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Do my Homework

So, anent nothing in particular, I was contemplating another of James Nicoll's essays on Tor.com the other day—this one concerning utopias in SF—and found myself trying to stare into my own cognitive blind spot.

Like all fiction genres, SF is prone to fashion trends. For example, since the late 1970s, psi powers as a trope have gone into steep decline (I'd attribute this to the death and subsequent waning influence of editor John W. Campbell, who in addition to being a bigoted right-winger was into any number of bizarre fringe beliefs). "Population time bomb"/overpopulation stories have also gone into decline, perhaps due to the gradual realization that thanks to the green revolution and demographic transition we aren't doomed as a direct consequence of overpopulation—climate change and collapsing agriculture are another matter, but we're already far past the point at which a collapse into cannibalism and barbarism was so gloatingly depicted in much 1960s and 1970s SF. And so are stories about our totalitarian Stalinist/Soviet overlords and their final triumph over the decadent free western world. These are all, if you like, examples of formerly-popular tropes which succumbed to, respectively, critiques of their scientific plausibility (psi powers), the intersection of unforeseen scientific breakthroughs with the reversal of an existing trend to mitigate a damaging outcome (food production revolution/population growth tapering off), and the inexorable historical dialectic (snark intentional).

Oddly enough, tales of what the world will be like in the tantalizingly close future year 2000 AD are also thin on the ground these days. As are tales of the first man on the moon (it's always a man in those stories, although nobody in the 1950s thought to call the hero of a two-fisted space engineering story "Armstrong"), the big East/West Third World War (but hold the front page!), and a bunch of other obsolescent futures that were contingent on milestones we've already driven past.

Some other technological marvels predicted in earlier SF have dropped out of fiction except as background scenery, for they're now the stuff of corporate press releases and funding rounds. Reusable space launchers? Check. (Elon Musk really, really wants to be the Man who Sold the Moon.) Space elevators/tether systems? Nobody would bother writing a novel like "The Fountains of Paradise" these days, they're too plonkingly obvious. It'd be like writing a novel about ITER, as opposed to a novel where ITER is the setting. Pocket supercomputer/videophone gadgets in every teenager's pocket? No, that's just too whacky: nobody would believe it! And so on. (Add sarcasm tags to taste.)

We are living through the golden age of grimdark dystopian futures, especially in Young Adult literature (and lest we forget, there's much truth to the old saying that "the golden age of SF is 12", even for those of us who write and read more adult themes). There's also a burgeoning wave of CliFi, fiction set in the aftermath of global climate change. We're now seeing Afrofuturism and other cultures taken into the mainstream of commercial SF, rather than being marginalized and systematically excluded: diversity is on the rise (and the grumpy white men don't like it).

Which leads me to my question: what are the blind spots in current SF? The topics that nobody is writing about but that folks should be writing about? (Keep reading below the cut before you think about replying!)

I can immediately think of four blind spots, right now (and this is without engaging my brain and trying to work out what topics I have, as a pale-skinned male of privilege, been trained to studiously ignore):

  1. In the 1950-1999 period, tales of the 21st century were everywhere. Where are the equivalent stories of the 22nd century, that should be being told today? (There are a few, but they are if anything prominent because of their scarcity.)

  2. The social systems based on late-stage currently-existing capitalism are hideously broken, but almost all the SF I see takes some variation on the current system as a given: in the future, apparently people will have these things called "jobs" whereby an "employer" (typically a Very Slow AI controlled by a privileged caste of "executives") acquires an exclusive right to their labour in return for vouchers which may be exchanged for food, clothing, and shinies (these vouchers are apparently called "money"). Seriously folks, can't we imagine something better?

  3. What does a world look like in which the (very approximately) 2,500-10,000 year old reign of the patriarchy has been broken for good? The commodification of women and children that followed the development of settled agricultural societies with ruling/warrior castes to police and enforce laws casts a very long shadow, even in societies that notionally endorse gender equality in law. (Consider, for example, that a restricted diet stunts growth, and that average adult stature tracks food availability by a generation or three, and ask why men are, on average, taller than women; or why rape culture exists and where it came from: or where the impetus for #MeToo is coming from ...) Even if the arc of history indeed does bend towards justice, we're still a long way from finding it (whether it be for racism, sexism, or any other entrenched, long-standing historic injustice). Which in turn leads me to ...

  4. Blind justice: "the law in its majesty forbids the millionaire and the pauper alike from sleeping under bridges". Stable societies need norms of behaviour and some way of ensuring that most people comply with them, but our current approach to legal codes is broken. One size does not fit all (if the pauper and the millionaire both face a $50 fine for the same offense, then the law is a hideously onerous burden on one of them and trivially ignored by the other—yes, I know there are jurisdictions where fines are proportional to income, but they're the exception rather than the rule and they rely on the concept of a fine as punishment). Nor is it clear that punishment by incarceration or state violence achieves anything productive, or that our judicial systems produce anything that can reasonably be termed justice (in strict Rawlsian terms). What does a future social contract look like? Hell, what does a future legal system look like? Malka Older ("Infomocracy") and Ada Palmer ("Too Like the Lightning") have been ploughing that field, with a side-order of trying to conceptualize what a new age of enlightenment might look like, but again: being able to name them just highlights how few authors are exploring these vital issues in SF. Indeed, law enforcement is a huge blind spot for many Americans, as witness this think-piece in The Atlantic (How Mars Will be Policed) which seems to assume that the current American quasi-military police caste is a universal constant.

So: four themes (the world as it might be an entire human lifetime hence: what could replace the ideology of industrial-era capitalism: how would a world without entrenched hierarchies of race, privilege, and gender look: and what the future of law, justice, and society might be) are going under-represented in SF.

And here is my subsequent question: what big themes am I (and everyone else) ignoring?

Do my homework, please. Comment thread provided below for your mutual entertainment.

1173 Comments

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1:

You, me, and many other sensible people reject the overwhelming surveillance state.
What about the large portion that welcome it?
What if they gain power and demand and welcome it?

Hi from Australia where this seems to be happening right now.

2:

That the way of organizing states will continue to mirror the westphalian model -

As an individual your national identity and government you follow is determined by the territory you live in rather than religious/cultural/ethnic identity, and said government has the exclusive sovereignty over that territory, people, and agents abroad, and responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents.


This model of human organizing was rather unique, and the European imperialism forcibly imposed it on the rest if the world, smashing up all sorts of ways people organized their societies, obligations, identities, and legal responsibilities and freedoms.

3:

I already gave you Ada Palmer and Malka Older, didn't I?

What you're asking for is exactly what they're writing about (among other things).

4:

A story where the collapse of consensus reality is normal and unremarkable background; something to be navigated and engaged with, but no expectation the tale will end with "and they all agreed climate change was bad and lived happily ever after".

A Bildungsroman where instead of our hero entering maturity, everybody in sight is engaged in continual construction, maintenance and demolition of a set of simultaneous interacting social identities.


5:

All sorts of infrastructure is wearing down due to lack of maintenance, lack of replacement, and short design lifetimes. Two of those boil down to lack of money. One option is to ask what happens when it all rots away; another is to ask what happens when we all decide that we should do better?

Solar power is making electricity cheap for an average of twelve hours a day. Battery technology is always full of promises scheduled five to fifteen years out, while actually improving at about a 5% annual rate. Fusion power is in a neck-and-neck competition with general AI. Power distribution is a problem of capital and labor.

Regardless of Musk's plan to retire in Luna City, it looks like the cost per kilo to orbit is dropping. What's actually worth building a space factory for, given (a) all materials come up from Earth; (b) infrastructure comes up, materials come from a captured asteroid; (c) infrastructure is attached to an asteroid and processed in place.

Combining those last two chunks: does a solar power station in Earth orbit make sense at all? To power other orbital facilities? To send power to the Earth? Can such a thing make sense without the possibility of turning it into a death ray?

6:

I think popular subgenres tend to match the general societal outlook (chiefly economical). So high-growth periods tend to give us space opera, utopias, what have you, the idea of an ever-expanding human sphere of influence. Periods of stagnation or depression get us dystopias. What seems to be less common are stories of pure stagnation, e.g. what interesting stories can be told about a society that is very much like our own at a technological level, but had a 100 extra years to evolve?

7:

What's actually worth building a space factory for

Space is chock full of ultra-high purity vacuum. Certain terrestrial manufacturing processes require a lot of high-purity vacuum and ultra-clean facilities—semiconductor fab lines spring to mind. Currently nobody's looked at relocating them into orbit because the cost of lifting them would be prohibitive, but a combination of high quality vacuum and stable high-quality electricity 24x7 might be a compelling argument once the cost per ton drops low enough.

The fab lines/vacuum/power thing probably also applies to most realistic applications of non-aqueous-phase molecular nanotechnology (that is, stuff that isn't warmed-over synthetic biology).

does a solar power station in Earth orbit make sense at all?

See above; also note that once in orbit and far enough out, solar power stations could in principle deliver power 24x7 rather than today's 12x7 (limited by night).

The death ray thing ... I'm more sanguine about it now than I was a few years ago: if we have the orbital lift capacity to put gigawatts of base load plant in orbit, then we have the lift capacity to send a bunch of Space Marines™ to shut it down if someone hijacks it. (Or should that be Space Special Forces?)

8:

I'd love to see more thoughtful treatments of societies in which the bottom few tranches of Maslow's Hierarchy have been taken care of; I haven't seen many since Banks' Culture. {The "money is a sign of poverty" line has been useful, though it still baffles a lot of my relatives dealing in finance.)

Once upon a time real multiculturalism* was a real blind spot in the field, but thankfully that's abating; I hope in part because between the EU, Canada, and efforts across Africa it's less speculative and more "ripped from the headlines" stuff now.

It'd also be nice if we had more really-alien aliens now that we know more about cognition down here; if I could see writers get extraterrestrials' thinking half as weird as octopuses on MDMA it'd be a great leap forward in the field.

Aside from that, though, as a pale penis-bearing person speaking an imperial language I'm afraid I share most of the blind spots in the current culture; you're a step ahead of me as I don't even know what questions to ask to find their shapes, let alone what's in them.

-- Steve

* as opposed to "everyone's Californian/British but with a weird quirk"

9:

There is an excellent short story about exactly that, multiple states sharing territory, where belonging determines your taxes and state obligations towards you, written by Rafał Kosik, called "Ohyda"(Disgust), published in a polish SF magazine and in an anthology called "Obywatel, który sie zawiesił"(The citizen who hung up). It never got translated to English unfortunately

10:

Children, families and the rights of parents to inflict a f'd up world view/immune system/norms on future adults, and the nature of adulthood.

As above, but animals, a future where raising, torturing and murdering millions of sentient beings a day, when it is completely optional is kind of messed up (saying this as a happy omnivore, who sees Sea Sheppard view as not
insane).

11:

How about an SF/F story where feudal overlords pure blood are the bad guys?

I'm looking at you: "Dune" with your Bene Gesserit kwisat haderach superman, "Star Wars" with your mitochloridians allowing Jedi who only have pure enough blood, and "Lord of the Rings" with your immortal Elves and pure blooded Numenorians. So why must the hero in an SF story always be some pure blooded noble

Feudal oligarchs are overlords are still with us, ruling more than half the planet via hydraulic despotism and manufactured wars and artificial shortages.

I'd like to see more Sf/F fiction like "The Last Ringbearer"where the orcs are the good guys and their city of Barad Dur is "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic. The shining tower of the Barad-dûr citadel rose over the plains of Mordor almost as high as Orodruin like a monument to Man – free Man who had politely but firmly declined the guardianship of the Dwellers on High and started living by his own reason. It was a challenge to the bone-headed aggressive West, which was still picking lice in its log ‘castles’ to the monotonous chanting of scalds extolling the wonders of never-existing Númenor."

12:

@Daniel Duffy

There is plenty of non-feudalist fantasy, Fritz Lieberman, Glen Cook and Steven Erikson, although the fact this sub genre is called “Low fantasy” is very telling.

13:

I don't see an awful lot of works that integrate the technology with its (for lack of a better work) sociocultural context — it's always simplistic cause-and-effect stuff. X came first/was the overriding objective, resulting in Kewl Thing (or Unkewl Thing) Y, and therefore Z, the starting point for the story of conventional heroic tradition. In short, not a lot of consideration of the actual consequences — especially the unintended ones — of the means shaping the ends into a four-dimensional pretzel. Both The Dispossessed and The Sparrow/Children of God explored a bit of this, but both Le Guin and Russell tend to be honored more than read (let alone used as exemplars or models).

I also don't see many works that actually engage with the arts in anything by anything other than analogy to the Beatles phenomenon. But that's a complicated thing I'm not sure how to explain without turning it into a lecture.

14:

1. One thing that hasn't been done in a while is shape shifting. I mentioned previously that I read a book series in the 90s called Animorphs, where you have this technology that allows you to "absorb" the DNA of anything you touch. Afterwards, the tech replaces your DNA with that person or creature for a few hours. Inventing that technology in a surveillance state that has existed for, say, 100 years would be massively disruptive.

2. Mind reading technology.

3. I know this is a segue into politics, but right now the 21st century is shaping up to be VERY ideologically diverse; the most diverse its been since the end of the Cold War. You have a power block that is rejecting patriarchy, etc. (the West), a power block that is creating a technocratic surveillance state (China), a mid-20th century (1950s-1980s) society set in stone (Russia and the Visegard countries), a religious power block that is likely to buy said surveillance state for its own uses (Saudi Arabia/Iran/Turkey), and whatever N. Korea eventually evolves into.

15:

I don't pretend to be able to think of stuff that nobody in the SF field has thought of, here's something that far too few writers have been thinking of:

Various attempts have been made to imagine post-conflict, non-capitalist, non-coercive social arrangements - Le Guin's Always Coming Home, Slonczewski's Still Forms on Foxfield, etc. But they've all featured small communities, basically re-treads of Victorian-era utopian socialist communities. They all suffer from accepting the Victorian distrust of large cities and the Garden City ideal of low density, decentralized living arrangements.

Where are the post-conflict SF stories by writers who have read and appreciate Jane Jacobs' books on the central place cities occupy in civilization? How do you organize non-hierarchical, non-coercive post-conflict social arrangements in an urban metropolis?

16:

Oops, hit send too soon.

The thing that's not written about is that there's an assumption in current SF to think that only one of these systems is stable and can survive. What if they all do?

17:

/Space marines to shut it down/

That's very 1970s, isn't it? I would expect the SPS to be fully automated, and that means that the attack surface starts with script kiddies noticing that the OS hasn't been patched in the six years since it was being prepped for launch.

The fix is more likely to be a junior field service/enlistee sent up to connect a laptop to the 9-pin RS232C port under the left panel at 9600,8N1, run a VT220 emulator and tell it to shut down the network, reboot from the immutable storage, and apply 4702 updates plus a new SSHd config before starting up the network again. All of the procedures being read from a checklist which is still on the ground while a retired sysadmin stands by to catch mistakes.

But if the cost to orbit is low enough, then the cost to reach around the planet with a squad of Recon Marines / SAS / Spetsnaz with a similar launch vehicle and an aerobraked pod is within the budget of an emergency. On the positive side, Thunderbirds Are Go. On the negative side, every capability is eventually used or used as a threat.

Back to the original blind-spot question: anything which gets an automatic response of "well, they wouldn't do that, nobody would ever trust them again" is a plausible tactic for a group feeling sufficiently threatened or sufficiently self-righteous. What groups will have fringes moving into those zones in the near future? Who could have predicted "incel" terrorists twenty years ago?

18:

Charlie notes: "Population time bomb"/overpopulation stories have also gone into decline, perhaps due to the gradual realization that thanks to the green revolution and demographic transition we aren't doomed as a direct consequence of overpopulation—climate change and collapsing agriculture are another matter, but we're already far past the point at which a collapse into cannibalism and barbarism was so gloatingly depicted in much 1960s and 1970s SF."

I'm not so sure about that. It's going to depend on how you define overpopulation and its causes and consequences. As you noted, climate change has begun to bring those grimdark stories back in droves. Donning my ecologist hat, I'd say we're way past the point of sustainability, and that if we don't change that PDQ, we're going to prove Malthus right. To support this assertion, I'd note that recent ecological footprint calculations in a journal paper I just edited (i.e., an attempt to quantify the pressure humans exert on the environment) suggest that we're operating at about 2x the sustainable level in developed nations and ca. 50% above that level (and rising fast) for developing nations. (Those are ballpark figures; close enough for the purposes of this blog. If you want hard data, look here: http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/?)

The Green Revolution has been wonderful, but it's not without its unpleasant side effects (e.g., eutrophication). And the agronomy researchers I work with point out that we're probably approaching some hard limits on maximum crop productivity. (That's an oversimplification, as it depends on the crop, region, and expected climate change, and doesn't account for some potential breakthroughs, but the statement is broadly accurate.)

I'm ***not*** predicting collapse and cannibalism any time soon, but neither would I rule out those possibilities; both are plausible when taken in context. And one of my pre-retirment projects is to lobby my government to move their food security plan from a collection of motherhood statements to an actual action plan in case things go south faster than expected.

About the only blind spot you didn't cover that comes immediately to mind would be the concept of scientific paradigm shifts. There's a pervasive and somewhat toxic notion among certain groups of scientists that everything we know right now (the impossibility of FTL travel) is correct and won't change, in clear defiance of countless historical precedents to the contrary. Ignoring Geoff Ryman's "mundane manifesto", for the moment, here are two examples (and please wait for the punch line before jumping down my throat):

First, consider the notion that "dark matter" is really "matter" (i.e., teeny little objects you could grab in your fingers if you have really small fingers). I don't in any way dispute the data on which this notion is based, but calling the cause "matter" fails to satisfy me as a hypothesis for several reasons I won't go into here. A couple issues back, Scientific American published an article that made me very happy because the authors cogently made largely the same critique I make when the subject comes up. So what if the dark "matter" guys are all wrong?

Second, consider the notion of "junk DNA". For decades, there's been this notion that evolution (which is famously parsimonious) would carry along non-coding and thus presumably non-functional baggage, at a very high cost in energy and materials. (This stuff can be more than 90% of the total genome.) We're now beginning to take that "um... wait a minute" data seriously, and as a result, we're discovering interesting new things.

So here's my point: Science fiction is all about answering the "what if?" question. Pace Ryman et al., not to mention OGH and "Saturn's Children", it seems we should still be free to ask that question and challenge (for example) one significant paradigm per story -- so long as we can do so within a consistent and plausible framework. For example, if we propose for the sake of a story that future neurologists find a way to use something like SQUIDS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SQUID) to detect brainwaves, we have a plausible "what if?" for proposing technological "psi" powers. To be clear, not "very, very" plausible, but still... we're talking story here, not "bet the retirement fund" prediction.

Call that science fantasy if you wish; that's fine with me. What I'm calling a blindspot is the unwillingness to challenge paradigms, particularly when the assumptions are being challenged by credible people. We do this routinely for the many stories based on FTL travel. What other subject areas would benefit from such challenges?

19:

No one is offering a realistic vision of what people are likely to actually be doing in the 22nd Century. AI in SF is almost always hopelessly naive (I spent my career at Microsoft and Amazon doing AI work). I expect that software will augment people more than it replaces them, and although people in 2100 will still have "jobs," most of them will be jobs we aren't thinking about today.

The future economic vision in SF is pretty poor too. Authors seem to believe in the lump-of-labor fallacy but completely reject the law of comparative advantage. Those futures where no one has work and everyone lives in poverty because machines took all the jobs are really, really dumb. But they're everywhere in SF.

When we look back at the time before 1900, we're amazed at what poor hygiene people had and how many people died of disease as a result. Public hygiene programs transformed the world during the 20th Century.

I suspect that people in 2100 will look back at us and be horrified at what poor mental hygiene we had. People today spend so much time angry because they've got bad habits like always making the worst possible interpretation of anything they read, never giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, repeating things they know are untrue just because it feels good to say them, and always, always being in a towering rage over something. It was always a problem, but the Internet has made it epidemic.

20:

Education and intersectionality?

They say 'great minds...' but any mind which conceives of a given problem in a certain way and reduces it to a common problem-already-solved and is equipped with the same toolset and same resources to tackle it is likely to arrive at a similar solution.

We have the pinnacle of VC Silicon Valley entrepreneurs planning to leave an un-rescuable planet while others are building safe compounds for the breakdown of capitalism and the end of their stature as unimpeachable figureheads of society. Step back and look at that: we could tell a story about the archetype who has run companies which have changed the world and they have then come up against an inability to instigate further change. One might choose to invest further in the society and systems you're in, to lead them to a better place, or you might choose to leave.

This archetype runs a Silicon Valley company which has had to implement an internal what-next-project marketplace and has got a lot of engineers with a lot of energy who are willing to put together a lot of ideas for what-next-project -- but they're stymied by a monoculture of education that dissuades people from cross-pollination and learning about multiple different fields of study or multiple different specialisms. (Aside: compare Amazon and Google's next-idea marketplaces with Valve's one which allegedly stifled their ability to make Half Life 3.)

So ...what next? Might our entrepreneurial archetype start diversity hiring and hope to mix up the mindsets? You'd expect that the what-next-project becomes a game of social capital above problem-solving brilliance. Classical who-you-know politics gets in the way, too: people are still clustered in tribes of background, heritage or who-owes-whom-favours.

So this monoculture can't get enough money to fix the political landscape and save the planet -- at least not alone. The old idea that's overlooked in USA culture is the mass of bodies in protest. The next step in political organising will involve finding common ground and achieving consensus with whoever has a shared intersection of interest. Think about it like this: we each have a pecking order of most-pressing to least-pressing issues in society and we'll get involved with each to the extent that we can. Where you don't overlap with someone, you don't fight to correct them ("...our former masters used to set up 'let's you and them fight'...") but seek to find an overlap and build, together, on that. It requires emotional maturity and an ongoing positive mindset, but finding and practising those thoughts can become habit. (Also, the creation of an organisation which seeds activists trained in this positive way is an interesting study of cult-like organisations and could provide a setting for origin-story or prequel drama.)

Education and intersectionality: solving-a-problem and what-next-project thing can be blind -- in the Dunning-Kruger sense -- to other constraints that make the suggestion moot or offensive, should this blind spot come from privilege and naieveté. Having an intersection of people from different backgrounds and a presumption of working together in good faith for a common goal can certainly carry the tension and drama needed for good multi-character storytelling, plus it offers an out any time you want a character to betray another.

K3n.

21:

I find it hard to be quite so optimistic about the Green Revolution and Demographic Transition. Given that global population is growing linearly at 80m/yr and isn't really showing any signs of slowing down. If anything we're growing at slightly above the UN Medium Fertility model which is why they have to keep adjusting the date for 10b closer to the present. And we're heading inexorably towards 10b in the mid 2050s. Stand on Zanzibar was about a world of 7b in 2010 and we're now at 7.65b. It could use an update to extrapolate out another ~50% rise in the total.

If you look at late 20th century stories about the medium term future of the 21st century, they were typically looking about 50 years out. This is nicely beyond the 30 year simple extrapolation, visibility horizon. So if we are true to form, we should be producing stories now about the time of 2075-2125. With 10-12b people. Close enough that the world is recognizable. Far enough out that simple day to day events don't overtake you. And that some paradigm shifts are likely to have happened.

You're right though that we have a collective blind spot about the future beyond 2100. Even though there are people being born now that will see it, we keep reporting stories such as "2C rise by 2100". Without explaining what happens on Jan 2 2100. The future doesn't end just because the numbers clicked over any more than it did in 2000. We badly need to start creating narratives about that for our grand-children.

22:

No Amount of Hard Work and Planning Beats Dumb Luck.
I retired when I was relatively young and have been wondering about the meaning of work beyond making a living. If we didn't have to work, but worked at what we wanted to, what would society be like?

For over twenty years I've been thinking about technological advances and the value of work. Starting in 2012, I've written and self-published on Amazon Kindle, seven books (https://www.amazon.com/Marc-Sobel/e/B00D1RIVKA) taking place in a Utopian society called the consortium.

In my experience, good science fiction makes some technological assumption and then examines how societies would change as a result. The consortium books deal with how society should deal with the automation of most manufacturing and service jobs, with a post-scarcity society. I'm retired, so I'm not writing for the money, but to tell stories about a post-scarcity society.

When I retired, ideas about Nanotechnology, as exemplified by Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler were common, and I started thinking about what would happen if this technology came to pass, specifically what Drexler called universal, or molecular assemblers, "tiny machines that can build objects atom by atom." More specifically, how would society handle the elimination of most manufacturing jobs and all the supporting service industries going away. How would society deal with massive unemployment?

Would there be a few very rich owners and the rest of us all starving, which is what our current economic system and ethos suggest? And even if a more equitable system somehow miraculously emerged, what effect would the lack of work have on people's identity. I wanted to define a plausible optimistic answer, a Utopia.

So these two concerns with how society would handle massive unemployment, inequality and identity are the driving issues behind these tales of the consortium.

I came to focus on these questions based on my personal experience, not having to work after 30 years in a corporate setting.

Of course, this is science fiction, so I had to come up with a plausible technology to automate production and a distribution system. Oh, and there are aliens, a talking beagle, and lots of robots.

23:

@7 When you factor in all the inefficiencies of transmitting power to earth, you don't really get all that much benefit from putting solar power stations in orbit instead of in sunny deserts on Earth. Since we understand how to overcome the day-night cycle problem with installations on Earth (build excess capacity, use it to store energy by, say, pumping water uphill for use overnight), it becomes a question of economics - will space based power stations ever be cheaper than just building larger installations with energy storage mechanisms on Earth? Even with miraculous reductions in launch costs, the added difficulty of keeping a space based system in good repair makes it seem unlikely.

@ original post.

Sexual dimorphism in our primate relatives goes hand in hand with living in tribes and practicing polygamous reproduction (eg, gorillas, chimps). Gibbons and other primates who who pair off for reproductive purposes (like we do) are monomorphic and live as isolated nuclear families (breeding pair plus immature children). Only humans pair bond and also live in communities.

We are just barely dimorphic. Our australopithicene ancestors had a much greater difference in size between the sexes, and that mostly but not completely went away as they evolved into genus homo. So the conclusion of paleontological anthropologists is that we are stuck partway between dimorphic and monomorphic as an artifact of how we sidestepped into pair bonding without giving up tribal living arrangements.

Terrence Deacon in The Symbolic Species speculates that our shift to pair bonding went hand in hand with our evolution of language skills - that we learned to talk as a means of making pair bonding work while still living in communities.

24:

Privacy, or the lack thereof. We're already kind of used to companies like Google knowing, basically, too much about us, including potentially embarrassing stuff like financial, marital or health problems. if you live in China, the government probably knows as much about you (and if not, Google will help them soon enough). So far, western governments have, at least officially, been holding back on gathering this much information on all their citizens. But how long will this be the case, especially if, apparently, most people seems to care so little about sharing such information with large companies, and what will happen if governments, including ours, do know this much about all their citizens?
A surveillance state a la 1984, but then using AI, is one possible outcome of this scenario. But a somewhat well-meaning government, sometimes trying to be a real big brother in the positive sense, but knowing uncomfortably much about you, could be just as interesting.

25:

the first man on the moon (it's always a man in those stories, although nobody in the 1950s thought to call the hero of a two-fisted space engineering story "Armstrong"),

Ahem? The first line of "Rocket Jockey" by Lester Del Rey, published in 1952 reads (from memory) "When Colonel Armstrong first landed on the moon in 1969" and it's about as two-fisted a space engineering story as you're likely to encounter.

My own copy of the book is somewhere, I don't know where but it was not edited for accuracy after the events of 1969. It did get Armstrong's words wrong after the landing but hey, two out of three ain't bad.

The comment I liked was Arthur C. Clarke's prediction in the 1950s that somewhere there was a young boy who would one day be the first man on the Moon. He didn't realise the "boy" was in his mid-20s when he said that.

26:

Elon Musk really really wants… to be someone taken down in public for really stupid & defamatory remarks, at the rate he’s going at present ….

Four Blind Spots:
1. Actually, not the 22nd C, but 205-2200, surely? Would be the equivalent of writing about 2001 in 1955, wouldn’t it?
2. If you can posit a completely new post-late-capitalist system that isn’t governed by either a version of the communist religion ( or any other religion ) & is not a dystopian collapse … then you deserve both the Economics & Peace Nobel prizes … because that’s what we are (almost) all of us looking for.
3. V. good question. Sub-point: …that a restricted diet stunts growth, and that average adult stature tracks food availability by a generation or three, and …. YES! \we simply DO NOT KNOW what an adult human’s weight / BMI / nutrition requirements actually are or should be – the experiment has not yet run it’s course.
Which is why I get so annoyed with the health “experts” & the fascists within their ranks, because they are all taking utter bollocks.
4. Ugggggg ….
5. (a) Fertility CHOICES, once women get proper universal education? ] Though, of course you will have to “Hang all the Priests” first, for that to happen. ] ?
5 (b) A fundamental change in Physics – the resolution of the “renormalisation”/ QM != Relativity problem(s) / Vacuum Catastrophe?

Dsrtao @ 5
But, if battery technology is improving at 5% year-on-year, then the cumulative effect will be enormous in 10, never mind 20 years, won’t it?

Daniel Duffy @ 11
Except, of course for the “Black Numenoreans” & all the others who failed or got corrupted – Tolkien was very clear on this actually – the “purity” was NOT innate, it had to be worked for & deserved…. ( A thoroughly RC-christian viewpoint, what a surprise, not )

Ioan @ 14
You forgot a society that wants to revert to the 1950’s or possibly the 1880’s or worse still, 1812-1861 – the USA

Dsrtao @ 17
“Wouldn’t trust them again”
Suppose they don’t care, because they are nutters, religious or otherwise?
See also Da’esh or “Wind from a burning Woman” for that matter.

Geoff Hart @ 18
… the concept of scientific paradigm shifts. There's a pervasive and somewhat toxic notion among certain groups of scientists that everything we know right now (the impossibility of FTL travel) is correct and won't change, in clear defiance of countless historical precedents to the contrary. See my reply in # 5 (b) above.

Julian Bond @ 21
A new ‘flu pandemic, or some ‘orrible disease will solve that problem – now there’s a subject for a not-quite grimdark novel, or even a series: “In the time of the Pestilence”

Ecotax @ 24
Lack of privacy?
Shogunate Japan, basically.

27:

I've been thinking a lot about Lovecraft's ideas these days, particular his idea that the human race is the youngest, most un-advanced race in the galaxy, or maybe the whole universe.

The Lovecraftian logic goes like this: The universe has been capable of producing intelligent life for 6-7 billion years (depending on when, exactly, enough complex elements have been created during super-nova events.) Meanwhile, Earth is only 4.5 billion years old. Therefore, since we only evolved intelligence on Earth a hundred thousand years ago, we're the simpletons of the Universe, because other races have a million or billion year advantage over us in all the things that matter; philosophy, engineering, astronomy, genetics, physics, etc.

So imagine that the very proud human race has finally figured out how to brute force an FTL starship, and is now voyaging through the galaxy. The ship makes it's first stop at a planet which shows signs of life, goes into geo-stationary orbit above a large city, and tries to make contact by radio.

Eventually a somewhat human-sized creature steps out a window, spreads its wings, and flies through the atmosphere, accelerates to orbital velocity, and knocks on the starship's airlock. Why is this possible? Because after a 500-million years of studying physics, engineering, and genetics, this particular race has modified itself to be able to fly through space, because why not?

And things degenerate from there, as the creature explains to them that using radio is dangerous, because there are bigger, stronger races out there, and they don't like to be disturbed... Meanwhile, could the starship's crew help the creature with the paper it has due on inferior races?

The starship flies from one star system to another, and everyplace it stops the people are superior and un-interested. It's like something written by Benford or Brin, but without the conflict (who cares what the humans are doing) or the happy ending. I call it Inferiority-Punk.

28:

Mainly addressing point 4.

The surveillance state will happen, and it will be essentially inescapable. This is because the cost of surveillance has been decreasing, and continues to decrease.

What we can hope for is that the surveillance is run by a benign AI, whose primary goal is that civilization not collapse. These may happen (note I'm assuming many of them) but they are likely not to be dominant. The "multiple AIs" depends on mobile space habitats, and probably controlled fusion, making centralized control unfeasible, because anyone upset can just head further out. The pickings are thin, but with a good fusion power source and a decent nearly-closed ecology you can get by with a much sparser supply of resources.

As for "justice", those who violate consensus notions too strongly will be confined into a virtual reality that is designed (by a strong AI) to educate them as to why their actions are not acceptable. Or, if they choose, confined to a virtual reality that pleases them, again designed by a strong AI, and never allowed to return. These will not be punishment, but rather social hygienic measures.

I have a hard time thinking that a strong AI would consider race as an issue, but it would track all people in the society, and deal with them as known individuals, with (largely) predictable patterns of behavior.

29:

The problem given current economics is that is something stops being useful, its resources are used for something else.

So if a "sentient being" isn't useful, its quite likely to have its resources used for something else.

This comment applies to farm animals, meat, etc., but not only to them.

30:

Spin State by Chris Moriarty and the rest of the trilogy has some of the whole "pureblood aristocracy as bad guys" thing - although it's more complicated than that. It's also well worth reading for a bunch of other reasons.

31:

The problem is that large projects run by humans need to be centrally organized, and those with the power will make designs that favor themselves, and those they like.

So for a decentralized power structure you need the power to be controlled by some non-human entity, and probably by one that wasn't created by natural evolution. The only reasonable candidate that I'm aware of is a strong AI, and given the speed of light, etc., even that would be better off using centralized control for projects over small areas...say a planet. Once you get into larger areas more decentralized control becomes more efficient. (Note that the size of an area most efficiently controlled via a centralized controller is dependent not only on the speed of communication, but also on the ability of the controller to collect enough information to make good decisions...for some meaning of good.)

OTOH, there are times when efficiency isn't everything. Durability can trump it in many circumstances...as in the original design of the Internet (as opposed to the current implementation).

32:

Ken Lewis sort of beat me to it, but I would say, education. Not just re: intersectionality, but in the more general (and also hopeful) sense of imagining how human potential is realised, how societies pass on and develop their key values, and how future societies might do this differently (or better) than us.

School stories have been the bread and butter of YA fiction since long before that category existed; learning skills and adulthood was a common theme in SF, even when the book was not an outright bildungsroman. Some random examples would be in early Heinlein, Flower's for Algernon, Brain Wave, Dune, Le Guin's 'Dispossessed' or 'Always Coming Home', early Vorkosigan Saga, much of Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card. In modern YA fiction, if we take Hunger Games as a paradigm, school is the opposite of educational and is just a mechanism for indoctrination and industrial peonage, reflecting and magnifying some current educational trends but without positing any alternative. Jemisin's Broken Earth books just repeats this theme of education-as-enslavement with greater sophistication. Even Okarofor's Binti series, structured around a journey to university and back, is largely uninterested in relating what happens there. Ada Palmer's characters are all incredibly cultured and sophisticated, but they are all fully-formed when we meet them, and we never get to see how these prodigies are made.

I'm sure there are things I've missed that could be counter-examples, but the paucity of school stories and educational narratives in SF is marked seen alongside their dominance in fantasy: Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Kingkiller chronicles. Closer to home for this blog, the Commonweal series. It's apparently more appealing to write narratives of education and formation with spellcasters than with tech and (with the exception of the Commonweal books) these fantasy examples are all nostalgic for elitist forms of education that have largely vanished. They're imaginative about all sorts of things, but not education itself.

33:

I can't remember the exact details but Terry Pratchett's "Dark Side of the Sun" posited the first intelligent (indeed super-intelligent) lifeforms came into existence a few milliseconds after the Big Bang and it was an endless succession of intelligence in various forms from then on until the Present Day in-book which has the predecessor race, the Jokers who left humanity such puzzling artefacts as the Chain Stars -- two stable rotating rings of fusing hydrogen linked through each other.

Lovecraft just didn't think big enough.

34:

I've both DMed and written stories in that style. If you imagine that the Orcs and their allies are People of Color and Elves/Men/Hobbits are White people, you can have a lot of fun.

Elves who actually made it to the Black Gate would have to save against insanity. The Black Gate was a couple thousand feet high and made of cold iron (so as to be immune to Elven magic) and there was a single Elf-Rune inscribed on it:

"No."

35:

1) The end of animal meat. Between opposition to factory-farming and the development of technology to grow meat independent of animals, it's likely that by 2100 at the latest, the idea of killing animals for food will be considered barbaric. The ecological impact of ending animal husbandry will be a major concern for centuries to come.

2) Legalization of sex work. This will be a major trend in the coming decades, but right now it's sitll considered a fringe position by many people. When it does crop up in SF, it's eitehr to show teh world is a dystopia, or a libertarian utopia (if those are indeed different things), but likely it'll end up as a mundane fact of life.

3) Artificial islands. It's obvious that nothing's going to stop China's efforts in the South China Sea, so the question is when will other countries get in on the act. The Arctic Ocean in particular seems like a probable frontier as global warming opens up new territories for resource exploitation.

4) Drone proliferation. For the last decade, the US and allies have had a near monopoly on drone warfare, but the technology is cheap and portable. How hard would it be for a country to convert a cargo ship into a drone carrier, sail it into the Chesepeake or the Thames for a sneak attack? What about psychopaths mounting guns on hobby drones--instead of a single shooting spree, they might get away with four or five before getting caught.

