Tag Archives: technology

Guarding the Foundations of our Modern Day Good Fortunes


There are three foundations in how we think that are at the root of our modern day prosperity: Good science, good laws, and good education for all. These intertwine, but the better they all are, the better our day-to-day challenges will be met, and the better our communities will function, now and in the future.

This essay was inspired by a disturbing 19 Oct 13 Economist article, Trouble at the lab, which describes at length a surprising way that good science is now under threat. It is under threat because the publishers of science articles are not being vigilant enough about checking the experiments that support the conclusions published in their articles. This is bad because if the science isn’t good, then the decisions that are based on the science won’t be good either.

This may not be as heart-string-tugging as feeding the poor, but it’s just as important, and if it’s not corrected a lot of poor won’t get fed, and the others are just as important for feeding the poor too.

The Three Foundations

Good science, good laws, good education. These are the foundations for progress, for improving everyone’s lot in life.

Good science tells us what the harsh realities are of the physical world we live in. The more science we know the more we know about what is physically possible and impossible. (In this usage “possible” also includes thinking in terms of cost-benefit.) The more we know about what is possible the more we can be efficient and effective in fulfilling our deepest wants and dreams. Conversely, when our science understanding isn’t good we waste time and effort trying to do things that can’t be done, or we waste time and effort by not using tools and techniques that could be discovered, but haven’t. Both kinds of missed opportunities slow progress and waste resources.

Good laws allow the experimenting that must be done to both discover new science and discover how to make the best use of it. These two are different projects and equally important. Both take a lot of effort, and a lot of that effort is going to look like waste until a workable result appears. Think of Thomas Edison’s famous dictum: “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” When laws have a special interest agenda, when they aren’t promoting an equal playing field for exploring ideas and letting lots of people partake in the exploring, they are slowing progress as much as bad science does.

Good education is important because the community decides what is progress. The community is making choices on what is important to spend time and attention on, and making choices as to which laws should get passed and enforced. If the community doesn’t have the education to make good choices, good choices won’t be made. What we will get instead are good “from the heart” choices… the kind that work well in the Neolithic Village environment, not in a prosperous, diverse, globalized, modern environment.

This is why we have universal public education. We have it because it was recognized early in the Industrial Age that widespread education brought value to the community. The modern form got its start in Prussia in 1763 and its value was quickly recognized in other industrializing societies, such as colonial America. Again, the important part of this is that everyone gains value when everyone is well educated. These days this doesn’t seem to be as clear to many members of the community as it has been in the past.

Some examples

o Bad science means money badly spent — Science is used to predict the physical future. Where the science is bad, things designed using that science will be bad too.

oo Bad medicine — Biology is one of the big frontiers in science of the 2010’s. One of the big uses for biological research is designing more effective medicines and medical devices. If the experiments being done to demonstrate effectiveness and safety are done in slapdash ways, and little effort is spent on trying to reproduce the results so the slapdashness can be identified, we will have slapdash medicine and devices on our shelves. And that’s just the first round of trouble. The second round of trouble is that people of the community won’t be able to tell the difference between biological real science and biological pseudo-science. Health care is an emotional topic. Even in the best of times it’s hard to keep “from the heart” thinking from being the decision maker on health issues. If the science side has to be taken with a heaping grain of salt because of unreliable experimentation…

oo Mixing religion into science — Religion is based on feel-good thinking. It’s tempting to mix it into science so you can have feel-good science. Sadly, harsh reality and feel-good don’t mix so easily, so the more feel-good that is mixed into science the less useful it becomes as a predictor of harsh reality. Creationism doesn’t help unravel the implications of DNA sequencing. Oh… and mixing politics into science is just as bad for just the same reasons. What should mix with science is cost-benefit thinking — let’s spend first on those projects that look like they will bring big benefits.

o Laws based on emotion — Most laws are based on emotion. They are proposed and passed because there is a disagreement within the community on how to do something — some people feel strongly that [X] is OK, while others feel strongly that it is not. Emotion is OK, but we need to recognize that it is also expensive — sometimes very expensive. I’m thinking War on Drugs as I say this. That said, it is wise to keep in mind that emotion and harsh reality often mix poorly. Again, I’m thinking War on Drugs. What follows are some other ways that emotion, poor universal education, and law making mix poorly.

