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Shrinking the Technosphere

By Dmitry Orlov

On September 28, while addressing the UN General Assembly, Putin proposed “implementing naturelike technologies, which will make it possible to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere.” It is necessary to do so to combat catastrophic global climate change, because, according to Putin, CO2 emissions cuts, even if implemented successfully, would be a mere postponement rather than a solution.

I hadn't heard the phrase “implementing naturelike technologies” before, so I Googled it and Yandexed it, and came up with nothing more than Putin's speech at the UN. He coined the phrase. As with the other phrases he's coined, such as “sovereign democracy” and “dictatorship of the law,” it is a game-changer. With him, these aren't words thrown on the wind. In each of these cases, the phrase laid the foundation of a new philosophy of governance, complete with a new set of policies.

In the case of “sovereign democracy,” it meant methodically excluding all foreign influences on Russia's political system, a process that culminated recently when Russia, in tandem with China, banned Western NGOs, which were previously making futile attempts to destabilize Russia and China politically. Other countries that find themselves having trouble with the Orange Revolution Syndicate can now follow their best practices.

In the case of “dictatorship of the law,” it meant either explicitly legalizing and absorbing into the system, or explicitly outlawing and destroying, every type of illegal or semi-legal social formation, first by focusing on the criminal gangs and protection rackets that proliferated in Russia during the wild 1990s, and now expanding into the international sphere, where Russia is now working to destroy the products of illegal Western activities, such as ISIS, along with other US-trained, US-armed, Saudi-funded terrorist groups. “Dictatorship of the law” means that no-one is above the law, not even the CIA or the Pentagon.

This being a given, it makes sense to carefully parse the phrase, in hopes of gaining a better of understanding of what is meant, and this particular phrase is harder to parse than the previous two, because the Russian original, “внедрение природоподобных технологий”, is laden with meanings that English does not directly convey.

“Внедрéние” (vnedrénie) can be translated in any number of ways: implementation; introduction; implantation; inoculation, implantation (of views, ideas); entrenchment (esp. of culture); enacting; advent; launch; incorporation; adoption; inculcation, instillation; indoctrination. Translating it as “implementation” does not do it justice. It is derived from the word “нéдра” (nédra) which means “the nether regions” and is etymologically connected to the Old English word “neðera” through a common Indo-European root. In Russian, it can refer to all sorts of unfathomable depths, from the nether regions of the Earth (where oil and gas are found) to the nether regions of human psyche, as in the phrase “недра подсознательного” (the nether-regions of the subconscious). Translating it with the tinny, technical-sounding word “implementation” does not do it justice. It can very well mean “implantation” or “indoctrination.”

The word “природоподóбный” (priródo-podóbnyi) translates directly as “naturelike,” although in Russian it has less of an overtone of accidental resemblance and more of an overtone of active conformance or assimilation. It is of recent coinage, and can be found in a few techno-grandiose articles by Russian academics in which they promote vaporous initiatives for driving the development of nanotechnology or quantum microelectronics by simulating evolutionary processes, or some such. The gist of it seems to be that once widgets get too complex for humans to design, we might as well let them evolve like bacteria in a Petri dish.

Based on what Putin said next, we can be sure that this is not what he had in mind: “We need qualitatively different approaches. The discussion should involve principally new, naturelike technologies, which do not injure the environment but exist in harmony with it and will allow us to restore the balance between the biosphere and the technosphere which mankind has disturbed.” It seems that he meant that people should conform to nature in daily life rather than try to simulate nature in a laboratory setting.

But what did he mean by “technologies”? Did he mean that we need a new generation of eco-friendly gewgaws and gizmos that are slightly more energy-efficient than the current crop? Again, let's see what got lost in translation. In Russian, the word “tekhnológii” does not directly imply industrial technology, and can relate to any art or craft. Since it is obvious that industrial technology is not particularly “naturelike,” it stands to reason that he meant some other type of technology, and one type immediately leaps to mind: political technologies. In Russian, it is written as one word, polittekhnologii, and it is a common one. At its best, it is the art of shifting the common political and cultural mindset in some favorable or productive direction.

Putin is a consummate political technologist. His current domestic approval rating stands at 89%; the remaining 11% disapprove of him because they wish him to take a more hard-line stance against the West. It makes sense, therefore, to examine his proposal from the point of view of political technology, jettisoning the notion that what he meant by “technology” is some sort of new, slightly more eco-friendly industrial plant and equipment. If his initiative succeeds in making 89% of the world's population speak out in favor of rapidly adopting naturelike, ecosystem-compatible lifestyles, while the remaining 11% stand in opposition because they believe the adoption rate isn't high enough, then perhaps climate catastrophe will be averted—or at least its worst-case scenario, which is human extinction.

