Friday, June 26, 2015

Brave New World: Aldous Huxley and Eco Modernism

When Eli was a young bunny being civilized by his teachers, there were two dystopian models of instruction used to warn against the future, George Orwell's 1984 and and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  1984 is a dark vision of perpetual war and oppression with obvious roots in Stalinism and Nazi Germany, a war just fought and a cold war starting, both with the potential of destroying the world.

Brave New World is an exercise in Paradise Engineering and the best illustration we have to the darker implications of the recent Eco Modernist Manifesto.   Eco Modernism revives the faith in technology of the late 19th and early 20th century, an optimism that found expression in our growing ability to shape the world coupled with hubris and contempt of the natural. Marxists, particularly Stalin and Mao discovered industrial marxism and their many attempts to control nature produced only disasters. Their heavy handed attempts to create technology produced contaminated industrial wastelands.

The obvious parallels of the Eco-Modernist Manifesto to the philosophical underpinnings of modernism and industrial marxism formed Eli's first impression, but a conversation at ATTP has shifted the Bunny's focus to Huxley's vision.  While one can quibble for or against the specific technologies that are recommended, one must seriously consider the implications for the organization of society which make the Brave New World a model for how an Eco-Modernist society MUST be organized to function.

Ecomodernism postulates movement of population to large cities, industrialization of agriculture and the isolation of areas for nature.  It is not that we do not know where that vision leads, and we even have examples today of nations that are essentially single cities such as Singapore and Qatar moving in that direction.

Huxley's brave new world was based on genetically engineered social classes with the Alphas at the top and the Deltas and Epsilons at the bottom collecting the garbage and providing other services.  Today's city states and those of the ecomodernists require vast numbers of Deltas and Epsilons to support the Alphas.  They are ancient greek city states with a small number of citizens benefitting from the labor of a large number of contract workers many on temporary visas.  If you are an alpha, it is a good deal, if not, maybe not so much.

The reliance of the ecomodernist city state on complex technologies requires strong central control to keep the machine running, leaving little room for individuality.  City states may occupy not much land, but they require a great deal of land and resources from that land to provide all that the people living in them need.  Urban organization and governance is complex.  As Izen points out at ATTP, the ecomodern city state requires a social monoculture with no room for dissent and that monoculture is enforced by the power of the state.

The brave new world of ecomodernism will be a very uncomfortable fit to many ecomodernists' dreams.


Dano said...

Planners love them some density as a solution. I've never understood it, as I need a yard and garden and a place to putter and pull weeds. A lot of people are this way, and when the day comes where people flee to the cities to save money, the correction will have begun.

The basic issue is 7+B people, and growing, and no prospect of willing reversal.



Kevin O'Neill said...

What? No 'Ape and Essence'?

Everett F Sargent said...

Other than stacking humanity up as so much cord wood, I think the Butt Holed Boys (BHB's) are on to something, that something being doing nothing other than run their mouths.

Look at any large city you see today, infrastructure much? Civil engineering much? I can't think of a single modern city that isn't bordered by the poor, infested by the poor, that doesn't look dirty in some way.

The only clean cities I know of are empty cities in China. They now have money, so what to do, buy an empty building and continue to live where you are currently living, in their tin roofed shacks.

The BHB's view of a future NYC? What would that look like? Sans 400 years of accumulated old shit? We can't even tear down old shit as fast as we are building new shit (compensation for population growth included). Excuse my French!

But you know what? I'll give the BHB's one chance to completely tear down NYC and rebuild it in say 10% of it's current space, in a decade, with one trillion dollars even, without displacing the current population of NYC. Then fence of that place from the rest of humanity forever.

John said...

How does the US fit in with this?
If you look at an individual state, it's quite common to find much of the population in one big city (and its metro area).
Most of the population of Nevada lives in greater Lass Vegas
Much of the population of Arizone lives in greater phoenix.
Oregon? Portland
New Mexici? Albuquerque
California? two megacities, LA/San Diego and the San Francisco urban area
on the East Coast, the whole seaboard area from Boston to Washington has grown and sprawled so it's one continuous urban/suburban area.
And I'm sure RR readers can supply other examples.

This happened not because Eco Modernists (or anybody else) "postulated movement of population to large cities." The process of suburbanization and auto mobilization opened up vast opportunities for profit, as well as satisfying the desire of much of the underlying population to escape urban problems.

Ecomodernism has already happened.

Anonymous said...

