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Hello My Name Is The Problem of Memory

Hello there! My name is Cat Valente (Catherynne M. if you're nasty reading my business cards) and I'll be your blogger for the next month. I hope we'll have some good times together, some laughs, some tears, and at the end we can sit back and look on our montage reel with a soft focus lens and some mid-90s comfort rock.

For those of you (which I suspect is most of you) who don't know who I am, I present a few Facts before I get into the technofuture thoughttery.

I'm mostly a fantasy writer. But I've branched out into science fiction in the last couple of years. I dig folklore all the way and a lot of what I write deals with that, even the SF, because we don't just stop telling stories to explain ourselves to ourselves when we have shinier tech. A lot of what I write features what gets variously called "rich language" "lyrical prose" or "I couldn't follow it, can't she use fewer/easier words?"

I write a lot of books for adults and have a pretty successful middle grade series going. I've done some time editing but it didn't agree with me. I write fast--I teach seminars on how to write a book in 30 days. I've won some awards, lost several, and I've been at the gig since 2004, full-time since 2006. I blog myself over on Livejournal.

I live on an island off the coast of Maine, which is both more and less isolating than you'd think. I live in a village of a few hundred people, a lot of us grow, raise, and/or fish a fair portion of our own food, and connected through a listserv, we have a unique internal economy wherein we barter for goods and services. Once an object has been brought across the bay, it is such a pain in the ass to take it back that it tends to stay on the island for more or less centuries, traded from hand to hand, sometimes bought with money, but mostly not. This includes your physical body: we have three large graveyards on an island slightly less than two miles long. But we are part of the city of Portland, only two miles offshore, and have regular ferry service.

I have two dogs (Golden Retriever and German Shepherd), two cats (Maine Coon and Stray Extremely Ill-Tempered Tabby Who Came Home from the Park with My Husband Eleven Years Ago and Will Obviously Live Forever Fueled by Her Hatred of the Universe) and six laying hens (I present their names as they probably tell you more about me than this whole post: Pertelote, Billina, Black Chocobo, Dinosaur, Ziggy Stardust and Nanny Ogg). Little known fact: my Maine Coon has a full sister and half brother owned by awesome author Seanan McGuire.

If the Maine thing didn't make it clear, I'm American--I thought I'd throw that out up front since this is a European blog and I'm, well, not. I will necessarily have a slightly different political perspective. Many of you have governments that will take care of you when you're sick! Mine would rather let me rot, most especially since I am a self-employed writer. Good times. However, I actually lived in Edinburgh, a city relevant to this blog, and went to university there (since I know you're all internet research hounds, I'll explain: I went as an exchange student? But then it turned out no one in the history of the program had ever gone in my major--Classics--and few enough in their senior year, so they sat me down and were all: "Yeah, you're going to need to take and pass the full degree exams for both Greek and Latin or you can't graduate from your American university either." And kids, those are no joke. Especially when they only tell you that two weeks before the exam. So by god I feel it's legit to say I went to university at Edinburgh, though my diploma says University of California.) so we needn't discuss cookies vs biscuits or lift vs elevator or any of that. I also lived in Japan for a couple of years when I was first publishing.

Aside from writing I'm an Italian-American woman with no kids, so naturally I cook like a fiend. I'll definitely be sharing some recipes. I'm also an avid knitter, I make pickles (because I married a Russian man and homemade pickles are love-in-a-jar for him) and jams, I sail and blow glass and I am trying to learn the accordion but damn, it is not the easiest instrument I could have chosen to pick up. Other than sailing, which I was raised with as both my parents were sailors, I picked up most of these hobbies when, like Charlie, my hobby became my day job and I suddenly needed something else to do as a hobby.

Part of the reason Charlie asked me to come over here and natter for a month because I posted about his recent series of future/worldbuilding posts a few weeks ago. Basically, he kind of freaked me out. That Stross, he is a convincing guy when he talks about the future!

The kind of science fiction I write is not as concerned with the near future. I take a folkloric approach to SF--these are the stories we are telling ourselves right now about our own nature, this is how we explain the world to ourselves. I like to take those stories apart and put them back together in strange shapes. I think in every meaningful way we are living in "the future" of the 50s, of which flying cars were never the central feature. I am thirty-two years old--I remember life before the internet, but I was a child. My adult life has been characterized by radical technological and political change I, as a classicist who did not even have an email address until she was twenty, could not have begun to predict. (Ok, not true, classicists are really good at predicting politics. It's the tech that stumbles us. I could have predicted my 8 bit games turning into Skyrim, but not that a glorified classmates.com would take over the technological world.) Now that the internet has settled into being a massive an integral part of our lives on Planet Earth, we are starting to see how it changes our culture in the medium to long term, how profoundly it skews even comparatively young predictions of 15 years ago. The internet is not a Singularity with a capital S, but it is a sea change sharing more in common with the Industrial Revolution than simply a new device.

One of the problems that is leading to some of the more dire issues Charlie brings up is memory. Not personal memory (at least not per se) or senescence, but generational and cultural memory. No one is now living who can remember the Industrial Revolution, so the West draws very few lessons from that, so few that we just assume the world created by that Revolution is the one we'll be living in in perpetuity. We think technological advancement means new toys, not new worlds. I lived in Ohio for awhile, part of what is sort of affectionately called the Rust Belt in the United States. It used to be called the Steel Belt. It was where great swathes of American manufacturing, particularly automotive manufacturing, took place. Towns thrived on their auto plants, tire plants, steel mills, came into being purely to fill jobs at those facilities. With only a few exceptions, those plants have been shut for decades now. Some shut down in the 80s, some shut down in the 70s. Yet if you talk to older folk in those once-booming towns, most will tell you that one day the industry will come back. The politicians will make it happen, or somehow they will make their town attractive enough again that magically a steel mill will appear with a big red bow on it. Some of the younger generation knows it isn't so--but only some.

Because industrial boom is normal, right? The way of life that worked for exactly one generation--the Boomers--will work for everyone from now on. Any bust or crisis is a blip, a deviation which will, which must, correct itself. Because culturally we have about two generations worth of memory, maybe three, and then the black curtain comes down and we can't imagine that life in a 20th century first world nation is itself the aberration in human experience. What do you mean you can't afford a house by the time you're 30? What do you mean there are no good entry level positions? You're just not trying hard enough. The steel mills will come back, you'll see.

Will the internet go the way of the steel mill? I don't know, maybe. We still use steel, but the way we make it, buy it, and sell it has changed profoundly and cannot change back. (Nothing changes back, only forward. I suppose this is a relevant lesson for publishing, really. Radical change is the new black.) Certainly the current state of the internet, which is itself changed pretty radically from just five or six years ago, will change enormously, no matter how many articles I read on the permanence of Facebook. (See what I mean about memory? They said MySpace was permanent, too, and that was hardly a generation ago. I remember thinking Livejournal would go on forever.) Facebook changed the culture of online interaction and it can't change back, but it will certainly be replaced by something else--the question is only how it will be changed. By government intvervention, SOPA 2: Beyond Thunderdome, by independent companies innovating or by enormous corporations cannibalizing each other. Probably all of those. I can't imagine the internet going away entirely, I don't think you can put that massive networked genie back in the bottle--but I suppose that's the point. I live in a company town. It's inconceivable right now that the company won't always be around.

I think everyone is kind of freaked out right now. Which is why they set up tents on the street last year. Why some are still there. We're freaked because we don't know what's coming--but we're reasonably sure it's going to be shitty. Dystopia is the thing to write about these days. We have more faith in dystopia than utopia. SF used to be all about utopia, Starfleet and replicators and living forever. To be honest, Brave New World seems kind of cute to me these days. At least the oppressive government thought to hand out Soma so trod-upon people wouldn't be so goddamn miserable! Our governments just say: suck it up, epsilon assholes. Might as well be stamped on our coins.

It's tough to say everything's going to be ok. Living at the end of one way of life and the beginning of another sucks. Most people just want to be fat and happy and do some meaningful work, have kids, and die. Except for dying, the ability to do all of that is up in the air these days. And that's where we are. Industrial life is in its death throes and it isn't pretty or fair. Daddy Tolkien will tell us it was no treat living in the just-post Industrial Revolution, either. After all, we all know our history: what follows Revolutions? Usually, Terror.

That's why, I think, there's been a small but concerted effort to "bring back" optimistic SF in the last few years. We're looking for ways to know it'll all work out without mass extinction or widespread horror. The trouble is that massive technological change is not optimistic for some people, it's frightening. Terrifying. And not just mainstream "mundanes," or else what is the recent newfound love of the 19th century all about? What else has driven half my generation back to spinning wheels, knitting needles, preserving jars, and livestock? Everything is uncertain--let's go back and pretend it's still possible to live in the Shire. I'm guilty of it, too, obviously.

And I guess the whole point of writing future-oriented SF is to show one possible way it could all work out. Even if that involves dystopia. In some sense, big S Singularity is such an easy answer to that. An escape hatch--we'll all uplift, upload, and upend everything, and sort of skip the problems at the end of this chapter. SF writers don't get to call the shots, but we are meant to show the way.

Of course, once we get there, memory will fade and we'll forget it was any other way.

144 Comments

1:

This post gave me shivers.

