Archive for category: Essay / Research

Prada Revolutionaries: Confessions of a Recovering Solutionist

Prada Revolutionaries: Confessions of a Recovering Solutionist

prada3

This essay is part of 5 Viridian Years, a series of reflections on the Viridian Design movement.

Revolution is depressing.

The U.S. turned deep red after the 2002 mid-term elections. Any hope of a Democratic rebound after George W. Bush’s contentious inauguration vanished. Not that the Democrats were any better. Only one senator had voted against the Patriot Act, and in 2003 congress approved the invasion of Iraq despite worldwide protest — some of the biggest in history. Meanwhile, poverty was on the rise and the Kyoto Protocol was going nowhere.

On a personal level, the a local homeless shelter was on the verge of being pushed out of downtown Olympia, WA out to the outskirts of town. The campaign to save it, which I had volunteered for, was going badly.

It was hard to take the idea of meaningful political change seriously. Things were fucked up at every level of government. Nor could I take seriously the right-wing punk, “fuck-up the system from the inside” idea. Writer Grant Morrison put it this way: “For every McDonald’s you blow up, ‘they’ will build two. Instead of slapping a wad of Semtex between the Happy Meals and the plastic tray, work your way up through the ranks, take over the board of Directors and turn the company into an international laughing stock.”

Sounds nice in theory. But I knew corporations were more resilient than that. Sabotaging the system from inside was as much a pipe dream as changing it through politics and protest.

Outnumbered and out-gunned, armed insurrection seemed pointless. The only viable solution seemed to be outsmarting the enemy.

In early 2003, not long after the start of the Iraq War, I read The Headmap Manifesto, a document written by Ben Russell and first published in 1999. Russell described a future filled with location aware mobile internet devices, augmented reality, reputation systems and digital payment systems. He anticipated nearly every major mobile and geolocative innovation of the following decade, but the heart of the text was a vision of a new society that these technologies could bring about. He called the social economic system that would emerge from these technologies “augmented capitalism.” Today we might call it the “sharing economy.”

I started reading more blogs about mobile technology, social software and design. Back then we talked about designers like they were rock stars — sort of the way we talk about developers and startup people today. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Lenny Kravitz dabbled in design. Bruce Sterling declared that design magazine Metropolis was the new Wired. It was the thing at the time, so I started reading lots of design blogs, and started following people like Dan Hill, Matt Jones, Adam Greenfield, Josh Ellis and Abe Burmeister. All smart people who continue to do good work.

Most importantly, I discovered Margin Walker, a now defunct web community founded by Adam and Josh and featured contributions by many of the designers I was already following. Metafilter heralded its launch with the headline “The revolutionaries will wear Prada,” because of the community’s peculiar obsession with that brand. Topics ranged from dead malls to micropayments to nomadism.

A few months later the green tech and social enterprise blog WorldChanging launched with the mission of spreading the message of the “bright green” movement, a design movement closely aligned with Sterling’s Viridian Design concept. “The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green,” Sterling announced in the movement’s manifesto. “A Viridian Green, if you will. The best chance for progress is to convince the twenty-first century that the twentieth century’s industrial base was crass, gauche, and filthy.”

In other words, maybe we instead of protesting McDonalds, or joining the board, we could convince people that it was just really uncool to eat there.

Discovering Headmap, Margin Walker and WorldChanging was for me what discovering The Whole Earth Catalog or Mondo 2000 must have been like for previous generations. These were the people I was looking for, and the vision I was seeking. An alternative to both the hopeless outsiderdom of left-wing activism and the nihilism of yuppiedom. A glimmer of hope that I could spend my post-college career making money and making a difference.

Looking back it all seems hopelessly naive.

Last year I saw Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey give a talk at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Dorsey, who got his start in tech by writing taxi dispatch software just for fun and still name drops Hakim Bey, is the most “Headmap” tech executive out there. I don’t know if he lurked on Margin Walker or the Geowankers mailing list, but he would have fit right in. He was “one of us.” And there he was at this major tech conference, dressed in a Prada suit, talking about “revolution” while homeless people slept under the bridge right across the street. I guess it could have been either a dream come true or a disillusionment had those particular dreams not already rotted in my heart.

Today we have garbage continents and ocean acidification. The latest ICC report tells us that even if we do manage to gouge our emissions, we’re still in for some rough climate change. And cutting emissions still looks as unlikely as it did to me in 2003 and as it did to Sterling in 1998.