Ecomodernism is an attempt to justify BAU as the ethically virtuous method of emissions reductions avoiding all that hippy back to Nature nonsense.

Unknown said...


That's the impression I get. Not a serious philosophy just an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.

Hank Roberts said...

op. cit. at Stoat

bjchip said...

This is off topic - just for Eli :-)

Why a duck?


Unknown said...

If you haven't noticed, people have already been moving to big cities and industrialization of agriculture is already occurring (at least in that it needs far less people because the tools have drastically improved). If you look at the agricultural sector in Canada and the United States, farms have gotten much, much bigger because farmers have bigger and better tools, making it possible for one small crew to farm much more land.

Bigger combines. Bigger seeders. Bigger sprayers. Better seeds. And high-tech tools, such as tractor computers that use GPS to do the driving, thereby making seeding, spraying, and harvesting more efficient. Other tools include using satellite imagery and tying it into a sprayer's computer so that it'll know what patches of land need more fertilizer. These are not the machines of your grandfather's generation and they keep getting better.

And those remaining farmers can do very, very well for themselves. I doubt you'd find many who'd be pessimistic at this urban densification thing.

EcoModernism has its issues, but there's some nuance in it that can probably help us with adaption (because even if the temperature rise is kept within 2 degrees, there will still have to be some adaptation).

Tom said...

Yes, Obama is a denier, Revkin is a collaborator and the EcoModernists are closet commies.


Komrade Tom may be in the premature vanguard of running attack dog left deviationist antirabbettism, but where does he really stand on letting Vorticists back into Cuba?

Unknown said...

Unknown said:

"Bigger combines. Bigger seeders. Bigger sprayers. Better seeds. And high-tech tools, such as tractor computers that use GPS to do the driving, thereby making seeding, spraying, and harvesting more efficient."

OK but what's that got to do with ecomodernism? You can't just annexe all human technology in the same sort of way that religion often attempts to lay claim to all human morality. What specifically new ideas is ecomodernist thought contributing with respect to the place of technology in our societies, or the types of technology we need to develop?

You'll have to do better than brandishing buzzwords like "decoupling". This simply means reducing our environmental impact and is not a new concept. It's has been on the agenda in various ways for decades. Why do we need ecomodernism to address it? The challenge of living sustainable lifestyles and maintaining a healthy environment is first and foremost a scientific problem for which any kind of ideological tram-lines are a hindrance rather than a help.

Where's the beef?

Everett F Sargent said...


I'm looking into the SEDAC website:

(1) I previously worked with their datasets back in December 2013. Unfortunately, it looks like I've lost most of that rather detailed analyses that I did at that time. Principally, I would use the GRUMP (v1), GPW (v3) and Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or MA (v1) (metrics/proxies for poverty but my use will be specifically with regards to urban areas).

I am seriously tired of the BTI and all their talk, but no actionable items and it appears to be no real demographic analyses to date.

(2) I am also very interested in what the relevant peer reviewed literature has to say with respect to the BTI, to that end here is the 1st (of hopefully many):

What is the future of conservation?

Someone who is tired of "fell good" talk and needs quantitative answers

Fernando Leanme said...

I like eco modernism. It's a "go with the flow" movement, because humanity does tend to urbanize, and highly efficient agriculture sure beats tons of peasants cultivating small plots. The key is to focus on individual freedom and avoid human rights abuses. To me this is very important after having lived under the jackboot of the Castro dictatorship and seen the abuses in quite a few other nations.

As for Qatar, that's a very poor example. It's a small desert peninsula producing and exporting natural gas from the largest field in the world, has a terrible human rights record and half the population is foreign guest workers who lack any rights whatsoever.

A better example could be visualized here in Eastern Spain. Ever since the Reconquista the population has been urbanizing and plots of land which were previously cultivated are returned to nature. But agricultural production has increased enormously, we have giant greenhouse tracts about 10 km to 20 km from the urban areas which they say are very efficient, and our urban density is much higher than in a typical USA city. We use much more public transport, have electric trams, people walk to the supermarket and the contents of a shopping cart are delivered later for a small fee, crime is incredibly low, and we sure have more individual freedom than I saw in communist p, religious, and fascist dictatorships I experienced very close up.

The key here is to avoid the Marxist threat posed by outfits financed by the Venezuelan and allied to left wing extremists. Reforms are required but the country is definitely doing much better than Greece or the poor Venezuelans.

bjchip said...

"The Caves of Steel" is not a solution I can embrace.


