No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction

Welcome to the Internet

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“Could I interest you in everything all of the time?”

The song was only posted on YouTube in June but already has 56 million views.

Pure genius from this guy Bo Burnham.

Also scary. I can’t help thinking that when the histories of the Chinese Xi Snot pandemic are written, The Internet is going be a big part of the picture of hysteria.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 27, 2021 at 11:47 am

Dodging bullets

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You might think it difficult to dodge a bullet that’s traveling at 18,000 mph!

But it’s a lot easier when you’re also traveling at that speed.

The International Space Station (ISS) has had to change its orbit quite a few times over the last twenty years to avoid a collision with some piece of space junk, and it did so again again a few days ago:

Earlier this week, the International Space Station (ISS) was forced to maneuver out of the way of a potential collision with space junk. With a crew of astronauts and cosmonauts on board, this required an urgent change of orbit on November 11.

Over the station’s 23-year orbital lifetime, there have been about 30 close encounters with orbital debris requiring evasive action. Three of these near-misses occurred in 2020.

That last is a key point. As the article points out, things are getting more crowded in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and it’s not helped by what the Chinese did a few years ago:

This week’s incident involved a piece of debris from the defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite, destroyed in 2007 by a Chinese anti-satellite missile test. The satellite exploded into more than 3,500 pieces of debris, most of which are still orbiting. Many have now fallen into the ISS’s orbital region.

At these speeds even tiny particles can be lethal (Energy = Mass x Velocity2). In May this year the ISS was hit: a tiny piece of space junk punched a 5mm hole in the ISS’s Canadian-built robot arm, the junk was probably less than 1mm in size.

ISS over New Zealand

You would think people would learn. Even Hollywood has. In the 2013 SF thriller movie Gravity, the Space Shuttle, while servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, gets hit by debris created by the Russians testing an anti-satellite weapon against one of their own satellites, leaving Sandra Bullock’s astronaut character as the sole survivor who has to try and get back to Earth. It’s a 90 minute thrill ride of a movie, so long as you ignore things like orbital mechanics which would make it impossible to get from the Hubble orbit to the ISS with just a jetpack device!

Which brings us to the latest news, Russian anti-satellite missile test endangers space station crew:

An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted on Monday generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years, U.S. officials said.

The seven-member space station crew – four U.S. astronauts, a German astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts – were directed to take shelter in their docked spaceship capsules for two hours after the test as a precaution to allow for a quick getaway had it been necessary, NASA said.

I would think the two Russian cosmonauts may have a few choice words for their military compatriots when they return to Earth at the end of their mission.

It seems like a crazy thing for Russia to do, which has lead people to wonder if it’s connected with dodging bullets on Earth:

Satellite images released Nov. 8 showed an estimated 90,000 Russian troops gathered at the Ukrainian border, prompting House Republicans to petition President Biden to deploy troops to the region.

Belarus has been bringing illegal immigrants to Minsk and then sending them to the borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Turkey has shut down their airports for travelers from three Middle Eastern countries who want to travel to Belarus. NATO has condemned the situation.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 18, 2021 at 4:00 pm

To boldly go where many others have gone before

Well, by now a few hundred people anyway.

Space that is. The final frontier and all that.

Tomorrow in the USA, dreams will enter reality when probably the most famous spaceship commander – Captain James T. Kirk – will fly into space.

More precisely, the actor who portrayed him, William Shatner, will fly into space. For all of fifteen minutes of a fully automated, sub-orbital flight on the Blue Origin spacecraft and rocket.

Shatner will establish a couple of records. He’ll be the first actor to fly into space and the oldest person to do so at 90 years of age.

Of course this is all a publicity stunt for Blue Origin, which has badly lagged the likes of SpaceX in developing spacecraft and rockets, despite having the wealth and management nous of one of the planet’s richest men, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, behind it.

But it’s still fun to think that the guy who played one of the most famous SF characters in history, starting in the 1960’s, will actually go into the realm where he has played out so many fictional stories.

Good luck Captain.

Just one aside: James Lilek’s long-time blog, The Bleat, has some fun with this story:

What if he doesn’t come back?

Oh perish the thought, you say, but it’s possible. First of all, there’s the dark comic angle: a warning light goes off, the ship bucks, and you know everyone will instinctively look at him for guidance.

