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If you're going to panic, panic constructively.
January 30, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Bruce Sterling, fresh from his online State of the World 2008 discussion (previously), delivers his succinct prognosis for the new year: 2009 Will Be a Year of Panic. At least it's an opportunity to say good-bye to the 20th century at last. (via)
posted by Doktor Zed (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ooh, he has a new book and I didn't know about it? How'd that happen?
posted by Artw at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2009


And is he now back in Texas? I thought he was still hanging out in Serbia?
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2009



Oh for crying out loud! Every time we have an economic shock, the doomsayers come crawling out from under their rocks or coffee shops, screaming loudly about how the sky is falling. I saw the same damn thing in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s; all predicting the imminent collapse of everything, we'll be eating our grandmothers in five years and all that. It just gets old after a decade or two.

Not to say that there aren't major problems that need to be dealt with, such as global climate change, transitioning from oil, demographic trends and the like. But this sort of whinging is the sort of thing that happens when you have an SF writer who's been around too long. Really, he's just another part of the problem.
posted by happyroach at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Declaring that "information wants to be free" is an ideological stance.

No it isn't. It's this: A real-world situation where information can't be anything but free, where digital information cannot be monetized...
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on January 30, 2009


FDR said it best: There is nothing to fear but f.... OMG TAKE COVER!!!
posted by desjardins at 10:10 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"solidarity" is a feeling of natural affinity with the unjustly oppressed. One could call it benevolence. [...] Europe is not a litigious or constitutional society. "Solidarity" is our native response.

Really? What about the banlieues in France? Or the Turks in Germany? Or is there only solidarity with one's own ethnicity? I grant that the US has its own monumental problems, but I can't see that Europe is a shining model of solidarity.
posted by desjardins at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2009


We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And the robots, but that goes without saying.
posted by The Whelk at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


> 2009 Will Be a Year of Panic.

Looks like he's beat us to it.

If you go through my posting history you'll see that I'm second-to-few when it comes to environmental pessimism, but even I have a hard time believing that 2009 - not 2010 or 2032 but 2009 - will be the year that the environment hits the fan, everywhere, simultaneously. Wait a minute, what's that?

> Any one of these could erupt...

Oh. "Could." Yup. They could.

*nods sagely*
posted by you just lost the game at 10:21 AM on January 30, 2009


Yeah, there's no panic going on right now.
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on January 30, 2009


This sort of reads like the journal of someone who's just discovered, before they head off to college, that the rest of the world exists and now feels compelled to tell all their friends about how cool it is and how much this town sucks and I can't wait to get out of here and who the hell did mister hooper think he is telling me i cant park on the street in front of his house anyway? It's a public street i'm gonna park there and if i want to listen to my music i'm gonna do that too. Gawd i am so ready to be outta here and mister hooper is gonna feel like an ass when i become star quarterback in the NFL and he'll have to sit there every gameday watching me bust my moves with the hot chicks waving at me from the stands and that'll show him.
posted by aramaic at 10:31 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


It also interesting that it coincides with his preferred post-state political unions.

"Why the coming Economic crisis means my political/economic standpoint should be followed."

This is also rich:

Once we recognize precarity as an existential threat for all, we will find the means to deal with it. A guaranteed annual income would be a good start. Shorter work weeks give us the chance to rejoin civil society, to re-establish trust with neighbors turned strangers, to engage in some convivial joie de vivre over healthy, genuine cuisine, instead of ridiculous cardboard-packaged fast food. You might want to drop by Turin to see how this can work. Here, we have built a global food-heritage industry. It would do you good to see wealthy Indians and Chinese gourmets venturing to sample the cheeses (likely the world's greatest) available from local producers. Each side is enriched. Italy has been enduring massive tidal waves of tourists for two hundred solid years. Our tourist trade is so old and well established that we should perhaps build monuments to it.

For all of his doom saying predictions, his response was global trade to Nouveau Rich people? Trade emboldened by cheap oil, and open borders. How will this function in a world of slums? I can't tell if this is supposed to be a joke or not.
posted by zabuni at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2009


Whew. Good thing Bruce Sterling is never right about anything.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:35 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


good thing bruce sterling has been wrong about everything else

refresh: ian a.t. beat me to it
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2009


This sort of reads like

That's a very interesting observation. I'm willing to bet you'll have even more to say once you've read the actual article.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:38 AM on January 30, 2009


Yeah, there's no panic going on right now.
posted by Artw at 1:28 PM on January 30


The panic is going on among people who thought the financial insanity operative from 1998-2006 was normal and needs to be restored.

The people who knew the prevailing situation was untenable are actually quite calm now, because they've been vindicated. They are stalking the world like hunters looking for prey. The world of $300 mp3 players never made any sense, no matter how much people talked about clickwheels or interface design. The world where "flip this house" was a popular show on cable is crazy. The world where 40% of house purchases in a year are second homes is nuts. The world where Jim Cramer gets on TV every night and shouts "Booyah!" amidst a cacophony of sound effects and Thunderdome-like cheers is perverse.