Reminded me of my college town, a place that thrived on a company that manufactured tupperware. The business was outsourced to China a few years prior to the start of my education and the town still had all the signs, shops, and billboards that referred to it. I've graduated and, as far as I know, they're still up.

The future's going to be super weird. People build the present around the strangest stuff.

2:

I spent a few Summers in younger (pre-computer) days on Bustin's Island, sailing around Casco Bay, beachcombing, and generally enjoying having no reponsibilities and plenty of time to read. There was a small library on the island where I read a short SF story that I have never been able to find since.

3:

In a way, I'm the one you would expect to be shattered by future shock. I was a farmer. I used tools which would have been familiar in Anglo-Saxon England, and when I hear somebody reading a text from that period, about a ploughman, there are words I recognise. I have fastened slipes to a plough.

And it's all fallen apart, with a thousand acres needed to support one man.

Maybe it's lucky that I broke my leg when I did. I fell off a combine harvester. But what story would I tell to explain this world?

Something involving bankers and crooks. We're in the territory of the final pages of "Animal Farm", and Tony Blair proved we could no longer distinguish pigs from humans.

4:

Welcome!

I can tell already we're in for a treat with your writing. Which is awesome. I'm especially keen to hear a bit about this "how to write a book in 30 days." I realize it's your livelihood and so I don't expect a free seminar but some tips on how to achieve better writing productivity would be much appreciated, as I know I'm not the only aspiring pro-writer hereabouts.

5:

Hi Cat,

Thanks for the introduction. I do wish there were more dangling threads to play with in that essay, but that's just my preference.

I guess my attempt at an optimistic future falls along two lines. First, the studies appear to show that, so long as someone has their basic wants taken care of (food, clothing, shelter, friends, and family), then they are basically happy. Income above that level does not make people significantly more happy, and at higher compensation levels, things like greed and status competition (or competition with psychopathic types for power) can make people actively more miserable. Optimistic? It means there's a lot of room on the downhill slope to have a good-enough life. We may not have the internet in a couple of generations, but that won't necessarily make our grandkids more unhappy than we are now.

The second piece for "optimism" is something I picked up from the Freakonomics folks: suicide appears to be an endemic disease of advanced societies. It's almost unknown in primitive groups, even though by any measure their lives are much harsher. It's counter-intuitive, but struggling can make life that much more precious.

Having lived in Ohio, I know what you mean about the dead factories and vampire dreams there (those big factory ideals that keep hanging on, sucking the life out of the place). It strikes me as a profoundly non-productive way to live, especially for such a nice area. Then again, I live in California, where surfing the catastrophe curve is a way of life, and even though we've lost massive amounts of industry, we keep trying.

6:

Hi Cat, and welcome. I haven't read any of your writing, but your description of kind of work you like to do convinced me to put your name on my "Read Real Soon" list, because it sounds like the kind of thing I like to read. One of my favorite kinds of SF is the sort lyrical far-futurism that Cordwainer Smith used to write, and that Robert Silverberg and Michael Swanwick still write.

Expanding on what you wrote about the fear of change: I'm a baby boomer myself, born in 1946,and I have to say that an awful lot of my generation tried to drop out of the society we were born into by going back to subsistence farming, spinning wheels, etc. That's not a way of life I was interested in myself, but I think I understand the impulse, because the future for us was framed in terms of nuclear war and/or world hegemony of either capitalist imperialism or communist dictatorship, pick your poison.

Most adults in or eligible for the workforce in the 20th century (in the US, and I believe in Western Europe as well) were raised to believe that their best hope of a secure life was to find a kind of work, become competent at it, and keep at it until retirement. That ceased to be an effective strategy well before the end of the century, but it takes a while for news like that to reach everyone. By now it's clear to most every adult that you can't make a life that stays the same. But it's hard for people to surf the waves of change, especially because (at least in the US) there's been no attempt by the educational system or anyone else to teach them the techniques and tools they need to do it.

My optimism about the future is based on the notion that people will eventually figure out that their only survival strategy is to learn how to live with change, because it sure isn't about to stop. Even if technological change were to stop tomorrow (and good luck with that!) the social changes caused by shifting demographics (see Charlie's previous blog entries for spirited discussions about this) and the interactions among nations and social groupings that have never gotten along well will keep the pot bubbling for another 3 or 4 generations at a minimum.

7:

On stories, dystopias, the fantasy genre, Chocobos, and Something in the Air: this past week I finished both A Dance With Dragons and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, and it fascinates the hell out of me that an American novelist and a Japanese game developer simultaneously had the idea to discard the trends of their genre and instead spin a complicated yarn about succession and political maneuvering loosely based on the War of the Roses.

The idea of getting Left Behind by tech is something I think about -- I've got a (2004-vintage) CS degree but have neither a smartphone nor a Facebook account. I'll probably have to get both eventually, but I keep figuring they're just going to be replaced with a better option a few years down the line anyway. (Maybe keep my simple phone and buy a tablet for computing on the go. Maybe there'll be a viable alternative to Facebook that WON'T do whatever the hell privacy violation Facebook's in the news for today.)

Anyhow, welcome aboard -- not familiar with your work, but I'm writing this in-between working my way through a book by Harry Connolly, who I became aware of through his guestblogging here. I'll keep you in mind next time I'm wandering around my local bookseller.

8:

Allen--I do indeed live on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, and to my knowledge we're the only island that has a library. If you tell me the name of the story I'll go find it--like I said, not much leaves the island.

9:

Dave--

I think it takes a thousand acres to support a man as a commercial farmer but here in Maine, almost everyone has some kind of garden to feed their families, and as you go north, and thus into poorer and more rural communities, the gardens get bigger, not smaller. We are an extremely poor state, especially for New England, which is generally prosperous at least in the urban centers (here it was the textile and paper mills that went bust).

But as far as supporting a single family, it takes far less than a thousand acres--especially with the development of pygmy cattle and sheep the size of corgies. There is a lot of going back to the land in the air--I just read a story about Greek academics going back to Attic-era farming as a way to eat in their stricken economy. Yes, the farmer as a profession separate from feeding yourself and a few neighbors busted with all the rest of it. But urban farming seems to be exploding everywhere.

10:

Keith-- I'll post about it here in the coming days, how my thoughts on the process have evolved, but you can read my original essay on the topic here.

11:

I'm liking the guest blogging thing here..found 2 new authors so far whose work I like.

12:

Bruce--

I think a big part of what's going on right now is that it's not obvious to any adult that that way of life doesn't work anymore. If I asked for stories of parents of thirty somethings being totally perplexed as to why it's not working for their kids, we'd be overwhelmed. There is a serious cognitive generation gap, and it's going to take a long time before that goes away. That whole DT thing means the older generation who changes its mind slowly is going to be in power for a long while yet.

13:

Attic era? I'm not so sure. I think that some Greeks have always lived that way. The Euro was one of those dream bubbles that intruded on a much harsher reality.

As evidence, here's a great quote from one of my favorite books The Nature of Mediterranean Europe, which is still my favorite book of historical ecology:

"Economists move in a Northern European world of neatly defined jobs, animals and residences, often at variance with Mediterranean realities. A friend of ours, a typical Cretan, is a farmer, fisherman, restauranteur, and hotelier. Is he 'engaged in the agricultural sector? Do the fish he catches for his guests, or the help he gets from his mother-in-law, count towards the Gross National Product of Greece? How many of his 'jobs' would he have to lose to count as unemployed? If Greek statisticians have solved these problems, can we be sure that they have solved them in the same way as their Italian colleagues or their Greek predecessors in 1960? Statistics from governments, and even the Food and Agriculture Organization, are anthropological data and need to be verified."

I suspect the above statement works equally well for Maine, and for many other parts of the US, especially now.

14:

Heteromeles: Well, naturally being academics they put it in terms of Attic Greece. Some people in every country continue to live that way--but this was an article about urban academics leaving Athens.

And yes, definitely it goes for Maine, especially islanders, who are caught right now between lobstering and fishing, as their families have done for generations, and tourism, which brings in more money but drives up real estate prices until they can't live there anymore and fills the islands with outsiders who trash the place. Some, like my own island, strive to strike a balance (though we know it's a losing battle, really) whereas other islands, like the remote Matinicus (20 miles offshore, 9 ferries per year) are just plain hostile to tourism and any outsider who might drop a lobster pot. (As in the case of a shooting last year where an islander shot a mainlander who dropped a pot near Matinicus. He was acquitted--the shooting was considered self-defense. Lobsters are life here.)

15:

Hi Cat, wlecome!

"Most people just want to be fat and happy and do some meaningful work, have kids, and die"

Th only thing that is inherently hard about that statement is "meaningful work". We need to get used to a world where the machines do all of that, it's not here yet, but it is coming soon, and what you are feeling is it's birth pangs. Once we can make that jump, it's relatively smooth sailing for the rest of it.

It's going to be a hard leap to make though, to realize that there is nothing you are capable of that a machine cannot do better and faster.

Also, plenty of valuable things come and go from your island, just mostly as a bit stream. We need to adjust our ideas of "value". Physical objects are really not very valuable anymore (in the sense of expensive to produce), we have just been artificially supporting their cost by adding a lot of meaningless work to them.