Any sane person would look at the evidence and say the Virdian/Bright Green movement failed miserably. But here’s the thing: The Viridian Design movement may have failed in its goals, but accomplished its objectives.

Green is hip. Green is sexy. And the more affluent you are the greener — and therefore hipper — you can afford to be. “The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will prefer to live,” Sterling wrote.

Virdians eschewed politics. “CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem,” Sterling wrote. “It is a design and engineering problem. It is a cultural problem and a problem of artistic sensibility.”

In other words, it was a “solutionist” movement, meaning that it tried to “route around” politics and provide purely technical solutions to hard problems. The term has been popularized by Evgeny Morozov in the context of tech pundits who, but its origins are, appropriately enough, in architecture.

But in a capitalist society, an aesthetic movement is ultimately a consumerist movement. That’s why punk ended up as a lifestyle you can buy at the mall. It’s why the sharing economy is anything but. And just as the personal computer business became just another consumer electronics industry and the internet became an ad network with an NSA backdoor, Bright Green became just another way to move product. Worse, it became an excuse to use consumption as an alternative to politics and self-discipline. It’s the forfeiture of environmentalism to the market.

This bastardized version of Virdian was best stated by Arnold Vinick, told the world the fictional presidential candidate on The West Wing: “In L.A. now, the coolest thing you can drive is a hybrid. Well, if that’s what the free market can do in the most car-crazed culture on Earth, then I trust the free market to solve our energy problems.”

But as it turns out, 15 years on, that the environment is political problem after all. We need global emissions treaties. We need federal funding for research. We need to adjust our lifestyles and expectations, but we don’t want to. Down shifting is for “hair shirts.” Bright Green has become the left’s version of right-wing transhumanism: an excuse to not solve today’s problems, because tomorrow’s technology will fix them for us.

That’s not to say many of the people involved in those communities didn’t end up doing important work. And to be fair, Margin Walker was always more political and more skeptical than certain other “social responsible design” communities (if that’s even what Margin Walker was). And of course this green washed consumerism isn’t what Sterling, Alex Steffan and company had in mind in the early days. But even the political strains of that era — the so-called “emergent democracy” movement — have been co-opted by commercial forces.

Hopefully there’s a lesson in there somewhere for the next generation of activists, designers and social entrepreneurs. Don’t give up on the political, and don’t be so smug as to think you can route around it.

Photo by japanese_craft_construction

November 18, 2013 3 comments
Fructose Fogs the Brain New Study on Rats Suggests

Fructose Fogs the Brain New Study on Rats Suggests

A high intake of fructose impairs the cognitive abilities of rats by interfering with insulin signaling, but omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) reduces those negative effects effects according to a study from the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology UCLA published in Journal of Physiology.

Although headlines today, including my own, emphasize the study’s findings regarding the impairing effects of high levels of fructose, the study also highlights the importance of n-3 acids, specifically DHA, to cognitive function. The authors of the study conclude: “In terms of public health, these results support the encouraging possibility that healthy diets can attenuate the action of unhealthy diets such that the right combination of foods is crucial for a healthy brain.”

The study, conducted by Rahul Agrawal1 and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, consisted of four groups of six rats:

  • one group ate an n-3 deficient diet with a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 deficient diet without a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 sufficient diet with a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 sufficient diet without a fructose solution

Each group was tested on a Barnes maze, a standard measure of spatial learning and memory in rodents. Prior to beginning their special diets all of the rats had been trained in the maze for a five days were found to be of equal cognitive condition.

The study found that an n-3 deficient diet hampered the rats’ performance on the maze, and that adding high fructose intake to an n-3 deficient diet made things substantially worse. The rats with an n-3 sufficient diet but a high level of fructose did significantly better than those with a n-3 deficient diet and a high level of fructose, but still did worse than those with a deficient n-3 level but no fructose. Here’s an illustration of the latency in completing the maze (lower is better):

Comparison of latency times in Barnes maze test

The study notes: “Although there was a preference towards fructose drinking in comparison to the food intake, no differences were observed in body weight and total caloric intake, thus suggesting that obesity is not a major contributor to altered memory functions in this model.”

Full Paper: The Journal of Physiology: ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition

This is a new study and has yet to be replicated, and so far its implications for human diets is unclear. “We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” Gomez-Pinilla said in a pres release. “We’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

Although studies have found positive benefits in taking DHA supplements (see Wikipedia for an overview), previous study by Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London on the DHA levels in vegans and vegetarians concluded that although those who don’t eat meat have significantly lower levels of DHA “There is no evidence of adverse effects on health or cognitive function with lower DHA intake in vegetarians.” However, there are now a number of algae based vegan DHA supplements.

