[Plura-list] Crooked Timber's Ministry for the Future Seminar

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed May 12 11:24:44 EDT 2021


I'm doing two live events today, May 12:

* Interoperability and Alternative Social Media, a panel for the Knight
Center's Reimagine the Internet event

* Book launch for Aminder Dhaliwal's Cyclopedia Exotica


Today's links

* Crooked Timber's Ministry for the Future Seminar: It is easier to
imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

* This day in history: 2001, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🧑🏿‍🚀 Crooked Timber's Ministry for the Future Seminar

Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 novel "The Ministry for the Future," is a
fierce imaginative work. Robinson doesn't just depict a future beyond
the climate emergency and capitalism itself, he depicts the specific,
wrenching transition that takes us there.


As I wrote in my review, the (variously attributed) maxim "It is easier
to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism," isn't quite
right. Imagining postcapitalism is an easy lift, but imagining the path
to that world is *very* hard.


Robinson didn't leap into this project - he's been working up to it for
literally decades, at least since the publication of the "Three
California" books, which include one of the most uplifting novels I've
ever read, PACIFIC EDGE:


Meanwhile, his 2312/Aurora/New York 2140/Red Moon novels constitute a
kind of rangefinding exercise, starting 300 years the future and then
walking his projection backwards to find a plausible route to get there.


But all these brilliant novels really seem to be warmup exercises for
the main event, The Ministry for the Future, which depicts the
intermeshed systems of economics, politics, geoengineering,
streetfighting and tragedy that might rescue us from dying in our own

It's urgent, frightening and hopeful, raising as many questions as it

These questions are now taken up in one of Crooked Timber's "seminars":
a series of interdisciplinary essays about the book, culminating in the
author's response.


The first of these essays comes from Maria Farrell: "What is Ours is
Only Ours to Give," about the digital technology at the core of TMFTF,
namely blockchain and independent social media. Farrell is
characteristically incisive on these elements.


Her thoughts here tie back to her notion of the "prodigal tech bro," and
how we should treat the tech industry's claims of genius with skepticism
- even when those claims are cloaked in confessions of being an EVIL genius.


The next essay is Oliver Morton's, digging into the solar geoengineering
in TMFTF, and the "sustained contradiction" such an effort might produce
- relieving the urgency of addressing carbon production and accumulating
new policy debt in the process.


Morton's a very good choice for this role: his 2016 book on
geoengineering, "The Planet Remade," remains one of the best
technological, economic and political overviews of the subject:


Next is Jessica Green's "Can the World’s Bankers Really Save the
Climate?" which drills into Robinson's fictional carbon markets, where
central bankers are pressed into service to save the planet in an unjust
(but rapid and necessary) compromise.


Green's an expert on climate and finance, so she's as good at spotting
the cards that Robinson palms here as Farrell is with tech. Green
credits Robinson with identifying the "true sources" of climate
obstruction, but thinks he's missed the mark on how to deal with them.

Next is the Roosevelt Institute's Todd Tucker with "Ministry for Your
Future Soul": praise for KSR's depiction of the scientific process,
scientists, policy wonks, and the progress of policy. Tucker calls
Robinson a "Gramscian science fictionologist."


Robinson's "dynamic imagination...makes the book valuable to policy
nerds" because "fiction can inform planning," specifically through that
exercise of starting with the outcome we want and then working backwards
to imagine the steps we need to get there.

This "backcasting" method has many and varied adherents. It's the method
that Anonymous used to create its notorious ops, as documented in Biella
Coleman's 2014 book on the ensemble:


But it's also the method that Amazon uses for new product decisions:
starting by writing the press-release announcement and then working
backwards to sell the org on developing the product to go with the


Next is Belle Waring's "Sudden Tempest of Ultimate Summer," which goes
straight for the political violence in TMFTF, and KSR's seeming
discomfort with this violence, coupled with his evident belief in its


As Waring points out, alongside all the nonviolent tactics Robinson
depicts, there is a lot of (mostly offstage) violence - and when that
violence is onstage Robinson pivots away from it, subjecting the Davos
hostages to Powerpoint presentations instead of a firing squad.

