Sunday, September 20, 2009

vision number 1

So I recently re-read the originating post of this blog and it reminded me I'd given myself a specific format to work with: visions of the future.

Therefore let me attempt to describe, in present-tense, one or two pleasant facts that can be true if we decide we want them.

It is the year 2020 - eleven years after this blog post is written.

Nonprofit organizations have succeeded in creating open-source reputation systems that clearly connect selfish entities like corporations with their responsibilities in ways the marketplace fails to go. It was an enormous uphill climb, battling against the ideology of money-as-bottom-line.

To be sure, human psychology has not changed, or has barely changed if at all. Every person is capable of behaving generously, lovingly, hatingly, stingily. There are still some whose primary source of motivation is monetary gain, and these people still hold quite a bit of power (because they tend to amass it in the form of currency).

In other words, the desire to give to others has not been diminished or increased. But rather the path toward giving to others has been made easier by the development of free, easily-accessible technology. Knowledge is power, knowledge is intelligence, knowledge is effectiveness. Tools like and paved the way for this integration of knowledge, and slowly, imperceptibly at first, corporations started finding it more difficult, more costly to cover up their mistakes and misdeeds.

After those tools were released, more and more new pieces were added to the toolset. Trustability algorithms evolved and changed and complexified and nestled themselves into tight niches or expanded and exploded across the world as standards and began chewing the data.

No amount of public relations footwork could compete with the steady, calm aggregation of data.

Finally it was just too much for the old systems to handle. Here and there, in localized pockets of the corporate world, investors were beginning to scowl when CEOs talked about their growing PR/propaganda budgets. In a few cases emails turned up with variations on the same question: "wouldn't it just be cheaper to clean the bloody problem up instead?"

The average decided to dedicate 1% of his or her money to supporting companies who went beyond providing good products and also could boast that their very existence was helping twenty thousand people keep their stomachs full.

1% was only the average. Some true zealots went so far as to vow to spend 100% of their expenses on companies that boasted grade-A report cards in the new accountability systems. It wasn't even difficult, really. Snap a photo of your grocery cart, and your sustainability coach could tell you that your grocery karma had improved by 5%. Tried and true crowdsourced conversion indexes could tell you this was the equivalent of providing shelter to seven people on an ongoing basis, for as long as your shopping habits stayed this way.

All of this technological progress, and the resulting trickle of compassion through the hitherto-clogged pipes, created the conditions to shift 5% of weapons industry revenue away from the production of consumable munitions (bullets, bombs, missiles, etc). Considering that one dollar's worth of consumable munitions translates into fifty dollars worth of damage to existing infrastructure ...

The net balance (less money spent on weapons, less money spent on repairs) meant that effectively 250% of the 2009 global expenditure on consumable munitions was diverted to production of food-distribution services, ending world hunger.

The weapons industry was certainly one of the hardest hit (because of its tight association with low-scoring companies in the reputation matrix). Newspapers proclaimed that by 2015, approximately 2% of automotive industry revenues were now directly funding the construction of windmills.

Of course the system's decisions were the collective decisions of its individual members. A second invisible hand, swayed not just by point-of-sale production efficiency but also global-totality production desirability. So when we say that the accountability system decided that windmill production was an acceptable way to earn passing marks in the world society, we really mean that a critical mass of its users showed a tendency to bump that company up a notch in their voting, if they saw that the company had a good windmill program going.

We can also say that when the accountability system (AS) decided to push windmills, the corporate system listened because the AS spoke in money, the only language the corporate system could parse and act upon. And it changed.

And the massive manufacturing capability and mechanical genius of the auto industry was partially refocused on creating the machines to turn wind into energy.

Everyone agrees things feel pretty good now that everyone's fed and we're only 40 years away from having enough wind power generation capability to cover all our needs.

Best of all, those pesky, guilt-tripping sponsor-a-starving-child-in-Sudan ads are long gone. But on the other hand, and more annoyingly, when our kids don't eat their peas we sigh, remembering how easy it was for our parents to say "you eat that, there are starving children in Africa who would love to have that."


  1. It would be nice if when people were buried in data they cared to use it. There is a nihilistic apathy gripping Americans. We need a creed, a memeplex, a common direction before we will allow ourselves to be distracted from the milieu of information we are presented that claims to be just as important and just as meaningful as any that would shift the market to what you described. We need values before data. Still a good 2020 aspiration.

  2. We have values. A man toured the US a few years back, walked up to random strangers' houses, and asked for a glass of water. He performed the experiment hundreds of times, and was barely ever turned away.

    People are good and want good things. And if doing good is as easy as giving a stranger a glass of water, it gets done.