Looking for the Exit at Some Bleak Circus

This is Warren Ellis’ closing talk from Future Everything 2015:

This part (about 14mins in, which I have transcribed for you) is a eulogy for tech conferences that generate more tech conferences presented at the closing of a conference that’s being saying the future is now for twenty years, and design fiction written within a silo, seemingly read only by other design fiction writers as they write the next one. Describing, as he calls it, “The Atemporal Space at the end of Post Modernism”:

All these dead circuses. The radioactive fairgrounds in our wake. The New York’s World Fairs that were left to rot until the money was found to polish them up into memorials for dead futures. Is that what we do? We pitch our tents and we do our little clown shows and then we take off up the road, to the next town ahead. Leaving our science-fictional debris on the blasted dirt to poison the minds of future generations like the alien litter in Stalker and Roadside Picnic.

Flying cars rusting out like Saturn V rockets propped up as road kill talismans at Kennedy, leaking toxins into the soil. Jetpacks oozing fuel from cracks in their tanks and poisoning the grass. Three ring Moon bases crumbling in the solar wind. Bird shit in the time machines. Big fat rats scavenging broken packs of food capsules. Best before date of 1971. A Westinghouse Robot Smoking Companion vintage of 1931 slumped up against a tree, yellow tinged fingers still twitching for a cigarette. Vines growing through a busted cyberspace deck. The shreds of inflatable furniture designed for the space hospitals of 1955. Lizards perched atop a weather control cannon. Atomic batteries mouldering inside the grips of laser pistols abandoned in the weeds.

yuri shwedoff 1

If you are amongst the congregation receptive to Warren’s words (and I can’t help notice the setting of the Future Everything conference in that video) you’ll also want to order Normal: A Novel, where he chews over the problems, and consequences, of prediction within the science-fictional condition we call everyday-reality:

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

Especially if, like me, you’re trying to figure out just how to make the most effective use of every breath we have left on this dying planet. Planning a jailbreak.

Which is why I’m taking the time to write this, and think through it all. What are the things worth saying, doing, reading, travelling to… and who are the best travelling companions? Design fiction is useful to prototype solutions in public to pressing problems. Conferences are a great way to get a set of keen minds in the same room, on the same timezone, on the same wavelength.

But I also can’t help hear the opening words of that other cyberpunk elder, Bruce Sterling, in his recent closing remarks to SXSW Interactive, as is traditional:

This is the cyberpunk futurepresent and everything is BRANDED. Corporate colonisation is ubiquitous.

It seems like there’s nothing out there but the bleak circus. The only escape is inside the manufactured reality of the latest video game:

Because no one in the West actually wants to see their home town end up being somewhere like the Ukraine or Syria today, the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, or whatever comes next. Even the very, very, very few that run off to join ISIS are called Jihadi Tourists.

But climate chaos doesn’t obey the lines humans draw on a map. Our great legacy is as agents of the Sixth Mass Extinction. What does that mean? What do we do with that knowledge, that burden?

At least we still have the internet, for now. Even as the clamps tighten everywhere, to different degrees, through different means. As twitter, and social media in general, is get ever more mediated – intrusive ads omnipresent – your own thoughts collected, “trended” and repackaged back to you.

But there’s a reason everyone’s doing newsletters, keeping the podcast thing going, holding little private salons when someone comes to town. Mechanisms of direct communication and experience still exist. As Gordon White of RUNESOUP said when I interviewed him, ‘just keep moving further up the beach’.

So we end by echoing Ellis echoing McKenna echoing Leary in the great call to FIND THE OTHERS!!!

Roll your own culture! Build yourselves a spaceship, chart a course to a constellation of your own choosing, of your own making. But make it real, make it mean something.

Worst case, let’s make fresh ruins and strange artefacts for future visiting races to marvel and wonder at.

Let the jetpack future turn to dust, instead of trying to summon it again and again, like a djinn in the desert winds. Find new forms to capture the sensawunda. Magic up objects that will help us dream our way through the nexus of our nightmarish present.

That’s my Dark Extropian vision, and that’s what I’m going with, for now.

2 thoughts on “Looking for the Exit at Some Bleak Circus

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