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Science Fiction as Foresight

Well, I went and done it.

I've completed my Master's in Strategic Foresight and Innovation (now watch me innovate!). It's taken two years but I enjoyed every class and project. Most of you know I was working on this; I've described the general idea behind foresight here before (basically, futurism without tears) but a lot of people were asking what my thesis was about. Well, it's about science fiction, funnily enough.

For about ten years now I've been periodically hired to write fictionalized versions of foresight findings. It works like this: mysterious government group A approaches me and tells me they've just spent six months researching the future of X (where X is something like "farm equipment" or "Alternatives To The Syringe"). What they've got is one or more scenarios, which are basically alternative plotlines for future events. They'd like me to turn these into actual stories, which I'm happy to do. (The most extreme example of this is the book Crisis in Zefra, which I wrote for the Canadian army back in 2005).

SF's also used in other ways by foresighters. Over at Intel, Brian David Johnson has defined "science fiction prototyping" as an approach where you hire SF writers to do exploratory stories in some area (like, say, the future of computing). Also, ever since people have done foresight work, they've used SF stories as examples and sounding-boards for ideas. So that's two other distinct ways in which it's used.

Curiously, when I write scenario fictions I'm not trying to generate new ideas of my own, but rather to represent the ideas that some set of futurists, subject experts, or public panels has already developed. This makes scenario fictions different than SF prototypes.

My thesis was on how to write the things. Right now, there's a big gaping hole in foresight methodology right about there; all sorts of work and pedagogy has been expended on scenario development methodologies, taxonomies and typologies; on their appropriate use and misuse. (If you're really interested you can read Future Savvy by Adam Gordon or Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Communication by Kees van der Heijden, but be warned: this subject is a rabbit hole. If you fall down it, you may not come back.) Strangely, though, almost nobody's tackled the question of how to translate a specific set of findings into fictional form in such a way that you (the writer) don't hijack or misrepresent them.

I used Ian Bogost's theory of video game criticism (see his book Unit Operations) and the classical Art of Memory (no better summary exists than Frances Yates' The Art of Memory) as my framework for describing my method. Basically it's this: if a piece of fiction is to stand for some set of findings in foresight, then it is essentially a mnemonic for them. I describe how to construct a story as a mnemonic, and refer to examples as diverse as the I Ching and the Tarot (which, as I claim in my short story "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" [Solaris Book of New Science Fiction vol. 2] was probably not originally created as a fortune-telling system).

Science fiction is more than just a genre of fiction. Hell, it's more than just fiction. It's a mode of thought; because our brains are hardwired and optimized to think in narratives, SF can be seen as a primary means by which we make sense of and plan for the future. By understanding how this process works, we have an opportunity to grow a new branch of SF parallel to but not replacing or displacing the traditional arm--a branch that's rigorous and methodical and deliberately used to help solve real-world problems. In fact, that's been happening for a while now (see Johnson's book); I'm delighted to have found myself in a position to be able to help make it formally recognized.

72 Comments

1:

Congratulations!

(Hey, what's your take on the topic in the two previous threads ...? ;-)

2:

Can we read your thesis anywhere? Sounds interesting.

3:

Congratulations, Karl!

A question that confronts every professional at one time or another: are there times when fictionalising a set of scenarios is not appropriate?

4:

Congratulations!

Who was on your thesis defense committee? Were there any fiction writers?

5:

Can we ask what entity granted your degree?

6:

A quick Google let me to http://www.kschroeder.com/foresight-consulting which says OCAD University (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/OCAD_University).

7:

You can graduate in Strategic Foresight now? What's next, Ph.D. in Ass-pulling?

8:

Does this include scenarios, as discussed in previous two threads...
Where a technical solution, or raft of technical solutions are avilable for a problem/set of problems.
And, it's perefectly possible to implement them but

The political climate &/or religious pressure (hell, lets call it by its proper name, BIGOTRY) stops the implementation.
And world goes to hell in handbasket.

E.G. The Moorfields Eye Hospital, here, is about to start experimanetal operations to save previously uncuranle vision problems.
But they are using, (horror) Human stem cells.

9:

Gwern, while I certainly could have Googled it up, that smacks of cyber-stalking to my mind. I find it much more polite and conversational to ask the question directly.