I would.

But Shatner dying in space would be an utterly unique end to a career that no one could’ve predicted back in the late 60s.

No, actually, they could have. When the show went off the air we were still on track to keep exploring, right? A space station soon, a moon base by the late 80s. Why, of course it would have been plausible for Shatner to die in a moon-shuttle accident in 2021.

If I were Shatner, and I was toting up the odds, I’d think: what if? Could happen. Will there by time to say something? If so, what?

There are several things he could say on the last transmission.

Live long and prosper?

Written by Tom Hunter

October 13, 2021 at 7:06 am

The undergraduate NRO

A couple of decades ago I read a SF story that had – as basically a throwaway commentary – a section on the future of private-sector Earth Observation satellites and national military security.

The concept was that in this future the planet was surrounded by so many such satellites generating vast quantities of imagery, that millions of people had taken up the hobby of scanning through the stuff looking for things that interested them, and that this included large numbers of people who simply loved looking to see what national militaries were up to around the globe.

The upshot was that in this future, national military forces found themselves more hemmed in than they had been in the days of military spying by the likes of the National Reconnaissance Office and their famous series of “KeyHole” spy satellites (plus whatever they have today).

That future is here now.

News recently broke that the Chinese were building new ICBM launch sites, adding to their nuclear arsenal for the first time in decades. While that was important news I just assumed that it had been discovered via the usual means of spy satellites and other intelligence gathering.

Not exactly:

The silos were spotted by Decker Eveleth, an undergrad at Reed College. He spent weeks poking around on satellite imagery until he happened upon the silos’ distinctive inflatable dome coverings. (Which, in turn, has led some people to describe them as “bouncy houses of death.”)

The reason he had something to “poke around” in was exactly as that old SF story described:

Planet Labs, however, created a new kind of small, low-cost imaging satellite and put up so many of them that it can take multiple pictures of every spot on Earth, every day. In this case, Planet had years’ worth of pictures of the area in question, and Eveleth was ready, willing and able to scour them pixel-by-pixel.

Moroever, once he had spotted this, he was able to get more detail:

Eveleth contacted Planet to see if they could use a larger breed of their satellites to take even higher-resolution pictures of the area with the domes. Planet could.

Lewis and Eveleth were able to log in to Planet’s service and see not just the domes but also trenches, for communications cables, leading out from underground facilities where the military likely has its launch operations. 

Naturally the Chinese denied the story, claiming it was a wind farm, until further evidence from Lewis and others shut down that propaganda. The US State Department said such a development was “concerning”. That comment made me wonder if they, the NRO and the US military and government already knew about this – given their spying capabilities and general interest in monitoring China’s military, you’d think they would – but had chosen to say nothing?

There’s more detail at the link, including a reference to New Zealand’s very own Rocket Lab company and the micro-satellite launches it has been doing. That last, in turn, brought me to this article; Rocket Lab launches secret payload from New Zealand:

After waiting out high winds, Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket launched a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from New Zealand, halfway around the world from the U.S. spy satellite agency’s headquarters.

That is just the latest of several such launches, which probably makes the Mahia peninsula a military target, as Paul Buchanan pointed out a couple of years ago in very interesting article on that subject, Launching Into Trouble?:

If the contract to deliver military payloads is solely and exclusively with the US, then Rocket Lab has painted a target on Launch Complex 1 in the event that the US becomes embroiled in a large-scale conflict with a major power. Even if it allows nations other than the US to launch military payloads on Electron boosters, Rocket Lab has made the Mahia Peninsula a target whether or not weapons satellites are launched from there. After all, the main use of smallsats is for surveillance, tracking, mapping and telecommunications, all of which are essential for the successful prosecution of contemporary wars. So even if smallsats launched from the Mahia Peninsula do not carry weapons on them, the site becomes a potential target.

In fact he questioned whether this was even legal under the Space Laws written up to allow RocketLabs to operate in the first place (New Zealand had no such laws because…. well, we’re NZ).

The question is whether there is a legal basis to permit or prohibit foreign military satellites, especially weaponised satellites, being launched from NZ soil with NZ technologies. I am unsure if that is the case one way or another and have heard of no parliamentary or ministerial discussion of the matter.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Technology: Good and Bad

Being a Science Fiction nerd I’ve always had a great interest in technology, the more advanced the better.