May 16, 2012 1 comment
5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

For a report titled “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future,” McKinsey Global Instititute conducted research that included sector analysis, interviews with human resource executives, a survey of business leaders and the firm’s own scenario analysis and modeling.

According to McKinsey, the U.S would need to create 21 million new jobs to put unemployed Americans back to work and employ a growing population. Only the most optimistic scenario shows a return to full employment before 2020. The report notes, as others have, that the length of recovery after each recession since WWII gets longer and longer.

Also, according to the report, “too few Americans who attend college and vocational schools choose fields of study that will give them the specific skills that employers are seeking.” McKinsey cited a few specific vocations that, based on its interviews, employers expect to have more vacancies than they can fill. Here are the five professions mentioned in the report, along with some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I have no idea what sort of track record the BLS has for its projections, so be warned).

Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Dietitians and Nutritionists:

2010 Median Pay: $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour

Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree (along with state certification)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

According to the Wikipedia nutritionist entry:

Some use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” as basically interchangeable. However in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught.[2] In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected, whereas the title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”

According to the Wikipedia dietitian entry:

Besides academic education, dietitians must complete at least 1200 hours of practical, supervised experience through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. In a coordinated program, students acquire internship hours concurrently with their coursework. In a didactic program, these hours are obtained through a dietetic internship that is completed after obtaining a degree.

Welders

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers:

2010 Media pay: $35,450 per year or $17.04 per hour.

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent (“Training ranges from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low-skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs.”)

Job Outlook, 2010-2020: 15% (About average)

Nurse’s aides

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants:

2010 Median Pay: $24,010 per year or $11.54 per hour.

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Job outlook 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

Nuclear technicians

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.”

2010 Median Pay: $68,090 per year, $32.73 per hour.

Entry-level education: Associate’s degree (plus extensive on the job training)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 14% (About as fast as average)

Computer specialists and engineers

This is obviously a giant bucket that includes a wide range of jobs. I don’t know much about traditional engineering fields like civil or mechanical engineering, but computer tech changes quick. People with the right skills can command high salaries, but people with outdated skills can be unemployed for years at a time. My colleague Alex Williams recently wrote about which tech skills are growing fastest (hint: mobile application development is huge).

April 12, 2012 1 comment
Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 10: The Resonance Project

Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 10: The Resonance Project

The Resonance Project the swan hatch dharma initiative

Here’s a real life DHARMA that’s relatively new and still going strong:

The Resonance Project is an organization “dedicated to the unification of all sciences and philosophies emerging from a complete and applied view of the physics underlying the wheelworks of nature.”

Resonance Project

They have a communal living / research facility in Hawaii:

Ongoing theoretical and applied research about Unified Field Theory is conducted within the context of a sustainable research park that reflects the values of this innovative research. Many of our researchers live together, eat together and think together in a collaborative environment which supports the flourishing of great ideas. The Resonance Project Foundation is striving to become a model of a regenerative and self sustaining system at its facility, utilizing permaculture principles, such as grey water recycling, composting toilets, soil and water conservation, alternative fuels, and native and edible landscaping including fruit trees pollinated by hives of onsite bees.

More Info: The Resonance Project

May 4, 2010 1 comment
Guest Post: Some resources for thinking about systems

Guest Post: Some resources for thinking about systems

Fractal by mike 23

(Image Credit: mike 23 / CC)

This is a guest post by Chris Arkenberg. Many readers wanted to know more about systems thinking after my interview with Chris, so he’s returned to provide us with some resources. – Klint

The term “systems thinking” has a few different connotations. Classically, non-linear dynamic systems represents a set of principles that describe the organization of energy as an extropic function of information, driven by power laws and bounded by limits. The formulas within this domain are often applied to natural systems such as populations, fluid dynamics, and so-called chaotic processes like dripping faucets and epileptic seizures. Some of the better-known ideas within dynamic systems are attractors, bifurcations, and the process of iteration.