Actually that leads to ponderings on the evolution of social manners in a time of ubiquitous public availability of personal and semi-personal information. I wonder what the practitioners of foresight would have to say on the matter?

10:

Congrats! That sounds like a great how-to book for aspiring SF writers, just waiting to be written.

11:

I think it depends -- a thesis is a public document, like a book. In my view, it would be more polite to google it, given that it was intended for public consumption and is easily available -- why waste my time when I've already given it to you?

On the other hand, with information that isn't part of your public presentation, it's probably more polite to at least pretend that you don't know it (since politeness is ultimately about "pretend", about what things can be used socially and which one's can't).

12:

Yes, it includes scenarios, as well as other methods, which include both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

13:

You mention a fiction written for the Canadian Armed Forces. They have been using that approach for a long time. First Clash by Kenneth Macksey was published in 1985, and depicts a Canadian Mechanised Brigade in Europe when the Soviets attack. I was wargaming a lot, and it put together a lot of different things I'd read about.

The idea of using story-telling as planned training goes back a lot further. Duffer's Drift is a classic example. So, in a more "print the legend" sort of way, is the custom of soldiers of the Royal Welsh watching the film Zulu on the anniversary of Rorke's Drift.

14:

Hey, the FBI uses fiction in their training, too!

15:

I'm unclear if you mean to formalize the requirements for a piece of science fiction to be representative of a particular set of predictions, or if you mean to formalize the techniques and the way in which a piece of fiction addresses some set of predictions.

Also, is your thesis that the tarot was a mnemonic system for the stations of the cross, as Ouspensky (iirc) argued? We know that it was used in the game of trumps prior to becoming a fortune telling technique, and that the first recorded instance of its use in fortune telling was the memoirs of Casanova, but the existence of these highly memorable trump designs hints toward less mundane uses.

16:

HI Karl .. How to write Things ? Eh Wot? Well I worked in a Cold Face of various aspects of Higher Education in U.k. for nearly 40 years and once upon a time ..when I was doing my nominally Low Tech Consultant role in Business Consultancy I was ambushed in the Car Park outside of the Paid For outside of University Job ..oh Joy That's my Expensive Tastes Dealt with this month sort of thing.

You know how any given SF /fantasy Convention Committee member of the Convention of Your Choice will swear that his Fellow Con Com Members are/were MAD !!!? Well this Ambush was of members of a small voluntary Mental Health team associated with the local authority - in whose Car Park I was freezing my tail off whilst my Chafferer's waited my, paid for by client, convenience.

" The Ambushers " ..hummm, Good Title but already owned as a title by Donald Hamilton, though the Movie was Ghastly

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062657/

.. They had been impressed by by MY non-academic Practicality and ..they were in a Practical Bind, and thus had not ambushed my Academic Collogues but chose to POUNCE tm on Me .


You see their Mental Health charity /thingy was required to have a given number of ..never call them patients .. in the organisations organising committee and these Com members Really Were Certifiably Crazy -forgive the Tech Psychology term - and were presenting ..call them Challenges. So, they wanted to know .. what would I DO in this situation?


Guess what my advice was?


Oh, Congratulations on your Academic Attainment ...and what do you think of the Current level of - shall we say USEFUL ? - Academic Achievement in the U.K. in your own field ?

17:

"E.G. The Moorfields Eye Hospital, here, is about to start experimanetal operations to save previously uncuranle vision problems.
But they are using, (horror) Human stem cells."

Which is utterly uncontroversial here.

18:

Pity all the Afghan stories were conveniently forgotten

19:

there is a bit of a downside to using scifi to illustrate real concepts.

aside from the issue that many ideas today get over hyped (and stories are certainly used to do so), the big issue in my opinion is that for alot of normal people, when they think of scifi they think of star wars and star trek and buck rodgers and other fiction that has little to no actual science.
thus they tend to dismiss the pluasibility of stuff from speculative fiction, even when based on real world concepts and science.

this isn't helped by the fact that many authors are not experts in the areas they're writing about, and can make some very serious errors in both technical issues and portrayals, errors that will be picked up on by people who are better versed in those things, and may not be willing to overlook them.


these issues shouldn't prevent a writer from taking on such a project, they're just factors to keep in mind and deal with when writing.

20:

It's so exciting for me to find Frances Yates and the work of the Warburg Institute - http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/home/about-the-institute/ - referenced in this context.

