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I’ve never answered when. In 2003 I made the precipitous decision to abandon trying to make money, and to store my wealth in the form of reputation capital. It was the Euro that did it; I looked at history, particularly the bimetallic period, and decided that having two reserve currencies was likely to crash the global economy within 10 years. It took me about five minutes to decide: my subconscious has a whim of iron. That’s not saying that I stopped trying to make a living – had Buttered Side Down actually got clients other than Arup I’d be doing alright, but we were just too early. I had over-estimated institutional readiness to face risks. Ironically Buttered Side Down, with its “historic risk management consultancy” pitch might actually do quite well today, but I’m burned out on that kind of thinking and that kind of push. I was just too early, by about two years.
Bring me a client and I’ll sort them out, of course.
Anyway, I decided the safe place to store my wealth was reputation. I set out to work on the hardest problems I could find, and to place the resulting work into the Public Domain whenever practicable, which has turned out to be almost always. I used my unique psychological makeup to peer into dark corners, and I invented useful things. There are three works above all others: the hexayurt, Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps and CheapID. To a fairly close approximation, those works and their corollaries are my creative output for ten years.
There’s a lot of other stuff, stuff that I made sure went right, like The Economist’s Book of the Year, 2003, “Small is Profitable” which I helped edit, or “Winning the Oil Endgame”, which I sometimes jokingly say prevented America from carpet-bombing the rest of the middle east. But I didn’t create those; I labored in obscurity. They’re unspeakably important, but very specialised.
So back to the question: when?
The answer is, I don’t know, but I think it’s soon. I’m an awful one for signs and portents, and I’m an awful one for being years too early. But I did not leave London years before the riots, I left three months before them. That tells me that I’m no longer years too early, I’m heading towards right-on-time. Right on time is that I’ve spent two years building models for handling state failure, and I dropped the entire package into the public domain weeks ago.
“When?” is a tough question. I moved to Ireland for the food – not the potato stew, but the 6m people on land that supported 8m before the age of oil. I moved here for the culture – you couldn’t get a fascism going here with two Hitlers, four Maos and a cocker-spaniel. 400 years of saying “feck” to central authorities has left cultural scars of breathtaking depth, but those scars are character armor, too. You can’t slide a sheet of paper between two stones here, when you see it.
When is soon, probably. We could keep rolling sixes and spin it out another 22 years, but we’re getting to the point where relatively small system shocks could propagate cracks uncontrollably like a fat man falling through ice on a pond. I can’t tell you when, but I can tell you that the US is in trouble, Europe is in trouble, they’ve printed insane amounts of money and it hasn’t stabilized things, assets are being devalued in complex processes which hide inflation and still there are no new jobs. People kick around terms like “stagflation” but what’s happening is simple and subtle: nothing.
We’re treading water. We’re like a shark that’s stopped swimming. We’re a cartoon character, all flailing legs, hovering above the abyss.
And at the bottom of it are those poor bastards in Africa, in rural India, South America, Asia, eating rice and bugs because there’s nothing else to eat. And you’ve ignored them your entire life as the money poured from “we know not where” into the First World Lifestyle, which squandered the wealth which could have fed and housed every human being on earth on an extractive economy which wastes 40% of the food produced and has a billion fat people, including me.
In many ways, I long for a moral cleansing of the world, but it won’t be by the sword, it’ll be one person at a time, with a spade, growing their own food because the assholes that created the Codex Alimentarius are all out their digging in the dirt too.
Don’t you understand? The oil is poison it’s killing our world one gallon of gas at a time. It’s like we’re force-feeding the world cigarettes and complaining when it coughs and turns blue. The hunger side of it is even worse. The indescribable horror of what’s unfolding in Somalia falls on deaf neurons, not just deaf ears. Didn’t we go through all of this 25 years ago with Live Aid?
Question: when will the economy crash?
Answer: have you looked at Sudan?
Now, who’s going to get up to work in the morning, and pretend that what they’re doing matters?
I know putting a roof over your head is important. I’ve neglected it at times, over-reached, friends have bailed me out, caught me, but hopefully at some point I’ll pay my debts, small as they are, completely. If you’ve got kids, it’s right to put them first, to do what you’ve gotta do, and let the world take care of itself.