And if it’s silly as well then that’s even better (Douglas Adam’s be praised). And Gary Larson too.

Well guess what?

The frigging thing actually flies!

And then there’s shit technology, as represented by Google, Facebook and Twitter, who have apparently decided to go all in on the 2020 US election.

I can’t help thinking that the IT geniuses of Silicon Valley are so filled with hubris about their brains, skills and vast wealth that they have forgotten what can happen to companies, even in a democracy, when you so blatantly take a political side.

Over at Liberal law professor Ann Althouse’s blog, she’s had a gutsful, I’ve discontinued Google AdSense ads:

Email received today from Google was the last straw for me – In the last 24 hours:

New violations were detected. As a result, ad serving has been restricted or disabled on pages where these violations of the AdSense Program Policies were found. 

As she goes on to comment, these violations – labeled “Dangerous or derogatory content” by Google – were applied to comments in her blog either by here or by her readers quoting the following:

  • NYT columnist Charles Blow
  • Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic
  • An article by lawprof Sanford V. Levinson,

As she puts it:

I’m tired of checking to see what’s supposedly a violation. I get so many of these and they’re often posts that are nothing but a quote from a commentator in the NYT. But to see that the review didn’t okay these pages… it’s just mind-bending. I can’t waste my energy dealing with this bullshit.

And so say all of us.

Over one hundred years ago a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, went after the likes of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company with so-called Trust-busting acts the broke the companies up. Those laws are still on the books – and that’s assuming the European Union does not act first, as it has repeatedly against Microsoft over the years.

First in line defending American companies who were under such attacks have been Republican politicians. How much longer is that going to last in the face of this crap? At a minimum the thing that has protected the likes of Google and company as mere carriers of information – section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – may be on the chopping block.

Finally an exercise in genetics, the surface of which has only been scratched by our technology:

That’s a mashup photo of a grandmother (left side) with her grand daughter (right side). Incredible.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 15, 2020 at 10:49 am

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”

I could not think of a more perfect movie quote than that one, courtesy of Rutger Hauer – who basically wrote the dialog for the scene by himself – as I watched the following clip of San Francisco on YouTube.

Sure, Rutger’s speech, from the classic SF movie Blade Runner, is set in a grungy Los Angeles of 2019, but it fits even better here.

The original was made by one DoctorSbaitso and filmed using a DJI Ma vic Air 2 drone (and how 21st Century is that?), but this clip (2min) takes that footage and overlays it with the soundtrack from the sequel, Bladerunner 2049. Naturally the latter has more views because Art. Still, whoever DoctorSbaitso is he has more than a touch of the cinematographer about him.

NOTE: If the video doesn’t play from this blog, you can go directly to it here.

If you think that either I or the filmakers are stretching the comparison I invite you to look at this selection of photos comparing San Francisco in recent days with scenes from Blade Runner 2049.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 15, 2020 at 3:26 pm


On one comment thread the other day mention was made of the famous American scientist Carl Sagan, and I was reminded of a short film done in his honour a few years ago.

In 1994 he wrote a book called Pale Blue Dot, which was inspired by a picture taken in 1990 – at his behest – by the Voyager space probe, of the planets as it left the Solar System. An audio version of the book was produced and a section of it was basically a little speech he made about the human race and our future.

In 2015 a Swedish actor and playwright, Erik Wernquist, decided to use the modern power of computer CGI, a little inspiration from famous SF authors Stanley Robinson, Arthur C. Clarke and space artist Chesley Bonestell to craft a short video around the speech.

It is poetic and strange and beautiful, which I think we need right now.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 12, 2020 at 11:20 pm

The Seeds of 21st Century Socialism?

I’ll finish off this series on where Socialism might be going in the future by putting out an example of how thinking on capitalism may be changing with the generations.

Coming of age in the 1980’s meant passing through the world of Thatcher, Reagan and, here in New Zealand, Roger Douglas. A world of privatisation of government-owned businesses, deregulation and the general encouragement to get out there and make big bucks.

