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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Friday, December 5, 2014

Models of the Future the One Percent Want You to Believe

In the United States we are facing an increasing shrinkage of the middle class, as the top one-percent gobble up more and more of the nation's wealth. Imagine you are one of the lucky super-rich, trying to greedily hoard a larger and larger slice of the nation's wealth, to the detriment of more and more people who are struggling to just get by. What would your strategy be? One strategy might be to distract people with meaningless elements of popular culture, so that the average person paid more attention to gossip, celebrities, and fleeting fads and fancies than their dashed economic hopes. Another strategy might be to make people think that their votes will reverse the decline of the middle class, while helping to make sure that both of the candidates in the next election are loyal servants of the wealthiest elites. Then there is the strategy we saw in 2008 of declaring a “sky is falling” financial emergency, claiming that it can only be averted by shoveling trillions to the wealthiest corporations.

But the best strategy might be: make people think that their future is bright (regardless of the economic reality), by feeding them rosy technological progress scenarios. Below is a discussion of three of these scenarios, along with a discussion of why America's wealthiest would like you to believe them.

Model 1: The Singularity

The idea behind the Singularity is that before long there will be an “intelligence explosion” in which machines become super-intelligent. Singularity enthusiasts have said that this will involve all kinds of astounding things such as men merging with machines or digital immortality involving people uploading their minds into computers.

The conversation below helps to illustrate the value that such a scenario may have as a kind of opiate to soothe the anger of those who have to settle for crumbs while the richest gorge on ever more extravagant feasts.

James: I got out of college with a ton of debt, and could only find a job paying much less than I thought I'd get. To cover costs and the high rents, I had to charge lots of money on my credit card. I'm paying insane interest charges on my card, plus there's all those college loans to pay off. All my debt is killing me. And what kind of future can I look forward to? I'm just scraping by, so how can I ever save enough to retire? At this rate, I'll have to be running on the corporate hamster wheel until I'm 90 years old.

John: Don't worry about it! In another 25 years we'll all be uploading our minds into supercomputers. Who cares about what kind of house you'll have 25 years from now? By then we'll be spending all our time roaming around in ultra-realistic virtual worlds generated by super-intelligent computers. And think of how rich you'll get in a few decades, after you triple your intelligence by using brain nanobots!

We see the value of the Singularity concept as a kind of glistening “castle in the air” to plant in the minds of the economically damaged, to get them to overlook their diminishing prospects, while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The Singularity also comes in handy if a person complains about government officials being virtually owned by the wealthiest one percent. Such a person can be told: why even worry about government when super-intelligent machines are soon going to take over the world? 

The average man's paycheck, also known as "chump change"

Model 2: Radical abundance

The concept of radical abundance is that before too long things like homes, cars, and consumer goods will all become super-cheap and super-abundant, because of breakthroughs in nanotechnology. The idea has been advanced in a book by nanotechnology expert K. Eric Drexler.

The conversation below helps to illustrate the value that such a scenario may have as a kind of opiate to soothe the anger of those who get a raw deal in today's world, as the super-rich grab a larger and larger share of the national wealth.

Jane: How the hell is someone supposed to afford a house in this city? I've been working my butt off 60 hours a week at my crummy sweatshop of an office, and I'm still struggling to make the rent. How come all the white men have no trouble getting promotions, but not me?

John: Don't worry about it! Just wait a decade or two until we have precise molecular manufacturing and other wonders of nanotechnology. Nanobots will then be able to assemble you a new home or a new car almost instantaneously, using the raw materials in rocks and trash you gather. It will be an age of plenty, in which every man and woman lives like a billionaire!

Get the idea? The name of the game is: pie in the sky. It used to be that religion was the main source of promises of future bliss (commonly called “pie in the sky.”) Now it seems like the main ideas of “pie in the sky” are technological projections offered by futurist visionaries.

While they grab up a larger and larger share of the world's wealth, the super-rich would like you to believe that radical abundance is around the corner. That way you won't be upset about your ever-shrinking slice of the pie. They hope you won't look at studies involving oil, water, and metals suggesting that there is strong reason to fear an eventual “age of shortages” rather than an age of radical abundance.

Model 3: Extraterrestrial Exodus

The concept of extraterrestrial exodus is basically the idea that our planet is getting worse and worse, so we need to flee to elsewhere in space – perhaps to giant space colonies orbiting the earth, or perhaps to the planet Mars.

The conversation below helps to illustrate why a very rich person might want you to embrace such an idea.

Todd: I'm so upset about the way the big corporations are harming our environment, plundering the land for energy and often leaving behind a landscape that resembles a desolate moonscape. But what really gets me is how we're letting global warming get worse and worse.

John: Such environmental concerns are so outdated. Within a few decades, the best and brightest will shake off this crummy planet like a man might shake off the dust on his shoes. The grand space exodus will begin. Mankind will leave its planetary cradle, and people will head out into space to seek fame and fortune, just like the covered wagons left for the California gold rush.

Such an idea is very convenient for a billionaire who wishes to live like a king, with a total carbon footprint of 5000 Africans. He can tell himself that his carbon footprint really doesn't matter too much, since planet Earth is just mankind's “old home” rather than his “new home” in outer space or Mars or some planet revolving around another star. The same person can tell himself that it doesn't matter too much if the corporation he invests in is turning some lovely natural area into an ugly wasteland, on the grounds that our descendants or grandchildren will be born in outer space, far away from the toxic sludge left behind by the company.

Fight for social justice and your fair share of the pie, and do not be tranquilized by enchanting tales of future fortunes that may be told to keep you pacified while your future is being stolen, your planet is plundered, and you are slowly turned into a modern day serf.