But we’re losing it. These narrow windows of self-interest, backed up by armed guards just off the side of your screen, are fighting secret wars to keep capitalism safe, the rich richer, and those dying from poverty far from our front door, but… why, why those secret wars are being lost.
It’s our failure to quickly quash resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan that’s caused this. And I say “ours” advisedly, because unless I’m much mistaken, your country was in there too, come for the terrorism and stay for the oil. An oil well, a good one, produces oil for an extraction cost of $2 or $4 a barrel, and sells at well over $100 – an almost unimaginable return on investment. So much money it pays to drill mile deep holes in mile deep water to get the oil out. An oil well is a fountain of gold, but it poisons the world. And that’s what our whole civilization is – an oil rainbow on a puddle, a shimmering illusion of permanence as we torch the environment for… more plastic crap while other people’s children starve.
I’m sorry. Last person out, turn the lights off.
I haven’t managed to square my actions with the truth.
Some dumb bastard (sorry Curtis) asked me for a plan. “You can do it, Vinay.”
No, no I can’t. But I think I can do something better.
What can we do about the state of the world?
I think I can draw a line through available data that tells us how to get a future we all can live with, the future we deserve.
I had to tear down most of my mind to get to here, because it requires letting go of our model of how the future is created, and doing something else, and connecting the main evolutionary drives of the human race directly to the machinery which will solve our real problems.
Here’s what we’ve got.
Cheap renewable energy revolution
Ultra-cheap solar power
Konarka and NanoSolar – both offer ultra-cheap solar panel technologies, vastly cheaper than coal. Last time I checked the numbers, NanoSolar had $800m of investment and $4.2 billion dollars of pre-orders. Konarka was talking about a long-term goal of $0.10 per watt production costs (5% of the current silicon cell $2/watt) and NanoSolar was talking about $0.30 a watt somewhat sooner. There’s no clear limit on scaling these technologies once they deliver.
Liquid transportation fuels
Algal Turf Scrubbers – farming the thick slippery green hairy stuff that grows on the bottom of rocks. It grows in sea water. It could be grown on non-crop land, in huge shallow tanks in coastal desert regions. It is a polyculture – grow whatever falls into the tank. It does not require pesticides or genetic engineering to work. The numbers look good enough to provide all the fuel the world needs without breaking anything else. Nothing else is even close.
Processed into biobutanol it will likely run in existing gasoline cars, too.
Water and Sanitation
Biosand filter – saves maybe 5m deaths a year, a plastic bucket filled with algae, sand and gravel to filter water. There are other, similar technologies.
Sulabh toilet – saves about 5m deaths a year. Other toilet designs may suit other regions better, there are many.
Rocket stove – saves maybe 5m deaths a year from breathing cooking fires, and deforestation. Also see wood gasification stoves.
Cheap solar gadgets – primarily lights and cell phone/computer chargers, but other things too. Solar cookers seem to work in some places, not others.
Mesh networks – everybody shares everybody’s short range wireless connections to form a global network. Eventually we’ll wish we never invented these, but face them we must.
Cheap android tablet – add a keyboard if you need one. I use a Huawei S7, $150, 3G works as a phone. Five years they’ll be giving them away in cereal packets.
Information services – m-health, m-banking, m-farming, day-by-day precision agriculture recommendations (second to last page) based on satellite telemetry of your GPS coordinated farm, interactive mass-translated how-to guides on how to survive and thrive in every climate. In progress.
Demilitarize space – we can’t do anything else up there while space is run by black programs.
Declassify the real launch vehicles – the SR-71 did officially Mach 4 and 100,000 feet in the 1960s. We have 45 years of technological development since the SR-71 was designed, and the official story is that the now-grounded 1980s technology Space Shuttle is the best we can do. They’re lying. You know it. I know it. We need the real launch vehicles declassified, or at least the bits we need for civilian access to space. Need, not want.
Push all Genetically Modified Organisms into orbit – biotech companies can still make money up there, it gets the GMOs off the planetary surface, and it provides an economic rationale for investing in cheap launch. And they must go, before there is an awful disaster.
Get the high frontier back – we’re trapped on earth and we’re turning on each other. Blame mammalian or primate psychology, but we don’t like to be in a confined environment with no way to expand to get more resources. It makes our genes restless, then aggressive. It is our will to go, and we are in a secret pitched battle with the secret state for access to space, which is the only place we have to expand into. We need the agencies to declassify a real launch technology, for the benefit of the entire human race. Who’s our Kennedy?
