[FoRK] Chart of the Day...

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Fri Jun 11 00:30:54 PDT 2010

Begs a much longer response than I have the patience to peck out on a  
phone.  I'll merely address one (set of) glaring yet highly  
illustrative error(s).

On Jun 10, 2010, at 21:04, "Stephen D. Williams" <sdw at lig.net> wrote:

> Some are recognizable, some are not.  Many things today would amaze  
> everyone who ever lived before the last 10, 20, 40, or 80 years.   
> Still, things like food, plumbing, entertainment, comfortable living  
> quarters

Two bits.

First, notice how that subjective weasel-word creeps in...  "comfort."

I daresay most folks on this list wouldn't be remotely "comfortable"  
in living conditions that were quite common here in the U.S. even two  
generations ago, much less a "couple hundred" years...  I know I would  
not (be comfortable in said conditions.)

Which leads me to the money shot...

> have been pretty constant for the last couple hundred years.

Bzzt.  My paternal grandmother was born in 1898.  She didn't have  
indoor plumbing until she was married, and her family was semi-wealthy  
in the community in which she lived in small-town Illinois.  Separate  
and well-appointed his-and-hers outhouses, a private hand-pump well,  
etc.  They had electric lighting before they had running city water in  
the house.

My maternal grandfather was born in 1925.  He wasn't as lucky;  though  
27 years younger than my paternal grandmother, he grew up quite poor.   
He didn't have indoor plumbing until he was a teenager.

And I doubt those Texas summers he grew up in were very "comfortable"  
by our effete standards without air conditioning.  If I recall  
correctly, the first AC he had was a "swamp cooler" in the house he  
bought after coming back from (the tail end of) WWII.

Notice the timeframes; not nearly "couple hundred years."

Notice the difference the economic strata made.

Hell, the *Romans* had indoor plumbing.  That doesn't mean it was  
commonplace in the general global standard of living; that's more  
recent than we seem to be able to recall in our "comfortable" Western  

Or forget history. (Well, clearly we already have.) Even AT PRESENT  
many of your "standards" would be considered luxuries by a large part  
of the world's population.

If it's any consolation, the tendency to define such arbitrary,  
subjective standards for others yet abysmally fail to do anything to  
provide them to those who really need them has a long and storied  
history in "enlightened" liberal (meaning governmentalism and other  
forms of well-meaning social engineering and its rationalization, not  
the classical kind) traditions.  If it weren't so, vast swaths of two  
continents wouldn't live below that elusive "poverty" line today.

It's such a culturally myopic, snobbish, self-centered thing, really.

"Oh, look at those poor people.  No (insert arbitrary thing here) to  
their name.  Whatever shall we do about it?"

(Wring hands ineffectively and cluck to ourselves, then go on about  
our business; or pontificate endlessly, occassionally spawning a  
memetic plague like fascism or socialism...)

You want to be a do-gooder, Stephen? Go DO something, then.  There are  
people in your community that need houses.  Go build a few.  With your  
own hands.

I did, though admittedly a longish time ago and for selfish reasons  
(e.g., "handiness therapy." ;-)

Your local Habitat group should be easy to find.

(But don't.  Read on.  We have Bigger Plans for You....;-)

> Add magical medical care, the Internet, supercomputers in your  
> pocket (the HTC Evo is about the speed of a Cray 1 I believe),  
> cable / satellite TV, etc. and you have a baseline that will  
> recognizable for a while.

Given your apparent inability to recall anything but the best of even  
recent history, why should we have any faith in your peculiarly  
static, normative view of the future?

I GUARANTEE you that "baseline" will, by the end of your presently- 
extrapolated lifespan, either be VASTLY above that or perhaps somewhat  
less vastly below it (and falling.) What it *won't* be is anything as  
remotely similar to what we think of today as essential as what you've  

We --- and by we I mean you, Stephen --- fail to grasp the magnitude  
of the changes in living standards that have occurred even in the  
lifetimes of people alive today.  As illustrated. How can you possibly  
extrapolate the curve forwards?

It would be a major coup if we could merely feed everbody adequately  
today... And that's not likely to get easier tomorrow without some  
breakthroughs in energy, etc. --- which we may no longer be able to  
invest in sufficiently before it's too late.

IFF progress continues and accelerating returns hold, all the current  
hand-wringing and armchair-social engineering is moot.  The future  
will invent itself, and today's problems disappear.  (One way or  
another, whether we like the outcome or not.)

If accelerating returns do not hold, no amount of social engineering  
can maintain civilization at the present size and living standard  
given available resources and technology we *know* is attainable.   
Exponential growth coupled with even static standards of living, in an  
environment of finite resources, is unsustainable.  Period.

Or put slightly more bluntly: exponential growth of any kind is  
unsustainable. Period.  It's a mathematical truism.

Better figure out how to keep those accelerating returns going a bit  
longer. (I mean that literally:  ANY effort spent on ANYTHING other  
than perpetuating the growth curve, by ANYONE who actually *could*  
contribute to its continuation, is not only a Bostromesque  
"astronomical waste" ---it's also an existential menace.  I may have  
arrived late to that conclusion, but I do hold it to be true.  You  
admittedly might have to squint to see that in some of my positions,  
statements, etc. from time to time... But it's there.  Really.)

Btw, none of this is really meant as an attack on you personally,  
Stephen.  I'm just using you as a whipping boy.

We are all guilty.

Mea maxima culpa.


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