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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Paradise Planet

So there have been rolling black outs in Texas and a scary new outbreak of the mumps in Iowa that has spread to half a dozen states in the Midwest. Just when I was trying to visualize how dismal things are going to be by the time, say, Super Adorable Kid is heading into her senior year of high school, what with rising energy prices and the imminent threat of a senseless nuclear strike on some of the richest oil fields in the world, we have a few more data points to factor in.

I'd already been assuming that gasoline, a decade or more in the future, may well have become a luxury for the rich, who are a rapidly dwindling proportional slice of the general population, anyway. By 2018 it seemed likely to me that only one household in 5,000 might be able to afford to put gas in a privately owned vehicle; the rest of us will be crammed into increasingly rickety, dangerous, antiquated, and unreliable forms of mass transit -- mostly buses, since no government or private entity seems to want to actually pony up the jack for a modern light rail system anywhere. Nine out of ten gas stations will be the equivalent of vacant lots with cracked asphalt paving; the tenth will be a brightly lit, barricaded warehouse-fortress with armed guards manning the entrances and standing next to every pump.

Factor in global warming, a worldwide potable water shortage, America's wildly out of control trade deficit, an increasingly power hungry and tyrannical central government that cares less and less about curbing rampant corporate greed and protecting individual freedoms and liberties, a right wing fervor against any population control measures whatsoever, and a rapidly approaching crisis in waste disposal... I don't know. It seems to me that the world my girlfriend's six year old is going to step into with a shiny new sheepskin in her hand is going to be a pretty grim one -- a place where everyone wears a paper filter mask when they leave the house, just to try to minimize the otherwise inevitable fits of racking, emphysema-coughing caused by airborne pollutants; where every faucet has a water filter on it and you still only drink the water you buy in gallon jugs at exorbitant prices at the local supermarket, when you can find it at all; where jobs pay miserable wages and have few if any benefits and all public assistance is handled by religious organizations receiving government and corporate grants, so anyone who doesn't fit the mainstream mold need not apply, and where the Military Opportunity Act mandates that anyone over the age of 15 either show continual proof of employment/ongoing enrollment in school, or be automatically enlisted in the armed services for an indefinite stint at one of the many overseas fronts of the unending War On Terror. A world flooded with unwanted children, incurable cancers, and the untreated emotionally ill, where the streets are strewn with garbage and stink of backed up sewage, where every open field is a landfill, where everyone's basement has at least one corner given over to a perpetual puddle shimmering with bright chemical colors and giving off vaguely toxic fumes.

It's all unbearably depressing to me, so lately, more and more, I've been escaping it all by trying to clearly envisualize, if only in my head, what a More Perfect Place might be like.

Come with me, then, to a better world than this...

The keys to a better world seem to me to be as follows --
** cheap, safe, universally accessible energy
** quick, simple transportation
** more efficient use/reuse of rapidly dwindling resources
** far far fewer fools.

The first three, of course, are almost literal pipe dreams; even if someone did invent workable cold fusion, the Powers That Be would never let every mundane household have their own functional tokamak unit. But this is my Paradise Planet, and I make the rules here, so let's proceed --

Cheap power is the key to virtually everything, so we'll posit that, indeed, some saintly genius not only invents a safe, working fusion generator no larger than a 100 gallon water heater that everyone can install in their basement, attic, or sideyard, but that he or she actually has the pull to get it patented and put into production, and every household can have one for about the price of a good used car. Yeah, it's insane; the energy cartels would go ballistic and never let it happen, but still, it's a keystone of my Happy Place fantasy, so let's roll with it.
So we no longer have an archaic, decaying, dangerously fragile national energy grid and black outs are a thing of the past. No more utility bills, either, although if you bought your People's Power Plant on the installment plan, you'll be most likely making a monthly payment on that for a while. Still, you open a slot in the side of it and throw in an old tin can or a bag full of lawn clippings and you've got all the light and heat and a/c you need for a month or so... I think most people would buy that for a few thousand dollars.

Cheap power leads to all kinds of goodies. No more potable water shortage; with cheap power you can desalinate seawater fairly easily and get the crap out of your polluted water tables. (Of course, you can also pull the suspended minerals out of seawater, so in My Perfect World, 'precious' metals are a drug on the market and the global economy is entirely labor based -- but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.) And if our basement fusion reactors can break down garbage into usable energy with reasonable efficiency, that takes care of the incipient garbage disposal problem, too. Suddenly trash won't be something we pay other people to haul way to a landfill for us; it will be something we hoarde, so we can use it as fuel.

Now, let's do the quick, easy transportation deal. A great many daydreamers at this point would reach for the teleport option. Give everyone a little transporter console right in their houses, something closet sized, tucked away in an otherwise unused corner. You punch in the coordinates for some other teleport pad, step in, and blip! -- your body is broken down into its component energy particles and zapped instantaneously (or at least, at the speed of light) across the intervening distance, and reconstituted at the far end. Out you step, none the worse for wear, on the other side of the planet, or maybe in Luna City (although, at light speed, that trip won't be instantaneous, it will take you nearly three seconds).

