26 April 2012

Ending the era of politics of scarcity

There is a stark difference between the economical foundations of capitalism and that of Marxism (which is to say socialism, communism, progressivism and modern day liberalism) and that difference in foundation is rooted in the view of individuals.  Within the capitalist system individuals are seen as actors in the economy, they have the ability to deal with each other under a common set of laws that are applied equally and upheld for contracts.  This is not 'pure' capitalism, but one that is formulated under the Law of Nations which provides the social context for delineations between the individual, the State (which is to say the governmental system of laws) and the Nation.  It is a system that can easily be corrupted by the State in the Name of the Nation (Nationalization) which leads to impoverishment of individuals who are then targeted by State laws so as to drive them out of business in favor of the State.  Further the business sectors that are Nationalized are then under no impetus to improve the type, quality, nor amount of goods and services they produce as their business model is completely under control of the State.  Typically this sort of corrupt capitalism is seen in modern day China, Russia, Iran, France, UK, Argentina and anywhere a business sector has been Nationalized either in name (directly via law) or indirectly by a form of State based mandates, price controls, and limitations on individual choices to conform to a State set of laws that restricts decisions on price optimization or goods provider. 

Another formulation of corrupt capitalism is crony capitalism in which business sectors get in bed with politicians of any stripe to get preferential treatment under the law and taxpayer subsidies.  This form of corrupt capitalism is a variant of State owned corrupt capitalism as it seeks to use State power to create divisions amongst companies in a given sector, reward those that follow government strictures and punish those that do not.  It is a form of control that ends, however, at the same point as horrifically inefficient capitalist companies survive because of government aid and intervention yielding the same restricted marketplace, the same high costs and the same lack of incentives to do well that a directly government controlled or Nationalized set of companies.  Crony capitalism is corrupt capitalism of the direct sort seeking only indirection to persuade people of a Nation that overt and covert regulation is good for them while it is, in fact, good for those companies that play ball with politicization and then utilize corporate money (enhanced by government subsidies) to back politicians.  That interim period gives a patina to the longer-term government control and rewards actors who invest in political ends through the means of regulatory schemes. No matter the means of corrupt capitalism, its ends are the same as Nationalized corrupt capitalism.  Any business that gets 'regulated' then has an interest in changing such regulation via politics, and in this arena the larger amounts of cash are held by the larger companies that are also less efficient due to their very size and overhead.

Marxism is a form of collectivism in which the individual is seen as a dependent actor that is not able (or allowed) to operate outside of a collective based economic view of capitalism.  This world view posits that humans are unable to cope or compete with the legal systems that allow corporations many of the same set of rights as individuals.  A corporation is seen as stronger, wealthier and more exploitative of individuals and those individuals then fall into classes: owners of businesses, the bourgeoisie (small business owners and the middle class) and the proletariat (working class).  This division by classes is seen as imposed by the top (the business owners) upon the rest of society and the bourgeoisie is seen as a 'rump' class in that it is barely more numerous than the owning class of corporations and barely more prosperous than the working class.  In this world view individuals in the proletariat are seen as a collective of individuals in that they are not able to have access to the bourgeois lifestyle and can take no meaningful part in the business ownership realm.  Capitalism is seen as corrupt and requires a proletarian uprising to get rid of the private ownership of business and collectively own all means of production by the State.

Do note that the end-state of corrupt capitalism and Marxism are little different: State ownership of the means of production (either major business sectors under corrupt capitalist schemes or complete ownership under Marxist schemes), which is run by an elite class via the State.  That elite class is either the corrupt politicians in the capitalist system or 'The Party' leaders in the Marxist view, both with a patina of 'democracy' that delimits choices for the mass of the population (usually well over 95%) to those few that are dictated by the elite.