Aby Warburg - one of the subjects of my doctoral thesis - remains, to me, one of the most unexpectedly science-fictional writers, given that he was a Renaissance art historian.

Also interesting in this regard are Pierre Nora, whose concept of "Lieux de Memoire" (sites of memory) is a powerful understanding of remembering and history with loads of potential for speculative fiction...I would even argue that the work of writers like W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair shades in to spec fic.

21:

Check out the BBC news. Funny goings on with the speed of light
At CERN
Thought that was worth an interupt

22:

Well done.

23:

Dirk @ 17OF COURSE it's utterly uncontroversial here - I live in London.
But I couldn't resist the sarcasm directed against US god-botherers.

Yes, the ? ftl ? thread could be interesting.
Even though it's neutrinoes ...
Perhaps le Guin is correct, and we won't get ftl for objects, but we will get Ansibles.
Perhaps ......

24:

"SciFi" ~= "Space Opera": SciFi /= "Science Fiction" (for values that ignore the possibility of one side of an inequality being a subset of the other).

25:

I wouldn't quite say it was "utterly uncontroversial", but we don't get major TV networks populated by extremist ranters.

Some poeple have suggested that the Church of England is a vaccine against extremism. Maybe it is. But, as the Established Church in England, it doesn't need to be pushy. While the memory is slowly fading, we also have the example of the Troubles in Ireland and the way that some Protestant ministers preached.

We have an image of what can go wrong, simplified and sometimes incorrect though it is, and we don't want it. There's been some dumb-ass right-wing American boasting about his side having more guns, even inviting civil war with "liberals". and he really doesn't know what he's promoting.

26:

It's about how the ordinary guy perceives it, and I don't think hair-splitting about labels changes that. SF is, I think, something distinct from a story about the future. Most of the popular stuff, films and TV, is more a story set in a future than about it. A Foresight story has to be about the future to have any value.

I sometimes say that SF depends on science and technology and stuff being used as a character in the story, as something active rather than a passive setting. You can see some distinct examples of this in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress: Mycroft is an active character, an example of an emergent A.I., while the use of the Lunar catapults as a weapon is an active use of something that, outside SF, would be a passive setting.

I'm still working through Crisis in Zefra (it has an appendix on the Canadian use of this sort of fiction) and I'd say the new tech is being used as a character. It's an SF way of telling the story. And if it was in the class of all those well-known TV shows, the tech would just be the rabbit pulled out of the hat, the deus ex machina, which comes out at the end to make everything all right. The same people would be back next week with a new problem, resolved by a new rabbit.

27:

From my read of the public life in the States, stem cells by themselves aren't really troublesome to anyone.

Embryonic stem-cell research is troublesome to people who assert that the human embryo should be considered a human being, and shouldn't be destroyed in a medical experiment. (This position is most often found among people opposed to abortion, for the reason that they think abortion involves terminating a life. Whether they are right or wrong, they are usually consistent in their treatment of the human embryo.)

I do note that I have yet to hear of the embryonic stem-cell research producing usable medical therapy. I've heard of dozens of medical treatments in which a patients' own stem-cells are used to help cure them.

The 'god-botherers' seemingly don't care about new medicine, if it uses stem-cells from the body of the patient.

At least, I haven't heard any complaints from such people about adult-sourced stem-cells.


--------------------------------------------------
As an aside: President Bush was the first American President to allow Federal funding for any kind of embryonic stem-cell research. Previous to this, President Clinton had the opportunity to allow funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and did not.

The law that Bush signed allowed Federal funding for research existing lines of embryonic stem-cells. That law did not allow Federal funding for creation of new lines of embryonic stem-cells. Thus, Bush was excoriated for a 'ban' that had a narrowly-directed scope of funding, but not an outright ban.

Isn't politics wonderful? Words take on extra meanings, depending on who they are about and what subject they are describing. A ban that isn't a ban...or an increase in spending that is called a decrease because it decreases the planned rate of increase...or a war that isn't a war, it is a kinetic military action.

28:

>>>> Actually that leads to ponderings on the evolution of social manners in a time of ubiquitous public availability of personal and semi-personal information. I wonder what the practitioners of foresight would have to say on the matter?

