[FoRK] Chart of the Day...

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Jun 11 17:18:35 PDT 2010

On 6/11/10 12:30 AM, Jeff Bone wrote:
> 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.

You failed to stitch the question together what I was answering.  I 
guess I had to restate the question to be clear:
JB: those are relatives, not absolutes.  Who's to say what "comfort" 
means in a few decades?
SW: Some are recognizable, some are not.  Many things today...
I didn't say that people had all of the comforts for that time, only 
that they would have recognized a lot of common characteristics of 
comfortable and not comfortable.

I'm very aware of how slowly a lot of the population moved to modern 
conveniences.  I used working outhouses in Ohio when I was growing up, 
for instance.  (I always had full plumbing, but I had relatives who didn't.)
> ...

> 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've worked on a couple houses with Habitat.  Raised many children.  
Worked at organizing non-profits, etc.  There's no need to worry that 
I'm all talk.  Not that the right talk can't have a bigger positive 
impact than any other action sometimes.
The interesting question is what is the best use of my time and energy, 
whether I'm currently "do-gooder" motivated or not.  Surely a little 
me-too labor donated along with newbie-to-a-hammer isn't the best 
leverage for my capabilities.  And you know that.  Albeit 
tongue-in-cheek, surely you can come up with a better suggestion than 
that.  Reading below...

The startup, patent, or project ideas that I choose to pursue are 
generally those that will make the world a better or much better place.

> 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 proposed.

Of course, I didn't expect the baseline to be static.  The whole point 
of a "rapidly evolving" system is that it keeps raising the quality 
while lowering the costs.  The whole point of the exercise is to move 
more people from an all-consumed mode to one with more and more marginal 
capacity.  I used the word "baseline" in the sense that everyone in such 
a society could reasonably have a minimum level of existence.  What that 
is would be expected to change, and perhaps be different in different 
"town" instances.  Our current system works well for the bulk of people, 
very well for some, and terribly for others.  To some extent, we trade 
the risk of some having a very poor experience for a healthy, 
competitive, and feedback-driven commercial / capitalist system.  I 
don't think that the solution is welfare for many reasons.  Better would 
be to lower the threshold for or avoid the steep societal cliff that 
accompanies homelessness, poverty cycles, etc.

> 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?

Doubtful.  More likely is that you gained the wrong impression of my 
view.  Just my personal living standard is radically different, and I've 
observed many worse situations.

> 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.)

I agree with this.  I also think that many pursuits can be justified as 
indirectly aiding this.  My main "startup" project ideas are, for 
instance, around helping people find, organize, and interact with 
information in a much more efficient way.  Obviously, this could speed 
up a lot of progress.  The suggestions I made in this thread for a 
carefully designed society / community / zone were directly aimed at 
addressing the community dynamic inefficiencies, which includes freeing 
up more time and resources.  These extra resources could, theoretically, 
be put on a more direct mission.

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

Yea yea.  Thanks.

> We are all guilty.
> Mea maxima culpa.
> jb

More information about the FoRK mailing list