The Future Has Ceased to Exist. Outlook: Incremental.

March 3, 2011

Likewise, the haircut has only been done "once before."

Normally, I would just link to a post like this (Bruce Sterling’s speech at Reboot 11), but it has been pointed out that Sterling’s work demands a post of its own instead of being a single-line lead-in to a bunch of arguably great songs. So a post you get. It’s long. Be careful what you wish for.

The future ain’t what it used to be. We’ve all been promised so many things: jetpacks, cars that run on tap water, an internet that operated like a shopping mall, fiber optic lines everywhere, personal robot assistants. None of it happened. In fact, nothing like that will happen. The biggest innovations are behind us. Not the largest number of innovations but the large, life-altering innovations are now something we can only look back on.

How does the future look now? Bruce Sterling says “Think small:”

[Speaking to the management of Fiat] “So if you’re going to revive this old car, you’re going to revive the next car that came after that car?” And he said no. This was an important issue and they spent a lot of time thinking about it. What they were doing was, they had introduced the Fiat 500, and they were watching the demographic groups who had picked up on the Fiat 500. And they were looking at post-consumer alteration of the Fiat 500, and then they were going to professionalize that, right?

In other words, there were young, soccer-hooligan tough guys who toughed out their Fiat 500, special little hub-caps and so forth, racing stripes. So they were going to do that.

And then there was the women’s group who liked the Fiat 500 because it was cute, and they were doing cuter versions with anime dangling dolls on the rear view mirror, and maybe some hot pearlized pink.

In other words, they were going to move the Fiat 500 into emergent demographic groups. This was the way forward. They were looking for emergent consumer groups and they were going to move the car into their social space year by year.”

This is what the future is. Specialization. The spread of everything via the internet and other cheap forms of technology has turned innovation into a succession of incremental gains. It’s hard to create industry titans from percentages and it’s even harder to predict a business’ sustainability. It’s the long tail in full effect: more people than ever are buying stuff — they’re just all buying different stuff.

Sterling is somewhat apprehensive about this, but more instructively cautionary than arm-wavingly panicky:

“I thought this is a really clever idea. I thought I’m in a society that’s going to do a lot of this. And I thought this is a terrible and scary paradigm of the future. Because it’s very difficult for us to construe that kind of activity as progress.”

He’s right. We don’t view that as progress any more than we would find shopping for paint exciting. There may be millions of colors to choose from but sooner or later it’s going to end up on the walls. And then you’ve got to live with it.

In the future, we'll all be doing whatever the hell it is you do in whatever the hell this thing is. Daily.

Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution, in an interview with National Review Online) sees the future the same way — as a long plateau:

“The U.S. has seen a slowdown in the growth of median wages since the 1970s because we have eaten all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in technology, education, and resources…  [E]ver since those gains were realized, our productivity, and hence our average income, has slowed its forward march, leaving us on a technological and economic plateau… Our more recent innovations, like the Internet, improve our quality of life but don’t show up in the material measurements of Gross Domestic Product.

So radio, flush toilets, electricity, and automobiles — a lot of very basic inventions — have spread to almost all households. [The fact that] they’ve successfully spread means the rate of growth must slow. And other than the Internet, there has not been a comparable breakthrough in technology for quite some time.”

In other words, it’s probably more exciting to be a consumer in this day and age, but not nearly as exciting to be an entrepreneur. Or an employee. There are no limits to where these tiny innovations will eventually take us, but it might be a really long (but diverse!) trip. The big stuff has already been done. The little stuff is harder to quantify:

Bruce Sterling:

“Everybody for 200 years… has known what progress means. They know what it means to be progressive and they know what it means to be futuristic.

You get more scientific knowledge, you create more tools, make more jobs, you master nature, you get more power, cheaper power, you struggle for a better life for your children, you’re looking for health, prosperity, material security, shelter, bigger, faster, stronger, knowing more. Everybody knows that’s progress. That’s not what we’re going to get.”