Neven said...

Oh, Eli, you noble savage.

Anonymous said...

> EcoModernism has its issues, but there's some nuance in it

I don't always go for nuance, but when I do, I don't write a manifesto based on an ism-word.

Canman said...

I'll take EcoModernism over the encyclipediacal put out by the guy in the funny hat any day.

Everett F Sargent said...

Hong Kong is just such a beautiful place:

Well, except for the cord wood sardine like public housing:

Some 'cute' news articles to boot:

Hong Kong's sky slums highlight wealth gap

Can you believe these are actually apartments? The stunning images of Hong Kong ‘living cubicles’ that look just like Borg cubes

Next up you say? Why Oakland CA of course, home of all good Enviromodernists!

afeman said...

As culturally convenient as the technophilia of nominally Marxist governments is for giving BTI a well-deserved clubbing, it's a rare developmental state that hasn't had its share of ecological disasters. Part of the sheer scale of Soviet and Maoist disasters may be blamed on autocratic rule, but they also had a sense of emergency having been nationally kicked around throughout the 20th century in part out of technological backwardness to countries that are still cleaning up from their own growth spurts. That's before getting to where this CO2 came from.

I still remember when Chernobyl was an exemplar of the stupidity endemic to those other guys.


As Izen points out at ATTP, the ecomodern city state requires a social monoculture with no room for dissent and that monoculture is enforced by the power of the state.

Has he been visiting Manhattan , watchng PBS, or attending a libral arts college?

E. Swanson said...

I read The EcoModernist Manifesto a while back and thought it to be a sales pitch for "new" nuclear power, such as a thorium based design which would recycle the fuel to provide additional fuel via breeding. I had also read an on line version of Plentiful Energy by Charles Till, in which he promoted the Fast Reactor concept. BTI's techno cornucopian outlook shines thru most clearly in this paragraph::

"Plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development and for decoupling development from nature. The availability of inexpensive energy allows poor people around the world to stop using forests for fuel. It allows humans to grow more food on less land, thanks to energy-heavy inputs such as fertilizer and tractors. Energy allows humans to recycle waste water and desalinate sea water in order to spare rivers and aquifers. It allows humans to cheaply recycle metal and plastic rather than to mine and refine these minerals. Looking forward, modern energy may allow the capture of carbon from the atmosphere to reduce the accumulated carbon that drives global warming."

The promise of massive quantities of cheap energy seems appealing as long as one ignores the numerous known problems with the potential for yet to be learned difficulties as the technologies have not been put to full scale use. The fundamental assumption is that the proposed alternatives will be "inexpensive", whatever that means. The obvious question would be, if these alternatives are less expensive than today's primary energy sources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, why aren't nations already using them or, at least, building lots of them in today's world to make way for tomorrow's expected energy supply/demand problems after Peak Oil? The problem surely isn't just political constraints, as there are many nations which would be willing to forge ahead because they are already making large payments for importing fossil fuels.

Then too, the devil with nuclear energy is in the need for a security state to guard against the sort of terrorist events which appear often in today's news media. The US has seen the growth of such a governing philosophy, beginning during the Cold War and increasing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Will we see a new war with Iran over their efforts to acquire nuclear materials which could be used to build a bomb? We may find out the answer to that one sooner than later...

David B. Benson said...

Robots will do the labor. Everybody an alpha or beta.

Andrew said...


Dano -

If we have 10 billion people using an average of 100 square meters that means 10^12 square meters or 10^6 square kilometers. Add half again for infrastructure around that and you get to 1% of land area. Assume that 90% of land area is horrible and you are still only looking at 10% of the rest.

Everyone can indeed live in suburbia. (They don't have to..) And suburbia can often be quite biodiverse. It's agriculture that uses vast amounts of land for monocultures.

Bernard J. said...

Andrew, a 10m x 10m square for every person, plus another "50% for infrastructure", is ridiculously small. And the area used for agriculture is not optional...

Although a somewhat fraught measure, ecological footprint calculations are nevertheless a far better guide:

and they don't paint a rosy picture.

Andrew said...

Bernard -

One part of 'ecomodernism' would - in my view - involve the replacement of large scale food production with direct synthesis - which seems feasible enough. If that is done - and I am aware it's not easy and would be highly energy intensive - then, yes, large scale industrial agriculture becomes optional.

If you are remotely interested in the environment then you'd probably see this as a good thing.