That that world is completely imploding makes complete sense. It doesn't mean we swing to the opposite insanity of "a guaranteed annual income" as proposed by the author of the linked article. It means we get back to normal.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:46 AM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm willing to bet you'll have even more to say once you've read the actual article

Guess again.
posted by aramaic at 10:54 AM on January 30, 2009


I wish I lived in the bubble where that only affected the speculators, and being vindicated was more important than money.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's copacetic, man, Bruce Sterling is Kristolic about everything.
posted by stavrogin at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2009


He's no Charlie Stross.
posted by Mister_A at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


One day a doom-sayer's going to be right and where will we all be?

WE'LL BE DEAD THAT'S WHAT
posted by WalterMitty at 11:07 AM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Seems to me, the price of gold is proportional to the level of panic in the world at large. Gold is climbing; panic levels are too. Obama forgot that one. When things are scary, people cling to their guns, their religion and GOLD.

I don't think Bruce Sterling lives in the real world. When shit goes to hell, people don't instinctively begin wondering how they're going to begin feeding the hungry people near them. They start thinking about how they're going to feed themselves. And if those other people get in the way of that, violence breaks out. Riots are even now spreading across the world. Food riots, job riots, riots against politicians, riots against failed governments, religious riots -- yeah, that's some serious solidarity there. Er, wait, I confused 'solidarity' with 'impending anarchy'. And so did Sterling.

If you want to lose money, always bet on Bruce Sterling. But give him credit: it's almost as hard to be wrong every time as it is to be right every time.
posted by jamstigator at 11:11 AM on January 30, 2009


Oh for crying out loud! Every time we have an economic shock, the doomsayers come crawling out from under their rocks or coffee shops, screaming loudly about how the sky is falling. I saw the same damn thing in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s; all predicting the imminent collapse of everything, we'll be eating our grandmothers in five years and all that. It just gets old after a decade or two.

Lol. Meta hyperbole.

Oh for crying out loud! Every time we have a discussion about a global problem, the anti-doomsayers come crawling out from under their rocks or coffee shops, screaming loudly about how everything is all sunshine and kittens and anyone who claims otherwise is a doodoo head. I saw the same damn thing in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s; all predicting that everything will keep getting better forever. It just gets old after a decade or two.

But seriously, we need to stop these petty doomsayers vs. care bears/optimists vs. pessimists arguments. Don't these categories speak to different aspects of our personalities that we all have? Is it unreasonable to worry about the future, especially considering our present circumstances? I sure don't think so. Is it unreasonable to think that, whatever happens, things will probably be ok? Probably not, especially in the short term. Is it unreasonable to think that sometime in the future we may need to take action to ensure a livable world for ourselves, our children, and the rest of the planet? Of course not, to some extent we do it everyday whether we think about it or not. We don't need to let an optimistic perspective or a pessimistic perspective dominate our outlook. I would even go so far as to say it's harmful to do so.
posted by symbollocks at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


It means we get back to normal.

For most of human history, normal meant nasty, brutish and short. Please y'all, buy my DVDs so my life can be less nasty and longer (but no less brutal).
posted by infinitewindow at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2009


I look forward to meeting Bruce Sterling in a future world that is cleaner, safer and more prosperous than this one. I don't know if there will be any polar bears in it outside of zoos. But it will be otherwise a better world.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:10 PM on January 30, 2009


Sterling's decision to write the response as his alter ego, Bruno Argento, has (I think) a hint of Prof. Irwin Corey about it. There are some bits that only "an Italian futurist" would write, such as implementing guaranteed income or using Turin's tourism as a model for (re)building civil society in the 21st century. Overall, though, a professional prognosticator writing his own counterpoint sets Sterling apart from the Metafilter's favorite doomsayers/survivalists. His essential point of disembarrassing ourselves of the 20th century's mindset so we can make something better out of the 21st seems to be as close to optimism as one can reasonably hope for.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:14 PM on January 30, 2009


The world of $300 mp3 players never made any sense, no matter how much people talked about clickwheels or interface design.

You can have my iPod when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:26 PM on January 30, 2009


we'll be eating our grandmothers in five years

*burp* five years?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 1:02 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


In Geriastan, grandmother eats you!
posted by Mister_A at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2009


Gee, lotta hatin' on Bruce.

good thing bruce sterling has been wrong about everything else

The last Sterling novel I read, 1999's Distraction, totally predicted the political dynamic of the Bush years and suggested one pathway for the disintegration of America that is looking more and more prophetic. Maybe it puts people off that he's writing political near-term social-science fiction instead of the galactic and singularity stuff.

Plus, he can be really funny.
posted by psyche7 at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2009


Gee, lotta hatin' on Bruce.

