Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘exploitation

Just a Few Monday Links

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* Sarah Kendzior and Rebecca Schuman tee up for the grad-school-backlash-backlash-backlash-honestly-I’ve-lost-count. As always, I’m very glad people are talking about exploitation, but nonetheless the unvarnished, apocalyptic negativity of some of these pieces just doesn’t reflect my own experiences in the academy very well at all. Academia contains multitudes; that’s actually a huge part of the problem.

CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple of Wages Skirts U.S. Law. Of course, the “law” being skirted is a toothless disclosure requirement, so don’t even sweat it.

* Brave director slams Disney’s sexy Merida makeover.

* Yglesias wept: Bangladesh to allow unions for garment workers.

* The Los Angeles Review of Books explains the Church of Scientology.

Wright proposes that the central document to understanding Hubbard’s psyche is his so-called “secret memoir,” composed around 1947, otherwise referred to as Hubbard’s “Affirmations” or “Admissions.” The document itself has an interesting history: it was found by a former archivist for the Church of Scientology, Gerald Armstrong, who had been tasked with organizing the founder’s personal papers. The more Armstrong read, the less he believed. Convinced that Hubbard was a huckster, Armstrong copied the documents that he discovered in the archives and delivered them to his lawyer. He was thereafter sued by the Church of Scientology. During the trial, Armstrong tried to get on record portions of Hubbard’s “Affirmations,” under the vehement protests of the Church’s lawyers. Since then, the document has leaked to the internet. Among Hubbard’s Affirmations:

“I can write.”

“My mind is still brilliant.”

“That masturbation was no sin or crime.”

“That I do not need to have ulcers any more.”

“That I believe in my gods and spiritual things.”

“That my magical work is powerful and effective.”

“That the numbers 7, 25, and 16 are not unlucky or evil for me.”

“That I am not bad to look upon.”

“That I am not susceptible to colds.”

“That these words and commands are like fire and will sear themselves into every corner of my being, making me happy and well and confident forever!”

Hubbard emerges, in Wright’s account, as a pitiable figure, driven by relentless ambition yet also stalked by an enduring fear of irrelevance. Flawed, prone to tyranny and abusive behavior, he sought to conquer his insecurities by achieving an outsized grandeur. “If one looks behind the Affirmations to the conditions they are meant to correct,” Wright concludes, “one sees a man who is ashamed of his tendency to fabricate personal stories, who is conflicted about his sexual needs, and who worries about his mortality. He has a predatory view of women but at the same time fears their power to humiliate him.”

* Austerity comes to CTU: the new 24 will only have twelve episodes.

* The first trailer for Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to tease Luke Cage.

* And xkcd covers birds and dinosaurs.

Weekend Links!

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* Big fair use decision: specific commentary on the original work is not required for a fair use defense.

* Finding common ground with Senator Coburn: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude major professional sports leagues from qualifying as tax-exempt organizations.

* Gasp! Many students stay away from online courses in subjects they deem especially difficult or interesting, according to a study released this month by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The finding comes just as many highly selective colleges are embracing online learning and as massive open online courses are gaining popularity and standing.

“What we’re saying is that bargain-basement (clothing) is automatically leading towards these types of disasters,” John Hilary, executive director at British charity War on Want, told Reuters.

* Bad Robot will adapt 11/22/63.

* Canada gets it right: “The legal test for a true volunteer arrangement looks at several factors, but merely agreeing to work without pay does not in itself make you a volunteer,” Ministry of Labour spokesperson Jonathon Rose wrote in an email. See also Natalia Cecire:

Like the hypothetical minimum-wage high schooler whose income serves as pocket money, non-essential and destined for “fun,” the youthful volunteer, who may very well intrinsically enjoy the work, authorizes a category of labor exploitation that is not only okay but also okay to take as the norm for the labor of cultural preservation. “I can get you a twenty-year-old!” is, in that sense, not a labor solution but its opposite: a commitment to the norm that this work will be unpaid.