5) Rwanda-style civil wars in industrialized nations. SF is dominated by Americans, and Americans see everything through the lens of our own history, so civil wars in SF are always portrayed as large field armies fighting each other. But that kind of civil war has been rare in the modern world. A Second American Civil War won't be some states breaking away and using their National Guards against Federal forces; it'll be white people in rural areas conducting ethnic cleansing, or forming militias to raid urban centers, and then using insurgent strategies when the government comes after them.

36:

Like all science fiction all through its history, current science fiction largely ignores the social changes that will be wrought by technology. The classic example is of course the sexual revolution wrought by the Pill and motor cars. Here are some more:

* In 20 years time we will have a generation of parents who consider it perfectly usual, and perhaps even acceptable, for children under 16 to watch lots of pornography ("It never did me any harm!"). How is this going to affect social norms with regard to sex generally? What will the impact on sexual politics be?

* We are starting to see "born distributed" companies in which all the employees work at home (or at a hired desk) all of the time. This is likely to get bigger. What happens when major employers hire people around the world but don't have any physical location beyond a registered address in Delaware? Will "digital nomads" become an important demographic? Will countries start trying to attract them?

* What other distributed relationships are going to happen? My son plays a weekly D&D session with a bunch of friends scattered all over the world. What happens when everyone has BFFs in other countries and time zones? Will this happen to families? Will the classic extended family return, with grandparents doing the babysitting via Skype?

* The post-scarcity civilization is still a pipe-dream, but we may have reached "peak stuff". When I was young every form of media except books required its own device. These devices and their media took up space and special furniture. These days a tablet computer holds everything. Add a bed, comfy chair, bathroom and basic kitchen and you have everything you need. What happens when people stop accumulating stuff? How are they going to measure relative status? (Stuff isn't on Maslow's hierarchy, status is).

37:

The way to colonise the moon is to send robots. The robots build factories. The factories build more robots. The robots build whatever you want.

What if all the messy extractive and manufacturing industries were on the moon, done by robots and robot factories, with magnetic catapults launching the finished goods to Earth. How will property and mineral rights be arranged? Will there be wars between different lunar developers?

38:

Minor comment: space vacuum is pretty crap vacuum.

My personal fear/dystopia? Society falls apart because it's more important to belong to a group, any group, than not and the best way of forcing group cohesion is demanding members believe things which are obviously, comically wrong. For a while, society still runs on autopilot, then knowledge just vanishes, because the ability to create and maintain such groups also makes the process of maintaining an open society -- a society which learns -- simply vanish.

39:

Speaking of surveillance societies, the private sector continues to lead the way.

Strap on the Fitbit: John Hancock to sell only interactive life insurance
Suzanne Barlyn
September 19, 2018 / 7:11 AM

(Reuters) - John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones, the company said on Wednesday.

The move by the 156-year-old insurer, owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO), marks a major shift for the company, which unveiled its first interactive life insurance policy in 2015. It is now applying the model across all of its life coverage.

Interactive life insurance, pioneered by John Hancock’s partner the Vitality Group, is already well-established in South Africa and Britain and is becoming more widespread in the United States.

[snip]

It is too early for John Hancock to determine if it is paying fewer claims because of its Vitality program, said Brooks Tingle, head of John Hancock’s insurance unit. But data it has collected so far about customers’ activities suggest that it will, Tingle said, as Vitality policyholders worldwide live 13 to 21 years longer than the rest of the insured population.

40:

AT @ 39
That is truly, deeply scary

41:

Wealth is isomorphic to control if you look at it as control of prices. (that is, the ability to set prices.) (The severity of a crisis may best be understood by the degree to which it introduces less-arbitrary/less-inaccurate accounting. This says interesting things about 2008 from the viewpoint of the overclass.) (Bezos innovated by doing this backwards; build a machine to set prices and have it make you rich.)

"we are the asteroid"; the Long Anthropocene is certainly the case, marked by human-driven ecological simplification -- introduce humans and disparity (how many kinds of things live here?) and diversity (how many distinct things live here?) both drop. Keep this going long enough, and you get an end-Permian scale extinction event. The way we get there is an inevitable systemic preference for short term (not starving today or this winter) over the maintenance of the ecology. This gets reflected in money economies as not counting ecological costs in prices, and in industrial societies by extending this to not counting costs unless these are borne by the wealthy to the greatest extent possible.

Combine these, and any human society in the 22nd century of the Common Era is going to have a nigh-perfectly reliable mechanism for preferring dead people to reductions in carrying capacity, because putting the carrying capacity back is going to be a very high priority. It's not going to have anything recognizable as our concept of wealth. It's going to be able to beat the besnackers out of any presently extant force concentration mechanism, industrial capitalism included, or it won't have come into existence.

What does this get you? A society run by fearsomely augmented elderly lady gardeners, with gardener attitudes toward people? That's one of the least creepy outcomes I can think of, and I'm not sure if there's a sympathetic way to present that one. That might be why it doesn't seem to show up in SF at all.

42:

I work for a distributed company like that. It is deeply, deeply reluctant to hire anybody in a different nation-state because the legal and accounting overhead is wildly non-trivial. So you're looking at different developmental pressures, there, it's not just "economy without borders".

43:

>Pocket supercomputer/videophone gadgets in every teenager's pocket?

And, of course, that pocket supercomputer is, in Dan Savage's words, also a porn production studio in every teen's pocket. Which leads to some absurdities like teens being charged with creating child pornography of themselves. 🙄

44:

Which spells "market opportunity" for a company that can, for example, be the employer of record for lots of remote workers in a country and then hire them out to international employers. Whether this is a gig economy, a tax dodge by well-paid ex-pats or just a work-around for a broken system depends on your point of view.

45:

You can find yourself having a long discussion about tax treaties that way. It really isn't something subject to simple workarounds anywhere that has functional labour or tax laws. (the functionality of which is often a question of scale.)

46:

I second the blind spot of stories set 100 or 200 years from now. Also second the blind spot of, for want of a better word, utopias - trying to envision possible societies that are mostly livable and an improvement over today, and then trying to find the oddities.

But I see another huge blind spot: (Dis-)Ability. I know little or no SF where folks with different or less cognitive abilitiies simply live in a society. Either their disability is center of the story or there's none present. The thing is, many scinece-fictional scenarios would be more accesible than many parts of the present world. You can't get run over by a car in Asimovs Caves of Steel - would this mean that children have more autonomy? Same for adults with cognitive impairments?

There's another observation I made about english language SF: from looking at one or two APex books of world SF, it appears that if you want your story to be published in english, you need to a) write in that language yourself or b) be a friend of Ken Liu. Of course I don't know if this is SF-specific (not the Ken Liu part) or if it is always hard to get into the printed anglosphere

47:

I'll reframe the question:

One is what we really should call the 2100 Problem, which I tried to tackle in Hot Earth Dreams: if you read climatology, the world suddenly ceases to exist on 2100. What's going on is that climatology became such a political hot potato that the climatologists (with a few exceptions) don't want to do any modeling past 2100, as (paraphrasing one eminent climatologist I talked to) there are too many possible futures at that point, and they don't want to speculate, because speculation is what gets them in trouble. Thing is, there is *some* research out there on longer term climate trends, mostly with Daniel Archer as a co-author. Unfortunately, few SF writers are picking it up (or picking up Hot Earth Dreams) and rolling their own worlds from this. why?

The second problem is the profitability of SF. It doesn't pay as well as it used to, so the only way to put years of research into is to be funded for some reason and do it effectively as a hobby. This also is true for established writers (like Pratchett, who was rich enough from existing sales to goof around), but due to the economics, while there may be a market for groundbreaking SF, there may be no way for someone to make a living supplying said market. Hence the stories aren't being produced, at least where people can readily find them. Graydon Saunders' fondness for not putting stuff on Amazon is an excellent example of this: by the time I've finished finding his work, installing Kobo and getting it to work, and setting up an account to pay for it, my expectations about the quality of experience resulting from this hassle are pretty high. If they're not met (and they weren't, due to paragraph formatting, among other things, my apologies), I'm not going to do it again.

The third problem is the golden age of SF doesn't seem to be reading what we consider to be SF much. That would be the kids. What seems to pass for SF now (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is aimed at middle-aged people, mainly white, and middle-class, although we keep trying to make it more diverse. That's a niche market, populated by blokes who certainly won't live to see 2100 and mostly don't care about it anymore. The question rising from this is "what are the kids consuming?" seventy years ago it was futuristic SF. Sixty years ago it was LOTR. Twenty years ago it was Hairy Plodder. What is it now?

48:

The reality today is that we are already living in the Panopticon. From China to Google, technology has enabled any institution to observe and even modify human behavior.

The best we can hope for is David Brin's "Transparent Society" where everyone can access any camera anywhere. This is unlikely because places like China simply won't allow it, and in the US and the rest of the industrial world, citizens don't seem to care. The EU is trying to limit the use of private data, but any reasonably savvy person can probably work around it.

The only way to avoid surveillance is to live off the grid by choice or in a nation which is too poor to have any serious technological infrastructure. Such countries are becoming rare. And, even willingly living off the grid may not be as immune to surveillance as those trying it believe.

49:

Graydon Saunders' fondness for not putting stuff on Amazon is an excellent example of this

Which is the reverse of my experience — I don't have a Kobo, don't want to install Amazon software on my computer, and so Amazon ebooks are essentially unobtainable for me.

I think "have available in several formats" is probably a good thing to aim for, if you're a self-publishing author.

50:

I'd also point out, for those who think 22nd Century rhymes with dystopia, that there's actually some really neat (if you're into that kind of thing) worldbuilding that can be done, because it involves integrating the following points:

--The climate's going to be seriously weird, in ways we haven't internalized yet.
--Civilization, in the form of redistribution of goods, could theoretically be very good at balancing climatic uncertainty. Granted, the best example was the Inca, who were also expansionistic conquerors with sidelines in royal incest and human sacrifice, but the basic point is that civilization can be about moving stuff from where it's surplus to where it's needed, and when this happens, the power tends to rest with those who control the warehouses and transportation systems.
--Changing climates appear to be the norm for our planet. We've lived for the past few thousand years in a time of unusual calm, and that's why our intuitions about "normal for Earth" may be so profoundly off.
--Based on paleontological and subfossil data (among others) it certainly appears that a rapidly changing climate, such as ice ages, doesn't automatically lead to a mass extinction--provided organisms can move fast enough. To survive climate change, everything will need to migrate, from bacteria to humans.
--Migration is antithetical to nation-states with fixed borders, along with all the information technology (uniform names, censuses, fixed addresses, etc.) that go along with running them.
--Migration tends to lead to people having multiple identities, often keyed around language (your name in China vs. your name in the UK), race and gender (code-switching) border crossing (binationals in the US, and so on. This is to gently swing that ol' sledgehammer of knowledge against the noggins of the information scientists who think that this can all be easily computerized. It can't.
--You can, in theory and practice (as with the Mongol empire) base civilization purely on a nation, not on its territory. Can this be implemented on a swiftly migrating planet?

And so on.

My first thought is that if you're trying to create a civilization for the 22nd century, the best model is the disaster relief complex. It's based on the notion that the four horseman (disease, civil unrest, famine, and death) are invariably related, and to be in power, you need to provide some basis of predictability for the lives of your (migrating citizens). Therefore, you need to provide public health, peacekeeping (with perhaps a sideline in warmaking), food redistribution (moving surpluses to areas where they're needed) and both medical intervention and cultural systems that giving meaning and purpose to the people living on an increasingly unpredictable planet. In other words, we're combining talking about a 22nd culture that's descended from NGOs like the Red Cross, military peacekeeping, food and resource transportation under very suboptimal conditions, medical aid, a legal system, and a moral/spiritual/religious system that provides meaning and purpose.

Do all that, and you've got civilization in the midst of rapid climate change.

Something you'd want to write, maybe?

51:

I think a lot of the time the things that get missed are not “ advancement x” but “ the intersection when advancement X meets a new kind of need or demand “

Examples are

Genetic engineering meets global warming
Drones and computers meet governments desire for surveillance
Social media meets the needs for new kinds of governments or economics
Really good augmented reality meets all sorts of things
An individuals ability to create and suddenly release large amounts of energy meets social fragmentation in major nation states

The other dimension that often gets discounted is size and price. For instance Asimov postulated incredibly powerful computers but missed on the fact that they would be miniature and cheap. He postulated humanoid robots but missed on cost


52:

Even if the arc of history indeed does bend towards justice, we're still a long way from finding it

When I read yet another complaint that "the left" is tearing itself apart over micro-schisms in what exactly political correctness should be, the above is my response. Plus, of course, that it's far better to be a social justice warrior than oppose them... what are you against: Society? Justice? Fighting for those things?

At the heart of the fight is the question: what is justice?

53:

I need to think about this question for a bit before I could manage a semi decent answer but a drunken Saturday night thought does occur. I am banging it in poorly formed to just get it there before we hit 200 and start debating mid 20th century militaria.
It occurs to me that the common theme is we are asking the question framed in our experience of the world as it is today. If we look back at the speculative fiction of yesteryear (Verne, Wells et al) we can see them struggling to move past their cultural bias. What is our realistic, out of context experience that will seem as alien to us as the world of today would seem to Verne and company?

54:

Not sure if this is quite what you're looking for, but is there any material difference between totalitarian/authoritarian futures if the overlords start out as Libertarians or Fascists rather than Stalinist Soviets? Or even pacifists à la Vernor Vinge's The Peace War?

Or some Jim Jones/David Koresh/Ralph Reed wannabe gets into the White House?

What happens if there's a backlash by the patriarchy against #MeToo and the patriarchy wins? What happens if the patriarchy does get replaced? What does it get replaced with?

What happens when the percentage of world income that goes to the top 1% reaches 100% of world income?

55:

does a solar power station in Earth orbit make sense at all?

The short answer is yes, sort of. It's very unlikely that we could survive if we beamed a lot of power back down (where does that energy go?), but for retransmission to the outer reaches of the solar system or for powering spacecraft it makes a lot of sense. Earth orbit is easy to get to both for installation and maintenance. Once we have the bugs worked out it will probably make sense to set up similar arrays around Venus and/or mercury, if not simply using solar orbits.

I was reminded yesterday that we actually have a good example of a sustainable society in Australia. I think most of us would agree that 50ky of doing much the same thing in much the same place counts as sustainable? And that 100, even 200 years of radical change does *not* count as sustainable.

So one question is: what would a sustainable high-tech society look like? Other than the obvious "it wouldn't change much", what would the unchanging parts be?

56:

plausible tactic for a group feeling sufficiently threatened or sufficiently self-righteous. What groups will have fringes moving into those zones

The USA has been in this zone for some time, and Israel has always been in it. Arguably the whole cold war was an example of several groups of that nature trying to co-exist. What's remarkable in that context is the Palestinian refusal to play the same game (or perhaps the success of the Israeli-USA alliance in preventing them from obtaining the tools). It's almost as though the Palestinian goal is long-term occupancy of the area while the Zionists are more like the millenialist Christians: bring on the end of the world for *I* am guaranteed a place at g*d's table.

Along the same lines, the typical suicide bomber/kamakazi/"give my life for my country" soldier is almost never someone with nothing to lose. Rather, it's someone who has a lot to lose and thinks they will or have already lost it. Whether that be honour, homeland, self-determination or opportunity, those soldiers are fighting for something, not for lack of it.

So the question is: who currently has something, and stands to lose it?

That is why I am scared witless by multibillionaires with orbital capability or bioengineering facilities. "The White Plague" starring Elon Musk is much more realistic than some isolated poverty-stricken scientist.

57:

Uploading brains -

The typical SF stories and even some quasi-sci books say: Imagine making a thin mesh 'picture' (representation) of a live 3-D object, a cat's brain. Now paste that picture onto a pile of gravel (upload to inanimate object/computer) or an octopus' 'brain' (living entity-to-living entity transfer) - and presto! - this will result in a perfectly functioning and identical cat.

Except that ...

a) thoughts/behaviors are vast connections of neurons (and other parts/organs of the body);
b) neuronal connections vary in their size/strength;
c) even the same stimulus presented to two different people will follow measurably different neuron-to-neuron paths in their respective brains.

58:

Here's another one. Imagine really long-term trade between two societies (or more) each inhabiting a different solar system. The societies can't safely invest in a really fast starship, but building a slow starship is within reach. And trade is a great way of building up your economy, and the further something comes from, and the more exotic it is, thus the more it's worth.

So what happens is that Society A builds a starship, something capable of nothing more one percent of light speed, maybe a lot less, then loads it up with stuff, and sends the ship off. The society might even bankrupt themselves doing so, but nobody cares... Society B receives the starship, performs maintenance, and loads it up, then sends the starship back to Society A. The thing is that given the long voyage times, you don't know what the other society will need in 200 years, so you just fill it with... stuff. Sure, the cargo includes all the things you'd expect; frozen samples of plants and animals, programming languages, art, scientific instruments and mathematical theories, but also toys, used electronics, old books, whatever's available cheap or looks interesting. Who cares what it is, because when it gets to the other side it comes from Far Cathay and it's worth a fortune...

Now imagine that your society has gone the whole imperial route, bankrupted itself, lost 90 percent of it's territory, suffered invasion, etc., but that little bit of territory you still own is basically intact and things are getting better... and only your family knows when the Starship from Tau Ceti will arrive, and only they know how to open it.

I got the idea reading this:

http://www.costik.com/inttrade.html

59:

By the way, if anyone wants the idea above, feel free to grab it. I'm not going to write the story, but it popped out...

60:

My last thought on the subject is the idea of a surveillance state that does everything right. If you're at home alone and you fall and break your hip, it will call the fire department and send them pictures and locate you on a floorplan. If someone else is in the house but not in the same room, it won't call the fire department, instead it will notify that person to come help you. But if you're into BDSM and playing a rough but consensual scene with your lover, the information will never leave your house. It understands the difference between pissing behind a bush while on a long car trip and exposing yourself to an unwilling spectator. Etc.

In short, it keeps everyone safe and doesn't endanger us by reporting non-criminal behavior to the authorities. It doesn't make different judgements about people of different colors, and it understands both human preferences and the legal system.

I don't think we're going to be able to avoid a surveillance system, but we can create a model of how a good one works.

61:

That's the Culture.

The really difficult thing is not the strongly superhuman AI, keeping said AI from getting bored, or getting the AI to have a notion of justice consonant to the consensus notion of justice used by your society (which is going to change over time!); the hard part there is that societies are iterated systems under feedback, and control of tiny fractions of the information in this system can be translated into wealth and power.

The Culture deals with that by having the Minds run the place; I am strongly in the "cats" faction concerning the human place in the Culture.

It would be really really difficult to pull that transition off, even if you had the strongly superhuman AI. (which we neither have, nor expect.)

62:

A friend is compiling a list of speculative fiction books with disabled characters. See http://www.darkmatterzine.com/speculative-fiction-books-with-disability-list-3-0/

63:

Re:' ... the idea of a surveillance state that does everything right'

How about a Mind required to submit all of its info on every potential pol, judge and anyone else seeking positions of power/authority over other human beings? Knowing that personal dirty laundry will be aired about everyone - no exceptions - could reduce bad behavior by some folk.

Add some active physiological monitoring (e.g. pulse, respiration rate, blood pressure, oxytocin, etc.) and analyze the results to find out which interactions are harmful and which are beneficial. A further investigation could probably parse exactly which words, acts, and consequences are most stressful to which types of people, when/under what circumstances.

Think we need to ask a basic question here: Just what is it that people in different societies mean when they say that they want a 'leader'? Next question: How well does it match up with what they/we get? (Where are the worst mismatches, what/why/how?)


Also think that as long as people in general continue to think/act as though the human mind is unknowable - some sort of mystery or woo-woo not to be probed - we're stuck with societies that can go bad very easily.

64:

“Space is chock full of ultra-high purity vacuum. Certain terrestrial manufacturing processes require a lot of high-purity vacuum and ultra-clean facilities—semiconductor fab lines spring to mind. ”
By semiconductor standards, space (at least Earth orbit) is kinda dirty and not a very good vacuum. Avoiding buying and operating roughing pumps is not enough reason to put a fab in orbit.

65:

Industry in space.

The thing we tend to forget, because we think of space as cold, is that space is a really really good insulator. If you want to do a chemical process at a very very high temperature, then space could be a good place to do that, since there's no convection and no conduction. Make a sphere and you just have a trickle of black-body radiation.

If you're doing something that dumps out a lot of dirty radiation, you'll get told to do it at sun-earth L3, but if it's just heat, then you could do it in LEO, though a MEO might be better to be completely clear of the atmosphere and therefore convection cooling. There's an awful lot of space in MEO, especially as you don't really care about inclination or eccentricity as long as it's vaguely round and won't hit anything.

66:

My last thought on the subject is the idea of a surveillance state that does everything right...

The Orion's Arm people call that an angelnet. Actually building one will probably take more AI than we have (yet); most of the current approximations require either a manual trigger or obvious trouble conditions. Even then we get both false negatives and false positives - is there anyone here who hasn't heard a smoke detector go off due to cooking?

67:

The way smartphones (and their successors) are affecting human behavior in ways that I would compare to the Beer Alley/Gin Lane prints from Mr. Hogarth.

Alcohol was not a big deal until we figured out how to distill it. Then it was Gin Lane time. The same applied to cocaine. Chewing coca leaves is not something that affects you too profoundly. But purifying the cocaine with chemical labware makes it another matter. Even nicotine is the same way. Smoking was once limited by the need to handroll cigarettes and keep them lit. 130 years ago, smoking didn't hasten your death much more than the open coal and wood fires all around you. Then came the cigarette rolling machine.

2016 shows that our use of the Internet affects us much more when it is not limited by the discomfort of planting your bum on a chair and staring at a CRT. Is anyone looking at this from a SF author's perspective?

68:

I've been reading through all of the post, many are useful to my stuff. Thanks...

I need to point out two main points that utterly change the calculus of reaching 2100 in a recognizable future.

1) The movie Gravity showed the Kessler syndrome with access to space no longer an option.

- Assume that the Kessler syndrome happens before 2100.

When you have a society where access to space, and space exploration is impossible, how does that affect society.

David Brin touched on trying to clean up near orbit in Existence, along with many bizarre things that I still don't believe that he could make into a clear narrative. HA!

2)@35 Artificial islands. It's obvious that nothing's going to stop China's efforts in the South China Sea, so the question is when will other countries get in on the act. The Arctic Ocean in particular seems like a probable frontier as global warming opens up new territories for resource exploitation.

Last winter the East coast got hit by massive snowfall because the Arctic air came down the Great Lakes. That Arctic air picked up the moisture from the Great Lakes and dumped it on the cites. The Great Lakes are tiny compared to the Arctic ocean, if it was ever free of ice far more moisture would be picked up.

If the Arctic ice even partially clears, there will be snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere and rainfall in the Middle Latitudes. If the Arctic ice clears completely that will kill billions.

They have known this could happen since 1958.

The Coming Ice Age
https://harpers.org/archive/1958/09/the-coming-ice-age/?single=1

There is some evidence that it has happened twice in the past ten thousand years.

Lakeside Cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 Years of Holocene Population and Environmental Change
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0002995

- Assume the Arctic ice is gone, that a year of snow, and a year of Monsoons is enough to kill billions.

What kind of world do we have by 2100 when the Northern Hemisphere is in a new Ice Age and the Middle Latitudes has perpetual Monsoons.

The novel Green Earth by Kim Stanley Robinson starts one year after the Arctic ice is gone. That means in reality, that billions are already dead. KSR lost me with that book. I am unable to read it as anything but the fevered dream of somebody who escaped to Australia as a "Climate Refuge" while everyone in the North died.

A comment about the future of Solar Energy:

Wiki - Solar updraft tower

That gives you solar power 24 hours a day rather than only during the day, without the need to develop batteries for storing power. Plus, that is much cheaper to build, and produces far more local power, than satellites in orbit that may be wiped out in the Kessler syndrome(see number 1).

Daniel Suarez has a Solar updraft tower being built in his book, Freedom(tm).

BTW, What are you going to do during the Troubles, when the local Warlord shows up to your house and says, "Nice solar panels."

Remember, bullets are cheap, solar panels are expensive. How do afford to replace them when the solar panels start getting shot up.

That's what happens in Silicon Embrace by John Shirley. I'm reading it now, and it's the "trippiest" of his books I've read so far, with collapse of society, aliens and everything. HA!

69:

The Green Sahara is what you get apparently when the Monsoon wanders a little bit north. To my knowledge, it's not coordinated with ice ages.

As for another ice age in the next century, forget it. They've tried that one since the 1970s and before, but the science of climate change is over a century old. Since the oil companies have known about climate change since the 1950s, you have to make sure that the funding for the reports of a coming ice age (prevented by fossil fuel burning!) was an honest mistake and not some sort of pro-petrochemical propaganda. I don't normally do conspiracy theories except as goofs, but the way they've been playing on climate change for decades, you need to give this stuff the full "Merchants of Doubt" treatment.

There are two trends going on. One is that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, meaning Europe cools relative to Russia. This is caused by the melting of ice around Greenland. The other trend is the rapid warming of Russia (and particular Siberia). This is "because" (or the cause of) the well-known phenomenon of hot house Earths having a much lower temperature gradient between the equator and poles than ice house Earths do. To unpack this, it means that the poles warm much more than the equator does, and that at peak hothouse, the polar mean temperatures are about what the temperatures would be in, say, southern England or northern Illinois. One reason for this is that the melted Arctic ocean will produce *a lot* of fog and clouds, particularly in winter. This will help trap heat, keeping the sea ice from forming.

The problem with storms all over the place on hothouse Earth is that we won't have things like jet streams, so that storms will tend to sit in place longer. Moreover, since ocean temperatures will be hotter, there will be more energy to make these new, slow storms even bigger.

Finally, the Hadley Cells, which control where subtropical deserts like the Sahara form, will get larger, due to more hot air rising from the equator, shedding its moisture, and dropping at desert latitudes. However, because the Hadley cells will get larger, they'll apparently get weaker. This means the pole-side edges of deserts like the Sahara, Sonora, Kalahari, Australian Outback, etc. will expand, but they may not be quite as dry as they are now. More likely, they'll suck the occasional megastorm, which will grow a lot of vegetation, which will dry out in the following dry season, and then it will burn. This is what we're starting to see in California, and it's likely to get worse.

Hope this helps.

70:

Oh, come on, Frank. We are scenarioizing here.

Charlie wants to know where are the "Blind Spots" and you just demonstrated a massive one with your "hothouse Earth." That's your book. We're trying to write other books. HA!

To add to what I'm saying:

In Albuquerque, NM, for decades people have driven through town with a pellet gun shooting out car windows. It turns out, when they caught one guy, that he was somebody who owns or works at an auto glass place trying to drum up business. The thing is, this is still going on, so you don't need the Troubles or a Warlord to cause damage.

- At what point of solar panel installation does saturation hit and solar panels are being shot up by installers to force replacements.

But I digress. HA!

Anomalous Events that can happen before 2100:

In the book, 7th Sigma by Steven Gould, he has the Very Large Array pick up a signal, that converts the system into:

"The bugs showed up about fifty years ago--self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They don't like water, though, so they've stayed in the desert Southwest. The territory. People still live here, but they do it without metal. Log cabins, ceramics, what plastic they can get that will survive the sun and heat. Technology has adapted, and so have the people"

The story is fun because I live in the middle of the territory where the bugs would hit.

Then there is the movie Life where a sample return mission from Mars brings back a lifeform that ends up on Earth. Yikes!

Life Official Trailer #1 (2017) Ryan Reynolds
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgOGqWHtjP0

That is similar to what I have planned for future stories:

They do a sample return mission from Mars that crashes into the ocean. The soil sample actively absorbs water and grows more Martian soil, causing sea levels to fall until open water is gone. If you stand on the open sea floor the old sea level is about 30,000 ft, so the continents are now in the "death zone" and no longer habitable.

- Assume a limited infestation like the bugs, or Life, or Chaga by Ian McDonald.

How does the world deal with events like this.

Other concepts are about Planetvores that show up and eat worlds. I have a box of books and DVDs to make me pay attention.

The Body Snatchers by Frank Finney
(I have all of the movie variations as well.)

Fade-Out by Patrick Tilly

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber

The Visitors by Clifford D. Simak

The Forge of God by Greg Bear

The Harvest by Robert Charles Wilson

Edge of Tomorrow

The Darkest Hour

Skyline

Battle: Los Angeles

Jupiter Ascending

The TV series Lost

There are a heck of a lot more, but those are the ones that are in my face. HA!

71:

The things that not enough SF is written about is a relatively simple idea: what happens when the technology exists to change your own personality traits?
I've read only a single novel that explores this - Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers. It's an idea that's not in any way scientifically impossible - in fact I would say at the long rrun it's a pretty probable technology. It has such huge societal implications, I'm surprised it received so little notice.
Suppose you could make yourself more or less moral. would you choose to be a better person? or would you choose to become a bit of a psychopath, to increase your chances of success in the corporate world? what would parents do to their children's personality? can you increase someone's sense of humor and make them a comic genius? would certain personality traits be outlawed? the possibilities are endless. Where are all the stories?

72:

But I see another huge blind spot: (Dis-)Ability. I know little or no SF where folks with different or less cognitive abilitiies simply live in a society. Either their disability is center of the story or there's none present.

I think this is one of those conservation of detail things. Imagine writing a science fiction book in 1900 which is set in today's world; yes, you might mention a motorized wheelchair once as a bit of scenery, but unless the protagonist is confined to one their existence is completely beside the plot. The same goes for cognitive disabilities: you might mention that society now has a use for "idiot-savants" (what high functioning autism sometimes got called), but either you make them and their struggle the center of the story or you don't mention them.

You *could* have the protagonist be the part-time carer for a disabled sibling or parent, but that too makes it difficult to get on with the plot.

73:

Not an Orbiting Solar Power Station, but at the top of the Space Elevator Structure. With power cables running down the tower.

74:

1. Near-future SF: Chris Beckett’s “America City”

2. Economics: Cory Doctorow’s “Walkaway”

3. Patriarchy: Naomi Alderman’s “The Power”

4. Surveillance: Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”

Excellent all... but IMHO the bigger question in terms of blind spots, is World Fiction (as exemplified by Aliete de Bodard, Cixin Liu, Cassandra Khaw, Kiril Eskov). Has the taste for “First Contact” stories (pushing empathy, understanding, immersion) diminished as Nationalism has increased (“we’re right, they’re just foreigners”)? (I’ve recently read Kristine Smith’s “Jani Kilian” series).

Is this area of empathy / tolerance / understanding between species / cultures / races politics; an area where fantasy makes it easier than SF? Certainly, Becky Chambers is a recent exception with her Wayfarers. See the film of “The Hobbit” - interracial romance? (to those who view Tauriel as an unwelcome addition to Tolkien, go back and reread the epilogue of LotR, specifically the later relationship between Legolas and Gimli; and ask yourself what Tolkien was saying, without saying it.)

75:

Cognitive differences brings us back to the education debate above - the working assumption is that children are temporarily cognitively disadvantaged, but living in society... and the stories deal with the differing cognitive abilities and development of the characters[1] (you might argue that the Bechdel Test illustrates how well or badly a sexist sees their own blind spot - does a sexist see women as cognitively impaired?)

Regarding mobility differences: Lois McMaster Bujold - “Falling Free”; anything from Arthur C Clarke dealing with the effects of growing up in the wrong gravity well... (oh, and a recent YA SF romance film: “The Space Between Us”).

[1] see the debate over Neville Longbottom being a True Hero of Hogwarts. Before he ended up in Afghanistan on a bomb disposal team, obviously...

76:

My usual go-to for looking up SF authors is a site called; “fantastic fiction”.
BUT – quite a few names mentioned here simply do not appear – Graydon Saunders for a start.
Any info on alternative lookup-sites or references, please?

Heteromeles @ 50
If you are trying to create a civilisation for where people move around, then The Culture is the go-to, since most of the “humans” are living on Orbitals or Ships, not Planets…..

Moz @ 52
What is justice?
Fairness – the Golden Rule – ensuring that the previous two are implemented & “enforced” (somehow – I’m being deliberately vague about that bit )

JBS @ 54
What happens if there's a backlash by the patriarchy against #MeToo and the patriarchy wins?
Well that is exactly what Pence ( & Trump ) are about, is that not the case?
What happens when the percentage of world income that goes to the top 1% reaches 100% of world income?
We already know what happens, when it goes past about 95% - you get a very bloody revolution ….

Moz @ 56
he Palestinian goal is long-term occupancy of the area while the Zionists are more like the millenialist Christians:
NO
They are almost as bad as each other – both sides claim that “God has given us this land” ( Or at least the extremes do make that claim )
So the question is: who currently has something, and stands to lose it?
The Ultra-rich backing Brexit, here
The Koch Bros & “friends” in the USA
Putin
The religious political leaders in both Saudi & Persia

OBD @ 67
A PROPER CHAIR – a Charlie knows & so do I after doing ‘orrible things to my sciatic nerve this last January. Wrong seating posture can really creep nasty things up on you.

Allynh @ 68
Someone trialled out a space-net for satellite junk last week, IIRC. The problem is being worked on.
If Solar Updraught Towers are such a good idea - & the idea has been around for a LONG time now ( I saw a proposal back in the 70’s I think ) then why has at least one not been built, given that IIRC no new technology or materials science is needed? Also, I think there’s a marine version, utilising the thermal surface/benthic temperature difference.

77:

Most of this is already around I think, but perhaps not all in a near future (i.e. from now up to 2100) setting:

- universal use and abuse of machine learning (i.e. glorified pattern matching), labelled as must-be-right AI but really just interpreting biased sample data; intentional and accidental consequences, effects of chaining such ML systems into a single decision tree

- collapse of the moneyed "middle class" as the seriously wealthy manipulate failing markets & popular opinion to grab what they can; what would both the process and the outcome look like ?

- expansion of private security organisations at cost of public ones; could follow on from one or both of the above

- effects of the UK adopting the same status as Puerto Rico with respect to the US


Hmm, all rather obvious and white European biased; must try harder.


78:

Also, I think there’s a marine version, utilising the thermal surface/benthic temperature difference.

Yes, there is. Its proper name is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC. It seems like a nifty bit of engineering in many respects, but it's got troubles. I was crew on a US Navy research submarine that worked closely with the Naval Ocean System Center in San Diego. One of NOSC's non-classified projects was to prototype the OTEC cycle, and the last I had heard, they were pretty stumped by the growth of microbial slime in the heat exchanger. Basically, everything they tried exerted selection pressure on the microbes...

The wikipedia article on OTEC suggests that some progress on antifouling and other issues has been made.

However, given the climate issues related to ocean circulation, I've become skeptical that OTEC is a good idea, even if the internal engineering can be worked out in a cost-effective way.

79:

There is a little bit of it out there. Michelle Segara and Elizabeth Moon have both written some. They both have children on the autistic spectrum and have incorporated this into some of their writing. The Speed of Dark is the Elizabeth Moon book where I can remember the title.

Killjoys, as a TV series, had the interesting job advert for lots of people with missing limbs to act. They have a hacked sub-culture. The series and the crew have an excellent reputation for how they handle non-straight characters, so it was well received, and they cast a lot of disabled characters but didn't dwell on disability per se.

Someone else has done a blind character as a central role in an SF story but I read it about 15 years ago and I can't remember more than that right now.

But you're right, it's a major lack. It's not totally absent, but it's rare.

80:

Search the Sky by C M Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl has the generation ships going to planets which have sunk to primitivism.

81:

Intersectionality is a big buzz word in feminist theory and has been for about 10 years. It is winding up Germaine Greer, who seems to wilfully misunderstand it every time I hear her speak.

Very loosely, it says that as a white, queer woman I have a different experience of prejudice than a black, straight woman. However, there are overlaps, and even if we haven't lived the other's lives we can support them and try to understand them - but not assume we can help and do things, we need to listen offer what they tell us they need, not what we think they need. It's more complicated than that, but for a couple of sentences that's close enough.

There's nothing I've seen where that kind of approach to society has taken off. There's definitely feminist SF out there, a lot of it is truly excellent. But I haven't seen much where intersectionality is the rule of the day, or has successfully subverted both the patriarchy and the sexual identity "wars" we seem to be seeing in the US right now and given us a language and society in which it's not all just sunshine and flowers and perfect equality but there's a framework to deal with the problems that people have about it.

82:

OGH: And here is my subsequent question: what big themes am I (and everyone else) ignoring?

SF in general seems to have an unrealistically binary view of how future societies will use technology: either Homo Faber triumphant, creating an unbounded future of high-tech engineered material abundance; or a dystopian collapse into an unending Dark Age of low-tech barbarism. But really, there are plenty of really interesting, and realistic, fictional scenarios in which neither of these futures represents human civilization's inevitable trajectory.

Yes, we will likely see a hard collapse and possibly a prolonged worldwide Dark Age. But the question then becomes, why assume that any Dark Age is a terminal state? Why the insistence that "If we can't have our high tech post-scarcity, then fuck it, let's go Grimdark Crapsack!" (And yes, I know: band name there.)

Some of this particular blind spot is pure I want my flying cars social conditioning, I guess. Amplified and hardened, in the SFnal community, by the petulance that comes with the denial of cherished expectation. But more significantly, it represents a significant failure of imagination, coupled with an unwillingness to consult actual history.

History tells us that human civilizations are punctuated by dark ages. These dark ages are of varying severity, duration, scope, and consequence. And yet, none of them trapped us forever, because here we are, in a peak industrial worldwide civilization.