There are stark problems with State ownership, however, as it has no need to be 'liberal' in the old school sense of teaching people to read, write, and think for themselves so as to be inventive.  All incentive and rewards to be better at one's job, to find new ways to do work, to develop new products to sell to help better the life of the common man are all crushed under the requirement of the State to have a workforce that enriches the tiny minority at the top and leaves the majority without the thinking capability to protest or say that there must be a better way.  This process of indoctrination and elimination of those who refuse to conform to the new State based edicts (be they in a corrupt capitalist system or a Marxist system)  is the movement from an authoritarian government to a totalitarian one.  Authoritarian States can still tolerate some work done outside of State control, although that is heavily controlled it is not extinguished.  Thus religion exists outside of the authoritarian State as well as some things like music and art.  Moving to a totalitarian State means that nothing is left outside the State's purview and every part of life must conform to State based edicts.  These latter systems are noted as being tyrannical, repressive and requiring large levels of internal repressions and external distractions to keep the population under control.  This final phase of totalitarian State is known as the Imperial State as it must be expansionistic to distract of the lack of living standards inside the State and to utilize the few bonds of Nationalism to create support for the State.  When the State cannot do this latter, it must start to give away much of its wealth in order to stay in control via entertainment and social services so as to mollify a population that sees the State as no longer doing its duty towards society, as a whole.  In both corrupt capitalist, Marxist and ancient regimes the giveaways start early in the process: 'land reform', redistribution of wealth, social services and entertainment are all venues for these forms of systems to distract and mollify the population.

When this process is performed there is a problem in State ownership (either the regulatory process of corrupt capitalism dictating what businesses can do or the take over in a Marxist system) because there are no real custodians of property to look out for it and maintain it.  Sociologically, this becomes known as 'The Tragedy of the Commons': when property rights are seen as not being held or able to be utilized by those directly involved in business, then there is no basis of stewardship for it.  Communally held land (or collectivized land) is over-utilized for grazing or crops because no individual sees a requirement to maintain it for the community, which lowers the productivity of the land for everyone. In an industrialized system this extends to quality of workmanship, timeliness of work and amount of work, which yields scarce and sub-par products in an insufficient amount to be distributed to those who need it.  The joke in the old USSR was 'we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us': there is no direct ownership of the process or the product and working that can be avoided is avoided.  This happens in a corrupt capitalist system when stewardship is so controlled by the owner of a business or property that they feel they have little say in its use, as well.  These are functional equivalents of State control and State ownership via law and regulation between corrupt capitalism and Marxism.

Marxists will always point to the requirement for a suitably industrialized basis for there to be socialism-communism, but no follow up is ever done on why people would want to actually work with no incentive other than altruism.  Altruism comes from prosperity and seeking to make the lives of others better in a material or moral way through the process of contributing to their welfare via a sense of charity.  There is no incentive in either the end-state corrupt capitalist or Marxist system for altruism to exist as there is no way to better one's fellow man's position as there is no prosperity and no means to perform charity that has any meaningful impact on the lives of anyone.  From this Marxism and corrupt capitalism both fail because of the leveling effect of production and distribution: when all get equally no matter how much work they do, the incentive to work declines and so does the living standard of not just the mass of the population but of the elites as well, albeit more slowly.

There is a common predicate to the way that corrupt capitalism and Marxism are sold, however, and it is an unstated one as a predicate, but one that is stated as part of the world-view of those involved in promoting them.  This common predicate is telling because it is used by both corrupt capitalist elites and Marxists to push their views forward and it is the same predicate for both: that goods and raw materials are scarce, the economy is a set size and that this requires a 'fair' division of goods due to scarcity of them.  This is the politics of scarcity, and it is telling that whenever one hears discussion of economic classes (or any other form of internal division amongst society, come to think of it) it is always couched in the terms of those who 'have' and those who 'have not'.  This language can be couched in terms of pay, living standards, or 'rights' and yet it is always the same world view of scarcity: there are not enough of these things to go around.  And yes, those who push this mean your rights that are born with you as not having enough of them to go around.  If it weren't for this being a political outlook, it would be classed as a psychological derangement. But I digress.

What is amazing is that the last two centuries of industrialization, post-industrialization and the rise of modern communications have created ever expanding economic systems which have raised the physical welfare of large sections of humanity out of abject poverty, lowered the cost to do so, and continually pushes the cost of production down so that the number of people able to afford products can increase.  Even under a system of slowly worsening of corruption of capitalism, the basis for capitalism demonstrates that it does more to provide goods and services to more people at a lower cost than any other system devised.  The attraction to control such spread of wealth and material well being is too enticing to those wishing power over their fellow man, and the only way to get this system corrupted is to convince enough people that it is biased, concentrates wealth and needs to be controlled by State power.

Are there abuses in capitalism?  Yes, undoubtedly.