* Whitewashing and manwashing cinema.

* Mother Jones profiles the great Tig Notaro.

What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill.

* And 66 behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of The Empire Strikes Back.

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The Five-Year Ph.D. as Improved Plumbing, Redux

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In this respect, the restructuring of the Graduate Center follows a rather banal and callous neoliberal trend across higher education today: the gutting of social sciences and humanities; assembly-line style speed-up in PhD production time; and the loss of spaces for long-term, dedicated, and quality research and writing. Title refers to this. Via @claudiakincaid.

Some Monday Links

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* Tumblr has been perfected; you can all go home. Troy and Abed in Engineering.

* Hi, I’m Maria Bamford; ask me anything.

* Newt Gingrich thinks Republicans couldn’t beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. I agree! I also think there’s no one in the Democratic Party who could beat her for the nomination. As far as I can tell the presidency is hers if she wants it.

* It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. This is how people played “Zombie Apocalypse” before that was a thing.

Mark Johnston, the acting assistant housing secretary for community planning and development, estimated that homelessness could be effectively eradicated in the United States at an annual cost of about $20 billion. The housing department’s budget for addressing homelessness is currently about $1.9 billion. But that’s an impossibly large sum we certainly can’t afford — the cost of almost three months in Iraq!

* It’s painful for Nicholas Kristoff as a liberal to admit, but the poor are wicked and deserve their lot. Even disabled kids? Especially disabled kids.

* Also on the are-there-no-workhouses beat: Are graduate students living cheaply enough? The Chronicle of Higher Education is on it!

More Bousquet (On Superexploitation)

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More Marc Bousquet, this time on superexploitation from Academe:

What interests me about Spartacus and the grammar of adult film is the question of delivering work without a wage, for an extreme wage discount, or over and above the requirements of a wage. In the technical sense, most wage work (excepting the hypercompensated type) is simple exploitation: you produce more value than you receive back in wages, often a lot more, and that value goes to someone of the Real Housewivesclass, who buys jewels and a good conscience by making occasional donations to charity.

By contrast, working without a wage—or for a discounted wage, or for psychic compensation, or delivering additional work off the clock—generally involves some form of superexploitation. The cutting edge of management practice is finding ways to maximize the employee’s donation above and beyond the wage: checking office e-mail at 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., taking calls on weekends and on vacation, working through lunch, and so on. One of the vectors for this exploitation is making workplaces “creative” and “fun,” as Andrew Ross has argued; another is faux professionalism; another is providing elaborate nonwage recognitions, as in the military, church, and education bureaucracies. Internships are both straight-up extortion (“You can’t get a job without one”) and status awards (“I won the competition for the position!”).

Gladiators experience the most primitive forms of superexploitation (direct enslavement, imprisonment, and degradation). All of these primitive forms are alive and well in today’s global economy, from prison labor to the traffic in women. And some aspects of gladiator labor are realized cinematically as the kind of lockedin dormitory workplace associated with Chinese manufacturing.

But the primitive forms of superexploitation don’t explain the Starz demographic’s identification with the characters and situation. The viewer identification has much more to do with the fact that the gladiators also experience the most advanced or progressive forms of superexploitation associated with Western workers employed in some of the most sought-after positions in the global economy.

While gladiators do receive some material compensation (better food, occasional prize money), they are ultimately paid in the coin of emotion. This is where the mapping of gladiation onto the porn industry delivers the most insight. The gladiators are almost exactly analogous to today’s porn “stars,” who support one of the most lucrative industries on the planet—but who can make as little as one hundred dollars for a filmed sex act, and might work on just a couple of films in a “career” that lasts a few months. The cost of plastic surgery, physical training, and so on easily outweighs the earnings of many, a fact known perfectly well to most of the men and women struggling to get into the industry. The idea that all these people are delusional, trying to win a lottery of high adult-film paychecks, misses the point. For the most part, they understand that they are also being paid in a kind of reputation that they have chosen to seek (perhaps mistakenly), even if they don’t get rich.