It sounds very nearly dystopian. It isn’t, at least not in the micro view, where the playing field for creating and marketing goods has leveled appreciably. However, in the macro view, the outlook is still very grey:

Tyler Cowen:

“…when I hear people express extreme optimism about the Internet, I say, we’ve had it in mature form for about ten years. Macroeconomically speaking, those are about the worst 10 years we’ve had since about the 1930s. I don’t blame the Internet for that — that would be ridiculous. But nonetheless, it’s yet to really kick in as a major positive moving force at the economic level. It has just a small amount. The best is yet to come.

Look at electricity in human history — it took a few decades for electricity to really revolutionize the American economy. And the Internet will be the same. At some point in the future we will arrive at a new era of low-hanging fruit.”

There’s a key phrase in Cowen’s statement, one that doesn’t get aired until much later in Sterling’s piece: “The best is yet to come.” Despite all the negative aspects of the innovation plateau, the fact is small bits of brilliance are still being created daily. In fact, life for most of us keeps getting better, even when infographics say otherwise:

[Tyler Cowen, discussing “threshold earners,” or earners whose career path has been abandoned to work in fields that are more personally meaningful or make them happier, rather than just pay higher:]

We’re seeing society grow more rapidly along the happiness or utility dimension than we had expected, and seeing it grow more slowly across the jobs-and-revenue dimension than we had expected… we’re taking a lot of our social dividend out in the form of happiness or utility — which, by the way, is harder to tax… We’re going to have slow growth and persistent, fairly high unemployment.”

The ugly news is that we’re slowly pulling out of an economic dive here in America. The bad news is that a lot of brand new jobs won’t be available. There’s no new industry popping up to absorb the losses. Worker productivity continues to increase despite the lack of workers and “business as usual” has come to mean running a “no-fat” operation.

That takes us to now. This is what we’re dealing with. Where are we going?

Bruce Sterling:

“I want to talk about the next decade… What it’s going to feel like to live through the next ten years. It does not feel like progress. However, it does not feel like conservatism either. There’s neither progress nor conservatism, because there’s nothing left to conserve and no direction in which to progress.

So what you get is transition. Transition to Nowhere, as they would call it in the Eastern Bloc. Transition to Nowhere, a very common experience in eastern European states.

…The unsustainable is the only frontier you have. The wreckage of the unsustainable, that’s your heritage. And here it is. It’s the old new. You’re in an old new structure.”

There you have it. Nothing is permanent. Everything shifts.

In the coming years, all fonts will follow rules of perspective. Even Comic Sans.

There are several industries suffering through these changes: newspapers, television, motion pictures, music. All of them are handling it badly. They don’t want to have to deal with the way things are headed, much less the way things already are.

The tech world morphs even faster. Yahoo and Altavista fall to Google. Netscape falls to Internet Explorer, which in turn continues to lose marketshare to Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Friendster/MySpace/Facebook. Rhapsody and eMusic are falling behind Spotify and Pandora.

Everyone involved has to innovate faster, across multiple platforms and ship constantly just to avoid losing ground. Not much can be tabulated in millions any more. You’re always trying to secure another few hundred users or pageviews or whatever.

It sounds like a drag. It sounds like an echo chamber of self-defeat. How long can you stay ahead before the inevitability of the longer and longer tail casts you aside?

For some industries, it’s too late. The music industry is dead. Music is more alive than ever. That’s no coincidence. There are thousands of ways to cheaply make and distribute music. The major labels want nothing to do with this. They are completely opposed to the effort needed to incrementally increase their business. They have no desire to treat their customers with respect. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel here and “piracy” is just a scapegoat.

There cheap tools and outlets are there for the movie industry as well, but they’ve decided to follow the major labels down the same dark alley. While innovators run circles around them in terms of ingenuity and effort, the movie industry rests on its laurels and waits to be legislated back into existence. There’s the constant complaint that piracy prevents them from cranking out the $200 million blockbusters they feel audiences crave.

How would they know what the audiences actually want if they give them the same set of overblown sequels every year? The audience doesn’t necessarily want that, but they’re certainly conditioned to receiving it. Perhaps if they’d just scale things down a bit, they’d be pleasantly surprised to find that not every moviegoer is interested in watching shiny things explode.