oo Ignorance favors taking cheap shots — If the community doesn’t know any better, it’s a constant temptation for the leaders to work a personal agenda into their decision making. Democracy works reliably when it is in the context of informed democracy — when the community members understand the issues and have the education to understand the difference between good and bad solutions to the issues.

oo special interest lobbying — Lobbyists gain influence when the community is not paying attention. If the community is paying attention and understands what’s at stake a lobbyist becomes just another guy at the politician’s doorstep. Once again, emotion plus ignorance can powerfully feed silly law making. Here I’m thinking of the crazy-quilt farm subsidies in the US and around the world.

oo Gaming the system — Being able to game a system is a powerful opiate. If I think laws are giving me something for nothing, it’s hard for me to vote against them. Here, more than in any other area, good education for all is vital. If people are well educated they can see the costs of system gaming. Then even when they are a target beneficiary they can be more cool-headed in their choices of supporting a law or not.

oo Scars of panic law making — Hasty law making, laws made while people are deeply angry or scared by something, usually produces seriously expensive law choices, and the expense will go on for many decades. The law is a scar rather than a cure. Putting up some resistance to this is the biggest virtue of the US “checks and balances” governing systems. We need to become even more mindful of this phenomenon and design law making with even more resistance to it, or easier recovery from it.

o Education means better laws and better science — People make laws; people do science; people work with fruits of both science and law making to create our lifestyles. This is why educating everyone well is so important. If you can’t work well with these fruits you’re being wasteful. If you can’t tell the difference between good and bad fruits, you’re wasting yourself and the community’s resources. If most of the community can’t tell the difference, the waste will be big time.

oo Compare South Korea and Haiti — Following the Korean War in the 1950’s South Korea and the Haiti were both impoverished places. In the decades since then South Korea has moved from deeply impoverished to a fully developed nation. Haiti has remained deeply impoverished — it was and still is the cow’s tail in the Western Hemisphere. The difference? One is that the people of South Korea knew how important education was and consistently devoted lots and lots of resource to doing it, and learning to do it better and better. In addition to increasing material prosperity this also let the Korean government peacefully evolve from dictatorship into democracy — their law making got better.


Good science, good law making and good education for all are the roots of modern prosperity. These are intertwined, they support each other… or they fall apart together. For this reason it is important to sustaining our modern culture that we be vigilant and dedicated in supporting all three. We must do them well now, and we must work hard on doing them even better in the future.


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Building Enfranchisement Without Jobs


This essay was inspired by a 30 Aug 13 WSJ editorial, Work and the American Character by Peggy Noonan, in which she discusses how important having a job is to being American. From the article, “A job isn’t only a means to a paycheck, it’s more. ‘To work is to pray,’ the old priests used to say. God made us as many things, including as workers. When you work you serve and take part.” Peggy is talking here about feeling enfranchised. In the early 2010’s if you have a job you feel like you’re an important part of the community, and the community respects you for your effort.

I was further inspired by an interesting 31 Aug 13 Open Culture article, Isaac Asimov’s 1964 Predictions About What the World Will Look 50 Years Later — in 2014, in which Asimov talks about the changing role of work from a 1964 perspective. From his article, “Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014.

The most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become ‘work!’ in our society of enforced leisure.

Both articles point out that as the workplace becomes more automated, the ability for humans to have a meaningful job as makers of stuff diminishes — the machines are doing more and more. I will add to this that in the 2010’s service jobs are facing this same trend. An example of losing service jobs is robots answering phones and making routine calls. A fast approaching example is driverless cars.

In sum, the challenge we civilized folk are going to face over the next thirty years is finding enfranchising alternatives to “Get a job!”


Enfranchisement is a feeling. It consists of two parts: feeling like what you do is important to the community, and feeling like the community respects your interests.

This is an important feeling. It is the bedrock of a community that is low in crime and takes an active interest in events that affect it.

The converse is disenfranchisement: the feeling that the community doesn’t care about my interests, and I don’t care how my actions affect the community. It is active or passive apathy. An extreme example of disenfranchisement is the Gaza Strip community — “Mortar Israel from my back yard… meh.” (I write more on enfranchisement here)

Having a satisfying job is deeply enfranchising. This is why it’s important. The challenge of the 2010’s and beyond is finding other activities for people to do that are also enfranchising — activities that can substitute for those jobs that are being taken away by automation.

Work, Harsh Reality and Satisfaction

The satisfaction that comes from doing work has a lot of instinct helping it along. In hunter-gatherer times everyone worked; everyone contributed to the well-being of the Neolithic village. And this is the condition our instinctive thinking is built to work well in.