Are they particular to capitalism?  No, they are part of human nature, as abuses can be seen in any human institution ranging from religious organizations to political organizations and everything in-between.  Man cannot get away from the desire to utilize power against his fellow man without the agreed-upon restrictions necessary to form society.  The agreement between individuals on self-governance and self-restriction also forms the basis for the codification of those things to create an organ of society to enforce them: government.  Marriage forms the basis for the Nation, and that self-made Nation comes from the family and our agreement to stay our negative liberties and rights towards our offspring, save as needed for minor and necessary correctives on their understanding of self-governance and why it is necessary.  Amongst families we create society and, from that, the need for the State via government, and it is this need for agreement upon set standards enforcement for all individuals that creates a system for laws that can be equally administered for all.  Corruption can and does start at this very lowest level, that of the individual agreeing that State power is to be equally administered and it is this point that is utilized by politicians who wish to further corrupt the economic system that is overseen (but not controlled) by laws.

The ability of politicians and their backers to convince people that there is scarcity, that someone having something means that they cannot have it (or an equivalent) is based on envy and greed.  Yet capitalism has been about increasing wealth, increasing the amount of goods, and lowering costs so that, today, being poor in the US doesn't mean you have outdoor plumbing and one pair of shoes, but can afford a refrigerator, washer, dryer, television, microwave, cellphone, and that sweet pair of Nikes that cost $150.  And still get overweight due to the cheapness of food.  By any objective standard of all of mankind's history, the poor in the modern industrialized world are living like royalty and the main threat to that prosperity and material wealth is cronyism that seeks to deprive you of it.  The trick is not to those pointing out to the disparity between a poor man with an old rust bucket Ford against a relatively well off person with a BMW roadster, but to point out that the person with the roadster is trying to convince the person with the Ford to vote for a politician that will hand more perks and carve-outs to the person with the BMW, at the expense of tax dollars.  If you want greater disparity between rich and poor, then vote for those trying to 'equalize' the system so that everyone can be made poor.  If you want to get out of the mess, vote for the person seeking to cut out all the biases and advantages due to ANY class or ownership division so that everyone is liable for their own actions and everyone must pay into the maintenance of government which is a benefit to ALL in the Nation.

This article is entitled 'Ending the era of politics of scarcity' and the reason I entitled it that is that there is another way to free up the system of scarcity politics that has little to do with politics.

Growing up in the 1970's meant many things, and as a reader of SF and Fantasy it also meant understanding the drivers behind things like space exploration.  Prior to modern economic analysis, it was hard to make a case for why space exploration is viable, other than it being a frontier arrangement promising much if you worked to keep yourself alive.  One book came out from Gerard K. O'neill called The High Frontier, which was a culmination of work done in Princeton in the late 1960's and early 1970's analyzing the utilization of space materials for space based industry.  Systemically the work is used to look at space colonization, but that is a byproduct of space industrialization.  Looking at space materials as resources that can be owned, utilized and put into a manufacturing system yields up a system that is well suited to capitalism and is actually a destroyer of the economics of scarcity for tens if not hundreds of generations and, possibly, forever.  This is not due to altruism or having items being 'the property of all mankind', which is a meaningless phrase, but due to the fact that things like moons, moonlets, asteroids and comets are akin to islands in an ocean and islands can be found, explored, inhabited and have their resources utilized.  What that means is that uninhabited resources can be claimed, owned and become something that will gain a steward for it so that it is utilized to the best interests of the steward.

The greatest resource base for the planet Earth's population is its Moon.  Once you can get past the gravitational hold of the Earth-Moon system the next closest things (by energy use, not distance) are asteroids as they have little gravity and can be exploited for productive purposes with minimal energy (financial and energy) costs.  This is an open-ended system, by and large, and while some things may be in short supply, that is only a signal for someone to find and bring back more of it, not to ration it or use it as a political football for, as soon as you do, then an even higher premium is put on that material and you will get independent actors seeking it in greater number.  Do remember that the Nation is based on the family, the State based in society, and that those who place down on an asteroid, create it into hospitable living space, and then inhabit it are then qualified to be their own Nation and have their own State.  That is all it takes to do this: fine uninhabited land, make habitation on it, declare the Nation and create the State to run it.  That is how it works on Earth and the vacuum of space can have no owners just as the free seas cannot, either.