They’ll die, too. It’s already inevitable. It’s said that you can’t go broke underestimating the taste of the common man. On the other hand, you can go broke fairly quickly by underestimating your own ignorance. And that’s just two major industries. Newspapers, book publishing, television. All of these are in upheaval as well.

Our descendants will mock us from the backlit sand dunes, taunting us with their achievement of "singularity."

So, if the biggest ideas have been done and the next wave is still years away, what do we have to look forward to? It’s tough to say. The tools are out there for nearly limitless creativity and interaction. Everything is cheaper and faster than ever. Digital storage may as well be free. It’s a great time to be alive.

But it’s also overwhelming. Too much choice is just as paralyzing as too little. Too many directions to go and the clock keeps ticking. The dotcom bubble put ideas in our head that if we took a few hours to set up a website, we’d all be millionaires. It created hundreds of temporary millionaires before everything reverted back to the mean.

What we have before us is the greatest equalizer in existence: technology. Look back no more than 5 years ago and the world was less connected. Now everybody has a cellphone, or increasingly, a smartphone. Even your grandparents. Even citizens of third world countries. The revolution will be televised? Not even close. The revolution will be streamed. The revolution will be tweeted. The revolution will be uploaded to a million pages every minute.

Look at the uprisings in Africa. Everyone has a cellphone. The government kills off the internet and the message still gets through. 500 million people have a website in common. Shrug off Facebook all you want, but no one else has that many users.

50 years from now, robot brokers will buy and sell your sorry ass hundreds of times a day.

But what about “making it big?” There’s no such thing anymore. There’s “viral” but that’s never a sure money-maker. You’ll be famous before you’re rich. You’ll also be discarded even more quickly. But the upside is this: rather than the domination of a few celebs for years at a time, it will be thousands of micro-celebrities expanding and contracting.

The same goes for ideas and innovation. Nothing will be built to last, but rather to service the current need. Everything will need to alter and morph to stay relevant. The next big thing is a thousand small things, each filling a niche.

Look at me. (Take a moment to admire my chiseled features and otherworldly blue-grey eyes, which stand in stark contrast to my hefty, arm-waving avatar.) I’ve got a small blog with a core group of loyal readers. They’re great people as well, more than willing to follow me down a 2,000+ word rabbit hole. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. There’s a one-in-a-million chance that something from here will hit it big. But I could care less.

Maybe at some point, I’ll be writing for someone else. Until then, at least I’ve got my own soapbox that I can fill with whatever on no particular schedule. This leaves me time to spam out submissions to other websites, another side benefit of technology. Ten years ago, I’d have to print these out and mail them to each publisher, waiting 6-8 weeks for a rejection. These days I can get rejected in less than 24 hours, if need be. I might bitch about things now and then, but all things considered, it’s a pretty fucking great thing.

I don’t see this one-in-a-million chance as a disappointment. I see this as opportunity, which in this day and age is prone to knocking more than once. Sterling is right: it’s both liberating and frightening, all at the same time. There’s a lot more out there that is no longer under your control, and that’s hard to give up. But in exchange, you receive an abundance of information and the tools to make the most of it.

So do exactly that. Jump in.



  1. Wonderfully put, CLT.

    If I had to choose a title for my memoir (mark my words, memoirs are going to be the next big thing!) it would be “Too much choice is just as paralyzing as too little.”

    This is the reason why my loved ones would rather “sit in a vat of sulfuric acid and watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns” than walk in to any drugstore-type establishment with me. And also, why my blog theme changes more often than my underwear (figuratively speaking).

    ps. I’m really looking forward to doing whatever the hell it is you do in whatever the hell that thing is!.

    pss. Great otherwordly blue-grey eyes, btw. Do you know where I can get a pair?

    • Well, I am glad to hear that memoirs are the next big thing. I’ve been compiling mine for years, replacing each period of inactivity with something I read in the news. I think the world is ready for a highly fictionalized autobiography. (I mean, from outside of the celebrity world.) I think I’ll write it in second person for added zest/pretentiousness/confusion and title it “This is Your Life.”

      I’m not sure where I got the otherworldly eyes (they were always just kind of “there”). Maybe check that place your relatives purchase their vats of sulfuric acid and “Everybody Loves Raymond” DVDs. So, um… Walmart, I guess?