But conditions in civilized living are different, and this means that instinctive thinking doesn’t match harsh reality as well as it did in more primitive times. Our harsh reality has changed, and our relation with harsh reality has changed. Example: We no longer personally kill, prepare and cook what we eat. We let numerous specialists and specialized machines transform plants and animals into consumable products. This means our current harsh reality is ordering a Big Mac at a drive-thru speaker and getting it in a paper bag, not catching and slaughtering a cow, and foraging to find and root out potatoes.

Harsh reality and Delusion

One of the virtues of human thinking is its adaptability. We can grow up in the arctic or grow up on a tropical island and be equally comfortable with our lifestyle. Growing up in the civilized environment is dramatically different than growing up in a primitive Neolithic Village environment, but we manage quite well at it.

We manage, but there are dramatic differences in what is “OK” between these many environments. Because we are so good at adapting we take many of these differences for granted.

One of the differences these changes in harsh reality allow is what is “OK” for our emotions to tell us. In the above example the civilized environment allows animal rights activists to gain serious community attention rather than be laughed at as strange, hopeless romantics. This 15 Sep 13 Telegraph article, Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising by Jasper Copping, is another example. This is about belief in ghosts rising in England.

As mankind’s lifestyle has evolved from primitive to civilized the issue of what is satisfying work has constantly evolved as well. We have moved from tilling the land, to driving a tractor that tills the land, to designing software that makes a tractor that tills the land. Because industrialization dramatically increases the pace of change, this question of what people can do that is satisfying and enfranchising has loomed larger and larger for over a century now… and the looming is not stopping!

Historical example

During the 1920’s America and Western Europe experienced the Roaring Twenties — a time of booming economy, booming technology, optimism, and social liberation. It wasn’t all pleasant. There were a lot of scary exciting things happening as well as pleasantly exciting things happening. The book The Great Gatsby is in part a description of that amazement. (the book… the amazement element gets left out of the movie interpretations.) In the 1930’s the whole world experienced the Great Depression — a time when the economic systems that were supporting that 20’s optimism seemed to get mucked up and dysfunctional.

During both these periods people who thought about social institutions were marveling at the changes the current wave of industrialization were bringing to how people lived. Asimov’s article mentioned above is a classic example. (although written 30 years later)

And now it’s my turn to take a 2010’s swing at it.

Building Enfranchisement without building stuff

Now, in the 2010’s, the heart of the issue is discovering what people can do that is enfranchising, but not “work” in the manufacturing or service sense — the kind of work that automated systems will be handling more and more.

Here are some possibilities I have come up with:

o Creating human-crafted wares: “hipster manufacturing”

Many people buy stuff because it has mystical properties. This market will remain vibrant. Many people will be able to make a living by crafting stuff with mystical properties. This may seem like work, it may feel like work, but it’s not because it really isn’t supporting civilization. These processes will be hugely inefficient when compared with automated ways of making stuff, so this style of making things is icing on the cake. But it will be sustainable because the hand-crafting aspect will add a mystical nature to the product and in a prosperous community many people will be willing to pay extra for that.

Adding to the demand will be a transforming of harsh reality that will also be going on at the same time: As processes become more automated people are less aware of how stuff is really made — the physics, chemistry and economics of production. The effect of this is that people will be thinking “Why not believe in mystical powers? My harsh reality can support it.”

o Selling urban legends

Face-to-face selling will remain a powerful way to convince people to buy stuff. One variant of it that will gain in strength is selling stuff based on urban legend. This is because urban legend gets its power from stroking instinctive/emotional thinking, and that feature of human thinking will be strengthening. Emotional thinking and the urban legends it supports will become progressively more influential as people will become more and more divorced from the harsh realities that would prove the urban legends wrong. One example: the anti-science movements that support creationism. These beliefs work just fine as long as you’re not seriously trying to solve a complex science problem. Another example: selling wondrous foods and medical cures based on mystical power. These are supported by the deep instinct to worry about food and health. Another example: the animal rights movements. Animal rights can feel quite warm and fuzzy… if you’re not a person who routinely slaughters many kinds of animals, such as a poor rural farmer or a hunter-gatherer.

o Supporting mythical rituals

I attended 2013 Salt Lake Comic Con. It was a deeply surprising success — it was the biggest convention ever in Utah, and the third biggest Comic Con in the nation — only San Diego and New York City surpassed it. The attendees were both numerous and deeply into “cosplay” — designing and wearing elaborate costumes for other people to admire and shoot pictures of.

