Monthly Archives: July 2016

Why Amanda Palmer matters


Bear with me, here, for a bit.   What, you ask, is Amanda (F!@#$%) Palmer doing on an obscure minor blog about Peak Everything and the possible/probable collapse of an increasingly complex industrial civilization and extreme climate change?

OK, first things first, as they say (i.e., full disclosure).   I met her ages ago, and actually have had a few  conversations with her about some of the things that are discussed here on a regular basis.   She’s actually written her own bit about it (a long time ago), after she saw a talk by the very level headed Richard Heinberg.  She is one of the hardest working and driven people I’ve ever met.   She’s probably met a few hundred thousand people by now, and my guess is that she’s made friends with a lot of them.   She’s even written a book, and yes, even done a TED talk.

That’s not the important part here; the important part is that we need people like this to lead.

Why, you ask, should we listen to an eccentric artist, ask her to take charge, run for office, make policy, or give advice?  Shouldn’t we be asking people with experience in governance, technocrats and the like to take the reins of power?  We’ve done that already, and to be frank – those folks haven’t done a great job, partly because many of them have never lived close to the ground, nor have they had to actually interact with people and convince them to do something without the threat of force or the law.

Some observations here:

One – people who are artists have known the daily grind of eking out a living.  For years, the part that kept Amanda fed was the business of being a living statue, while she honed her craft as an artist and musician.  When the time came to actually be a full-time musician (with another incredibly talented and hard working musician, Brian Viglione), they put in countless hours on the road, and more importantly, made real-life connections to their fans, who wound up having (and giving) deep and honest support to them.   When people wondered how Amanda got her million-dollar attention on Kickstarter, it was years of meeting, talking, and connecting with people that laid the groundwork for that.   Performers know how to connect with people.

Two – she, like other leaders, knew how to delegate, but also knew when to step in.  There were some legendary events held at the Cloud Club, her domicile and the residence of quite a few other eccentric and creative characters.   These were not simple affairs or just parties; there were multiple acts; films, performances and artwork.   As someone who pitched in from time to time, it was interesting to watch how those events took place.  If you’ve ever worked backstage for any sort of production, you know how complex these sorts of things can become.  There were other events in the art/performance community in that era, and it always appeared to me that the hallmark of smooth running events was delegation of work, and the ability of the hosts (leaders) to attract responsible people to help pitch in and get things done.   At the same time, when push came to shove, and mission critical choices had to be made (live shows and events always have glitches, even the best planned ones), they were done, and the show(s) went on.

Three – Probably most importantly, The Brigade.  One of the hallmarks of the Dresden Dolls (the band that Amanda and Brian formed) was a culture of creativity and engagement that accompanied and complimented the “regular” show performance.   This wasn’t audience participation in the Rocky Horror Picture Show kind (throw things at the screen) of vein, but something more; a way for people to bring their own creativity forward.  An old FAQ of what the Brigade did (required reading if you want the full gist of things) has this essential piece of commentary, Amanda hatched the idea to make the experience much more than “watching the band play.”   The key bit here was that people should stop being purely passive receivers of art, but active participants in its creation, at whatever level they felt comfortable.  Some might consider this to be a modern version of those who used to follow the Grateful Dead or Phish, but to call the participants in the Brigade fans wouldn’t be quite on the mark.  There was more of a direct connection, and a desire for the audience to become more than an audience; “We want the Brigade to be more than people getting dressed up for a Dresden Dolls show.”

Sure, she has an ego and a penchant for performance – that’s part of being an artist.  Will you agree with everything she has said and done?  Of course not; do you agree with everything even your closest friends has done?   Being in the public eye, alas, is a tricky business, and double edged sword.  If you’ve got 1.1+ million twitter followers, any comment that isn’t perfectly tweaked is going to amplified, and certainly not agreed with by everyone.  This, of course, it the reason George Clooney has said he’d never join it ( “I like to have a drink at night,” … “I could easily say something stupid, and I also don’t think you need to be that available.“).

In our strange future, good leaders who can bring disparate forces together are going to be required.  Some of us will be loyal lieutenants and sappers, doing the engineering/engine room work, making the little pieces come together, and ensuring essential infrastructure stays intact (things like communications, safety, sanitation).   Some of us will lead small teams.   We all, for sure, will need to get involved in this world and our nation, rather than being passive audience members.  We will certainly need grand leaders, however, and unconventional ones at that.  They may come from a wide variety of backgrounds.   Amanda Palmer is that sort of person.   We should be on the lookout for such folks; people who can command without being sociopaths, who can lead without coercion, and who understand the reality of the world.

Who knows?  Amanda Palmer for President?


This week’s questions:

  • What are some of the characteristics of good leaders?  Of bad ones?
  • From where else would we get a new breed of leaders?  Might we select our leaders and representatives via lot, as was done in ancient Greece?
  • Do you think we would do any worse with artists and other non-technocrats as leaders?   Ronald Reagan (love or hate him; I wasn’t too keen on him), knew how lead, or at least set the tone for a worldview.
  • It is said that people who want to be president automatically disqualify themselves from the office.   How do we get good people to lead?
  • Cincinnatus is the template for leaders who do the job of solving a society’s problems, and then go back to their old lives (a topic for another day).   Do we have any examples of that in modern society?   Would artists and others from different worlds be more or less likely to follow this lead?

Transitioning to Feudal Democracy


Attribution: Wikimedia (Farmers in the delivery of their taxes to the landlords. Woodcut)

About a year ago, the post After Democracy was put up.  It put forth the idea of ‘feudal democracy’, in that in a resource constrained world, we might have to rigidly define both rights and responsibilities in order to have any semblance of democracy going forward.  The end line of that post was “A transition to ‘feudal democracy’ will be a pretty tricky business.”