      P.S. I’m looking forward to that, too. I hope it comes with instructions.

  2. (I)t has been pointed out that Sterling’s work demands a post of its own instead of being a single-line lead-in to a bunch of arguably great songs….Be careful what you wish for.

    You’re welcome. It’s one of my futile, self-defeating, missions in life to make everyone better, no matter how much they don’t want to be better.

    Actually, “Be careful what you wish for.” is a pretty good motto with regards to The Future. For a wide variety of reasons, what we’ve drooled over for decades (or centuries) has failed to match expectations. If something does measure up, it doesn’t satisfy for long. It either fails to take hold, gets corrupted, falls out of fashion, or you yourself tire of it.

    However, most fucktards are easily distracted by shiny objects. Like Odie from Garfield, they’ll bounce from one shiny new thing to the next without a moment’s concern and with a big stupid grin on their face, even if it’s only there because of buckets of happy pills.

    Fucktards will enjoy the future more than anyone else. If there is a non-income related litmus test, enjoying The Future will be inversely proportional to your intelligence, compassion, attention span, and good taste.

    Everyone has a cellphone.

    I don’t. Well, technically I do. My brother got a family plan that came with 20 cell phones. I used it once. My car battery died after a late night movie. I called 20 people (and a tow-truck company) Not one human answered. That was 4 years ago and I haven’t seen my cell phone since. I have no clue where it is. BUT I COUNT IN THOSE STATS!

    Speaking of over-inflated stats.

    Shrug off Facebook all you want, but no one else has that many users.

    Heroin, tobacco, alcohol, weed, meth, Viagra, and big daddy television. All of those other drugs have, for now, more users.

    Addictions (including Loserbook) also act as a good metaphor for The Future. Most people will fall into some cycle of dependency, always chasing that elusive first high. Along with actual drugs, people will spend ever increasing amounts of their lives (and diminishing incomes) chasing Next Big Things and highs derived from consumer goods (of ever diminishing quality) that make them temporarily happy. That’s why so many products of The Future will so customize-able, even products like toilet paper where it serves absolutely no purpose other than to stroke the consumer’s ego and give them a false impression of control.

    The highs will, of course, be followed by crushing lows in the form of bills they can’t afford, post-purchase disappointments and the almost instant obsolecence of what they just bought. How will they respond? Very few will detox and live more rewarding off-the-grid lives. People will just keep fucking that chicken, which also acts a decent metaphor for The Future. People will have to keep fucking that chicken faster, harder and longer just to keep where they were.

    When everyone is as fickle as a billionaire’s “daddy’s girl”, has the loyalty of Benedict Arnold and the attention span of a crack addicted squirrel stuck in a dog pound, change will ultimately morph into complete anarchy. Swarms of junkies will be seeking new and better highs. Nothing will matter as much as that next high. What’s left of family, real community, the law, taste, decorum and respect will be cast aside.

    There’s neither progress nor conservatism, because there’s nothing left to conserve and no direction in which to progress

    I hate almost everything, but there’s little I hate more than optimists. While I think our good host is still WAY too fucking optimistic, quotes like these seem to put things in a decent perspective.

    Almost everything worth saving has been destroyed or will soon be destroyed. Making matters worse, they’ll be replaced with shitty, overrated, things nobody, not even their most ardent users or creators, will miss for a millisecond. Everything and everybody will be instantly disposable and insignificant. The metaphoric (and literal) piles of garbage will stretch into outer space.

    While fairly accurate in the macro, the “plateau” approach is misleading because it doesn’t capture the true picture the way macros used to. Macros are obsolete in The Future. The Future is all about vast and growing disparities of all kinds.

    In fact, there will be no identifiable future and nor will the past be spoken of. Despite the staggering growth in meaningless communication that may, or may not, “bring the whole world together” for entire seconds at a time, there will be 6-10+ billion futures, all in their own increasingly sealed off chambers.

    For those that can keep up to the rapid change, The Future might be tolerable, provided they have an unending stream of drugs and not a minute of peace to contemplate their existence. Those in the 3rd World who have nothing to lose but their culture, might be marginally better, but nowhere near as good as we in the West once had it. Our loss is not even their gain.

