Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Imagining the Eco-Matrix

My friends, this may be my final sermon here at TDR, my ultimate attempt to explain why anyone concerned with the fate of humanity and our planetary biosphere should be in favor of continuing our civilization’s technological push forward, rather than wishing for its collapse. Ready?

The key point is this: continued technological progress will enable us to transition to a post-industrial age — to reduce our global ecological footprint by localizing manufacturing, harnessing eco-friendly energy sources and moving more of our activity into “virtual reality”. To see this, let’s try to imagine a different world: the world of the “Eco-Matrix”...

Imagine a world where you work from home rather than driving a CO2-spewing vehicle through traffic to an office. Imagine spending most of your time in a dwelling powered by off-grid solar energy stored in super-efficient batteries. Imagine growing fresh, healthy food year round in indoor vertical gardens, using fiber optic lighting optimized for plant growth and plants genetically engineered for lower-power light spectra. Imagine making items you need with desktop manufacturing units ("3D printers"), using designs downloaded freely from the Matrix, rather than having them shipped from China. Imagine being able to experience any adventure imaginable via your fiber optic conduit to the Matrix, rather than going out into the world and consuming things. Imagine economic and political systems that function more like the peer-to-peer internet and less like a centralized industrial state. Imagine all knowledge, all culture and billions of potential friends at your fingertips. Ready or not, this is the world we are moving into!

People in the industrialized world are already spending much of their time in the mentally created worlds of social networks, the blogosphere, massively multiplayer role-playing games and infinite free digital entertainment on demand — the Matrix is becoming their reality.  Green energy technologies and 3D printing are being aggressively pursued worldwide (see examples here and here), and seem certain to catch on in a big way as they ride the exponential development curve. A good example of the new paradigm in action is google, which is both creating the architecture of the Matrix and developing the green technologies to power it. Another is the work of John Robb, who discusses ideas for resilient, network-centric communities at his brilliant blog, Global Guerrillas. Bright people like these, who presumably care as much about planetary life as anyone, are going to be the leaders of the future world of the Eco-Matrix.

The other key point, which I hope I have made abundantly clear on this blog, is this: the alternative to the Eco-Matrix which many doomers seem to favor — total industrial collapse — would be much, much worse for humanity and the biosphere by almost any conceivable measure. Try to imagine the horror industrial collapse would entail. Imagine the wilderness stripped bare of fauna and flora in a Malthusian struggle for survival. Imagine global famine, rampant disease, unspeakable crimes, bodies piled high in bonfires and cities burned to the ground. Imagine apocalyptic resource wars, barbaric tribal conflicts and a return to medieval religious ignorance. Imagine an end to all progress, science and civilization for a thousand years or more. This is what the sudden end of the industrial age would mean — it is a true apocalypse.

Terence McKenna said: "It is the imagination that argues for the Divine Spark within human beings. It is literally a descent of the World's Soul into all of us." Imagination is my greatest gift, and what the World’s Soul is telling me is that there is no alternative: we must keep pushing forward, to make what Terence called a "forward escape" to the world of the Eco-Matrix. If you don’t believe me, use your own “Divine Spark” to explore these questions and tell me what you see.

Even more than imagination, though, facing the future requires faith — faith that human beings are more than animals, faith that we have come this far for a reason, and faith that if we listen to our higher selves and imagine a better world, we can bring that world into existence.