As far as memory goes, we have potentially far far better memory then we have ever had before, as a species, because we now have the ability to interactively simulate any period in history.

We have not adapted harnessed any of this technology into actually teaching people mostly because our entire educational system needs a refresh, and also because people don't really care about understanding the past.

The reason people don't care about understanding the past, is it is actually an extremely problematic tool to use in predicting the future ("history is bunk" says the ghost of Henry Ford). And I say this as a ardent student of history. History is primarily useful as a tool for understanding people, but there are better tools available, and most of the real people-manipulators don't have time for it.

16:

Cat,

Thank you for the offer, but the problem is that I don't recall the title or author. The story concerned the discovery of a life-size, photo-realistic scroll diorama painting of the banks of the Mississippi River, but which contained some rather odd details, like Pleistocene-era megafauna. By the story's end, they realize that curious, long curving marks along the painting's length are giant fingerprints. It's just one of those odd things that's stuck with me, decades later, an artifact that captured my youthful imagination.

17:

Heteromeles,

That description of the Cretan gentleman sounds an awful lot like northern New England here in the U.S. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, but at least two of my childhood friends have moved to Maine and are now hard scrabble farmers and jacks of all trades. It seems like every farm in that part of the country has a sign at the roadside listing the half-dozen or more unrelated trades (besides farming) that the residents are engaged in, i.e., anything that will keep them housed, clothed and fed.

18:

Once we can make that jump, it's relatively smooth sailing for the rest of it.

I don't think it's smooth sailing for "the rest of" anything. History does not end; it is rarely smooth. And certainly if we transition to a post-job economy (and who is we in this scenario? Things are still manufactured, just not by "developed" nations) there will be new and exciting problems, one of which is that as primates we really like to do and make things with our hands, and not just bit streams either, and without value ascribed to that, without that being something "anyone cares about," without that being something that will bring money, prestige, respect, food, or recognition, we are headed for some very existentially unhappy times.

I'm going to come back to this topic of post-work/post-job worlds, so stay tuned.

19:

Hi Cat,

If it was that article in the NY Times, I read it as well.

A lot of places are like that, with everybody finding ways to get by. The reason I quoted that book is it's refreshing to see academics be so honest about the reality behind the data they use. I suspect that if we looked at the raw data behind US employment figures, we'd find something similar going on here in the US.

20:

oh the US unemployment data is a mess, but that is another story (-:

21:

I think that once we have transitioned to a true "post industrial" economy, everything the human race does with itself can be classified as entertainment.

When we get to the point where the basic needs of human life can be met with hardly any human effort (and I argue we are actually pretty close to that point and would probably already be there if we had not had that unfortunate 3rd world population boom) then how do you assign value?

22:

Allen R: The story you seek is "All Pieces of a River Shore" by R.A. Lafferty.

23:

I the US becomes poor enough, the steel mills will be back. Maybe they only moved temporarily.

24:

Welcome Cat. I enjoyed your introduction, and am looking forward to more posts from you. Chickens are excellent little things, I hope black chocobo isn't proving too hard to catch, though!

25:

Shep: Black Chocobo used to be very adventurous, hopping out of the coop with ease and running around outside while her friends watched on in awe or envy. Then...well, she got stuck under a wooden pallet for about 24 hours, during which we searched frantically, but had little luck finding a black hen under wood beneath the house. Finally, she squawked while I was near her and I got her own, only to have her fall face first as all her limbs had fallen asleep while she couldn't move. She righted herself in a few minutes but ever since she has been shy and nervous and hasn't jumped out of the coop once. It's SCARY OUT THERE ZOMG.

So at first her name was perfect...now she is the fraidiest chocobo.

26:

Dirk--

...really? There would have to be a strong will within steel companies to do it, and to pay folks what they expect to be paid here. I don't see it ever happening, no matter how poor the US gets. Not least because by the time it's drastic enough, I don't think steel will be our biggest concern.

27:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/opinion/friedman-average-is-over.html

"In an essay, entitled “Making It in America,” in the latest issue of The Atlantic, the author Adam Davidson relates a joke from cotton country about just how much a modern textile mill has been automated: The average mill has only two employees today, “a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to keep the man away from the machines.”

28:

The thing I find amusing about the passion for things Victorian is the fact that people are rebelling against our world of mass production and factory generated uniformity by harking back to the time that was the beginning of those things. The industrial revolution was the genesis of uniform parts assembled by less skilled labor, child labor in factories, and restrictive class distinctions.

While researching brass founding in the nineteenth century Google books surprised me with an article on the social problems of brass foundry workers in the mid-nineteenth century. Working in a foundry progressively destroyed a worker's health, and mental and emotional functioning. Do we really want to go back there?

29:

The US leads the world in the number of semiconductor fabs that are being shut down. Taiwan and China are leading the world in building new fabs. Austin has lost 19,000 jobs in semiconductors and electronics over the last ten years.

Our idiot governor keeps calling for Austin to become the next Silicon Valley. He doesn't understand that even Silicon Valley isn't Silicon Valley anymore.

Imagine what would happen if the US tried to wage war against China. They would laugh.

30:

I just wanted to say that, based on the blog entry and your linked essay on how to write a novel in thirty days, you seem like an awesome writer and I look forward to your future posts and to checking out your work.

31:

@29-

I don't think the Chinese would laugh. War between China and the US would be a rightly terrifying event for everybody on Earth. The US standard exit strategy for its recent bullying is to declare victory and go home when we get bored, and at that point the war is over because so far we've been beating up on opponents that can't credibly counter-invade. That doesn't describe China in the least. That war wouldn't end until BOTH sides wanted it to end.

If real war ever broke out between China and the US, I don't think it would end before at least a few nukes were exchanged. Possibly not to the point of total human extinction, but I think extinction would be a distinct possibility.

32:

"Imagine what would happen if the US tried to wage war against China. They would laugh."

It is much easier to destroy than to create. Even tiny Israel has a large enough nuclear arsenal to unleash more destruction than all the belligerents of World War II. Nations that stick to "conventional" arms can still destroy faster than anyone can build, thanks to precision munitions. Billion dollar oil refinery, meet million dollar cruise missile. There is no way for the USA to invade/occupy China or vice versa, but mutual slaughter and devastation is easy from a technical POV.

33:

Personally, I prefer a rather older-fashioned type of brass-work, but to each his own. Otherwise, I agree, Stuart. I have little sentimentality for the Victorian era of Dickens.

However, I am having a lot of fun reading about the Great Game right now. I'm starting to wonder what kind of Great Game would have happened if the explorers from the 19th Century empires had found their way into Faerie. I don't think anyone's really tried that yet in a fantasy novel.

34:

One aspect of being a farmer in the UK was a lot like the examples you give: the Cretan, and your neighbours.

I've installed three-phase electric motors, with both automatic and manual star-delta switchgear, rebuilt diesel engines, and run a lathe. Also done the accounts and kept tax records and all the stuff that every business ought to be doing. There's a lot of stuff on farms which you either pay somebody to do, or you do yourself. And more and more is becoming regulated in ways that make what I have done illegal, because I never got the certificates.

I don't think I can live up to Heinlein's specification--can anyone--but I can, at a glance, tell a Mauser rifle from a javelin.

And all that knowledge is useless without the bureaucratic documentation that I possess it.

35:

There is the old Castle Falkenstein game which is sort of Steampunk meets Faerie. Not quite the Great Game, but tons of intrigue. Do you believe Baden-Powell about his drawings of butterfly wings? It takes on a rather different significance in that sort of setting.

36:

Eventually the cost of manufacturing anywhere is going to be the pretty much the same. I do not see the standard of living in the West rising significantly any more. Meanwhile places like Asia surge ahead. At some point there will be parity. By that time the economies of India and China will be four or five times greater than that of the USA.

37:

Hi. Nothing smart to add to the discussion; just letting you know that I do enjoy both your and Charlie's writing, and follow both your blogs regularly (although I mostly just lurk). So we may not be numerous, but we do exist. And, in my experience, Palimpsest does go down very well with people who like Charlie -- so, guys, if you were wondering where to start, try it.

38:

In the area where I grew up (Catskills area; actually, in the Shawangunk Valley), there's a long enough history of local industries going downhill that people are probably aware it can happen. Farming stopped took a hit when the Erie Canal opened, and Midwestern farmers could use their unfair advantage of good soil to sell to New York City customers. (It's the kind of area where stone fences were built because you HAD to do something with the damn rocks.) Summer resorts became less profitable when people started going to Florida instead. Various local factories have opened and closed over the decades.

39:

Regarding steel mills: there are actually a lot of them in the US. They're just not in the Rust Belt states. No manufacturer is going to build a new mill in the Rust Belt today, because in those states the laws governing businesses are hostile to new enterprises of any sort - you almost have to be a rent-seeker, calling in favors from corrupt politicians, to do any productive work at all.

40:

can you teach charlie how to write a book in thirty days? not because I want more books (albeit that would be nice) more because he could get a break from the mill

where do you do these courses?
Because anything that will get me to write faster would be good, albeit me actually learning to type would be a start...