He dissed warez! Pile on!
posted by Artw at 3:36 PM on January 30, 2009


I see a lot of people commenting on the Bruce Sterling article, but few (none?) on the companion piece, also linked by Doktor Zed, to the Bruno Argento article. I think they're supposed to be read back-to-back, kind of a point-counterpoint thing. Moreover, in that light, I think Sterling's article may be intentional hyperbole.
posted by lekvar at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2009


One of my favorite novels was Schismatrix, and I think, in some way, Bruce Sterling has caught the Harlan Ellison Disappointment. I think it's pretty common for SF (of all stripes) to really believe that humanity can be so much more than it is, and at some point, humanities obstinate decision to remain exactly as it is begins to wear on the writer, making them more and more discontent with the direction we're heading, and more likely to throw out blanket statements of doom, usually based on some form of jeremiad (though, in Sterling's case it's a longing for an imagined future reality that has not/will not come to pass).

Looking at Schismatrix, for example, I think Sterling really, strongly believes/believed in a great future where we'd left behind so much of the silliness that we currently cling to, that keeps us from achieving said future. The novel itself (and stories connected) center around a society that cleaves to an ideologically split society, but the positive outcome is only reached by a character choosing to move past the split.

So, well, take it easy on him. He thought we could be better than we are, and he's slowly learning that, well, we probably can't. Not for a very, very long time.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:07 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This should really go in the zombie or survivalist thread but here we go.


So I'm at a bar with a friend talking about her new apartment. She's a painter, as is her boyfriend, so I was interested why they chose a place with almost no natural light and built like a bomb shelter.

"Oh, Zombie protection."

"What?"

"Well what do you do after the end of the world? We've talked about this a lot." then she recites a full battle plan for surviving a siege in her apartment, points of access, rooftop transport, moving from building to building, establishing defense and corridors, communications, detailed observations on food supplies and easily protected areas "We think the C-Town used to be a bank cause it has bullet proof glass." and backup plans. "We talked to the owner of our local bar, it's got a metal fire door and small barred windows so it's a good fall-back position. We've even got a signal system worked out using flares. " She finishes her drink. "So what's your end of the world plan?"

Pause.

"Um. Go to your house?"
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 PM on January 30, 2009


Bruce is right, you know. We are pretty fucked.

Thing is, it's that ol' frog in the slowly-heated water situation. We've been fucked for a very long time and now we're just leading in to the vinegar strokes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:11 PM on January 30, 2009


Wow. When I first encountered this link, I thought it said Bruce Schneier, and the more I read it, the more I thought "If someone as realistic as Bruce, who I usually agree with, says this, I should really be scared."

Then I realized it was Bruce Sterling and breathed a sigh of relief...
posted by mmoncur at 1:35 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


He thought we could be better than we are, and he's slowly learning that, well, we probably can't. Not for a very, very long time.

recently (re)discovered this about keynes (and hicks ;)
Keynes' conclusion was that "a point may soon be reached... when these [absolute] needs are satisfied, in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes." In that case:

"the day is not far off when the Economic Problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and that the arena of the heart and head will be occupied... by our real problems---the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion."

More important, Keynes's predictions have not come to pass. He expected society to undergo a profound change as attention shifted from working hard to keep the wolf from the door to living a good life. But we today do not feel that material acquisition is about to go out of style, we do not appear to be on the threshold of converting en masse from full-time to half-time or quarter-time work, and we have not begun to rank and applaud people by how they spend their leisure as opposed to what they do at work. The dividing line between useful necessity and pointless luxury always comes at roughly twice one's current standard of living. After all, Americans could subsist - healthily - off of wheat flour, evaporated milk, cabbage, spinach, and navy beans for less than fifty cents a day. But, as George Stigler wrote:

"such a diet would not be to the satisfaction of either the population or the students of nutrition.... Man insists upon luxuries such as meat, and should we somehow fully address his desire (despite his penchant for shifting from sow belly to pheasant), he will no doubt insist upon shifting to another and more expensive food.... [T]he economic system has as its purpose forcing people to find new scarcities... the alteration of a host of circumstances and policies that deprive large numbers of people of eminently desirable things that a more efficiently organized society could afford."

So there is no real reason to expect "satiation" at any level of per capita income that I can foresee. The level of luxury at which people imagine satiation is always three times the value of their current consumption.
like for me, if you broadly (re)define 'luxury' to the general welfare or public goods, that'd be a great start for all those philosophers and visionaries stuck "Wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born" that is all!
posted by kliuless at 10:58 AM on January 31, 2009


As an investor and a taxpayer, what would be a prudent course of action at this time? If insolvent banks like Citi and BofA are going to have their bad assets taken off their hands without giving a haircut to bond holders or wiping out shareholders, wouldn't it be a good time to pick up some shares in financial companies before the big rally?

Maybe this is a question for AskMetafilter.
posted by csw at 8:39 AM on February 4, 2009


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