How would such a transition happen, actually?  People in power aren’t going to give their privileges and power up easily, nor, will they most likely ask for further oversight.  Nor will most people, living lives of relative luxury (hot showers, food everywhere, clean water, readily available medical care, massive amounts of entertainment), sign up for more restrictions, or for more responsibilities and hard work.

The advent of fossil fuels led to some amazing technological inventions; telegraph, telephone, radio, television, incredibly cheap and fast travel, the Internet.   It also allowed the population to grow at an unsustainable rate.  At the same time, power could be more centralized, and therefore, fewer people could run herd over many more.

Sadly, it seems that to reset our governance structure would require an entire reboot of society, and perhaps at a lower population level as well.  Of course, this is where science fiction/post-apocalyptic/post-collapse fiction starts to come into play, and the list of possibilities is endless.

One difference in a rebooted society (say, of a more limited population, even 100 million worldwide) is that we would still retain most of the core science and technologies (electricity, basic medicine, navigation, radio, refrigeration), but their continued existence might be in doubt, due to system interdependence.   Also, there’s that pesky problem of 400+ nuclear reactor sites that need electricity to keep their waste pools cool.  So, if, and only if, some basics remain in place, we might be able to transition to such a more “feudal” democracy.


  • Is this too dark?  Could we get a ‘Bill of Responsibilities’ with a ‘Bill of Rights’, even in modern America?  Could this happen in a smaller country?
  • Is culture the barrier here?   A country like the US is just too big, and filled with too many cultures, it appears, for something like to get off the ground.  The US constitution was designed in an age where communication (and decision making) was slow, and people were generally self-sufficient.   The population of the US in 1790 was only 3.9 million!
  • As much as technological solutions are looked at with a dim eye here, what if a true replicator technology (Star Trek style) became available, and/or along with cheap space travel (not talking warp drive here, just off the planet)?  Would that give people enough room, both economically and literally, to experiment with such ideas?   Or relatively simple technologies to allow people to more easily live on the sea floors?

Rule of Law


Well, Ms. Clinton is off the hook again, and after a stern dressing down by the director of the FBI, no charges will be filed against her for the email scandal.    The fact that folks up the food chain have no consequences to seemingly any of their actions is becoming more apparent every day.  Politicians go free, bankers do no jail time.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican; so long as you have some sort of status/pull/celebrity/power, the laws don’t seem to apply.

It has always been ironic that the “scales of justice” represent the rule of law.   The ‘law’ can be tweaked, twisted, and modified to suit whoever is in power.  A true physical scale,  however, is bound by the laws of gravity and mechanics, and no amount of cajoling can change a true scale.

In a cartoon a long time ago, an anthropomorphized mountain, thought these (or similar) words, after an avalanche was caused by passing hikers (who were a bit annoying):

“Natural justice is swift, merciless, and without appeal.”

The truly unfortunate part about people who get away with things isn’t so much that they go free,  but that this sort of “we can do whatever we want, we can create our own reality” worldview can create havoc for the rest of us, who live in the real world, and who don’t have that ability flaunt the law.   At some point, however, you can’t keep cheating nature.  Even those high up will have to deal with the banquet of consequences caused by their inability to act rationally, and natural justice will be upon us again.

Scotty, from Star Trek once famously said, “I cannae change the laws of physics,” when his captain asked for the impossible.   This being Star Trek, of course, the problem at hand was solved, but in the real world things aren’t so easily done.



Rocks.  Not good for boats.  Attribution here.

This weekend, while on a short sailing jaunt in the local harbor, we heard a Mayday call over the radio.  Of course, sailors everywhere in the harbor perked up their ears, and although it might not have been a true Mayday (nobody was in danger of dying immediately; ‘Pan-Pan’ is usually reserved for such things), it certainly brought a bit of excitement to the day.  What had happened was that someone had tried to maneuver between two points on the edge of a peninsula (clearly marked on the charts), and ran aground.  Now, running aground isn’t trivial, but it generally isn’t life threatening, especially in a crowded harbor on a July 4th weekend, with  Coast Guard, state, and local law enforcement, as well as other boaters around, and fantastic, clear weather.

The next bit of conversation was a wee bit snarky, but it points out some interesting elements about technology.   My question to the leader of our group was,”So, was it a sailboat or a powerboat?”  The quick comeback – “What do you think?”

This isn’t to mean sailboats don’t get in trouble, or power boats are filled with incompetent sailors.  It would be interesting to see the statistics on time afloat and number of incidents, for size of boat, and mode of propulsion (wind only, wind/power, and power.   What was interesting about this interaction was that it reminded me of the hubris of power that comes with technology.   If  you have enough money, you can simply buy a power boat, a place to dock or trailer, and off you go.    With a sailboat, you can do the same, but you probably won’t go far (or will crash quickly) unless you get a lot of training under your belt first.    Sailboats require a far more intimate knowledge of the tides, currents, wind and navigation, whereas power boaters can ignore some of that (for a while, at least).   You can easily buy a powerboat that can do 35 knots, which can put you dangerously far away from shore, whereas in a sailboat, to do 8 knots, you usually have a much larger vessel.

In short – technology can let you do some great things, but when you get in trouble, you can really get yourself in trouble.


  • What other technological suites have similar goals, but can have enormous backlash effects?   Power boats and sailboats are one parallel set of technologies; cars and bicycles are another, for example.
  • Do you ever select a technology as to not get yourself in trouble (hand tools vs power tools)?
  • What is a good way to use technologies that have lots of leverage, but not get yourself in trouble?   Force yourself to use one technology at least one time out of ten, so you don’t lose track of that older, less fragile skill?