    But for anyone who can’t keep pace, or has pleasant memories of the past (particularly in formerly civilized nations), there’s no limit to the depths you can sink to. None. They will become zombies aimlessly wandering around and decaying.

    The one thing that you can count on is that The Future is “Every Motherfucker For Himself!”

    For me, other than never having to ever leave the house again and sex robots http://truecompanion.com/home.html which will both in the immediate future, about the only thing (other than death) I look forward to are time machines, so I can get as far away from The Future as I can.

    • The future is best approached with cautious optimism, tempered by lowered expectations. Those terms may sound mutually exclusive, but I think you can still look forward to the possibilities while keeping in mind that they won’t be “game changers.”

      You’re more than welcome to approach the future with relentless negativism as well. It won’t make much of a difference to anyone else how you approach it. There’s a million groundswell movements at any point in time, each more imperceptible than the last.

      I also understand your antipathy towards Facebook. But it does have 500 million registered users. To assume that this is nothing more than a collective of belly-button gazers is to seriously underestimate the power of that network. True, it will always have more than its fair share of narcissistic extroversion, but I would guess that its users far outnumber those you’ve listed, at least separately. Combined they may outweigh the FB leviathan, but then again, lots of drug users and television watchers also use the Facebook.

      If my outlook on the future seems a bit too rosy considering the amount of fucktards involved in it, it’s probably because I don’t have some specific point in the past that I can point to and say, “That was the high water mark.” It could be a personal failing. Or it could just mean that despite all the incredibly stupid bullshit that fills the world, I’ve still got to believe that things will improve for people as technology marches on.

      You’ve just got to keep your eye on those fucktards who want to keep the future to themselves or use technology against their own citizens.

    • (Facebook) does have 500 million registered users. To assume that this is nothing more than a collective of belly-button gazers is to seriously underestimate the power of that network…I would guess that its users far outnumber those you’ve listed, at least separately.

      The power of the network to pretend they’re farmers, “tell the world” what a bitch Madasyn is being to Neveah, or show pictures of Bob funneling a 24 of beer at Doug’s wicked party. If a million use Loserbook tonight for something more important or productive than gossip and self-fellation, I promise to make a dogshit smoothie, drink it and post the video on Loserbook.

      Not to belabour Facebook’s insignificant role in mankind’s history, but the Internet has been one Next Big Thing after another. The mindless sheep flock to whatever is declared the Next Big Thing. Soon enough, their puny attention spans kick in and it’s off to the next Next Big Thing. I’ve checked out Facebook a few times and thought “Gee, a glossier version of the old Newsgroups. Zzzz.”

      Facebook only got popular because of its popularity with trend chasers. If it sticks around, it will fade into invisibility among its users like a phone company to its users. More likely, it’s already dead and nobody has noticed yet. But before it’s officially declared dead and drifts into Myspace zombiehood, it will launch an IPO that will enrich all kinds of douches before crashing & burning and leaving millions holding penny stocks.

      As for the 500 million users claim, I don’t trust it or anything Mr Transparency says as he works with Gold Mansacks to keep Facebook from having the piddling keychain light of the SEC shine on it. I seriously doubt 100% of those accounts:

      A) represent 500 million individuals. At one point, I had 25 active e-mail accounts.
      B) are truly active. Like any addiction, people are quitting all the time, but keep a secret stash (an account) for “emergencies”.

      But let’s assume the number is true. TV alone still murders it. Recently, over a billion people sat down to watch a cricket game. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12903246 Not even soccer, cricket! Watching cricket on TV is akin to taking half a hit off a 25 year old joint of skank-weed.

      Considering, outside of the Caribbean, it probably wasn’t even televised in the Americas and many living in the two nations playing probably don’t own TVs, that’s a far more impressive number than 500 million spoiled First Worlders filling their idle time chatting about Aunt Marg’s new boyfriend on their computer.

      Hey, does that mean televised cricket is twice as vital as Loserbook?

    • To assume that this is nothing more than a collective of belly-button gazers is to seriously underestimate the power of that network.

      You keep doing this.