SF, our primary literature of projective speculation, is impoverished by this false either/or. And honestly, the rise and fall of multiple civilizations, with varying technologies, can be an opportunity for amazing stories. What technologies would a new civilization, denied the exhausted resources of petroleum and coal that fueled our rise, develop? Living within the solar budget, what would people do?

The key questions for worldbuilding here are pretty fascinating. How much of science (as body of knowledge, and as method) would be preserved, or rediscovered? How much of our contemporary technology would survive? What nonscientific technologies (social, economic, political) might be pursued to a degree far beyond what we have done?

And what of the classical Arts of Mind, which have recently gained some notice as Sherlock Holmes's "mind palace"? Would those be rediscovered, reinvented? To perhaps become the genesis of something not dissimilar to the Bene Gesserit of Dune?

Beyond this, it's fun to consider how very much our current civilization sucks at systems theory. Perhaps future civilizations would find opportunities to notably surpass us there. The payoff in enhanced economic, ecological, and biological capabilities could be substantial.

These kinds of speculations illuminate a SFnal canvas of worthy possibilities. One that's not very much explored compared to the conventional (and sort of tired) techno-triumphalism vs. Grimdark Crapsack dichotomy.

83:

What technologies would a new civilization, denied the exhausted resources of petroleum and coal that fueled our rise, develop? Living within the solar budget, what would people do?

Poul Anderson's Mauri stories explore that theme. The Poleseotechnic League/Empire series has civilizations rising and falling as well (although without the environmental exhaustion theme).

H. Beam Piper also had cycles of civilization. As did quite a few others — cycles seemed reasonably popular in the 60s and 70s.

84:

There's nothing I've seen where that kind of approach to society has taken off.

In order to do that -- to listen to people and give them what they say they need -- you have to give up the notion of the legitimacy of prescriptive norms. (that is, come up with some other city-builder culture than any of those we've ever had.)

There are implementation problems -- how do you resolve conflicting desires? -- but those are not as difficult as giving up "good" and "right" as self-evaluations. The challenge of imagination is large.

85:

Richard Gadsden notes: "The thing we tend to forget, because we think of space as cold, is that space is a really really good insulator. If you want to do a chemical process at a very very high temperature, then space could be a good place to do that, since there's no convection and no conduction. Make a sphere and you just have a trickle of black-body radiation."

The first part of your post reveals the problem: because space (vacuum specifically) is such a good insulator, getting rid of waste heat becomes very difficult. There's a lot of engineering that goes into keeping even something as "simple" (seen looking back from 100 year in the future) as the ISS from cooking its contents.

86:

A serious treatment of the societal impact of widespread availability of rejuvenation treatments. If a setting has life extension (with accompanying health), it is usually glossed over and considered background. I've never seen a serious treatment of the social dynamics during the transition period (who dies at 80, who makes it to 500: does it depend on power, money, genes, luck, ...?). Will the stance towards accidents and other remaining causes of death change dramatically? Iain M. Banks did touch upon this sometimes, but something closer to home would be much more interesting and could possibly even partly shape the stance towards the coming rejuvenation treatments.

87:

Both the updraft tower and OTEC share something - They make more sense considered as tools of terraforming the earth than they do as power plants.

OTEC is a way to force a bethnic updraft - Naturally occurring examples of which generally have another name: "Rich fishery".

Ocean updrafts being constant influx of trace nutrients into an ecosystem which is limited more by those than by energy input. And this effect is both inevitable, and a limiting factor on where you can responsibly put OTEC plants.

Atmospheric updraft towers are tools of rainshadow engineering. You are heating and lofting air in incredible bulk. Sure, you can extract some electricity along the way, but in terms of what you are doing to the world, what you are doing is moving moisture. That is inevitable regardless of your intentions, but I honestly only really expect to see large scale deployment of these if "make it rain" is the intent.

88:

"Someone else has done a blind character as a central role in an SF story but I read it about 15 years ago and I can't remember more than that right now."

Um, that was Charlie...

89:

H. Beam Piper also had cycles of civilization. As did quite a few others — cycles seemed reasonably popular in the 60s and 70s.

Concur. Science Fiction writing, publishing, & fandom used to be a freer collective culture, I think. The imperative to write work that would sell was always there and never went away, but I think that nowadays there's this odd tendency to define what's saleable in narrower terms. Not sure why; although I suspect the reputed Internet echo-chamber effect might be at work, and people minmaxing massive consumer data flows.

In any event, stepping outside the thematic comfort zone of the subtle bubble of normative civilizational profiles—post-scarcity tech vs. its doom-laden world-is-ruined complement—is not much in favor these days. There are exceptions, of course; but it seems like there's a fair amount of pressure to write towards the consensus about this.

And thanks for the tip about the Maurai! I've read a lot of Poul Anderson's work, but not those.

90:

This is a strange blindspot. I can think of stories focused on the individuals who are either explicitly or effectively in the clinical trials - a fair few, even, and I can think of stories set 70+ years later when things have settled down, but I cannot really think of any set in year three post mass production of immortality in a bottle.

And it seems like it would be a very interesting setting. What does someone who just.. got better from being stuck in a nursinghome do next?

91:

What does someone who just.. got better from being stuck in a nursinghome do next?

That's the basic plot of Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. A main character has the right genome to match an Alzheimers cure (treatments for various things tend to work for particular genetic patterns, so the average person has to hope they match the profile of someone rich who has paid the development cost) and is having to adjust to the changes in the outside world after years in a nursing home.

92:

Sorry Charlie. No disrespect intended but I read a lot (like typically 3-5 books a week). Remembering who wrote a book I read over a decade ago... not often going to happen.

93:

Bruce Sterling - Holy Fire ticks most of those boxes. And according to Wikipedia, it's recommended by OGH.

94:

I couldn't resist writing some Inferiority Punk:

“As your society gets older, it will solve such elementary philosophical questions as “What is the minimal number of dimensions necessary to prove the existence of post-mortem experience of bi-temporal quantum causality?" Naturally, the answers to such questions produces new questions, which must also be answered and integrated into your understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering. As your society iterates through those cycles of question and answer, you will advance in ways you cannot currently imagine.”

“post mortem experience of – what?” The first officer was shaking her head.

The alien’s eyes changed from green to blue three times, very quickly, then it looked around the bridge and shook itself. “You start with very, very easy questions like, “Why are we here?” and “What is the purpose of the universe,” and you solve them with science. The answers to those questions imply new questions, which can also be answered with science. Once you have some basic axioms and can manipulate them mathematically – and this requires no more than a hundred iterations or so - you won’t need starships anymore. It's similar to the kinds of reasoning you do with regard to ordinary physical science, and it can be integrated with those ordinary sciences.”

“I’m confused,” said the First Officer, “Your species has answered some of the eternal question of philosophy, and integrated them with your physical sciences? How is that even possible?”

“Given the engineering issues with this ship, I’d guess you’ll need another hundred-thousand years even to conceive the necessary experiments,” said the Alien, “But my estimate could be off a little. I’m not an expert.”

“But why are we here?” asked the First Officer, “What is the nature of reality?”

“I can’t tell you,” said the Alien, “Mother said it was dangerous.”

“Why not,” asked the Captain. “You want our help with your report on primitive species, why can’t you answer a couple philosophical questions?”

“I’m told the best answer to this question is “you’ll see,”” said the Alien.

“This is a little depressing,” the Engineer complained, “I’ve labored all my life to perfect my understanding of math and engineering, and this alien high-school student, who incidentally knows all the answers to life – mathematically proven, mind you - flies out his window and knocks on our airlock.” The Engineer leaned back in his chair and looked up at the Alien, “I suppose you’re also captain of the football team?”

“No,” said the Alien, “I hate sports. But Chess looks like an interesting puzzle -” a look of mild pleasure crossed the Engineer’s face - “and I think I could solve it in a couple days. Do you mind if I start a sub-process?”

The Engineer closed his eyes, his face pained, then sighed. “Go right ahead.”

“Wait,” said the Captain, “How do you know about Chess?”

“I downloaded the public areas of your computer as soon as I came on board,” said the Alien, “but I didn’t look at anyone’s private stuff or anything that was encrypted. That would be rude.” The Alien’s eyes turned pink for a second, “Do you want information of equal value?”

“Ummm...”

“Would “equal value” mean that you’ll give us information suitable for an excellent grade on a high-school report about the history of your species?” asked the First Officer?

“That would be fair,” said the Alien, “Does your ship’s computer have a couple yoctabytes available?”

The Captain gave the First Officer a pleased look and lifted one eyebrow. “We accept. Before you leave, the First Officer will give you a compression alogrithm and some information on our file types – if you don’t have it already - and that being said, we primitives need to discuss some things privately. Would you like a tour of the ship?”

“That would be awesome,” said the Alien, “are you going to discuss my request to study you while I’m gone?”

“Yes, we will,” said the Captain. “Ensign Johanson will show you all the public areas of our ship and escort you to a conference room when we’re done.”

95:

Uh, no, with the utmost respect to you, it's not that huge.

There are women's organisations where it's happening. There are, as I understand it (being a white woman living in the UK, this is second hand) organisations for African Americans in the US where it's happening. There are definitely movements that I would characterise as queer rights groups, although some of them use other names, where it's happening.

The #MeToo movement has caused a change, and has caused pale penis-bearing people of power to ask some of the women around them about their sexual harassment and sexual assault experiences and why they didn't report them. When their wife, their daughter, their sister says "Oh yes, that's happened to me and I didn't tell you because... well it happens to everyone, what could you have done?" or similar, it causes attitudes to start to change.

I'm not really intending to hijack this into US politics, but the way the Senate Judiciary Committee is handling the accusation of sexual assault against the SCOTUS candidate in 2018 is totally different to only 25 years ago. How much of that is because the accuser is a white professor and not a black woman, and how much because of MeToo? (I don't know to be honest.)

But... One could (not me, I suck at speculative fiction of this type, I know I've tried) write stories set in a near future universe where #MeToo has really taken root, where there's been an equivalent for race and sexuality and society looks properly at how to address and the issues and redress complaints I think? There's a model there to work from.

96:

There's a lot of engineering that goes into keeping even something as "simple" (seen looking back from 100 year in the future) as the ISS from cooking its contents.

If you put the thing into solar orbit rather than earth orbit, a sunshade is pretty good for cutting down incoming heat. To get rid of internally generated heat you want a long heat pipe to a radiator. The engineering is only difficult if you're really constrained by weight, so you make as much as possible out of locally sourced materials.

Even so, there will be limits. If you heat something to molten, it will take a long time to cool off. This could be either good or bad, depending on what you're building. But the crystal grains will tend to be larger. If you don't like that you may need to grind it up and sinter it, but then you don't get strong cohesion unless you use a lot of pressure. Perhaps 3-D printing? Dunno.

97:

Thanks, dps, Eloise and others for tips re SF and disability.

I disagree with the conservation of detail bit: SF is as any kind of story about investigating the human condition. When you can posit a totally different society, tech that does not yet exist or even car-free city planning on a mega scale, you change the prerequisites o what is needed to participate in that society. Having a cognitively o otherwise impaired background character or even protagonist would be a powerful way to illustrate this.

That said, still wanna stress that I see the 22cent as a huge blindspot. Can we get someone to commission an anthology set there? Hundred authors, one for every year? Stories must visibly be set 100-200 years from now?

98:

Michael Grosberg has an interesting idea in changing your personality traits...

Consider the obvious commercial value of becoming a sociopath, and start to worry.

Luckily, we already have enough of them, they are in charge, and they don't want any more competition.

What they *do* want is docility for the rest of us, (except for the soldiers and policemen: that needs loyalty, and an off switch)

So let's ramp up the current medicalisation of nomal child behavior - Ritalin for that unruly boy's ADHD, or we will be obliged to exclude him from the school - and move up to the as-yet-uninvented Docilex® or 'FreeMind' treatment: a one-time permanent adjustment for obedient and attentive children who grow up to be the perfect employee.

And are disbarred from university and corporate employment if they don't test positive for docilisation.

(There's an exception: I'll come to that) .

A phenomenally profitable double-dosage formulation of FreeMind is available as HandmaidEve® to primitive religious communities prepared to pay a premium for girls who will grow up to be contented and obedient Surrendered Wives.

That exception to the corporate hiring policy? An hereditary caste of sociopaths who can afford to send their children to non-dociliating boarding schools.

Those schools are hardcore: the methods of behavioural control are Victorian and the most sociopathic pupils are engaged as discipliniary officers, or 'Prefects', to perfect their skill of dominating lesser men by force of will and violence.

A scholarship programme will ensure a good supply lower-caste specimens to be put to service: they will all be brutalised into subservient docility, or become the extra sociopaths we need to keep our corporations - and the gene pool of the ruling caste - from dangerous stagnation.

The caste of teachers who maintain this system will be *interesting* - the headmaster of a latter-day dystopic Eton may well, in a sense, be the ruler of the World.

99:

Nile
Oh dear, horribly prescient

100:

Kim Stanley Robinson touches on the societal impacts of effective longevity treatments (but not rejuvenation - you have to get them young and keep taking them to stay youthful) in second and third books of the Mars trilogy.

I say 'touches on' because the books aren't about that: but a closer reading of the offhand remarks and incidental elements in 'backgrounding' conversations offers quite a lot of insight into KSR's world-building, which does consider the effects on society in very subtle ways.

101:

Sociopath Punk. I like it. And aptly named, too. Ideally you take a pill before going to work and it wears off before you get home.

102:

More interesting imo - where are the description of ordinary life where there is a reasonable chance of grandad/ma living to 500? Normally the scenarios are Noir or Dystopia driven where the Meths are a dominant class, but if you look at history that’s probably a temporary abberation, I’m not convinced it’s possible to create a technological society where the secret or immortality remains limited for long.

How does the economy work? What laws change? What customs replace inheritance? What do family units look like?

103:

What I do not see (or may be am ignorant of) are examples of seriously thinking about future impacts of the breakneck speed of development in biological sciences, the way"Golden Age" SF largely reacted to the developments in physical sciences. One can, of course, simplemindedly imagine a variety of dystopias based on bio-technology, but that's not what I mean (in practice things are never so simple). What I do mean is something akin to Lem's "Return from the Stars", which explored how society might be shaped by eliminating human aggressiveness -- a work as far-sighted as it is remarkable for its non-judgemental tone. I see no modern equivalents, despite the fact that the impact of the ongoing biological reasearch will be clearly massive.

104:

It is deeply, deeply reluctant to hire anybody in a different nation-state because the legal and accounting overhead is wildly non-trivial.

A friend who works for a multinational tech company talks about the HR hassles he gets into at times. An employee in another country will no show for a conference call with a client in a 3rd continent and he can't find out why because the personal privacy laws in the 2nd continent don't allow the information about "they are out sick" leave the country without explicit permission about the medical issue.

105:

Consider the obvious commercial value of becoming a sociopath, and start to worry.

Value to the individual, perhaps; but most sane organisations (outside of Hollywood scripts) view effective teamwork as having more value to the wider organisation, than having sociopaths around - who, being utter sh!ts, tend to create toxic, risky, and less-profitable working environments.

Yes, we've all seen the personally-oriented climb the greasy pole; and we've seen the well-publicised cases where they become CEOs and then trash the firm through vanity and arrogance. But in an increasingly open society, with decreasing willingness to "conform", and massively increased ability to document and record such behaviour; is it really such an advantage? Are corporates becoming slightly more wary of the "utter sh!t" in the workplace?

Consider the alternative possibility for that sociopathic-side-effect, focus-on-self nootropic: "Ahhh, Carlson. His Division reported record profits, but internal audit noted a jump in staff turnover and questioned the accounting; we sacked him for a failed drugs test and breaches of Sarbanes-Oxley before he could really screw things up...

106:

Actually, none of this was in Hot Earth Dreams, although it will be in the rewrite.

The more fundamental point is that the "winter is coming" scenario of impending ice ages is a counterfactual fantasy at this point. While it IS true that there will be another ice age, it won't happen in the 22nd Century, and the way we're going, it likely won't happen for another 100,000-odd years. There's simply so much CO2 in the atmosphere that even a large asteroid slamming into the planet wouldn't get the ice caps to grow for more than a few years.

As for Hot Earth Dreams, it was supposed to be a sourcebook to help people deal with the rather gnarly science of climate change in a creative way, not to dictate what future SF creations should look like. One of the bits of understanding is that the climate has a lot of inertia: it's difficult to get it to change, and it's difficult to stop it from changing once it gets going.

107:
A Second American Civil War won't be some states breaking away and using their National Guards against Federal forces; it'll be white people in rural areas conducting ethnic cleansing, or forming militias to raid urban centers, and then using insurgent strategies when the government comes after them.

This already happened after the second slaveholders' treasonous rebellion from the 1870s on, with the end of reconstruction and the rise of white supremacy in the South.

Not saying it couldn't happen again - indeed, that it happened before just proves your point.

And I am far from an expert on these things, but a lot of the fucked-uppedness of US politics seems to trace back to that era: the positions of the parties have morphed over the years, but right now the descendants of that insurgency have power in all three branches of the US government. All because the rich white folks of the south want to preserve their political and economic power.

108:

There have been so many great posts to build on. More. Give me more. HA!

Michael Grosberg @71 said: what happens when the technology exists to change your own personality traits?

The TV series Doll House to Serenity, with Buffy and Angel in the middle. All the result of that technology.

The Jane Hawk series by Dean Koontz. I've only read the first three books, but he too is presenting it as something evil, like Doll House. It doesn't mean that they won't win in the end and control the world.

Basically, why try to build robots when you can "fix" people so that they are happy with their "useful" place in society.

The Giver Official Trailer #1 (2014)

Paul @72 said: But I see another huge blind spot: (Dis-)Ability.

Think Nero Wolfe. He solved all of the crimes from his home, with his assistant Archie bringing the information to him.

For another variation.

Wiki - Ironside (1967 TV series)

Then you could have the tech support like in the TV series CSI be in a wheel chair. Or have next generation fighter planes such that a double amputee would hold up better under G-forces and do "fly by wire". They have the "Right Stuff" by not having legs.

There are a bunch of stories to build on that.

Greg Tingey @76 said: If Solar Updraught Towers are such a good idea . . . then why has at least one not been built

Regulators are conservative in their decisions. When the Coal companies were paying them to build Coal fired plants, it was Coal Time. Now that Natural Gas companies are paying them to build Gas fired plants, it is Gas Time. If some consortium starts paying them to build Solar updraft towers, it will be Solar Time. HA!

Solar Tower Energy in Spain, Madrid

The idea mentioned @87 that Solar updraft towers generate rain is both a "selling point" out here in the Southwest and a classic distraction since no one has built any of that size to know if that is true.

Ivo @86 said: A serious treatment of the societal impact of widespread availability of rejuvenation treatments

Then the follow up @90, @91, @93

Wiki - Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton

"Set around 2040, it describes the story of Jeff Baker, an inventor who revolutionises the world by creating the ultimate method of information storage and, instead of selling it, offers it open source. Because of this act, he is chosen as the candidate for the first use of rejuvenation technology which leaves him with the body of a young man."

Then there is the story of a society that is "immortal" and then one man begins to die.

THE DYING MAN by Damon Knight(full story)

Troutwaxer @94 said:I couldn't resist writing some Inferiority Punk

Yes! Please write that book/story.

These are variations that I can think of.

Visit to a Small Planet - Jerry Lewis movie trailer

K-PAX trailer (HQ)

Heteromeles @106 said:The more fundamental point is that the "winter is coming" scenario of impending ice ages is a counterfactual fantasy at this point.

You're no fun. HA!

109:

Major alterations to human (neuro)biology and genomics are really dangerous - any society with a deep enough understanding to do them safely is going to be riffing on the themes of the culture.

But... there is one set of changes, which we are likely really close to seeing put into action:

The cleaned genome. Most mutations are harmful - every generation is carrying a whole bunch of natures experiments around in our code, and the overwhelming majority of them are failures. And here is the thing. That means there is one path to genetic meddling you can thread even if you have zero idea what you are doing on the deeper level you. You can simply toss every variation which is newer than 10, 20 generations on the rubbish pile. Does this mean you eliminate even the possibility of natural evolution? Yup, you did. Will it also produce an absurdly healthy humanity? Yes, yes it will.

110:

Biology is a whole can of worms, quite literally.

Everybody wants CRISPR and friends to be the next Nanotech magic wand to wave, and yay, we can do that... It will still involve all the magitech tropes though, so it won't be really new, just more repurposed stuff.

But wait, there's more.

One that's been persistently flying under the radar is fungi, which are always are hard sell in English literature, because English-speaking people tend to be more mycophobic than the rest of the world (note to sleepingroutine--we find mushrooms gross in a way that Russians should find ridiculous. Have fun with this). If you want to stage a revolution, get a copy of Paul Stamets' Mycelium Running and use it to set up a world that takes the possibilities of fungi as seriously as he does. Seriously, you can get multiple novels out of that book, and he's got a serious cult following that will help with the audience.

But that's the unknown know, just popularizing existing science. There's a big unknown lurking out there: the Third Modern Synthesis.

The first Modern Synthesis was when they reconciled genetics and evolution in the 1940s. This is old hat by now, but from around 1900-1940, the evidence from fruit flies suggested that mutations were more important than Darwinian evolution, and there was serious doubt about Darwin's theory. You can see this reflected throughout Lovecraft's writings (1920s and 1930s), if you know where to look. The Modern Synthesis put paid to a lot of this, which is why slavish imitation of Lovecraft's science is so silly. He was writing science fiction of his time. Using his stuff now puts you a century back and looking a bit silly.

The Second Modern Synthesis is happening now, and it's called Evo-Dev for evolutionary developmental biology. There's even a really cool song about . The thumbnail is this is the reconciliation of developmental biology and evolution. It turns out that mutations tend to affect the regulation of gene expression far more than it does the genes themselves. In genetic terms, we're modular, and how the modules are turned on and off creates much of the diversity that evolution acts on.

Evo-Devo makes things like the X-Men increasingly silly, but it also is what's going to be the major target for CRISPR, I suspect. We keep looking at swaps of genes, but playing with the way genes are expressed is far more powerful.

Then there's the Third Modern Synthesis.

I'm just guessing here, but when I read John Thompson's Mosaic Theory of Coevolution, a chill went down my back. What he's looking at is how organisms coevolve through interactions across a landscape, where differences in the landscape (e.g. the mosaic) influence the interactions among the organisms.

In other words, he's uniting coevolution and ecology. Ecology and evolution have always been sister disciplines, but Thompson's theory starts to merge them in quantitative and testable ways.

The stumbling block is that coevolution is at a smaller scale than evolution. To use a political analogy, coevolution is every day politics: parties struggle, compromises and minor adjustments are made, life goes on. In organismal terms, this is the evolution of antibiotic or pesticide resistance, Red Queen races between predator and prey, and so on. That's coevolution. Evolution is when new taxa evolve and become reproductively isolated. In political terms, that's a revolution, where the old rules and relationships no longer work and new ones have to work out. Evolution's a bigger scale phenomenon than coevolution, but both are normal and grade into each other.

So the Third Modern Synthesis? Merging Evo-Devo and Thompson's Coevolutionary Mosaic. At that point, you've got a biological Theory of Everything that goes from how DNA changes to how organisms coevolve with each other across the ecological landscape, to how this is influenced by, and influences, evolution. While there's so much randomness involved that much of this science will always be descriptive rather than predictive, I strongly suspect that there are going to be some interesting and unexpected predictions popping out of this synthesis. And it's almost certainly out there, a few decades away.

111:

More interesting imo - where are the description of ordinary life where there is a reasonable chance of grandad/ma living to 500? ... How does the economy work? What laws change? What customs replace inheritance? What do family units look like?

I'm mid 60s. The people I know who are older than me (a fairly diverse group), especially in their 70s and 80s seem to want things to stop changing. And complain about it a lot. Even the ones who were fairly radical in their "youth" or middle years. What would it do to people and those around them if they were elderly curmudgeons for 400 years?

112:

In the 1950-1999 period, tales of the 21st century were everywhere. Where are the equivalent stories of the 22nd century, that should be being told today?

Because up to 2000 (or 10 to 20 years prior but inertia has a factor here) things like Star Trek WERE SF. Now they are understood as fantasy. Those of use with any bit of a science ed from the 80s onward, and more so over the years, understand those are just not pluasable futures. We understood they were unlikely back when but now know they are just flat out fantasy.

I think a lot of this comes with the industrial revolution. From the 1500s until electricity society kept being changed by metallurgy, the printing press, and such. But those were all understandable things. Almost anyone could be trained to be a blacksmith. Then came electricity. And suddenly tech became invisible and only comprehensible via math. And interestingly this is about when SF started. Once the math became a part of most of the Western worlds teenaged education system the impassibility of SF started to become magic.

So now we're waiting for SF to morph into something other than magic. Medical SF looks interesting. Societal changes resulting from that and our supercomputers in our pockets.

One thing that HAS changed with the internet and media landscape is that more and more people realize their experiences are no where near unique to them. Which can lead to a life of depression. In way over simplified terms.

113:

What about the blind spot of expecting fraud and fraudsters to continue as they have for thousands of years.

We swim in scam emails, and crappy crypto coin companies, but there are real trends that could lead to a massive diminishment of fraud specifically.
Some ideas and tools moving towards this future:
- Specialized AI can sort through every public piece of data about a person. It is really just a more sophisticated spam filter away from reality.
- Recommendation engines to give people ‘best options’ for responding to emails, sales calls, missionaries, get rich quick schemes, etc.
- Digital communication that’s near automatic and incredibly fast leading to fact checking and personal recommendations augmenting any automated systems above.
- The unbiquity of authenticated identity, as OGH mentioned with regards to the GRU agents being tagged by biometrics, prevents the ‘man of many names and faces’ spy of lore from getting things done.
- Fraud is one of those crimes that no likes, neither governments nor freedom fighters working against those governments.

114:

I think the answer to that depends on how the longevity works. People in that age bracket are stretching the envelop in terms of how long we're evolved to live - we're not supposed to keep learning new stuff that long so it's hard. Though there is also the why bother, it'll all have changed in a few years anyway aspect. I'd expect a significant proportion to form groups who isolate themselves and effectively re-enact their ideal period to a large extent.

116:

What I do not see (or may be am ignorant of) are examples of seriously thinking about future impacts of the breakneck speed of development in biological sciences,

An extreme example of this was Greg Bear's 1983/1985 "Blood Music." It verges on Singularitarianism in a black swanish way. But black swans have been popping up ever more frequently this past century, and I suspect that, in the context of this thread, it's worth considering.

It also touches on questions of the limits to which small amounts of matter can be intelligent and even The Nature of Reality(TM). Both of those are still very open questions and the appearance of surprising answers in the coming century shouldn't be ruled out.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Music_(novel)

117:

Highly complex Desire Modification is one potential blindspot. What happens to a society when you can completely suppress boredom, anxiety, paranoia, etc with technology? Not just in the ways we have now with some drugs, but "wiring in the head" ways.

Or the reverse - selectively enhancing certain desires while suppressing others?

118:

"breaknect speed of development in biological sciences."

Yes, that.

The simple problem is when CRISPR and Sons becomes so embedded that any cell biology undergrad can do it, and the equipment is ubiquitous. At that point, we've got an Idiot Problem, in that some idiot (many of whom are shown up here, ahem), decides that a horribly complex problem (like human overpopulation) can be simply solved by a plague that targets "Those People." The problem with "Those People" is that what people (including most biologists) think of as distinct racial markers basically aren't (they're as much cultural as racial). For example, I'm a lactose intolerant white guy. If someone wanted to "get rid of those overpopulating Asians" by targeting everyone who had a properly functioning lactase enzyme system that shut off at maturity, he'd kill me, miss a bunch of Asian people I know who are lactose tolerant, and probably kill off any mammal who was unlucky enough to catch that particular infection.

The general problem is Mencken's statement that "for every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong." When those wrong solutions are weapons of mass destruction created by hobbyists, then everyone suffers.

That's the plague scare story. But it is a real problem, mostly because as fast as we stamp out idiocy, nature evolves new varieties of idiots to fill the void.

On the flip side are the good things. Hopefully some of this work on plant heat shock proteins works out, and we get new generations of crop and other plants that are more heat tolerant than their unengineered relatives are. That would be good. The bad part is that some Pharma Bro will almost certainly hold these solutions hostage until he gets his billion dollars. And if not, then there may be unforeseen consequences of, say, releasing epiphytotics (epidemics are for people, epizootics hit animals, epiphytotics hit plants) that rewrite the heat shock proteins of all 200,000-odd species of plants. I'm *sure* that would go off without a hitch, right?

Then there are the problems I'm working on with development, although that's not strictly a biology problem. For example, it's becoming very clear that fire is a landscape phenomenon. We may not know when fires will happen, but we can know with decent certainty where they will happen. We may not know when earthquakes will occur, but we know which faults many of the Big Ones will occur on. Furthermore, we know that the only way to prevent fire is to not have an oxygen atmosphere, and that without plate tectonics, Earth would not have a biosphere.

All of this adds up to a huge moral change that only a few people are starting to realize. Right now, natural disasters are random acts of God, sent to punish moral failing (the religious view in a wide variety of religions) or random (the prevailing modern view, underlying things like insurance). What we're learning is that they're random in time but not in space. Natural disasters are not God punishing moral failures at that time. Rather, the moral failure is allowing people to live in harm's way to meet short term profit goals.

Considering that we expect the pace of storms and fires to increase, that's a huge change in society's thinking about risk, and should this vision of reality continue, it will reshape how cities are built.

119:

huge blind spot: (Dis-)Ability.

The whole Vorkosigan saga features a guy who has fragile bones. It's one of the central plot points. Admittedly it's not written very well (IMO, anyway), the real world prejudice has more emotional impact than Miles is capable of experiencing (Bujold really plays down the ubiquity of bad reactions to disability, and also the amount of time it takes to beat through those reactions "bodyguard glares, problem solved" all too often).

There's an increasing amount of SF by and featuring people who lack penises, and that's (still) a major disability. Although it would be amusing to read about someone who overcame that disability but got carried away and now has several :)

It's also fairly common for character's struggle points to be disabilities of some form. "he lost a leg but he got better" as a narrative arc annoys me almost as much as "she's weak and useless because she got raped".

120:

Fairness – the Golden Rule

I fucking hate the golden rule. People are not all the same, so the golden rule is at best a recipe for mass slaughter. "I wouldn't want to live in a wheelchair, therefore we should kill all the cripples"... that statement follows the golden rule.

"Treat other people as they wish to be treated, insofar as that's compatible with how you wish to be treated" is kind of getting there. But it is still phrased as a single-round cooperation game, when most people have both past and future.

121:

History tells us that human civilizations are punctuated by dark ages. These dark ages are of varying severity, duration, scope, and consequence

But generally they end due to influence from outside the dark zone. "knowledge is evil, the bible is all" is fine when your descendants can import recorded history from outside when your culture gets over it, but we've gone past that in two different ways.

First by only having one civilisation. There really isn't a "separate group of people" now, there's just interdependent sub-groups. If we lose one it's going to be a challenge to rebuild.

Second, having to start again from scratch because the ancestors who stored knowledge did so in forms that require advanced technology to access... that's a bit of a challenge. The Rosetta Stone is all very well, but we need the Rosetta Completely Automated Self-Repairing Chip Fabrication Plant. And if we have that... why have we lost access to technology in the first place?

122:

I’m not convinced it’s possible to create a technological society where the secret or immortality remains limited for long.

Partly because if it's not universal you've just introduced differential costs for murder. If a temp murders an imm and you kill the temp as revenge... one lost 50 years the other lost 500. Hmm. And the usual setup has a lot more temps. You're going to need a serious case of imm-worship to keep that going.

I think universal immortality* it will effectively raise the cost of having children to the point where we will very quickly have a nigh-zero birth rate. Specifically, a 1% chance of dying in childbirth is bearable if that's a year of your life, but if it's 100 years? Maybe the temp class will be wombs-for-hire (now there's a twist: only female temps exist).

But there's also just the problem that you won't be inheriting your (grand)parent's property. No-one will be. So the current "grow or die" society will be magnified, and may well collapse. After the collapse the surviving immortals will likely decided that exponential growth in population is a bad idea. Or they won't, and we'll get a continuation of the current cyclical model. Growth-collision-war-collapse ad infinitum.

* currently about 500 years, the average time it take an individual to die from physical trauma. An immortal society would likely be a very safe society because of that.

123:

Better get rid of lifetime tenure for academics.

124:

Um. I agree with your comment that the Golden Rule is simplistic. That's an ancient critique and a worthwhile one.

However, saying "I fucking hate the Golden Rule" brands you as anti-Christian, especially to wingnuts who'd be just as glad to beat your skull in because you're not Christian and they are. If you want to mess with these "Xtian" wingnuts, ask them if they know the Golden Rule, and be prepared to quote it to them verbatim if they do not (generally they don't know it). You may not agree with the Golden Rule, but it's certainly fun to quote it to people who should know it and do not.

My personal take on the Bible is that it's not like normal books, where you read the first page to find out what it's about, skip to the last chapter to read the summary, and assume you know most of what's in the book. Do that with the Bible, and you read the first page of Genesis, the Book of Revelations, and think that's all there is to Christianity. You miss all that stuff about non-violence that was at the heart of Jesus' teachings, and assume that creationism and the Apocalypse are important (spoiler alert: they aren't).

I'm not sure if that's a failing of the way the Bible was laid out or not, but maybe they should publish a revised New Testament that book-ends the text with two gospels at the beginning, two gospels at the end, and Revelations about two-thirds of the way through? That way modern readers would read the beginning, the end, skip the middle and be more likely find out what religion that little splash of water had actually gotten them hitched to. Maybe they'd do better at it too.

Really.

125:

Re: ' ... depends on how the longevity works. People in that age bracket are stretching the envelop in terms of how long we're evolved to live - we're not supposed to keep learning new stuff that long so it's hard.'


For the past 80 or so years as average life expectancy increased every decade in the West, the measurable change demographically/socially was the protraction and/or postponement of life stages*. The most obvious: prolonged education and postponed reproduction/new household creation. So how society would adapt to extended life spans would (IMO) depend on which parts of life (development & maturation) get extended. If life extension stretches out all of our developmental stages, then everything stays pretty much the same except longer. (Oy! Imagine 30 or 40 years each of diapers, terrible two's and teen angst!). If life extension works only on extending the tail end, we get Jonathan Swift's struldburggs. For some reason most SF that I've read that touches on this idea handwaves the entire society into the 18-35 age group - young adulthood, peak physical (sexual/reproductive**) fitness.

As for the 'we're not supposed to/designed to keep learning for that long' - like other aspects, this varies by individual. Some folk keep learning into their 90's. IIRC, around age 4-5, there's a wholesale clear-cutting/editing of neural connections as part of normal brain development. Plus, new neurons do continue to be made into old age.***

* 'Life stages' e.g., a dependent living at home with parents, moved out of the parental nest and setting up their own household, newly married, parenthood, empty nester, etc.

** Why you'd want a whole society at their sexual peak makes no sense - bound to have birth control 'failures/accidents'. And if they're all fertile for 200-300 years, imagine the population explosion! Lots of potential for social comedy.


*** I was trying to find a reference for this 'pruning' and got this PDF (225 pgs, published 2013) -- looks like the perfect reference for some of our discussions.

Early Childhood and Neuroscience - Links to Development and Learning

http://ed-neuro.ceit.metu.edu.tr/system/files/Files/ECE/1-leslie_haley_wasserman_debby_zambo.pdf

126:

Never been an historical period with all the economically functioning (~import replacing) cities in the same economy before. Previous crash recovery has been via march outposts of functioning cities. (E.g., Venice starts off as a Byzantine outpost) Doing it cold is not obviously straightforward.

I don't think the stored knowledge problem is as bad, because we're going to have to switch toolkits anyway. A solar-aluminium-glass tool kit isn't in the writings of the ancestors, who used coal-iron-copper.

127:

People often offer the Golden Rule as a rough paraphrase of the Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative:

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

My own somewhat rougher, but more precise paraphrase is “what if everyone did it?” This actually works reasonably well in my outlook, showing up how and why a bunch of things we would intuitively feel are inherently dodgy but which our society encourages rather than merely condones (real estate speculation, perhaps) are in fact as dodgy as inuituation suggests. However there’s also an intuitive impression that this must allow for exceptions, because sometimes outliers are required, but I’d argue that’s a requirement to be watchful for hubris.

Anyway, it avoids the “single game” problem you mention.

The second and third formulations are worth considering too. They potentially have a responsibility to shoulder for our modern obsession with sentience as an arbiter of moral agency, because how people define who and what has a claim to being an end in itself is a marker for arbitrary murderousness.

I guess the best paraphrase for the second formulation is Granny Weatherwax: when you start treating people as things, that’s where you get into trouble. But as I just noted it doesn’t offer any guidance about what and whom you class as people. The third formulation has the same problem, but I can’t think of a well known amusing paraphrase.

128:

The people I know who are older than me (a fairly diverse group), especially in their 70s and 80s seem to want things to stop changing.

I perhaps listen differently, because what I hear is that they want ongoing change, ideally faster, in things that benefit them Or things that might benefit them, and sometimes they get quite bitter at the idea of missing out. In that they're like everyone else.

The "don't change" stuff I suspect is a bit of an artefact of them having a longer period over which to cast a golden veil so there are more "I really liked it when" things for them to talk about. As well, they are officially redundant and a burden now, which takes away a lot of the cool stuff they did today as conversation topics.