Corrupt capitalism and Marxism both play upon scarcity and State power and require that there is no real way for individuals to escape the grasp of the State.  Usually there are death threats involved at some point.  Space is a great leveler between the individual and the State as, to keep everyone alive, everyone must agree to running it, even when there is private property everyone loses if there is one person who seeks to kill them by interrupting the system that keeps everyone alive.  Exercising police power in space is fraught with much more danger to the enforcers, as well as those it is enforced upon, with ultimate and terminal consequences for its misuse to all.  You cannot be both authoritarian and drive down basic education to political dogma as it gets you killed.  Not indirectly, mind you, but directly as the very incompetence that politicized politics inculcates is also its doom in a direct fashion as there is no ready biosphere to fall back upon to get a 'dark age'.  The dark of space is absolute, ultimate and terminal in short order.

Beyond the SF community, energy sector, and general non-crony capitalists who aren't State controlled, who else is a backer of space exploration for the good of mankind?

You would think that, by their anti-pollution rhetoric, that environmentalists would fit that bill.


It moves energy gathering and industries out of the biosphere both reducing pollution, increasing productivity and utilizing solar fusion power without the wasteful intermediary of an atmosphere and slowly rotating planetary mass which limits the amount of sunshine you can gather.  Earth based solar energy has high overhead, low amounts of energy per square meter, and high costs to produce (both energy-wise and in raw materials as silica requires high heat to be reformed into something useful).  If you know or are an environmentalist, then space exploration is a touchstone issue: if you claim no harm to your fellow man and just want a cleaner environment, then space exploration will yield that as a long-term end.  The same is with planetary bound nuclear power from Gen III and Gen IV reactor types that are inherently safe by design.  Any environmentalist that is not pro-space or pro-nuclear is one that is seeking government control over energy resources and industry with its high overhead and concentration of power in the political realm via the State.  To put it bluntly: environmentalists who seek huge regulatory schemes to control the energy sector and industry are Marxists or corrupt/crony capitalists.  The goal of reducing pollution of all sorts is one that should be over-riding to all environmentalists and it should drive to the conclusion that the most efficient means of production with the lowest overhead cost and greatest yield for human freedom is space exploration done by corporations and individuals.

Who else should be in the pro-space movement?  The high tech sector.


Space resources offer low overhead, low cost to gather raw materials on a scale unheard of at any point in Earth's history for anything.  And not just silica and rare earth elements used for semi-conductors, but iron, nickel, platinum, iridium, helium-3 (produced by the sun and a good resource for fusion), water, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon... not just the building blocks of industry but via asteroids with high light element content with CHON, the building blocks of life itself.  Everything that is necessary to not just create a remotely operated vehicle system for mining and exploration, but to build the necessary human habitations is cheaply available once you get to orbit.  A system of lunar materials gathering with mass driver to send materials into Earth orbit to be utilized by a set of refineries that would capture all of the materials from the lunar regolith would then yield all the necessary materials for life and to build more refineries and the first space factory.  The input cost is an orbiting refinery to melt regolith and capture materials and a small scale factory to fashion new parts.  New parts that can be for a human habitation.  New parts for a solar collection system to beam low energy density to a rectenna array on Earth for low cost solar power.  New parts for a new refinery.  New parts for another mining system.  New parts for another and larger factory.  All of it run on solar power directly from the sun as that includes heat that can be simply concentrated by mirrors as thin as a sheet of mylar to do the melting of lunar materials.

Environmentalists are proving out not to be backers of cleaning up the environment but of controlling mankind via government, by and large.  No one can point to an environmentalist space movement.

You can, however, point to a high tech space movement.

Blue Origin started up by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

SpaceX formed up by Elon Musk of Paypal.

Scaled Composites formed up by Burt Rutan pioneer of aviation and avionics for long-term sustained flight working with Virgin Galactic founded by Sir Richard Branson founder of Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records and Virgin Megastores.

Armadillo Aerospace with John Carmack software game designer.

Space Adventures started up by Eric C. Anderson of Analytic Graphics.

To name a few.  Of most interest is the next one, Planetary Resources in which Eric C. Anderson is a co-founder as they have established themselves with a press release that starts out with the following:

Seattle, Wash. – April 24, 2012 Planetary Resources, Inc. announced today its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.

Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually. The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious metals found on asteroids and provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth.

A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

In the midst of our economic doldrums started and perpetuated by the move towards the regulatory State, the stepping stone between capitalism and Marxism, the death-knell of Marxism is being clearly proposed.