More broadly, systems thinking refers to a widening perspective when studying networked domains. For example, the recent trends in Life Cycle Analysis in product design & manufacturing attempts to go beyond the material & energetic costs of the physical object – eg a plastic bottle of water – to consider every aspect of its life cycle from sourcing all of materials and manufacturing support, cost of shipping, human impact of the workers, environmental impact, and end-of-life in a landfill or recycling depot. Wal-Mart, to its credit, has made great strides across its supply chain by optimizing efficiency in the life cycle of the many products that end up on its shelves and in people’s lives. Some of these solutions can be a simple and radical as redesigning packaging for minimal materials use and shipping weight.

Recently, systems thinking has been applied to the design process suggesting that designers are uniquely empowered to engineer powerful solutions for complex problems in ways that benefit many different human and non-human stakeholders, eg nature is a primary stakeholder, as are future generations saddled with our often myopic creations.

I tend to use systems thinking to describe all of these connotations rolled up into a general way of looking at the world that goes beyond what is immediately visible and reaches into the extended connections and unseen impacts within a domain. In some respects, this way of thinking is a natural part of simply paying attention to things. In other ways, it’s a challenging and sometimes overwhelming course of study that can easily move from Aha! moments to a very dis-empowering sense of total non-determinism. In the face of such huge complexity it can seem impossible to make any actionable sense of things. Finding the balance and determining the appropriate scope of research in analyzing a domain is a critical skill that must be developed individually through practice, lest you tug on that thread and find you’ve unraveled the entire sweater.

Some resources to get you thinking about the micro & macro of complex systems:

Complexity: a Guided Tour, by Melanie Mitchell

Complexity: a Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell. A great, thorough introduction to complexity and systems thinking. Beginner to intermediate. Don’t be scared by the equations – there’s lot’s of good info here. “Readers will marvel at the sheer range of settings in which complex systems operate: from ant hills to the stock market, from T cells to Web searches, from disease epidemics to power outages, complexity challenges theorists’ intellectual adroitness. With refreshing clarity, Mitchell invites nonspecialists to share in these researchers’ adventures in recognizing and measuring complexity and then predicting its cascading effects.”

Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness by John Briggs

Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness by John Briggs. A solid introduction to systems, chaos, and wholeness. “Briggs and Peat look at how chaos theory has also influenced other scientific disciplines, offering a model, for example, for understanding the human brain and developing computer systems for artificial intelligence. The book’s chapter heading quotations from Chinese Taoist texts and Alice in Wonderland are clues that readers are being led into abstruse territory. But encouraging readers to appreciate nuances of truth rather than to seek a reductionist version of truth may be what chaos theory–and this book–is all about.”

The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems by Fritjof Capra

The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems by Fritjof Capra. A great analysis of how complexity and non-linearity inform the foundations of our natural world. “…brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other explanations of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems. Capra’s surprising findings stand in stark contrast to accepted paradigms of mechanism and Darwinism and provide an extraordinary new foundation for ecological policies that will allow us to build and sustain communities without diminishing the opportunities for future generations.”

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. An excellent general introduction to smart design and life cycle analysis that advocates for both prosperity and sustainability. “…the authors present a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete. The authors, an architect and a chemist, want to eliminate the concept of waste altogether, while preserving commerce and allowing for human nature.”

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. A highly-readable & engaging study of the vast, interconnected, and interdependent systems of agriculture, energy, and the journey of food to our plate.

systems science

Systems Science, a blog series by George Mobus. Scroll down (and go back a page) to start at “Systems Science, Part 1.” Mobus provides a good overview of systems theory.

Finally, just start training yourself to look beyond the visible, to follow connections, and to think in more holistic terms when considering the larger interconnections at play in all domains. Consider, for example, all of the machines, organizations, people, and processes that contributed to your dinner tonight. Nothing is as simple as it seems yet, often, there are very simple rules underlying their complexity.

Chris Arkenberg is a researcher, forecaster, and strategist focusing on the interplay of technology, culture, and human solutions. He is currently a visiting researcher with the IFTF, sits on the advisory board of Hukilau, and is a co-founder of the Augmented Reality Development Camp.

March 9, 2010 0 comments
Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 9: The First Earth Battalion

Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 9: The First Earth Battalion

first earth battalion manual

Danger Room has an article posted fact checking the claims made in the new The Men Who Stare at Goats movie. They write about The First Earth Battalion, which is yet another Real Life Dharma Initiative:

Hippie Army? True. Lt. Col. Jim Channon dove deep into the New Age movement, and came back to the military with a most alternative view of warfare — one in which troops would carry flowers and symbolic animals into battle. In the movie, Channon is played by Jeff Bridges. His First Earth Battalion is renamed the “New Earth Army.” But the ideas are the same. Much of the artwork from the New Earth manual is lifted straight from the Channon original.