Like my neighbour used to say "I don't want to get old, being old sucks". He was in his 90's and still helping out with meals on wheels and some other things, "helping the elderly". The fact that a lot of the elderly were younger than him was not his problem :) Then he took a turn for the worse, gave up, and died. His experience of being elderly lasted a couple of months. I hope to follow his example.

But as per the golden fule: just because *I* want the right to decide that I'm too old to live doesn't mean I want other people making that decision for me, or that I want to impose that choice on others. With the caveat that asking me to give up what makes life worth living so that other people can spend more time in intensive care before they die is also a bad idea. That latter discussion is one we're not doing very well at.

129:

“Never been an historical period with all the economically functioning (~import replacing) cities in the same economy before. Previous crash recovery has been via march outposts of functioning cities. (E.g., Venice starts off as a Byzantine outpost) Doing it cold is not obviously straightforward.”

Actually Bronze Age collapse seems to have been something like that, what happened was some areas for whatever reason seemed less effected then others and recovered

In general though, that’s about the only “whole world” collapse I can think of in human history , most of the idea of “cycles of collapse and dark ages “ were regional empires collapsing

130:

Yes, I'm familiar with the Kantian imperatives but I also suck at remembering the names of stuff like that. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that it's better to name ideas than state them. Albeit in the case of compulsive wafflers the name can be shorter ("what if everyone did it" is shorter than "Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative", and it's easier easier to understand as well as not crediting yet another dead white guy with a not-very-original idea).

The third form is "it has to be voluntary", or "you have to want to play nicely with others".

I still have major reservations about the universal law idea, simply because I've experienced so many people who literally can't imagine anyone significantly different from themselves. From the classic SF "aliens are humans wearing masks" to "being a rich, educated, white, British, man is the natural condition for all humanity" through to the current SJW wars over who should be heard, I am not convinced that humans are very good at universalising. We're better at it than rabbits are... there's a low bar.

131:

The Bronze Age Collapse didn't (quite) get Egypt or all of Assyria; it didn't have anything to do with China or India. (Or anything in the Americas. Or Oceania.) It's interesting to look at for patterns under collapse, and as a case of "you know, this might have been fundamentally financial" collapse, but it really wasn't "whole world".

Today, though, it's all connected. Somebody in Ulan Bator needs a small part that depends on another small part that's made in Westphalia, and while you can often improvise somewhat improvising (for example) lubricants for high speed bearings is not really practical. If we get a one metre decade for sea level rise, that'd do it.

132:

Re: 'the universal law idea'

Guess Kant hadn't heard about that newfangled mathematics called statistics when he came up with these laws. Too bad, because he might have come up with more practicable and verifiable ideas, just like he came up with good theories about star/solar system formation.

133:

I actually agree with your reservations. They echo my reservations about the “reasonable person” legal test, where a “reasonable person” is usually a middle-aged anglo male (or one trying to imagine the concerns of someone who isn’t as they they were his own, which can actually be worse). My classic example (which I won’t go into) is recent, with the current governor of Queensland in his previous role as Chief Justice. The interesting thing is what people will characterise this issue as a failure of “empathy”, whereas it must almost always be a failure of imagination due to ignorance of other people’s circumstances and experiences, which is (to me at least) clearly a very different thing. You can’t walk a mile in someone’s shoes if you have know idea what their shoes are like.

I like Kant because there’s a name for his stuff (deontology) which you can use as a starting point that people recognise. The other thing is that talk about rights usually comes out of deontology. But these things are useful cumulatively, they are not even descriptive explanations for things, just ways to think around them.

I like “maximise utility!” or (to grossly misrepresent Buddhism)”maximise happiness!” about as much. The problems are similar both in terms of arguing about what “utility” really is, and how even Buddhism has different boundaries to other systems in terms of “who or what counts as a person?”.

The problem with utility is that it isn’t really measurable, but people try to work on an assumption that is is anyway, and since it is hey why don’t we call that measure money? Or people who pose little logical problems that they think make utilitarianism internally contradictory, but in practice rely on treating all moral situations as single game problems. The example that comes up most is why shouldn’t we just bushwhack people for organ donations? The argument is that if you save 2 people with the organs or 1 person, you already increase utility. But surely you have already decreased utility in the “suitable to be bushwhacked for organs” population by a fraction per at-risk person and and collectively this must offset any gains, most likely outweigh them significantly. Singer himself says this about when he was a young student coming to utilitarianism, that he had a realisation that none of the usual objections are especially challenging to counter, and all depend on assumptions about what utility means, or on other limitations or constraints that are not necessarily real.

However people still use deontology as a counter to what they see as the sillier implications of utiliarianism and as far as I see they are not saying things that are terribly wrong as a result. I see them as complementary, much as Hetero puts the Golden Rule as a contextually useful arguing point upthread.

I guess there’s also a 50s style positivist take on utiliarianism that pervades SF to an extent (TL;DR: it’s an extreme unsophisticated one where practioners are insistently intent on repeating the mistakes of their predecessors; bit like fundies and the bible I guess). The one about throwing the girl out the airlock comes to mind. But there’s a lot of “history is bunk” everywhere in our culture. One of the things to make us tired.

134:

One that's been persistently flying under the radar is fungi

David Walton's The Genius Plague might be up your alley. SF/thriller, with fungi. Recommended by David Brin, on my to-read pile but not read more than the first passage yet.

135:

What still shocks me fairly regularly is how different people can experience the same place and people so very, very differently. Not just tourism, but that's where it stands out. "Rome is full of thieves and pickpockets, it's very dangerous" vs someone from the same small group "Rome was great, we met this really engaging guy who showed us round" vs "Rome had *two* really good restaurants, it was amazing".

Mostly this comes up from me going somewhere and people later saying "you did *what*!!!?!". And me saying "yeah, the person I met was really interesting, they'd done ....". Real example: I got a lift from members of a motorbike gang who took me and my loaded touring bike to a really nice camping spot, and specifically one that wasn't in the process of being inhabited by about 200 motorbike gang members. The guy who set that up was poor, Maori, a "violent offender" and likely also a drug addict. But he shared some interesting stories and he treated me well (by his standards as well as mine). I've had much worse experiences with supposedly nicer people.

And for some reason people are more interested in hearing about the 4 interesting people I met in a 6 week holiday than all the days where I didn't have to talk to anyone :)

136:

I'm mid 60s. The people I know who are older than me (a fairly diverse group), especially in their 70s and 80s seem to want things to stop changing.

I'm a decade younger, but for at least 20 years I've been annoyed by needless change (change for the sake of change). Newer doesn't automatically mean better!

I've seen fads come and go and come again, and I feel entirely justified in wanting to know why plan X will work now when it didn't work 15 years ago when it was called plan Y. Did anyone analyse why plan Y didn't work and figure out how to work around the problems? I've never seen that happen — instead people who weren't in the profession back then don't realize they are repeating history, and if pointed out to them seem to feel that calling it X not Y will magically make it work this time.

On a faster scale, I'd like software designers to stop changing UIs just to make them look different. Looking at you here, Apple.

Change has a cost, both economic (gotta buy new equipment, pay for training, etc) and cognitive (gotta relearn skills — which gets harder as you get older). I think it reasonable to be opposed to changes that don't offer benefits, rather than endlessly chasing the shiny new thing just because it's new.

To paraphrase the two fools: old doesn't mean good, new doesn't mean better.

137:

One of the ur-insights of economics is that everyone's income is someone else's expense. (If you make a living by selling, someone has to buy...)

I think one of the ur-insights of social organization is that what benefits one harms another, quite inherently. (If there are fifty qualified job applicants and one hire, the other forty-nine have grounds to regard the good thing for the hire as harmful for them.) This is why I think it's not at all useful to look at "good" and "bad"; those are extremely relative measures and trying to make them work involves imposing a standard set of emotions. This is expensive and exhausting and not all that effective; you wind up with a hierarchy opinions being enforced through violence.

So just about any approach to "good" and "bad" is an error; I think it's much more productive to recognize that "what is society for?" is a decision, that the purpose of a system is what it's doing (so the purpose of society is to guarantee the security and continuity of existing wealth), and that it's possible to change what society is for. (and probably necessary, from time to time.)

Even "utility" is making a whole lot of assumptions -- if you can't measure it, something has been abstracted, and all abstraction requires assumptions -- so I think it's a better idea to decide what ought to be measured.

138:

Apparently it was Frank Lloyd Wright who said “A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.” Organisations generally bury their failures when it is possible to do so. For a project that was canned and went away 5 years ago, even getting documentation about what its scope was can be challenging, even in organisations with records management (particularly if the cancellation was during or shortly after procurement, when everything was commercial in confidence). Usually the only hope is people who were around at the time remembering enough to dig up any actual records, but even then...

139:

Both the things you characterise as “ur-insights”, I would characterise as premises. They may be foundational premises for certain lines of thinking, but we known empirically that economics, social organisation and life at large are not zero-sum in the way both characterise. Treating things as though they are is a convenience, equivalent to teaching mechanics in terms that in real life only apply to a uniform sphere in a vacuum, and useful for all sorts of reasons, but it isn’t a truthful representation of an underlying reality (although it might be for an aspect of it).

Really the zero sum thing comes from accounting, and the concept of a ledger, which is an invention and a technology, not a form of knowledge as such. If they were easier for lay-readers to understand, I’m sure binary trees would catch the public imagination as an underlying representation of reality to a similar extent - they are just as arbitrary a feature of ways of organising information after all.

Being able to measure a thing does not make it less abstract, nor does a thing being unmeasureable mean that it is not real. Quantification is not the same thing as empiricism, which requires a posteriori observations. This is why ethnographic anthropology is empirical in a way that (say) monetarist economics isn’t, for instance.

The sort of quantification of value you’re talking about - the decision about what to measure, really - is entirely about power and a hierarchy enforcing opinion about that very question, including how the measurement should occur, by whom and on whose authority. After all that is how markets work.

140:

how the measurement should occur, by whom and on whose authority. After all that is how markets work.

Not sure whether it's deliberate, but you're echoing a former NZ parliamentarian and stirred who wrote a book on the topic and likely inspired a song (which sadly doesn't appear to be online). I suspect she is somewhat frustrated at all the people saying "very cogent observation, you make an important point" before keeping on doing the same thing they always have done.

141:

Blindspots in current SF. These are things I notice - partly because I'm hanging out around here and partly because most other SF tends to this kabuki-like formula that's really beginning to piss me off.

Climate change and/or adaptation and remediation. Ranges from technology changes, to geo-engineering, to genetics. Cultural changes as well.

Neurobiology showing that we aren't as self aware as we like to think. Peter Watts played with this a bit and Neuropath by R. Scott Baker did as well, though that one was a horror novel in thriller drag. One what if: what happens if someone hacks out a virus that dials up the mirror neurons on people?

Lack of new forms of political and economic organization. I know history is one of SF's biggest resources, but I don't see authors playing around in the obscure corners of governance and economics. For example, what would a post scarcity potlatch look like?

Space travel. Hear me out - I think space travel would be boring, dangerous and profoundly uncomfortable unless I'm a mind upload (and that's another thing!). All too often, I see it glossed over and not even acknowledged in order to get to the next big fight.

That we may not ever understand consciousness well enough to upload or simulate a mind - but we may get close enough to imitate it very well.

That AI not based on human neural structures would be alien.
--
I see folks mentioned disability, particularly intellectual disability - that one hits home for me with my nephew.

Longevity and rejuvenation - I'm only convinced it would get weird as the newer generations get frustrated. And I also don't see much about the impacts on human society and government. Ferrett Steinmetz touched on it a bit in The Uploaded.
--
Why not the 22nd century in novels? Because it looks to be a scary fucking place with lots of migration, scarcity of food and potable water and weird damn weather. The organisations and institutions that can hang on through that will either be outside our imagination or scary as hell to our eyes. Frank's migratory Red Cross/Mongol Horde/Pirate Fleet may be the best of the lot.

142:

Not deliberate, but I certainly don’t mind the association. I think I have heard of Marylin Waring, but wouldn’t have made the connection.

I’ve referred to Shona Laing (relatively) recently in 2013 or 14, when I noted (to friends in person, and possibly on arsebook) that one of her singles ‘(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy’, which came out in 1988, was further in the past now than the JFK assassination was in 1988. Same with the Andy Prieboy (ex Wall of Voodoo) song he did with Johnette Napoletano (Concrete Blonde) about the same time, ‘Tomorrow Wendy’. Those lyrics seem familiar, too, but I can’t recall the song exactly.

143:

Those who are interested in longevity practices in SF should look at the history of Taoism. People have been experimenting on themselves to try to become immortal for at least two thousand years. Has it worked? Well...

But it's a more interesting way of looking at longevity protocols than asking the rather careworn question, "what if they invented a working longevity procedure, what would that do to human culture?" That's kinda been done a bit, although there's no harm in performing a classic trope.

But maybe it's better to ask the question, "what would happen if a group of people experimented with things they thought would make them immortal, with imperfect evidence and a fair amount of fraud and power games? How would society deal with them?" That question hasn't been asked nearly so much.

The history of Taoism has varied from official state religion to outlawed practice, and often the real immortals are supposed to be off in the hills somewhere, cultivating themselves and doing their thing, because everyday life has too much random crap that gets in the way of doing all those longevity protocols properly. At least that's what they say. No one's met these ascended masters (IIRC, ascended master actually came from Taoism).

Anyway, in the English-speaking world, Taoist history is actually a pretty rich, untapped source for stories about the pursuit of immortality, enlightenment, and/or fleecing the foolish. It's fascinating how many ways that story gets recycled...

144:

"Frank's migratory Red Cross/Mongol Horde/Pirate Fleet may be the best of the lot."

I keep suggesting that we build a set of libraries - monasteries, but without the religious component - to make sure that future generations have books and scientific knowledge available, but for some reason nobody seems to take the idea seriously.

145:

scary fucking place with lots of migration, scarcity of food and potable water and weird damn weather.

I'm also curious about which bits of it will be accessible. There is a whole lot of local variation in sea level rise and temperature over the "much longer than the long term planning" that the 22nd century will be in. We might get the inland sea back in Australia, that's admittedly a 50m sea level rise but "the (extremely) pessimistic end of the IPCC estimates" has consistently been where we end up.

But even at the best case end, think about Bangladesh in the context of minimal monsoons, no remaining glacial water, rising sea level (even leaving out upstream countries taking any remaining water) and increased storm intensity/frequency. It's a river delta for a river that's not there any more... I'm guessing it will sink at least as fast as sea levels rise, and those storms are going to chew up even the parts that are nominally above sea level. 200M Muslim refugees would be make a dent in Myanmar or even India (would the BJP use nukes as part of their 'hostile environment'?)

That alone would be a destabilising influence in global politics that would make predictions hard. So your SF story might need to accommodate either a significant Bengali diaspora or explain why those people don't exist any more.

Flip side: that whole "one way trip to Mars" option starts to look a lot more workable when you have 10M Bengali engineers plus associated "everything you need to make a colony work" who also have literally nowhere else to go. Raising the question: what would happen if they used an Orion ship or ten to lift a couple of megatonnes to Mars?

146:

for some reason nobody seems to take the idea seriously

People do, but after thinking about it for a while they usually decide that telling everyone where those libraries are is a very high risk strategy. Stable long-lived materials in large quantities are quite valuable so at the very least you need to prevent recycling of the materials making up your library.

I have done a small amount of research into the use of low-cost materials and it looks as though it could be done. But the cost is much greater. Partly because information density is lower, platinum sheet can hold readable 10 point text, but granite needs 24pt or more, likely much more. So your bytes per square metre drops dramatically even before you look at thickness and your bytes/cubic metre goes through the floor. Attached to a giant slab of granite :)

The good news is that a CNC engraver to "print" on granite )or stainless steel) is now quite affordable and reliable. You're looking at maybe $AUS20,000 for a machine that can print a page every 2-4 hours pretty much 24/7. You're probably going to kill one of those every couple of years, though, but that's ok because a couple of years output is going to fill your factory.

But in government or billionaire terms this is small change. The expensive part is, as always, the librarians. Someone has to decide what gets craved into those sheets and how it gets organised. "here's a giant vault with a hundred thousand 100 kilogramme slabs of granite. Someone we wrote down key fact X... but we're not sure where.

147:

oh, and just for reference: no, I do not have such a library and nor do I know where one is. Please believe me. Honestly, I am *way* too poor to play those games. But if someone out there has a few million dollars and wants such a library I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to help. Ideally for a salary, but I'd be happy to have it as a hobby.

149:

Um, are we talking about Neal Stephenson's Anathem yet, with the science monasteries?

Also, where do you think the eremitic tradition came from, especially in the West, with the Irish monasteries outside the Roman Empire turning into major saviors of western culture. At least if you believe the stories, and ignore everything that was happening in the eastern Mediterranean that also preserved that knowledge...

Anyway, there are problems with keeping a library alive in a monastery. The big one is, who feeds the monastery and keeps it supplied with paper and ink? Monasteries are theoretically apart from the world, but very few are truly independent. Rather more depend on a nearby town. Indeed, in Buddhism, that's the way it's supposed to work, with the community supporting the Sangha and vice versa. Also, if the librarians are all celibate, how do they recruit novices?

Then there's the big question: what do the forever libraries save? How much of the desire for an eternal library is about literary immortality--about our egos--and how much of it is about helping them with their problems? Do we ask them to save our remnants, or do we help them to save themselves--our future?

There are two thing I'd send into the future. The first (and yes, its in Hot Earth Dreams is the best model for climate change that we can come up with, in useful detail. Let them know what we did to their world, so that they can be as ready for it as they can. Why should they care about Star Trek or Heinlein? Tell them what the average weather will be like in any given year, mark the places where particular crops will grow at particular times, tell them how the world will continue to change, as best as you can. After all, we have the supercomputers that they'll never be able to build. Let's use them to their benefit too.

The second thing I'd send into the future is the art of memory. It's kind of a stunt thing now, because everyone relies on the computers for records, but without records, without paper, how do you store information? Turns out there are a lot of ways, but unless those are promulgated and taught, a lot of knowledge will be lost when books are burned and literacy is gone. Probably most of those books will be lost anyway, so focus on preserving the knowledge in as many non-book forms as possible. And try to help the books survive too while you're at it.

150:
I'm mid 60s. The people I know who are older than me (a fairly diverse group), especially in their 70s and 80s seem to want things to stop changing.

I'm a decade younger, but for at least 20 years I've been annoyed by needless change (change for the sake of change). Newer doesn't automatically mean better!

Taking that idea a bit further, if you have people living for 400 years then the social memory is longer. There may be more resistance to change, but some of it might be because there are a body of people who remember why something is the way it is.

For example, we wouldn't have had the 2008 financial crash if a decade earlier there had been a bunch of active, engaged 100+ year olds who remembered the great depression and that the Glass-Steagall laws had a specific purpose and shouldn't just be repealed.

And right now we'd be having fewer problems if there were enough people around who remembered that Nazis are bad and should be shut out of political life.

Society would eventually forget these things, but the cycle would be longer.

151:

we'd be having fewer problems if there were enough people around who remembered that Nazis are bad and should be shut out of political life.

Or possibly we would have a bunch of very experienced Nazis running a country who are very good at not losing power. Can society learn from experience if the people who made the mistake are still dominant in it? It may also be that the failure mode is societal collapse so even most of the people who can change it want very much not to.

I've read at least a short story about interacting with a society like that. Everything is very well organised and well run, but a whole lot of outside content/context is just flatly not permitted. In a way it's the flip side of the alien schoolkid story above... the society (not) receiving the information rejects it. Much as current society rejects cold fusion and the dangers of fluoride :)

152:

Corran @ 107
….Southern state legislatures passed new constitutions, constitutional amendments, and laws that made voter registration and voting more difficult, especially when administered by white staff in a discriminatory way.
And are repeating that strategy, right now, with no apparent successful resistance, either ….

TJ @ 109
Most mutations are harmful
NO This is one of the creationists’ big screw-ups.
Most mutations are NEUTRAL
However, you point on cleaning-up harmful mutations still stands.

Heteromeles @ 110
Well I eat all the safe wild muishrooms I can gather, which this year will probably be zero, given the summer’s drought ….
BTW – fungi, erm Piers Anthony: Omivore / Orn / Ox

@ 124
Wrong, actually, because most xtian wingnuts hate the Golden Ruke, because it isn’t specifically xtian & predated theor central figure – it’s part of the perpetual lying whining about “Atheuists have no morals, because they aren’t religious” lies.

David L @ 111
What would it do to people and those around them if they were elderly curmudgeons for 400 years? MAYBE people would stop repeating previous mistakes & total screw-ups?
And would theor ageing processes stop/slow down enormously, or would they become Struldbrugs?

Moz @ 120
THAT is deliberate misinterpretation of what I said, actually.
Your second is much closer to the truth

Damian @ 127
And what does “Kant” say about the US gun-nuts I wonder?

RP @ 136
Change – for the better – YES
Change “because we can” – why the fuck?
Change – “Let’s fix it, even though it ain’t broke” – FUCK right off!
Far too much of nos 2 & 3 around is the problem….

BLP @ 141
That AI not based on human neural structures would be alien.
But … all our present small, flaky “AI’s” are NOT based on human or even mammalian neural structures, at all, are they?

Corran @ 150
Problem there is that one of the current sets of Nazis is completely outside the “Western” ambit, except to hate “us” – I’m referring to Da’esh, of course, who are functionally-indistinguishable from the NSDAP.
HOW do you teach these people, except with repeated doses of Lead? Because there really ought to be a better way of doing it.

153:

I was probably going to mention Anathem when I got around to following up the education subthread starting from @20 and @32. Not so much the monastery concept as “lifelong learning as a social structure”. Hope to expand on that later.

154:

Consider the alternative possibility for that sociopathic-side-effect, focus-on-self nootropic: "Ahhh, Carlson. His Division reported record profits, but internal audit noted a jump in staff turnover and questioned the accounting; we sacked him for a failed drugs test and breaches of Sarbanes-Oxley before he could really screw things up...

Charlie has already been there: see Halting State for a character who's job is exactly this.

155:

The ethnic cleansing in the Second American Civil War won't be black vs white, it will be Democrat vs Republican. There may well be racist overtones, but that will mostly be due to the fact that most african-americans are Democrats.

Already the Democrats and Republicans are becoming two separate tribes: they can't communicate on political issues because they speak different languages and have utter contempt for each other. This is becoming tribal because:


  • People inherit their basic political orientation from their parents

  • They are sorting themselves into ethnic enclaves (Republican areas are the ones with the gun shops).
  • They are consuming only media from their own side. Democrats watch CNN, Republicans watch Fox.

  • This trend has been going on since at least 1990, and it shows no sign of slowing down. The latest milestone is the Nike controversy. From now on, wearing Nike means badging yourself as a Democrat.

    Similarly the fight will not be North vs South, it will be City vs Countryside. Most US cities are blue islands in a sea of red.

    The trigger will probably be some combination of a close-run presidential election, a messed up voting process (think "hanging chads" but with thumb drives) and an obviously partisan Supreme Court judgement.

    156:

    To be only slightly pedantic: because you´ve reinvented universities?

    157:

    Personally I would see that as one of the clearest cases where “what if everyone did it?” is exactly the right test, because the obvious outcome is so obvious. But apparently some people see “everyone, literally everyone, is armed to the teeth all the time” as a great outcome, what could possibly go wrong?

    There’s the distinction between ethical principles and moral codes. Kantian ethics are the former, so wouldn’t have anything to say about anything directly.

    Utilitarians would likewise have a similar challenge around interpretation. Everyone being armed, from a certain perspective, might maximise the utility of all the armed people. But surely the implications include substantial negative utility for many if not all the armed people. Death and destruction and the parable of the broken window and all that.

    158:

    I was about to say the trigger crieteria seem to work against the possibility, because the blue team would be the ones obviously affected negatively and I just can’t see them getting into that sort of thing. But I realise that seeing their own side win by a narrow, dodgy victory backed by a partisan court is actually is as likely as (or even more likely than) a loss to provide the red team with a trigger to go full berzerker. There’s the thing called facilitated aggression and a trigger can be provided by something affirming, something that vindicates your horrible worldview. It’s pretty much what happened in Germany in the 30s, as much as other comparisons might (*might*) be overblown.

    159:

    One thing that strikes me is that sooner or later, someone has to invent something better than money. The original idea wasn't too bad; use something rare and hard to duplicate as a proxy for stuff that you wanted. However, our inventive minds have managed to turn a passably useful resource-substituting system into a monster.

    Modern economics is a mind-melting horror. Modern economies are more or less not understandable by anyone who hasn't spent years learning just the basics; the total systems need computer modelling to understand. Socialism isn't the answer; it merely layers some misunderstandings on top of an already partly-broken system.

    So, how's about something like the Dweller finance system that Iain Banks invented? Kudos as a currency. Kudos used in this way encompasses some form of online reputation monitoring system, does away with a lot of taxation and inheritance of wealth since it is tied to the person, and substitutes for a lot of honour systems.

    160:

    I was thinking back to Frank Herbert, and the Bureau of Sabotage...

    161:

    Minor comment: space vacuum is pretty crap vacuum.

    Not necessarily: using a properly designed Wake Shield you should be able to decrease ambient pressure by up to six orders of magnitude (the limited experiments aboard the shuttle only got it down by two OOM: there's plenty of room for improvement).

    162:

    What does this get you? A society run by fearsomely augmented elderly lady gardeners, with gardener attitudes toward people? That's one of the least creepy outcomes I can think of, and I'm not sure if there's a sympathetic way to present that one. That might be why it doesn't seem to show up in SF at all.

    Notable exception: Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling (from 1996 — Bruce is always at least a decade ahead of the curve) tackles exactly that theme, in a 22nd century bildunsroman. Blurb: "In an era when life expectancies stretch 100 years or more and adhering to healthy habits is the only way to earn better medical treatments, ancient "post humans" dominate society with their ubiquitous wealth and power. By embracing the safe and secure, 94-year-old Mia Ziemann has lived a long and quiet life. Too quiet, as she comes to realize, for Mia has lost the creative drive and ability to love--the holy fire--of the young. But when a radical new procedure makes Mia young again, she has the chance to break free of society's cloying grasp." Note that the reviewer didn't quite understand that "wealth and power" in this society were defined as "light environmental footprint, healthy habits", and that it's basically a gerontocracy ruled by actuaries and ecosystem engineers.)

    163:

    As OGH intimates earlier, we are in grave danger of becoming slaves to our monetary system. Please note, this is not, repeat NOT as argument in favour of blockchain currencies, but merely an observation that money probably has limitations in what set of problems it is best able to solve.

    164:

    Damien @ 153
    I am quite unable to read Anathem because of utter pretentiousness of re-naming everything, just for the sake of it, thus meaning that one has to stop 5 or 6 times on every page, to try to understand simple words that now mean something else ...

    & @ 157
    Yes, I've noticed that, too - what's wierd is that we all know it doesn't work, can't possibly work, has in fact been tried & it doesn't work ... yet some people (NRA) insist it works ....
    The answer is the phrase: "Amerika loves guns more than its' children" ...
    & @ 158
    If only because that almost exactly what happened last time - the South started it, by refusing to recognise Lincoln

    165:

    Do all that, and you've got civilization in the midst of rapid climate change.

    The one thing that screams out to me from your summary is: this effectively means the death of the post-Westphalian state as a model for international relations.

    States with a well-defined defensible border maintained by a unitary government are inherently vulnerable to climate change. (Federations or alliance systems of such states may be less vulnerable, but only if they're willing to cross-subsidize one another when local climate breaks bad. Hmm, yet another argument against Brexit here ...)

    Hopefully the breakdown of the post-Westphalian system won't be accompanied by a re-run of the 30 Years War, only with nukes and CRISPR-tweaked bioweapons.

    166:

    For example, what would a post scarcity potlatch look like?

    On that note, check out:

    https://www.ndnplayers.com/potlatch

    A look at potlatch economics. I back sit on Kickstarter, and it's a fun little game/simulation. (Especially recommended if you have kids.)

    167:

    @Graydon What does this get you? A society run by fearsomely augmented elderly lady gardeners, with gardener attitudes toward people? That's one of the least creepy outcomes I can think of, and I'm not sure if there's a sympathetic way to present that one.

    You've been writing one and doing OK. Or am I being unnecessarily cynical about the Commonweal? (Unless I've been giving the Commonweal too much credit, I suppose?)

    168:

    It's kinda worse than that; we're already getting the death of the post-Westphalian state due to normalization of corporate autocracy as the tool of accumulating wealth. (No one really thinks they ought to pay taxes. It shows up more in property taxes for the middle class, but the general legitimacy of the nation-state is collapsing.)

    What we get out of the corporate normalization is big forced-market-access trading blocks; this is ok in some ways (interdependency and reduced barriers to trade do have the potential to drive general prosperity) but it effectively removes any capacity for refusal on the part of the non-rich.

    What the collapse of food security does is oscillate the expendability of populations against the "worth the effort" model filter used by the corporates in a context in which they've already lost any effectively political right of refusal.

    169:

    Well, thank you! but yes, you might be being unnecessarily cynical about the Commonweal.

    The dedicant got a couple-three chapters into the first draft and remarked "wait, none of this is metaphorical" which is entirely the case. Pretty much everything anybody says is meant to be taken literally; the place really is a democracy operating inside magically-enforced bounds. Various of the ancient and terrible give highly indirect hints from time to time, but they're not running the place.

    170:

    Something that has not been mentioned in around 200 comments is Africa. Basically, the latter half of the 21st century will be an African century. Africa will have ~4.4 billion of the ~11 billion humans alive at that time. In other words, Africa will have the population density of today's China.

    http://www.visualcapitalist.com/animation-world-population-2100-region/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China

    Before anyone starts about Africa's aridity, I would remind you that both Africa and China are around 1/3rd inhospitable. In China's case, that both desert and the Tibetan plateau.

    Another thing to point out is that I expect Latin America to become more populist as the century continues. Right now, richer LatAm countries are receiving immigrants, mostly from poorer countries in the region: Mexico and Costa Rica from Central America, South America from Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Haiti. The thing is that those places are getting richer as well. I would point out that alt-right populists are currently doing well on that continent. I mean, Brazil's Bolsonaro is expected to make it into the second round.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Brazil#Current_trends
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jair_Bolsonaro

    171:

    No one really thinks they ought to pay taxes.

    A friend of mine who's a retired lawyer talked about one of Canada's former 'captains of industry'. Apparently at a Board of Trade (or similar) meeting back in the 60s another industrialist was complaining about high taxes and federal social programs, and this chap ripped into him — something like "I pay more %&*^%^ taxes than you, so shut up; we are not *$&%^&%^ going to hurt our own people" (paraphrased from an old memory). Maybe it was paternalism, but quite a number of the old capitalists saw that they had a stake in general society. (And yes I know, quite a number didn't.)

    172:

    When I try to game out the 21st century, it seems like we're in for a long stretch of just muddling through a series of problems: a financial system buried under debt; a rapid aging of the global population; keeping the lights on (ie, a robust and reliable electricity supply) without baking the planet too badly. Not quite Alice's Red Queen, but an awful lot of our efforts going into just staying in place.

    No dystopia, no utopia, just muddling through the next hundred years.

    173:

    Sure, but all those are dead.

    The memory isn't dead but, well, nobody actually got upset about Galen Weston price-fixing bread. People got killed by mobs for price-fixing bread in Ancien Régime France. I think this ought to tell us something about thoroughly the pursuit of a big pile of money has been normalized in our society.

    174:

    One of the topics i did not seem to notice in this comment section is "parallel worlds" topic. Like, in general. It seems to me like a huge gaping hole in the fabric of SciFi left by the previous generations of writers, am I right? Well, looks like it was popular in the middle of the 20th century only to decline afterwards - the genre progressed rapidly to involve more complex social and political matters, duh.

    One of my favorite writers was Clifford Simac, and other than adventures of space, he was also very keen on different forms of parallel worlds. Not kind of "parallel" worlds extending into the distant future or distant past, isolated cases of reality altered by author's imagination. But the multitude of parallel worlds, existing at the same timescale and interacting together. Simac's parallel worlds were sometimes just described as "different rooms of the same house" or "world separated from each other in time" (nobody really bothers with physical principles). People could walk between them through special doors, or special locations, or maybe even thought formulas pronounced in mind. In a sense, this kind of plot device is his personal idea (although there's Lukyanenko's "Rough Draft" of 2005).

    Then, again, it is only true for the West. I also keeping my eyes on some trends in Eastern(Oriental?) "Sci-Fi" landscape, somewhat. It has no shortage of such stories in very particular light, ofc. They call it "isekai" and it is a bane of young generation fiction that features Ordinary Protagonists thrown out of the windows into unknown universe (mostly a fantasy settings, unfortunately, but not always). Sometimes these worlds are "realistic" versions of MMORPG games or even the games themselves, nested in the digital universes. Sometimes there are more complex explanations and setting, that border cyberpunk stories as well (not gonna lie, I've seen some tough s*** today). Anyway, this sort of trope is exploited to death and often even frowned upon (mainly because of some cliches). Since they are written in Light Novel genre and sold in Asian markets primarily, no serious attempt to capitalize on the general idea has been made(or detected by me) on the Western markets. Little to no attempts made to get rid of standard pattern and write something completely different and more, uh, intellectual. Guess the time for this idea is yet to come.

    Yes, I know, Laundry Universe features innumerable parallel worlds and tomb universes of uncounted ages, containing looming horrors of indescribable destruction, but there's not that much interaction really. Just an occasion glimpse of them (and the explanation is just as hand-waved as usual), mostly when another invasion starts.

    175:

    My worry about universities, in the event of a serious crisis involving climate change is that they will not survive. It is possible that many of them will become inaccessible, either due to rising water or because they're in an area which becomes too hot for human habitation, and that doesn't consider the possibility of riots, anti-science campaigners with mobs on call, lack of food in the cities, etc.

    So my thinking is to build isolated facilities in small, out of the way areas where people and their warehouses full of information will be safe.

    176:

    "safe" is the noun used for the delusion that all risks may be known at particular times.

    One of the things about the 21st and 22nd is we're just not going to know what the risks are in very specific terms. Consider post-2050 weather forecasting with no satellites, no high altitude sounding rockets or balloons, no integrated network of weather stations, no Arctic or Antarctic weather stations; there's going to be a lot of surprise going on.

    177:

    You need to look at India's place in the world if you think demography is destiny.

    That said, yes, we always ignore Africa.

    In a bigger picture, though, we need to think about whether we're projecting the past onto the future.

    For example: Prior to the rise of western capitalism, the big trading sphere was the Indian Ocean (Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, into China), powered by seasonal monsoon winds. When we talk about the "rise" of China, India, and/or East Africa, we're effectively talking about the revitalization of a very old system. This isn't necessarily wrong, but there are deep roots here, and we have to be careful that we're not simply taking the story of Sinbad or Marco Polo and giving it access to the internet.

    To pick on Paul (#155) for a second, that sure looks like the racial rhetoric that (gotta keep them black folks down or they'll get us back for all we done to them) that's been around since before the founding of the US. Again, racial politics are highly charged, but dressing it up in a Republican v. Democrat civil war may be a bit premature. That civil war is very much REPUBLICAN rhetoric. On the leftist side, the idea is more to disempower white males so that everyone has a more equal voice no matter what gender or skin color their parents stuck them with. To someone whose only claim to power is a gun and white ancestry, this sounds like genocide. To everyone else, it sounds like peace. The biggest point is that the largest political party in the US right now seems to be the "I hate the effing two party system" non-party, who label themselves independent or who simply don't vote, whatever their nominal allegiance is.

    As for the whole Westphalian/30 years war vaporing....Go read Parker's Global Crisis. It wasn't just the 30 years war, it was the fall of the Ming, the Mughals, and various other groups around the world. Thirty percent of the human population died in the 17th Century, apparently, and we've forgotten. Rather than seeing the collapse of the nation-state as a model (and that's an oversimplification), look at what happened to the whole world at the same time. Aside from the fact that it was the Little Ice Age that caused the problems, it's one of the better models for what the 22nd Century might look like. And do note that the nation-state model came out of that mess...


    Finally, I'll point out that the late Terry Pratchett may ultimately have gotten it right about the 21st Century. It may be the Century of the Fruitbat. The reason? Bats harbor all sorts of interesting viruses: Ebola, Marburg, Nipah... While I agree that pandemic influenza is the most likely (making it the Century of the Waterfowl), all those lovely bat viruses are a close second.

    178:

    "If Solar Updraught Towers are such a good idea - & the idea has been around for a LONG time now ( I saw a proposal back in the 70’s I think ) then why has at least one not been built, given that IIRC no new technology or materials science is needed? Also, I think there’s a marine version, utilising the thermal surface/benthic temperature difference."

    Are these the towers you're talking about Greg?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_tower#Commercial_applications

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_concentrating_solar_thermal_power_companies

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_thermal_power_stations

    179:

    It's like something written by Benford or Brin, but without the conflict (who cares what the humans are doing) or the happy ending. I call it Inferiority-Punk.

    "The Gods Laughed" by Paul Anderson

    180:

    2) Legalization of sex work.

    Are you American? Sex work is both legal and fairly mundane in most of the First World.

    181:

    Re: 'Everything is very well organised and well run, but a whole lot of outside content/context is just flatly not permitted.'

    Sounds like the PRC. Interestingly, despite decades of social, cultural and economic isolation, it seems to have integrated itself into the rest of the world pretty easily with fewer barriers now than 30 years ago.