Space exploration is that death as it offers the pathway to the most efficient means to create a new platform for humanity that is unlimited in scope and impossible to control via the regulatory State.

It offers the way forward towards demolishing scarcity economics by offering the pathway towards cheap and affordable energy, the lowering of the cost per item for hardened electronics (electronics immune to EMP and CME as that is a pre-requisite for space flight), and a way to uplift all of mankind's material wealth at the lowest possible cost to the greatest possible benefit.  Will some people get enormously rich from this?  I damned well hope so!  For if you thought the modern age of micro-electronics has expanded the cellphone out to the Bushmen of the Kalihari as a neat thing, just wait to you see what happens when this is done for energy production, distribution, and goods production on a solar system scale.

Marxism is all about scarcity, power and control concentrated into the hands of the very few elites.

Capitalism is about freedom, unlimited boundaries, and making things to benefit the greatest number at the lowest cost so you can sell a lot of it.

Space Capitalism is the future of mankind.

Because Marxism is its death and I think a good whiff of the grave it has intended for all of humanity will be sobering enough to force us to step away from it not just for ourselves but our children.

Got a debt greater than all the economies of the planet, combined?

Want a way to pay it off?

Then its time to get more resources flowing into the economy than the entire planet has, now, isn't it?

It's either that or death.

Unbounded freedom for all with everyone picking up their part of the workload and profiting from their liberty.

Or tyranny leading to the extinguishment of mankind as a species via Marxism.

Its a scary universe out there.

But nothing so scary as the grave of tyrannical utopia.

The choice is yours.

Best choose quickly as your time and life are running very short now and the choice between the stars of forever or the bars of final imprisonment for all of mankind is your choice to make.  The future can be yours and freedom for mankind perpetual if you dare to grasp it. 

The way forward is already mapped out by Gerard K. O'neill, the hard work is left up to us.

04 April 2012

10 Minutes Into The Future

I thank my lady for the title of this article! It was and is apt.


For many the concept of cyberpunk dystopianism was first introduced in Max Headroom, seen in the Max Headroom series on ABC from MAR 1987 to MAY 1988.  With fourteen shows produced, 13 were aired in the US and the 14th was aired as part of the Australian run of the series. It is a blended-season program much like The Prisoner by Patrick McGoohan which ran 17 episodes. Both programs had a first and second season squashed into a limited production run.  Max Headroom had an abbreviated first season and second season while The Prisoner was scheduled for a second season but had that cut and McGoohan wanted to wrap up the entire thought schema in one season a bit longer than normal.

Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future was a tv-movie in the UK, and the tagline '20 Minutes into the Future' was seen at the start of each episode of the series. Many of the elements seen in Max Headroom draw their lineage through cinematic productions of dystopian futures.  The most notable of them is Blade Runner (1982) directed by Ridley Scott, and the entire look of the city of Network 23 and Max Headroom could fit seamlessly into that dystopian future without missing a beat.  The same low level social dynamics of a post-futuristic world gone to ruin is part and parcel of both, down to fires in oil drums and the real lack of cars at street level.  So, too, are the social interactions between levels of society similar from the highest corporate level (Dr. Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner and Ped Xing in Max Headroom) through the techno-geniuses that support them (J. F. Sebastian in Blade Runner and Bryce Lynch in Max Headroom) all the way down to the lowest level operatives of Matt Deckard and Edison Carter, who are the draw and appeal for their differences in being perhaps not human and more than just human both at the same time although in starkly different ways.  One can picture Matt Deckard confronting Roy Batty and then having Edison Carter land in on the confrontation with the help of Blank Reg and Big Time Television.

For all of that there are other precursors to cyberpunk television beyond just Blade Runner, although it hands off so many visual cues that the relationship is hard to miss. What makes it distinct from the 1980 made for TV movie Brave New World, is that the Aldous Huxley dystopianism is one of anti-septic neatness which is reflected by the anti-septic nature of thinking.  That world is a world which, however, bears resemblance to both Blade Runner and Max Headroom in that books are absent not because they are repressed or destroyed, like in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 which was made into a BBC film in 1966, but because they are unwanted by a population now beyond learning.  Like in Fahrenheit 451, however, television now plays that central role which makes for the dystopian Max Headroom vision, and it is far more powerful than the multi-wall arrangements in Bradbury's work and closer to the Big Brother two-way dystopia of Orwell's 1984.  Much of the television movie adaptation in 1954 or the regular movie adaptation of 1984 in 1956 carries through as cinematic reminders in later works, often with the stark external scenery updated to cast a pall in colors that are dark and muted in modern works, of which Max Headroom takes part.  Coming from that lineage of Big Brother, two-way television, corporations blending into the State, and the removal of knowledge media from the world, Max Headroom gives us a glimpse of the cyberpunk pathway.  This is a pathway that has an endpoint in other films like Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) complete with mohawk haircuts and lots of leather jackets and leggings.