Yes, this is a question I ask myself very often. When you read "old" SF, you often find things like "may I introduce you to Mr Klakwerk, ambassador of the Planet Pandiora ?" or "He took of his hat and ..." which sound very 50's to the reader. I wonder why nobody (but Burgess) ever tries to anticipate what would be the social manners that come with the new tech they write about... that could be very interesting.

@Matt Finch : can I find your work about Warburg on the net ? I'm writing a book about "how to classify" (in french) and would be very interested. Thanks.

last : as for the FTL neutrinos, 3 hurray for the CERN ! Who said everything came from the US ?...

29:

Well, since my point was that "what the man in the street thinks of as "science fiction" mostly isn't..."

30:

...if a piece of fiction is to stand for some set of findings in foresight, then it is essentially a mnemonic for them.

To be clear, is this something along the lines of describing a sprawling, globalized mega-metropolis with lots of skyscrapers (a foresight of Alvin Toffler, perhaps) as "like Blade Runner"? I know that's probably a simplistic/obvious one, but I'm just trying to picture an example of that kind of mnemonic.

31:

"Dirk @ 17OF COURSE it's utterly uncontroversial here - I live in London."

Are you going to be at the conference on 8 Oct?
http://humanityplus.org.uk/2011/08/21/beyond-human-london-sat-8th-oct/

I'll be there as part of both the UKTA and Zero State contingent.

32:

Not sure about that.

There's one Arthur C. Clarke story (Earthlight, I think) which talks about Moon colonists developing an idiom of English which relies on clipped and terse sentences with few syllables.

33:

Not sure about that.

There's one Arthur C. Clarke story (Earthlight, I think) which talks about Moon colonists developing an idiom of English which relies on clipped and terse sentences with few syllables.

34:

Back in the 60's someone said that SF was "if this goes on." And thanks to it, "This Did Not Go On."

35:

>>>>we also have the example of the Troubles in Ireland and the way that some Protestant ministers preached.

Actually, the Preacher you're thinking of was not a minister of the established church.

As for the troubles as a whole, they were rooted in peculiar material conditions which produced a divided working class and a corrupt, gerrymandered statelet. It was these conditions that produced a niche for religious extremism, and the war - the extremism did not produce the war on its own. Religion is certainly not irrelevant to the war in the north of Ireland, but that conflict was not a religious war in the way a lot of people tend to assume.

36:

Up until recently Eire was a rabid theocracy where the Catholic hierarchy had a veto on just about all legislation. The Protestant North viewed the South like we view Iran now:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholicism_in_Ireland#Influence_in_the_Irish_Free_State_and_Republic_.281922.E2.80.93present.29

37:

Dirk, it really wasn't that simple. And it was certainly not another Iran.


The power structure in the Free State did indeed involve a close relationship between church and state, but the church was the junior partner in that relationship.

38:

If you are implying that the relationship was similar to that of the CoE and the UK, you are vastly mistaken. The power of the RCC in the South was enormous, personally intrusive and very malignant.

39:

Hmm.

I think you underestimate the power of the CofE in the UK prior to the sixties; it's definitely gone into a steep decline in my lifetime, but the relics of institutional power are still visible in the British constitution. (They're probably a lot more visible to onlookers who -- like me -- are not of Christian background and upbringing, much less CofE.)

I suspect the powers of the RCC in Eire were originally modelled on the legal framework for the power of the CofE in the UK in the 19th century (from which Eire devolved with full sovereignty and a pre-existing body of law, remember). But while the pattern of the 20th century was for the CofE to undergo a genteel decline, the pattern in Eire under successive post-civil-war governments was to reinforce the RCC's authority, as a deliberate act of nation-building.

Remember that after independence there was a large Protestant community in the South? Who somehow migrated into the North over the following decade -- while a chunk of the Northern Catholic minority moved South. Calling it "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkan sense would be too strong -- neither side was gung ho for filling in mass graves -- but it wasn't friendly and forgiving either. And giving the RCC everything they wanted on a silver platter was as good a tool as any for making the Presbyterian minority feel unwelcome.

By the 1940s and 1950s the mechanism was in place for the RCC to arrange the Republic's society in accordance with their desires. But the RCC didn't run the Republic as a true theocracy as in, for example, Iran (where the Supreme Leader is a Grand Ayatollah, who gets to tell the elected president what he's allowed to do). Which is why the dominance of the Church could crumble so shockingly fast in the 1990s.