    A few ideas as to why the reintegration appears almost complete: Maybe the control didn't go that deep (wasn't that meaningful or important at the individual level), maybe most humans are very resilient and flexible therefore able to adjust, maybe most humans don't really give a damn about anything that happens beyond a certain level or type of interaction (i.e., immediate family, friends, colleagues, or, financial vs. political), maybe after 50 plus years of improved living conditions despite considerable gov't repression, enough segments have some trust in their gov't to not screw things up too badly (i.e., they actually trust their gov't). Most likely it's a mix of all of the above plus a few other reasons.

    182:

    Wrt the decline of the Westphalian model of state organization, it appears the CIA isn't buying it yet.

    The CIA is returning its central focus to nation-state rivals, director says

    By Shane Harris
    Washington Post
    September 24 2018 at 10:28 AM


    Louisville — The Central Intelligence Agency is rededicating itself to the kinds of missions that defined the agency for most of its seven-decade existence, focusing on foreign nations that challenge or threaten the United States, its director said here on Monday.

    In her first public remarks since being confirmed in May, Gina Haspel laid out her plan to return the agency to the work that was at the heart of its espionage mission before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which transformed the CIA into a paramilitary organization that conducted lethal operations against terrorists around the word.

    [etc]

    183:

    You might try the "Merchant Princes" series by, erm, Charles Stross.

    184:

    Plus, of course, that it's far better to be a social justice warrior than oppose them... what are you against: Society? Justice? Fighting for those things?

    The usual response from the opponents of SJW is that "Social Justice Warriors" have the same relationship to social justice as "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" to democracy, people and republics. And in my experience, at least half the time it is true.

    185:

    Well, corporations seem to be pants at actually running countries, that and they get entwined with governments in government-idiocy (excuse me, industrial) complexes. Heck in the US, we've got the Military-Industrial Complex, the Government-Financial Complex, the Government-Agribusiness Complex, the Government-Pharma Complex, the Government-Prison Complex, a Government-Anti-terror Complex, and they're trying to create a Government-Fire Complex. Note in each case, the point is to institutionalize the response to an emergency as a way to get huge amounts of money flowing to private contractors, often with less-than-desirable results with actually dealing with the problem. After all, the goal isn't to eliminate the problem, because that would depreciate the systems and infrastructure put in place to deal with the problem. Oh, and don't forget that the spin doctors almost invariably place the blame for failure of the XXX-III complexes squarely on the government.

    Anyway, this may be why the CIA and brethren keep focusing on nation states.

    In the longer run, I'd flip a coin between the choices of "Government-Idiot" complexes taking over the world, and the whole system collapsing under the weight of failure and profiteering. If you're looking for cognitive blind spots, I'd suggest the latter is a bit underexplored in the SFF literature.

    186:

    Charlie @ 165
    More likely a re-run of the succesive Hunnish / Magyar / Momngol volwänderungs & all the bloodshed those involved ....

    Ioan @ 178
    No
    I was talking about the solar-updraught model which is a LOT SIMPLER
    The concentrate all the rays to $_Insane_Temperature are much too complicated & prone to d=failure without very high-tech control systems

    ilya187
    Ah the Misnomenklatura!

    187:

    It's almost as though the Palestinian goal is long-term occupancy of the area while the Zionists are more like the millenialist Christians: bring on the end of the world for *I* am guaranteed a place at g*d's table.

    Palestinians (well, Hamas and Fatah) stated goal is complete destruction of Israel. Given that reality, what else do you expect Israel to do?

    188:

    surveillance state that does everything right.

    "Blue Remembered Earth" by Alastair Reynolds

    189:

    Alastair Reynolds makes me twitch.

    190:

    "You need to look at India's place in the world if you think demography is destiny."

    What's this supposed to mean? I never said that Africa would unite and become a superpower. India is increasingly driving more world affairs, just not those that involve the West or are not superpower politics. Hence, they're not noticed or dismissed as "local" issues. Plus, it's getting richer; around 7% of the population is in extreme poverty now, a decline

    Note that I ignored the ~400 million people in S. Asia who don't live in India.

    The fact that 67% of the people in absolute poverty are in Africa DOES drive world affairs.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/07/10/india-is-no-longer-home-to-the-largest-number-of-poor-people-in-the-world-nigeria-is/?noredirect=on

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/26/africa/nigeria-overtakes-india-extreme-poverty-intl/index.html

    "When we talk about the "rise" of China, India, and/or East Africa, we're effectively talking about the revitalization of a very old system. This isn't necessarily wrong, but there are deep roots here, and we have to be careful that we're not simply taking the story of Sinbad or Marco Polo and giving it access to the internet."

    While your caution about not projecting the past onto the future is well-advised, I would point out that your example is a poor one. There will be more trade across the Atlantic and Pacific than in the pre-Columbian age, but the bulk of humanity will continue to live on these three continents.

    You are right in that the Arctic ocean will have a much higher importance than in the past, for obvious reasons.

    191:

    Oh well, I see, but doesn't seem to be too scientific? Rather the fantasy setting. Very much like Crossroads by O'Donohoe (took me some time to find the name) by the looks of it. I would rather say about universes that imply virtual realms, special physical principles or "nested realities".

    "Rough Draft", apparently, was written at the same time (I wonder if there was any major influence), and it actually tried to use some pretty abstract technology(see Clarke's low #3) for traveling between worlds. Now that I think of it further, a couple of stories of Greg Egan may also qualify.

    192:

    Alastair Reynolds makes me twitch.

    Can you elaborate on that?

    193:

    "2. If you can posit a completely new post-late-capitalist system that isn’t governed by either a version of the communist religion ( or any other religion ) & is not a dystopian collapse … then you deserve both the Economics & Peace Nobel prizes … because that’s what we are (almost) all of us looking for."

    Britain and France experimented briefly in the 60s with "dirigisme", centrally directed economic planning based on matrix modeling. The idea was taking McDonalds style forecast ordering systems where you plan on selling x billion burgers in a time frame, so you allow for the indicated number of pickle slices and french fry requirements by contracting potato and cucumber growers to lock in x thousand acres for your needs. Spreadsheet matrix type planning on a national scale would then supposedly use the same approach for cement, steel and coal ingredients to supply predicted industry, road and housing development etc., assuming forecasts could be modeled realistically. What they lacked, in computer power to describe the existing economy, turned out not so easy to replace with creative decision making, so central planning was dropped.

    Current tech advancements however, have enabled corporations to capture their own internal order and sales data, harnessing it to closely monitor economic activity at a fine grained scale, and predict requirements accordingly. It's not too big of an imaginative jump to foresee some business conglomerate, let's call it Matrix Mart, swallowing up half the economy just by superior data response organization, with teams of buyers and planners structured around real time analysis, of trends sniffed out by their increasingly subtle data mining algorithms. Wholly owned subsidiary banks, clinics, and insurance offices sprout up at their retail outlets, and before long they start selling and eventually manufacturing cars and homes as well. Centralized pricing control permits rapid undercutting and elimination of competitors. At this point two cliches intersect, the ancient Yiddish proverb of "He who controls retail controls all" and the Latin admonishment "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Conspiracy theorists no longer need to suspect foreign adversaries to explain the withering away of democracy, when there's abundant influence purchasing right at home.

    Luckily the same digital revolution empowering data capture and response, also permits the emergence of impromptu political organization facilitated by wireless social networks. Like whack-a-mole action, one movement supplants another as the well funded political forces continuously try to stifle opposition, until federal agencies finally take on Matrix Mart directly in an immense corruption probe, ending with their forced dissolution AT&T style. Planning doesn't work without centralized control, however, so the new spin-off companies promptly go bankrupt, throwing the whole economy into crisis. Government once again has to step in and bail everybody out same as they did with Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, swapping public bailout funds for ownership and control. So now the feds own the most hugely profitable money making machine in human history, who needs tax revenues when you got a river of cash coming in. With state of the art planning teams still in place at the old Matrix Mart outfits, federal regulators wisely decide not to kill the goose laying golden eggs, and let the economic centralization continue to its logical conclusion, total economic control.

    Now the fun begins. Democratic participation in government becomes the new popular fad via electronic social networks, with legislation voted up and down promptly, like instant product surveys or movie reviews. Two immense intertwining data systems, central economic planning now ruled by a popular electronic government network, enable the emergence of an entirely new social structure, the Integrated Political Economy. Features of the new system include windfall efficiency gains from the elimination of redundant competing goods and service providers, such that triple the proceeds from half the effort allow for an average five hour work week. Nobody objects because they're all too fascinated with exercising their new mastery of the social universe. Class barriers dissolve as economic leveling spontaneously emerges. A golden age of mass education results in typical average citizens cultivating their mentalities up to Phd levels, with the blossoming of millions of Nobel level intellects all across the country. Scientific advances are immediately funded so that programs formerly taking decades are now completed in months. Productivity gains thereby realized raises overall economic welfare standards to new heights, poverty levels look like affluence compared to the Old Economic Order.

    Maybe not The Culture, but close enough for government work.

    194:

    For some reason most SF that I've read that touches on this idea handwaves the entire society into the 18-35 age group - young adulthood, peak physical (sexual/reproductive**) fitness.

    I would say there is a very good reason for it -- and Swift's struldbrugs are completely implausible.

    Old age is ultimately just your body wearing out. Infirmities of old age are the symptoms of that wear. Any treatment which addresses old age would by necessity address the symptoms.

    195:

    "what would happen if a group of people experimented with things they thought would make them immortal, with imperfect evidence and a fair amount of fraud and power games? How would society deal with them?"

    Why would society need to "deal" with such group in any way? Most likely they will just end up killing themselves -- no skin off society's nose. And if by some miracle they actually succeed -- so much the better.

    196:

    I could live with the fact that his prose and characterization aren't great, but one of his recent books had this very stupid plot where he forced the trajectory of his spaceship to force a crash-landing on a planet. It was "book across the room" time.

    197:

    I agree with you about that particular book, but as far as I can tell, it is an exception for Reynolds, not the rule.

    198:

    In the 1950-1999 period, tales of the 21st century were everywhere. Where are the equivalent stories of the 22nd century, that should be being told today?

    They'll be written in the 2050-2099 period?

    In effect, you're complaining that people aren't writing stories set 50-100 years in the future, like they used to. But they arguably are: stories written today set 50-100 years in the future would still be in the (late) 21st Century.

    (So it's not that contemporary writers have acquired a blind spot previous writers lacked, but more that there continues to be a blind spot for fiction set 100-200 years in the future.)

    A second point might be that the 21st Century seemed both more (superficially) significant -- the beginning of the third millennium! -- and more accessible to people in the late 20th Century -- less than 50 years away! For people writing now, the 22nd Century is both further away and a bit less dramatic.

    199:

    "what would happen if a group of people experimented with things they thought would make them immortal, with imperfect evidence and a fair amount of fraud and power games? How would society deal with them?"

    Why would society need to "deal" with such group in any way? Most likely they will just end up killing themselves -- no skin off society's nose. And if by some miracle they actually succeed -- so much the better.

    As noted above, about 2000 years of Chinese and Korean history says that, actually, they have to be dealt with, especially when they get the people in power to listen to them. The western analogy, I think, is whatever longevity practices wealthy tech entrepreneurs are engaging in at the moment.

    200:

    Lovely! But wouldn't Jeff Bezos possibly object to parts of this plan?

    201:

    Re: ACW 2

    I can't see how any American does not realize that ACW 2 has already started.

    A Republican controlled Senate, elected by a minority of the people, refused to even consider a Democratic Presidents Supreme Court nominee.

    The Government is now controlled by a President and Congress that was elected by a minority of the people.

    Brad DeLong shows the actual numbers covering the above >

    202:

    I've heard this current unpleasantness referred to a Cold Civil War. Personally, I think that the name's a stretch. However, what would an actual cold civil war look like?

    203:

    Troutwaxer @ 60:

    My last thought on the subject is the idea of a surveillance state that does everything right. If you're at home alone and you fall and break your hip, it will call the fire department and send them pictures and locate you on a floorplan. If someone else is in the house but not in the same room, it won't call the fire department, instead it will notify that person to come help you. But if you're into BDSM and playing a rough but consensual scene with your lover, the information will never leave your house. It understands the difference between pissing behind a bush while on a long car trip and exposing yourself to an unwilling spectator. Etc.

    In short, it keeps everyone safe and doesn't endanger us by reporting non-criminal behavior to the authorities. It doesn't make different judgements about people of different colors, and it understands both human preferences and the legal system.

    I don't think we're going to be able to avoid a surveillance system, but we can create a model of how a good one works.

    That sounds like something that would be a more localized system, some kind of "house AI". It would be networked in with the other AIs, particularly fire, health & security, but its "first loyalty" would be to the household residents. It only reports to the security aparatus those things that endanger the residents.

    The story might be in how the AI brokers conflicts between the residents. Also might include some iteration of Asimov's Robotics Laws ... What should the AI do when it observes the residents engaging in self harm? I'm not even thinking about hard drugs, just simple stuff like smoking or drinking too much.

    204:

    pgs @ 62

    A friend is compiling a list of speculative fiction books with disabled characters. See
    http://www.darkmatterzine.com/speculative-fiction-books-with-disability-list-3-0/

    Looks like your friend got the Vorkosigan cycle (poor Miles poisoned & stunted even before birth), but missed Bujold's Falling Free, where it depends on your perspective WHO is disabled and who is not?

    205:
    we'd be having fewer problems if there were enough people around who remembered that Nazis are bad and should be shut out of political life.

    Or possibly we would have a bunch of very experienced Nazis running a country who are very good at not losing power. Can society learn from experience if the people who made the mistake are still dominant in it? It may also be that the failure mode is societal collapse so even most of the people who can change it want very much not to.

    I did have that thought that the corollary to still having people around who defeated the Nazis was that there would still be a lot of (former) Nazis around as well (and their allies, the former slaveholders of the US). And that might not go well.

    The optimist in me thinks that, in the long run, authoritarians lose out because they have cognitive biases and prejudices that mean that they can't compete against dedicated non-authoritarians. In other words, people in power who are prone to making mistakes won't maintain that power for too long because eventually they will make one too many of those mistakes. And even if the leaders somehow aren't susceptible to these biases, the people who end up carrying out the orders almost by definition have to be.

    This tied in to the question about what a post-patriarchal, post-racist society would look like: whatever other properties it has, it would be better at getting things done, because more people get to do what they are good at, more people fulfill their potential, there are more talented people available to fill needs. And it almost certainly would be easier to avoid or fix the mistakes of leaders (if there are such things in such a society) if they aren't protected from criticism by privilege of gender or race.

    The pessimist in me fears that when authoritarians face dedicated opposition, the result is all too frequently a mountain of dead people, innocent and guilty alike, with the only saving grace being that it is a smaller mountain than the authoritarians would have made by themselves. The Culture might win in the end, but at what cost?

    206:

    allynh @ 68:

    Wiki - Solar updraft tower

    That gives you solar power 24 hours a day rather than only during the day, without the need to develop batteries for storing power. Plus, that is much cheaper to build, and produces far more local power, than satellites in orbit that may be wiped out in the Kessler syndrome ...

    How does a solar updraft tower produce during the hours of darkness. I understand the basic theory that hot air rises, but where do you get the hot air from during the time the sun's not shining on the base?

    207:

    What would it do to people and those around them if they were elderly curmudgeons for 400 years?
    MAYBE people would stop repeating previous mistakes & total screw-ups?

    Why on earth would people living longer change this? We do it now every 5 to 15 years with all kinds of things with computers. And this is when the people who solve the problem the Nth time are still around for watching the new wiz kids make the same mistakes and claim how great they are solving the problem the N+1 th time.

    208:

    The usual response from the opponents of SJW is that "Social Justice Warriors" have the same relationship to social justice as "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" to democracy, people and republics.

    It's less that than some of the more overzealous elements failing to remember that simply disempowering cis-het white men and replacing them with a different demographically defined caste won't in and of itself create a better society. That's just a recipe for "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." The system remains intact just with the demographics of the castes shuffled around and different people at the top of the power hierarchy. The oppressive mechanisms are still there; they'll just be used against different people than they were before.

    Building a better society requires dismantling the caste system itself and replacing it with something fairer and more humane built on universal human rights. Easy to describe, but difficult to implement.

    209:
    The ethnic cleansing in the Second American Civil War won't be black vs white, it will be Democrat vs Republican. There may well be racist overtones, but that will mostly be due to the fact that most african-americans are Democrats.

    Not sure where you are from, and I will defer to you if you live in the Deep South, but I have lived in Texas (fairly recently) and I disagree. The racism is strong and deep in that part of the world, party affiliation is too easily deniable, and from personal experience, republicans and democrats aren't as socially separated as you say.

    If there is this sort of violence (and I sincerely hope it never gets that bad again), it will be against Hispanic, African American, and immigrant people first.

    210:

    ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

    Drop the chatter about ethnic cleansing/second American civil war/purely American politics.

    It's purely local, it's not an interesting global/long term trend, and on past form it's going to turn really nasty really fast.

    I'm serious here. The moderators are on notice to start handing out red cards and deleting posts if it goes any further.

    211:

    Noted, and apologies for taking the discussion in unproductive directions.

    212:

    Re: 'I would say there is a very good reason for it --'

    And, that reason is ...?

    213:

    AJ @ 114:

    I think the answer to that depends on how the longevity works. People in that age bracket are stretching the envelop in terms of how long we're evolved to live - we're not supposed to keep learning new stuff that long so it's hard. Though there is also the why bother, it'll all have changed in a few years anyway aspect. I'd expect a significant proportion to form groups who isolate themselves and effectively re-enact their ideal period to a large extent.

    Longevity/immortality is useless unless you also have restored youthful good health so you can do something with it.

    I'm in my late 60s; just a year away from the putative three score and ten. Why would I want another hundred years if it's just going mean my body continues to deteriorate the same way it has for the last decade? By the time I got to be 169, I'd have to be carried around in a bucket.

    And if they do come up with "prolong" and/or "rejuvenation", who's going to be able to afford it?

    In the words of the Jamaican lullaby
         "If living were a thing that money could buy
         The rich would live and the poor would die

    214:

    _Moz_ @ 120:

    Fairness – the Golden Rule
    I fucking hate the golden rule. People are not all the same, so the golden rule is at best a recipe for mass slaughter. "I wouldn't want to live in a wheelchair, therefore we should kill all the cripples"... that statement follows the golden rule.

    "Treat other people as they wish to be treated, insofar as that's compatible with how you wish to be treated" is kind of getting there. But it is still phrased as a single-round cooperation game, when most people have both past and future.

    I quit trying to find an acceptable variant of the "Golden Rule" years ago. I try to live my life by the precept Don't hassle with other people unless there is an overpoweringly compelling reason for doing so.

    E.G. Your guy who doesn't want to live in a wheelchair can do what he wants with his own life, but I'm not going to stand idly by if he starts to impose it on others.

    215:

    what would an actual cold civil war look like?

    See Comment 210

    216:

    Troutwaxer noted: "Sociopath Punk. I like it. And aptly named, too. Ideally you take a pill before going to work and it wears off before you get home."

    Niven had a story about this... can't pull up details, and excavating the short story collections would take days, but it goes something like the following: a (psychopathic?) guy who functions well so long as he's on his meds gets a defective batch of meds, and ends up killing another man's wife. He's put back on his meds, and deeply regrets what happened, but the bereaved won't forgive him. The story ends with the bereaved pursuing him in a Bussard ramjet (possibly the weirdest car chase scene in SF!) until he catches up to the murderer and the intense magnetic field from the ramjet kills him.

    Charles H replied to my comment about space being a crappy conductive medium: "If you put the thing into solar orbit rather than earth orbit, a sunshade is pretty good for cutting down incoming heat."

    I wouldn't think so. I'd expect you get a shitload of thermal radiation from that sunshield that might make things pretty hot for any object behind the shield.

    Charles H: "To get rid of internally generated heat you want a long heat pipe to a radiator. The engineering is only difficult if you're really constrained by weight, so you make as much as possible out of locally sourced materials."

    Fair enough, but with the large caveat that your statement is tautological: "if we can build a big enough radiator, heat accumulation isn't a problem because it's big enough". It's true, but "big enough" is not a trivial engineering issue. I tried to find the article I read about this, but failed; if memory serves, it was written by an aerospace physicist writing about the physics of space battles, and he provided a convincing argument (using the ISS as an example) about the difficulty of shedding heat in space.

    But your comment about the sun reminded me of a possibly genius solution: David Brin, in "Sundiver", proposed that you could use solar energy (either photoelectric or thermoelectric; don't recall) to generate enough electricity that you could power a laser that would pump out all your excess heat in the form of a high-energy beam of light. It was efficient enough that the protagonists could use it to cool spaceships sufficiently well that they could dive into the sun's atmosphere to explore and collect data. It made ***sfnal fictional*** good sense when I read it years ago, which is to say that it hung together well if you accepted the assumptions, but the details struck me as a bit hand-wavey (e.g., the turbulence of the solar atmosphere at depth would turn astronauts into marmalade).

    217:

    How does a solar updraft tower produce during the hours of darkness. I understand the basic theory that hot air rises, but where do you get the hot air from during the time the sun's not shining on the base?

    Apparently (and somewhat obviously) it has built-in thermal storage capacity to tide it over the night. Equally obviously, it has to have sufficient collector area to top up the storage as well as run the generators during the day.

    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower#/media/File:Solar_updraft_tower.svg

    (I don't see why the over-night storage mechanism would have to be thermal rather than batteries or something else.)

    218:

    The last paragraph in the the post to which you were replying.

    219:

    Re:' ... new system include windfall efficiency gains from the elimination of redundant competing goods and service providers,'

    Nice ideas.

    If improvements accelerate, what can a society/economy do to minimize service disruptions as it moves from one service to another, or has to incorporate new tech/services into an existing infrastructure? This is already a serious policy question given the increased frequency and scale of current weather related disruptions. Should you over or under produce, what, by how much, where?

    I'm guessing that fads/fashions will continue to happen driven by that 4%-6% of the genpop that will continue to exist and to buy anything 'new', so there will always be an available bunch of users to test market new products/ideas. If 3D printing is part of the new economy, it'll likely decentralize and deglobalize manufacturing, but that leaves 3D raw materials sources as a potential target for market manipulation.

    How do you handle the promotion for very short market/product life cycles that this scenario seems to demand? Example: H&M already has 'new fashions' every week or so. Is this really a good idea esp. if shorter product life cycles also almost always mean more garbage. If you can regulate the amount of garbage any household can produce before it is fined for some 'eco' reason, this might travel back through the distribution channel to the marketers/manufacturers. The stock owners would get ticked off for a while because sales units fell, but would quickly adjust and concentrate on some other metric.

    Anyways, chasing down likely consequences would be a lot of fun and such an exercise might even provide some potential directions to pursue.

    220:

    "wouldn't Jeff Bezos possibly object to parts"

    Some parts, yes. Still, I think Bezos would be pleased as punch to see a competitor like Matrix Mart under federal investigation, and surprised and delighted by the government's ensuing order to break them up. Then he'd be tickled pink by the Baby Matrix-mart's subsequent cascading bankruptcies, but where he'd start to unleash his legal department would be when the feds decided to bail out the Baby Matrices, with extreme prejudice when it looked like they were taking a controlling interest. "What, I'm supposed to compete with the federal government? Unfair!"

    But by then it would be way too late to stop, half the economy in a tailspin really would threaten him along with everybody else. Anyway, UPS and Fedex showed it's not that hard competing with the Post Office, or Greyhound against Amtrak. His best option would be to wait and see if the former Matrix-mart planners could recapture their momentum. Then if it looked like they were going to eat his lunch, announce that Amazon was now exploring strategic alternatives, up to and including sale of the company. Or he could always try and buy his own presidency, or enough congress-critters to turn the tide. But that would just be delaying the inevitable, you want to set yourself up as Public Enemy Number One, have fun fighting your own machine.

    221:

    I think there are some unexamined assumptions here, but the one I’ll pick on is about state control. China has needed to make changes to its legal system to accomodate international trade, because the rule of law is important for investors who will be forced to go elsewhere if their interests are subject to arbitrary seizures. This seems to be the main problem for Russia since the Cold War, one it hasn’t really solved. Arguably China has been able to solve this by exerting more, not less control over its citizens.

    If laws are generally enforced and property rights both respected and protected by the state, the problems arise at the very small scale, where business is vulnerable to low level corruption, and at the large macro scale where it rubs up hard against the interests of the state. China has an ongoing anti-corruption program, which many call out as a thinly disguised ongoing purge of low and middle level officials who are insufficient in some way that might or might not have anything to do with corruption. But at the same time China’s Chief Justice has publicly denounced the “erroneous” western concept of the rule of law, insisting instead that the party has the interests of the people in mind and knows better (referring to the principles of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”). There is a strong traditional explicitly paternalist meme that runs through all of this, society is a family and father knows best. At the same time what we would have thought of as “soft power” themes in the West now seem to be in full flower - movies where heroic Chinese soldiers save the world for instance, and a really pervasive nationalism.

    So I’d argue that greater control enables “integration” rather than hinders it. The more internalised the belief system, the more trustworthy the possessor. This national social scoring thing will make that theme more explicit too. People who score high may be permitted more contact with external media, while borderline dissidents will find themselves increasingly isolated.

    222:

    More great posts to build on. Thanks...

    Ioan @202 said: However, what would an actual cold civil war look like?

    See Comment 210

    Read:

    Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
    by Kathleen Belew

    JBS @206 said: How does a solar updraft tower produce during the hours of darkness. I understand the basic theory that hot air rises, but where do you get the hot air from during the time the sun's not shining on the base?

    It's a chimney, so the differential between the ground and the top of the chimney is always pulling air. Plus, the covered area on the ground still retains much of the day's heat.

    There are a number of plans to scale the system up, but it's tough fighting the existing Power paradigm. Here's another proposed system.

    Solar Updraft Tower
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKNq8BD6xSs

    223:

    ilya187 @ 194:

    I would say there is a very good reason for it -- and Swift's struldbrugs are completely implausible.

    Struldbrugg - That's the word I've been searching for.

    I encountered it years ago in a Mack Reynolds novel. In that story the "struldbruggs" were extremely wealthy people who had managed to extend their lives indefinitely with medical technology and had turned that extended lifespan to the accumulation of even more wealth until a very small number of persons (the top 0.01%) controlled almost all of the wealth on Earth. A few of their hangers-on and enablers among the corporate management class (the top 1%) lived lives of unimaginable luxury while the rest of the population lived in grinding poverty.

    The "struldbruggs" may not yet actually exist, but their effects - the way accumulated (inherited) wealth dominates the economy - certainly do.

    224:

    "Population time bomb/overpopulation stories have also gone into decline, perhaps due to the gradual realization that thanks to the green revolution and demographic transition we aren't doomed as a direct consequence of overpopulation"

    Funny you should mention that when the quintessential over-population novel, John Brunner's "Stand on Zanzibar", is perhaps the most accurately predictive SF novel of all time

    https://www.businessinsider.com/amazing-sci-fi-predictions-trump-moon-2016-8#in-1969-john-brunner-predicted-twitter-and-president-obomi-7

    Set in 2010, the story imagines a world with a vast social network that media organizations use to put out news in short bursts, and receive real-time feedback from their fans. The Soviet Union has lost power, and China stands as the most important US rival. America has largely left Jim Crow behind, but institutional racism persists. And, most bizarrely, there's a major world leader named President Obomi.

    https://themillions.com/2013/03/the-weird-1969-new-wave-sci-fi-novel-that-correctly-predicted-the-current-day.html

    (1) Random acts of violence by crazy individuals, often taking place at schools, plague society in Stand on Zanzibar.

    (2) The other major source of instability and violence comes from terrorists, who are now a major threat to U.S. interests, and even manage to attack buildings within the United States.

    (3) Prices have increased sixfold between 1960 and 2010 because of inflation. (The actual increase in U.S. prices during that period was sevenfold, but Brunner was close.)

    (4) The most powerful U.S. rival is no longer the Soviet Union, but China. However, much of the competition between the U.S. and Asia is played out in economics, trade, and technology instead of overt warfare.

    (5) Europeans have formed a union of nations to improve their economic prospects and influence on world affairs. In international issues, Britain tends to side with the U.S., but other countries in Europe are often critical of U.S. initiatives.

    (6) Africa still trails far behind the rest of the world in economic development, and Israel remains the epicenter of tensions in the Middle East.

    (7) Although some people still get married, many in the younger generation now prefer short-term hookups without long-term commitment.

    (8) Gay and bisexual lifestyles have gone mainstream, and pharmaceuticals to improve sexual performance are widely used (and even advertised in the media).

    (9) Many decades of affirmative action have brought blacks into positions of power, but racial tensions still simmer throughout society.

    (10) Motor vehicles increasingly run on electric fuel cells. Honda (primarily known as a motorcycle manufacturers when Brunner wrote his book) is a major supplier, along with General Motors.

    (11) Yet Detroit has not prospered, and is almost a ghost town because of all the shuttered factories. However. a new kind of music — with an uncanny resemblance to the actual Detroit techno movement of the 1990s — has sprung up in the city.

    (12) TV news channels have now gone global via satellite.

    (13) TiVo-type systems allow people to view TV programs according to their own schedule.

    (14) Inflight entertainment systems on planes now include video programs and news accessible on individual screens at each seat.

    (15) People rely on avatars to represent themselves on video screens — Brunner calls these images, which either can look like you or take on another appearance you select — “Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere.”

    (16) Computer documents are generated with laser printers.

    (17) A social and political backlash has marginalized tobacco, but marijuana has been decriminalized.

    I'd add a few more like mass marketed psychedelics. We don't have skullbustium yet, but are opiod crises is the result of mass marketing pushed by Big Pharma.

    No genetic engineering genius in Yatakang/Indonesia but we do have CRISPR.

    No endless naval war in the Pacific, but we do have an endless war in the Middle East.

    We don't have Shalmanaser, but we do have Watson.

    No Moon base yet but we do have commercial space flight.

    And racism is still a problem, as in the book.

    As for the title, it's based on the assumption that all of mankind in this overpopulated future (now our present) could stand on the island of Zanzibar if we each had 2 square feet. At 643 square miles, that works out to 8.96 billion people in the novel. Not too far off from our current world population of 7.44 billion and projected peak population of 10 billion.

    225:

    No one really thinks they ought to pay taxes

    Oh bollocks. The dominant elite think they shouldn't have to pay taxes, and they vigorously promote the idea that no-one wants to pay taxes in an effort to drum up popular support.

    Even the US has a lot of support for paying taxes in order to fund a functioning government. You have have heard of Bernie Saunders, the socialist? Likewise, one big part of the Corbyn/Momentum wave is that younger people are sick of being ruled by vulture capitalists. In Aotearoa and somewhat less in Australia one of the problems the elite has is that whenever they ask people, most people want more taxes on more people to fund more government.

    NZ right now has a "tax working group" set up by the government to look at a bunch of things. The (nominally left wing) government has very carefully required it to make revenue-neutral recommendations because they know that otherwise popular demand will lead to it suggesting more tax be raised. And the right wing media puppets would not like that at all. Note that in NZ right now we also have "low and falling business confidence" at the same time as most businesses expect to do quite well and GDP is growing. It's almost as though "business confidence" is a political tool being used to discipline a government. Hmm. Who would want that, I wonder?

    226:

    The monstrous physical presence of the past often seems to have yielded too easily to the future, especially the near future. Europe is also haunted by the spectre of feudalism. Victor Hugo wrote to protest the destruction of medieval Paris, however it also seems like fear of the presence of Notre Dame, as if the other buildings contained it in some fashion.

    Philosophers have long been concerned that they were traitors to humanity. More recently artists joined them, ostensibly as a reaction to photography, though why would they value art more than the soul? The Tomb of Atreus was the tallest and widest dome in the world for a thousand years. It isn't the destruction of Nimrud which confuses me, instead that so much isn't destroyed- especially when the intention of the designs was clearly to dominate. Perhaps the architects were just wrong?

    227:

    I particular like the acknowledgement this line of thinking implies that competition is wasteful and in the future may be an unaffordable luxury. But in some ways this is all a continuation of the post-war project per Bretton Woods etc. Wasn’t this the sort of thing the Allende govt planned to do? It’s not trivial to describe an exact timeline for the disruption of the (global) project, and how the arc might be brought back in this direction as per here.

    But per the OP, that’s another theme for SF: the role of competition in culture and society. I say it’s wasteful, but that’s in a context where participation is not its own reward. Or you give participation prizes, because you want to be clear that “winning” isn’t as meaningful as it seems to the competitors. Some sports teach teamwork, but in a context that doses you up with oxytocin. Are there still contexts where players, having as much in common with each other as with their teammates, are friendly and collegiate on the field? Or is it all outgroup aggression and dehumanisation?

    But I want to repeat that initial point, per Keith’s post upthread, that as an economic driver, in most circumstances competition is inherently wasteful. It’s an important point that is often missed (along with the cost-accounting overhead that comes with any kind of chargeable services or activity based funding). It’s so understated that people will flatly deny it since it runs counter to so many assumptions and expectations... the ideology is that competition increases efficiency. But actually it increases efficiency for surviving suppliers only, and the production, productive capacity and human capital of the non-surviving competitors is lost. It’s a gap both in the economic accounting and our cultural worldview-turned-inward.

    228:

    what else do you expect Israel to do?

    At the very least, Israel could comply with the terms of the various peace agreements that they have signed.

    Out of deference to OGH I'm not going to argue that topic.

    229:

    Some great comments in this thread. I have three reasons why I think we are seeing the trends Charlie mentioned play out, and it’s through my bias of liking if this then what fiction
    Firstly, Bruce Sterling wrote the Holy Fire/Distraction/Heavy Weather books. he packed more insights and predictions into them than anyone else I can think of. He wasn’t showered with awards or best seller status. This may have influenced the thinking of writers and publishing houses.
    Secondly, predicting the future is a little tough right now. Even if you posit that Most novels are really about right now, when you have so many of (at least in my case) assumptions about the Fukuyama version of history unravelling before your eyes every day, it’s really hard to see writing about it in a way that would make me want to pick up that book.
    Thirdly, we don’t seem to have the quantum leap breakthroughs we used to in science and engineering, if the future is modest improvements on a really long scale unable to cope with a world that is getting worse faster than we can fix it, again can’t say I am enthused to read about it.
    On a final note, if her of the many names was right about memetic weaponization destroying democracy, then we are heading into John Barnes futures which used to seem fascinating but overly dystopian to me, not so much lately.

    230:

    Allen Dean Foster wrote something similar; the protagonist wanted to really play the part of the angry alpha-male and got some pills to help him. The person who he was trying to intimidate got pills of his own and things escalated from there.

    231:

    One of the consequences of the Post-War economic surge in the Anglosphere was to build suburbs; you need a car if you live in a suburb, and you pay a lot more for housing as a society if a lot of people live in suburbs. It's a wealth-creation machine only under some very specific rules of accounting, but it makes real-estate developers and car dealers happy.

    The thing that doesn't get much attention is that once you get stagnating wages, you get a lot of class insecurity, and the primary driver of that class insecurity is your house is your sole significant asset. This -- the house being the sole significant asset -- is practically the post-war definition of middle class, and it combines with stagnating wages to produce a sharp rightward shift in politics. You get major political movements all over the anglosphere that treat taxes, especially municipal and property taxes, as straight up bad. None of the "the tax rate should be higher" views can seem to get any traction. (Even, as you note, in New Zealand despite a strong public recognition that perhaps that would be desirable.)

    (The idea of "never raise taxes" in the time of angry weather -- every weir, dam, culvert, drain, and ditch is the wrong size, and you want to lower taxes? Are you mad? -- is a really clear example of this.)

    So, sure, you can find individuals who will say they think taxes are too low. There's nobody successfully advancing a political view that it's time to raise taxes because there's a pressing public need.

    232:

    Apologies — I started composing my post before Charlie posted that.

    Although I would like to point out that none of my examples were about the American Civil War — to me the Civil War is still Roundheads vs. Cavaliers.

    Request for clarification: does this mean all posts about civil conflict are off-limits?

    233:

    Compared to space travel, turbo pumps are pretty cheap.

    234:

    The increasing mismatch between cultural and technological change. I'd also posit that the rate of cultural change in rural/urban also varies.

    Coupled with the general reduction in poverty, an increasing and differential acceptance of genetic engineering...and a drastic reduction in need for unskilled and then skilled labor...there's room for a fairly diverse set of competing cultures/approaches - and maybe a soft introduction to some rather different futures.

    I wonder also if the increasing urban disdain for the rural may be interesting if extrapolated.

    235:

    My problem is with the “warrior” part. It implies treating fellow citizens you disagree with as enemies.

    236:

    Re: ' ... competition increases efficiency. But actually it increases efficiency for surviving suppliers only, '

    Or those who patiently wait in the sidelines until the competitors have lost most of their resources as per the WalMart model.

    Cooperation and collaboration built civilization and these abilities depend on a piece of prefrontal tissue that evolved not that long ago. In contrast, competition can happen as long you have some free floating excess testosterone or adrenaline which pretty well all life forms possess.

    Have received push-back from quite a few folk about the relative merits of cooperation vs. competition but so far none has been able to name one civilization that did not depend on cooperation/collaboration for its rise and survival. Most mention Sparta -- but although Athens lost to Sparta, Athenian art, science, literature and philosophy are still held in high esteem. In contrast, all that's known about Sparta is that it was a tribe of warriors whose sole purpose was war. Sparta was a blip, nothing more.