Perhaps 10x10m per person is small. Doubling it would not greatly impact the results. What figures would you use?

EliRabett said...

the average size of a farm in China is about 0.65 hecters. They are incredibly productive thanks to tlc and bio fertilization

Tom said...

Yes, that's why China's cities are emptying of people rushing back to the land.

Everett F Sargent said...


What an incredibly stupid ...

Google ->china empty buildings<-

Here, let me help you ...

Here's another clue, all 'rich' nations offshore there slave labor and child labor and pollution (well actually lack of pollution controls) to places like India and China.

While we're at it, I do wonder what all the 'Blue Collar Comedy Tour' hunter gatherer country music loving rural folks will think of martial law and forced death marches and FEMA death towers and high crime rates and urban decay, etceteras, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

Please remember, it was the Ecomodernist Manifesto that uses an image as a backdrop for their preferred solution.

Finally, who is getting orders of magnitude more press coverage than the Breakthrough Cretins? The Pope's Poop!

Teh Ecomodernist Manifesto was, is and always will be DOA. Simply because we can see their version of the future today in any and all reasonably large sized cities.

Everett F Sargent said...

"an image as a backdrop"

should be ...

"an image of HONG KONK as a backdrop"

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Tom said...

Ever been to China, Sargent?

The greatest migration in human history is the relocation of 250 million (so far) Chinese from their incredibly productive small farm holdings to the city--any city. To get a job--any job, including any 'offshored slave labor' the West offers them.

People in Shanghai joke (exactly the same as in London or New York) about how nobody in the city was born there. That's pretty close to the truth. The population was 6 million in 1985 and is now about 27 million (depending on how you account for the immigrants).

Coincidentally, the number of people in poverty in China has fallen dramatically. Fancy that.

China is pretty much a dirty place with a horrible government and a thousand ecological and political problems.

It's also pretty much a miracle in fast motion.

As for dismissing the Ecomodernists, well, tastes differ. I like London. I like New York. I like Shanghai. It seems clear to me that you are missing the point, which is not about the existence of megacities, it is making sure they meet the needs of their inhabitants. I don't like Jakarta. I don't like Sao Paolo. I don't like Mexico City.

But as usual, seeing the word Breakthrough activates the Rabid Rabbit syndrome and barely suppressed mutterings about conspiracy and evile intent.

You're in the right place, Sargent. Carry on.

Everett F Sargent said...


I wonder what might cause people to move from their rural homes .. oh wait ...

Forced evictions in China
Weiquan movement

Which could also easily happen in the USA ... wait for it ...

Holdout (real estate)
Kelo v. City of New London

It will only take a few decades for all that empty housing infrastructure to be occupied ... if only they don't build enough future housing for the world's entire population ... that is.

Real estate in China
Housing in China
Chinese property bubble (2005–2112)

Some of us, are not as easily fooled by someone else's far fetched utopian dreams.

You, quite obviously, not so much.

Dust in the wind.

Tom said...

You've certainly identified one of the many environmental problems China has--dust in the wind.

The rest of what you write is not really relevant. Property speculators in China? Yes, they have overbuilt luxury homes instead of the flats people actually can afford to buy. Speculators and developers will face pain as a result.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing mass migration from farm to city.

Does reality just offend you?

Corrupt government officials do indeed expropriate land from farmers for ongoing development. The people so affected are a tiny percentage of the flood of internal immigrants.

Everett F Sargent said...

Tom The Tourist,

I'm quite fine with reality.

You being a Tourist, or some such, doesn't bother me either.

In fact, I'm quite happy with you being a Tourist.

I'd suggest that you do the Chevy Chase thing with the station wagon with four headlights even. Fall asleep. End up in the ghetto. Good luck with that one.

Internal immigrants? Is that anything like external emigrants?

I do think the term is internal migration:

You, quite obviously, are not very Bright.

Tom said...

Bright I may not be, although how you form your judgments may be equally as suspect as my intelligence. But tourist I am not.

I'm continually amazed at how quickly and aggressively you Konsensus Kooks form your opinions.

I usually assume that you are as wrong about larger issues as you are about me. I haven't been proven wrong on that one yet.

Neven said...

I usually assume that you are as wrong about larger issues as you are about me. I haven't been proven wrong on that one yet.

Except that most people here know exactly what you are, you commie-hating, Progress worshipping, climate risk denying, old, white, male troll, you. :-P

Tom said...

Ah, yes, the stale, male and pale schtick. Neven unleavened, on display for us all.