40:

Charlie, up where you live the "established church" is the (presbyterian) Church of Scotland. And, as a Scot now living in England, I can tell you the power of the CoS in "North Britain" was uo to at least the late '70s every bit as pervasive as that of the CoE in "the South", but different

41:

http://gizmodo.com/5843117/scientists-reconstruct-video-clips-from-brain-activity

How about we do some extrapolating?
Starting with involuntary video confessions to the police and moving on to the end of Hollywood?

42:

DJPO'K
Half-right
The "North" WAS a corrupt gerrymandered statelet.
But the RC church was (almost) everything others here have said about it.
The reason the Prods in the N hated and feared the RC were well-founded in history - the RC has a long blood-history behind it (& I'm reading a history of the 30 years' war right now - ugggg)

Sad case history.
AFAIK the ONLy person to get a VC in WWII from NI was a catholic submariner.
The Prods still hated him (he was catholic) and the catholics hated him, because he'd fought against Hitler (I won't go into the official collaboration between the RC church and the NSDAP here) and for the "Brits".
After the war about 1948, he got so pissed-off with this, he moved his entire family to Liverpool.

The decline of religion in the N and the apparently complete collapse of the RC in the S is only to be welcomed by everyone....

43:

Charlie, the crumbling started a lot earlier than the 1990s! It was Haughey himself who effectively killed literary censorship in 1967, when he used his powers as minister of justice to change the law in that area.

>>>By the 1940s and 1950s the mechanism was in place for the RCC to arrange the Republic's society in accordance with their desires. But the RCC didn't run the Republic as a true theocracy as in, for example, Iran (where the Supreme Leader is a Grand Ayatollah, who gets to tell the elected president what he's allowed to do).

As for this. . . if the mechanisms for the RC church to run Irish society according to their heart's desires existed from the 40s onwards, why didn't they run the Republic as a true theocracy?

Because, as I said above, they were the junior partner in the power structure. In the national archives in Dublin there's a letter from Archbishop McQuaid to the Taoiseach (prime minister)Sean Lemass where tries to lay down the law to him. In the margin of this letter there's a note in Lemass's handwriting that reads 'his grace's letter does not merit a reply'. Harsh words indeed, I think you'll have to agree.

You're also mishandling the intercommunity relations in the south after 1922. Some Protestants left, but AFAIAA there was no significant migration northward. You did get people like my grandmother who had to move south in search of work (she was one of only three Catholics allowed into teacher training in Belfast in the late 1920s), but those also were rare. Emigrants of all faiths, on both sides of the border, tended to leave the island altogether.

There are other facts that complicate that picture as well. The rump of the old Unionist party in the south joined the ruling nationalist party (Cumman na Gael) in the late 1920s. In the late 1930s, the minister of education introduced a bill that would have required Protestant school children studying in English boarding schools to pass a proficiency exam in the Irish language if they wished to be readmitted to Ireland on their return home.

Even if we are charitable and assume that this was the result of a hard-on for the Irish tongue, the effect would have been the same as if the intention had been to target the minority. So, what happened next.

What happened next was that the President, Douglas Hyde, who was both a Protestant and a founding leader of the movement for the revival of the Irish language, refused to sign the bill into law and referred it to the supreme court. The supreme court found that it was unconstitutional, killing it forever. This is not what you would find in a society (like say, the six counties) where the preservation of one ethnoreligious community's supremacy over another was the entire raison d'etre of the state.

You're right, it was a repressive society all the same: but behind the mask of religious repression was the repression of an exploited class by its exploiters. There were no bourgeois people in the Magdalene laundries or the reform schools.

As for the war, it may interest you to know that there were several cases of IRA men enlisting in HM forces on explicit, anti-fascist,ideological grounds.

Guys, I'm Irish, I've lived in Ireland, I've studied Irish history up to third level and beyond: I actually do know more about this than you do. Do you really want to take this further?

44:

Yes, it's messy, VERY messy.

As I said in a long-ago thread, the worst bit (probably) was the way in which all parties concerned took turns, in the period 1911-22 to royally fuck up an accepted settlement, and to see how far they could go right over the top in garuanteeing further bloody conflict.

45:

The Northern Ireland/Ireland thing is a rabbit hole. It seems so simple on the surface (particularly if you only know what has been presented in the news media), but like some demented Mandelbröt conflict, the more you dig into it the more details you uncover.