This is the heart of Spartacus’s appeal—its insight into a core question of our time: “If the rewards are so slim, why do it?” And the series captures the complexity and honesty of the answer: that most of us are deeply social in our motivations, that we strive most vigorously for nonwage compensation . . . and that these generally social preferences represent our vulnerability to the economic predators of our time.

…But a labor market arranged around working for love—rather than fair compensation—is actually one of the most sexist, racist, and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. As I emphasize in How the University Works and elsewhere, when you make the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages.

Via @jhrees.

Of course, the coin of emotion, in fulfilling the desire to serve, is only part of the story. Just as the gladiators are also restrained by the lash, the superexploitation of academic labor is assisted by lines of force. Where the personal need to serve ends—when it runs out, is depleted, pumped absolutely dry by the relentless engine of university accumulation “in the service of good”—a whole underworld of terror, humiliation, and abuse awaits the university worker who comes to his or her senses. When the appeals to pride, love, and self-sacrifice at last run their course, most of today’s superexploited will simply be bullied into further giving with absurd metrics, unreasonable expectations, dishonest evaluation, the threat of nonrenewal, or the like.

The Five-Year Ph.D. as Improved Plumbing

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Marc Bousquet, How the University Works:

From the perspective of casualization, the possibility of a toxic buildup of degree holders is not, as commonly maintained by job-market theorists, the result of “too many” graduate students. On the contrary, it is precisely the nature of permatemping to arrange that there are always “just enough” graduate students and other nondegreed flex workers to be delivered “just in time” to serve the university’s labor needs. It is in the interest and logic of the system to have as many graduate students as it can employ while producing the fewest number of degrees—or, better yet, to produce persons with degrees who don’t make a claim for permanent academic employment. This is one reason that graduate school administrations have recently promoted the Marie Antoinette or “let them eat cake” theory of graduate education: “Why, if they cannot find teaching work, let them be screenwriters!” This is a kind of excrement theory for managers, through which the degree holder figures as a horrible stain or blot, an embarrassment that the system is hysterically trying to scrape from its shoes. By institutionalizing the practice of preparing degree holders for “alternate careers,” the system’s managers are creating a radiator or waste pipe to flush away persons whose teaching services are no longer required precisely because they now hold the degree.

The five-year Ph.D. works exactly the same way  – flush out the used-up instructors faster and cleaner. It’s better plumbing. We know this is true (alas) because these proposals don’t ever talk about admitting fewer students to Stanford. The result of reducing time-to-degree while keeping admitting the same number each year will be be more graduate students passing through Stanford, not fewer — but the ones that do pass through will disappear more easily, making fewer demands on the institution materially and affectively as they go. Despite its claimed goals, most of which are perfectly laudable in the abstract, this is the unhappy purpose to which the five-year-degree proposal actually directs itself: not the production of fewer Ph.D.s, but a mechanism to get rid of the “used-up” Ph.D. better than we do now.

The five-year Ph.D. with alternative job training is therefore not, as Claire Potter has it, “an accounting reform posing as educational reform”; it’s an efficiency measure designed to better manage the cheap labor on which the contemporary university demands and better dispose of the people whose time in the system is up. Bousquet again:

Nearly all of the administrative responses to the degree holder can already be understood as responses to waste: flush it, ship it to the provinces, recycle it through another industry, keep it away from the fresh meat. Unorganized graduate employees and contingent faculty have a tendency to grasp their circumstance incompletely—that is, they feel “treated like shit”—without grasping the systemic reality that they are waste. Insofar as graduate employees feel treated like waste, they can maintain the fantasy that they really exist elsewhere, in some place other than the overwhelmingly excremental testimony of their experience. This fantasy becomes an alibi for inaction, because in this construction agency lies elsewhere, with the administrative touch on the flush-chain. The effect of people who feel treated like waste is an appeal to some other agent: please stop treating us this way—which is to say to that outside agent, “please recognize that we are not waste,” even when that benevolent recognition is contrary to the testimony of our understanding. (And, of course, it is only good management to tell the exploited and superexploited, “Yes, I recognize your dignity. You are special.”)

