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David Brin
Futurist, Science Fiction Author, Scientist. Advocate for a Transparent Society.
Futurist, Science Fiction Author, Scientist. Advocate for a Transparent Society.

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Using his WIRED soapbox to promote his new novel, Cory Doctorow takes the occasion also to fight some of the most hoary and destructive instincts of modern, lazy storytelling.

“Here’s how you make a dystopia: Convince people that when disaster strikes, their neighbors are their enemies, not their mutual saviors and responsibilities. The belief that when the lights go out, your neighbors will come over with a shotgun—rather than the contents of their freezer so you can have a barbecue before it all spoils—isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s a weaponized narrative. The belief in the barely restrained predatory nature of the people around you is the cause of dystopia, the belief that turns mere crises into catastrophes.”

This paraphrases the core point from my novel The Postman, which I wrote as a rebuttal to the Mad Max genre’s perpetual contempt for the average person. In my novel (and I admit that Kevin Costner did remain faithful to this notion) all hope for a restored civilization rests upon the survivors remembering one core fact: “I was once a mighty and noble being, called a citizen.” And hence, the great accomplishment of the story’s hero is not to defeat the villains, but to remind the people of that central fact.

Rebecca Solnit - one of the finest essayists in America - makes the same point in A Paradise Built in Hell, showing that time and again, our neighbors show pluck and guts, as when 80 average citizens rebelled, aboard flight UA93. And yet, authors and directors relentlessly trot forth the banal dystopia that Cory criticizes.

Doctorow distinguishes this tiresome cliché with his notion of the guardedly upbeat utopia. Not the boring aftermath of an enlightened and better civilization — no drama there! That’s why - in the much better tomorrows of Iain Banks, of Star Trek and my own Kiln People - most of the tales take place at a fringe or frontier. (The Federation is decent and good and fair, which is why we almost never look there.)

Likewise, Doctorow eschews a preachy utopia in favor of portraying its beginning, in danger and ferment. The initial problem may be chaotic and deadly, as in a dystopia, but with a crucial difference.

“Stories of futures in which disaster strikes and we rise to the occasion are a vaccine against the virus of mistrust. Our disaster recovery is always fastest and smoothest when we work together, when every seat on every lifeboat is taken. Stories in which the breakdown of technology means the breakdown of civilization are a vile libel on humanity itself.” He asserts that: “ the best science fiction does some­thing much more interesting than prediction: It inspires. That science fiction tells us better nations are ours to build and lets us dream vividly of what it might be like to live in those nations.”

As is very often the case, Doctorow presents important and thought-provoking notions. Alas, Cory does tend also to wave signs implying “Look here! I invented this idea!” And so, only in the interests of fairness, I do urge you also to have a look at my much-earlier missive on “The Idiot Plot,” and compare.

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Don't know if you've seen this or heard of its creator Ward Shelley:

He sells word-posters, and he created this "leviathan" called Science Fiction. It's pretty complete and detailed - though for some reason he included the utopia but left out dystopias.

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I've posted part 3 of "A Time for Colonels," arguing that the Democratic-moderate-sane-fact-user coalition must stop bickering about how to win 30 House seats. Instead aim for 130! Plus a thousand in state legislatures. That will only happen if the personality-conservative voters in those districts are offered sane, smart, tolerant, science and rights-loving candidates who are also able to look personality-conservative voters in the eye and get them to listen. There are thousands of retired officers out there... women and men with erect posture and steel in their backbones... who are now seething with anger toward the fact-hating madness that's hijacked today's Republican Party. Come read the whole 3-part missive and then help recruit these heroes.... Then, for balance, let's give the Bernie-bros all the "swing districts," okay?

Anyone read the GOP "health bill"? The most amazing thing? Obamacare isn't repealed! It's just tweaked a lot and every tweak is evil. Rob the poor and hurt their kids in order to give half a trillion in tax cuts to the rich. But the core essential features are left in place! Except the individual mandate, which was the one good REPUBLICAN idea across the last 30 years. That's gone, so the markets will collapse. But the Obamacare markets were NOT rescinded!