I haven't studied the history as Mr O'Kane has, but I've lived through a big chunk of it (Belfast native, still there), and Greg summed it up very neatly with one line: "it's messy, VERY messy".

(Final note: There is still much hate, intolerance, bigotry and ignorance preached by many in this strange little country. Not all by religious leaders either.)

46:

The Irish republic, unlike Iran, never had a strong secular population that needed suppressing. Everyone was homogenously catholic and bought into the background assumptions of the system. Things like the Magdalen laundries emulated gulags only by parallel evolution but were repressing human nature not political dissent. The lack of sexual education made the transgressions of the priest class literally unimaginable for the vast majority of the population, and thus easy to hide.

Contrast to say, Spain, another strongly catholic country but one that had a very divisive civil war in which the clergy took a very active partisan stance. Even after the secular side was thoroughly defeated and suppressed for 40 years the catholic church never had as free reign there. I recall being surprised at seeing a student residence advertised on a poster at a Dublin university, proudly proclaiming it belonged to the Opus Dei as if it was some harmless religious institution. In Spain they'd have to be a lot more discreet because everyone is aware what the Opus Dei is about.

47:

Added fun irony: old 1980s and 1990s American posters campaigning for "Brits out of Ireland"!

Given that the Ulster protestants have been in Ireland since before the Mayflower set sail, one might have been forgiven for wondering why the campaigners weren't planning on packing their bags in order to give Manhattan back to the Lenape ...

48:

And for extra added irony with a cherry on top: Did those American campaigners stop to think about where the money they supplied to the "Cause" wound up (who were the IRA buying weapons from)? And what acts of international terrorism it may have ended up financing?

I could rant on and on, but I'm very sure Charlie doesn't want his pulpit hijacked (puns not entirely intended).

49:

Historical footnote - one of the reasons the US constitution mentions the right to weapons is because of a certain bunch of Protestant settlers in Ireland who had their arms taken away, and found better luck across the Atlantic.

50:

Ah. A clear case of moral superiority in that light. Definitely ok to fund Irish terrorists then. Shouldn't complain I suppose since the English started it all.

51:

I do not draw conclusions in my "footnote", and those aren't the conclusions I would have reached. I'm not keen on murderers on any side, and to discuss morality in their context isn't the approach I'd choose.

52:

Apologies. I was a being a bit sarcastic and perhaps slid sideways into condescending. But I was struggling to see where your footnote was going - if I missed an attempt to raise some further historical irony, the apologies go double.

53:

No worries, the misunderstanding was mine. We're all friends here.

Hearing about theocracies reminded me that the past is still here — it's just not very evenly distributed.

@Dave Bell, #13 Thanks for the link, there's a lot on that website worth reading.

@Karl Congratulations.

@thread in general, importance of sci-fi. I can imagine a future where for any given new problem, there will be a solution already rigourously worked out in a bunch of SF novels written about it, plus a few thousand words of review and blog comments.

54:

Maybe you just need two teams of people when exploring a new tech - the evil team who think up ways to abuse it, and the good team who think up ways to stop them.

55:

A footnote. Subs were invented to sink England's warships around Ireland. And Irish/English landlords exported horse (GRAIN) food to England in the starving time. And most of them did not starve. They spent there money on food and the landlords turned them out to die in the open. AND NO I AM NOT IRISH. I just think the game was hard on them.

56:

I'm sorry I triggered an argument about Irish History.

My point was that Britain has a recent collective memory which associates violence and terrorism with a particular style of religious extremism. And we're seeing that in the USA. It looks as though the idiots don't know what they're asking for.

You could, I think, make an argument that the troubles in both Ireland and Palestine have roots in land ownership. There's an emotional investment in being a farmer and, in the end, you can trace our civilisation to a bunch of farmers telling the high muckety-mucks in their chariots to "Git orf my land!"

It's the Hobdens who count.

57:

an argument that the troubles in both Ireland and Palestine have roots in land ownership

No shit?

That's actually the steaming great turd in the punchbowl that drives the conflict and that the western media almost never discusses explicitly (possibly because they're largely unaware of it: your typical journalist didn't grow up on a farm).

