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Capitalism, Communism, and Industrialization

Neither Capitalism nor Communism could solve the problems of industrialization.

I made this comment during a conversation I had recently with Vinay Gupta. He later tweeted the remark, and I was rather astonished at the amount of attention that the tweet received, and indeed continues to receive.

Given that this statement has grown wings, the time has come to unpack it a bit more.

Industrialization has seeded a number of toxic aspects into our culture. Long hours on the factory floor or in the cubicle. Hyper-specialization of roles (aka division of labour) such that an individual’s task is often rendered not only monotonous, but seemingly meaningless. An increased belief in “productivity” being among the chief measurements of a person’s value. These are but a few characteristics of industrialized culture that, we are slowly coming to realize, prove immensely detrimental to human mental and physical wellbeing.

Much of this began in the 19th century, when the advent of factories and mass production were gaining momentum. The ethos by which such operations were run made maximum efficiency and productivity the top priority. Communism emerged as a school of thought which claimed the ability to relieve the workers of their plight through shifting to them control over the means of production. The string of Communist revolutions in the early 20th century indicates that a goodly number of people were interested in giving this new model a shot.

The party was pretty much over in 100 years. The USSR collapsed in 1990, and what few lingering Communist states remained had become sufficiently hybridized with Capitalist policies, as a survival tactic, as to render them nearly unrecognizable from the states envisioned by Marx.

But the staunch defenders of Capitalism should not yet sound the horns in celebration of victory. Industrial capitalism as we recognize it only developed in the 1830s. With the current run of financial collapses, and the rapid emergence of alternate economic models that are being seriously considered in some political circles, consider the possibility that, when this has all played out, Capitalism may only have lasted a few decades longer. Which, from the viewpoint of history in another few centuries, will be a rather insignificant difference.

The problem seems to be that neither model offers a way out of our toxic industrial lifestyle and a means for improving general human happiness and wellbeing. The points mentioned at the beginning of this piece appear to be features, not bugs, of a Capitalist system for all but those at the very top. Meanwhile, the Communist system more or less maintains the same work ethic, but merely changes who is in charge and to whom the profits go. I have heard a number of apologists argue that there are schools of Communist thought that recognize this and offer solutions. However, until such a system actually shows up in a state, it cannot be judged alongside those previously or currently manifested in power.

The offer, then, seems to be ‘You will continue to work a shit job that slowly eats your body, mind, and soul. But you’ll be doing it for your own benefit, and that of your comrades, rather than for some magnate.’

Not a very enticing offer, frankly.

Communism as it has manifested at the state level seems to have overlooked the inherent toxicity of the industrial mode of living, choosing to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than veer away from the iceberg. It sounded like a nice alternative, but gradually people realized that nothing fundamentally had changed in their lives save for who was holding the reins.

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Fictional States: Expanded and Updated

Three years ago, I wrote “Fictional States” as a brief post outlining ideas that I would come to expand upon greatly.

Since then, I’ve found the ideas put down in that piece becoming more and more relevant. Currently, Catalonia continues its campaign for independence from Spain, Scotland’s referendum is set for this coming November, and Ukraine’s Russian-friendly eastern portion looks like it might potentially fall off to be caught my Russia just as Crimea did some months ago. Also, a year or so ago, I took the opportunity to flesh out the ideas in the original post into a more formal document.

I see no reason to put off posting an expanded version any longer. So, I’ve tweaked things a little to work in current events, and present it to you here.

Click here to read the expanded and updated “Fictional States”.

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The Tao of China: Martial Arts Philosophy at the Geopolitical Level

I have been following the recent activities of China regarding the Senkaku Islands with great interest. With the establishment of the wide-spanning Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), China continues to gently, yet firmly, flex its muscles in challenge to the powers around it. However, when I hear politicians and military personnel calling for war preparations or imagining how a hypothetical conflict with China would play out, I cannot help but think that they are misunderstanding China’s tactics.

Make no mistake, I am no expert on China. The extent of my experience is limited solely to the study of some of China’s great philosophical and military texts: Tao Te Ching, Sun Tzu, and Zhuge Liang’s commentary on the latter. Yet the study of these works has led me to regard China’s activities of late, militarily and diplomatically, with a certain degree of understanding and, dare I say, familiarity.