The sole difference of the secret Senate plan is to defer most pain till after the 2020 elections.

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Simply stunning. An unprecedented video stitched together from Junocam pictures as our probe's ellipse takes it diving toward one pole of jupiter to skate over the cloud tops and race by the other pole, almost touching the stormy vortex before plunging back out again. The embellished addition... "Atmospheres" from 2001 a Space Odyssey... adds to the awe.

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In part 2, I describe how retired military officers will let Democrats and moderate independents offer candidates who have a chance even in the deep-red districts that matter most, if we're to end this vicious phase of the US Civil War. I cite George Lakoff, whose sage advice the Clinton Campaign ignored, plus a dozen other factors. No matter how today's Georgia House race goes, it would have been a blow out , if the DP candidate had been a decent, moderate, Earth-loving, woman-respecting, fact-using, compassionate, negotiating and stylistically conservative ex-colonel. Come be convinced... then help recruit a tsunami of these men and women to change US politics and end this madness.

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Back in the eighties, I witnessed video cameras sprouting like crocuses, all over Great Britain. The same thing happened in Paris, in the early nineties, and I began pondering the concepts that would later make their way into my book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Since then, The U.S. has become just as dense with cameras overlooking almost every street -- one area where Moore’s Law is still in full force, as the cams every year get smaller, faster, better, cheaper, more mobile and vastly more numerous.

Only there’s a crucial difference. In most U.S. cities, the vast majority of cameras are privately owned. There’s still surveillance! (And elsewhere I talk about how important it is to keep and enhance our “sousveillance” power to look back!) But most of the time, the authorities must knock on doors and ask: “may we please see your footage?”

In the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, every single person asked fall all over themselves to help! On the other hand, during the highly controversial Seattle “police riot” some years back, many companies and private citizens muttered: “Hell no, go get your court order.” Same number of cams, but a very different society.

Now we see change afoot. In Detroit, Project Greenlight encourages businesses to put up city operated, standardized surveillance units. Companies that are part of Project Greenlight send live video to directly to Detroit police. Police can access them, monitoring them from the real time crime center at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.

“Project Greenlight went into place in January 2016. According to city officials, a recent study shows the original eight Project Greenlight stations continue to see a nearly 40% reduction in violent crime. Project Greenlight was also the key to an arrest after a wild shoot out at a gas station in March 2016. Since then, it has expanded to more than 100 businesses and continues to grow.”
Alas, as you might expect, they keep upping the ante.

“The city of Detroit and the Detroit Police Department are considering making Project Greenlight mandatory for any business that's open after 10 p.m. Police say it's helped to curb violent crime but the plan to make it mandatory is raising privacy concerns.”

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Jeff Bezos tweeted a request for ideas/suggestions for how he could do some well-targeted philanthropy.

Great question! Here's my tweet response:

"Jeff, years ago we spoke of getting ALL zillionaires to do this. e.g. via a catalog of pre-vetted projects."

That essay of mine about a core problem (and solution) for philanthropy, made a bit of a stir, 15 years ago or so. Now it's probably forgotten - but no less pertinent than ever! I hope some of you will give it a look.

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Again, I've started a 3-part series(blog) arguing, point by point, that no political counter-attack against Fox-Trumpism can achieve real effects without thousands of new candidates who can communicate to our red-state/conservative neighbors. There are many retired military officers who are fact-centered and science loving and tolerant, while able to get eye contact from neighbors who have never-before ever listened to a democrat. Come read the list of reasons... then go armtwist that retired colonel or captain you know. (Or scientist or woman district attorney... recruit broadly. And no litmus tests. This must be a broad front.

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Passing along news for anyone who is heading to Helsinki, for the World Science Fiction Convention. The week before, on 7th of August 2017, the Russian SF community (partly at my urging) is helping to host an International Futurological Conference “Book of the Future” in St Petersburg. "Speakers will discuss the future of literature and the transformation of the book concept because of technological changes in the creation and circulation of literature works and in access to the books, as well as structural changes in information consumption in society. Participation is free, but the organizers kindly request you to register right now." Write to

The conference is supported of the Russian Book Union ( ) and the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation ( ).

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