By contrast, the organized graduate employee and contingent faculty share the grasp of the totality of the system that proceeds from the understanding that they are indeed the waste of that system. They know they are not merely treated like waste but, in fact, are the actual shit of the system—being churned inexorably toward the outside: not merely “disposable” labor (Walzer) but labor that must be disposed of for the system to work. These are persons who can perform acts of blockage. Without expelling the degree holder, the system could not be what it is. Imagine what would happen to “graduate programs preparing future faculty” if they were held responsible for degree-granting by a requirement to continue the employment of every person to whom they granted a Ph.D. but who was unable to find academic employment elsewhere. In many locations, the pipeline would jam in the first year!

Monday Lunchtime Links

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* You’ve got to wonder how much New Jersey kicked to the Center for Public Integrity to get this surprise least-corrupt accolade.

* Election hacked, drunken robot elected to school board.

* As we face the certain extinction of all life on earth, the question on everyone’s mind is: How will this affect the 2012 presidential race?

* Facts are stupid things: Growth In Government Spending Under President Obama Slower Than During Bush, Reagan Administrations. But don’t worry! The White House’s generous offer for even more cuts is still on the table.

Are video games just propaganda and training tools for the military?

“For decades the military has been using video-game technology,” says Nina Huntemann, associate professor of communication and journalism at Suffolk University in Boston and a computer games specialist. “Every branch of the US armed forces and many, many police departments are using retooled video games to train their personnel.”

Like much of early computing, nascent digital gaming benefited from military spending. The prototype for the first home video games console, the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, was developed by Sanders Associates, a US defence contractor. Meanwhile, pre-digital electronic flight simulators, for use in both military and civilian training, date back to at least the second world war.

Later, the games industry began to repay its debts. Many insiders note how instruments in British Challenger 2 tanks, introduced in 1994, look uncannily like the PlayStation’s controllers, one of the most popular consoles of that year. Indeed, warfare’s use of digital war games soared towards the end of the 20th century.

“By the late 1990s,” says Nick Turse, an American journalist, historian and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, “the [US] army was pouring tens of millions of dollars into a centre at the University of Southern California – the Institute of Creative Technologies – specifically to build partnerships with the gaming industry and Hollywood.”

* Daniel Engber at Slate has your Apple apologetics.

But Daisey’s version wasn’t even substantially true. It was substantially false. The version of the story that aired on the radio gave listeners a clear and false impression of the abuses at Foxconn. It inflated the prevalence and massaged the data. How much deeper could the lies have gone?

Apple employees are being mistreated in China, but perhaps not so much or so often that it really matters to most people, harsh as that may sound.

Related: zunguzungu on The McNulty Gambit.

* In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate donations to campaign Super PACs were legal because there was no reason to think they led to “corruption or the appearance of corruption.” This was a remarkably specious argument in the first place, but now we’re apparently going to test it to destruction.

* More on the SCOTUS beat: If you believe that the Court’s conservative majority is itching to strike down Obamacare, then the task is to launder this decision of partisan motivation. The Paul Clement court.

* Still more: Obamacare on Trial: Case of the Century?

* If the hole in the ozone layer were discovered today, we’d let the planet burn.

* A Critical Look at the Future of Zoos.

* Fresh from arguing that the female orgasm doesn’t exist, science now concludes women can have orgasms from exercising. Make up your mind, science!

Friday Night Links

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* This American Life retracts their Apple documentary. More here.

* Greetings from Milwaukee: Selections from the Thomas and Jean Ross Bliffert Postcard Collection.

* Rortybomb with three ways of looking at the student debt crisis.

* China Miéville previews his new comic series Dial H for Hero.

