Newsletter v.3.10 | The Ministry for the Future
Thanks for opening another edition of my newsletter.
In the last edition of the newsletter, I mentioned that I've been reading/listening to The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. This book is one of the best works of science fiction I've ever read, and it is one of the best works of fiction that have inspired me to think of the future in a not doom-and-gloom kind of way.
What KSR does so well is:
- Make it clear that the environmental, economic, and social conditions we are currently living in are putting the long-term survival of civilization in great danger. This is to say that the text absolutely acknowledges and accurately describes the massive problems we live in today.
- After KSR does this, he makes it clear that there are things that can be done to avert the massive environmental, economic, and social disasters that get closer every day. (Seriously, KSR has done his research! He is really good at describing different ways to get carbon and methane out of the atmosphere and ways to create more equitable financial systems which are less bi-polar, that don't have the super high highs (i.e., bubbles) and super destabilizing crashes (i.e., busts). He does these while always keeping the social element of humans and the systems they create as a part of the narrative. It is damn impressive work!)
In this edition of the newsletter, I want to try to convince you to read or listen to this book.
To do that, I'm going to put a bit of text from the book below. I hope when you read it that you will see how well crafted it is and that its message will resonate with you. If that does happen, I hope you'll consider giving the text a try.
To set up the text you're about to read
KSR argues in this text that we can all live well if we make an effort to use less. He also makes it clear that by "using less," he does not mean being uncomfortable! Indeed, we could all consume fewer resources and probably live very good lives with many things we can enjoy.
And one can run the math. The 2,000 Watt Society, started in 1998 in Switzerland, calculated that if all the energy consumed by households were divided by the total number of humans alive, each would have the use of about 2,000 watts of power, meaning about 48 kilowatt-hours per day. The society’s members then tried living on that amount of electricity to see what it was like: they found it was fine. It took paying attention to energy use, but the resulting life was by no means a form of suffering; it was even reported to feel more stylish and meaningful to those who undertook the experiment.
So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training people and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough that everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education.
Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things listed above, and your children will have them too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.
The last paragraph above really makes one of the points of the text very succinctly: There are some individuals and countries that seem to believe the best way to make themselves safe is to horde resources and develop massive (very threatening) arsenals. This leads to other people and countries, those with fewer resources who have guns and missiles pointing at them, feeling more precarious. This then leads those who have less than they need and who live under the threat of a gun to build up feelings of resentment and anger. It is only a matter of time before these feelings turn into some form of violence. When this happens, those who have more than they need horde, even more, making more guns. You can see where this cycle leads, yeah?
KSR's point is, I think, that if we worked to make the maximal number of people/countries feel safe as opposed to making them feel like they are on the brink of disaster, then it would be a safer world; that if most people can feel secure, they are less likely to become violent. If that argument is correct, we could all win if we structured things so that more people had what they needed to feel safe and secure.
So, if this argument makes so much sense, if it does make the world far safer if everyone has enough, why has human society opted for the neo-liberal model where a small number of people have so much more than they need while other people literally stave to death when there is enough food to feed them, but they can't access that food? To answer that, let us go back to the text.
If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, that project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except that it needs saying.
To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. Enough is a good as a feast— or better.
Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.”
I have more I want to write about this, but I think that I've been on the soapbox for long enough. I hope you'll give The Ministry for the Future a try.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.