      How many of those cricket fans were posting updates on FB and Twitter, etc.? How many were using this connecting point to watch the game with friends and relative strangers halfway around the world?

      FB is all those things you listed. It’s also more than that, but I’m not a Facebook apologist. If you don’t want to use it, I’m not going to spend a lot of effort talking you into it. If you’ve already written it off as a vapid wasteland, you’ll find that confirmed immediately. If you see the positives of a universal connecting point, you’ll find that as well.

  3. This reminds me of a quote by Lord Kelvin (circa 1900): “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Where is your vision gentlemen? (Bschooled gets a pass since she is writing her memoirs.) The way off future (and actually not that way off) will be incomprehensible even if we were to resurrect H.G. Wells. We will have evolved from (Mr. McGuire’s) “plastics” to machine intelligence or more precisely, the technological singularity.

    • I’m familiar with that quote and it did come to mind while reading the linked articles and reared its ugly head again while writing it. I was also reminded of the quote from the head of the US patent office from around that same time that declared that “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

      I still feel that it’s going to be smaller gains with fewer life-changers for awhile. I don’t think we’ll see something break the game like cars or the internet anytime soon. Now that anyone developing a product can pretty much talk to the entire world via the web, they’re finding out just how little their market share might be.

      I think machine intelligence and the singularity are still several decades off and I have my doubts as to whether they’ll ever become reality. My pessimist take on the singularity is that the more life stretches towards infinite, the less meaning it will have. With no sense of urgency, nothing gets done.

  4. Here’s an interesting question, why are all discussions of The Future merely discussions of future technologies? Could it be that the only thing humans are capable of improving on is the little gizmos they use?

    How about social progress, how we treat each other? Improvements in human nature too much to ask? All this technology and we still treat each other like shit. On this front, technological advancements often make things worse, as if we are intentionally searching out new ways to get away with being even bigger assholes.

    • Human nature is human nature. It doesn’t change. Social progress may somewhat alter the outward shape, but it does very little to actually change the selfishness inherent in human nature.

      Most people who believe that they can somehow improve societal conditions through focus groups, legislation and related actions are as completely clueless as those who think they can improve their neighborhood crime stats through gentrification. It doesn’t solve the problem at the core. It just pushes it to the margins. Sooner or later, though, you run out of margin.

      Nothing is more irritating than the condescending attitude of privileged people telling other people how to live their lives. It’s like having a Peace Corp volunteer teach a class on native culture to the natives: presumptuous at best and completely insulting at worst.

      People will always be assholes. Some will be less of an asshole than others. Some will pride themselves on their assholishness. Others will be completely unaware.

      Improvement on human nature via anything other than natural generational attitude shifts is bogus. It doesn’t happen via awareness campaigns and Benetton ads. It happens when people realize the world is full of other people, rather than other races and cultures and sexual orientation. When these values are passed on, the nature shifts.

      One last thing: why the hell do these people preach “tolerance?” Is the goal to just grit your teeth and put up with your new neighbor’s skin tone and accent? Is that really the point?

    • I have been ruminating on your response to Sedate Me all day. After pulling up this page and re-reading your thoughts, I can’t find much fault with it after all. You and TL sound remarkably similar…consummate cynics (and I worry about your asshole-tinted glasses in which you view humanity). What is wrong though with privileged people telling other people how to live their lives? I ask because one would assume that the privileged are far better educated, possess more culture and yes, I will go there…are more civilized.

      It is my belief that far, far, FAR off into the future (if we don’t destroy ourselves in the interim), we will be a global society and will go all George Soros with a true World Bank with its tentacles in every country, having a global economy and world currency. Ethnicities as we know them will cease to exist. Talk about ‘diluting the juice’ (old Jewish joke)! Of course, by then machine intelligence will be firmly embedded in society and who knows, Mars may be terraformed, the moon may be a (lunar Australian) penal colony and scientists will have cloned Carl Sagan who in turn will finally make contact with aliens (when you are not a cynic you have this wonderful elasticity of thought). Where was I? Oh yes, no more Irish, Catholic, Mexican, Asian or Rastafarian. I can see the homogenization of mankind in the far off future. What I can’t visualize is what will take its place.