And just as Sargent, just as wrong on the details as you are on the larger picture.

Uncanny how wrong you can be.

Neven said...

Please, forgive me, God. :-D

Tom said...

Are you going to do a sea ice update for June?

Neven said...

Of course not, you know me.

Anonymous said...

In other news, Groundskeeper Willie ripped off his shirt in more than 66% of his recent comments at MT's:

I point at this:

> You delete my comments without warning.

And this:

> Followups along these lines will be trashed.

That is all.

In at

Tom said...

Such a tease, willard. You say that is all. But it never is.

Bernard J. said...

Eli, the small Chinese farm is certain a Thing, but it does require intensive input of labour and a very frugal, largely vegetarian diet.

There's a bit of a meme around the First World that 2 acres will feed a family of 2 adults and 2 kids, but this really involves also living in a very vegetarian and rather frugal way. Further there are many assumptions piled into the notion, for example that the soil/climate/water availabilities are conducive to optimal output, that people will eschew their electronica and travel and other time-consuming distractions(quite aside from the 9-5 jobs) to work on the processes of growing and preparing their food, and that they don't need to acquire the other essentials of life such as clothing, medicines and just about anything else that one could care to add to the list.

Don't want to be vegetarian? The amount of land need to cater for that goes up, from a fair bit to independently feed chickens to a lot to feed hoofed animals. How much depends on your soil etc. Want more variety, or drugs such as sugar, caffeine, tobacco...? Add more.

I could spend an hour and write it up as a referenced essay but these days I'm rather time-poor myself. There are plenty of offerings on the Interweb though - one could start here:

Like the author of that piece I don't disparage the concept of intensive integrated food production in the 'burbs, but it requires the rose-coloured glasses be left in the house. Once that's done, and once people actually make the lifestyle change commitment necessary, then it can make a difference, but only a portion of a Western urban population is ever going to come within a bull's roar of anything resembling self-sufficiency.

As someone with a few dozen acres myself, I know how much of a commitment and a challenge food production can be. It's hard bloody work, especially if, like mine, one's soils need exta sweat. Take fossil fuels/chemical feedstock out of the equation, and things for most folk become even more interesting...

Still, when all is said and done, making home-grown food an integral part of our society would make a significant contribution to improving the way we lean on the planet. Whether we have the will to ever make that a broad cultural change though, without a boot up the arse... well, I'm sceptical.

On bio-fertiliser - wonderful stuff! No poop or urine leaves ever my property. I consider myself utterly blessed to not be anywhere near a reticulated sewage system. Can't get enough of the stuff, and I invite all my visitors to leave a deposit - as long as they're not medicated.

Finally, as inspiration for those in a contemplative mood, I can't go past recommending that old classic, The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Everett F Sargent said...

Everett: Right, 85.
Fuller: And, uh ... don't call me that.
Ripley: What's this 85 thing?
Everett: Couple of us sneaked a look at his personnel file the day he arrived ... never lived in the ghetto.

Tom said...

Sargent, you gotta quit watching those soft porn movies.

Tom said...

Speaking of Ripley, while the rest of us were cheering Sigourney when she snarled 'get away from her you bitch' you were still trying to think of a snappy comeback to the best line of the movie:

Sargent: You ever been mistaken for a man, Vasky?

Vasquez: No. Have you?

Sargent: Well, uh, you probly don't live in China much, do you?

John said...

"Marxists, particularly Stalin and Mao discovered industrial marxism and their many attempts to control nature produced only disasters. Their heavy handed attempts to create technology produced contaminated industrial wastelands."

Oh, indeed, the West's industrial wastelands don't stink!!!

John Puma

Mal Adapted said...

"Under capitalism, man exploits man; while under socialism just the reverse is true." -John Kenneth Galbraith

Neven said...

Ha, that's a good quote, Mal Adapted. :-D

So, how to create a society/system where man doesn't exploit man, without being a Brave New World-type utopia...

If only Huxley were still alive. He was a smart bunny.

Unknown said...

Making exploitation difficult only needs one simple rule: no unearned income (obvious exceptions for sick & elderly).

With no unearned wealth accrued through grossly inflated salaries and bonuses, inheritance (OK maybe a modest, allowed amount), rising property prices, etc it would be very difficult to create a privileged elite.

Note that this isn't socialism. The idea that you should have to work to earn your wealth is frequently promoted by the right (at least when talking about other people).

That's really for another blog and another day though.