It is amazing to think that in the span of 1979 to 1982 the entire cyberpunk dystopian future was encapsulated visually and thematically with the decaying and corrupt State with corporatism (and one can't help but see Rollberball (1975) as a precursor to this). From a 1984 collapse through the time of Max Headroom and Blade Runner is a part of this arc.  After that then goes through a further decay because they depend on resources that are failing, until the world falls into complete ruin in Mad Max and Mad Max 2.  The relatively anti-septic dystopian vision of an Aldous Huxley requires a system that is, itself, so highly dependent upon automation and resources that it cannot last. The enforced ignorance and numbing of the senses are preludes to the ideas later reviewed by other dystopian works,the outcome of which gets a transition phase seen in A Clockwork Orange (1971) where Anthony Burgess juxtaposes wartime lack of morality with everyday life and puts them together.  Stanley Kubrick in many ways sets the tone for the later dystopian works in that film to show a highly decadent society with highly authoritarian State on the verge of internal collapse as the State comes to embrace barbarism fully.  In Max Headroom those who see such barbarism are in the minority, but have Edison Carter to intrepidly risk life and limb to get the story of how the corporate world and utilization of State power by Network 23 is going wrong.

If there is anything that Max Headroom does represent it is that cry against the dying of the light, the collapse of the civilized State into its corporatist system which is, itself, not sustainable without a civilized population at its core.  That State has already removed the off-switch from televisions and utilize two-way technology to track ratings and, thusly, power.  Blood games (ala Rollerball) are not embraced while shrugging off the deaths of citizens due to commercials is seen by the new generation of elites as the price to pay for ratings.  From that and the body banks, lifted nearly directly from Larry Niven's Known Space works, comes a lowered valuation of life even when the birth of a baby is still seen as a special event even though the backdrop of the life that child will have is a grim one.  This is dystopian fiction with a bite to it and the slow degradation of man to becoming viewer in the hands of the media is one that begins to overwhelm, indeed not just co-opt but buy out, the State.  The adoring media of the Left today becomes the controlling media of politics and society tomorrow.  Big Brother is Network 23, indeed Orwell only lacked putting the BBC behind Big Brother to complete that circle in 1984.

For all of the darkness of a world sliding into Mad Max realms, there are glimmers of a future that doesn't need to be this bad.  First and foremost is that the Tyrell Corporation, Big Brother nor the Fordian State of Brave New World all lacked an older cohort that remembers not just ethics but displays them.  In this Network 23 has a person that is unlike all the others in a position of power in those dystopian futures: someone who has qualms about what he has helped to create and sees it as toxic.  That person is not Edison Carter, per se, nor Theora Jones his controller to get him to stories, nor Murray their producer, all of which are front-line functionaries to the programming for live shows which can be replaced or interjected at a moment's notice.  That person who is so different is Ben Cheviot who demonstrates ethical underpinnings in pulling lethal commercials and allows for the complicity of Network 23 working to get blood sports into the line-up even against the pull of ratings. For all the fun (or not so fun) parts shown for everyone else in the system, Ben Cheviot has a keen awareness of just what can and cannot be done to start showing the problems of the system that he has helped to promote.  Edison Carter would be a top, and soon dead, journalist as seen in the first program if not for Ben Cheviot willing to back him against the rest of Network 23's interests of the moment. While Ben Cheviot got to the Board of Directors of Network 23 he must have demonstrated competence and ability to deal with competitors to a large degree as it is a cut-throat position just to be on that board.  By having a better 'feel' for viewership and how ratings work, he is able to become the Chairman of the Board and allows Edison Carter to start showing the underbelly of Network 23, the State and corporations... because it is good for ratings.  Ethics sells.  Ethics are power when chained to moral certainty.