41:

Ironically, Edinburgh was going through its post-industrial thing in the mid-90s when Ferranti Defence Systems, the city's biggest private sector employer, went bust (a $400M fraud by the US firm it bought in an attempt to gain mass) followed by the end of the Cold War. Fortunately, it isn't a single-company town; and appears to have been resilient to the last few economic shocks.

The shortly-to-retire Headmistress (Principal for y'all) at the rugrats' primary school (elementary? Grades 1-7) is fond of telling the parents that a significant proportion of our children will start first jobs that do not yet exist; this year she illustrated it by showing us the decorative cook's apron that was the focus of her Home Economics studies...

Stories are however stories, although the writing style changes. My epiphany came when studying Latin at school and translating the tale of Sulla's African campaign - dealing with Jugurtha had treachery, cunning, and intelligence, and it was the realisation that people back then were just as intelligent as now; they just hadn't had the last twenty centuries of infrastructure investment as a basis for progress.

People can only cope with so much complexity; it just takes a while before the "last" piece of progress is built into the foundations, built upon, and taken for granted as something to build on with further complexity. I remember the first hypertext browsers, and having to hand-code my computer games on a ZX-80; complexity now has just been further abstracted from the bare silicon by man-millennia of engineering effort into Operating Systems like Windows or Linux.

I'm not sure whether I prefer utopias or dystopias; I have guilty pleasures in SF from the Baen catalogue, where the world is simple - but I love fiction where motives are impure and characters have mixed virtue (shades of grey rather than Wilbur Smith style exemplars). My favourite authors were Deighton, Le Carre, Seymour rather than Fleming. I started a Song of Ice and Fire, and was hooked. I do foresee more complex fiction to cope with the perception of a more complex world, but then how less stable? I've lived as a child in a Warsaw Pact country, trained for the Cold War going hot, watched the Berlin Wall come down, seen the fall of a superpower before I was 30. That search for a security blanket could be utopian SF, but mostly it's costume drama... Just wait, we'll see a period spy drama set during the Great Game.

I do some coaching in my sport at the University; on mentioning that I was going to set up a Facebook group for our Alumni club, one of the students expressed surprise that I was Facebook-aware. I was forced to quaver my voice, mime a walking frame, and state that I really didn't see myself on bebo or MySpace, weren't these smartphone things clever, and did they realise my late-80s graduation was in CS+EE... Youth of today, I don't know ;)

42:

As the grandson of a farmer, I can drive but I've never had a licence or operated a vehicle with a modern gearbox. In fact, I've only driven on a paved road once in my life. I can cook a full fried breakfast on a shovel over a fire. Baler twine is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a belt, most injuries can be fixed with duct tape and toilet paper. Most repairs can be done with a hammer and a crowbar. The quickest route to the next village is to take a bike over the fields. And sheep aren't cute fluffy creatures, they are cunning but moronic animals who stand about getting footrot - and they do it deliberately. Also, tea is best out of a chipped old mug advertising sheep dip.

@general discussion - I'm unfashionably optimistic about the future, and about the present. I'm heartened by things such as the Gates Foundaton, the Kavli thing, etc - millions of people are receiving free treatments for serious tropical diseases, millions of pounds (dollars) invested in basic science. I'm even encouraged by the current economic "crisis", as it will hopefully end in a new and more robust economic system.

43:

Big Kate:

Charlie can write pretty fast, you know. ;)

I've taught it at conventions and at the Stonecoast MFA program where I teach now--anywhere anyone asks me, really.

44:

Question for the Hostess:

Have you read Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun? I am reading through Silently and Very Fast (not done yet). It's very pretty. But I was curious, because the style of the story and the subject matter both brush closely with certain themes in Book of the New Sun. I was wondering if it was intentional, accidental, or coincidental parallel evolution.

45:

unholyguy: I think value is changing in the opposite way than you expect. Entertainment is becoming free (if you can't amuse yourself on the internet, the problem is you). Labor is greatly decreasing in value (partly China, but mostly mechanization). Raw materials and energy are becoming more valuable, because cheap labor allows materials to be deployed in highly-processed, valuable forms that usually require energy to use.

And the population expansion is not just a footnote; it's the defining characteristic of life and, in the very long run, a trend that will continue until every niche that could support a living person, however miserable, is filled. Darwin kinda sucks that way.

@31 - There's no way China could invade the US; the Pacific Ocean is half the world, and getting enough troops across it to matter is pretty much impossible. The English Channel is only ~20 miles across, and it stops invasions fairly reliably (one failure per millennium is reliable enough for me). An ICBM fight, that I could believe. And the idea that we could stop short of Armageddon is unlikely.

46:

John-- Nope, I have not read it.

47:

"I think value is changing in the opposite way than you expect. Entertainment is becoming free (if you can't amuse yourself on the internet, the problem is you). Labor is greatly decreasing in value (partly China, but mostly mechanization). Raw materials and energy are becoming more valuable, because cheap labor allows materials to be deployed in highly-processed, valuable forms that usually require energy to use.

And the population expansion is not just a footnote; it's the defining characteristic of life and, in the very long run, a trend that will continue until every niche that could support a living person, however miserable, is filled. Darwin kinda sucks that way."

I more or less agree with that assessment, however I don't think energy will remain the defining expense forever. However the population projections do tend to support that the industrial boom was an anomaly. Darwin is a bitch but birth control is a bigger bitch.

48:

This might border on, or just march straight into rudeness but- what on earth made anyone think that life was going to be easy? And no, I don't mean the "if you work hard you can make it" easy, I mean "if you don't work as hard as you can, you're going to die horribly" notion that was the stock in trade of humanity for most of its history...and for pretty much all of humanity for a least a few decades out of each century.

Things not rosy-looking? They never have been!
Seventies? Oil shortage, massive inflation. Sixties? Riots and assassinations, war, and threat of nuclear annihilation.
Fifties? Not bad, but probably because everyone was tired from the forties, with WWII. Which followed the Great Depression. Which followed WWI. Which followed the Long Depression in the 1870s. Which, at least in the US, followed a certain unpleasantness in the 1860s.
If you want, we can keep going back to the Black Death. No, wait, we can probably keep going back to the 1200s BC, when persons unknown burned down Mediterranean civilization. Betcha we just don't have good records of the crap happening before that.

In any case, what hallucinatory dream made anyone think that they'd live a life where nothing Bad (deliberate capital) happened? The world as it is? It's not bad- it's _normal_.

49:

Hmm... my wife grew up on Cliff Is. and now Charlie is headed just up the road from me (for large versions of just up the road) in CO Springs...

50:

Other Casco Bay islands do have libraries... just not year-round staffed libraries...

51:

However the population projections do tend to support that the industrial boom was an anomaly. Darwin is a bitch but birth control is a bigger bitch.

Birth control is a behavior, and behaviors that aren't reproductively efficient get weeded out by evolution if they have a heritable component (which most behaviors do). It may take more than a few generations, but it'll happen.

52:

Regarding population explosion .. "The consequence of what has already taken place in the world’s maternity wards (and home nurseries) will unfold over the next 20 to 40 years, as follows.

First, the working-age population of India (defined as people between the ages of 20 and 59) will likely overtake that of China by 2030, with a projected 841 million working-age Indians outnumbering an estimated 783 million working-age Chinese in that year. Today, China’s working-age population is just under five times larger than the U.S. working-age population. By 2050, it may be only three times larger. Conversely, the ratio of India’s working-age population to that of the United States will evolve in the opposite direction: just over three times larger today, but five times larger in 2050."
from http://www.rand.org/publications/randreview/issues/2011/winter/dusk-dawn.html Detailed article illustrating 'demographics are destiny' .. and a known unknown, in the terminology of Charlie's most recent post.

53:

The line "suck it up, epsilon assholes" let me know that Charlie picked a good pinch hitter. I'll be keeping an eye out for your books.

54:

heteromeles - However, I am having a lot of fun reading about the Great Game right now. I'm starting to wonder what kind of Great Game would have happened if the explorers from the 19th Century empires had found their way into Faerie. I don't think anyone's really tried that yet in a fantasy novel.

Yes, please. I would love to read something like that. A required story would be a version of Kipling's _Kim_, as changeling, spying on Oberon's court. HA!

55:

This quote puts it well.

"Any comfortable American who is cynical of progress -- or the competent decency of modern civilization -- hasn't pondered how life was for our ancestors. Any day that Cossacks haven't burned your home should start out a happy one, overflowing with optimism." -- M.N. Plano

56:

I'm just an amateur, but I have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge in each of the last four years. That's 50,000 words in a month, but I don't guarantee they're good words.

I did find it a bit easier when I tried a multi-viewpoint structure--quasi-independent plot threads which converge on a climax event. If something was getting sticky I could switch threads. Is that a reason such structures are so common in the meganovels?

Charlie has his own way of writing. But one thing you can learn from NaNoWriMo is about finding time to write, every day.

57:

Peaks, Great Diamond, Cushing or Long Island?
(I'm guessing Peaks)

Please, are there more kitty pics (esp the Maine C?)
You remind me of another SF author who is almost another generation older than me (I'm 66) whom I have met once - and never forgotten, intials UKleG. Stories and tales for the future myths.
Talking of passing pahses in industrialisation: did you realise, for instance that the whole span of the railway steam locomotive was covered by two men (who actually met) Archibald Sturrock, born 1816, and Oliver Bullied, died 1970.
So, things change, the worlds move on, the river flows and you cannot step into it another time.