    To me, the key difference between these concepts is the importance/position of fairness: fairness is inherent in cooperation/collaboration but seems increasingly trivial (and even unwanted) in market competition. There's an oft-quoted sports figure whose most famous quote is: 'Winning is the only thing'. This seems to be what competition has become; no reason for why one should win or how, just 'win'. Mindlessness.

    (It's been a long day - apologies if rambling.)

    237:

    Not sure how the fall of the State derives from Global Warming

    Regardless of the effects of climate change, some parts of the world are still going to be consistently nicer/less effected then others . People with military power are still going to seize those areas and draw a border with Keep Out signs

    Exactly what happens in history when big migrations of people happen . You ended up with states they just had different rulers and somewhat different populations

    The US is not going to cease to exist it’s just gonna annex Canada

    238:

    Again, Geoffrey Parker's Global Crisis is probably the best easily accessible history of the Little Ice Age, so you can see the details there.

    Off the top of my head, the problem is violation of the social contract. States are about predictability: the state provides the legal structure so that you can own your land, use money of some known worth, and so forth. With things like crop failures, there's a loss of predictability, and with it, the state can fall. A side effect of this is what Solnit calls "Elite Panic," which is where (as in post-Katrina New Orleans) cops are sent in to "reestablish order" rather violently to suppress ad hoc local efforts to help people.

    The other problem is refugees. The state social contract is all about boundaries, both on where you can go, what you can do, and what you own. If all that becomes fluid and up for grabs, people very quickly start questioning the power of the state. This probably underlies the right wing panic over borders and obsession with walls that we're seeing all over the world.

    As for annexing Canada, that may or may not happen, but Canada's small because they don't have a huge amount of productive farm land. Sending 300 million people north to Canada won't necessarily mean they're home free. Instead, they'll be trying to grow wheat on what a few decades ago was tamarack strewn bogs, with lots of mosquitoes. And that's not easy.

    While I can understand the desire to keep it simple and simplistic, it really is worth understanding what makes states fragile. This isn't to be an anarchist and topple them, but to get some sense of what to do when, and why they do insane things like insisting on paying billions for useless walls.

    239:

    I think science fiction needs to go back to its roots, shit-kicking technology. That's how it ran from Jules Verne into the 1970s when other, possibly more serious stuff took over. We are faced with all sorts of challenges: global warming, the surveillance state, a raw materials crisis, saturating the planetary output, the LEO trap and so on.

    It's easy to write dystopian fiction with that kind of lineup, but the early science fiction writers faced similar crises: potential famine, increasingly deadly weapons, repressive monarchies, religious fanatics. Science fiction needs stories, and shit-kicking technology offers all kinds of story material. We are technological animals, and advancing technologies change our social and political structures. The rifle ended the age of kings. Birth control changed the place of women in our societies. Chlorination ended the children's coffin crisis.

    Almost all of Jules Vernes stories revolve around some great shit-kicking gizmo. Half of the stories through the 1960s do as well. Tom Swift stories were all about Tom Swift and the Shit-Kicking Whatnot. His first whatnot was a motor-cycle. I read a great story, Calumet-K. It was about building a grain elevator. Maybe we need stories about climate engineers turning the Sahara into an Eden or reclaiming Bangladesh in the style of the Netherlands. Maybe we need to factor some large number, and the rival teams are building their computers and proving their lemmas. Maybe its an energy storage scheme or an interurban transportation system well beyond our bullet trains. What if Musk's dumb-shit Boring idea actually made sense?

    Even surveillance could make for great stories. I had an older Euro-hippy friend back in the 1980s. To my surprise, he loved the idea of a universal ID card. That way he could get social benefits anywhere in the world, just as one could use a credit card. The privacy issues didn't matter. Those who wanted to find him would find him. The others didn't matter. His father was in the Dutch resistant and stood up to the Gestapo as part of the Lisbon Line, so perhaps this was family wisdom. What if we had universal surveillance that placed limits on tracking an individual, but that individual had to be found, because McGuffin?

    Science fiction used to be shit-kicking technology first, story second and societal impact a distant third. Now shit-kicking gadgets are the big blind spot. Bring back the shit-kickers.

    240:

    There's nobody successfully advancing a political view that it's time to raise taxes because there's a pressing public need.

    ... except those who are. I named names in my post and those people/parties quite explicitly do have higher taxes as policy. I presume you mean that since tax rises haven't already been legislated it can't happen in the future?

    I fear you're just looking at the push-back and concluding that since there's still opposition that the argument is unsuccessful (when there's push-back against ideas like science, democracy and money...).

    What's more noticeable to me is the increasingly public fear by the oligarchs that there will be/already is popular support for higher taxes. What we're seeing in NZ right now you apparently interpret as the inevitable failure of a doomed idea, I see as a desperate rearguard action by the oligarchs to prevent the popular will being carried out. FFS, even *Trump* knew higher taxes was an important part of a populist platform and he ran as a Republican.

    Apparently John McDonnel in the UK is another one:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/24/john-mcdonnell-labour

    241:

    A State does not need to be totally predictable or even as predictable as they are now. They just need to convince their citizens that they are more predictable then what happens when you have anarchy. And that’s a low bar

    States make well fall, but to get the end of States you need no new State to arise afterward which seems unlikely, given that some degree of order is generally better then none at all

    242:

    As far as refugees go, I think it wouldn’t be surprised if many states don’t just resort to full on extermination of them

    You can easily imagine a scenario that is basically islands of facism claiming the remaining agricultural areas, surrounded by a seas of starving anarchy

    243:

    I could wish people could believe the very sober and serious reports; no agriculture after ~2060 at the outside. At all.

    Can you grow enough fungus, yeast, under-glass potatoes, and who-knows-what to maintain civilization? We don't know. We really ought to try to find out sharpish.

    244:

    Here in NC, USA we are in the middle of the lower the taxes fight. And it is a minority position. In general. There is a large group of people who are OK with their current taxes and/or would not mind them go up a bit to have government do better at many things. But it's a comfortable mental state.

    The people who want lower taxes tend to be more of the foaming at the mouth yelling at the top of their lungs types. And they get listened to by the politicians and turn out to vote.

    245:

    Look up Qian Xuesen. That's what China has been doing since the 1970s with some success.

    246:

    "Information causes change"; the corollary is that if it doesn't cause change, it isn't information.

    So far, in this respect, nothing has been information about raisin tax rates; look at how nigh-impossible it is to implement a carbon tax, despite this being obviously appropriate policy since about 1980. (General emissions taxation would be a good plan, not just carbon.) I don't think that's an oligarchical last gasp, because they're not looking like their grip is being loosened. (Their legitimacy is decreasing, but that works by social collapse most of the time, not by transfer of power.)

    That doesn't mean people aren't advocating for sensible policies, just that there is somehow no way to get them actually implemented.

    247:

    Taiwan experimented (it may have stopped with the change in government) with an interesting mechanism where there's a public message board, and you can express a policy position, and vote on other people's, but NOT comment. It showed a remarkable ability to converge on "this would make a sensible law about which there is consensus". I suspect it's the first tendril of something that could be really useful in a polity where doing what people in general find beneficial was a practical political goal.

    248:

    Immortality doesn't bode well for science if science progresses one funeral at a time.

    249:

    That 'The Coming Ice Age' was written by Betty Friedan. That was a familiar name. She later wrote the Feminine Mystique about "the problem".

    250:

    Not rambling at all, you're more coherent than I am after two days with a cold.

    The thing to unpack about Sparta (even Sparta) is that it's really an example of just backing away from co-operation enough to support making your main structure a military one. But you don't form a hoplite phalanx without co-operating with your fellow phalangists (not to say you can't as such, but you don't). And feeding them needs some kind of social organisation, it can't just all be done by slaves (that begs the question really). It's not really possible to have a functioning group of humans without any form of co-operation, with nothing that is about the good of the group rather than the good of the individual. So it comes down to how the group members identify themselves and each other. That is, who are "the people"? And who are the barking foreigners they can take as slaves?

    And that's an interesting progression... the role that groups play in competitive activity, the testosterone and adrenaline and oxytocin interaction, the blind, insane polarisation of opinions on lines that are almost entirely tribal, and the predictable imbalance where the "side" that privileges exactly these things suffers from a worse extreme.

    251:

    There is a whole global industry of 'outsourcing' that does exactly that. For a couple dollars an hour you too can hire a personal assistant, outsource much of your work and look good at the office.

    252:

    kaleberg @ 239 said: I think science fiction needs to go back to its roots, shit-kicking technology.

    That is a key point I forgot to make. Well said.

    It's the difference between "Hard SF" and "Science Fantasy". Arthur C. Clarke is still labeled as writing "Hard SF", yet nothing he wrote was "Hard SF" it was all "Science Fantasy". His fiction stands up today as valid stories, not as being accurate about the technology. In his worlds that he wrote about, the technology worked, and how people dealt with the results is what made the story. A Fall of Moondust is still gripping as hell.

    I will speak heresy here. Too many editors and publishers have been publishing what they thought would please the Space Cadets, forgetting that people want stories to read, not technical manuals for building actual rockets.

    People dis Heinlein and John Campbell, forgetting that they were writing aspirationally. They could not take us to the Future, but they hoped to inspire people to try and build that Future.

    "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

    - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    We have gone part way to the Future, but we have been failing for a long time to move further. Too many Phd students of Physics have been recruited to develop tricky financial instruments for Wall Street rather than take us to the stars.

    Margin Call (2011) Official HD Trailer

    - Zachary Quinto plays a character that was a "rocket scientist" before he took the job. "Numbers are numbers, this just pays better."

    I'll speak further heresy, too much of "safe science" stifles new developments. When you can have a group of science nerds vote that Pluto is not a planet, there is something deeply wrong. When "safe science" determines if you get a grant to fund your work, only "safe science" gets funded, not something outside the box.

    Outside Context Problem by Ian M. Banks

    This lecture discusses the problem and a possible solution. When you watch the video you will recognize the usual negative comments that people use to dismiss what is outside their "safe science". What he is proposing is the opposite of what happens inside the National Science Foundation(NSF) as described in Green Earth by KSR. BTW, The only value of reading Green Earth is to see how the NSF works. It is appalling.

    GERALD POLLACK: The Ills of Science | EU 2013

    The Institute for Venture Science is real, and funded to start.

    Who knows what will result from the foundation, but the same thing needs to happen in SF. The Blind Spots Charlie is talking about are all too real, and anything new is all too easily dismissed by the Space Cadets.

    Sadly, the answer is to pay attention to what Space Cadets say, but do not let them into your workspace, or they will force you out. Many of the great comments that people have made point to story to be written, but not in the way the comment was intended. HA!

    Truly, thanks for all the help.

    253:

    No agricultural outside means no plants and a completely sterile biosphere. So yes, that would be game over. But I’ve never heard anyone credible predict by 2060

    But links are always welcome

    254:

    Damien @ 227
    ...his line of thinking implies that competition is wasteful ...
    EXCEPT, of course in Team Spurts, otherwise known as the Fascist olympic games - or for that matter all "popular" sports with mass followings - almost as if they were "designed" to keep the masses happy.
    OTOH some competition is probably necessary, otherwise "Products" would never actually improve, or would they? NOTE: One has to be very careful of fake "Social darwinist" thiking here, too.
    OTOH (2)
    See SFR @ 236 - also true.
    Complicated, isn't it?

    Unholyguy @ 237
    The US is not going to cease to exist it’s just gonna annex Canada
    Well, many on the US raving-right have been advocating that for some time ... but that then ties into the topic of a possible US civli war, which is off-limits, so I'll stop right now,

    keleberg @ 239
    shit-kicking technology
    Except that a lot of it is going to be Biological ....
    News item this AM, referring to a relatively simple treatment that stops the 'orrible protein-folding/kinking that generates Alzheimers' disease - seems to wok on very small trial, hope for mass roll-out in less than 6 years.
    Things like that will change societies.

    allynh @ 252
    That "Ills of Science" video is from the "Electric Universe" people, who may easily be bonkers.
    However, there are real problems out there that need REALLY NEW THINKING
    I've referrd before to the Vacuum Catastrophe tied into the Relativity/QM - erm - "slight misfit"

    255:

    Consider, for example, that a restricted diet stunts growth, and that average adult stature tracks food availability by a generation or three, and ask why men are, on average, taller than women

    This theory makes no sense. There is some evidence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of height triggered by famine conditions, but it can't explain why women are shorter.

    Think about it: women give birth to both male and female babies. So if men hoard food and women don't get enough to eat, and that makes women shorter, that would activate the epigenetic mechanism to make *all* babies shorter.

    Also, the theory requires that women across every culture have been food-deprived to the extent that it's stunting their growth for generations. There have been plenty of times and places where women (at least in some classes) received plenty of food for more than three generations.

    Are royal women subjected to food deprivation conditions? I'd say probably not. Yet nobody has noticed the phenomenon that after three generations, kings and queens become the same height.

    Consider the practice of Leblouh or wife-fattening, where young women are forcefed to be obese, because that's seen as desirable. Leblouh has been going on since the 11th century and has only recently gone out of fashion. According to the male-food-hoarding theory, in cultures where this is practiced, men and women would be the same height, or at least have less height disparity. But if you check the figures, the areas where it's practised like Mauritius and Morocco have completely typical male and female heights: https://www.worlddata.info/average-bodyheight.php

    Men are taller than women on average because humans are a sexually dimorphic species; genes associated with growth are upregulated by parent-of-origin genomic imprinting and there is also a height-reducing gene called ITM2A on the X chromosome that is not subject to complete X-inactivation.

    This "food hoarding" idea is pseudobiology, presumably coming from the "blank slate" idea that we have to deny that humans are animals and can be affected by their biology, or the alt-right will take over.

    Another piece of blank slatism I've seen is the claim that "testosterone can't cross the blood-brain barrier", so it can't possibly influence behavior, so male violence has to be 100% cultural. This is untrue, because testosterone is a steroid that's highly membrane-soluble. It's also a transphobic idea, because it's implying that transmen who go on HRT and experience greater horniness and aggressive impulses are lying about their lived experience.

    256:

    I wouldn't think so. I'd expect you get a shitload of thermal radiation from that sunshield that might make things pretty hot for any object behind the shield.

    You might want to have a look at the James Webb Space Telescope which uses a sunshade to keep the instruments cold. Although touted as a Hubble replacement it's actually designed to work at infra-red wavelengths where heat becomes noise.

    257:

    Having observed women starving themselves in adolescence because short women were considered attractive (and then cursing because tall women were in vogue by the time they became adults...). And also having observed children one step down from royalty...who lived through a war...with 4 somewhat stunted, thin, sisters and one fat little boy...there was a real difference in valuation. There was apparently a difficult time when the girls got to experience the taste of rat.

    The cultural effects aren't negligible - I'd agree that they aren't dominant.

    258:

    If there is a cultural effect on height, why do cultures where women are forcefed throughout adolescence not have taller women relative to the men?

    And look at this chart of male and female heights since the Paleolithic: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/human-heights-over-the-long-run - heights maintain a consistent ratio, and everyone gets shorter over the period when 'patriarchy' is supposedly introduced, but according to the patriarchy-causes-height-difference theory, we should see men get taller and women get shorter.

    Maybe anecdotally you knew one family where the daughters got less food, but anecdotally I can recall Orwell writing about seeing some fat upper class women when most people are hungry from rationing, so our anecdotes cancel out. The fact is that any culture that restricts women's food so much that they are actually stunted is not going to last very long, because they'll also end up infertile.

    259:

    No agricultural outside means no plants and a completely sterile biosphere.

    Absolutely not. It just means a combination of "no predictable rain" and "food returns don't repay the energy investment" where "energy investment" has to count the food costs to feed everybody doing the work. (and that means the distribution system, too, not just someone driving a tractor.)

    The IPCC has been saying all along that 2 C of warming breaks agriculture. 2060 is the outer edge of "when we hit 2 C of warming" predictions. It's debatable whether rain or warming becomes critical first.

    It may be useful to remember that the Long Anthropocene is a function of people replacing the plants that were there with plants they could eat. The "plants they could eat" is a tiny subset of what grows, and it's a fussy subset. Change the conditions and while lots of other plants might be OK, that doesn't matter for agriculture. Agriculture needs rain at predictable times and a predictable range of temperatures inside certain bounds.

    260:

    Request for clarification: does this mean all posts about civil conflict are off-limits?

    No: just US-centric posts about the ongoing kulturkampf.

    (It's a conversational black hole: nothing escapes, everything gets chewed up and macerated, it sheds no light, and it's not terribly useful or productive.)

    If you were maybe going to discuss isochrone maps showing travel time between ideologically split communities in North America and point out how these have changed since 1860 (when crossing the USA, even with the new railroads, took weeks, so that the Confederate and Union armies were fighting the equivalent of a modern World War in terms of logistics and transit times) you would be contributing something useful. Or that in the modern world, 100 miles is the equivalent of 3 1860 miles in terms of getting-to-beat-your-enemy-to-a-pulp, so that the entire dynamics of oppositional strife have changed from international-equivalent to bludgeoning-your-next-door-neighbour. But mostly these threads just devolve into "red state/blue state rah rah rah".

    261:

    >"and ask why men are, on average, taller than women"

    no.... really, no.

    Sexual dimorphism is a real thing in humans, it's not just an artifact culture.

    In a large fraction of the western world feel free to sample from sub-populations who've experienced basically no shortage of food for many generations and you still get height differences.(and muscle mass differences such that a completely and utterly average man is physically stronger than ~98% of the worlds women and all but a few top female athletes: testosterone is a hell of a drug)

    You can manufacture extremely tall women by screwing around with peoples hormones around puberty if you want to and it might even make an interesting story to have a culture where people are routinely given such treatments along with some kind of designer-testosterone-equivalent(that somehow doesn't mess with anything else) to give everyone approximately equal muscle mass/strength and the cultural effects that might have... though Greg Egan already went whole-hog on that one .... but for the most part women in the western world really aren't shorter for the sake of starvation right now.

    I completely agree with points 1,2,4 and most of 3 excepting the above.

    Re: laws, the current in-fashion system of cops/judges/courts/prisons etc is almost never questioned and is often reproduced in full in scifi. Despite it being a relative anomaly historically speaking.

    I found this facinating:

    http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Course_Pages/legal_systems_very_different_12/LegalSystemsDraft.html

    Examples:

    Under ancient chinese law they feared that a written law code generally available would lead to rules lawyering and supported unequal treatement based on the unequal status of those to whom the law applied.

    "medieval Icelandic institutions have several peculiar and interesting characteristics; they might almost have been invented by a mad economist"

    In ancient Iceland law enforcement was viewed as a private affair

    " the Icelandic legal system recognized an essentially "public" offense, it dealt with it by giving some individual (in some cases chosen by lot from those affected) the right to pursue the case and collect the resulting fine"

    also you could sell your right to collect the fine to someone else more capable of collecting.

    Killing someone enforcing a courts decision could itself cause a fine though you could shop around for courts... but it relied on the majority respecting that courts decision.

    Polylegal Systems stuff is also interesting.

    One thing that does often bug me about "post scarcity" fiction that also claims not to restrict individual freedom: how do you cope with the American quiverfulls?

    If you have an ideological group who include the belief that having the maximum number of kids possible is a moral good and imparting that same system of beliefs on their kids is a moral good... what happens in your "post scarcity" society? lets say your quiverful people on average have 10 kids per couple. (or perhaps they engineer both partners to be able to give birth and push it up to 20)

    Within about 37 generations assuming a starting generation of about 1,000,000... so possibly before the year 3000 they'll need to have converted all matter in the milky way that isn't part of stars or black holes into human flesh to keep up. Or put another way, their demand for new matter to turn into human flesh can out-strip how fast we can reach more matter at the speed of light by many orders of magnitude.

    yet much "utopian" scifi that claims that it's denizens are completely free and living post-scarcity seem to completely lack such groups, was there a genocide they failed to mention? did they edit everyones brains to erase such movements? what about people who didn't want to be edited? are there just china-style 1-child policies that they avoid mentioning avoid making people feel uncomfortable?

    262:

    The height ratio between genders is subject to considerable national variation, which strongly suggests that yes, some of this is cultural, which kind of fries my brain - do teenage girls who are not done growing really diet enough to cost them 4-6 centimeters of adult height.. in Ireland?

    Ireland has one of the highest ratios. If the ratio was the same as in Italy, the women of the green isle would average five centimeters taller

    Goddess accursed, that would cost them pretty heavily in general health, and it cannot be doing their education any good whatsoever. Really. Is this a thing that is happening? Ugh.

    RE: agriculture - I am not too concerned about this, because there is a lot of concrete steps that can be taken to harden the food supply, and there is just so many idle hands available to throw at the problem. This does presuppose that at some point we stop engaging in learned helplessness quite so much, but even if we all die, it will not really be the climate that killed us, but the learned helplessness.

    This does change the way society functions immensely. For example, if the main source of meat becomes fish from OTEC associated managed fisheries, that is a whole lot more people with nautical careers. If we give up on open-field agriculture as a mugs game, concentrate plant growth under hardened glass, what uses will the abandoned lands be put to?

    263:

    Two essential things about medieval Icelandic institutions: they didn't work and they were the product of poverty. Literally didn't have the resources to support sovereignty and had to import one.

    Movements like quiverfuls work by not given women meaningful economic choices; if you do that -- insisting on you have to educate daughters has resulted in all sorts of religious groups emigrating from Canada -- they go away.

    "Post-scarcity" as an idea is nonsense; you can presumptively -- it's the "what if", it's free -- manage this for material needs. You can't manage it for having the person you fall in love with fall in love with you back, for being praised for your cleverness, for being admired for your art. Lots of scarcity there.

    In general, what you're doing is picking either bounds on conduct or mandating conduct. The former is more effective but it's harder to do and it's more fragile. There's social advantage in righteousness.

    264:

    Boys eat steak, girls eat yoghurt. Girls sit still. Girls are quiet.

    It is really difficult to believe just how pervasive this kind of conditioning is without looking at the quantified approaches to tabulating it.

    We're just starting to see a "girls are active and athletic" thing take off more generally; it's hit about generation one. The result -- if you look at things like women's soccer or hockey -- suggests there's a lot of headroom if you take the cultural limits off.

    (Keep in mind that Ireland at least was one of the most patriarchal cultures in Europe for a long time. Magdalene laundries are one famous symptom. You'd expect there to be a strong effect there.)

    For "abandoned" land, the best food production option is pastoralism. But you have to get rid of individual land ownership for that to work. (Also -- energy is going to be different than the current fossil-carbon setup. That's going to change perceptions of distance. Maybe cities -- solar or nuclear powered electric trains -- are close together, but the semi-arid grasslands -- mule train time -- are very far away.

    265:

    Outside Soviet SF (e.g. Yefremov), I have never seen "post-scarcity" to mean anything other than material needs.

    266:

    There are some people who are just natalists.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natalism

    There are some people who just seem to have a hyped-up urge to have children. Some mutation dialing up the urge to have kids to 11 in some individuals when faced with unlimited resources far far far from the strangest thing our biology could do to us.


    If there's even a tiny number of people who, for anyone reason that's not blocked in your society, cultural or genetic, have a boosted desire to have as many kids as possible: what puts the brakes on? It's an "easy" answer to assume that when given absolute freedom that absolutely nobody will want to be a natalist but that seems about as safe as assuming that you'll of course find zero kleptomaniacs in the richest suburbs of LA because we know that crime tends to go down when less people are in poverty.

    If you want to wave it away: it rests on the assumption that of all the billions of women on earth, that none actually freely want to have lots of kids and that none have reasons for such that can be passed on culturally.

    Which I don't feel is a safe assumption.

    I'm talking purely about material needs.

    @Thomas Jørgensen

    Heights tends to be closer in poorer countries. Which is the opposite of what you'd expect if food shortages hit women's height harder.

    Also extreme dieting seems to affect final height more in males than in females, possibly because extreme dieting can pause puberty in girls allowing bones to continue growing.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12563050

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18519455

    Meanwhile earlier onset of puberty is associated with ending up shorter (some people abuse puberty blockers off-label just because they want their kids to be taller) and food shortages are associated with later onset of puberty in women.

    tl;dr: food shortages seem to lower mens height more.

    267:

    Icelandic law has a lot in common with ancient Irish law, current traditional Somali law, traditional Papuan practice, and many others--it's what people do in the absence of an overarching state. Graeber even posits (possibly correctly) that much of what we see as "traditional money" (feathers, cowries, slave girls, etc.) is built around dealing with legal issues in a pre-state situation.

    Without a state, you still get problems of theft, assault, homicide, rape, and so on. But you don't have police and courts. Instead, you've got your clan. How to keep problems from devolving into endless tit-for-tat feuding? That's where traditional laws come in. They're backed by the willingness of a clan or tribe to escalate violence, along with "judges" or legal experts who help figure out a way past this problem. The systems that result tend to be compensatory (how many slave girls is a dead warrior worth) rather than punitive (would you trust a vengeful clan to lock up your precious son, if he accidentally killed someone?). To keep some sense of fairness, the penalties are often spelled out in gory detail, mostly (I suspect) to help settle the arguments. One example from the Caucasus has the traditional legal code known as the "Book of blood" and it defines the penalty for things like wounds given in fights based on how long the wounds are and the relative social ranks of the people involved (low ranking men have their wound lengths measured by big grains, high-ranking men have their wound lengths measured out in small grain-lengths).

    And so forth. I know the libertarians get their shorts all knotted about whether something like the traditional Somali law would work as an alternative for the state, so you have to read this literature carefully and with an eye towards the bias of the authors.

    Where states are useful is that they ideally create a uniform justice code and monopolize violence, so that the justice you get (ideally, not practically) depends less on your gender and status and more on what happened to you. Also, good state justice is predictable. It doesn't have to be gentle, but if the system always works consistently, then that makes life much easier for the people in it.

    268:

    There are a lot of poor countries at the top of the list if you sort the nations of the world for "least difference in height." .. but also Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal. None of which have calorie shortages.

    269:

    Thanks for the clarification. Didn't think I was going there — I didn't have any American examples at all. I was just struck by the phrase "cold civil war" and was trying to figure out what it might mean.

    270:

    But they have had food shortages, and there's pretty good evidence that what your mother and your grandmother got to eat matter. Possibly your great-grandmother.

    How vegetarian are you? also matters. Plus whatever side effects of the Great War on the male population. (Presumably not Spain and Portugal, but certainly that could affect Belgium and Italy.)

    So far as I recall, the three known components for height are history-of-nutrition (including your nutrition but certainly going back a few maternal generations), genes, and stress. It could be the case that the Mediterranean countries don't apply as much stress.

    271:

    Shape-shifting, not done much lately? Did I just walk past all the werewolf and were-other-critters section of the booksellers too fast?

    Mostly romance, of course, but...

    272:

    No, no. You send up the reset signal, and it goes into safe mode, and then you send up the rest of the revised code, and it wakes up and reloads.

    This *is* how it's done, and I first read of that with DS-1, what, a dozen years ago or more?

    But just *what* did you mean that some young kid goes up, and us sr. sysadmins, who've been waiting to go up since we were teenagers don't get to go? I think not....

    273:

    One caution: a lot of the cross-generation epigenetics stuff has been failing to replicate very well and seems to have much smaller effects than initially claimed.

    Also, distribution of height related alleles across populations doesn't seem to be uniform. Some in populations people remain comparatively short no matter how much nutrients and calories you shovel into their mouth.

    For an extreme example: You can feed pygmy peoples as much as you want, they're not gonna get much taller because if you've got their version of the CISH gene you're gonna end up short... and possibly slightly more resistant to malaria and tb because of another immune pathway that the gene interacts with.

    274:

    Not that inefficient, and it runs 24x7. And, please note, the environmental impact statements were DONE AND APPROVED by 1980 - we had a presentation by someone on SPS around then at a PSFS meeting, and that's what they told us *then*.

    And it's not Death Ray, it's more like not-too-many watts/m^2.

    275:

    You're late to the game. I had a co-worker in '07 who was an American, working for an Indian contracting company. About cultural and other differences - he finally got pissed off enough to quit, because a) they paid him once a month, and b) didn't seem to get the idea that no, once a month is ON THAT DAY, NOT a day, or two, or a week later.

    276:

    What do you mean, when we get there? RIGHT NOW, 400 families own 62% of the ENTIRE wealth of the US, and well, you can read the URL: https://www.businessinsider.com/americas-top-01-households-hold-same-amount-of-wealth-as-bottom-90-2017-10

    277:

    Um, say wha'? "Grows more Martian soil"? So, soil is like a plant?

    Y'know, for you on the other side of the Pond, there was a popular TV show here about 20+ years ago, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can see Crow making comments on this movie....

    Why do you *think* I don't care to see most Hollywood sciffy movies?

    278:

    Where? Unfortunately, that's were other people decide to change your attitudes....

    279:

    From personal observation when younger, not in my day. That is women by an large did not diet at least not at the ages where it would affect their growth. I cannot speak for younger generations of Irish women, but from my observation the tall young people (male of female) are taller than they used to be.

    280:

    “Breaking “ agriculture is a way different thing then “no agriculture “

    “Breaking agriculture “ means you can’t grow that crop in that location in the way you are used to growing it. Which certainly makes sense could well lead to disruption in the food chain

    The idea that “you can’t grow any crops anywhere in any way” is a significantly stronger statement and needs some strong support

    Also much of the worlds crops today are not grown via rain (pretty much everything that grows in California as an example). While many forms of current irrigation aren’t sustainable that doesn’t mean that irrigation itself isn’t sustainable

    281:

    I do think dark ages are, would the correct phrase be punctured equilibrium? People will go along if they don't know things could be better, but with the slightest clue, they do try to change things. Seems to me they fail when either one group decides they Deserver All Teh Toys, or something from outside - drought, storm, invasion, disease, come in. Of course, right now, we know where most of those pieces-parts are, and can watch them moving.

    If we did have a collapse, it would be *extremely* unevenly distributed. For one, too many of us know too much to wind up as the anarchist collective of The Holy Grail. I could see fuel cells and steam powered wagons....

    282:

    Why'd it go away? Can you say "mergers"? How many publishers did there used to be? Now it's the Big Five.

    On the other hand, for shorts, etc, a friend was commenting on the Metro this morning, about all the possible venues, and it struck me: are all these small Internet publishers... the New Pulp 'zines?

    283:

    On the one hand... the job I had 21+ years ago, my manager told me, in so many words, he'd been looking for really good craizes. He'd been hoping we'd get along, and that he hadn't expected us to turn into a team of friends.

    On the other hand, your idea on auditing the crazy managers is going to have to be approved by testosterone & adrenaline-fueled managers....

    284:

    *sigh*

    On the one hand, the more we know, the more we realize all the "junk" in our DNA, RNA, and elsewhere are actually important.

    On the other hand, I urge you to do a search on the phrase "precision medicine", and yes, we *have* started on that.

    285:

    I disagree. The issues of Miles' disability, *esp* on Barrayar, are heavily there, all the time, even when his bodyguard is there.

    On the other hand, "and he got better", um, yeah. Got a friend, an actual superannuated outlaw biker, who says, no, he's not disabled, he's crippled, and will happily argue that to someone who gets the cooties when they hear that word.

    286:

    Moz, let me see if this helps: as I understand it, the Jewish version is "Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you." Does that work better?

    Then, of course, there's the right wing's "do unto others, then split".

    287:

    Charlie, hope this doens't get flagged, being US-centric.

    What's wrong with the poster's position: for one, you might note that the metro areas *vastly* outnumber the rural areas. Hell, Washington, DC, itself, has a larger population (which usually votes Democratic) than all of Montana. And as I understand it, one of the things that was critical in the US Civil War was that the North had a *far* larger population.

    Sorry, btw, but the GOP only watches Faux, and lower on the food chain: Dems, independents, and the laef have a significantly larger number of media outlets, and they do disagree with other outlets.

    288:

    My current response to folks "accusing" others of being SJW's is that, obviously, the folks doing the accusing are antisocial injustice warriors.

    289:

    Also, on Barrayar, Miles is probably in the top five of all people on the privileged list. He doesn't have it easy, but being born as who he is, he has it more easy than just about everybody else on Barrayar.

    290:

    And the current government of Israel's pretty much stated intention is to force the folks who's families had been living there for 1,000 or 1,500 years to go away, and if not, they'll treat them *exactly* like the Americans treated the Native Americans.

    As I've said before, God (tm) DID NOT GIVE the Jews Israel That was Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and the UN.

    291:

    Hey, you missed a few points: with government ownership, you get:
    1. items that are *NOT* made with planned obsolescence, like crap clothes whose buttons fall off in three washings.
    2. No multibillion dollar push to tell you that you MUST buy the Latest i-zombiephone, which is *so* much cooler than the last, because the old one runs the new bloatware too slow, and we need to increase our cashflow for ROI for our chief execs.

    292:

    Odd. I think back to the USSR.

    If not planned obsolescence then what is uniformly crappy goods made to a mediocre standard?

    293:

    "Smart houses".

    1. House has blue screen of death. Your job, should you accept it, is to reboot it using only the keys you have on you and a paperclip.
    2. House "observing people urnting themselves... um, yeah, you *have* read Jack Williamson's The Humanoids, right? I mean, you shouldn't use that grinder, you might abrade the tip of your finger (moi? this past Sat? no! I didn't!), we'll give you a safe one....

    294:

    I just reread Stand on Zanzibar a couple years ago or so, and yeah, it does stand up, though it missed a lot of the downsizeing and ubiquity of computers.

    Ahem, and I'm speaking here as a member of the very loose organization of techies known as GT (yes, the very same General Technics from SoZ, and yes, back in the seventies, when they semi-organized, they did get a letter of ok from Brunner)....

    295:

    Re:' ... a lot of the cross-generation epigenetics stuff has been failing to replicate very well and seems to have much smaller effects than initially claimed.'

    Like this article?

    Too Much Success for Recent Groundbreaking Epigenetic Experiments

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4196602/

    'Abstract

    An article reporting statistical evidence for epigenetic transfer of learned behavior has important implications, if true. With random sampling, real effects do not always result in rejection of the null hypothesis, but the reported experiments were uniformly successful. Such an outcome is expected to occur with a probability of 0.004.'


    Epigenetics is still fairly new. Plus there's the n to the umpteenth combinations and permutations issue of 'genes' & 'environment', not to mention species. Personally, I'd like researchers working in this area to map (and save in a central database) which genes are most susceptible to which types of environmental change/insult, to what extent and for how many generations.

    Both Nature & Science journals have printed ed-op pieces on the problem of lack of experimental reproducibility. One point of agreement among the op-ed authors is that there's little benefit to/incentive for researchers to replicate someone else's research based on the current funding model. This means that whatever is published (once) must be forever taken at face value (fact) and used as a trusted take-off point for the next step in research. Reproducibility is linked (IMO) to another problem: there are over 1,000 legit science journals out there publishing new research vs. only 1 journal that published negative results. (The Journal of Negative Results ceased publishing in 2017).

    Tying this in to the topic: Don't recall any SF that dealt with crappy, full of holes old research studies. Seems whatever research treasure trove our heroes found was always on the money. That and all of the tacit knowledge that never gets written down because - hell, everybody knows this!

    So,yes, the biological frontier seems the way to go esp. with GW/CC. Too bad your research library is flawed because your funding model sucked! Post-apocalypse opening scene: a bunch of scientists wading through old articles trying to guess which experiments might translate into real-world success.

    296:

    Several general things:
    1. Stories about mid-next century? Y'know, I read the book, it was up for some obscure award, call the Hugo, I think, called New York: 2140, by a Kim Stanley Robinson....

    2. Yes, the effect of the population bomb was only delayed, not tossed out the window. With climate change, you get crop failures and before they can start farming elsewhere, famine. Widespread. And then there's all the sicko stories the media loves, enslavement, actual cannibalism, neglect and maltreatment of children... just like in the experiments with rats.

    3. Totally off the subject...
    Excerpt:
    The chances of Britain holding a second referendum on Brexit just got higher. Britain's opposition Labour party was voting Tuesday on a policy that would put a new public vote on the table if Prime Minister Theresa May
    failed to get an eventual Brexit deal through the UK Parliament. And Labour's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, received rapturous applause at his party's annual conference when he raised the prospect that staying
    in the European Union would be on the ballot paper.

    "Nobody is ruling out 'Remain' as an option," he said.
    --- end excerpt ---

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/25/uk/brexit-labour-conference-second-referendum-intl/index.html

    297:

    metro areas *vastly* outnumber the rural areas

    That's true in terms of population in Canada — despite our self-image as a wilderness country, most Canadians live in cities.

    In terms of votes, however, rural ridings outnumber urban ridings, so rural voters have a LOT more power than urban voters. This gives up some of the same dynamics that are evident south of the border.

    I'm curious, do other countries have the same disparity in urban/rural voter power? And does this have the same effect on politics that it has in North America?

    298:

    Re: Teams and troops vis-a-vis cooperation vs. competition

    Sports teams and modern day military units recognize that each member has a specialty that he/she brings to the team/unit - that is, teams are made up of individuals.

    Something else that the celebrated ancient cultures shared: their artifacts and recorded history often shows a multiplicity of their society's abilities. Many diverse achievements attributable to the many different contributors to their culture vs. the monomania (only $$$ matters) that seems to exist in some places today.

    299:

    whitroth @ 290
    Correction: Arthur Balfour

    Unfortunately, you are correct about the current guvmint of Israel ....
    Would that a proper settlement had been reached in th 70's/80's when there was a chance .....