Edison Carter, Theora Jones, Murray, Blank Reg and others also show this form of moral certainty and ethics that go with them.  In many ways Blank Reg (a Blank is someone who has gotten themselves erased from all records to be truly free) lives that life of moral and ethics, live or die, continually and is an energetic force to be reckoned with.  Although pirate station Big Time Television may not get the ratings, it does work a wedge into television of an older sort that he still remembers.  In this way Blank Reg is the counter-part to Ben Cheviot, although the two could never be mistaken, their firm standing upon what they see as right and wrong is not only similar but their requirements have put them in crucial positions on either side of the Network/public divide in which the State is part of the Network.  Blank Reg isn't just hitting at the television level but at the level of a Blank, which is to say trying to get people to actually ingest more than television as part of their thought processes.  Like Brave New World books aren't burned, just not circulated or used, they are seen as relics of a past long gone and no longer needed.  Yet it is Blank Reg who tries to get people interested in reading (are they even literate anymore?) and touts books as 'a non-volatile storage media... you should have one'.  In our modern age of e-readers what will become of books?  Not text on screen but printed books?  That non-volatile storage media is immune to EMP and CME effects, they will survive them while your e-reader, your PC, your laptop, the servers that serve up text, and the rest of the modern infrastructure goes away.  Hardcopy back-up can be burned but cannot be erased, cannot be changed once printed, and if carefully tended can last many life times.  Your PC is obsolete the day you buy it.  Ditto your cellphone and all other digital media.

The people of that digital media are represented by Bryce Lynch, late teen techno-nerd, and his work for Network 23.  Bryce is somewhat detached from the goings-on around him and in his own self-created world of technology.  He is more than willing to create commercials that kill (although only as a side-effect of those who no longer exercise ANY), more than able to take a brain-dump of Edison Carter for the old Chairman of the Board to protect him, and then willing to help Edison Carter at various points throughout the program.  In many ways a family style dynamic between Edison, Theora, Bryce and Ben form, although it is very underplayed it does have effects on Bryce to both humanize him and show that he does care about people close to him.  He takes part in the creation of digital personalities from direct brain dumps, starting with his pet parrot (who shows up in the first episode and then is replaced by a screen of the digital parrot thereafter in its cage) and ending with Edison Carter which yields the namesake of the show: Max Headroom.

Max Headroom is only tangentially the star of his own program, with Edison Carter (the source for Max's altered ego) being the real one.  Max is a completely digital being (although there were no digital effects when the series was produced to make him, so it was done through SFX with make-up and only a digital background done for later episodes) who is born in the lab of Bryce Lynch.  Max's home is the Network 23 internal network which has external feeds to two-way televisions.  Thus Max starts out with the ability to grow in capability and, when he is threatened with erasure, he can leave Network 23 for the rest of the external system.  Max, as Edison's altered ego with far fewer inhibitions, is in turns smarmy, insightful, comical and devious and a total creature of the Network ratings system.  Yet he is also its critic beyond mere critique, as he asks what are the effects of this visual pap that is pushed out to the world at large? 

For all of the sometimes juvenile humor of Max, he is also a person that grows beyond that rather shallow exterior of head and shoulders, giving insightful questions into the nature of authority, television, the State and the human condition.  While he may no longer remember much of what it feels like to have a body, Max Headroom grows into this larger system that gives him more than a physical presence and one that is at once as omniscient as Big Brother and as limited as the humor of a teenager.  Scary in one regard, yes, but he does not have a controlling nature and is as irrepressible, and yet open, as Edison Carter.  For an altered ego he is still learning about the Id and Super Ego, those parts necessary to create a solid moral view with ethics and compassion.  That he has that capability and shows it is beyond any doubt, because Edison Carter has them.  That these are skewed by his environment is also without a doubt as Max Headroom is at once more and far less than human, and for all the faux humbleness of a game show host he often displays real doubts about himself and who he is.

So if, when the show was aired, it was 20 minutes into the future where is it now?

My lady answered 10 minutes and she is absolutely right on that in many ways.

What would it take to subvert the modern Internet into a purveyor of Network 23 (and other networks in the power grab)?  The answer is very little: a government power grab in support of television over other forms of communication, probably done by 'emergency measure' as is hinted at in 1984.  Two-way television is, essentially, here in many regards but to be truly controlled as is seen in 1984 or Max Headroom would require a wholesale change of television sets... without off buttons.  And as the Internet now is part of the cellphone network, it would also control your two-way digital phone as they already do for emergency tracking.  Adjust the software and the 'off button' goes away.  As a 'government emergency' requires control of information, any information deemed 'subversive' or 'anti-government' will be removed as 'dangerous speech'.  Like the blog post you are reading.