All of this was more than just a political moment. It was cultural as well. There were TV characters like Alex Keaton of Family Ties, who appalled his Baby Boomer, hippie-values parents with his Right-Wing, pro-business attitudes, as well as keeping a framed photo of Nixon beside his bed. The series was pitched to studio as “Hip parents, square kids“: some things never change. Then there were movies like Risky Business and The Secret of My SuccessWorking GirlTrading Places, among many others.

But the one that probably had the biggest impact was Wall Street in 1987, Oliver Stone’s acidic take on the 1980’s financial world. 

And of all the scenes in the movie it’s the following one that has stuck in people’s minds, as actor Michael Douglas chews up the scenery on his way to winning the Oscar for Best Actor as Gordon Gekko, giving the famous “Greed is Good” speech explaining to the stockholders of Teldar Paper exactly how the company’s management has screwed them over while creaming it themselves.

It certainly is a speech for the ages, and to the horror of Stone and Douglas, has resulted in countless people telling them over the years that it’s the reason they got into financial trading.

America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. 

2020: Hold my beer!

Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power,..

Sound familiar with any recent political rhetoric? Paens to an American past:
The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!
And in a strange way, perhaps because of Stone’s beliefs, he puts words into the mouth of a corporate raider that might have come from any enraged Socialist raging against the Rich: 
… you are all being royally screwed over by these,…. these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

… our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. 

A few years later in 1991, came a movie that I regard as superior to Wall StreetOther People’s Money. It never made as big an impact, perhaps because the moment had passed, it originally being a play written in 1987.

As in the former movie one of the key points occurs during a stockholders meeting as an old company, New England Wire & Cable, tries to fight off another corporate raider, this time Larry “The Liquidator“Garfield, played with deliciously brazen evil by Danny DeVito. 

There are two scenes here, the first where the Chairman of the Board, Andrew Jorgenson, played by the great Gregory Peck, pleads – in fact almost begs – the stockholders not to sell. Like Gordon Gecko he too appeals to a past America, but the nature of the appeal is different and I’ve always thought that Peck, in what would be his last prominent role, could have written the words himself, as one of the Old Guard Left in Hollywood who believed in FDR’s New Deal, most other Left-Wing causes and who was publicly appalled by the Age of Reagan.

There is the instrument of our destruction. I want you to look at him in all of his glory, Larry “The Liquidator,” the entrepreneur of post-industrial America, playing God with other people’s money. 

The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. 

So it’s not just corporate raiders making that appeal. But Jorgenson, calls out to something that Gekko does not.

God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters. 

And if we are at that point in this country, where we kill something because at the moment it’s worth more dead than alive — well, take a look around. Look at your neighbor. Look at your neighbor. You won’t kill him, will you? No. It’s called murder and it’s illegal. Well, this too is murder — on a mass scale. Only on Wall Street, they call it “maximizing share-holder value” and they call it “legal.” And they substitute dollar bills where a conscience should be. 

Dammit! A business is worth more than the price of its stock. It’s the place where we earn our living, where we meet our friends, dream our dreams. It is, in every sense, the very fabric that binds our society together.

I was lucky enough to see the original play in a Chicago run and during this speech the guy playing Larry The Liquidator – who was built more like Pavarotti than DeVito – would stroll up and down the aisles of the audience and burst into songs from the musical Oklahoma and other classics. It was an excellent way of showing the contempt he held for Jorgenson.

Larry gets his turn to respond and unwinds one of the greatest pro-capitalism speeches ever. There’s a better quality clip at this site.


You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.”  

This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?

You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

I’ve actually sat in one or two meetings where the buggy whip analogy was used, though luckily about systems rather than entire companies. 

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: 

Who cares? 

Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. 

They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.



The reason I’ve put these clips up, plus the 1980’s background, is that a couple of weeks ago my kids had some of their friends around for a post-lockdown catchup and they watched a couple of movies. They’re all into Media Studies and History and Mathematics and Science and so forth, but not Economics. They’re interesting to talk to, so I showed them these three clips – none of them had ever seen either movie – and asked them what they thought of the ideas and arguments expressed in each.