Farming
I keep saying it on this blog - ALLOTMENTS !!
I have one-and a half (a single one is 10x30 metres) enough veg to feed us for a year, and give some away!
For grains and meat, you still need "conventional farming - it IS possible to feed a suprising number of people that way, and you woud need to re-structure both society and transport - but it is do-able!


Also Phil Knight @ 42
Yes - read the "Plague Dogs" by the wierd Richard Adams? One of the real people in that book (long since dead) was Jack Longmire of Seathwaite-in-Dunnerdale: he & I would recognise your description of sheep, and chipped mugs - when I was 17, I helped him dip some of the buggers. Eeeeuuuwwww.

Jay @ 45 (&51)
Disagree
As living standards improve, population growth slows.
IF we are lucky, world population will peak, sometime in the next 20-50 years, and then slowly decline, hopefully to something like 5 "billion" or maybe even less.
Overpopulation is emphatically NOT a given or a certain.

58:

With out redistrubiting ownership of capital, this will end in mass unemployment, more low skilled drudge work. (People are cheaper than robots.) And generally not what one might call a utopia.

59:

Alotments are not the solution for feeding the urban masses in 21C UK. There aren't enough of them. Not having the requisit skills and knowledge of how to grow food, is the least of the problems. Perhaps we will get large vertical airoponic urban farms. I've got a toy one to experiment with in my flat. For herbs, when I get round to setting it up.

60:

Straylight @50
Please read what I wrote?
You need, approximately, the area of the county of Suffolk - certainly less than the area of Norfolk.
BUT
"Cut up" distributed throughout and around all the towns and cities - you'd have to dig up all the "sports" pitches as well (terrible sad, that!)
You'd have to go over to part-time "other" working for most of the population, and transport systems would have to be heavily re-organised.
But, the land IS there, there is enough of it, and reasonably fertile, too.
I didn't say it was EASY, I said it was POSSIBLE.

61:

Hiya Cat,

Mods, could you give cats handle a avatar?

Have we started the USA beatdowns yet?

Fritz

62:

What do you mean you can't afford a house by the time you're 30? What do you mean there are no good entry level positions? You're just not trying hard enough. The steel mills will come back, you'll see.

Welcome Cat!

This passage especially stood out for me. I recently rolled out of a masters degree at a top university and landed in...my parents house again, with no job and no money. Most people I meet are understanding but quite a few seem to think my position isn't possible, especially elderly people.

Some people I've met have it so firmly entrenched in their mind that getting a job involves walking into a company with a CV in hand that the idea of someone university qualified but on job-seeker benefits doesn't even begin to enter their worldview. For them the unemployed are the lazy benefit scroungers, a worrying trend that many politicians seem to hold to.

63:

The wife spent her childhood summer vacations in a cottage in the West Highlands, helping out on the farm next door. Apart from fusing some of her vertebra (slim 14-year-old girls should really build up to pitchforking full haybales above shoulder height) she ended up a frustrated shepherdess.

When some friends with a smallholding asked for some stock-sitting help last New Year, she jumped at it; she'd already spent a weekend helping him dip them. I got dragged along too, which is why you had her (rather senior consultant in a big-4 accountancy firm) teaching me (software engineer) how to arrest and restrain sheep in a barn (two feet of snow outside) so as to trim their hooves and apply paste to rotting feet.

Getting a sheep into a full nelson is interesting :)

64:

The question always comes up with that- masters in what?

65:

Hi Cat,

I'm a cat purrson (you probably already guessed that from Charlie's "introducing $you" post comments), and an FF fan, although I've always regarded black chocobos as a means to getting gold ones! Warkk!!

Oh yes, and I'm also a keen cook, with a distinct lack of Russian in my repetoire (hint hint).

I've never read anything of yours, but there's one in the post now. Charlie has a nearly 100% hit rate in getting me to read his guest bloggers, and a good rate in getting them added to my portfolio of "people I read regularly".

66:

Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine after a BSc in Biology. Nothing wishy washy :)

67:

Seathwaite? The one between Coniston and Hardknott? One of my favourite parts of my favourite district.

That's a tough area to farm - but at least it's slightly drier than the Borrowdale Seathwaite. My grandad farmed in the more hospitable Bedfordshire, next to the place where they built the R-101, and his sheep weren't Herdwick, which I hear are even more wilful and cunning than lowland sheep. I never want to go near sheepdip again.

If I take up farming, I'm going arable. You hardly ever have to turn out of bed in the middle of the night in December to get a vet for a sick Brussel Sprout, or to haul one out of a silage pit.

I read The Plague Dogs once while walking from Shap to Ravenglass - well to be accurate, I read a bit then walked a bit, etc.

I think my mug advertised "Innes No. 2 Dip".

68:

Just a first reaction before I get into the comment thread; I did a search and didn't see anyone else point out that Huxley didn't write Brave New World as a dystopia. He simply projected the world he saw and the likely new technologies forward. And yes, given that world, the Fordist government was a fairly benign dictatorship; they explicitly implemented ulititarianism as the principle of government, and they even kept nature reserves for dissident thinkers, just in case!

It was the setting that was dystopic; which is both more relevant for our current time, and more troubling.

69:

It's scary how many "dystopias" look like optimistic scenarious from my perspective. (Kress' Beggars series and Banks' Against a Dark Background spring to mind. Even the Blindsight universe is not a particularly bad case, though the Starfish world was pretty bleak.) To paraphrase an old blues singer: These are the utopias, folks.

70:

Catherynne.
Something related, and perhaps germane to this discussion. Isn't there a movement in Maine to dissolve local municipalities by their residents so they don't have to pay taxes. (and don't care about local services).
Is this just a local thing due to quirks in Maine law, or is is it a sign of the decline of a post-industrial culture? If so,do you see this trend spreading?

71:

Sheep aren't morons; they're just using nonviolent resistance. It's amazing how intelligent they can be when, for example, breaking into meadows or going in exactly the wrong direction.
I grew up on a hill farm which kept Cheviots. Strong, independent-minded (the breed can be almost completely left to its own devices for 10 months of the year, over 1000 feet above sea level), and fast - BUT, to make the most of them, the weaponized footrot needs to be kept down.
There's a reason I did a degree likely to keep me indoors forevermore.

72:

Did you just call a Glesca kiss (headbutt) "non-violent resistance"? A signifiant fraction of my workmates keep small flocks of the fluffy bumper assassins!

73:

I'm only here for the jam recipes, you know...
Oh, and to ward off any nasty comments about us Boomers. OK, yes, it IS our fault but I can't at the moment do anything about it apart from pitch my tent too.
Sorry guys.
And welcome, Cat.

74:

"With out redistrubiting ownership of capital, this will end in mass unemployment, "

Capitalism itself will not be able to survive such a shift

75:

"Have we started the USA beatdowns yet?"

We seem to have gotten side tracked into a discussion on whether the British isle can feed itself using 19th century farming techniques. Why they would ever want to do anything like this seems to be left as an exercise to the reader (-:

Be patient, I'm sure the beatdowns will commence shortly.

76:

I meant en masse (I should have stuck with my original "have read Ghandi," which would have captured the mass civil disobedience, too). Those tactics are generally used in one-on-one situations where you either come across as a threat to the wee ones, or are guilty of the crime of Looking At Me In A Funny Way when the rams' testosterone is a little high. Or they're particularly evil-minded.
Yes, that is a lot of exceptions, thank you for noticing. (",)

77:

I thought 19th Century farming techniques involved enclosures, slave labor on plantations, pineapples in hothouses, gypsum in the bread, and wars over guano islands.

No, I think they're talking about things like intensive organic agriculture, which is a bit of a 20th century advance on those 19th century methods. Comparing the two is like talking about punch-tape readers on iPhones.

78:

By that logic all humans would have a partner of the opposite sex from puberty on, because celibacy, delayed marriage, postpartum sex taboos, contraception, abortion, infanticide, and same-sex relationships are "reproductively inefficient" so would have been bred out in the last hundred thousand years. For much of human history, having too many children has been just as dangerous as having too few. I don't think its at all obvious that evolution drives humans to have many children regardless of the situation.

79:

Most people just want to be fat and happy and do some meaningful work, have kids, and die

By meaningful work, do you mean that it pays, or that it is satisfying? Maybe it's tunnel vision, but as software person, I feel that I will always have satisfying (meaningful) work to do -- it just may not always make me money! Just like a craftsman with his woodworking shop, there is not much that's going to be able to stop me from going into my 'shop' to put in a good day's mindsweat writing some code.

80:

Depends on where you are: 19th Century farms here supported nearly double the population the country currently holds. Well, for nearly half the century they did, and then they fed everyone who stayed _and_ paid the rents. I genuinely don't see intensive organic farmers getting more out of the land than 1880's tenant farmers did.

81:

Some people I've met have it so firmly entrenched in their mind that getting a job involves walking into a company with a CV in hand that the idea of someone university qualified but on job-seeker benefits doesn't even begin to enter their worldview.