    @ 296
    The trouble there is fuckwit Corbyn, who is putting party before country - just like the tory brexiteers.
    However, the longer it drags on, the greater the chance not only of a second referendum ( I would say the odds of that are now better than 50% ) - but one that includes "Remain" on the ballot-paper is what we really need.
    We can change our minds at General Elections, why not referenda?

    RP @ 297
    Yes - but not nearly so much. It certailny applies in Brtain & France & Germany.
    But the Rurla vote & the inner-city vote must compete for the fringes, the outer suburbs & the medium-sized towns, which tends to have a moderating influence, mostly.

    300:

    OFF TOPIC
    Religious stupidity & intolerance again
    What is about works of Art & Literature that scare them so much?
    That people will think for themseleves & not listen only to the priests?

    301:

    California's unusual, and I believe that rain-fed agriculture is the norm for the American Midwest. If you want to see the whole insane history of irrigated agriculture in the US, read Cadillac Desert.

    I agree with you on the "breaking agriculture" problem, but I wanted to add a couple of notes.

    The big problem right now isn't farmers growing stuff, it's the supply chain. It's not good enough that your farm grows "food" every year, bakeries need #2 bread wheat of a predictable quality (that's the #2 part of the spec), in large quantities, at low price. The weather may not favor #2 bread wheat, but if you don't grow it, then you've got food riots on your hands from all the people who just must eat bread.

    As many people have noted, there are other ways of farming that are more productive. These range from the Three Sisters (corn, squash, beans, of the right varieties) to tree crops (almonds and so forth) and tubers like manioc, to many multi-cropping dealie-boppers. All of these produce more "food" per year than does a wheat field. The problem is, for most of them, they don't produce one crop predictably, so you can't set up a supply chain to run off them as easily, and worse, it's often a chore to mechanize the harvest, so you've got labor costs.

    This is where climate change bites down. We're doing okay at feeding billions of people with mechanized agriculture (ignoring the fundamental insanity of all the fossil fuel inputs that we haven't yet swapped out), but this only works because the fields are made very simple, for mechanized processing. This isn't a system that's resilient to a varying climate, but it is fairly necessary to feed people in cities.

    Now, the obvious route to dealing with climate change is to reinstitute peasant agriculture, get everyone back on the land, slaving away all day on polyculture farms, eating mostly what they produce, and minimizing the supply chains. While in theory this is great, it didn't work out so well in the Chinese Cultural Revolution or for the Khmer Rouge. We need other ways to make for more resilient food systems, and we need them in a hurry.

    302:

    The idea that “you can’t grow any crops anywhere in any way” is a significantly stronger statement and needs some strong support

    (First, and tangentially; it's ALL rain. Sometimes it's very old rain, and sometimes it's old rain that froze into glaciers and melted out, but it's all rain. Your actual sustainable moisture budget is your average rainfall.)

    To grow a crop, you have to have (roughly, generally) four things: you have to have a suitable soil (where you grow wheat and where you grow onions are not optimally the same place! et multiple cetera); you have to have a suitable climate (wet at the right time, dry at the right time, enough time between frosts, all that stuff; for specifics consider the risks with paddy rice and water timing); you have to have the appropriate toolset (people and skills and mechanism, anything from enough hoe-handles of the right length of hoe handle to a maize-combine mechanic, but also knowledge of what the weeds look like versus the sprouting crop); you have to have the capital to invest in the crop (you need to be able to hire any temporary labour, you need to have seed, you need to have the ability to feed yourself and pay your bills while the crop is growing, all the "I need to eat every day and food grows slower than that" stuff).

    Current farming in the NorAm case assumes a private funding model and (in the remaining family farms) assumes a certain ratio of good and bad years in the way the funding is offered. The way this breaks -- the ratio is off -- is instructive to "can't grow crops".

    All of those four things above arise from a consistent history. The soil is suitable (in part) because of its current moisture level, but also because of the historic moisture level and what the soil fauna looks like, what kinds of runoff it's been subjected to recently (e.g. there's a bunch of agricultural land in North Carolina that just went under a tide of hog waste; its agricultural suitability has been altered), and so on. The climate needs to be predictable; "what do I plant?" is a guess about the weather and how warm it gets and the distribution of rain. If you had perfect knowledge and arbitrary seed access, this is really flexible thing, but we don't have perfect knowledge and we're starting to get the regularly random. (More than two thirds of the Ontario apple crop wound up failing after 2012's "summer in March" event followed by June drought, for example. Not predictable events and not fixable events absent massive capital investment. (all our apple orchards are in greenhouses we can refrigerate and irrigate and heat and ...)) Having the capital stops having an upper bound in the time of angry weather; the period when you need to put in the climate-controlled hail-proof greenhouses for your orchards (so you can figure out how to actually make this work) overlaps the period where apples can just be shipped in from places that had a good year, so you're not going to do it. You're not going to get a private financing mechanism to invest in novel agriculture at all, and farmers have effectively no political power. (Real farm income is flat, too, despite ~tripling productivity since 1950.) And looping back a bit, the toolset is a function of what you're growing; a dairy farm needs milk buckets and refrigeration and an ability to cure hay, somebody growing almonds needs very different things. All of those things are expensive, and all of those things imply skills that aren't trivial to acquire. Switching crops is fairly hard.

    Once you lose enough predictability, it all fails. What got grown isn't what can be shipped, what can be shipped is not what can be processed, and everybody still needs to eat every day. It can only fail hard once. (The USSR, with wheat in the fields and everybody sent off to help with the harvest, can be instructive both in the way systemic failure can cripple up an agricultural capacity and in how you start wanting to move people to the food instead of food to the people.) The expectation for around 2 C of warming is "the predictability does not suffice doing this whatsoever; the success rate won't be high enough to carry the failure rate several years in a row, with no medium term prospect of improvement."

    And everybody needs to eat every day.

    303:

    3) is kind of terrifying. I can't see how we will avoid having the choices selected in such a way as to make the inevitable result a Silly gain with the Sensible vote being split. Then all the crap about "respecting the will of the people" comes back with greatly augmented force and any prospect of actually canning the whole stupid affair is ruined beyond recovery.

    304:

    I'm curious, do other countries have the same disparity in urban/rural voter power? And does this have the same effect on politics that it has in North America?

    Yes and yes. It’s an artefact of single-member electorates, or any electorates with a fixed number of representatives. It can be mitigated slightly by moving to multi-member electorates and electing the representatives proportionally. It can be (mostly) avoided if you also make the number of members per electorate dependent on population. Many places do some of these things, but as I understand it fairly few do all of them. As an added complexity, some jurisdictions combine single member seats in one House of Parliament with proportional multi-member seats in another.

    But to your original point, in the Australian Senate, original states get 12 senators each while territories get 2. This means that Tasmania, which has around 125% the population as the ACT, gets 6 times as many senators. Or it gets the same number of senators as NSW, with over 10 times the population.

    Consider the recent Swedish election results - you can see maps that show seats by the party of the majority of members elected. You might notice that most of these are in rural Skania. The point is though that for each of these seats, there are other members who are not in the majority for the seat. I’m not clear whether Sweden has fixed a number of representatives per seat or whether that is population based.

    305:

    Bugger, what I meant to say was:

    You might notice that most of the seats where a majority of members are from the alt-right Sweden Democrats are in rural Skania.

    306:

    @25:

    Good memory. I believe the first line is:

    “When Major Armstrong landed on the moon in 1964, his first words over the radar to Earth were: "Who won the Indianapolis Classic?”

    Excerpt From: “Rocket Jockey (1952.Winston) - Philip St. John.” iBooks.

    307:

    Main reason I am less worried than Graydon is that I am fairly confident that the political will to just.. toss the very concept of a free market in food on the rubbish bin is, in fact, there.

    Because we are already doing that - The CAP, the US agricultural subsidies, so forth and so on - There is a pretense that farming works on market terms, but a pretense is all it is. Politicians really do get that without stable food supplies, you have no stable politics.

    I mean it is possible I am wrong about this, and the enormous effort we are expending on "Diplomatic oopsies will not affect the dinner table come hell or high water" is a historical artifact inherited from a generation which had gone hungry personally, but it seems a.. pointed enough point that it should still penetrate even the present ideological commitment to the holy market.

    So we end up with engineered micro climate, and in the ultimate case, mechanized greenhouses, and whatever capital has to be confiscated to build these things gets confiscated. - Thermo regulating them at scale gets interesting. Movable mirrors? Too cold, concentrate more sun, too warm, reflect some of it into the sky.

    308:

    We need other ways to make for more resilient food systems, and we need them in a hurry.

    Well there’s the Cuban experience of just growing things in cities. Rooftops, parks and erstwhile waste ground can be reclaimed with a little engineering support. Cities are sort of the focal points of both massive water supply infrastructure and massive waste water collection and treatment infrastructure. And the populations available mean that you could get to a certain level of productivity even just with volunteer labour.

    It would require other factors of course, and it would likely be impractical to create high-profit enterprises, requiring an ongoing civic-level not-for-profit management system that is captured in regulation (perhaps mandated in legislation). But given a few other interesting civic level changes or developments, it couldn’t be impossible to achieve even a highly self-sufficient population this way (though it would also means cities spread out even more).

    309:

    it’s an artefact of single-member electorates, or any electorates with a fixed number of representatives

    Is it, though? I can see it being possible to have ridings scaled so all are almost equal in population and the total number of ridings remains constant. Of course, that would require redrawing the riding maps after every census.

    I know in Canada there is a deliberate bias towards rural ridings, which I doubt we'll get rid of because any proposal to do so in the past has resulted in howls of outrage from rural voters (who tend to hold grudges about such matters).

    In Canada riding size varies between 18k and 90k, which is a pretty big variation. Is there anywhere in the world that runs elections were each elected representative represents about the same number of voters? I couldn't find one, but that could just be my search skills sucking.

    310:

    what happens in your "post scarcity" society? lets say your quiverful people on average have 10 kids per couple

    In that context I assume they're treated the same way all other victims of destructive memes (or illness if you prefer) are.

    Quiverfull specifically seems to be an artefact of a threatening environment, and without the threat similar philosophies don't seem to occur. The same problem happens when there are high death rates, especially of children. My grandmother was one of 9 children who survived to adulthood, and the other was one of at least 6 (complex family situation). That was because "who survived" wasn't guaranteed. So having lots of kids was a perfectly sensible response to the situation. Quiverfull seems from the outside to be fundamentalist reactionism, but they have the same existential threat model: they're going to be overrun by the heathen hordes and have to breed to survive.

    I suspect that constructing that sort of community outside the US with your racial and religious tensions is hard, and while quiverful communities exist outside the US they're small and not growing as fast as their reproduction rate. I've seen Polish Catholics maintain a similar ethos for two generations in Nelson (phone book full of Wastneys) but generation 3 was mostly not Catholic and had dramatically fewer children. "liking large families" went from 10-15 kids to 7-10 to "maybe 4?".

    311:

    Well sure, but relying on re-districting brings its own problems, especially with single member electorates. Proportional multi member electorates can mitigate deliberate gerrymandering, but within limits. It’s easier to adjust the number of members than it is to redraw electoral boundaries, at least once you’ve got away from a fixed number (including 1).

    Incidentally I had to look up your usage of “ridings”, which seems to be Canada-specific (elsehwhere it is a term that relates to local government only). The etymology is interesting (to me, anyway).

    312:

    Vulch criticized my comment that I'd expect you get a shitload of thermal radiation from a sunshield: "You might want to have a look at the James Webb Space Telescope which uses a sunshade to keep the instruments cold. Although touted as a Hubble replacement it's actually designed to work at infra-red wavelengths where heat becomes noise."

    Possibly I misread the original post, which I thought suggested something located very near the sun. At Earth's distance, a sunshade would be more practical because you have a much, much lower heat load to dump. At some distance defined as "close to" the sun, you're probably at a threshold where the sun shield can't dump heat fast enough in directions that point away from whatever you're protecting. Think about the difference between standing right next to a bonfire holding a parasol vs. standing 20 feet away. Calculating the distance where that threshold occurs is beyond my ability; I lack the materials science and solar physics knowledge.

    In terms of human sexual dimorphism in size, I suspect this is the result of natural selection in the context of a non-guaranteed food supply. A European woman being (as a crude guess at an average) ca. 2/3 the size of a European man means (in the example of my wife and myself) a 60-pound difference in the amount of living tissue that must be sustained metabolically. In times of plenty, that probably isn't significant, and it may not be significant for hunter-gatherers, who typically survive and thrive despite occasional shortages of certain foods. But if you're trying to both survive and supply a fetus with energy, and a crop failure occurs (common in primitive agricultural societies), the lower metabolic cost of having a smaller body will make all the difference in whether the fetus survives. Cultural and genetic and epigenetic and environmental and other factors will obviously get overlaid on this phenomenon, but I think the metabolic issue is likely to be crucial in an evolutionary context such as early agriculture.

    whitroth wondered: "I do think dark ages are, would the correct phrase be punctured equilibrium?"

    "Punctuated" equilibrium, which is an interesting metaphor in this context. I suspect it's one that's worth pursuing to see where it leads.

    Re. food security: One of my current projects is to develop a concise note to my elected official that argues strongly for the need to move Canada's government past motherhood statements about food security to actually developing plans to cope with a widespread (national, continental, or global) crop failure. One of the interesting ideas I've come up with (and that needs to be tested using hard numbers) is the notion of offering all those displaced refugee farmers we've been accepting greenhouses sustained by government-supported loans. That would give these people a viable way of earning a good living doing what they already mostly know how to do (with some training, obviously) while doing a job that (mostly) won't compete with easily irritated taxpayers, while also improving food security. Scaling up is clearly one issue I need to resolve.

    313:

    heteromeles
    A competent allotment gardener realises that probably only at best 70% of "This years'" crop-plantings will do really well, maybe as little as 40%
    The whole point is that we diversify our plantings, even in the small areas we are tending.
    [ I could give examples for this year & last 7 contrast them, just to show ]
    But a commercial farmer does not have this "luxury" - which suggests something is wrong with the system.
    Problem, allotment holders cannoit grow mass cereal crops ....

    314:

    accepting greenhouses sustained by government-supported loans

    You'd be amazed how much of Canadian agriculture by dollar value is already in greenhouses, how dependent on fossil carbon the greenhouses are, and how short-term the whole setup is.

    You'd have to figure out how to avoid the established players complaining about subsidizing immigrant competition and you ought to figure out how to set things up so it's not a loan; writing a small business major-capital loan requires knowing the 20 year or so planning space, and we just don't. Getting anyone demonstrating competence minimum-fossil-carbon-aluminium-and-glass-greenhouses for free from the government (and loan help for the dirt to put them on, provided the dirt wasn't anywhere in the former Carolinian forest zone) would likely be a better approach.

    We used to have a strong system of experimental farms; there are some interesting remnants, particularly in Saskatchewan, but in general it needs a lot more funding and a recognition that it's a stopgap as me move to Agriculture 5.0 or so. And try every damn thing because something needs to be working RSN.

    316:

    that would require redrawing the riding maps after every census.

    The Australian and New Zealand "Electoral Commission" offices do exactly that in those countries. After every census a bunch of geeky bureaucrats sit down and puzzle through a fairly complex multifactor redrawing of boundaries. They add and remove electorates as required, and maintain separate boundaries for state and federal electorates. One major requirement is that it be as non-partisan as possible. And no, USians, we do not elect those people, they're normal public servants.

    Australia has five levels of government (except when it doesn't) but for the most part each electorate has the same population. Upper houses don't use that system because they're deliberately designed to favour smaller states (as Damien notes above). Aotearoa only has one house of parliament + local councils, and both use the "same size electorate" model. Even the Maori seats work the same way, except only for Maori who choose to vote there rather than in the general seats.

    The thing I keep reminding myself is that electoral systems that work to entertain politically engaged recreational thinkers often fail for a lot of other people because they're complicated. You see this in the USA where people are expected to vote for 27 different positions, and often even the deeply engaged local citizens just shrug and go "why bother running". Australia mixes into that variations on preferential voting (called instant run off in the US), admittedly with generally only five ballots per voter (I have to vote for a local councillor, a state lower house member, a state upper house member, plus federal lower and upper house members. All using preferential voting, and some possibly using optional preferential rather than full. One of the great things about Australia is the plethora of fairly complex voting systems used in each location).

    A lot of Australians do the same as a lot of USians: they give up. We have the "donkey vote" (people who just put a 1 in the first box on each form) as well as the dick vote (people who draw a cock'n'balls on the form). Compulsory voting means you have to take a ballot paper, but the law doesn't require you to submit a valid vote :) Admittedly the percentage here is higher - taking out invalid votes we still get about 80% valid votes from the 50% eligible to vote, compared to the 50% of 60% the US gets. Aotearoa gets ~80% of 60% IIRC.

    317:

    Is there anywhere in the world that runs elections were each elected representative represents about the same number of voters?

    Aotearoa used to be about 40,000 people, now closer to 50,000.

    I love the dry wit "The number of Māori and North Island General electorates are rounded to the nearest whole number". But I want my 0.423 of an MP! I'm being proportionally disenfranchised!

    318:

    Read a bit on greenhouses while looking up info on alternate energy in residential construction and from what I read greenhouse agriculture came across as a growth industry/sector in some parts of Canada. The below is about BC, but Ontario has the largest share of greenhouse ag.

    Excerpt: 'Greenhouses are very efficient and productive, typically producing 15 to 20 times more produce than a field of the same area.'

    However, according to the 2015 report below, most of the past-5-years economic numbers are kinda flat and there may be some early small scale consolidation going on (fewer 'operators', increased total acreage). Most surprising is that Canada exports a good chunk of its greenhouse ag (approx. 40%) to the US, with total exports exceeding total imports.

    http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/canadian-agri-food-sector-intelligence/horticulture/horticulture-sector-reports/statistical-overview-of-the-canadian-greenhouse-vegetable-industry-2015/?id=1468861362193#a1.1


    319:

    Thanks! Can't explain it to you yet, though.

    320:

    Farmers absolutely do diversify their crops they just do it on a field by field basis rather then a plant by plant basis like the three sisters do

    You need to do this not only to protect from bad harvests but to protect from price swings

    And to be clear with current ability to basically ship anything to anywhere for next to nothing you’d have to have a simultaneous global collapse of everything all at the same time to endanger global food supplies. Which might well happen but is unlikely to happen all at once in the course of a single growing season

    Irrigation farming is not something California invented its been a pretty common thing in river valleys since the dawn of agriculture

    If you have water and decent soil and sunlight all you need from your environment is to not kill the plants . Which is why the Central Valley exists and why you find farms all over the desert part of Oregon and Nevada

    People are pretty ingenious about growing food and we currently do not devote much manpower or energy to doing it. Much of the effort that is devoted is tk hard to luxury foods. Also global warming does not happen instantly which gives time for methods to adapt There is probably a lot more flex in the system then you are giving credit to

    I’m not optimistic that there won’t be famines and megadeaths but the idea that we will stop growing food entirely is half baked

    321:

    And to be clear with current ability to basically ship anything to anywhere for next to nothing you’d have to have a simultaneous global collapse of everything all at the same time to endanger global food supplies. Which might well happen but is unlikely to happen all at once in the course of a single growing season

    The metre-or-more sea level rise decade will pretty much do that. Are we going to get that? Maybe. It's happened before. (It involved really big lakes draining, most recently, but they drained pretty quick.)

    322:

    The cost-benefit of a big container port is very one-sided and likely to stay that way, though. Especially if there's a food crisis "should we rebuild this port so it's above sea level again" vs "let's starve a lot of people" is so obvious that even Brexiteers can probably puzzle their way through it.

    For that not to be an option the cost of the port has to be much greater than available resources. Just as a comparison point, Kiribati can load/unload containers from ships and they're not exactly a large and prosperous nation. Even Pitcairn Island can do that. Which suggests that participation in the global shipping network is more a matter of how big you need not whether you can afford to build it at all.

    http://www.commonwealthofnations.org/sectors-kiribati/business/freight_shipping__logistics/

    https://www.shipnex.com/International-Ocean-Shipping/Pitcairn-Island

    323:

    Could sea level rise a meter simultaneously? Probably not.

    There's a study out there that somehow gravitationally links where ice melts in the world to where the sea level rises, with the result that sea levels don't rise evenly everywhere. (article here: https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/16/world/nasa-sea-level-rise-forecast/index.html). Assuming this is correct, then the answer is that sea level with rise idiosyncratically across the globe, depending on where meltwater enters the ocean.

    That's one level of complexity.

    The other level of complexity is whether ice is entering the ocean in a trickle or a flood. Trickle is normal melting. A flood is the Green Mars scenario of a volcano going off under an Antarctic ice sheet and suddenly dumping quite a bit of ice into the water. KSR was right--it could happen, glaciologists are worried about it, and there's not a thing we could do if it happened except evacuate the most vulnerable coasts. But if you believe the first model, it would affect some ports worse than others.

    The third level is coastal subsidence. Some places (like the US East Coast and the Philippines) are naturally subsiding, and that's one reason why storms hit them disproportionately hard.

    Speaking of which, storm surge can trash a port as thoroughly as would a meter of mean sea level rise, and in many places, it will happen before we get the sea level rise. An ARkStorm hitting LA and San Francisco, or even a hurricane plowing into the Port of LA (one hit San Diego a century ago) would trash the place, as we're emphatically not set up to deal with a couple feet of rain hitting over a day or two.

    The bottom line is that it probably won't be all ports at once (absent an epic Antarctic volcano), but even trashing a few ports would be really, really bad, because getting them up and running again would be billion dollar expenses, and you can only do that so many times before we run out of money to repair destroyed cargo ports and default to lightering or other, less efficient transshipment modes.

    324:

    Have we discussed the climate effects on volcanism here? There are studies out there linking melting ice to rising crust, and from there toore volcanic eruptions, especially under glaciers.

    325:

    Containers are easy to unload. That is, after all, the point; you don't want to have do break-of-bulk anywhere but the most distant possible destination.

    Some things -- like grain -- are not shipped in containers. They're shipped on bulk carriers, which require specialized port facilities and tend to the awkwardly vast. There isn't much in the way of spare capacity. You lose a major grain port and you're kinda stuffed; you can't necessarily recreate it fast enough. (75% of the US' grain exports go through "The New Orleans Port Region" which isn't especially robust in the face of any of these worries. Note that due to post-Katrina rebuilding, this proportion has gone up. There's no economic incentive to diversify and lots to concentrate.)

    Even in the case of containers, though, the question is not "can I unload a container?" it's "can I unload these containers fast enough?" and that's a hard problem. Last time LA had a port strike it splashed everywhere in NorAm in terms of parts availability. And it's not just getting the containers off the boat; it's getting containers on the trucks and the rail lines and away from the port. Halifax as a port is OK for quite a bit of sea level rise, but the rail line through the Isthmus of Chignecto not so much. It takes 12 m of rise to completely cut the isthums; the rail line passes through Sackville along a multi-kilometre stretch that's only a hundred metres from the sea in some places and adjacent to tidal marshes the whole way. (The highway is only very slightly better.) There are lots of places this kind of thing is the case; yes, the port is fine, but if you get bad storm surge or rain-driven mudslides where the major road or the rail lines run the utility of the port is gone anyway.

    Fixing one of these quickly? Maybe. (Putting back four kilometres of rail line when you've lost the roadbed and there's new bridging requirements along the right of way? Not fast. Can't be fast.) As more of these happen, shipping gets much less reliable and thus more expensive.

    326:

    My point is more that when the excrement hits the impeller people worry less about their ability to print enough money to pay for stuff and more about the ability to physically build the thing.

    Bulk carriers, sure, that's pretty specialised and the worst part is that most of the loading facilities rely on being able to have giant piles of loose whatever close to the dock (woodchips, coal, most obviously but also grain silos). It's tricky to run those with the pile 20 kilometres from the dock. But the flip side is that people with wheelbarrows can unload a bulk carrier if they have to. Container ships are effectively impossible to unload without a crane because often you can't open the doors without taking the box off the boat. Cutting a box open when there's 30 empty boxes on top of it might also be a once in a lifetime experience (as well as it being hard to return the container for credit).

    Sure, there is a wide gap between business as usual and the 15th major storm of the year wiping out the ports of New York as rebuilt for the 8th time even further inland than last time. But IMO it's unlikely that port capacity will be the problem.

    327:

    Also, those who remember WWII might also remember that (re)building railways quickly is not as hard as you might think. We get back to the wheelbarrows thing again. Actually laying track is a skilled task ideally using specialised machinery, but making an embankment can be done manually.

    Would I *like* to do any of this stuff? Hells no. Would I do it, even if I'm 70 or 80 years old? Again, what's the other option? Not getting food? Hmm. Let me think about that.

    328:

    Maybe it's time for a really challenging anthology, a "Dangerous Visions" for the 21st century. Get a bunch of the best authors to really push the envelope and hopefully kick-start a couple sub-genres.

    329:

    "The height ratio between genders is subject to considerable national variation, which strongly suggests that yes, some of this is cultural"

    Hmmm, what else could explain national variation in the height ratio between genders, that isn't food intake or culture? Dare I suggest: genes?

    Some populations have been subject to stronger selection for taller men/shorter women, so they have more alleles of genes which make men taller and women shorter. Again, we actually know the genetic mechanisms behind some of this: parental sex imprinting of growth genes and X-linked genes for shorter height that don't undergo X-inactivation, so women get double the effect.

    This may be the mechanism for Irish women being shorter - maybe there was selection for smaller size during the potato famine (when people really were starving and women probably really were denied food compared to men). Note I'm not talking about trans-generational epigenetic effects that may not even exist in humans, I'm talking about good old fashioned selection (I'm not going to call it natural selection, because I believe the famine was as much an effect of choices made by the British Empire as a 'natural disaster').

    Again, as I pointed out, a thousand years of force-feeding young women to the point of obesity in Mauritius, Morocco etc has not resulted in the women being unusually tall, so this alone pretty much destroys the idea that women are only shorter because of limited food.

    It's an insane conspiracy theory to posit that women are shorter than men because the patriarchy is hoarding food!

    330:

    Re: Sea level

    Another ingredient to add to the mix. (I'm assuming a differently tilting/wobbling Earth will affect our currents, growing seasons, etc.)

    "There is a geometrical effect that if you have a mass that is 45 degrees from the North Pole -- which Greenland is -- or from the South Pole (like Patagonian glaciers), it will have a bigger impact on shifting Earth's spin axis than a mass that is right near the Pole," said coauthor Eric Ivins, also of JPL.

    https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2805/scientists-id-three-causes-of-earths-spin-axis-drift/

    331:

    Re: '... trans-generational epigenetic effects that may not even exist in humans'

    Was of the impression that trauma/nutrition-induced epigenetic effects had been noted to the third generation in humans (Netherlands).

    Mouse studies (below) suggest it occurs ... Okay, not human, but how differently would our respective genomes mutate anyways?

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4020004/

    'In the germ line, where all known imprints appear to be erased, the efficiency of DNA methylation reprogramming of the epigenome has been comprehensively assessed in two recent studies in the mouse (Hackett et al., 2012; Seisenberger et al., 2012). Genome wide DNA methylation profiling revealed that although the bulk of the genome (including imprinted loci) becomes demethylated in primordial germ cells, a number of loci (4730) that escape this demethylation (showing >40% 5mC) in PGCs were found to be predominately repeat-associated – in particular IAPTR1 elements, which are the most active and mobile (thus potentially mutagenic) repeat elements that may thus need to be silenced even during germ line reprogramming. In addition to these IAPs, 233 single-copy loci with >40% 5mC, were found. Why these loci are particularly prone to escape reprogramming is still not clear but they could represent prime candidates for possible trans-generational inheritance in mammals'

    332:

    something located very near the sun

    Parker Solar Probe then? Bit more complicated than a simple sunshade but the bulk of the work is done by an Aluminium Oxide reflective layer.

    333:

    What about growing crystals in space, and other things I can't think of that could benefit from not being affected by gravity?

    334:

    The Dutch famine stuff has been hyped, and I believed in it for a while, but recently people have reappraised the evidence for an actual effect and it's not that impressive. These are population studies, after all, we can't ethically do experiments where we starve people and measure their children, and it's hard to do good population studies without all sorts of confounding effects.

    Here's a blog about the weak evidence for the idea: http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2018/05/grandmas-trauma-critical-appraisal-of.html and here's a review article about the evidence trans-generational epigenetics in humans: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6065375/

    Lots of effects happen in mice but not in humans. In particular, it makes adaptive sense for a short-lived species to have a "Dutch famine" epigenetic inheritance mechanism, but not so much for a primate that lives decades.

    Let's think about the adaptive value of the 'famine' mechanism: if you are under food stress, your offspring might grow up with limited food too. So it might be adaptive to commit to having smaller offspring now, so they need less food and are less likely to starve, even if that will make them smaller than optimal for other reasons, like mate competition.

    Now obviously the state of the food supply is more likely to change over a longer time scale. In a short-lived species like a mouse, it's more likely that your offspring will experience the same restricted food conditions throughout their lifecycle. If your whole life lasts a year, and you're in famine now, your offspring will probably be short of food too, so it makes sense to restrict their growth.

    But for humans, the logic makes much less sense. Do you really to commit to make your offspring smaller when they mature over a decade later, just because there's a famine now? Is poor food availability likely to last that long often over human evolutionary history, whether we're talking hunter-gatherers or farmers? Seems unlikely. And maybe it's adaptive to do this for one generation, but it certainly doesn't make sense that you would make your offspring smaller for three generations because you grew up in famine conditions. So based on ecological considerations, I'd say it's very plausible that mechanisms like this are present in smaller mammals, but have been lost in humans.

    Of course, as I've already pointed out, even if the "Dutch famine" mechanism is real, it can't possibly explain why women are shorter than men, because there's no indication that it affects the sexes differently. If women are constantly being starved by the patriarchy, then ALL their offspring will be smaller. It can't explain why women are shorter.

    And as I've already pointed out, there are plenty of examples of cultures where women have had plentiful food for generations (e.g. Mauritius force-feeding of brides, elite castes - do you think European Queens were going hungry?), and yet the women don't become the same height as the men, or even notably taller.

    The whole theory is based on motivated reasoning based on the spurious idea that admitting any difference is biological means that it's somehow justified or unchangeable or the natural order of things.

    I haven't read into it much, but I also suspect that the idea of the 'patriarchy' as a relatively recent cultural invention, departing from a gender egalitarian or matriarchal prehistory, is probably pseudohistory too.

    If you look at hunter-gatherer cultures, they're still patriarchal in that the men have more decision making power (often enforced through ritual 'mens' cults' where if a woman sees the rituals she's punished), the men are violent, etc etc.

    They're more egalitarian in allocating resources: a single man can't control large numbers of women or material goods in the same way post-agricultural societies allow - but they're by no means gender egalitarian. So that was probably the state of things ancestrally. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't create equal societies today.

    335:

    Re: 'Do you really to commit to make your offspring smaller when they mature over a decade later, just because there's a famine now?'

    Yes - because if they don't have enough to eat now (during food scarcity), they won't make it to 10 years old when the crops come back. So the trade off is between a smaller less muscular body for a lifetime but one that can survive on less food for a lifetime vs. a 'normal' body and muscle mass that needs more food but can't get it, so sickens and dies and never attains his/her full normal growth and musculature.

    Consider this 'epigenetic' trick as something that Mother Nature (evolution) keeps up her sleeve until she absolutely needs to use it.



    336:

    Don't worry about spin or wobble, as the effect is tiny compared with what the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn normally do to us. It is measurable, but then again, so is the effect of huge dams.

    337:

    I'd point out that there was some work on pygmies suggesting that the mechanism for short height wasn't a defective growth gene, but early puberty halting growth. That author made the point that some of the world's tallest-on-average people lived in the Turkana Basin (?) under food-restricted conditions. They also grew slowly and hit puberty really late.

    Her notion was that early puberty in pygmies was a response, not to diet, but to disease putting the average age at death in the late twenties, and that this favored early menarche and child-bearing in the teenage years. The tall people in the desert didn't have to deal with disease issues, only with a really erratic food supply.

    Linking small size to climate change, one of the first signals found for the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (everybody's favorite analog for what we're about to due to ourselves) was the finding of a bunch of fossils in Wyoming that were around 30% smaller on average than the ones preceding them. The dwarfed fossils eventually included mammal bones, earthworm holes, and crayfish holes. The mechanism suggested was a change in the food supply. I suppose it's possible disease was a cause too. Still, the finding was striking enough that researchers started trying to figure out what had happened, and found evidence of a global temperature spike. I'm not sure whether fossils outside Wyoming show the dwarfing effect, because the best land fossils for that time period so far came out of Wyoming.

    338:

    The question is not "can this be done?", it's "can this be done quickly enough?"

    (Well, and if it's an import port, "Can we get this done with the available food supplies?"; "do this, then eat" is a different proposition from "do this, while eating". People are also less likely to put major efforts into getting an export port running again absolutely as quickly as possible, and eventually there may be political pressure to NOT repair the export ports, let's keep the food at home.)

    Rate matters in systems; in principle, one human could digitize a whole large book collection, but in practice, the rate is too slow to be useful.

    339:

    Yes, I get the potential tradeoffs, my issue is with the 10 year time lag. If the crops have failed, next year's harvest will probably be better due to regression to the mean. If the hunting is bad this year because a prey species population is crashing, it will probably have rebounded in 10 years or you will be hunting somewhere else. So making your offspring smaller for their whole life seems like a bad idea. Moreover, if you happen to be reproducing in a year with plentiful food, that has almost no predictive value about whether there will be food when your kid hits puberty.

    If you consider the duration of typical fluctuations in food supply, the proposed mechanism seems maladaptive. Especially if it supposedly lasts three generations.

    Sure, there will be rare ongoing disasters, like a global volcanic eruption causing hardship for many years, extinction of a prey species, ice age onset etc. But I doubt selection would maintain an intergenerational mechanism that's usually maladaptive because it might be useful for such rare events.

    Anyway, this is just my handwaving theoretical argument with no quantitative analysis, but if you read the actual observational evidence for this mechanism, it's very weak: http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2018/05/grandmas-trauma-critical-appraisal-of.html (and AGAIN, even if it's real, it's not why women are shorter than men).

    340:

    Re: '... the mechanism for short height wasn't a defective growth gene, but early puberty halting growth.'

    Interesting info - thanks!

    Feel I need to clarify my understanding/interpretation of that Dutch Winter study. I don't think that short stature across an ethnic group or clan is due solely to epigenetics (via maternal diet during a particular trimester). But I do think that the Dutch study shows an epigenetic effect due to maternal diet that is expressed for at least one generation (and often two generations) that shows up as shorter-than the previous/parental well-fed generation*.

    I'm guessing that there are at least two different/separate controls for height/mass: one resides in some type of genetic long-term memory, and the other is a sensor that provides environmental condition feedback that turns the 'de-mythelator' on/off.

    * There were some metabolic, hormonal differences too - specifically, the Dutch Winter children's bodies were much more efficient at storing excess calories and this was also passed on to their children.

    341:

    Crops still fail fairly frequently (look at the Carolinas right now, or failures in wheat crops leading up to the Arab Spring), which is why there's crop insurance.

    Famine in our world tends to happen, not because there's no food somewhere on the planet, but because there's no mechanism for getting that food to where it's needed. Historically, the problem was lack of infrastructure, with boats being the most efficient way to move grain, and animal carts and such being the least efficient, because the animals were often fed off the carts and thus had their range limited to a few hundred miles before the draft animals had eaten all the grain in the carts and delivered nothing to the destination. Now it's things like warfare and politics that disrupt food shipments.

    Crop failures will become more common. It's not just average warming, it's loss of chilling hours (critical for flower production in many temperate fruit trees), short term hot spells (which nuked the olive harvest in California this year), storms (see any hurricane you care to name. One example was the recall of Hawaiian macadamia nuts due to bacterially polluted water at the processing plant, probably linked with the hurricane that hit them), even cold snaps caused by the weakening of the jet stream and the resulting wandering of polar weather down into temperate latitudes.

    This is why caring for ports is so important. We can do okay if there are ways to ship food where it's needed, primarily using efficient methods like cargo ships and rail. Break the ports, food shipments get less efficient, and people suffer, starve, and migrate towards where food is still available.

    This is also the problem with population and resource consumption. If you've got more people and more middle-class people, you need more food. This means that the world as a whole gets less tolerant of crop failure and less tolerant of shipping breakdowns.

    Yes, it's possible to turn some city green spaces into farms, as evidenced by Cuba's "Special Period" (aka the famine they experienced in the 1990s), London during WWII, Kinshasa right now, etc. There's also the great example of Russia surviving largely on dacha-based agriculture after the fall of communism, Detroit turning abandoned suburban housing back into gardens and farms, and so forth. This latter is actually a totally normal pattern historically: when cities shrink, which they inevitably do if they last long enough, abandoned areas are often turned back to gardens or farms. Long-lived cities like Jerusalem and Rome have historically experienced population fluctuations of 1-2 orders of magnitude, so gardening, farming, and running goats through the ruins is something we should expect to happen as a matter of course.

    342:

    This still seems to be dodging.

    It is inherently not a safe assumption to rely on the idea that everyone will do what's convenient/nice.

    Look in any society and you'll find some people who aren't oppressed or forced, people who just want odd things, including wanting lots of kids.

    It doesn't even matter much if the starting number of such people is 100 or 1,000,000. Pretty soon either your society stops being "post scarcity" because you've run out of excess matter and things are scarce again... or you have some mechanism that prevents the scenario where the Cheaper by the Dozen family replicate until they constitute the majority of the universes matter.