* Inhofe on climate change: “‘I Thought It Must Be True Until I Found Out What It Cost.” Sure, that’s how facts work.

* Wisconsin GOP loses state Senate majority after surprise resignation.

* The Family Hour: An Oral History of The Sopranos. Via MeFi.

* Rick Perlstein argues the problem isn’t that conservatives are crazier than they were fifty years ago; the problem is they’re exactly as crazy as they were fifty years ago. Via LGM.

After less than three full days of deliberations, the five men and seven women of the jury found Dharun Ravi, 20 years old, guilty of invading the privacy of his 18-year-old roommate, Tyler Clementi, and his dorm-room date. 

So much intercepted information is now being collected from “enemies” at home and abroad that, in order to store it all, the agency last year began constructing the ultimate monument to eavesdropping. Rising in a remote corner of Utah, the agency’s gargantuan data storage center will be 1 million square feet, cost nearly $2 billion and likely be capable of eventually holding more than a yottabyte of data — equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.

* I miss Linsanity. Those were simpler times.

* Americans used public transformation twice as much in 1940. That’s per capita. That’s nuts.

* Louis C.K. Withdraws as Host of Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner. Who invited him in the first place? What a terrible choice for the gig.

* Obama comes out against Amendment One. Hey, me too!

* Al Gore endorses filibuster reform. Hey, me too!

* And today in Settlers of Catan news: A Dutch public broadcasting network last month offered its viewers a board game featuring Israeli settlers who use “Jewish stinginess” and “the Anne Frank card” to colonize the West Bank. Hours of fun for the entire family!

Cronus Devouring His Children – 2

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Malcolm Harris, who is building his Internet celebrity on this issue, doubles down on all of the bad impulses this kind of thinking engenders. He is here using the language of revolution to justify what is, at its essence, a dispute among the ruling class. He reminds me of nothing so much as the autoworker who curses the “foreigner” who he imagines has stolen what he thought was coming to him. Because Harris knows that his complaint is ultimately a direct expression of entitlement, and the entitlement of those who presumed they would be rewarded by our corrupt system, he has to build a case that is simply antithetical to the left-wing project: the notion that recent college graduates are the dispossessed around which a revolutionary movement deserves to be mustered. Read his piece. I don’t exaggerate.

It should go without saying that this is a project I want nothing to do with. I feel for those struggling under student loan debt, in part because I am myself, but I will not engage in the sophistry and dishonesty that asserts that they are the class that most requires liberation.

Freddie deBoer takes on the New Inquiry issue on “youth” I linked to yesterday. My response to Freddie would just be sure, sure, yes, everything you say is also true—but we can think about more than one type of thing at once.

Sunday Reading™

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* Babies born this year are the best babies. Fact.

* Gingrichmania! Republicans in disarray! How he did it. Nate Silver:

But South Carolina’s seeming rejection of Mr. Romney goes beyond cultural or demographic idiosyncrasies. Mr. Rtaxomney was resoundingly defeated by Mr. Gingrich, losing badly among his worst demographic groups and barely beating Mr. Gingrich among his best ones. Had you extrapolated the exit poll cross-tabulations from South Carolina to the other 49 states, Mr. Romney might have lost 47 of them. Moreover, the decline of Mr. Romney was almost as significant in national polls as it was in South Carolina.

Now poor Romney has to release his tax returns. Onward to Florida!

* Great moments in Fox News: Newt Gingrich’s repeated betrayals of the people closest to him suggest he’ll make a trustworthy president.

11 Lesser-Known 2012 Presidential Candidates.

* “One of the gravest threats the FBI saw in the Black Panther movement was their Free Children’s Breakfast Program.” Via zunguzungu.

* When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president. But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke,President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

* Steve Shaviro reviews Carl Freedman’s The Age of Nixon. I actually bought this one just on the strength of the author and title.

* Another absolute must-have: Alison Bechdel’s followup to Fun Home, Are You My Mother?