Channon has been taking advantage of the publicity for his cause; this week he has a column in the Guardian newspaper, suggesting (among other things) that armies should be used for reforestation and navies to control over-fishing.

The military’s interest in Eastern and alternative practices is once again on the rise. “Warrior mind training“, apparently based on ancient Samurai techniques, is being taught at Camp Lejeune as a possible treatment for PTSD. Elsewhere the Army has a $4 million initiative exploring other approaches including Reiki, transcendental meditation and “bioenergy.” The Air Force is looking into acupuncture for battlefield pain relief.

Danger Room: Psychic Spies, Acid Guinea Pigs, New Age Soldiers: the True Men Who Stare at Goats

As pointed out at Danger Room, you can download the original First Earth Battalion Manual from Jim Channon’s web site

November 9, 2009 0 comments
Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 8: Oneida Community

Real Life DHARMA Initiative # 8: Oneida Community

dharma initiative brand food

oneida

The Oneida Community was a utopian commune that existed from 1848 until 1881.

Like the DHARMA Initiative, members of the Oneida Community were assigned jobs by the community. And like DHARMA, they produced their own line of products. In fact, although the commune has ceased to exist, their silverware business Oneida Limited continues today.

Wikipedia: Oneida Community

April 30, 2009 0 comments
Real life DHARMA Initiative # 7: DARPA and HAARP

Real life DHARMA Initiative # 7: DARPA and HAARP

information awareness office

Unlike DHARMA, DARPA is actually a US agency, not a private endeavor. But, in addition to the name, there are some projects worth considering – especially the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).

From Wikipedia’s DARPA entry:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major impact on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.

Its original name was simply Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), but it was renamed DARPA (for Defense) on March 23, 1972, then back to ARPA on February 22, 1993, and then back to DARPA again on March 11, 1996.

DARPA was established in 1958 (as ARPA) in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology ahead of the nation’s enemies. [...]

DARPA is independent from other more conventional military R&D and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has around 240 personnel (about 140 technical) directly managing a $3.2 billion budget. These figures are “on average” since DARPA focuses on short-term (two to four-year) projects run by small, purpose-built teams.

DARPA is known for creating the Internet and, more recently, for their paranoia inducing projects like Information Awareness Office and creating robotic insects.

But no DARPA project has attracted as much interest from conspiracy analysts as HAARP. From 60 Greatest Conspiracies’s HAARP entry:

In an Arctic compound 200 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, the Pentagon has erected a powerful transmitter designed to beam more than a gigawatt of energy into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Known as Project HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program), the $30 million experiment involves the world’s largest “ionospheric heater,” a prototype device designed to zap the skies hundreds of miles above the earth with high-frequency radio waves.

Why irradiate the charged particles of the ionosphere (which when energized by natural processes make up the lovely and famous phenomenon known as the Northern Lights)? According to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, co-sponsors of the project, “to observe the complex natural variations of Alaska’s ionosphere.” That, says the Pentagon, and also to develop new forms of communications and surveillance technologies that will enable the military to send signals to nuclear submarines and to peer deep underground.

60 Greatest Conspiracies first reported on HAARP more than a year ago. Since then, inquiring Internauts have blamed the peculiar project for everything from UFO activity to major power outages in the Western United States, to, most recently, the downing of TWA Flight 800. (The Pentagon maintains that the HAARP array has been inactive since late last year.) Some have dubbed it the “Pentagon’s doomsday death ray.” Though many of these theories are, well, creatively amplified, an assortment of more grounded critics–environmentalists, Native Americans and Alaskan citizens among them–argue that the military does indeed have Strangelovian plans for this unusual hardware, applications ranging from “Star Wars” missile defense schemes to weather modification plots and perhaps even mind control experiments.

Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?

February 17, 2009 2 comments
Real life DHARMA Initiative # 6: Technocracy Incorporated

Real life DHARMA Initiative # 6: Technocracy Incorporated

technocracy incorporated monadthe swan hatch dharma initiative

Technocracy Incorporated is one of the great vanishing acts of history. At the peak of its existence, Technocracy Inc. had half a million members in California alone and received extensive press. Today, they are virtually forgotten.

technocracy sign

(Above: a Technocracy sign in a Depression-era town)

To over simplify: the goal of Technocracy Inc. was to create a socio-economic system run entirely by engineers. It was founded by Howard Scott, an engineer with dubious credentials.

howard scott

Above: Technocracy founder Howard Scott

Scott’s basic idea was that all human endeavor could effectively be measured in terms of energy expended. Whatever it took to make anything could be translated into pure ergs and joules. Therefore, the first thing to do was to take a grand energy survey of all the nations industries, a project to which Rautenstrauch actually got Columbia’s venerable president Nicholas Murray Butler to lend his support. Once it was determined how much energy it took to make everything, the nation’s engineers could step in and eliminate the irrational “social motives” in business. That is, all the energy businessmen put into making luxury goodsor profits.