This Comic Con experience may be a vision of the future. This was an updated county fair and the attendees were getting a lot of emotional reward for their effort. Supporting mythical rituals will occupy more and more human attention as the time and attention spent on work decreases. And as Salt Lake Comic Con this year demonstrated, these efforts can bring a lot of emotional satisfaction.

That brings up the question of what are mythical rituals? My definition is a broad one: It is things we do because they make us feel better on the emotional level — to be a mythical ritual, enthusiastic emotion matters, not correlation with harsh reality. This means it includes things such as cosplay and backing sports teams.

Disaster response

Disasters are always surprises. This means they are a time when responses have to be novel, and dealing with novelty is an area where humans will outperform automation for a long time. Humans will be at the forefront in two areas: First, they direct the automated responses to disasters. Second, they will provide a lot of emotional comforting. So preparing for and responding to disasters will remain a highly enfranchised human activity. This is similar to the activity of firefighters and other first responders we experience in the 2010’s.


Humans won’t need military, but that doesn’t mean it will go away. There is deep emotion supporting a warrior class and being prepared to defend the homeland. What exactly soldiers will do thirty years from now, I don’t know. But it’s likely they will be around in some form, and being a soldier will be an enfranchising activity.

–The End–

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The Robert J.R. Graham Interview (Roger answers)

Robert J.R. Graham is the author of Seventh Journey and we have traded questions for our blogs.RobertColor21

Here are the questions Robert gave me:

  • Can you describe “Technofiction” and how it has influenced your writing?

Science fiction introduced me to the wonder of reading. This was back in the early sixties when I was in middle school. For years I was an avid fan. But in the seventies I noticed that I was reading lots of new stories that sounded awful familiar: by then I’d read a whole bunch about “This means the end of the universe!” Worse for me, the person saying that didn’t mean the end of the universe, they meant an end to life on a planet, or just human life on a planet. As my science understanding grew that kind of difference began bugging me more and more. In the eighties I started to do something about it: I started writing my own science fiction stories.2012-roger-06-400
At first I wrote for me and my web site, White World, which I started at the dawn of the Internet in 1994. In the 2000’s I started trying to reach a wider audience. That’s when I noticed that what I was writing was “different” from mainstream sci-fi, and as a result a lot of readers where saying, “Huh?” when I told them about my stories. It became clear that I needed some branding. So I came up with calling my writing Technofiction, and here’s what Technofiction is all about.
Technofiction is about stories with good science and technology as well as good characters. The science and technology doesn’t have to be real, in the sense of matching the reality we live in, but it has to be internally consistent within the story. It has to be well thought out, which means uncovering surprises uses as well as conventional ones. An example of inconsistency is moralizing on human social issues by showing aliens experiencing the abuses. These beings are aliens, for goodness sake, not discriminated-against humans!  For lots of specific examples, see my Technofiction Reviews on White World.


  • What inspires your writing?

During the eighties and nineties I worked in high technology marketing. An engineer would come up with a neat idea, such as a form of personal computer, and my job was to help people – the engineer and customers – figure out what this neat idea was good for in the real world. Personal computers turned out to be real good for word processing. That was expected. What was surprising was how good they were for spreadsheets (like Excel) and game playing. Those applications were what set the personal computer market on fire, but they weren’t the applications that were first thought of.
I write about this kind of surprise happening.63361-Tips-V1-100
The result is that Technofiction stories wander into unusual territory and the characters have unusual relations and backgrounds. An example: Earth sends of an intelligent war starship to battle aliens in another star system that had treacherously attacked Earth. But… this warship is intelligent. It thinks, a lot, because the journey takes years, and it decides that war isn’t the right solution to this problem. But the Earth designers had planned for this possibility. They… I’ll let you read the story “Intelitan the Destructor” in “Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 1” This is an example of unusual characters in a story that unfolds in an unusual way.


  • How many books have you written, and how many more are planned?

I have eleven out now. Some are science fiction, two are what I call Science and Insight, one is a business history, one is romance, and the first I wrote was a how-to book on word processing. Here is a list.
The science and insight books are the preludes to the science fiction books. I work up some interesting science implications and then mix in some characters and story line and I have a Technofiction book.
The next in line is another book set in the Child Champs environment – our future world fifty to one hundred years from now when the genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolutions are in full swing. Child Champs told one story in that setting, but there are a few more to tell about that wondrous time to come.ChildChamps


  • You have some very interesting ideas about evolution and human thinking.  What is the “Human Thinking Stack” and what can we do about it?