In the next part of this series, we will learn what political technology is, what sorts of political technologies we can see used all around us. Then we will move on to addressing the main questions: What does it mean for us to become naturelike, and, finally, How can we invent or evolve political technologies to bring about this transformation while there is still time (if we are lucky).

Shrinking the Technosphere, Part II

Political technologies have three main goals:

1. Changing the rules of the game between participants in the political process.
2. Introducing into the mass consciousness new concepts, values, opinions and convictions.
3. Direct manipulation of human behavior through mass media and administrative methods.

Political technologies pursue these tactical goals in accordance with higher, strategic imperatives, and it is only the noble nature of these higher imperatives that can justify the use of such high-handed, nondemocratic means. Yes, the ends justify the means—once in a while. It is better to save humanity and the natural world through nondemocratic means than to let it go extinct while adhering to strictly democratic ones.

But often the imperatives are far less than noble. They can be separated into two kinds:

1. To improve everyone's welfare by pursuing the common good of the entire society, as it is understood by its best-educated, most intelligent, most decent and responsible members. Political technologies of this kind result in a virtuous cycle, building on previous successes to increase social cohesion, solidarity and setting the stage for great achievements. (These are the good kind.)

2. To enrich, empower and protect special interests at the expense of the rest of society. These kinds of political technologies either fail through internal contradiction, or result in a vicious cycle, in which those who benefit from them strive for ever-higher levels of selfish behavior at the expense of the rest, setting the stage for poor social outcomes, economic stagnation, mass violence and eventual civil war and political disintegration. (These are the bad kind.)

Let's take the United States as an example The United States currently has more than its fair share of the latter sort. Let's briefly review a dozen of the most important ones.

1. The fossil fuel lobby. Objective: convince the US population that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not occurring. Means: smear campaigns against climate scientists, injection of fake science, denigration of science as a whole, portrayal of the movement to stop catastrophic climate change as a conspiracy, etc. Shows some signs of failing through internal contradiction, as parts of South Carolina—a self-styled “conservative” state—go underwater in a so-called “thousand-year flood” (soon to be renamed a “hundred-year flood,” then “ten-year flood” and, finally, a “blub-blub-blub” flood). Unlike North Carolina, Florida (another “blub-blub-blub” state) and Wisconsin, South Carolina hasn't banned the use of the term “climate change” by state workers; not that anyone has heard them use it in any case. When political technologists start banning the use of words, you know that they are becoming desperate. At a meta-polittechnological level, when a polittechnology shows signs of failing through internal contradiction, it is often best to let things run their course. After all, what does it matter whether officials in the Carolinas or in Florida use the term “climate change” or the term “blub-blub-blub”?

2. The arms manufacturers. Objective: convince the US population that private gun ownership makes people safer, is effective in preventing government tyranny, and is a right to be defended at all costs. This too is showing some signs of failure through internal contradiction, as the number of mass shootings in the US shoots up. But the level of brainwash here is rather high, and the US authorities may find themselves forced to resort to direct manipulation to bring the situation under control (or so they would hope). This may involve some sort of mass standoff between the government and the “gun nuts,” in which the gun nuts are described as terrorists, outlawed and, in a demonstration exercise, instantaneously wiped out by the army, the navy and the air force. But this would only bring out the next layer of internal contradiction: in decisively demonstrating that owning a gun does not make one safer, and that guns are useless in preventing tyranny, the government would be forced to tacitly admit that it is, in fact a tyranny, at war with its own people. And this would undermine a number of other political technologies on which the government depends for its political survival.

3. The two-party political system, along with the lobbyists and its corporate, big-money and foreign sponsors. Objective: keep the people believing that the US is a democracy and that people have a choice. On the one hand, this technology seems to be working. A lot of the people voted for Obama (some of them twice!) and then had a difficult time facing up to the fact that he is an impostor, barely different from his predecessor, and that everything he had said to get their vote was just hopeful noise. And now a lot of these same people are ready to vote again—for some other democratic career politician making similar kinds of hopeful noise. On the other hand, this piece of political technology seems to be in rather sad shape. The party machinery seems unable to produce viable candidates. The Republicans are internally in disarray and seem especially vulnerable to being upstaged by outsiders like Trump. Moreover, most of the voters no longer identify with either party—an unnerving development for political technologists in charge of herding them toward one of the political spectrum or the other.