I cannot stress how important this is. People invariably misunderstand this part, but step back, have a think about it. We’ve gone from relatively hard science to speculation about black space programs. Are we still on solid ground? Do they have these things? If so, when will they release them for the benefit of all of humanity?
The New Rights of Man Every Person
Two human principles. Firstly, we do not use force, because we do not have atomic weapons and starting a fight you will lose is stupid. Secondly, the only problem we have here is us and therefore we cannot kill our way to a solution, which means no atomic weapons.
No global jurisdiction – we must acknowledge that the field of human rights has become a gridlock of rights, entitlements, preferences and theology. Rights directly conflict with each-other, as in the right to property directly conflicting with the right to assured access to water. Without a global jurisdiction, no government can enforce any kind of coherent rights doctrine, particularly in the face of borderless problems like terrorism or environmental crisis. Without a global court, our conventional methods for handling the conflicts between two virtues fall apart: we cannot leave it to case law and judges to sort it out.
Geneva for all – our western democracies are backsliding into legalized torture. We all know our governments are torturing, by sending people abroad, by locking them up in black sites, by legally incarcerating them and treating them so badly their minds break. They may be doing this on our behalf, but they are doing it, and we are not standing outside the embassies and the secret police headquarters every day demanding Geneva Convention rights for “terrorists.” And this is really what is about: we’ve lost Geneva. We’ve lost the international rule of law on the battlefield, and we’re sliding backwards into barbarism. Can we all agree on Geneva rights for all prisoners as a responsible starting point? Some may wish to go further, but if we can agree that Geneva rights for all prisoners is a good starting point and we should achieve it first perhaps we can make a unified demand of government to end the barbarism and go back to civilized war. Just one small step. I therefore propose a “Geneva For All” campaign be the first starting point of any political platform that seeks to repair the damage done to our democracies since 9/11.
The minority of one – in an increasingly complex global environment, the hard categories which formed entitlement groups and identities in the early post-Modern period have disintegrated. Transgendered and bisexual people chip away at traditional frameworks of sexual privilege and oppression. Multi-racial individuals dissolve the formerly hard barriers around race. New relationship patterns like polyamory begin to show what a new settlement between human desire and safe-sex technology might look like. Rather than a patchwork of special laws to meet the idealized and mythic special cases, we need to acknowledge that everybody is a special case, a unique and pressurized minority of one struggling to express their humanity through the exercise of their capacities, defended by our collective recognition and defense of their human rights. There is no point in discriminating by race or gender in law because, in the final analysis, these categories have become so fluid as to become legally meaningless in an increasing number of edge-cases. Can a 1/4-Indian sue for racial discrimination? What about a 1/16th Indian? Where’s the line? Similarly for gender or sexuality. Is it worse to call a hetrosexual man, a bisexual man or a gay man “faggot”? What if he is only occasionally gay, or used to be a woman? What then? Legally protect the individual, and not the group, because there are no groups which have real, hard, tangible legal edges any more. We should not be arguing in courts about who is or is not a member of which specially protected group. This is not a legal framework or a call to end protection for minorities, but an observation that the basis for such protection must emanate from the minority of one, not a laundry list of legal special cases.
The religious roots of oppression – Crowley completely dropped the ball on thelema. Thelema is a secret thread. It’s the hard stuff the boys and girls in the back room are doing. It’s where Alan Moore came from. Therefore it’s where Anonymous came from, or at least their iconography. It’s what Kanye West was thinking about when he spent $300,000 on a Horus necklace and made the POWER video, which is about as good a piece of religious art as has been done in a century. It’s what Jack Parsons was running on when he invented the solid rocket motors which fueled the space race and wrote Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword. And, yes, it’s what Jimmy Page and David Bowie were on, for a while. Why am I talking about occult religion? I’m bringing this up to broaden the debate on human rights, and for a reason.
Mainstream jurisprudence in most of the world is a direct descendent from desert monotheisms or other traditions which unify political and spiritual power in the form of God-Kings as in Japan or China. In these traditions, the secure functioning of the State is equivalent to doing God’s will on Earth, and this is Very, Very Important. And these guys, all of them, are destroying the future of humanity. The religious right want to start a jihad with the Muslims. The descendants of Mao will enslave their own for filial-piety-turned communist.