What can we do about the Human Thinking Stack? We can live with it. <grin>
The Human Thinking Stack is simply a way of modeling human thinking. Its goal is to provide better understanding of how humans think, and through that better predictive value. Just to be clear, the thinking stack is insight, not science.
The predictions that come out of it are impressive. I write about those many times a month in my Cyreenik Says blog. One of the most vivid is Panic and Blunder Thinking. This is when a person, or a community, gets really scared, and while they are so scared, do something really expensive, but think they are doing the right thing. (expensive as in: costs a whole lot but doesn’t help solve the problem one wit.)
The Thinking Stack is just one part of my insights on how evolution has shaped human thinking. I have two books out about that “Evolution and Thought” (the short version) and “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition” (the long version). Why_We_See_Beauty_2012_03.04.12
The basic premise of these books, and my insights, is that humans are evolved. This means that we are a high performance fit for living on Earth. (everything alive today is) Our thinking is also evolved and just as high performance. But… evolution takes time so it’s high performance for living in Stone Age conditions, not civilized conditions.


  • Blindspots are a double edged sword.  We don’t know about them, they hurt us, and even if we find one, we beat ourselves up over it.  What strategy have you come up with to deal with blind spots in your work?

First let’s define blindspots. Blindspots are axioms in our thinking. They are givens that we don’t think to question. Many serve us well, but not all. Those that work well save us a lot of time and thinking in our day-to-day lives. Those that work well in a reality different from that which we experience are expensive to maintain. (An example of two different realities on earth are living in the tropics and living in the arctic. Move from one to the other and some of your thinking will now contain blind spots.)
How to spot a blindspot? Be a careful observer. Look at what is going on around you. Look for “self-evident truths” that really aren’t true and because they aren’t true people are wasting a lot of time and resource. Harsh reality will point out blindspots when you pay attention. I cover this in detail in “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition”.


  • In your book “Evolution And Thought” you compare a scam artist to our perceptions of marriage, calling it the Human Condition.  How do we get ourselves into all this trouble? White_Book_Covers2

As I mentioned earlier, our thinking is well matched to living in the Stone Age, something I call the Neolithic Village environment. That’s because humans have lived in that environment for ten thousand generations. That’s long enough for genes to adapt well. We have lived in the Agricultural Age environment for five hundred generations. We have started adapting to that, it’s started to change our thinking, but the process is far from complete. The Industrial Age and Information Age environments are essentially brand new.
This means we civilized folk have to use a lot more learned thinking along with our instinctive thinking. But the instinctive thinking is still fast, easy, comfortable, and really, really wants to be used, so it sneaks in where it can.
Con artistry is the dark side of this phenomenon. The con artist strokes the victim’s instinctive thinking. Marriage is the good side, marriage, in all its various forms, helps produce stable communities that raise lots of healthy kids.


  • You mention that beauty aids us in our evolution, can you elaborate?

Beauty is thinking that has practical value in the Neolithic Village environment. It’s a signal to cooperate – to help out. When we see something beautiful our instinct is to help it out.
Originally this signaling was designed to help children and young mothers who were just learning the ropes of motherhood and could use all the support they could get.
But, as with many things evolution creates, other uses were found for this style of thinking and added to the basic purpose. And like any powerful tool, it has surprises uses, such as supporting fashion. I cover beauty in both of my Science and Insight books on evolution.


Thanks for the questions, Robert, it’s been fun answering these.


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Fashion in the Future

Fashion, female fashion in particular, is going to stay with us through “the snap”. It is also going to be as unpredictable as it is today. So, what will be different about fashion in the future? That is the topic of this essay.

Roots of Fashion
I have written about the roots of fashion in my books Evolution and Thought and How Evolution Explains the Human Condition. First, the concept of seeing beauty in someone has practical roots. It helped survival in the Neolithic Village environment. Seeing beauty in a person, or thing, is an instinctive signal to cooperate with it — to help it out. This instinctive thinking was successful because it encouraged everyone in the village to help out young child-bearing mothers and children, and when they got extra help the village survived better.

Older mothers didn’t need as much help, they had learned the ropes and their oldest children were becoming little helpers instead of helpless, so thinking about older women could change and the village would still be successful. Village women aged from brides into matrons, and the village thinking about them changed as this happened.