  • The Wall Street clip elicited anger at the useless, fat-cat managers of Teldar while knowing that Gekko was obviously just using those sentiments to screw people and make money for himself. They didn’t admire him one bit.
  • The first OPM clip caused rolled eyes. Yes, Jorgenson seemed like a decent man but all this mythologising of the past and the idea of a company being the centre of a community just seemed unlikely. But (shrugged shoulders) if it worked for people then why not try to save it?
  • But the second OPM clip with DeVito’s speech brought forth anger: real hatred of the character and what he was about to do. Why could the company not be saved? Why could investments not be made to grab those new opportunities in fibre optics and the like? Why did it have to be destroyed? What would happen to the town that depended upon it?
I was fascinated by these reactions, which were mostly the exact opposite of me and my peers when we watched these movies thirty and more years ago.


I also informed them that, as with most Hollywood fantasies, the dream is saved at the end of Other People’s Money: investment is found to make hi-tech metal fibres for airbags.

By contrast the play had no such happy ending, only grim reality. Larry takes over and the company shuts down. The jobs, and likely the town, go with it. He even gets the girl at the end.

So there you are. A new generation that thinks somewhat differently than I do about capitalism, free enterprise, free trade and local communities, including nations. Perhaps the socialism of the 21st century will have new soil in which to grow and new seeds from which to raise warriors for the working day.

See Also:
Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Written by Tom Hunter

July 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Fully Automated Luxury Communism

This is a phrase apparently invented by a British Communist named Ash Sarkar and it has proved so popular that one of her comrades has written a book that uses it as the title.

The comrade is a guy named Aaron Barstani.

Bastani paints a picture of artificial intelligence and automation liberating us all from work. Commodities, he predicts, will become so cheap as to be practically free; renewable energy will render fossil fuels redundant and solve the climate crisis; and genetic editing and synthetic biology will eliminate disease and the need for farmed meat, while also extending quality and length of life.

So far, so utopian. But Bastani does try to put some meat on these Star Trekian bones by going a little Alvin Toffler, talking about a “Third Disruption” based on IT – the first being agriculture and the second being industrialisation – and what this will mean for communism:

“I think communism in the 20th century was impossible. And it’s impossible today, but it’s something we’ll be able to think of if the technologies we’re now seeing emerge are as disruptive as the industrial revolution in the late 18th century.”

Also quoted is another one of this crowd, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (“the Left’s favourite sex symbol” – 🤮), who says similar things about 3-D printing your own BMW, but pushes a little way into the social and political sphere where the Revolution is not storming the Winter Palace or the Bastille:

At that point you’re going to have a situation where the current social arrangements we have that generate all kinds of power structures and so on will simply become obsolete. And then you’re going to have a revolution and I don’t mean people holding flags and going out.”

Has he met Counselor Troi? (@ 2m14s)


“It unites humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible when they realize they’re not alone in the universe. Poverty, disease, war. They’ll all be gone within the next fifty years.”

For all the gloss of 21st century “cool” they apply, this all sounds no different to Marx’s original vision, with informisation substituting for mechanisation, right down to some vague concept about how all the bad stuff – private property, competition, conflict and corporations – will just… wither away? Well maybe, but in the world of IT we seem to be off to no better a start than all those Industrial Revolution workers looking up at the Dark, Satanic Mills, as The Pandemic Road to Serfdom pointed out:

… as the promise of becoming business owners and homeowners has faded—particularly for the young—many increasingly fall into the insecure “precariat” of gig and part-time workers. These modern-day serfs are suffering the most from the pandemic. Millions of low-wage workers in hospitality, retail, and restaurants have lost their jobs and possess only meager prospects of getting them back in the near- or even medium-term future.

But as jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record.

And voila…

In the face of this, the best these modern communists can do is blather about the rise of a populist movement (“Greetings President Trump”) while others talk of a UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the latter there is backing from none other than the High Tech world, but the “Serfdom” article points out what may really be driving that:

Ultimately such disorder threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. 

This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.

That seems a more likely future than the ones described by Ms Sarka and friends.

See Also:

Written by Tom Hunter

June 24, 2020 at 6:00 pm

It’s Class Warfare Jim, but not as we know it!

In looking at where American Socialism might be going in the future I came across a quote that surprised me.

It came from, The Guardian, and it was talking about someone I thought was a fully reconstructed Leninist: the Labour MP and Corbyn acolyte, John McDonnell.