I think that to get effective human rights we’re going to have to go beyond this. Consider, if you will, Liber Oz, which is Crowley’s summary of The Rights of Man. Now this is very simple. It is freedom. It may not be a perfect expression of Freedom, but there’s no doubt that the intention is to express Freedom in a fairly absolute form. There’s no legal system to hassle out what happens when these rights conflict with each other, there’s no sound basis of common law, there’s nothing about the Sacredness of Property as an Extension of the Self. It’s just Freedom. It’s not even Just Freedom. Now, as I said, Crowley screwed this up. In the hands of an English Victorian who’d been educated as a Fundamentalist Christian, it was a bomb. It blew Crowley’s head off, and he never seems to have done justice to the work. Parsons is a more approachable thinker. If you want the most beautiful, subtle form, Alan Moore’s Promethea is staggeringly beautiful. When the time comes to have a renegotiation about the fundamental basis for human rights on this planet, our planet the Earth, I’d like us to start from The Law of Thelema, which is Freedom at the center. But I’m not suggesting I care whether you do it or not: do what thou wilt. We have no basis for a jurisprudence of Freedom, nor do we have any realistic goal of rapid adoption of a Freedom-based legal system. Do not let conventional Anarchism or property-based Libertarianism secularize the Sacredness of the fact you are Free. Rather, ask yourself this: if you had been born on a planet where the received word of god was
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
“Love is the law, love under will.”
how different might your life be?
Ending the nuclear stalemate – right now we are resolving the problems on this planet with violence, and since the invention of the nuclear bomb, neither side can win so we have a global deadlock in which there is no over-riding dominant power to make the rules, but rather a series of destructive warring fiefdoms that are squandering the future of the human race in endless banal competition.
I want you to stop seeing the State as anything more than a garbage collecting utility function. Your nationality should not matter any more than your ethnicity or your religion, it’s a tiny facet of your humanity, not a reason to draw a line on a map and go to war. The myrmidons of the State are trapped by a theology which acknowledges only a single word of god, a single point where the Divine Right of Kings radiates out from. Where these competing groups with nuclear weapons meet, two different conceptions of reality are locked in conflict. The strain this puts on the fabric of the planet, on the very fundamental survival of humanity, threatens us all. We must take our nuclear warriors off duty, and make it clear to them that we will settle our differences without organized violence of the kind that could ever escalate to the use of weapons of mass destruction – or, indeed, military weapons at all. They cannot back down from their status as our guardians, and yet we cannot afford the terrible price of requiring such protection. It is up to the people of earth to dissolve the strains between each-other in an equitable, harmonious way, to make a political peace so strong and so vivid that the nuclear watchmen can hang up their bombs and retire.
They are not keeping us in cages for their amusement – they are keeping us in cages for our protection.
What can I do?
I believe we could lose a couple of billion people this decade. Ten years from now there might not be five billion humans left. A collapsing reserve currency could stop the international food trade dead for two years, and starve hundreds of millions or even a billion people. To this add War, most likely a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, or god forbid nuclear terrorism against America or Israel, either of which might desecrate much of the world in insane retaliation depending on the manner and nature of the attacks. It could be a rough decade. Everywhere the choice will be “guns or butter” because not every cultural mandate can be carried in lean times of economic contraction. In the good times, at least in America, we had “both/and” thinking, both social programs and military spending. Now we are going to have to choose, and I hope to god the calculus is correct, and we get an America able to play its part in a democratic peace, and not a a yet-more-unbalanced tyrant. Maybe this will happen. Maybe not.
We have to heal the cultural split which opened between civil society and the military during the 1960s, when our defenders became our enemies. I’ve seen these guys up close, and they are excellent people. The leaders of the military-industrial complex that I have met so far are as subtle and thoughtful human beings as humanity has to offer, trapped in an impossible situation by the sudden advent of the nuclear age, where we went from Spear Politics + Rifles to Spear Politics + Nuclear Missiles over the course of 20 years from 1945 to 1965. Culturally, neither we nor they have had time to catch up to the realities of the nuclear age, and now we must give the order to stand down. We must not see the increasing pressure on the shared global environment (including forces like climate change) give rise to a new generation of military tensions which can (and eventually will) escalate into nuclear or worse wars. You can see it between India and Pakistan, you can, if you dare, see it between America and China or even between Russia and Europe. These are all flashpoints that could escalate, and it is our job to bring such a strong peace and such a strong demand for peace, not by harassing our own side’s military, but by making common cause with citizens of other countries to heal the world so that not one person in the world will every believe it is their duty to use a nuclear weapon ever again.