But… these matrons were smart people, they were innovative humans. Some experimented, and discovered that if they continued to look young, they would continue to get the cooperation they did when they were young. Voilà! Fashion is invented. Fashion is a way of gaming the instinctive thinking system.

Fashion has been around long enough that human thinking has adapted to this matron gaming. The constant cycles of fashion are a way for young women to identify themselves as truly young, not matron gamers. The randomness of fashion is part of the protection, it keeps the oldsters guessing.

So, one element of fashion is looking young. Another element of fashion is appearing as if a sacrifice has been made. Why this is important and powerful is not so clear to me, but it’s clearly an important element in fashion. In today’s fashion scene heavy cosmetics, towering high heels, slim figures, and piercing’s and tattoos are all sacrifice signals. But those were not the same signals as two decades ago, just as with other fashion elements, which sacrifice signals are popular changes with each generational cohort. This is part of the protection. (Here’s a wonderful Youtube music video about beauty sacrifice Yelle – Je Veux Te Voir.) (And here is a 1 Dec 12 Economist article indirectly about beauty sacrificing Thin cases: Many find pro-anorexia websites repellent, but banning them is futile.)

Fashion in the Future
For decades science fiction movies have been depicting women of the future as being dressed more casually and more revealing than the contemporary styles. Now that we’ve arrived at short shorts and bare midriffs in 2012 it’s hard to imagine where that trend can continue. (but, then again, that’s been the feeling of those shocked by fashion changes since women began revealing their ankles and arms.) Hunger Games (2012) veered away from more revealing by depicting fashion outrageousness instead, and some form of outrageousness is a certainty. In 2012 we have the Ukrainian Barbie and Manga girls as examples. (6 May 12 Fortune article, Deconstructing a Ukrainian Barbie by Katya Soldak)

There will be more prosperity in the future and less connection with harsh reality. This means that both outrageousness and sacrifice will become even more routine than they are today — they are powerful instinctive signals so they aren’t going away. Keep in mind that they are different, and instinct will support a lot of unexpectedness, so both trends will be actively supporting changes and the results will be surprising. Example: There will be “retro” in the coming cycling, but also a lot new, and the retro will in fact be caricatures of the old styles that use new materials and techniques.

Who to Signal?muscleman1

One issue that could be different in the future is: Who will these women be signaling? With men and women being more equal and urban, and child raising moving more to the periphery of day-to-day living, who a woman tries to signal is going to change. It will become more diverse. Even today, fashion, particularly high fashion, is more about women signaling other women than it is about women signaling men. In the 2050’s, when cybers are bringing home the bacon, not men, not women, who will women want to signal?

Hmmm… is Sugar Cyber going to replace Sugar Daddy?

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Dealing with Encrustment

How we organize people and resources change constantly as humans get more educated and more prosperous. As we approach and get into the “post-snap” environment of the 2050’s those changes are going to continue and pick up in pace. Three organizations that are of big concern to me as I prepare to write my Technofiction stories about living in the post-snap environment are education, business and government. How are these going to change?

The Dark Side of this change issue is “encrustment” — my term in this essay for changes in how an organization is structured that slow down its adapting to change and distract it from its main mission. They are things which add to the cost of the organization and reduce its flexibility — its ability to adapt to changes happening in and around it. Encrustments are additions to the organization’s costs and ways of doing things that are implemented with good intentions during the fat years, but then force the organization to change slowly in the lean years and as a result it loses its ability to keep succeeding.

The issue of encrusting
As the Hostess Products debacle of late 2012 has so poignantly demonstrated even rock-solid success can be spoiled. In the Hostess case the brand identity was rock solid, but the management, workers and investors trying to exploit that icon failed. To explain that failure there’s been a lot of finger pointing in the media between managment and various unions: Each said they were giving up too much and various others weren’t giving up enough. But the harsh reality is this failure has been going on for more than a decade. This is, just to belabor the point, the second Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What we are witnessing here is encrustment. Over many years of success the brand and the company acquired so much dead weight that continued success first became difficult, then impossible. That said, the lesson to be learned here is not the specifics of which weight at Hostess was the dead weight. What is more important is looking at the processes that allowed so much weight of all kinds to be acquired. And acquired in such a way that made it difficult to lose when harsh reality came — lean times. So difficult that it seriously threatened survival. In the Hostess case, dead seriously.