    What do you do if you simply have a group of people who are genetically predisposed to want to have more kids?
    Do you inflict eugenics on them to remove the trait whether they like it or not?

    You have the same problem if you have a group who consistently average 4 kids.
    10 just gets you there faster.


    Or perhaps in a future society where gender is meaningless humanities greatest narcissist, Gary, pairs up with vis own clone and decides the universe needs more Gary.

    Slight variation:

    http://endless-space-2.wikia.com/wiki/The_Horatio


    The culture novels didn't bite the bullet but did talk about such extensive genetic modification of culture citizens that the ancestors of some of the books characters included sentient gas clouds (depending on fashion at the time) so the minds probably slipped something into their pets genomes. It also talks about significant wars to destroy "homogenizing swarms" that could include sentient entities. There was also mention of Culture citizens/ships something disappearing when exploring and turning up again ,later, as homogenizing swarms. it also talks about almost every rock in space actually being claimed by some civilisation. So perhaps their solution to sentients multiplying at an unsustainable rate that would threaten their post-scarcity situation is just to nuke them.

    343:

    "homogenizing swarms"

    I think that was "hegemonizing swarms." Not sure if it would make a practical difference in the context, though hegemonies can be heterogeneous at certain scales.

    344:

    I agree that the Culture only works if the human population has genofixed itself to make itself more sociable and eliminate narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies. That said, we do know that Minds and drones are given a "random factor" to their personality on manufacture to ensure that their personality is truly individual, and in The Player of Games this is why Skaffen-Amtiskaw was manufactured as an SC drone but rejected by SC for having an incompatible personality (spoiler: Bs pbhefr, vg gheaf bhg F-N vf npghnyyl FP nyy nybat, ohg ab-bar frrzf gb svaq vgf pbire fgbel vzcynhfvoyr.) If the drones and Minds are treated this way, so surely are the humans.

    So it must follow that a tiny, tiny percentage of Culture humans, which might be a substantial number of people given a total population of trillions, may be sociopaths. It's a shame Banks never lived to explore what the Culture does with them? Slap drones them just because of their genes? Exiles them? Gives them an Orbital to live on and do what they like with each other?

    345:

    “So it must follow that a tiny, tiny percentage of Culture humans, which might be a substantial number of people given a total population of trillions, may be sociopaths. It's a shame Banks never lived to explore what the Culture does with them? Slap drones them just because of their genes? Exiles them? Gives them an Orbital to live on and do what they like with each other?”

    Isn’t that pretty much “Special Circumstances”?

    A two-for-the-price-of-one deal which provides a niche for “difficult” personalities (humans, drones, and Minds) to be comfortable and productive in without disturbing the peace and a resource with which to address those parts of the sausage making process which most culture citizens prefer to avoid becoming aware of...

    346:

    Yeah. In the US, I believe the idea was to balance out large city populations, so that the rural areas had no influence. Unfortunately, in 200+ years, we've gone from what, 90% rural, to 80%+ (as of 2010) who live in metro areas, and *we're* the ones with inadequate influence.

    347:

    Laying track, a skilled job, requiring specialized machinery?

    Um, no, not unless you *demand* welded rails. 80 years ago, with heavier rail traffic than we have now, there was the crew of men carrying the 25' lengths of rail from the flatcar to the ties to be spiked down, and then gandy danced level.

    Oh, and the average speed then was higher than it is now, for all traffic....

    348:

    Greg Tingey @254 said: That "Ills of Science" video is from the "Electric Universe" people, who may easily be bonkers.

    HA!

    That's what's fun about you, Greg. You can't see beyond the tip of your knows.

    Dr. Gerald Pollack is not with the EU people, and has had no trouble getting funding for The Institute for Venture Science. If you had watched the video you would see that he is seeking to build a ten billion dollar fund, with the initial billion to get things started. They are up and running now.

    BTW, the EU people also have a few Angels paying for real research.

    The SAFIRE Project 2017 - 2018 Update
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keJAQIWEyzY

    whitroth @277 said: Um, say wha'? "Grows more Martian soil"? So, soil is like a plant?

    Actually "soil" is the organics that make growing plants possible. It's a community of bacteria, fungi, and really tiny animals. When people watch this video they focus on the bean growing and miss the fact that they are looking at a vast community without which the bean could not grow at all.

    Bean Time-Lapse - 25 days | Soil cross section
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w77zPAtVTuI

    BTW, I find the video absolutely terrifying. HA!

    349:

    and I believe that rain-fed agriculture is the norm for the American Midwest.

    There's a lot of pumping of aquifers out there. You can see it when you fly over Kansas, Iowa and such. Those huge crop circles fed from a center pump/pipe system.

    350:

    there's a bunch of agricultural land in North Carolina that just went under a tide of hog waste; its agricultural suitability has been altered

    Not a good example. Most of that waste goes to fertilize farm fields. Just not just before and/or during harvest time. So next years crop may be great but this year's is going to be a bust for a myriad of reasons flowing from the hurricane.

    One issue is "Do rotting in the field sweet potatoes work as fertilizer or as a source of mold and bacteria that are bad for the next years crop?"

    351:

    I'm curious, do other countries have the same disparity in urban/rural voter power? And does this have the same effect on politics that it has in North America?

    Japan

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Japan#Malapportionment

    352:

    "The poison is in the dose".

    When applied as fertilizer, you know the dose. When you get flooded with it and maybe there's a layer of a couple inches of hog muck in the low places, you don't. Things get patchy. It's not easy to detect change.

    353:

    Graydon, thanks for the additional notes on greenhouse agriculture. I'm not horribly worried by competition with existing greenhouse companies. The idea would be to reduce imports, not to compete with existing exporters. Shouldn't be too hard to develop mechanisms to support that (e.g., bribe the existing producers). In terms of loans, the government could easily subsidize the loans if those subsidies are considered the equivalent of famine insurance.

    Unholyguy notes: "And to be clear with current ability to basically ship anything to anywhere for next to nothing you’d have to have a simultaneous global collapse of everything all at the same time to endanger global food supplies."

    It's not so simple. If you have one major crop failure, suddenly everyone who has been relying on that source of food needs to compete for the remaining resources with everyone else. If there are two failures, the competition gets worse. We rich folk in the developed world can probably outbid people in the developing world, but what's the moral cost of those "cold equations"? And what happens if less powerful nations like Canada are competing with (say) China or the U.S. or Russia: who do you think is going to win that fight? Are these guys going to stick to their much bandied free market ethos and pay the market price, leaving most of their poor citizens to starve if they can't afford that price, or are they going to engage in gunboat diplomacy to see who gets the food?

    Vulch noted: "Parker Solar Probe then? Bit more complicated than a simple sunshade but the bulk of the work is done by an Aluminium Oxide reflective layer."

    That *keeps out* solar energy, but doesn't help you shed internally generated heat. I believe the original post I replied to talked about waste heat from manufacturing activities. That's a trickier problem. You either need a *very* large radiating surface (see, for instance, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/radiators.html) or some way of "beaming" away the heat, as in the case of Brin's lasers.

    354:

    It's not so simple.

    Glorious understatement.

    There's a surface of accessible surplus -- you can get this for something you can pay, in time -- and for a lot of places it's already zero and you only need one truly bad crop year in the northern hemisphere to make it zero for a lot more people. "No monsoon this year" is nigh-inevitable now, so that really bad crop year will come. And the existing demand management mechanisms will export you into famine if the external price is higher.

    355:

    "The poison is in the dose".

    When applied as fertilizer, you know the dose. When you get flooded with it and maybe there's a layer of a couple inches of hog muck in the low places, you don't. Things get patchy. It's not easy to detect change.

    You're thinking of this as a simple "spill". For most of the are it is not. It is the pond got subsumed into a larger flood. Or the overflowed into flooded surrounding areas.

    What little is on farmlands (dilution) is way less than would normally be applied. The real problem with the hog lagoons is that now you get to deal with maybe diluted crap and urine on roads, streets, lawns, stuff in some yards, maybe in your house or business, etc... With no idea if it is there or not unless you happen to spot some turds.

    (I live here but on high ground 30 miles up river of the mess.)

    356:

    347: Laying track, a skilled job, requiring specialized machinery? Um, no

    Sure, cut off the qualifier and argue with the absolute statement you just made. I said "ideally" because welded rails work better. Train speeds are a tricky tradeoff between safety, throughput and maintenance. I don't know enough about rail history to have that level of detail in my analysis. I'm more looking at the WWII bombing campaigns (including Dresden and Hiroshima) and saying "yeah, those caused *days* of delay.

    My expectation is that we will see increased spread of high tidal range port techniques and likely that many ports will lift once, by several metres, rather than repeatedly rebuilding in small increments. Yes, it vastly increases the distance they move or the amount of material required, but ports already deal with 10m+ lifts so the practical difference between being an extra 1m above mean sea level and 5m above is a detail rather than a core requirement.

    We also have ports like Rotterdam that are already up a canal system with tidal barrages, so the technology exists. It's not cheap or easy, but it might be cheaper and easier to have a storm barrier than move a flatland port 100km up a newly dug canal.

    Saying "oh but a post-apocalyptic society couldn't build of maintain something like the Maeslantkering"... yes, and refusing to even discuss that is how you get from mildly concerned to post-apocalyptic. We're not talking about "do nothing for 100 years then panic", we have time to work through this stuff.

    357:

    I am mostly thinking of the friend who designs spectroscopes and had a horror of falling in hog lagoons because it's non-survivable. (and a lot of them use spectroscopy to detect what's out-gassing from the lagoon, which means being over the lagoon on a rickety catwalk to service the laser.) Secondarily, I'm thinking that slow currents don't necessarily tear sludge apart; it can wind up deposited in low places. (all those fish on the roads argue for really slow currents as the water drops, at least in some places.)

    What you're describing I hear as "we have interesting disease risks everywhere now".

    358:

    What do you do if you simply have a group of people who are genetically predisposed to want to have more kids?

    You investigate this hitherto unknown aspect of humanity and apply the necessary genetic corrections.

    I don't see any evidence that there's a hyperfecundity gene or meme. I don't think it even *can* exist in primates let alone hominids. The gene/meme can only develop in an industrial or more likely post-industrial society since it relies on effective medical childbirth as well as permanent food surplus. Maybe such a thing can exist and if The Culture lasts long enough, and allows enough random mutation, it will eventually arise. But today? It's as likely as naturally orange skin I think.

    The cost of children is high and as I pointed out, it's very hard to keep a culture that does that going. Societies right now already have ways to deal with the memetic version (the Mormons, for example, also like large families. Your argument suggests that by now everyone in the US must necessarily be Mormon because of their reproduction rate). So... can you provide an example of a human group that sustained even a doubling in population every generation, for more than a couple of generations. You're talking as though that's common and only the 5x increase is unusual. But I'm not aware of even a doubling persisting for more than a generation (the opposite is more common, as life expectancy increases fertility plummets).

    There's solid evidence that educating women dramatically reduces the number of children they have. So The Culture seems like a weird place to eliminate that effect. My impression is that The Culture is even more borg-like than the Scandinavian countries when it comes to children having rights. You *WILL* educate your children... there's weird tensions admittedly, like the sub-plot about rescuing a child using a ansible, where I kept thinking "isn't the whole point of The Culture to make that situation requiring rescue impossible? What went wrong to permit that to happen?"

    359:

    Also, those who remember WWII might also remember that (re)building railways quickly is not as hard as you might think. We get back to the wheelbarrows thing again.

    Earlier than that - during World War 1, narrow-gauge railways ('Trench Railways') formed a large part of the logistic infrastructure needed to supply the armies in the field. During the advances of the "Hundred Days Offensive", the Allied armies laid a large amount of track in order to support an advance that was nearly as fast as that of 1944/1945...

    360:

    Again, as I pointed out, a thousand years of force-feeding young women to the point of obesity in Mauritius, Morocco etc has not resulted in the women being unusually tall, so this alone pretty much destroys the idea that women are only shorter because of limited food.

    What are they being fed? You can die of malnourishment eating bread and peanut butter as your exclusive diet, and you'll be gaining weight right up until death.

    Stress is a real component of height outcomes; how much exercise, from what age? What kind of exercise?

    How much social selection? Husband must be taller is not universal, but if it's important it's a strong selector when not every woman marries.

    361:

    You can lay logistic lines on dirt, if you have to. It's much harder to improvise new bridges, which is the sort of thing that'll get Halifax. (and quite a long way from Halifax!)

    This really is a general problem; it's not just the port, it's every means of getting to and from the port, and whether or not the ground is porous. You can't do anything for Miami, for example; the carbonate platform is water soluble and already full of holes. I have no idea what the general case looks like for the North Sea coast of Europe; excellent flood defences in one place are less useful if your neighbours haven't got them and the water comes in from the side, and nothing works all that well if the height of water starts to permeate an underlying porous layer.

    362:

    This podcast is eerie in how close it is to the discussion in this thread. HA!

    GGG#327: Peter F. Hamilton
    https://geeksguideshow.com/2018/09/13/ggg327-peter-f-hamilton/

    363:

    What you're describing I hear as "we have interesting disease risks everywhere now".

    On that we agree. I made a mental note 40 or more years ago to live on higher ground and not by river/ocean front property.

    The only flooding I've ever had up close and personal was when water got to be 6" to 8" on a patio which was 2" or 3" above the door sill of my basement so it seeped in and ruined the carpet and a few things on the floor. This was caused by another hurricane (my first) that dumped 8" to 10" of rain in my back yard, pilled up leaves against my fence and created a small lake in my back yard. That can't happen now. :)

    364:

    One blindspot I see in SF that tries to cover more than a few thousand years: Stars move. They move to the point that in a million years Gliese 710 will be close enough to disturb our Oort cloud. In 30K years Alpha Centauri will be 3.2 LYs from Earth, but then it will start to get farther.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nearest_stars_and_brown_dwarfs

    365:

    Secondarily, I'm thinking that slow currents don't necessarily tear sludge apart; it can wind up deposited in low places. (all those fish on the roads argue for really slow currents as the water drops, at least in some places.)

    In some places yes. But don't let those fish confuse you. As of today, nearly 2 weeks after it started hitting NC, we have over 300 roads still closed due to things like culverts that were washed out and roads that were just plain errodded away. Access to Wilmington was iffy until 4 days ago was described as problematic and dangerous and should not be attempted. Here's fun ways that first opened up.
    https://www.ncdot.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/2018/2018-09-22-wilmington-routes-open.aspx

    Typically for me to get there would be to drive I-40 and take the last exit before driving into the Atlantic Ocean. I think that route opened up yesterday.

    I'll let this die as it is wayyyy off topic.

    366:

    I know you're trolling, but I'll bite just to annoy you.

    The point of the Three Sisters is that you can get both more on a per-field basis, and more money, if you multi-crop. That's been demonstrated. The problem with crop rotation is that it's a wonderful place for pests and diseases. Often multiple cropping inhibits the pests, promotes pest predators, and so on. Three sisters is also better for the soil if it's no-till, which is another one of those hippy techniques that's catching on because it keeps carbon in the soil.

    And even with cheap shipping, we still had the Arab Spring in 2012, triggered in large part by failures of wheat crops in Russia and Pakistan. The US is, what, 50 days from a famine at any given time, because we have no grain storage and go from crop to crop? That's the norm across much of the world. Since shipping is only going to get more expensive, I wouldn't be complacent about it, were I you (heck, get into the futures market and clean up on shortages).

    As for irrigation, it's not 4.54 billion years old, it dates back to Mesopotamia, and if you look at the vast swath of the formerly Fertile Crescent that is too salty to farm, you'll understand what the problem is with irrigation water: rivers drain other places, so unlike most rain, they have a lot of ions. When plants transpire irrigation water and water evaporates from irrigated fields, the salts stay behind. This is okay if there's enough water to flush the salts out of the field and dump them somewhere, like the aptly named Salton Sea (the sump for the Imperial Valley) or Kesterson "Wildlife Refuge" (an ironic name). When there's insufficient water, as with the Colorado River now, fields go out of commission due to excess salt and insufficient water to flush it or gypsum to blunt the effects (and yes, I've worked in Imperial. There are a lot of vacant fields on the western edge). This is the problem throughout the western US. It's likely that, within the next 100 years, our trillion dollar attempt to green the desert (which let farms flourish on an area the size of Vermont across the entire region) will salt up and slowly blow away. It's pretty much inevitable by now, given how many people are in the region now. And Las Vegas aside, we probably won't leave very good ruins, either.

    You ARE correct about agriculture only consuming 1.74% of US energy. Of course, only 17% of that is electricity, so 83% is fossil fuels. That's a wee bit of a problem.

    Climate change is already affecting crops. California's olive harvest looks bad this year, due to that two week heat wave we had this summer. Fruit trees are in trouble because they're not getting the chilling hours they need to set fruit. And so forth. That's normal, although not fun (a drought in Iowa is not good news for corn prices worldwide). The real problem is that crop response to increased temperature is not linear. Crop production increases from too cold to just right. Then it declines a bit until the crop hits a critical high temperature. Then production plummets and you basically lose the whole crop if it stays too hot too long. This is the problem with climate change--it's not the averages, it's the heat waves. That's why I'm hoping that work on plant heat shock proteins will make it possible to rejigger that upper limit for a bunch of crops. Eating only manioc, sorghum, and grasshoppers would get really tedious.

    367:

    I’m not sure what you are talking about with this 4.5 billion years thing. Maybe you need to reread my post

    Yes you can ruin your fields with irrigation but you don’t have to. There are techniques to both prevent salination problems and also to recover such damage

    The real key to it all is water and while some areas are going to become more arid and others are going to get too much rain at the wrong times, or heat waves at the wrong time there will still be areas where you can do agriculture

    Shipping is not going to get more expensive , at least not significantly so. Why would it?

    Climate change will most certainly effect crops. But no one is going to starve because of a failed olive harvest. Plus every year some harvest somewhere is failing and all it ends up doing is making for a slightly more expensive martinee

    The thing that you are missing is how much slack is in the system. We barely even work at growing and shipping food today, we grow a lot of luxury items , we grow meat for Christ’s sake , we spend only a fraction of our energy or people resources on any of it. We’ve got a long long long way to go from here before you actually hit starvation .

    It might happen at some point but the world is hardly the fragile beast teetering on the edge that you portray it as . It will take awhile and that’s a lot of time to figure out new ways to live with climate change . It’s going to be a long, slow, roiling emergency not some sudden “agriculture just broke”

    368:

    This is a link on the California olive harvest.

    25% lower then normal
    No effect on prices since last year was a bumper crop
    It was the combination of a warm spell in winter followed by a frost that’s partially to blame
    Olive harvests are alternate bearing so you typically have a year of heavy yield followed by a light one
    Some areas had a decrease others held steady


    https://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/California-olive-oil-producers-experience-13244521.php

    369:

    Roy @ 344
    PLEASE don’t do that – spell it out in English, or some clearly-recognisable language ?

    Whitroth @ 347
    with heavier rail traffic than we have now
    Wrong
    Fewer lines of track now, but many or more passengers on heavier trains travelling a lot faster. Freight wagons are no longer 4-wheelers carrying 10 or 12 tons, but bogie-wagons carrying 100 tons each ( 20/25 ton axle-loadings )
    And the average speeds are higher too.
    E.G. 1922: London to Manchester or Edinburgh – 260 & 510 minutes
    NOW: 127 & 258 minutes

    Allynh @ 348
    I suggest you re-read the quote you repeated – I said may easily be bonkers
    I DID NOT SAY they were actually bonkers, did I?
    But – extraordinary claims, etc ….
    Soil – yes – keeping the very small macrolife happy is amazingly important.

    Greenhouse agriculture requires a reliable clean water-supply inside those houses, & that also usually requires power to pump the water

    Tim McC @ 364
    in a million years Gliese 710 will be close enough to disturb our Oort cloud.
    Lots of comets - & cometary impacts, too?

    370:

    Greg, @369, re Roy at @344. I instantly rcognosed it as Rot13, maybe I need t oget out more. Maybe a pointer to Rot13 would have helped.

    371:

    I use two rounds of rot13 to hide my spoilers.

    372:

    What are they being fed? You can die of malnourishment eating bread and peanut butter as your exclusive diet, and you'll be gaining weight right up until death.

    Apparently nowadays it includes goat's milk and oily couscous, millet, crushed dates and peanuts, but that's not necessarily a complete list

    https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/news/a3513/forcefeeding-in-mauritania/

    Given historical diets, seems really unlikely that women being forcefed something like that would be more deficient in nutrients than men.

    Stress is a real component of height outcomes; how much exercise, from what age? What kind of exercise?

    Do you really think it's plausible that women are universally doing *more* exercise than men and the stress of that is stunting their growth? Even in like Afghanistan when they barely leave the compound?

    How much social selection? Husband must be taller is not universal, but if it's important it's a strong selector when not every woman marries.

    Yes, that's how a height difference is selected for by standard genetics. You're not even arguing for the 'patriarchy stunts women' hypothesis any more.

    373:

    I've already named a few hyperfecundity meme's. People have just waved them away, apparently feeling certain that they'll disappear entirely based on very weak evidence.

    It's weird how people are perfectly happy to accept the possibility of genetic variants that do random things like make people love certain tastes.... yet when faced with a large fraction of the population who spontaneously decide that they simply absolutely must have a little screaming ball of flesh that defecated itself regularly... to the point that for many it's a central defining desire in their life.... and such a trait being something spectacularly strongly linked to whether you pass on your genes at all... no no, there's no way such a thing could influence human minds because the human mind exists in a philosophically pure void, unfettered by any influence of genetics on behavior.


    http://www.austriaca.at/0xc1aa5576_0x002a70f5.pdf

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/41342814?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822431/#RSTB20150151C26

    "heritability component of 70% for fertility desires and 40% for fertility intentions"

    "three genetic polymorphisms associated with personality traits strongly associated with fertility motivations, desires and intentions."

    I'm not claiming that observed extreme desire for large number of children in both men and women is unlinked to culture... but if you were gonna make a list of things that are exceptionally likely to be genetically modulated then that would be basically at the top of the list.

    Also we're talking about a hypothetical post-scarcity society that presumably wants to last for thousands of years.


    " Your argument suggests that by now everyone in the US must necessarily be Mormon because of their reproduction rate"

    No, it suggests that given enough time the percentage of the population that's Mormon would increase. Which it has. Their population growth consistently has stayed well above world average but the church has only existed for less than 190 years.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/27/LDSvsWorld10YearMA.png/1200px-LDSvsWorld10YearMA.png


    "But I'm not aware of even a doubling persisting for more than a generation"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints_membership_history

    taking a quick look, the LDS church has more than doubled every 25 years since it came into existence. (there was a blip around 1930-1955 where it dropped a little below doubling)

    The cost of children is high ... but in a post scarcity society material cost doesn't really matter does it? that's sort of the point.


    "You investigate this hitherto unknown aspect of humanity and apply the necessary genetic corrections."

    That does sound a lot like involuntary eugenics. I mean it's a totally valid resolution for a sci-fi society and I respect that. it's just one we're all conditioned to regard as skeevy.

    374:

    You can lay logistic lines on dirt, if you have to. It's much harder to improvise new bridges,

    ...not really... (AIUI there are still Bailey Bridges in use in Scotland). Want a 30m bridge? Half an hour, with the correct equipment...

    Your new bridge could well be delivered by truck and assembled by hand; aka the Medium Girder Bridge. If you're talking wide/shallow rivers, then you can throw up a pontoon bridge quite quickly (the USSR even built specialist vehicles for underwater reconnaissance of bridging sites; the Russian military tradition emphasises swift and efficient obstacle crossing, IIRC. impressive stuff*).

    * The mnemonic for remembering which combat engineering vehicle you were looking at - Inzhenerny Podvodny Razvedchik (IPR, or Engineer Underwater Scout) or an Inzhenernaya Mashina Razgrazhdeniya (IMR, or Engineer Obstacle-clearing Vehicle) was simple - "I Plunge Rivers" and "I Move Rocks"

    375:

    That's not improvising - that's just installing a pre-built 'temporary' bridge. Improvising means (say) building a 30m bridge capable of carrying 100 locomotives pulling 12 fully-laden trucks, each, when the brass hats have said that there are no bridges or bridge components to send you.

    376:

    For values of "temporary" which can be measured in decades.

    377:

    Oh, yes, but the requirement is only 100 12-truck trains over (say) 2 weeks - anything above that is a bonus! I don't know what the longest, highest capacity, or longest lasting improvised bridge of WWII was, but there assuredly were ones made out of empty oil drums (and others, if I recall, out of commandeered barges) and scavenged timber. Such improvisation (on a MUCH smaller scale!) lasted as a CCF task until at least the 1960s - been there, done that :-) Martin may be too young to remember that era.

    The point is that improvising a small vehicular bridge is dead easy, but a large one (such as a railway bridge over a significant river) is at best difficult and sometimes impossible. But it was done.

    378:

    Here's an interesting article talking about automating manufacturing in India.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-26/machines-are-coming-for-india-s-unwanted-factory-jobs?srnd=opinion

    What's interesting in that article is that workers prefer to work for a gig-company such as Uber (or its Indian equivalent) instead of working for factories.

    379:

    Well, that's about one truck every quarter of an hour, which isn't really too bad. If the breach was close enough to the origin, or if you had a locomotive trapped on the far side to use to propel trucks up to the breach, then you could minimise the strength requirement for the bridge by splitting the train and taking the trucks across one at a time with horses (oxen, people, legions of hamsters in wheels, whatever).

    Timber trestles are a good technology for erecting a remarkably durable bridge with extreme rapidity, and have been proven for the purpose both in war and in peace - but they do depend on the availability of the timber, so it's the same basic problem as with Bailey bridges. Differently manifested, though, so it's still another useful string to the bow, and this would appear to be the kind of problem where multiple-string bows are more useful than trying for a single universal solution.

    380:

    That bridge improvisation makes me mention a book I bought today and which I've reading: Ryan North's 'How to invent everything'. It has a thin cover story of being a guide for stranded time machine users, but this far it's been a fun guide for trying to bootstrap a technical civilization.

    I think people here might be interested.

    381:

    Well, there was one "temporary" Bailey bridge on what is now the B8037, then the A811, between Arnprior and Kippen which carried traffic for that route for at least 30 years.

    I can find a site where there were another 2 (one each way) on the A71 over the river Irvine in Irvine, before the A78 Irvine bypass was built, and they were carrying about 1 vehicle every 3 seconds each way on Saturdays. They have now been replaced by some sort of bowed girder bridge though.

    382:

    Been busy with some other stuff. Wanted to catch up.

    Heteromeles @ 69: As for another ice age in the next century, forget it. They've tried that one since the 1970s and before, but the science of climate change is over a century old. Since the oil companies have known about climate change since the 1950s, you have to make sure that the funding for the reports of a coming ice age (prevented by fossil fuel burning!) was an honest mistake and not some sort of pro-petrochemical propaganda. I don't normally do conspiracy theories except as goofs, but the way they've been playing on climate change for decades, you need to give this stuff the full "Merchants of Doubt" treatment.

    You might be able to hang a future ice age story as an unexpected result of out of control global warming. Push climate so far out of balance that it tips over. I don't expect it in the real world, but it might be a way to put the fiction back in Science Fiction.

    David L @ 115: Like MAGA?

    I prefer ITMFA

    JBS @ 223: The "struldbruggs" may not yet actually exist, but their effects - the way accumulated (inherited) wealth dominates the economy - certainly do.

    I know replying to your own posts is considered bad taste, but I've given the idea further thought.

    "Struldbruggs" DO exist, we call them "corporations".

    David L @ 244: Here in NC, USA we are in the middle of the lower the taxes fight. And it is a minority position. In general. There is a large group of people who are OK with their current taxes and/or would not mind them go up a bit to have government do better at many things. But it's a comfortable mental state.
    The people who want lower taxes tend to be more of the foaming at the mouth yelling at the top of their lungs types. And they get listened to by the politicians and turn out to vote.

    My observation re: taxation is there are 10 types of people who want to cut taxes. There's the shrink the government until it can be drowned in a bathtub faction who want to make government small and weak so it can't interfere in their swindles.

    Then there the ultra-wealthy (and corporations) who want to cut their own taxes, but are perfectly willing to raise taxes on everyone else who is NOT ultra-wealthy (or a corporation) to pay for the military-industrial complex; subsidize ethanol, coal and oil & gas but not for anything so crass as to "promote the general Welfare".


    383:

    Right. Pontoons work well if the river is slow, and that does if the river is shallow with a firm bottom, but neither is always the case. Even then, a locomotive (alone) is seriously heavy, liable to brak the bridge if it goes over, and not easily replaceable.

    To paws4thot: see #375.

    384:

    But ... you can use a pontoon bridge as a temprary fix, whilst also using the ponttons a bases to buid up more permanent bridge base supports/[iers, thus bootstapping your way to a better solution.

    385:

    What I gather is that welded rails need less maintenance.

    I don't know about current UK rail traffic, but in the US, a *huge* percentage of the old trackage was abandoned, with '50's/60's CTC (Centralized Traffic Control), and the long-haul trucks taking business from the railroads. Oh, and cars passengers. Amtrak doesn't carry a fraction what it did up through WWII. Freight - it's only in the last 15 years or so that the truckers started screaming, because the railroads were coming back in force.

    BUT: in that track abandomment, or reduction, in many cases, they either stopped maintaining, or pulled up some of the tracks, so that now, they're finally starting to build second tracks, and third tracks. (The Pennsy mainline was *minimum* four-track).

    Also, in the us, at least back to a century ago, freight cars were 8-wheeled, four axle. The weight of the rail's gotten heavier, from 100lb to 132lb for mainline, and max weights have gone up in a century, from 10,000 lbs to 80k or more, and tank cars from 10kgal to 33kgal these days.

    386:

    1. It is a documented fact that the higher the educational level of the woman, the lower the birth rate, and this is around the world, including Africa and South America.
    2. Your reference to the NIH reference is for an article - I went to the top of the page - on "Searching for causation for correlation".

    Perhaps you might want to actually *ask* a few women how they feel about it all?

    387:

    *sigh*

    Allow me to suggest an alternative: railroad barges... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_float

    388:

    Diet and other social pressures are known factors, but that does not justify the bigotry (and, yes, it IS bigotry) of blaming the 'partriarchy' for stunting women IN GENERAL. We have extremely strong (effectively conclusive) evidence that it is mainly our evolutionary history that causes human males to be larger, stronger and more aggressive. One might as well blame the 'matriarchy' for the fact that males are shorter-lived.

    Even when there is evidence that social factors (even sex-linked ones) cause something harmful, blaming one or the other sex is almost always bigotry, because the cause is almost always a malaise of society as a whole. The following results show only one aspect, but there are plenty of others.

    http://members.tranquility.net/~rwinkel/janel/BirthComplicRejection.html
    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/204803

    Also, there is very strong evidence that there are systematic POPULATION(*) psychological (including ability in certain areas) differences between human males and females, though it's infernally hard to measure exactly how much is fundamental and how much social. That doesn't justify the bigotry of '(fe)males can't do this' but nor does it justify that of claiming that all imbalances are due to discrimination.

    (*) And, to the wannabee flamers, that does NOT say anything useful about the relative ability of individuals.

    389:

    While there have been improvised railroad barges, I don't think any have been used as an active link for the sort of traffic being talked about, only for one-off actions. Purpose built or modified ones, yes, including from the UK until quite recently.

    390:

    This is complicated and ugly.

    --Full disclosure: I think that there's a biological basis for human females being shorter on average than are human males.

    --That said, people working on the genetics of human evolution and history show an enormous variation in their understanding of the social aspects and history of their field, relating to things like racism, colonialism, and yes, patriarchy. This has been a problem in the field for most of a century, as both race theory and ethnography were born in attempts to put science behind the social practices of racism and imperial social orders.

    The problem here is that sometimes researchers say really stupid things that get picked up by the popular press. Often it's out of ignorance. Sometimes it's due to a political or funding agenda. And it can be hard to sort this all out.
    As an example, a physical anthropology textbook from the 1960s I saw was titled "Mankind." It had a long set of pictures of naked women showing the relative differences in breast geometry, but only one picture of a naked man--a bog mummy. Even as a clueless college boy, I thought it was sexist trash. As another aside, in the mid 1990s I saw an ad for a masonic-type organization offering scholarships to work on eugenics.

    --Human cultural inheritance is as important as genetics in determining human phenotypes, and researchers *normally* get this confused. For example, American medical researchers normally categorize their subjects by race. Does some crude determination of skin color, hair shape and lip size have anything to do with the genes behind a medical condition? Probably not for most of the things they are looking at. However, race plays a huge role in health status, due less to genes, but rather more to sociopolitical disparities in availability of food, health care, and relative safety in different communities. Unfortunately, medical researchers often ignore this, and draw a straight line between health outcomes and genetics while ignoring the problems of that race label in the data set.

    So yeah, it's complicated. Don't trust what you read until you know who's paying for it and what the researchers' politics are, especially if it relates to gender or race, and most especially if it ends up ranking its subjects based on these categories, or offering a "just so" scenario for how a trait evolved.

    391:

    For example, just try getting something sensible and quantified about relative rates of vegetarianism or something like cultural food policing.

    392:

    Didn't Harry Turtledove already write fairly extensively about this subject or something very similar?

    393:

    Re: ' ... a trait being something spectacularly strongly linked to whether you pass on your genes at all.'

    Could be a problem if the desire and the ability are very strongly linked. US data suggests that 9% of males and 11% of females of reproductive age are infertile. Unfortunately no idea what the data show for interest in participating in sexual activity whether for procreation or fun. However, I'm guessing that desire and ability are not that strongly linked but are (like most traits) normally distributed. So, some of those who very urgently want to have babies may not be able to have them without medical intervention. (Given grocery check-out tabloid headlines, this means anywhere from 1 to 8 babies at a time. See 'octomom'.)

    WRT to your generational (super-)fecundity scenario --- Assuming that people with such a strong desire and ability found each other and mated, I'm guessing that their kids would probably look for someone also equally strongly compelled to procreate. After 4 or 5 generations of such concentrated within-group/trait mating, I'm guessing that some other trait that went along for the ride and also got concentrated would show up - and that ride-along trait could be sufficiently unkind and seriously undo that particular population segment. (Or the ride-along trait could be a cosmetic/non-health related feature but if visible could literally mark that segment as different - and depending on the social mores of that time, could result in economic/social or physical hostility.)

    Another cultural factor that might affect overall fertility is attitude toward the LGB segment specifically whether that society accepts as normal/desirable that LGBs have/raise families. I'm guessing that historically many LGBs married because of societal pressure and that the majority did have kids. No idea what the desire for kids is among this segment within the few cultures that have fully accepted and accorded equal rights to LGBs.

    * LGBs make up anywhere from 8%-12% of the US population depending on definition, survey.

    394:

    Derail - Background reading on a topical USian thing (SCOTUS)

    Is there any brief historical background article similar to this for the UK or EU wrt to their highest courts? Would be interesting to compare and contrast and maybe predict future social-legal problems. For example, I recall once reading that the UK specifically provides for sanity as a requirement or cause for dismissal (PM), but the US doesn't (POTUS).

    'The selection of U.S. Supreme Court justices' (Published 2006)

    https://academic.oup.com/icon/article/4/4/652/640272

    395:

    No idea what the desire for kids is among this segment within the few cultures that have fully accepted and accorded equal rights to LGBs.

    At least as high as in the straight population from what I can gather. The number of lesbians who have kids is unsurprising to anyone who thinks they're human but can be shocking to bigots. The number of gay men who have kids is much more subject to social pressure but I know several gay+lesbian "heterosexual" couples with kids. There are also a lot of gay donor dads. I suspect with genuine equality we'd see a lot more gay couples with kids, but in Australia and Aotearoa we're still at the "legal equality for the most part and public expressions of bigotry are reducing".

    An interesting question is whether lesbian couples tend to have more kids than straight ones (they each want to give birth to two babies). I suspect not, my sister reneged on the deal after her wife had a baby so one of their kids is adopted :) They only have two (hmm, data with sample size = one... very rigorous)

    396:

    Oh, and one amusing argument I haven't seen recently but used to be standard in the 1980's is "lesbians can't have children since that requires a man, if a so-called lesbian has a child she's really heterosexual". So I suppose at least we have progress on that front...

    FWIW the rest of the QUILTBAG soup also have kids, sometimes giving birth and other times adopting.

    I wonder whether any of them them have the inheritable hyperfecundity gene?

    (bonus comment since I'm once again having issues with moveable type only letting me post one comment before I have to restart my computer)

    5% growth every year for 190 years means you have 10,616 times as many things now as when you started. Mormonism started in "1830 with only six members of record" and there are roughly 6.5M in the US now, an annual growth rate of 7.5%. Which suggests there are conversions as well as exits.

    397:

    lesbians can't have children since that requires a man, if a so-called lesbian has a child she's really heterosexual

    Which was (and is) a bloody stupid argument, given that we've had IVF since the 1970s.

    398:

    The idea that there are genes for complex behaviours is just barely not nonsense. Developmental plasticity is a thing. It's an important thing. While there are directly coding genes, they're the heavily conserved ones for cellular machinery; behaviour is a weighted potential space into which the organism is adjusted by the environment and circumstances of its development. (Some organisms do this so thoroughly with phenotype they used to be regarded as distinct species! Those are insects, not mammals, but still.)

    Mark Schaffer