Me, I don't like the teleport option; I'm blipophobic. You'll never convince me that the Highlander who steps into Teleporter A is the same one that steps out of Teleporter B. Oh, sure, Highlander B is identical to Highlander A down to a basic cellular level, and so he thinks he's the original Highlander, because he has all his memories, including one of stepping into a teleport tube a second or so before... but he's just a damn energy-clone. The original Highlander is dead as a doornail, and entirely unmourned, too, since his smart ass energy-duplicate is wandering around pretending to be him with the utmost authenticity.

So forget the ‘Scottie beam me up’ option on my particular paradise planet. What do I propose instead? Anti gravity. Yeah, I don’t know how we’d do it, but I don’t know how to do cheap safe fusion, either, and you didn’t ask for shop drawings of that, so let’s just move on. With working anti-gravity, we can have jet belts, George Jetson flying cars, Legion flight rings, the whole works. The only reason we don’t have cheap flying vehicles now, instead of sticking with ground-based vehicles, is that no insurance company in the world wants to have to underwrite fifty million private helicopters, any one of which could have a rotor problem at 12,000 feet one day, fall out of the sky, and take out a small office park. With anti-gravity this isn’t a problem; the only moving parts would have to do with motive force, and when the actual jets or rotors or impellers or what have you break down, the whole vehicle will still float there safely in the air.

No, it’s not as fast as teleportation, but honestly, I don’t care. If I can jump into my anti-grav Oldsmobile and zip on over to Waikiki in 45 minutes or so, that works for me.

Now, things like this start to have cumulative influences on the world. With ground traffic made largely obsolete, there’s no need for the road grid any more. All that square footage can be reclaimed and either redeveloped into living space or (the plan I prefer) allowed to go back to the wild. This isn’t a minor factor; as a culture we set aside enormous amounts of land for our highway systems so we can connect our various living areas together using an arterial network that allows us to move people and vital supplies from one area to another. If all that space is suddenly available for other uses, well… given that this is my Paradise Planet, nearly all the developers will already be off in some alternate dimension crapping all over Earths where sentient life never evolved, so that leaves my particular ideal world right where I want it… greening up again, as fast as the natural cycle allows.

So. We’ve got cheap, unlimited energy with no meter on it. We’ve got all the clean water we want. We’ve got a bottomless pit to toss our trash into, and get electricity back out of it. We’ve got flying vehicles to let us get around. We’ve got the capacity to pull any salt or mineral we want out of seawater, leaving us with an economy that is almost necessarily fiat, as it can’t be based on any sort of rare earth. What was that last thing I mentioned…

Oh, yes. Far, far fewer fools.

Okay, you have to work with me here. Just as I’m necessarily positing cheap fusion energy and working antigrav, so too do I have to make a similar leap here. I mean, I could just say “a convenient plague kills off all the radical crazies, leaving us sane people to inherit the Earth”, but I don’t like to my fantasies to come with a body count, generally, and anyway, in a country where slightly less than half the population voted for a fucktard like Dubya, there’d be a whole lot of rotting corpses lying around… definitely not part of Paradise Planet. So, we’ll do this a different way –

With unlimited energy, all kinds of scientific research becomes practical. Couple that with some practical applications of anti gravity, and it doesn’t seem too wild a speculation that some bright lass in a lab coat might come up with a way to open up gateways into alternate dimensions. Given that, there should be, oh, several billion dimensions in which Earth is lumbering happily along in its orbit, just as fecund as a Mary mother of Jesus, covered with plant and animal life, all its mineral deposits still intact because, you know, busy little monkeys have never figured out how to strip mine the High Sierra, well, these would make ideal dumping places for all of our nuttier folk. Many of these folks are already part of separatist movements, claiming that they want nothing more than a little chunk of land where they can go off and have fourteen wives or worship goats or burn non-tribe members in effigy or raise their babies to be suicide bombers... whatever… without intolerable interference from bothersome busybody outsiders who simply don’t understand The Way, The Truth, and The Light. So, I say, give ‘em all their own separate, heretofore uninhabited, entirely virgin Earth to do with as they will. So long, rotsa ruck, don’t let the interdimensional gateway hit you on the ass on your way through it.

I called this a leap, not because we don’t have the technology to do this, but because, in my own deeply cynical mind, I seriously doubt there are very many fanatical extremist movements that are genuinely separatist, regardless of what their spittle-flecked rhetoric may claim. If you want to live by yourself and pursue your own agenda regardless of the outside world, you don’t need to go find some mystical valley. The Amish manage it just fine. What most so called ‘separatist’ movements really want is Free Stuff. These are people with, essentially, a looter’s mentality. They are, at base, parasites. They flock to a particular cause because that cause generally tells them that (a) They Are Special (usually, because of something that requires no effort of them whatsoever), and (b) because of (a), Those Who Are Not Special Owe Them Big Time.