Anyone who has had any tai chi training is familiar with the exercise known as ‘sticky hands’. Two (or more) people face off and, while maintaining gentle contact with the others’ hands, attempt to manipulate each other into an off balance position. Neophytes learn very quickly that applying too little force or resistance will get you knocked over as your partner simply blows through you, while applying too much will find your own momentum used against you, again sending you to the floor. The ideal approach is just enough force and resistance to redirect your partner’s advances while not committing so much as to make you prone to being led off balance. Notice that I said ‘led’, as this is frequently what happens. The defeated one brings their fate upon themselves, either allowing themselves to be overpowered or coming on too strong and finding their own force re-directed against them.

China’s geo-political activities boil down to a nation state practicing tai chi.

Actions such as the border disputes with India and the ADIZ in the face of Japan and Korea are hands extending gentle pressure outwards.  Do nothing, and the targets will eventually find themselves bent over backwards beyond their center of stability. Push back too hard (as the US would very likely do if it came to it), and they’d suddenly find themselves face-planted on the grass six feet away.

China has placed itself in a brilliant position. It can continue its slow, subtle expansion of influence, geographically and politically, in such a way that makes it difficult for any rival power to legitimately escalate matters without appearing to be the aggressor themselves.  They would also be in a place to assume an effective defensive stance, since beach-heads in contested areas, again either geographically or politically, will be already established.

The best course of action, then, is to play ‘sticky hands’ right back. To redirect attempts at force, however seemingly gentle, while preventing head-on conflict at all costs. We can expect the same reaction in kind, creating a dynamic stasis where nobody is moved forward or backward. What this could look like on the ground is not dissimilar from the practice of containment employed on the USSR during the Cold War. But ‘sticky hands’ does not last forever. Eventually one side will misstep. If the other side is observant, they will be able to engineer a gentle yet decisive take-down. Alternatively, one side will become impatient and make a press for rapid advantage which, if caught correctly by the other, will bode ill for the aggressor.

I cannot say which way this will play out. I can say that the US has historically been rubbish at tai chi, favoring the bruiser approach (and we all know how that turns out), Korea is little better as a result of being perpetually on the balls of its feet while looking northward, and Japan is long out of practice.

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Encircling the Dragon: The Unintended Consequences of Blockading China

This morning I read an article in which the author, Sean Mirski, sketched out a scenario in which a naval blockade could be a decisive tool in a hypothetical future war with China. The general idea is that, with China relying so heavily on its exports, cutting off trade would cripple its economy and thus force it to ask for terms rather than continue the fight. Economic siege warfare.

I read on, all the while waiting for what seemed to me to be the inevitable counterpoint to this strategy, and yet it never appeared. I am speaking, of course, of the economic damage that those conducting and enforcing the blockade, and indeed the world at large, would also suffer from such an undertaking.

I lived for five years in Salem, Massachusetts. While most people associate this historic New England city with the infamous witch trials of 1692, it is far less commonly known that it was a world-class seaport and a major center for the China trade in the18th century. Salem is famous the world over for its Late Georgian and Federal-style architecture, mainly built by wealthy merchants and sea captains at height of Salem’s prosperity. Walking through the McIntire District or along the waterfront, you see just how much things were booming there.

Starting in 1807, however, a series of trade embargoes between Britain, France, and the United States, part of which would contribute to the grievances that kicked off the War of 1812, destroyed the trade-reliant economy of Salem. By the time the ports were re-opened to trading, Salem had been knocked off its pedestal by other ports such as New York. It never fully returned to its former glory.

Although I agree that a blockade of China’s trade routes would be an effective means of forcing a peace if a conflict erupted, we need to recognize why that is: that China is heavily reliant upon exporting their goods because so much of the world is heavily reliant upon importing their goods. This turns a blockade on China less into an economic siege and more into an economic game of bloody knuckles.

Who do you think could hold out longer? I’m honestly not sure. I am sure, however, that one cannot successfully mount a siege that does equal (or greater) damage to yourself as to your enemy.

 

 

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Feudal-ish: Far worse than Feudalism

These days, we hear the term ‘Feudalism’ thrown around a lot. We are told that the rise of the ‘One Percent’ and corporate interests will lead to a modern feudal system, or that current workplace conditions are downright feudal. The term evokes images of wealthy robber barons enforcing unjust rule over burlap-clad peasants with an iron fist. The feudal system, the narrative goes, is the primitive, oppressive system that we left behind us for more modern, enlightened forms of governance.

Often when I hear people using the term these days, I’m inclined to invoke Montoya’s Observation: ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

I’ve touched upon Feudalism in the past, making the proposal that, like all forms of government, it can work if it is conducted as intended. The trouble comes, again as with all forms of government, when it is not. Our current state of growing control by wealthy elites differs from Feudalism in one crucial area: reciprocity and mutual responsibility for welfare.