[John] McDonnell believes there are limits to how far the left can increase taxes and government spending. In his view, many voters are unwilling, or simply unable, to pay much more tax – especially when living standards are squeezed, as now. He also believes that central government has lost authority: it is seen as simultaneously too weak, short of money thanks to austerity; and too strong – too intrusive and domineering towards citizens.

Wait! What? That’s my line!

I don’t know how the hell McDonnell and friends reconcile that outlook with the big-spending plans they had for Labour in government, but it at least seems to acknowledge that the old ways of implementing Socialism are being re-thought even by its most ardent believers. One of McDonnell’s more well known comments was a desire for “socialism with an iPad“.

An iPad from a newly nationalised Apple? Nope. What McDonnell is alluding to here is dealing with the same problem being faced by American Leftists:

… our post-industrial economy is more geared to individual autonomy than ever in history, as anybody using Tinder and Spotify could attest. Those are not corporate entities that any of the “youf” want to tear down or nationalise in the name of class warfare, even as the same economy pushes them into the non-unionised “gig economy” of Uber and Lyft, which rely on the same basic model of connecting individuals.

“… money doesn’t exist in the 24th century“.

Aside from desperate measures from some cities around the world to simply ban Uber, while also holding out the carrot of them unionising their workforce, the Left so far has had no real answers to these very real problems. Networked decentralisation of work just doesn’t seem solvable with unions, set wage rates, and work-to-rule practices.

But this 2019 British article, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, looks at some people who think they may have found a way around this, although they start with a past thought from Mr Marx himself:

[Marx] argued that the relentless search for profit would lead to capitalism’s demise, a process that would be accelerated by mechanisation. In its wake, he predicted, would rise a leisured communism in which a man could, “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

A century-and-a-half later and the world is mechanised beyond Marx’s dreams. Yet there are record levels of low unemployment in the UK. On the surface it would seem that, for all his commanding insights into capitalism’s inherent contradictions, Marx underestimated its ability to reinvent itself. In any case, his vision of the leisured Renaissance man seems more like the product of the opium pipe than scientific analysis.

Basically what this new way comes down to is a future Socialism that may finally resemble Marx’s opium vision, made possible when every household has its own Star Trek Replicator.

Sarkar, who attributes her own political awakening to Marxist theory, disagrees. Marx was right, she contests. It’s just we haven’t developed enough yet. But according to her, that point of digital reckoning is fast closing in on us. As she put it in a short film she made for BBC2’s Politics Live: “Imagine if technology meant you didn’t have to work any more: fully automated luxury communism.”

That’s Ash “I’m literally a communist, you idiot!” Sarkar.

Ash Sarkar

A vivacious 26-year-old of Bangladeshi heritage, Sarkar is a photogenic gift for the selfie generation. She’s given to wearing luridly bright nail polish and defines herself as a Muslim woman who, according to her Twitter profile, 

“Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion.”

In your face, Babushkas!

Although I thought that supermodels were simply another representation of the degrading excesses of capitalism, who will be put against the wall when the Revolution comes?

It would seem that in the same manner of those American Bohemian-Bolsheviks, Ash is a new type of commie far removed from the old in more than just appearance:

That sassiness is a clue to the appeal of this new communism. Back in the day, communists were called names like Harry Pollitt. They were trade unionists, white, male and walked like they were leading a picket line. They were not people whose sexual habits anyone ever wanted to consider. Sarkar, who also ghostwrites memoirs for grime artists, looks about as far from the old stereotype as it’s possible to be.

In times gone by, a 26-year-old woman like her would have been sent out for the cause to sell hard-left propaganda sheets such as the Morning Star or Socialist Worker. But in the age of social media, every good communist knows that the collective takes a back seat. This is the age of the outspoken individual.

Ah! Individualism again. Pity that Communism is not the best system for individuals to both cooperate and compete with each other: that would be a system of free enterprise and markets.

As she told the Guardian, “It’s about the desire to see the coercive structures of state dismantled, while also having fun. It’s not about driving everybody down to the same level of abjection, but making aesthetic pleasures and luxuries available to all.” 

Communism in this guise has nothing to do with coercion and repression. All those issues of how to confiscate private property, redistribute wealth and forcefully ensure equality were, it seems, a historical misinterpretation of Marx.

I’ve heard that one before.

See Also:


Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom
American Socialism and its Discontents

Written by Tom Hunter

June 23, 2020 at 12:01 pm