4. The defense contractors and the national defense establishment. Objective: justify exorbitant defense budgets by claiming that they keep the nation safe by thwarting evildoers or some such nonsense. The US has a very expensive defense establishment, but a very ineffectual one. Case in point: as the hostilities in Syria threaten to escalate, the US orders the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt out of the Persian Gulf, leaving it without a US aircraft carrier there for the first time in 6 years. The reason is simple: although very expensive and impressive looking, American aircraft carriers are only effective against very weak and disorganized adversaries. When it comes to major powers such as Russia, China and Iran they are no more than sitting ducks, being defenseless against attacks by supersonic cruise missiles and supercavitating torpedoes, which the Americans simply don't have. Such obvious signs of weakness (and there are many others) undermine the claim that defense dollars are money well spent. After a time, the message is bound to sink in that the US defense establishment produces useless military boondoggles and baseless, dreamed-up intelligence reports, resulting in a serious internal contradiction. Couple the relative impotence of American high-tech weaponry against similarly equipped adversaries with the inability or unwillingness to deploy ground troops (after the great “successes” in the meat grinders of Iraq and Afghanistan) and you have an erstwhile superpower whose ability to project force is rather circumscribed. Why, then, does it cost so much? Defeat can be had for a lot less money. A sign of desperation is the latest US initiative to drop palettes of small arms ammunition and hand grenades into the deserts of Northern Syria, hoping that some “moderate” (LOL) terrorist would find them and use them against the Syrian government.

The list goes on but, for the sake of brevity, and as an exercise for the reader, I will let the reader fill in the details about the remaining examples of bad political technologies that are found in the US. The information is not hard to find. Ask yourself whether these technologies will fail through internal contradiction, by triggering a wider conflict, or by causing widespread degeneracy in the population they afflict.

5. The medical industry. Objective: keep people convinced that private health insurance is necessary, that exorbitant medical costs are justified, that socialized medicine is somehow evil, and that they are getting good quality medical care in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

6. The higher education industry. Objective: keep people convinced that higher education in the US is a good value in spite of its exorbitant costs, the student debt crisis, and the fact that over half of recent university and college graduates have been unable to find professional employment.

7. The prison-industrial complex. Objective: keep people convinced that imprisoning a higher percentage of the population than did Stalin, mostly for nonviolent, victimless crimes, somehow keeps people safe, in spite of there being absolutely no evidence of that.

8. The automotive industry. Objective: keep people convinced that the private automobile is the hallmark of personal freedom while denigrating public transportation, in spite of the fact that if you factor in all of the costs and the externalities of private cars and translate them into the working hours it takes to pay for them, driving a car turns out to be slower than walking.

9. The agribusiness industry. Objective: keep people convinced that a diet made up of cheap, chemical-laden, industrially produced food is somehow acceptable in spite of the high levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments in which it results.

10. The financial industry. Objective: keep people convinced that their money is safe even as it disappears into an ever-expanding black hole of unrepayable debt.

11. Organized religion. Objective: keep people convinced that kowtowing to a big white man in the sky, who might send you to hell in spite of the fact that he loves you, and who, in spite of being all-powerful, always needs your money, takes precedence over using your own reason and relying on facts to find your own way in the world. Cause simple-minded people to insist that a worked-over story of the Egyptian god Horus, stuck together with bits of the Gilgamesh Epic and other ancient myths, is the word of God and the absolute literal truth. Keep alive the fiction that religious people are somehow more moral or more ethical than nonreligious people.

12. The legal system. Objective: keep people convinced that the legal system somehow produces justice instead of selling positive outcomes to the highest bidder, that feeding a huge army of well-paid lawyers is somehow worth the money, and that obeying a codex of laws so voluminous and so convoluted that is completely incomprehensible to the average person, and most lawyers, is what it means to be a good citizen.

As you see, the US has quite a parasite load of bad political technologies. Each special interest group can hire some political technologists to put together a system for them that will assure them of a disproportionately large piece of the pie to the detriment of everyone else.

This is bad enough, but bad political technologies cause an additional problem: they debilitate the minds of those they afflict. Their main objective is to keep people convinced of things that are false. Once they succeed, these people become personally invested in these falsehoods, come to identify with them, and regard any information that contradicts them either as a personal affront or, at the very least, as a source of unwelcome cognitive dissonance. This makes them impervious to good political technologies—ones that seek to convince them of things that are true and of approaches that do in fact work, and steer them in the direction of doing what is necessary. They are what Andy Borowitz called “fact-resistant humans.”

Because of its high parasite load of bad political technologies, the population of the US may not be worth the trouble when it comes to putting together good political technologies, such as the one to prevent catastrophic climate change. A lot of these bad political technologies are poised to fail, either through internal contradiction, or because of their deleterious effects on the people held in their spell, so it makes sense to wait.

Also, the problem of the US being a major polluter and climate disrupter may resolve itself: the US stands to suffer immensely from climate change, with the west coast and the southwest running out of water, the south decimated by heat waves and the eastern seaboard disappearing under the waves. Keep in mind that it amounts to less than 5 percent of the world's population—a significant number, but not significant enough to hold up the rest of the planet.

Trying to negotiate with the US when it comes to preventing catastrophic climate change is starting to seem like a waste of time. Why should the 95 percent wait for the 5 percent to dig a deep enough hole for themselves? But what wouldn't be a waste of time? This is the question we will take up next.

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to "potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States," something he has called “permanent crisis”. http://cluborlov.blogspot.com

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