’t yet have, and don’t know how to get to, so it’s not a good bet that we’ll get there. On the other hand, not trying at all means we won’t get there no matter what.

  5. Brenda Cooper says:

    I had already bought my copy of Arc — looking forward to reading it!

  6. Sam X says:

    Reminds me of McKibben’s “Eaarth”…and yes, in general, it seems the clock has stopped ticking and we need to make adjustments. The real question is: How many disasters need to happen before we do?

  7. Neer says:

    Glad to see you’re doing well and are back. Found this page here during the hiatus and always hoped for a revival.

    It won’t be easy to effect the necessary steps to ensure the survival of our current societies. Not only do we have to fight an uphill battle against the American right-wing extremist plutocracy who see their business models threatened and thus seek to quell anyone they perceive as enemies of the status quo, but also against flaws inherent in the system such as myopic politicians who only think in terms of, well, their terms or remaining lifetime (so we don’t see much planning going beyond ~30 years) and a public reluctant to support more abstract goals.

    Charles Stross’ essays show that space colonization can’t ever be a panacea to our current problems.

  8. Realitybytes says:

    I am a bit more optimistic. Catch a copy of “Fire Reinvented” by Amory Lovins. Won’t solve these huge problems already plaguing us, but will certainly augment it.

  9. Marian says:

    Are things really that bleak? Is there no hope of avoiding that “perpetual 19th century” future?

  10. Mark says:

    I think that the logic of the video is unreasonably pessimistic in many of its calculations and conclusions, but one underlying assumption stands out in particular. It is this:-

    Economic growth does not *necessarily* require the consumption of physical resources. For example, I might go to the theatre and watch a play. We make much of the ‘services economy’, an economy that comprises less of manufacturing and physical labour.

    Through the movement towards an economy that is less carbon-dense – as some developed nations may be in the process of doing – we can avoid the Malthusian pessimism that lurks throughout this video, and still maintain economic growth. It will require us to accept that wealth is not directly correlated with the size and number of things one owns, and more about the sum of pleasures that one can experience.

  11. Paul Raven says:

    Mark:

    … accept that wealth is not directly correlated with the size and number of things one owns, and more about the sum of pleasures that one can experience.

    On that, we are in complete concurrence! Though I think we’ve still a long way to go before we’re close enough to the precipice to make that leap successfully; the route toward it could be thought of as a weaning from dependency, if you like.

  12. Khannea Suntzu says:

    The best thing I can envision would be a sudden advance in life extension/rejuvenation. The problem I see is that we have a lot of relatively old people (40+) in the western world. These “relatively” old people do not anticipate living for long – when half society doesn’t anticipate a generation, this part of the population might be less interested in a world without them.

    These same people realize, even at an unconscious level, they hit a historical jackpot in terms of consumption and affluence. Oil first and foremost allowed us to grow a technology with major geological implications. What happened in the last century on this planet probably didn’t happen within thousands of light years. This is something truly new.

    So those who are swimming in this glut of entitlement don’t give a damn about the consequences of hastened, persistent consumption. And too often the “older” don’t give a flying fuck about many young people either.

    So what would happen if the “old” were suddenly able to live indefinitely (or a lot longer) ? These people would have to contend with the long term logical consequences and implications of their acts (or they inaction). I believe many “old” people wouldn’t even want to become this long-lived, as they anticipate endless misery. Well thanks about that I suppose.

  13. Khannea Suntzu says:
  14. Jeremy says:

    Your perspective is refreshing.

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