Scott was always vague about just what would happen next. When pressed, he and his associates finally theorized that some sort of scrip, equivalent to the energy the nation used in a year, could be distributed on a perfectly equal basis to all U.S. citizens. To keep everything balanced and that pesky capital from accumulating, people would have to use up their “energy certificates” during the year or see them become worthless. The result, Loeb asserted in a book he rushed into print by early 1933, would be such abundance that no one would have to work more than four hours or so, four days a week. (Source)

Sounds nice. But things got a little creepy.

technocracy grey fleet

Above: a fleet of official Technocracy gray cars, from this IWW profile of Scott.

Technocracy’s program gained in popularity over the 1930s and 1940s, with members from all over North America. The organization gave lecture tours, study courses, and held motorcades, where hundreds of official “Technocracy Grey Cars” travelled all over the United States and Canada as part of the organization’s “symbolization” campaign. The Grey Cars sparked fears that Technocracy was a secret society with resources to create a fleet of vehicles in the midst of a depression. In reality, the organization only supplied grey paint so that members could customize their own vehicles. A grey suit became the organization’s uniform, and a red and grey monad its official symbol. (Source)

technocracy fascist

Names, too, were suspect for some reason so members of the movement in California were designated only by numbers. A speaker at one California rally was introduced only as 1x1809x56! (Source)

Numbers instead of names. Gray cars and uniforms. A completely engineered vision of society. Oh my.

To tie it back to the Dharma Initiative a bit, check out these training videos on YouTube:

They are forgotten, but not gone. Technocracy Incorporated is alive and active today, but their numbers have diminished. Perhaps, as we enter a new depression and a crashing banking system they will be able to rise again. China actually accomplished part of what Technocracy Inc. sought: rule by engineers. As the United States and Europe’s economies melt down, we can no longer use practicality as a justification to avoid Chinese economic and political policies. Technocracy may well be in our future.

More Info:

Wikipedia entry

Official Technocracy Incorporated web site

Kevin Baker’s column on the Reform Party and Technocracy Inc.

Time Magazine article on Scott from 1932.

Tim Boucher’s article on technocracy

February 12, 2009 12 comments
Real life DHARMA Initiative # 5: Global Business Network

Real life DHARMA Initiative # 5: Global Business Network

Global Business Network (GBN) is a consulting firm that grew out of Shell‘s Planning Group, Stanford Research Institute, and Stewart Brand and the community based around his “Whole Earth” businesses. In other words, it’s an unlikely alliance of oil industry insiders, mad scientists, and hippie visionaries. They specialize in “scenario planning.”

Schwartz has also studied Tibetan Buddhism and worked closely with Willis Harman, a key figure in the transpersonal psychology movement in San Francisco. Before accepting a post at Shell’s Planning Group, he worked at SRI International, the famed Menlo Park, California, research outfit that came up with the widely used psychographic measuring system known as VALS (for “values and life styles”). SRI also developed the computer mouse. Schwartz’s is a tame résumé by the standards of GBN.

That quote’s from a long Wired article on GBN. It was written by GBN member Joel Garreau, who notes:

This article on GBN was commissioned by a magazine whose executive editor is a member of GBN. It is running in a magazine which mentions a GBN member in almost every issue. Four GBNers have already been on its cover. And, as I mentioned at the beginning, it was written by a journalist who is a member of GBN.

Douglas Rushkoff has described Wired as a newsletter for GBN:

It’s the promotional arm of the Global Business Network. They’re a group of advisors who are pretty much the same as the masthead of Wired. They hire themselves out at $10-$15,000 an hour and when someone gets to join the GBN, their face appears on the front of the magazine and they’re touted as the new great media theorist. When a company hires the GBN and follows their advice, their director magically appears on the front cover.

(This was in 1997, before Conde Nast acquired Wired in 1998, and The Monitor Group acquired GBN in 2000)

February 10, 2009 0 comments