There's the added issue of water rights in Israel/Palestine. Ireland gets plenty of rain, but water for agriculture is a scarce resource in that part of the world. And the kind of high intensity western market gardening style of agriculture the Israeli settlers started out with is horrendously water-intensive. No water? No farming.

58:

Speaking of land, isn't most property in the UK and Ireland in the form of very long term leases? What happens in 100 or 200 years when suddenly vast swathes of urban landscape suddenly revert to the current Earl of Numpty?

59:

The Irish famines were the result of Capitalism, not state sanctioned genocide. The state actually did nothing, which is why it gets blamed. It's exactly the situation that arises in a libertarian political system.

60:

You're making the rather odd assumption that all the leases expire at the same time, presumably on an assumption that they all started at the same time. I'm a little dubious of that.

On the other hand, yes, there are the questions of what does happen when, say, the land lease for Oxford Street expires. I suspect there will be feverish negotiations as the date approaches, followed by a very happy leaseholder as the leases are renewed, possibly for 999 years this time.

61:

Since the Norman Conquest (1066), in law, all land in england is ultimately property of the crown, i.e. belongs to the current monarch. Land which is "owned" in england is held either "freehold" or "leasehold". Freehold land is land held free of (i.e. without) fuedal encumbrance such as obligation to serve as a soldier in the king's army or to give up your best pig every michaelmass day. Leasehold is a lease for rent (always money now, but in the past there were other forms of tenancy). Only the crown can grant freehold tenure, but freeholds can be sold or combined/divided.

In reality, with freehold property the crown leaves well alone unless the landowner dies without either making a will or leaving any heirs (meaning immediate family members including parents, siblings or children) in which case the dead persons "estate" including real estate (property, land) will revert (the old term was escheat) to the crown meaning in reality the government which will sell the freehold to some person for cash.

The situation is similar I believe in scotland where I can remeber my parents paying a very small amoutn of money as "feu duty" (an ancient fuedal levy) on their mortgaged house in edinburgh until sometime in the 70s I think when all future payments were "commuted" by a one-off payment of about £10.

Long leases are never in practice allowed to expire because it is difficult for people to get mortgages for properties where the lease term is less than about 50 years. In practice, the leaseholder and the freeholder will renogotiate the term of the lease for a new longer term before the lease expire. Typically the leaseholder (tenant) will pay the freeholder a substantial premium for this.

So, it all goes back to an archaic fuedal system which has survived intact but modified since the middle ages, almost a millenium.

62:

Speaking of land, isn't most property in the UK and Ireland in the form of very long term leases? What happens in 100 or 200 years when suddenly vast swathes of urban landscape suddenly revert to the current Earl of Numpty?

Not "most" -- for example, I own the freehold on this here top floor apartment in perpetuity, until the sun burns down or the monarchy fails.

However, lots of properties are sold on a leasehold basis, with a lease duration typically starting at 99 years, or 999 years.

The 999 year leases aren't a problem. The 99 year ones are most common for managing blocks of flats (i.e. what in the US would be a condominium)( ... in general, what happens is that the freehold title to the land is owned by a shell company, and the terms of the 99 year leases include rent that gets paid to the company in order to perform collective maintenance tasks. And it's common for the leasehold owners to be the shareholders (and board of directors) of the freehold-owning company.

Obviously, if a typical mortgage term is 25 years, the leasehold apartment is valued much like a freehold until it gets to within 25 years of the end of the leasehold, at which point its market value drops like a stone (towards zero as the ownership clock counts down). But in practice, Stuff Happens. Sometimes the "tenants" bring in the lawyers and buy out the freehold on their apartments. Or sometimes the building structure has deteriorated enough that at the end of the leasehold it's about ready to be knocked down and rebuilt.

NOTE: Feudal dues in the Scottish version of the system were finally abolished about a decade ago.

63:

"An argument that the troubles in both Ireland and Palestine have roots in land". In the States its said that land rich is poor. My family has lost twice by having land with out the cash to keep it. The old time Aristocrats grabbed ever bit of land they could hang on to. Now we know that its what you do on the land that matters, well not right now maybe.
The Irish famines were the result of then new style Capitalism I think. When the cheap potatoes died the land owners kept sending horse food, grain, to England. The old time Parliament did its duty and used taxes to buy food. (most of the dead spent their money on food and were put out in the open by the landowners) The New Rich did not want to spend their money on taxes. So a New Party of the New Money took over Parliament. They came up with classic economics to excuse what they did. It was a laissez-faire, social Darwinist philosophy. Or just say Survival of the Fittest and mean just that.
A footnote on water that may be of use. In the Amazon its been a puzzle how the old populate could have been fed. The dry time kills food. Old big charcoal filled trenches have been found. New ones have been made and food planted. The charcoal hold water in the dry and allows food grown. I think this could be of use in the worlds dry lands. But you need lots of wood to burn first.