These kinds of people demand a place they can call their own, where they can do whatever the hell they like without anyone else messing with them. But they don’t want to buy the land, and they don’t want to work it, either, and beyond all that, they certainly don’t want to go live where there aren’t any unSpecial People around to hate and domineer and subjugate. Special People always need unSpecial People; otherwise, they might have to hew the wood and draw the water their damnselves. Most Special People have no interest in that; that’s what God put the (darkies/white folks/women/younger people/Great Satan followers/chinks/gooks/kikes/spics/whoever) on the planet for.
Still, once again, this is my fantasy world, so let’s say that we offer all the crazies their very own planet, and all of them accept and get the hell off mine. It wouldn’t happen; you’d actually have to force most of these people through any such gateway at gunpoint, but still, let’s assume it and move on.

I don’t know just what percentage of the population we’d be getting rid of this way, but even if it’s miniscule, and has no real impact on the problem of global overcrowding, still, the overall social effect of getting rid of all the nutjobs who are willing to kill, or die, for whatever their particular nutjob cause may be, is impossible to overestimate. A lot of bad laws and policies can be done away with (can you say ‘War on Drugs’?), a few good laws and policies that will otherwise never get past the lobbies can be put into place (universal health care, a great deal of corporate oversight, setting up a fair tax code), and, well, a world without televangelists can’t be a bad thing.

Now, even assuming we put all this into place immediately, it’s going to take a while to get to the idyllic paradise I can oh so clearly visualize in my mind’s eye. A place where I live in a huge sprawling house (wood and chrome and glass, a combination of Frank Lloyd Wright and something Edwardian) somewhere in the middle of a vastly overgrown wilderness area, surrounded by gigantic redwoods and a huge old growth forest, with snowcapped mountains on the horizon and a busy stream running over several rocks and falls outside my large wooden side deck, which broadens into a deep cool green pine shaded pool just at the foot of my yard, the deepest part of which extends underneath my deck so I can just jump in whenever I feel like it. SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids are somewhere around the huge old/new house, watching TV (we get fabulous digital reception on the roof mounted satellite dish) or messing around on the Internet or prepping dinner in the kitchen. For social life we all pile into the huge old antigravity SUV and head on over the mountains to wherever it is we want to go that night, or friends might vector into our place. We are, like most families, largely self supporting with our basement tokamak to generate power and devour all our garbage, and what money we need to pay the cable bill and buy whatever groceries SuperGirlfriend isn’t growing in her garden, we make fairly easily by processing universal health care claims on contract to the government from our home terminals, or by selling our own creative products on E-Bay.

Yeah. That’s my dream. And somehow or other, I’d like it if everybody could live just like that. Except for all the crazy people; they’re all off building giant walled compounds devoted to Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or The White Aryan Ideal or some shit, and throwing rocks at velociraptors.

Well… back to reality now…


At 2:19 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

While I DEFINITELY don't like the picture you paint of the place we're headed (without Highlander's paradise planet corrective actions), I don't know if I'm ready for the upgrades, either. Especially not if I gotta be ready for them in 12 years.

Okay, two things...

1) I don't think 'Blipophobic' is a word. I could be wrong. I could. But, I don't think so. But I chuckled just the same.

2) My first thought with your "far, far fewer fools" issue, was more medical in nature. But then I remembered...we've already tried that.

Loved the post, Babe. Your mind works in the most interesting ways and it's always fun to see the results!!

At 3:51 PM , Blogger Mark said...

Actually, even with a high body-count, you could use all those fool-bodies as fuel for the People's Power Plant. It would give a whole new meaning to dead heat.

At 4:12 PM , Anonymous The Always esteemed Scott said...

The keys to a better world seem to me to be as follows --
** cheap, safe, universally accessible energy
** quick, simple transportation
** more efficient use/reuse of rapidly dwindling resources
** far far fewer fools.

The first three, of course, are almost literal pipe dreams;

Actually, I think the first three are far more likely to occur than the last one, but then I'm a frustrated idealist masquerading as a cynic.

At 5:04 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

oh, Mark...once again, you make me ::groan::, and Scott, I can't help but agree with you.

At 1:58 AM , Blogger AaA said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Scott too. "The only infinite things are the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not entirely certain about the first."

Given the number of jobs that would vanish with the appearance of clean, cheap, universally available energy, transportation would be far less neccessary, mostly used for recreation. The vast labor force freed up from crap like road care, auto building, servicing, and refuelling could be retrained for any number of service-related duties, such as the claims processng you mentioned, and telecommute to work.

Indeed, virtual conferencing and such might replace most travel. Sure, being there is great, but being able to see and hear anyone anywhere anytime would also vastly reduce travel needs. Families might well choose to live in large communal dwellings, with several generations living together, situated near other family communes that long-term friendships have been established with, and possibly even share resources to educate their children and the like.

Sounds nice.

At 2:01 AM , Blogger AaA said...

...sadly, I have to agree that the first picture you paint is all too likely waiting for us already in the condensing probability stream we refer to as the future.


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