A vassal pledged loyalty and service to a lord. The vassal’s obligation could take many forms: domestic or military service, a share of one’s crops, or an agreed upon quantity of your product if you were an artisan. In exchange, the lord gave you security and maintenance; you were fed, accommodated, protected from harm, and granted any other rights or benefits that were agreed upon. Pay is not a substitute for these things. In the Middle Ages, wage labour was considered the lowest form of living, looked down upon even by the peasantry.

It’s the other side of the coin, the lord’s obligation, that is missing nowadays from what people are calling ‘feudal’ conditions. The lord was responsible for the general welfare of the vassal, not just for paying them. If a vassal was in a bad way, it reflected poorly on the lord. It was the sign of a poor leader and governor that those under their care were suffering. Today, a company gives you a paycheque and, frequently, could otherwise care less about the state of your life. This is why, for example, full-time workers in the US can be on food stamps.

In short, the ‘Feudalism’ is not an accurate description of either the current state of affairs, or of any potential futures being glimpsed over the horizon. What we are in danger of is worse than Feudalism: it is a Feudal-ish arrangement with the mutual obligation, the core which made the system function, totally absent. When I look around and hear people call the present or the potential future ‘feudal’, my response is that, in the current state of things, we should be so lucky to have a society modeled on feudal principles.

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The Aquarian Question, the Alexandrian Answer.

Recently, I’ve come across some of the predictions made by futurists and technologists from the 1960s to the 1970s. Great minds like Bucky Fuller, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson were forecasting space colonies and the beginnings of intergalactic exploration, advances in longevity studies that would extend the human lifespan to multiple centuries, and the automation of labuor, freeing us from needless toil to pursue more meaningful tasks, by the turn of the 21st century. Reading such things now is rather painful; it serves as a reminder of where we were expected to be right now, in stark contrast to where we actually are.

In one episode of Cosmos, another such luminary, the astronomer-philosopher Carl Sagan, walks the halls of a recreated Library of Alexandria, regaling us with the intellectual exploits of the remarkable individuals who walked those halls two thousand years ago. Watching this years ago, I learned that mechanization, and even the steam engine, were developed here millennia before being revived in the last few centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

If we had discovered such technologies so long ago, one might rightly ask, why were they not used to their fullest potential then? Sagan’s words put it best:

Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. – Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I suspect that we’re facing the same problem now. We have the ability to automate most forms of labour, to liberate the majority of us from tedious, repetitive work and allow us to enjoy a more leisurely existence, focusing our minds on that which interests us. We have the technology to visit other planets now, and future developments could bring us further and further out into the stars. Our average lifespans have already increased dramatically across most of the world, and nothing prevents concerted efforts into better understanding how aging works, and whether or not it can be put off, or even eliminated. But, thus far, we have placed our own barriers in front of these great shifts.

In some circles, people are not only ignorant of our scientific and technological potential, but outwardly hostile towards it. Our space programme is being de-funded, with its activities dramatically lessened compared to 50 years ago. The greatest educational tool humans have ever seen is all too often used to play Farmville or to send cat macros to your friends. And where obsolescence of human labour is brought about by machines, it is used as a means of profit, casting off those who depend on that work to survive and sending them into a world that vilifies their idleness.

This is what makes reading the optimism of the previous century’s futurists so painful: the realisation that we have no one else to blame for their aspirations not manifesting but ourselves. We chose to ignore or forsake our potential as a species, to stop searching or to refuse to change our ways, and consequently are far behind where we could be right now.

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Et In Arcadia Ego: The Paradox of Democracy and Property

To live in a country run by a popular government (democracy, republic, etc.) and yet be denied free and open access to property, the ability to establish oneself on a piece of land for shelter and sustenance, regardless of one’s means, seems to contradict the very core principles of a popular government.

In a monarchy,  the monarch owns everything. They grant portions of their land and authority to the aristocracy in exchange for loyalty and promises of money/goods/manpower when necessary. The aristocrats in turn grant access to their land to everyone else in exchange for the same. This is the basis of feudalism. The monarch is, quite literally, the landlord, while the aristocrat rents from them and then sublets it to someone else. If you do not have the ability to provide the requested compensation, the landowners can restrict you from access to their land.