One way stands out in my mind as the big problem way: This is when weight is added based mostly on good intentions — emotional justifications. The problem doubles when those warm fuzzy benefits are then taken for granted, “Of course. We should always have [X].” This happens during successful times — fat times. People involved with the successful organization say, “We’ve got a good thing going here, let’s add some emotionally attractive features to the basic mission. We’re doing well so we can afford it.” Because the justification is emotion-based, not cost-benefit based, this addition feels real good. The problem with feeling real good is that losing it at some future date will be emotionally painful. It will hurt, a lot! The benefit becomes a given, an encrustment, and losing it will be seen as betrayal in future lean times.

This kind of encrusting is a constant threat, and every organization controlling the movement of resources is threatened, right down to the personal level. At the individual level impulse buying is an example of encrusting. When it gets out of hand, the individual, and those around him or her, don’t get full value for their efforts. Hostess is an example in the business scale range, and on the regional scale we have what I call the “Midwest Disease”, which I have written about in in other essays.

Again, the hazard of encrusting happens when the benefit is taken for granted. The weight becomes an axiom of the organization’s life. So when harsh reality calls for giving up the expense, people involved get angry, outraged, and feel betrayed. They feel they will only give this up over their dead bodies.

Encrustment in the post snap environment
Sadly, as Hostess has so poignantly demonstrated, life has a lot of such corpses. The challenge to be thinking about for the future is: How does TES effect encrusting? The TES state (Total Entitlement State) is a prosperous state. In the TES state the various communities can afford a whole lot more. Does that mean they will pay for a lot more encrusting?

The Dark Side answer is yes. Humanity will use the exponentially growing wealth of the post snap decade to engage in more and more emotion-driven causes and perks. In the process they will divorce themselves more and more from the harsh reality of “No such thing as a free lunch.” That will become an “old grandpa saying”, irrelevant to modern times.

The more this course is followed the more irrelevant humans become to creating wealth and innovation — the more they become rent-seekers and entertainers, and the more they revel in their successes at gaming the system.

As this happens the cyber elements will become more and more responsible for making tangible and valuable things happen in civilized Earth communities. They will have to deal with, and be in charge of, harsh reality. This leads to my big concern: Humans will more and more become reality shows for themselves and cybers. As humans prance around in the delusion of their reality shows, the real work will be being done by the Morlocks… er, cybers. The cybers will be deciding what is and isn’t possible, and while humans may rant and rail about a few of the choices made, if push comes to shove they will have to accept them. And, even more spooky, they will take 90+ percent of the cyber choices for granted — the cyber choices are just part of life. But unlike draconian SF Big Brother scenarios, the ranting and raving will have an effect: The cybers will likely toy with those ranting and raving because it makes good entertainment.

This is a spooky future scenario, and quite probable.

The Bright Side

The Bright Side alternative will take a lot of dedication and self-discipline on the part of the humans who engage in it. Those humans will stay enmeshed in the processes that create manufacturing and services. They will understand what’s going on and contribute innovations and reality checks. I envision that a few humans will do this — they will stay enmeshed in the system. As the snap progresses these enmeshed humans will become fewer in number and be looked upon by the rest of humanity as either faceless technocrats or semi-magical mad scientist types.

Strange as it may seem in today’s heated emotional environment about bankers, finance will likely remain an important center of cyber-human coordination. This is because finance is about marshaling resources. It will continue to attract clever and ambitious people and they will help the cybers decide how to allocate resources. Big Business will be a closely associated profession. Small business, on the other hand, will be mostly about hipster endeavors, something quite different. Big and small business will become distinctly different institutions.

Government will become more and more about emotion. It will remain “for the people and by the people” but it will become divorced from the harsh reality of making and servicing. Even more than now, it will become the home for busybody thinking.

This will produce a series of crises as the role of government adapts to supporting delusion and away from being able to influence how wealth is created and distributed. Even more than now government will become the institution for ambitious demagogues and busybodies — people who understand a lot about human emotion, but little about how material things are accomplished.

Government will become able to support long-standing mythologies and fantasies. Something such as Area 51 — some kind of secret government base supporting some mythical secret activity — may become more and more real just because government gets so disconnected from harsh reality.

Encrustment has been with us a long time. It happens when an organization has good times and in those good times allows itself to get distracted into supporting feel-good projects and perks. This becomes hazardous to the organization when these distracters are taken for granted — the people of the organization think they should always be part of the organization. When lean times come and the organization needs to cut back, there’s a lot of harsh emotion connected with cutting back encrustment. The cut backs feel like betrayal to the people of the organization.