To be clear the Internet is a threat to centralized power as it is a distributed, shared set of networks (a network of networks) that works via a set of common address standards.  Any government that can get a hold of the address look-up tables can, quite literally, partition the networks from each other.  By blocking off entire blocks of networks and then screening them, speech and thought that isn't sanctioned is restricted.  What happens after that is a promulgation of 'sanctioned' software that only allows for connections to sanctioned blocks of the network.  Like Network 23 and its cohorts in Max Headroom.  With that said there is a set of hacker skills that has permeated society as, from the very first episode, we see that Theora (Edison's controller for live feeds) has skills to get past common and everyday computer security not only inside Network 23 but outside of it as well.  In contrast Murray, members of the Board of Network 23 and various others do not have such skills to any great extent, but members of the Blank community do as it is a survival necessity.  Edison Carter has rudimentary security skills, mostly to deal with physical security, and his friends also have a range of skills from simple deception of security systems to skills close to those of Bryce Lynch.   

Getting around security blocks to get information is one of the skills necessary in the newsroom, necessary to criminals, necessary to the Blanks and only the elites can do without even the basics of them.  In a post-Internet segmented world the ability to get around the segmentation and through security routines: the very security that the Networks and others seem to think they need make common trespass against such systems widespread not out of malice but to just get work done and no one thinks anything is wrong about it.  Even when they go after the most secure records, it is done with an acknowledgement that there are penalties, but nothing morally wrong about it.  Pervasive security doesn't make anything more secure and, contrarily, makes going against security measures common place.  For all the security that Network 23 and others seek, they just add complexity to getting around such measures and get no real security against the mildly determined.

At the top of this realm is Max, although he is unskilled at security circumvention he is born directly into this cyberworld.  He can and does run afoul of security measures, yes, but he also demonstrates an ability to move from network to network, area to area, building to building without much regard for who owns what or what security measures they have in place.  If the centralized network headquarters are bastions of security, the outlying network is a hodge-podge of everything from insecure televisions to relatively secure private systems.  And make no mistake about it, in the world of Max Headroom all security is relative and no one has planned on a sentient cyber entity moving through systems, which raises a whole question of just what is security to such a being?

The physical problems of any of the relatively advanced, that is to say further along in the timeline of decay, worlds that are represented by the generic continuum that coalesced in the late 1970's and early 1980's is one that comes quickly to our civilization once basic maintenance and upkeep can no longer continue.  Cities like Gary, IN and Detroit, MI starkly show how entire sections of cities can go to ruin in less than a decade through depopulation alone.  The hints in Blade Runner and Max Headroom of A Clockwork Orange style elitist inculcation of barbarism leading to decay and retribution would leave our current physical infrastructure in such ruins as seen in those worlds.  Even with such relatively minor organizations (or lack thereof) like the current OWS movement (backed by Unions, socialists, communists and anarchists) the decay inside those encampments has shown rapes, murders and the spread of communicable diseases that are at a first point on a decay continuum.  If the goal of those backers is to get city blocks set ablaze with radical and relatively pointless intent and violence, then the dystopian continuum at A Clockwork Orange will be set and in place.  It is but a short transition through a 1984 regime that then seeks to restore some order and, lacking that, collapses back to corporatism of a Blade Runner or Max Headroom style outcome. 

This outcome is not hard to get to, at all, and while those who seek power may think they can get it permanently, what they actually get is transient power as no centralized system can run a complex world.  The problem in bringing on the moral and ethical decay necessary to get to that point is that it cannot and will not stop at the lowest levels, no matter how many are killed in the attempt, because the decay has already started by those who brought it on.  When you welcome in barbarism as a means to an end you don't find yourself civilized once you have done so as you have let go of the very support of civilization necessary to be civilized.  In the world of Max Headroom there is a desperate attempt to retain and spread the necessary morality and ethical backing is being done by a very few at Network 23.  We never learn much of how the world got to the point of the Max Headroom world, which points to just how unpleasant the transition was.

The trick is not to get to that point in the first place and to retain civilized habits and remind our fellow citizens of those necessary habits and costs to oneself as the price to have a technological civilization.  Civilization isn't free, and your freedom is without price.