64:

Progressively less, as since 2002 the leaseholders have had the right to force the sale of the freehold. (UK land tenure is impossibly strange - the 999 year leases, which are common in Yorkshire, are apparently an artefact of the abolition of copyhold.)

65:

And, of course, there's the thing about the Duchy of Lancaster...

66:

"The Irish Famine"
(Several posts up)

Were nothing at all to do with "Capitalism" - but they were a lot to do with weather and climate.
The years 1846-8 were cold and WET.
The whole of Europe had bad, sometimes very bad harvests.
The only two countries which had even half-way repectable harvests (and they were a lot lower than usual and prices went up) were ... England (Wales and S. Scotland) and Belgium. Because their agriculture was more modern and devloped, with greater resiience.
As a result of this food-shortage, there were revolutions in: France, Netherlands, Italy, "Germany" Poland.
Ireland got an extra bonus: potoato blight, Phytophtora infestans and... potatoes were the staple diet of the poor in Ireland.
Really NOT good, I can tell you.
Blight is still a major problem - I lost half my tomatoes to it this year.

67:

I believe there were potato famines throughout northern Europe, but the Irish got it among the worst, because most of them had planted only a single cultivar, the Lumper.

This is also the classic demonstration of how Monocultures Fail Spectacularly.

Potato blight, incidentally, is still a big problem. The "seed" potato farms are deliberately located in areas where no one else grows potatoes, just to keep as far away from potato blight as possible.

68:

NOTE: Feudal dues in the Scottish version of the system were finally abolished about a decade ago.

Facts sometimes inhibit fun tales. No story of what happens when the Laird of Numpty shows up and claims that the Clan Stross owes half a sheep in back taxes...

69:

...and Charlie goes to Tesco. Disappointment all round, as the Laird looks around Edinburgh and starts frantically googling for cold-storage capacity.

In fact I grew up in the sort of place where you could buy a whole sheep, on credit, in a pub. And the bloke who sold us them spent a lot of time flirting with my mother, until the day he dropped a gallon of cream in his van in our street and turned up at the door covered in his Freudian disaster.

70:

WARNING. RE-POST, PART OF.
The Irish famines were the result of then new style Capitalism I think. When the cheap potatoes died the land owners kept sending horse food, grain, to England. The old time Parliament did its duty and used taxes to buy food. (most of the dead spent their money on food and were put out in the open by the landowners TO die.) The New Rich did not want to spend their money on taxes. So a New Party of the New Money took over Parliament. They came up with classic economics to excuse what they did. It was a laissez-faire, social Darwinist philosophy. Or just say Survival of the Fittest and mean just that.

71:

Sorry Mr Brown.

Really bad weather over the whole of Europe for 3 years
PLUS (In Ireland)
Phytophora infestans
PLUS
Reliance on the horrible and exceptionally blight-vulnerable "Lumper" variety of spud
PLUS
Some guvmint officers insisting on "carrying on as normal" - when it wasn't

Most landowners tried, usually too late to allievate the suffering, but this was by late 1847, and it was too little, much too late, and they were overwhelmed.
It wasn't entirely altruistic, either.
If you suspend your rents, and try to keep your tenants alive, then you can recover later.
You (as a landlord) won't get anything out of dead tenants, will you?

And, I urge you to look up the history of social unrest in France, Italy, Netherlands, "Germany" Austria during those years.
It WAS NOT an isolated case.

72:

You have a lot of interesting ideas.

Science fiction can form the basis for real-world projects and technologies.

One might argue that what NASA does is based on concepts or ideas created by imaginative thinkers who existed long before NASA.

It really is interesting how science fiction is tied into the real world. Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics will likely be the rules robot designers use in the near future.

I have a blog if anyone's interested.

http://spaceforswashbuckling.blogspot.com/

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