A side-effect of this system is poverty. It becomes possible for a group of people, for whatever reason, to not have the resources to pay the required rent for access to land, and thus the security of food and shelter. Furthermore, it is possible for someone comfortably renting property from the landlord to, by twist of fate, find themselves unable to continue payment and, consequently, be denied access to the land and be relegated to poverty. In this system, complete security afforded by unfettered access to land is enjoyed only by the landowners, and in truth only with the monarch.

I’m not saying that this is just or moral, only that, within this system, it is lawful.

A popular government, such as a republic or a democracy, places sovereignty in the hands of the people, and through them to their elected representatives. These are states that have either cast off their monarchies, or never had one in the first place. The state then is a commons, administered jointly by its people for common use and benefit.

Everyone owns the state.

And yet, within these states, landlordism and poverty are still present. How is that possible? How, in a state where all people have joint rulership and sovereignty over its territory, can a portion of the people still be denied access to a plot of land on which to live and subsist?

What seems even worse is that nations like the United States, France, and India actively  did away with their monarchies, and yet retained the land-owning system that had developed under them. Their revolutions were conducted in the name of liberating their people from the oppression they suffered under the monarch. Yet these revolutions seemed only to succeed in toppling the previous governing structure and replace it with a new one. The poor and landless, largely, remained so. The renters merely replaced the old landlords with new ones; ones with which, in theory, they share equal ownership of their state and territory.

I am not prepared to here sketch out a detailed solution to this problem. In general, I think that it is criminal for any state that claims to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ to allow systems to remain in place whereby its citizens to not have free and equal access to the land and its resources for their subsistence. Solve that problem, and you put a massive dent in issues relating to poverty and toxic notions of work as well. I merely wish to point out this rather glaring paradox, in the hopes that others will find it as disgusting as I do.

 

 

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Avoiding Colonialism in Space

From the late 16th century until the first half of the 20th, European powers gradually expanded their rule and influence to include portions of every continent on the planet save Antarctica. Fuelled by the wealth from these colonial holdings, Europe experienced an unprecedented period of prosperity out of which its modern fabric and culture was constructed.

Along with this, however, also came a period of great injustice and brutality. Once-proud and prosperous peoples were reduced to poverty and servitude as their wealth and resources were drained away to profit others living half-way around the world. Imported slaves endured inhumane conditions on far-off plantations. Even European colonists found their interests overlooked in favour of those of the mother country, even in matters concerning the governance and priorities of their own colony. Any attempt at rebellion was met with an overwhelmingly-violent response to ensure not only that colonists or natives were beaten into submission, but that a repeat performance would be difficult, if not impossible.

This system came apart slowly. Some instances were violent, such as the slave rebellions in the Caribbean or the American War of Independence. Others were more peaceful, such as the granting of self-rule to nations like Canada, and Gandhi helping to end the British Raj after a long campaign of non-violent resistance. By the middle of the 20th century, after two world wars and witnessing some of the worst aspects of human potential arrayed before them, general opinion had turned away from Colonialism. Although there is still a lot of clean-up to do around the world from the lingering after-effects of this period, it is hard to imagine a resurgence of the colonial empires of two centuries ago.

This is exactly why we must be careful in how we think about establishing settlements in space.

I stand with many of the leading thinkers and doers in the Spacer community in my belief that, to ensure our long-term survival and resilience, humanity must become a multi-planet species. Such a move will help to alleviate the strain that our growing population is inflicting on the planet. Furthermore, as with the diaspora of disenfranchised peoples to the New World, off-world migrations may serve to ease tensions between rival groups and ideologies. The potential benefits of such endeavours more than justify the tremendous efforts that will be necessary to accomplish them. But there is a real danger that we could end up repeating some of the same mistakes that our ancestors made as they branched out from Europe.

There are, of course, differences in circumstance that must be taken into account. Chief amongst  these is that, so far as we know, at least in our own Solar System, there are no other planets or planetary satellites that are inhabited, or at least inhabited by ‘intelligent’ beings. Thus, at least for now, we need only concern ourselves with our own colonists and their relationship to those back on Earth. At the same time, as I have discussed in a previous piece, there are aspects of our colonial past that are quite relevant to how we will need to think about these potential far-flung outposts, such as considerations for provisioning and security.

Here, then, are three general points that should be considered:

1. Leave your inter-state squabbles in-atmo

For as long as Europe has had colonies, European wars have spilled over into them. France and Britain have clashed in regions as far-flung as Canada and Egypt. During both World Wars, opposing sides faced off in Africa and India, far-removed from the location where the actual injuries that sparked the conflict were dealt. All too often peoples and places have been subject to others’ wars, and their horrid consequences, for no other reason than the flag they fly and the face that adorns their coinage.