Encrustment can kill.

The hazard of encrustment is likely to grow in the post-snap environment because people are going to become divorced from the harsh reality of how stuff is made and serviced. Without harsh reality to put limits on their wishes, they will successfully wish for a lot more — their emotions will win out even more than they do now.

But… we will be living in a prosperous world, and cyber will be keeping it running, so we will be able to afford a lot more than we do now. Even with massive encrustment the post-snap TES lifestyle may be a success.

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Ed Wood and Aliens Don’t Exactly Mix

I like science fiction, speculative fiction, that explores how technology affects our lives, and is internally consistent. Some recent favorites of mine are the movies “Moon” and “Limitless”. Both portray rich worlds and they explore how a new technology will affect our lives. In the case of Moon it shows off a suprise use of cloning technology and in Limitless it is a pill that enhances thinking. “Prometheus”, on the other hand, I found silly. The effects and characterizations were wonderful, but the story was channeling Ed Wood. The people in that story did not use their tools well.

“Lord of the Rings” is on my favorite list because Tolkien built such depth into that series. I loved it, read it many times, and spent as much time on the Appendixes in the last book as on the rest of it. Lord of the Rings demonstrates the value of a solid back story — all the characters were doing what they did for good reason and I as a reader could sense that.

Early Heinlein works fired me. “Starship Troopers” was what started me on the road to avid science fiction reading. And it continues to be personally interesting because every time I read it I come away with a different impression. When I read it as a teenager the military adventure aspects of it were exciting. I couldn’t wait to be personally “on the bounce” in my own set of power armor! I read it again when the movie version came out and I wasn’t so impressed, it now read like Sands of Iwo Jima in Space, and I’d read a lot of similar stuff through the years.

The movie, by the way, missed the point of the book entirely. They took out the power armor! The soldiers were something out of World War One! But there was a silver lining. The movie mishandling of power armor inspired me to write my own version of how it should be handled. See “The Ticket Out” in Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 1.

I read it again a couple years ago, and I liked it better again. I liked his philosophy that demonstrating responsibility to the community should be a criterion for citizenship. However, on this last reading I also noticed a whole bunch of internal inconsistencies — my Technofiction viewpoint was now strong.

Those are a few of my likes and dislikes. You can read more about what I like and don’t, and why, in my Technofiction Reviews in Tales of Technofiction on White World.

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The Challenge

In Child Champs I took on the challenge of writing an interesting story about living one hundred years from now. This was a big challenge because I see humanity as “winning” — this will not be some sort of post-apocalypse world. It will be a rich world, and rich worlds are complex, which makes them a lot harder to write about than the “life is cheap, barbarians are everywhere” story background which has been much more common for stories about the future for decades. When I was growing up it was post-nuclear war apocalypse, now it’s a post-climate change or post-resource exhaustion apocalypse. Child Champs is much more in the style of Fred Pohl in the Heechee series and Isaac Asimov in the Foundation and I Robot series. These, too, are rich world scenarios.

The foundation premises in Child Champs are:

o that human population will peak in the 2050’s then decline slowly. This will happen because humanity will become 90% urban, and prosperous city folk don’t have as many kids as poor country folk.

o that productivity — efficiency in making and using stuff — is going to continue its steady increase. This is important because it means we won’t run out of resources. In our future, as is true now, efficiency and effectiveness are the ultimate “green” — they do a lot more to save our planet than windmills and recycling bins.

o that our lives will have a lot more computer, nanotechnology and bioengineering mixed in — there’s not only an app for that, there’s a gene and a nanodevice as well.

In sum, this is a rich world, a very rich world, and a very probable one.

Then I put my thinking cap on: Given these premises as a starting point, what’s living in this world going to be like? What are humans going to be doing?

As I say as part of my Technofiction introduction on White World, “Technology is the variable. Human thinking is the constant.” The humans inhabiting this rich world are going to be thinking very much like people do today. They are going to have hopes and fears, they are going to have ambitions and frustrations, they are going to take much in their world for granted. (“Driverless cars… Of course, why do you ask about those?”) But the tools available for expressing those very human emotions are going to be different, so the people of that future world will act differently and think about different things.

One thing that will remain near and dear to the heart, and be considered very important, will be having and raising children. That’s why I picked it as theme for this story.


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