Waring also grapples with the intimate, gendered role that violence
plays in the book - the relationship between heroine Mary Murphy and the
traumatized antihero Frank May, who holds her hostage, and whom Murphy
subsequently dedicates herself to.

The next installment - Half the Earth? - comes from John Quiggin, a
trained agricultural economist who delves into Robinson's depiction of a
successful "Half Earth" transition in which humans surrender half our
planet to other animals.


Quiggin is pretty bullish on the possibility of this happening, noting
that we have more than enough food as things stand and that human
fertility is already below the replacement level everywhere except
Africa, where it's still trending down.

For Quiggin, vacating half the Earth is do-able: "We are, suddenly and
surprisingly, at a point in history when radical change seems not just
possible but likely."

Next is Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, whose "What’s In Our Way?" - a frank look at how
KSR depicts north/south politics, and the realism behind a scenario in
which mass death in India leads to little change, while the erasure of
LA sets change in motion.


Táíwò calls this "equal parts fatalism, pragmatism, and optimism," and
while he acknowledges its realpolitik, he also calls upon us to imagine
something better - led by the global south, rather than the "elite of
the elites."

There are three more responses to come: from Henry Farrell, Suresh Naidu
and Robinson himself - a contribution I'm eagerly awaiting. Based on my
own experience with the CT seminar on my novel Walkaway, this will be an
intense project for him.


For all that the seminar raises serious questions about whether TMFTF
can be a roadmap (as opposed to an inspiration) for a transition to a
better, sustainable future, the book remains an awesome, towering
accomplishment, a beacon and a delight.

What's more, Robinson has walked back his early 2020 idea that TMFTF
would be his last novel for an indefinite period while he worked on
nonfic (about the Sierras and conservation). He says he's back to
writing novels, which is *outstanding* news.

I read TMFTF as I was writing THE LOST CAUSE, my post-GND climate novel
about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias and
plutocrat wreckers.

You can read the prologue here:


That book is now done, and reading TMFTF and thinking about its
boldness, its brilliance and its flaws made me reconsider my own story.
Imagining the end of capitalism remains the hard problem of our future,
and Robinson has done sterling work on that problem.

The Crooked Timber seminarians are carrying on the work Robinson started
in TMFTF, shoring up its weak spots and calling attention to its sturdy
frame. Taken together, the CT essays and Robinson's novel are a heady
tonic for a world in transition.


🧑🏿‍🚀 This day in history

#20yrsago RIP, Douglas Adams http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1326657.stm

#10yrsago Napier’s Bones: math and mysticism make for great
international adventure

#10yrsago China’s shonky Disneyland-a-like park closed

#5yrsago Open letter to from EFF to members of the W3C Advisory

#5yrsago Reading With Pictures: awesome, classroom-ready comics for
math, social studies, science and language arts

#5yrsago Anal fisting site breached: 100K passwords, usernames, email
addresses and IPs extracted

#5yrsago Chinese state-backed corporations beat US lawsuits with
sovereign immunity

#5yrsago German publishers owe writers €100M in misappropriated

#5yrsago Gallery show of forks stolen from rich people, sealed to
preserve crumbs & saliva

#1yrago Plane ticket refunds (without airline cooperation)

#1yrago The right's theories about human behavior are bankrupt


🧑🏿‍🚀 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

* A Little Brother short story about pipeline protests.  RESEARCH PHASE

* A short story about consumer data co-ops.  PLANNING

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)

Upcoming appearances:

* Interoperability and Alternative Social Media, Reimagine the Internet,
May 12, https://knightcolumbia.org/events/reimagine-the-internet

* Book launch for Aminder Dhaliwal's Cyclopedia Exotica (Indigo), May
12, https://www.crowdcast.io/e/udbva8py/register

* Seize the Means of Computation, Ryerson Centre for Free Expression,
May 19,

* Privacy Without Monopoly, Northsec, May 20,

* In conversation with David Dayen (Second Life Book Club), Jun 4,

Recent appearances:

* Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans

* Can Antitrust Laws Destroy Surveillance Capitalism? (Majority Report)

* In conversation with John Scalzi at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

* Hexapodia XIII with J Bradford De Long and Noah Smith

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

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