I've noticed that the service industries (aka the only people hiring) aren't interested in college grads. They assume that college grads aren't going to be invested in a menial job, which is probably true. Also, the non-dischargeable debt that most grads come with makes living on minimum wage almost impossible.

Greg@57: Apparently we disagree here. But there were three billion of us when I was a child, and there are 7 billion of us now, and I'm not yet 40. I feel comfortable in my prediction.

82:

why the focus on small plots and citizen farmers?

Surely there is an economy of scale even given all-organic techniques? Organic factory farms not an option?

Personally, I would rather die then be a farmer, it's a really annoying job.

83:

#73 - Well, I've got a copy of F Marion McNeill's "The Scots Kitchen" here, and that has a number of jam recipes, and some pickle recipes, in it.

#76 - I meant that sheep can be violent; nothing more.

#78 - Agreed; IMO we can actually see a trend to reducing numbers of pregnancies as infant mortality reduces, with actual health benefits for the mothers.

#79 - I'd suggest that meaningful work has to be intelectually satisfying, and to have a goal in mind.

84:

Almost certainly, at least for crops that can be mechanically planted and harvested.

85:

Fair point. There's also the fact that employers don't want to hire people who are overqualified as they're likely to jump ship as soon as the get a better offer.

Which sucks if you're sitting on a bunch of qualifications, a mountain of student-debt and no job opportunities.

86:

"The English Channel is only ~20 miles across, and it stops invasions fairly reliably (one failure per millennium is reliable enough for me)."

Two.
In 1688 a Dutch army landed and conquered England.

87:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb

"The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..."

88:

at least 5, Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Dutch

89:

On the other hand, it has stopped the Spanish in the 16th century, the French in the 18th/19th, and the Germans twice in the 20th.

You might argue that working in the other direction, it completely failed to protect occupied France from invasion by the Allies in 1944...

90:

Also the French in 1216, landing correctly at the Isle of Thanet. (They lost the war about 14 months later in 1217, but I reckon the invasion itself counts as a success).

The Dutch didn't land an army in the second Anglo-Dutch war, but they did cross the channel, sail a fleet up the Medway, and destroy much of the English fleet at anchor.

91:

That was only formally a 'conquest'. Parliament didn't like the King, so they had him replaced.

Actually, I find myself quite curious about the future - is it a slow winding down, the blood slowly leaving the body politic, or will technological innovation outpace it?

92:

Yes Dirk, that's partly true.

While the absolute rate of starvation has declined, the number of starving people is increasing. I haven't found good numbers for how many people starved in 1970, but 400 million people went hungry in 1970. It's hard to compare this with, say 10 million dying of famine in India in 1899-1900 (under, I might add, a capitalist agricultural system). Even though we have the theoretical capability of feeding everyone presently on Earth, that doesn't seem to be sufficient to actually get everyone fed. Politics plays a big role, and so does big business.

93:

The big joker in the pack here is cheap biotech, specifically human embryo sex selection.

Most of Europe doesn't have any hang-ups about which sex of child they prefer; either will do. Most of China, India, Pakistan and similar areas do have such hang-ups, and greatly prefer male children over females. As soon as these cultures get hold of cheap sex-selection technology, then they are going to start expressing a very strong bias towards producing only male children. This is going to seriously mess up their demographics, since whilst a bias towards producing females doesn't hit population growth much, a bias towards males does.

Now, imagine what happens when China, India and so on get their hands on this sort of technology; the birth rate is going to plummet. The Chinese State will panic at some point, with unpredictable results; India will get worried and Pakistan, well given how unstable Pakistan is what will happen there is anyone's guess.

94:

"Johan Norberg writes:
In my lectures, I often point out that hunger is being reduced in developing countries. It is. In 1970, 37 per cent were undernourished, in 1991 20 per cent and in 1996 18 per cent. However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003, this strong trend was reversed in the last half of the 1990s, a fact that is now being circulated in the media. The revised figures show that the number of hungry in developing countries was reduced by only 20 million people in the last ten years. However, since population has grown by almost 700 million, this means that the proportion of undernourished in developing countries is the lowest ever, about 17 per cent."

95:

"That was only formally a 'conquest'. Parliament didn't like the King, so they had him replaced."

However, it was far from a token force.
The equivalent, scaled for population, would be an invading army of half a million troops if it happened now.

96:

Eh, what's with the doom & gloom, people? I mean, some of you are even dragging Malthus' rotten corpse around, as if you didn't know any better.

I know that long & permanent decline is a pretty big fetish on the geeky populations of the First World, but the view from where I am (ie, Brasil), is looking quite damn good.

I mean, I still see people going through other's people trash to sustain their families, but I see less of it by the day. Perhaps, a couple of decades from now, my nation will have a quality of life somewhat close to yours - and if you keep electing reactonaries, probably even a bit better!

97:

As soon as these cultures get hold of cheap sex-selection technology, then they are going to start expressing a very strong bias towards producing only male children.

Perhaps you haven't heard. Cheap sex selection technology is called infanticide (or abortion is you have access to medical tech). It is remarkable how China's one child policy biased the sex ratio, and India does seem to have trouble with girls too...

OTOH, maybe those cybersex technologies Charlie mentioned in another thread will keep those single males satisfied and not lead to a lot of social and political unrest. How do you get rid of a lot of frustrated males. Taiwan, your future is calling you.

98:

As soon as you get as rich as us you will have time to whine about how bad the world is, despite all the statistics. Pessimism is a self fulfilling luxury in the pampered West. The rest of the world can't afford to indulge in the guilt and self pity.

99:

Greg: Peaks! And there are infinite kitty pics. I'll dig some up.

Friz: Sorry about that, avatar acquired.

100:

I haven't heard that, but it wouldn't surprise me, given that our local services are often lacking, especially in the rural areas, and Mainers are...well. Different? Ornery? Give me that, I'll do it my damn self?

Here on the island there was a battle, an ugly one, last year to secede from the city of Portland due to some weird magical thinking that this would send us all back in time 30 years to when the island was affordable and property taxes were low. Shot down, ultimately.

If you have any pertinent links I'd be interested in reading about it.

Back in Ohio I know there were towns that were bulldozing unused sections/empty houses and voluntarily shrinking--I think we'll see a lot of that in the US given how expansion oriented we've been til now, especially in less prosperous states.

101:

Yes, some rust belt cities that have experienced extremely population decline, like Youngstown Ohio and Detroit have both been voluntarily shrinking as examples. However it is important to note that the main driver for this is to reduce cost of maintaining services in underused parts of the city, not to do farming (though that is a possibility, we are not exactly short on farmland in the US)

102:

Another possibility is that the men will do as some men have in South Korea, and look for wives from poorer Asian countries.

103:

Dirk @ 86 & others... erm
After 1066 the only successful invasion of England was in 1988.
However it was not a "Dutch" army, though that was its largest component, and William was married to James' daughter, Mary.
It was also "invited" in, and the army (!) desreted to the "invader" since JamesII had plainly lost what few marbles he had.

Cat @ 99
You can read my e-mail address, so send me a "private" and I'll send you piccies of the World's Cutest Birman Tom-Kitten! (Ratatosk - and y'all should recognise where that name comes from)

104:

Depends on the service industry we're talking about and on the city, the communituy around it. In some warehouses for instance they're happy just getting people who will most likely stay for a few months, (regardless of the number of excess diplomas) without getting stoned or jailed or worse. There's a big turnover rate in so many of the low paying jobs that at the slightest hint that you'll be a steadier, slightly more dependable worker than the average, they'll probably hire you.

105:

"It was also "invited" in"

Just like the Russians were invited into Hungary in 1956, and on the same scale.

106:

Cat: "Because industrial boom is normal, right? The way of life that worked for exactly one generation--the Boomers--will work for everyone from now on. Any bust or crisis is a blip, a deviation which will, which must, correct itself. "

Um, you're actually talking about GI or Silent, with some leading edge Boomers.

It astounds me how many people spout this stuff without getting the basic decades correct.

107:

Industrial revolution ran from 1790's to the 1860's also, so you'd have to be one special boomer to take part in it.

Nothing is "normal", there is no "normal" for the human race. Farming is not even "normal". However people tend to think of the time they have lived thru as normal

108:

The Chinese domination of American manufacturing is permanent, permanent being defined as lasting at least another few years, months, or weeks, depending on when we run out of credit. We've already run out of money.

109:

Dirk @ 105
BOLLOCKS

William's WIFE was James' daughter.
James was incredibly unpopular - look uo trial of 7 bishops for instance.
In the 3.7 years he was reigning, he started with universal support, and was almost universally despised by the time he left.
He was, quite deliberately, given an opportunity to "escape".
The country's government then reverted to pre-James mode, with one important exception.
The Bill of Rights, which people would do well to remember.
It wasn't called "The Glorious Revolution" for nothing!
The Hungarian case was, erm, slightly different - and I remember that one.
Now, I strongly suggest you go and read a few Whig histories!

"Industrial revolutions" well ours, started, as stated in the mid-1700's with the application of stationary steam power, accelereated with Boulton?Watt engines, tookk off AGAIN 1825-35, turbines by 1890, and so-called "diesel" engines" (they were and are not, the compression-injection engine comes from Ackroyd Stuart's patent of 1890 TWO YWEARS before Diesel .....
Flight, electronics ... we're still proceeding.
Just because SOME industries go by the wayside, does not mean that others are coming up ....