* David Graeber: The Political Metaphysics of Stupidity.

* Michael Greenberg: What Future for Occupy Wall Street? Also on the OWS tip: diluting the 99% brand.

* They’re still trying to make a movie out of Jeff Smith’s Bone.

* And the Chronicle of Higher Education has an obituary for Dean Jo Rae Wright. I only knew her over email, but I was very sad to hear this. She was a very generous supporter of graduate projects at Duke.

That’s One Way to Solve It

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Written by gerrycanavan

January 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

‘Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal’

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Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide. Worth flagging the class issue raised by Atrios in his link:

Aside from the exploitation, [the practice of unpaid internships] effectively excludes all those people who can’t afford to work for free from certain elite segments of society (media, publishing, politics). It’s a way elites can screen for other elites.

UPDATE: BloggEd raises a similar point with the reminder than many of these unpaid interns require that you receive academic credit in exchange, effectively requiring you to pay for the privilege to work for free.

Written by gerrycanavan

April 3, 2010 at 9:38 am

‘A Few Notes on The Culture’

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Essentially, the contention is that our currently dominant power systems cannot long survive in space; beyond a certain technological level a degree of anarchy is arguably inevitable and anyway preferable.

The Biology in Science Fiction blog introduces me to Iain M. Bank’s ultra-Utopian enunciation of The Culture. Of course, as with any Utopia, labor turns out to be a pivotal concern:

Briefly, nothing and nobody in the Culture is exploited. It is essentially an automated civilisation in its manufacturing processes, with human labour restricted to something indistinguishable from play, or a hobby.

No machine is exploited, either; the idea here being that any job can be automated in such a way as to ensure that it can be done by a machine well below the level of potential consciousness; what to us would be a stunningly sophisticated computer running a factory (for example) would be looked on by the Culture’s AIs as a glorified calculator, and no more exploited than an insect is exploited when it pollinates a fruit tree a human later eats a fruit from.

Where intelligent supervision of a manufacturing or maintenance operation is required, the intellectual challenge involved (and the relative lightness of the effort required) would make such supervision rewarding and enjoyable, whether for human or machine. The precise degree of supervision required can be adjusted to a level which satisfies the demand for it arising from the nature of the civilisation’s members. People – and, I’d argue, the sort of conscious machines which would happily cooperate with them – hate to feel exploited, but they also hate to feel useless. One of the most important tasks in setting up and running a stable and internally content civilisation is finding an acceptable balance between the desire for freedom of choice in one’s actions (and the freedom from mortal fear in one’s life) and the need to feel that even in a society so self-correctingly Utopian one is still contributing something. Philosophy matters, here, and sound education.

Banks isn’t coy; what he’s talking about is a vision of interstellar socialism made possible by the concurrent elimination of both scarcity and hierarchy:

Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive – and more morally desirable – than one left to market forces.

Of course, there is a place for serendipity and chance in any sensibly envisaged plan, and the degree to which this would affect the higher functions of a democratically designed economy would be one of the most important parameters to be set… but just as the information we have stored in our libraries and institutions has undeniably outgrown (if not outweighed) that resident in our genes, and just as we may, within a century of the invention of electronics, duplicate – through machine sentience – a process which evolution took billions of years to achieve, so we shall one day abandon the grossly targeted vagaries of the market for the precision creation of the planned economy.

The Culture, of course, has gone beyond even that, to an economy so much a part of society it is hardly worthy of a separate definition, and which is limited only by imagination, philosophy (and manners), and the idea of minimally wasteful elegance; a kind of galactic ecological awareness allied to a desire to create beauty and goodness.

Note too that it’ll take both:

The one thing that won’t be enough is getting to a post-scarcity society; a statistically valid number of us have lived in something very like that for the past decade and a bit and we still collectively behaved like slavering morons, so it’ll take more than just having more toys than we know what to do with to make us truly civilised.

There’s more at io9 and, of all places, CNN.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 30, 2008 at 12:15 pm

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