Friday, August 29, 2008

The Extreme Future

I've been talking about books that support my view of how society should change. I think that it's also good to read books that hold a different view point, particularly if it's intelligently argued. I picked up The Extreme Future by James Canton because it seemed like he had a different view point, but he did acknowledge things like 'Peak Oil'.

The book is an interesting blend of being pro sustainability and diversity, and being pro capitalism, globalization, and anything goes technology. The author gets it, as far as things like peak oil, global warming, and climate change are concerned. But he thinks that capitalism can solve all these things by empowering the 'Clean Tech Industry' and replacing oil, coal, and nuclear power with 'The Hydrogen Future' (fuel cells) and 'Nano-energy' (using nanotechnology to create alternative energy). He does add some things like wind turbines, to his high-tech mix.

Canton claims that prosperity will come about due to the 'Innovation Economy': "A new global, mobile Internet infrastructure linking business, markets, talent, and capital will accelerate productivity, supply chains and borderless wealth creation." He talks about 'personal wealth creation on a new global level' and 'One Billion Millionaires' before announcing that "...there will be winners and losers." Diversity and sustainability, yes, but equality, no. He trumpets globalization, crowing over how innovative the Chinese are and how the Chinese are the secret of how Wal-Mart (and 'Nat Nast', which is his sister-in-law's business) gets 'competitive advantage'. He talks about how (and I quote) "Some companies will disappear, unable to compete in the Darwinian capitalism of the Extreme Future." He does admit that poverty must be addressed and that globalization alone won't address it. He is clear that "Numerous studies show that poverty drives conflict." I certainly agree with him that poverty is responsible for the rise in terrorism. I agree on "the need to reduce poverty, increase democracy, and share global prosperity". But, somehow, I don't think globalization is the solution. He talks about 'Sustainable Globalization'. I wonder what he would think about 'sustainable localization'?

At one point he says that there are 'Four Future-Readiness Styles': Future-Trailblazers, Future-Traditionalists, Future-Frustrated, and Future-Activists. I gather that I would be a Future-Activitist: "...contrarians, dissatified with the educational system and our national leadership." (I think that 'dissatisfied' is putting it mildly.) He goes on to say: "...they are not standing idle. They are engaged; looking to fix what they think doesn't work. They are highly active politically and in their communities. This group seeks to make a difference in working for a more productive society. Though Future-Activists have the potential to be the 'seeds of dissent' and a destabilizing force in society, they can also be a catalyst for constructive social change." Seems fairly accurate, although maybe destabilizing society could be constructive social change--especially if the stable society was an oppressive society.

Among the interesting things in the book are that Canton sees the frontiers of technological innovation as being with genes (biotechnology), neurons (he sees neurotechnology as an emerging market), bits (information technology and the future internet), and atoms (nanotechnology). He also predicts that the internet, like some type of cyberintelligence, will soon 'wake up'. He asks: "Will we humans recognize 'it' when it wakes up?" Some artificial intelligence folks are calling this 'The Singularity'.

One thing James Canton is really clear on (and very good on) is understanding the need for individual freedom and right to dissent. He talks about very current threats to privacy, including global positioning satellites that can take pictures of faces and license plates from space, government wiretaps on conversations--especially cellphone conversations that are 'mined' for keywords, massive scanning and screening of (all?) email, video cameras in 70% of public spaces, black boxes on new cars that register every action, and a global communications network called 'Eschelon' (simply known officially as part of the 'UKUSA agreement') that monitors all communications signals worldwide. He is very concerned about the use of designer drugs (as Prozac is used today) to control behavior and using advertising for mind control.

Much of this book seems to me to be like Brave New World. Canton claims he is only reporting on trends, but I think his future (which may not happen even have a chance to happen if we aren't able to deal with things like peak oil and climate change) is certainly 'Extreme' and definitely not the future I want to see. One more example of this is his vision of a 'Disney Shanghai Retirement Village' in 2012. I quote: "Full hospice program: Pass on with Dignity and Disney." Scary!

(James Canton has a website where he talks more about his books and ideas.)

Quote of the day: "Where nationalism and religion fail, we will have a collision of one million channels of MTV, sports, and reality shows to distract us from the forces controlling our lives. Let the games begin!" - James Canton
Word (or phrase) of the day: Metta/Maitri
Hero(es) of the day: Woody Guthrie


Anonymous said...

He trumpets globalization, crowing over how innovative the Chinese are and how the Chinese are the secret of how Wal-Mart (and 'Nat Nast', which is his sister-in-law's business) gets 'competitive advantage'...

And Wal-Mart is a good thing? This is scary. This is a point that has this country literally funneling our economic funds right out of the country, and impoverishing millions of Americans, all in the name of excessive capitalism.

China's capitalism on steroids model has many considering that it is going to collapse really hard, their environment is already in serious trouble.

I just saw, but could not watch the entire documentary "Manufactured Landscapes" which is an eye opening inside look at what goes on in China...

I have issues with capitalism, especially when it is capable of being rife with so much greed, and corruption. We need to get beyond greed.

We all need to be winners. Societies that create losers, will not be very fun to exist within.

Thank you for this great post, and insight into this book!


MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comment. You are right about China having 'capitalism on steroids' (nice way of putting it) and right about them heading for collapse. (And us also as the peak oil people point out.) Societies that live by greed will die of greed. Hopefully what emerges from the ashes will be more egalitarian--a culture where we can all win.

CrackerLilo said...

I haven't encountered this book, and I've been reading quite a bit of futurism lately. Thanks for the tip. Agree or disagree, these books give me ideas to work with.

MoonRaven said...

Glad to tip you off to this. I stumbled on it in the public library. I hope you find it useful.