a reality-questioning weekend

On Friday I went to a screening of Zeitgeist: Addendum (the sequel to Zeitgeist, which I had already seen a while back). Both movies are dark and laden with “consipiracy theories” about how a small elite group is running the world and controlling everyone. Some of the dark stuff is interesting to watch, but mostly it’s just scary and depressing, so I’m not sure I really recommend it.

The first one was basically just the dark stuff, only offering a brief “wake up and love everyone” message at the end as some sort of solution. Although I don’t want to make it out too bad — there’s a section on religion that I found particularly interesting.

Zeitgeist: Addendum had more of the same for the first half, but eventually it emerged from the clouds of darkness to talk more seriously about an alternative to the “money system.” Thusly did I learn about The Venus Project, which aims to “totally redesign our culture” through technological solutions to social problems. Here are a couple of ideas they present:

  • We already have the technology to radically change our world, but it’s not happening due to the resources being misallocated by the monetary system. An example they use is that battery technology for electric cars is there, but it’s too expensive due to patents. I have no idea how true this is, but it’s interesting to contemplate what would be possible if we weren’t all so worried about self-preservation.
  • Laws are ineffective ways to achieve ends; technical solutions work much better. This is a similar thesis to Lawrence Lessig’s Code is Law thesis. An example given in the book is traffic laws: we could get rid of drunk driving laws and instead implement some sort of technical detection that you are drunk when you get into your car. (I think this is a rather poor example, actually, and would rather simply contemplate cars that drive themselves and therefore can be piloted while inebriated, or reading a book for that matter!)
  • The way to go about all this is to slowly get everyone on board, and then just “do it.” Take on some huge, centrally designed projects. They talk about how many scientists and how much time was spent on the atomic bomb; if we just did that to try and solve our energy problems, or make an uber maglev tunnel system (a friggin awesome idea, if you ask me), we’d have a new world in no time. I tend to disagree with this conviction, because it always seems so hard to get everyone on board like that. Unless we just have a dictatorship or something (I’m thinking Roman aqueducts here..), which needless to say seems like a bad idea. Personally I think some of this change will just happen from the bottom up. Perhaps individual solar power generation will take off, or wireless mesh networking, or we’ll get something like a self-replicating machine or some of this other robotic fabrication technology. Not to say self-replicating machines are realistic, but I think this bottom-up approach may be more realistic than trying to change everyone’s hearts and minds to the point where they’ll jump on board with billion-dollar techno-magic projects. Eh, maybe I’m just cynical.

Needless to say, Zeitgeist: Addendum offers a bit of food for thought. After the film the 12 people or so who were there watching had a little discussion. What did the discussion turn to inside of 5 minutes or so? Why.. Obama, of course! What discussion doesn’t wind up there these days? What struck me the most about it is what has been striking me ever since the election: I drastically underestimated the importance of electing an African-American. To me and I would guess many of my generation, it’s no big deal because we, like Stephen Colbert, “don’t see color.” But ever since the election, I’ve been touched by how deeply affected many older people and especially a lot of African-Americans seem to be. It seems so obvious, in retrospect (and yet I missed out on thousands in Obama newspaper arbitrage..).

On to tonight. I watched an episode of Star Trek, Ship in a Bottle, which is all about holodeck realities. Some of the characters get stuck in a holodeck program designed to look just like reality, complete with inner holodeck-programs. To get out, they have to fool the badguy into thinking his holodeck reality is the real reality, but first they have to discover that their reality isn’t really the real one, it’s one that the badguy created. Whew. Well, needless to say, at the end of it you feel like you just saw the matrix for the first time all over again, or something. Before I sat down to write this, I felt the need to utter “Computer: freeze program!” just to be sure.

Thank goodness for a little back pain and sleepiness. Good old reality!

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