110:

I thought about commenting on the invasion topic a while ago and then thought, oh, that will be a derail, best not.

For values of "successful" and "invasion": early 11th century (the millennium started before 1066); 1066; arguably some of the family dust-ups between William, Robert and Henry; the Plantagenet/Stephen war; the French in John's reign (many accounts think the French king got distracted by other matters more than lost); Henry IV; Henry VI (against Edward IV); Henry VII and 1688. You can argue about success in some of these cases, but I thought the main point was to effect a landing and bring real havoc to the island, not eventually win the struggle. You can argue "foreign," but these armies often were greatly or mostly non-English. You can argue about help or support from within, but that probably rules out 1066 as well. It would be interesting to know how England would have faired without a Divine Wind to assist against the Armada.

If we parse the original comments language as meaning one per any millennium, then of course, Romans, Saxons (more than once); Norse and Danes in the preceding millennium, thoug of course not all of these went by the Channel.

111:

Also, does WW1 count as an invasion attempt, since the Germans failed to make it to the North Sea/English Channel coast on that occasion?

I'd suggest that an invasion attempt requires that you hold the hinterland to the ports and muster a fleet for the purpose.

112:

I think it's unfair to cast the Occupy kids as 'freaked out' and pessimistic. I think the opposite is true, because it's the cynics who make snarks about gross corporate wealth accumulation, but it's the optimists who will sit there and make their presence *felt*. I think these are people who are very sure about what future they want to live in and how to go about shaping it. That they're utopians to the core.

Robert Putnam, the Harvard academic who takes an interest in American social capital, noted that in times of catastrophe (think Hurricane Katrina) there's a mass increase in public goodwill across in response: people donate money, volunteer, form committees and generally try to connect with each other. This effect has a half-life of about six weeks - people go back to being their normal isolated selves within a few months of any national disaster.

There was exactly such an event following 9/11 - hospitals were so overwhelmed by volunteers they were sending them away - but the people who were in their formative years at the time (young teens or old children) never lost that sense of goodwill. They've grown up, and it's apparent they're more social and optimistic than the Gen X'ers or the Boomers, optimistic enough to rally in support of an African American presidential candidate, or to believe that mass protests might bring the American government back away from corporate collusion.

113:

Also, does WW1 count as an invasion attempt, since the Germans failed to make it to the North Sea/English Channel coast on that occasion?

Given that the Germans held Belgium and the ports of Zeebrugge (one of my great-grandfathers took part in the raid in 1918) and Ostend, I'd say that they reached "close enough" to consider a crossing.

Erskine Childers aside (Riddle of the Sands), I'm not aware that the Germans considered an invasion during the Great War. Regardless of the fears of invasion, it was impossible without the defeat of the RN - which was not going to happen.

There have been multiple professional wargames run on the WW2 German invasion plan (Operation SEALION), including once in the 1970s with some of the original officers from both sides, but no-one has ever managed to demonstrate that it could have succeeded.

114:

Ok, I hadn't thought that the Germans had held the Belgian ports.

However, I'm not sure that "the defeat of the RN - which was not going to happen." is correct. I'd submit that Jutland was a tactical victory for the German navy, but it was not a sufficiently crushing victory to give them the naval superiority required for an invasion. Had the German submarine screen (been allowed to) attack the RN fleet, RN losses could have been higher and German ones lower.

Also, you've completely ignored my suggestion that an invasion plan requires you to not only hold ports and hinterland, but also assemble materiel.

115:

Privateeleron
OK
1066 fully successful invasion.
Admitedly Harald Godwinesom had no more "right" to be king than William, but he was in legal posession.
After the death of John, the Frebch were ejected. because Dover castle held out, and some "barons who had sised with the Frogs decided to change sides (again)
On the Mediaval to-&-fro-ings I shall ignore.
As for 1588, I suggest you read G. Mattingly on the subject.
The wind scattered the Spanish, but they were facing imminent defeat, UNTIL the wind enabled them to escape - not that it did many of them much good in the long run.
1688 was really peculiar.
James threw it away with both hands, and in the only occasion I can recall from history, the Brit/English army "deserted"/Re-affirmed their loyalty to the Protestant cause en masse.

116:
I'm starting to wonder what kind of Great Game would have happened if the explorers from the 19th Century empires had found their way into Faerie. I don't think anyone's really tried that yet in a fantasy novel.

Not quite Faerie, but David Duncan's "Great Game" trilogy (Past Imperative, Present Tense, Future Indefinite) takes place in a world parallel to ours, in which travelers from our world have magical powers (and no one else does). Some of those travelers in a previous generation were British agents, who've carried the concepts and strategies of the Great Game over to their new realm. Also, travelers from that world to ours have magical powers here, and are playing the same kind of game.

117:
I don't think I can live up to Heinlein's specification--can anyone--but I can, at a glance, tell a Mauser rifle from a javelin.

And a hawk from a handsaw?

I've lived in farm country, though never worked on a farm for more than a few hours at a time, and I've lived in places that were distant enough from large towns that it was a good idea to know how to fix little things and know how to tell when big things weren't working right and needed to be fixed soon so you can find someone who can fix it. It may be that set of skills won't be as important in the future, if most of the human race is living in cities. That'll be too bad for the people who wander out of the cities on a lark without knowing how to take care of themselves.

Since we can't be Heinlein superheroes, the most important trait we should cultivate is planning for the likely outcomes: if I'm going somewhere that's different from where I am now, I shouldn't assume everything will be the same, and I should find out what I can about my destination and plan for the conditions there. Every couple of years a person or small party goes into the mountains near here in the winter without understanding some part of "snow and low temperatures in places with bad roads and spotty mobile phone service", and if they're lucky the rescue teams find them while they're still alive.

I suspect the reason so many people don't understand the dangers of going somewhere different without knowing about it is similar to the reasons why many people can't retrain for new jobs when the old jobs disappear. They've been told all their lives that they have to find some one thing to be good at and ignore everything else1, and that's very hard conditioning to break.

1. I can't count how many TV shows I've seen in my life in which the protagonist says outright, "This is the only job I know how to do." I think the writers intend this to be a marker of passion and intensity for the protagonist; I think they're missing some nuances. Whatever you say about TV, it's a basic source of cultural education for a large part of the population of the developed world, and increasingly for the developing world. There is a large fraction of the human race whose world views are formed by television, and much more by the fictional programs than the news.

118:

Perhaps there is a generational difference, but I think you're wrong about the retraining bit. People can retrain, but it takes time, money and effort, and in the cases where they don't it is due to a lack of one of them or in some cases the entirely normal mental effects of losing a bit part of your life. Also I'm in the UK.

Then my generation and after (i.e. matured in the 90's) has basically been told "tough it's all up to you now sod off and suck it up." So many of us expect to have to change careers or jobs, the problem comes with a lack of resources to do so because of the mountain of debt we have nowadays.

Personally I think lack of preparedness is simply down to the tendency of a large part of the population to not know stuff. The reasons for this are 1) being told to be only good at one thing, 2) Having to concentrate on one thing to be good at it because of the Darwinian competition {this sort of thing is why I think David Brin is wrong}; 3) not having a mindset to be able to pick up stuff as they go along, 4) not having had a broader experience of life during childhood and adulthood for whatever bunch of reasons.
So they assume that out there will be the same as over here.

Remember that there is a selection of TV programming showing people the wider world (although never enough and never good enough in my opinion). If they prefer to watch the footy then that isn't necessarily wrong, but it might be if they then decide to brave the mountains in winter.

119:

There is not enough training in the world to turn all those blue collar workers into white collar workers

The fact of the matter is, that using IQ as a really really bad surrogate, there simple are no useful functions for a good fraction of the IQ

Training does not make you smart, it does not make you good at math or technology

120:

I was thinking of the initial Roman conquests, 1066, and D-day. Each was separated by roughly a millennium from the last. I wouldn't count the Restoration, but feel free to if you like.

121:

We are living in a Dystopian future;

I keep telling people I remember (1970's?) when we (The USA) did NOT have a permanent floating "Homeless" problem.

As for steel mills- The US is the only major "Industrialized" country which is NOT self sufficent in basic steel. Why are we importing rebar and Wall Board (OK, that was during the housing boom...), two of the most BASIC, BULK, industrial commodity products from China? What dis the .01% gain from that?

I'm not that old, but have no idea how to use HTML.

122:

Actually, they (India & China) already HAVE messed with their demographics; Regular articles about it (Sonograms); LOTS of missing little girls. But South Korea (Having pionered this in the 1990's) is (Apparently) fliping the other way, as parents realize the (Gendered) aspect of the "who will look after me in my old age?" question.

123:

> And I guess the whole point of writing
> future-oriented SF is to show one
> possible way it could all work out.

Charlie has said variants of the same thing. I think you're both barking up the wrong tree.

If I want a guess at what the future holds, there are people and places that specialize in that sort of thing without the fictional overlay. Not that their predictions seem to be that good, but that's a different subject.

If you're trying to follow trends to make the most accurate prediction possible, that's nice... but I'm guessing that's not what the guy who pulls a copy from the "Science Fiction" shelf is much concerned with.