The absurdity of this practice would be all the more highlighted if it extended to extra-terrestrial settlements. What reasons would colonies on Mars, with ties to rival Earth states, have to take up arms against one another? The idea would likely be made even more unworkable if, as current trends in collaboration on space projects suggest, such outposts were truly international in their make-up and thus could not be seen to show loyalty to one particular state. Such outposts should be well beyond the range of terrestrial conflicts, only to be troubled with those that directly impact the continuation of their own existence.

2. No wealth-pumps

Empires grow by expanding their dominance into foreign territories, and exploiting the wealth and resources of those territories for the benefit of the core imperial group. Often this arrangement does not favour those living in the exploited areas, be they natives or even colonists from the core group. The ‘wealth pump’ tended to flow one way, and that was to Rome, Delhi, London, or Beijing.

Those that profit from the resources and industry of these settlements should be the inhabitants themselves. The rapacious deeds of the East India Company or the conquistadors, profiting from those doing the work, but sharing little or any of the bounty, is unconscionable and must not be repeated. The mineral and resource wealth from outposts in space promises to be considerable. But the industry should benefit those living there and doing the work, which will secure for them a means of sustenance and prosperity by their own labours in the same way that Gandhi envisioned swadeshi to do so for India.

3. Build States, not Colonial Dependencies

The initial leap into setting up an off-world colony will require immense resources. Thus, it is only logical that these outposts will rely heavily on support from Earth (whether from national, international, or private bodies) until they are capable of standing on their own two feet. This will take time; years, perhaps even generations. But we can avoid a great deal of trouble if, from the start, we understand that there will come a time where those on Earth will have to let go.

In the film adaptation of 1776, Benjamin Franklin refers to the mismanagement of the Colonies by Britain, and of America’s need and right for independence, he remarked:

‘Our industry discouraged, our resources pillaged… first of all our very character stifled. We’ve spawned a new race here… Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.’

Eventually, the inhabitants of colonies on other planets, moons, or space stations will in all meaningful ways cease to be identifiably Americans, Chinese, Britons, or even Terrans; they will be Martians, Europans, or Lunarians. Their cultures will be different, as will their interests and priorities politically and ideologically. To expect such people to be governed by those on Earth would, in time, only cause trouble.

What will the citizenship of an Earth state mean to someone born on Mars, perhaps with parents of different Earth nationalities? What then when the parents are themselves first or second-generation Martians? Furthermore, can we call people citizens who must be screened and quarantined before entering ‘their own’ country, lest Europa’s strain of flu wreak havoc on Earth where there is no immunity? There must come a time when they are given a choice.

True, some may choose to maintain direct ties and allegiances to Earthly nation-states. In other circumstances, as when Britain gradually turned its empire into a Commonwealth of Nations, some may desire self-rule, but also wish to maintain some connection with their mother country. Others still may feel prepared and willing to go it alone; giving thanks for the help of all who contributed to their efforts, but feeling ready to govern their own affairs completely removed from all influence by Earth. If we are to avoid the tumult that came from the two centuries of gradual and sometimes painful unravelling of the colonial model, to all of these choices, or any similar ones, we on Earth must assent.

To ignore the lessons of our colonial past when we are on the verge of migrating to a new frontier would be to taint the very spirit and inspiration that set us on that course in the first place. The enrichment of humanity by spreading ourselves out amongst the stars must be an end in and of itself, not simply a by-product of a profitable venture or an expansion of politics. We’ve travelled this road before, so there are many things we can recall, both in terms of what to cultivate and what to avoid, that will make this journey easier the second time around.

 

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The Space-Fyrd: Crowd-Funding Civilian Space Travel

Yesterday, I read an article in which Elon Musk proposed a plan to build a sustainable colony on Mars. The initial goal is to transport 80,000 colonists, each paying $500,000, who would establish a sustainable population and fund the estimated $40 billion price tag for the project.

I am very supportive of civilian space efforts. The real will to be innovative and adventurous in thinking about the future of humans in space seems to have faded from the government institutions who have been the dominant force in this area. I too believe that the next substantial leap will come from civilian efforts.

What concerns me is that, in these early efforts where the funding is more crucial than finding willing colonists (which wouldn’t be difficult at all), off-world travel and settlement will run the risk of becoming the domain of the wealthy rather than of the suitable. There are many individuals who possess skills and aptitudes that would be invaluable on a Martian colony, but who could never hope to scrape together the half-million-dollar fee to put them to use.