It is our job to do this. Civil society must address the ongoing economic genocide of the poor and the destruction of the biosphere and the massive tensions which exist between countries or governments will inevitably continue the global gridlock, and the gridlock will eventually lead to more war.
When President Obama was elected, he asked the public to push, to keep the pressure up on Washington, to get the radical agenda through. The public then sat back on its ass, and Obama has aged ten years and burned most of his backbone just holding the line against Republican wolves. Lackluster support may have cost us the Leader of the Free World we could have believed in. Anonymous snipes at minor enforcers and structural hypocrites, but thus far has not stepped up to offer up a constructive alternative to the activities of the organizations they are taking down.
All I can say is, find something to do. Figure out what your will is, what you’re here to change, and change it. Our old models, of forming groups with complex structures, are not producing change. The UN has ossified into a shell and does little innovation in most areas. Above all, the climate process is gridlocked, deadlocked and lethal. Get behind somebody who might know what they are doing, and push.
I only have two bits of advice for you. Number one, stop smoking. Number two, stop watching television. I don’t know a single person who watches a lot of TV, not one, because people who have a TV habit cannot keep up.
So back to the question of human rights. We must square the circle: if we are to have Freedom, what do we do about those who want to poison the world with a little dioxin-filled incinerator at the bottom of the garden, or a mercury-leeching gold mine in the Amazon? How do we say no to people with foolish needs? Are we to rely on the power of the State to police what we consider distasteful, yet demand Freedom for ourselves? No, we cannot do this, not yet.
Here’s my advice for you. Do everything you can do to solve the world’s real problems. Look mercilessly at what needs to be done, and with some beneficence at yourself, but get moving. We’ve sat around in consensus circles until the cushions are tired and nothing on remotely the scale required to change the world has happened. While that has been going on, the nerds have been prototyping a new form of human interworking called do-ocracy or open source. This approach has started to out-compete the biggest and smartest of the corporations. It’s spreading into physical plant and distributed manufacturing. But we haven’t figured out how to get leverage on politics, or how to head this awful global trouble off at the pass.
I don’t know whether what I’ve said is going to be meaningful to you or not. It’s very hard to get far enough out to get a truly global perspective, and once you are that far out, there seem to be only two choices: platitudes, or the full, but often incomprehensible, truth.
I am Vinay. I have always erred on the side of the incomprehensible truth. I’m not sure how many of you can hear me, or understand what I have to say. This is a planetary emergency. You have been activated. You’ve been activated since you were born. You just have to remember that you are a fully-empowered agent of human evolution, the planet you were born on is dying, and species-level pathologies formed around the creation of the nuclear weapon, interfacing with deeper scars left by bad religious theology have wedged us into a no-win global political deadlock that could kill us all, along with all future human beings, and every living thing that walks, swims, flies or crawls upon this earth. Go forth.
Put it into high gear. You’ve got nothing to lose, and it’s only the media that’s telling you that you have. Tyler Durden was an optimist. Saul Alinsky wasn’t that radical. John Boyd was a man of peace.
You are the benediction. Go forth and bless the world by getting off your ass, and damn the consequences of stepping out of synch with the culture around you so that you can directly face and address the real problems of the world.
Director, Hexayurt Project
Tuesday August 16th 2011, 8AM from the long side.
I will be at Uncivilisation, the Dark Mountain Festival in Hampshire, England on Saturday August 20th 2011 from 3:45PM – 5:15PM.
We can no longer afford to ignore the sacred
Modern industrial civilisation leaves no space for the sacred narrative. Does it matter? Given the resistance many of us feel towards both institutionalised religion and New Age spirituality, can we find ways of speaking which make room for the return of the sacred? Vinay Gupta belongs to the Indian tradition of the ‘kapalika’, or ‘bearers of the skull bowl’, and the Nath Sampradaya, an ancient yogic sect. He will be in conversation with Dark Mountain co‐founder Dougald Hine.
Here is what I had to say at last year’s Dark Mountain Festival.