When I plunk down my cash for a novel, what I'm buying is entertainment. If I'm still around 30 years from now and things look pretty much as you predicted, and I happen to re-read the book, I'll think something like, "well, imagine that." But it won't have anything to do with what initially caused part of my money to become your money.

124:

To me, it looks like a quick buck, anti-labor jihad and brownie points with dark green NIMBYs. More of the same until congress-critters work out the difference between long term business and short term speculation.

125:

"There is not enough training in the world to turn all those blue collar workers into white collar workers.
The fact of the matter is, that using IQ as a really really bad surrogate, there simple are no useful functions for a good fraction of the IQ"

You really think the requirements for white collar work at that high? Sure, you're not going to turn everybody into a physicist or computer programmer, but for most white-collar work the key requirements seem to be ability to sit and obey, communicate reasonably well, and not mind staring at paper/computer screens. The actual _work_ isn't that bad.

126:

"If you're trying to follow trends to make the most accurate prediction possible, that's nice... but I'm guessing that's not what the guy who pulls a copy from the "Science Fiction" shelf is much concerned with."

Most accurate possible might not be necessary, but a certain amount of plausibility adds to the enjoyment- analogous to how good characterization is necessary for a really good tale in some genres.
Call it a spectrum between Stephen Baxter or Greg Egan and E.E. Smith- both are entertaining, but the latter wrote things more like a science-themed romance novel, and the first two write textbooks with a plot.

127:

"but for most white-collar work the key requirements seem to be ability to sit and obey, communicate reasonably well, and not mind staring at paper/computer screens"

There are a lot of those kinds of jobs. In India.

128:

It seems that across the American political spectrum there's a lot of futile pining for the macroeconomy of 1962 to come back. Never mind that the economic golden age following WW II was historically contingent on much that happened outside the United States. Never mind that constant economic growth is physically impossible in the long run. I wouldn't necessarily say it is a problem of memory; there are still people who remember times before World War II, and this was especially true when the magic began vanishing in the 1970s. It's a problem of rejecting reality more than forgetting it.

129:

1962...when Kennedy suggested cutting taxes to promote economic growth? Might not be the example you want...

130:

Heh, should've said 1964. It seems I have my own problems of memory.

131:

Most white-collar jobs don't require either scientific knowledge or technical competence. They may require skill with a particular set of computer applications or knowledge of a set of policies, but that's usually just a matter of training; anyone with somewhat less than average intelligence is capable of that level of competence. The problem is that these are precisely the jobs that have been outsourced, and are being automated out of existence now. Even a lot of what's called "managerial" work like project management can be largely automated to the point of sharply reducing the number of humans required to manage a given number of other humans and organizational resources.

We've seen the workforce being outsourced from the bottom up: from largely unskilled labor involving some training (think of the drive-in order taker in a fast-food restaurant, who might be on another continent now) through semi-skilled (first line tech support), then skilled (sys admin, programming, etc.). And the jobs that don't require realtime human contact have gone more quickly. Now we're going to see those jobs (especially the ones that don't require realtime contact) automated, and the outsourcing is going to get pushed higher up the food chain1, as low-wage labor goes looking for new jobs.

Of course, we've known since at least the 1950's that automation was going to change the meaning of "full employment" (whatever level of unemployment you think that means) , and that this would cause major changes to our economic and social systems. Unfortunately, our political leaders don't seem to have gotten the memo, and they seem to be seriously stuck in a world view that tells them that we can turn everything back to the late 18th century and things will work out just fine.

1. Even though I think there's a really good case to be made that outsourcing has not proven to be economically justified for many of the non-manufacturing, non-rote-trained jobs like programming. I worked at one large international corporation where outsourcing of IT development was mandated for cost-cutting, then proved so costly in terms of communication failures and projects that had to be redone later that the division banned future outsourcing. Then a couple of years went by, management changed, and a new CIO mandated outsourcing as a cost-cutting measure. My friends still working there tell me that they've almost reached the "Oh crap, it's costing us more than doing it ourselves, we have to stop outsourcing" stage again.

132:

Most white collar jobs are going to fall to the descendents of Watson and Siri. And soon.

133:

"Then my generation and after (i.e. matured in the 90's) has basically been told "tough it's all up to you now sod off and suck it up." So many of us expect to have to change careers or jobs, the problem comes with a lack of resources to do so because of the mountain of debt we have nowadays."

And jobs - if you do retrain, and retrain well, you'd be competing with all of the other retrained people, and be standing in line behind the people already working in that field. In the USA at least, it's something like 4-5 unemployed people for each opening.

134:

"but for most white-collar work the key requirements seem to be ability to sit and obey, communicate reasonably well, and not mind staring at paper/computer screens"

unholy guy: "There are a lot of those kinds of jobs. In India."

Good point.

135:

Even a lot of what's called "managerial" work like project management can be largely automated to the point of sharply reducing the number of humans required to manage a given number of other humans and organizational resources.

Perhaps I'm coming at this from a "leadership" rather than a "management" direction, but I disagree (unless your experience is in an over-bureaucratic organisation).

Project management is a lot about people skills and imagination - anticipating and avoiding the problems is better than knowing how to solve them once you hit them; a lot of the problems are interpersonal, and even in engineering a lot of it is about bridging the gap between mutually-contradictory (or slightly-contradictory) requirements from different groups.

You can't improve someone's span of control that significantly; there are still going to be as many managers required, and turning everything into a checklist doesn't address this (although it might make more people capable of falling into the category of "struggling manager" rather than "do not promote").

136:

Considering some of our tech exists in its current form because someone set out to reify something they read in a Gibson novel, I don't think your position is the only possible one.

137:

Re 1688/89: I think that both Greg and Dirk are caricaturing the situation, but Dirk's closer to the truth. William had a very large Fifth Column, but it was an invasion nevertheless - and it was followed by another invasion, of the Danish army which formed the core of William's army in Ireland. Yes, the Bill of Rights and all that . . . but when Parliament was debating this, they, and all of London, were being 'guarded' by the Blue Guard, not by any UK regiments...

There's (a little) more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pfr4y

138:

There were a series of successful invasions of England between 1315-1326-- by Robert the Bruce.

His purpose wasn't to conquer England, but to bring the English to the bargaining table (so that they would recognize Scottish independence).

In that, he was eventually successful. Lots of raiding, plunder and lost lives, but the Scots did it in the end.

139:

As you term it yourself, 'raiding'. I wouldn't consider this invasion in the sense discussed, which is one of an enemy coming into the land in an attempt to conquer it or exert long term power over it.

If you want to include raids, then all sorts of other invaders come into the picture, from the Irish in the West onward.

140:

It's almost unknown in primitive groups, even though by any measure their lives are much harsher. It's counter-intuitive, but struggling can make life that much more precious.

Which is why some of us say rearing children by saying no most of the time is better than trying to make them happy all the time. But this is a "bad thing" to much of modern society. At least in the US.

141:

I the US becomes poor enough, the steel mills will be back. Maybe they only moved temporarily.

I lived in Pittsburgh from 80 through 87. I had to leave. It was too depressing to be surrounded by "up and coming - leave behind the past" and "marking time till the mills return" with both ignoring the other.

Interestingly the local Pittsburgh paper did a long analysis of the world steel industry. In the US from 1955 through 1975 per capita steel usage in the us declined by 1/2. So right off the bat the industry would shrink by 1/2 (relative to the population) given no other factors. Of course there was better production methods and such which also cut the need for workers. Then on top of all of that at during and at the end of WWII the US was about the only steel producer left standing outside of the USSR. And was the biggest in the world for the next 30 years. But by 1980 most of the world was making their own steel. Which meant that by then the US was about at net zero in terms of importing/exporting steel. So there goes another 1/2 of the industry relative to the end of WWII.

Now we, the US, produce about what we need. All those empty mills will never come back unless the rest of the world decides it wants the US to make their steel for them again.

As a transplant to the area I wasn't stuck in living my entire life in a 2 mile radius from where I was born like many. I would go out and drive around at times on weekends. It was scary at times. Driving along a deserted mill for 2 to 4 miles along a river. With all the small down towns across the street also deserted except for the occasional gas station or convenience store.

142:

Personally, I would rather die then be a farmer, it's a really annoying job.

I don't know if I'd rather die but I'd certainly look to barter my time in the dirt with someone by doing other jobs for them. Wait. This is what we have today. :)

My dad grew up on a moderately large farm in the US in the 30s. They had a small slaughter house, sawmill, etc... I asked him once why he didn't say with it. His answer was he liked farming until you had to climb out of the cab. For depression era farmers they were fairly well off. But he did talk of the fun of warming your bed at time by keeping the cats under the covers. And the joy of milking cows at 5AM in February.

143:

Mark I, Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been posting that story description for years on librarian stumper boards with no success.

144:

Back in the mid-90's, I took a bus tour around Pittsburgh, and we drove by the largest vacant lot I had ever seen, which had formerly been the famous Homestead Steel plant. Around that time, the business press was full of talk about steel mini-mills, that used electric arc furnaces to make steel from scrap metal, rather than the usual raw materials. Seemed perfectly apropos for a rust-belt economy somehow.

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