How do we make sure that those with the ‘right stuff’ make it up there rather than just those who can afford it?

The Anglo-Saxons, odd as it may seem, may have something to contribute to this question. At the heart of Anglo-Saxon military organisation was the fyrd, the citizen militia raised from the populace to serve as the bulk of the infantry. To supply troops for the fyrd, the kingdom was divided up in to districts, each of which provided a certain number of suitably-equipped, able-bodied men. The best military equipment, as it is still today, was prohibitively expensive. Thus, those sent to the fyrd were frequently those wealthy enough to afford the kit.

However, allowances were made for when those individuals either could not serve, or did not wish to. The district could pool resources to equip others for service, which gave people the option of sending the capable fighters as opposed to just those who could afford to purchase the equipment.

Imagine if we did the same for our astronauts.

Crowd-funding the cost of transport into space would not only allow those with the necessary skills of a future Martian to achieve their potential despite a hefty price tag, but would also allow for astronauts and colonists to come from diverse origins, preventing the human population in space from becoming dangerously homogeneous in any number of ways.

This could be done now, with the structures we already have in place. Someone could make a good case on Kickstarter for their place on that first vessel to Mars and raise the 500k. But, if aspirations towards greater civilian-government collaboration towards these ends are achieved, this system could be formalised on a national or global scale. We could ensure, as the human presence in space grows, that our off-world brethren display the same wondrous variety as those of us on Earth.

 

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News from the Front: The STAR-TIDES Annual Fall Demonstration

On Monday 1 October, I boarded a train in Springfield, MA at ugh o’clock AM to venture down to Washington DC. I had never been before, so I was looking forward to having a good look around and to getting a first-hand feel for the place. But the main purpose of my journey was to attend four days of talks and demonstrations at National Defense University, Fort McNair.

The event was hosted by STAR-TIDES, a DoD research initiative dedicated to helping to overcome the difficulties faced by people in disaster areas and humanitarian crises around the world. The esteemed Master Gupta had recommended that I meet the cool people working there and see what happens.

What a week it was.

Exhibitors showcased technology ranging from solar/wind kit, including some solar cookers that made some gorgeous chocolate chip cookies; water storage and filtration (I spent the week there drinking water from the Potomac, and lo I still live and breathe); off-grid IT networks to bring remote places online; and of course a variety of shelters including the good ol’ hexayurt.The entire set up was off-grid, so nothing powered up there was plugged into the mains. With the amount of stuff juiced up and going there, that in and of itself was an impressive feat.

Speakers included one of the Energy Policy movers and shakers for the US Marines, and the Goddess and Force of Nature behind Burners Without Borders. I also encountered this man who, while seeming mild-mannered albeit obviously a heavyweight of some variety, was revealed through a bit of research to be one of the most astonishing people I have ever had the privilege of speaking to. Combine all this with a chance to finally meet the venerable Lin Wells, the man-wot-runs-this-operation who I’ve been told I had to meet for years now, and…

Well, can you tell I had a good time?

To say that my perspective was shifted and my horizons were broadened is, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, like saying the Hundred Years War went on for a bit. I had been aware of most of these technologies for some time now, but to actually see them working and doing concrete things rather than just reading about potentials was really eye-opening. Furthermore, getting first-hand accounts from amazing people doing amazing things all around the world was both fascinating and inspiring.

I made what offers of assistance I thought appropriate. I encouraged designers and engineers to think about earlier solutions to the problems they’re trying to tackle for possible inspiration. A lot of people don’t think of it this way but, even in areas dealing with massive infrastructure challenges at present, it was not always thus. People in these places knew how to get food, water, and shelter once upon a time, else they would not have continued to live there. Thus, many of the disruptions to essential elements of survival around the world are potentially fairly new. While the old solutions may not be entirely practical anymore, it could be quite illuminating to consider how their/our ancestors dealt with similar problems.

So, when I returned to Springfield the following Saturday (at a much more civilised hour, thank the gods), I stepped off that train a very different person from the one who got on six days earlier. I was more aware of the possibilities that certain new technologies can offer for helping to solve life-or-death problems for may humans alive today. I became reinforced in my belief that old solutions to ongoing problems can, at the very least, serve as food for thought today when we are attempting to come up with new solutions. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my beloved tribe of brilliant and interesting people around the world saw its ranks swell by a number of new members after this week; the connections I made with these amazing people will, I have no doubt, be long-lasting.

 

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