    • Drat, I forgot put “Could it be we are so consumed by our possessions that the only way we can see The Future is through them?” into the first paragraph.

      My comment (2nd half in particular) was really just a sarcastic rhetorical question. You don’t need to convince me that human beings are utterly worthless and irredeemable creatures. The repugnance of human nature is the one true constant. (However, I do see some long term value in killing assholes before they get a chance to breed.)

      But, the idea there are “natural generational attitude shifts” that improve things is a largely bogus one. Yeah, youth always pretends like they’re better than the old man and try out new things to prove it. Sometimes the attitude takes. Once in a while, they’re even good ones. But the process is highly random and designed as much to offend the older generation as anything else. Just ask Mr Mills. Also, any progress can just as easily be reversed by the next generation looking to stick it to their old man.

      Societal attitudes don’t change because large numbers of people just wake up one day and say, “You know what, I’ve been thinking about this logically and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t hate niggers anymore.” Thinking this possible requires a complete denial of the role of human emotion, ego and ignorance. Most have to be dragged kicking and screaming to such a conclusion, assuming they ever get there. It usually takes generations. Even then, the old attitudes usually lurk just under the surface.

      But most people are mindless fucking sheep that do whatever the rest of the herd is doing. (Nobody even conceived of getting a tattoo until every other fucking sheep wanted one.) They go wherever their shepherds point them. Except for a tiny percentage of “free thinkers” (who are usually shunned or eaten by wolves), they will continue to hate the black sheep until their shepherds tell them not to.

      Nothing is more irritating than the condescending attitude of privileged people telling other people how to live their lives.

      If shepherds sheer off the herd’s wool and get rich off of wool futures, they “merit” it and the right to dictate how the wool business should work. But if some shepherds tell the herd they should stop ostracizing black sheep, or if they told the sheep they should demand a bigger share of benefits derived from their wool, they are “presumptuous”, “insulting” or “engaging in class warfare”.

      To be consistent, maybe the sheep should just “let it go”, bend over and accept the control of the shepherds, no matter how irrational, random, or self-motivated their actions may seem.

    • Elizabeth –

      What’s wrong with privileged people telling the rest of the world how to live their lives is that privileged people generally have the wealth and connections to live however they want.

      The rest of the world doesn’t have that luxury. For instance, they want people to eat more locally and organically. That’s all well and good but those are typically the most expensive options.

      There’s also seems to always be a huge disconnect between what it important to privileged people and what is important to those who aren’t. If privileged person A thinks X is important and needs to change, underprivileged person B can’t even fathom how X entered into the equation.

      Priv: “We need a cap or tax on carbon output.”
      Under: “Thanks. Now everything I buy is more expensive.”

      That’s just one example.

      As for my asshole-tinted glasses, I worry about them, too. But I’m also a humanist, so I tend to see other people as other people and not demographics or problems or irritants. It’s just important not to lose sight on most people’s underlying motivations: themselves.

    • SM –

      There’s a lot I agree with in what you’ve said. My statement on privileged people still stands, especially in reference to the sheep metaphor.

      No one really gives a shit what the shepherd says. Is that what everyone needs to hear? More “awareness” talk on racism? Is anyone not aware of it? The racists know they’re racists. The victims are even more aware of the issue. Everyone else isn’t racist or a victim, so they’re left to curb racism when they see it, which generally alters only outward displays rather than any lifelong change.

      I also don’t think you can mix a capitalist metaphor in with a social metaphor. You’re talking about two different kinds of “privileged.” There’s “plutocracy” privileged in which rules are changed to benefit the wealthy. Then there’s “I know better than you because I rent an over-expensive loft in Soho and have a degree in Sociology” privilege that changes the rules to fit their idea of what the world should be. Both of these forms of rule-changing are often enacted without consulting the other 99% of the people affected by it. There’s a whole lot of unintended consequences that make the world a worse place to live in despite being done with the best intentions.

      So which is more honest? (As long as we’re still mixing metaphors.) The shepherd you know just wants as much wool as cheaply as possible. Or the shepherd who fucks up your existence while claiming to have your best interests at heart?

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