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My previous musing on moral economics got me thinking about what we should aim for as a society, and I realized that this is something we haven't done in a long time: Articulate a clear picture of the nation we want, rather than just disparate lists of unconnected issues.  So I'll take a stab at it, and try to create a 21st century ideal America rather than just warm over early 20th century utopias.

Basically the ideal America is a more complex and humanly grounded version of the Star Trek Federation: A democratic, increasingly post-scarcity technocracy.  The physical resources for this society exist right now, but we have failed to create the grassroots political institutions out of which it would grow.  If Occupy can be rebuilt and restructured as an organized body with a specific policy agenda, it can happen.

Everything begins with energy, so that is where our Ideal America must begin.  The energy system would have to be:

1.  Non-polluting
2.  Renewable
3.  Decentralized manufacturing and generation
4.  Commoditized hardware
5.  Free baseline grid (with "baseline" growing over time)
6.  Planetary heat-neutral (via compensatory mechanisms)

To achieve the optimum spread of these qualities - particularly the third and fourth - the energy system should be overwhelmingly photovoltaic solar, with cheap, high-volume storage and transmission solutions used to cover areas that lack sufficient sunlight.  The solar panels could be cheaply manufactured on site via 3D printing of circuits and cells with only raw material feedstocks purchased commercially, or else bought as high-volume, extremely-low-price commodity hardware.  The heating effect on the planet of transforming more solar energy into waste heat from power usage would be compensated for with highly reflective surfaces that preserve the short wavelengths of incident sunlight and expel it through the atmosphere back into space.  It should also be locally heat-neutral, so that heat islands are mitigated.

The raw material feedstocks that go into the solar energy hardware - e.g., silicon and various rare earths - should come from our own territory exclusively to avoid the destructive exporting of externalities that we experience today, ensuring that the system operates under US environmental, labor, and other regulations, and keeping the economic origin point physically closer to the end-users so that informed decisions are more practical.  Moreover, the companies that mine and process these materials would pay a dividend to every US citizen for the use of those resources.  Given the likely monopolistic or oligopolous nature of the industry, and its critical role in the national economy, it would be highly regulated.

The transportation system would be/have:

1.  Zero-emission
2.  Automated / networked for optimum traffic flow and safety
3.  Increasingly rapid
4.  Universal free public transit in every medium: Ground, air, and water.

The first three are natural consequences of technological advancement - particularly the electrification and automation of automobiles.  With networked cars that communicate at lightspeed to negotiate their own spatial relationships, you don't need speed limits - if you build a road to allow 200 mph speeds, then automated cars could safely drive them even with horrifyingly short distances between them.  They would form ad hoc virtual "trains" in straight driving that would then shift and realign when a new car enters or leaves.

But the most important item is #4, and it illustrates the transportation moral of "Universal Access."  It isn't just morally imperative that all people have the practical means to access the territory of their own country, but also explosively economically productive.  Where would people go if everyone could go everywhere at all times?  Where would they spend their money?  What kind of complex social and demographic dynamics would occur?  Let's find out.  But just in practical terms, it means people can find and work jobs no matter where they start out from or where they can afford to live.  Moreover, since you're dealing with a zero-emission transportation system fed from a totally renewable and heat-neutral energy system, there's no reason whatsoever not to do this unless one is just a terminally pious Luddite who objects to "excess" on ideological grounds.

Now, nothing is without its own form of costs, so baseline transportation options would probably involve waiting in line or having to deal with other quota- or queue-related headaches, but people would have the freedom to pick their poison and create their own balance of irritations.  It would also, BTW, make the paid options less crowded and thereby add value to them while making buses, trains, air carriers etc. have to actually try to attract customers rather than charging them for the privilege of packing them in like sardines.

Politically, Ideal America in the 21st century would have "Fractalized Democracy" - basically the scaling and incorporation of democratic checks and balances into daily life, thereby putting both corporate and authoritarian state power in its place once and for all.  I articulated some of these thoughts during the Occupy movement, but sadly the core of the movement was more interested in symbolic rhetoric and protesting police abuse than boldly charting a course for the future of American democracy.  Hopefully it can be resurrected in a more effective and visionary form.  

Essentially, the concept of Fractalized Democracy adds a direct democracy branch to government while also mirroring the existing branches into more levels of activity, so that you could have instant checks and balances rather than having to slog through years before government can do anything about corporate, police, or other abuses.  In other words, the pace of checks and balances could be radically accelerated without necessarily sacrificing the longer-term deliberative functions at higher levels of government.

All the other democratic reforms and changes one could want would flow from such a system, particularly with the introduction of direct democracy into everyday life rather than just periodic referendum drives, and would turn the cause of reform from a futilely quixotic laundry list into a natural expression of the new system.  So the principle drive in realizing reform would be to realize the system that would produce it naturally rather than forever trying to punch water to make an infinity of petty changes to the law and regulatory structure stick in a corrupted environment.

Returning to economics, another thing that would be ideal would be universal, free high-speed electronic communications.  The fact is that the cost of these systems is primarily in their construction rather than upkeep or operation, and the only reason we're made to pay through the nose for them is because they're owned by corporate monopolies.  Actual provision of any level of data throughput is trivially cheap, so it doesn't matter whether you're just texting once in a while or playing MMORPGs and FPS's on an overclocked Alienware machine - we are already in the midst of post-scarcity as far as communications is concerned, but we haven't changed our politics to reflect that fact, so we're still being reamed by corporations.  As a result, whole swaths of the country aren't even offered baseline broadband internet, let alone the blinding fiber speeds other countries now have.  We can change that any time we want: Universal, free gigabit connectivity is easily technically achievable and affordable.  The only obstacle is politics.

We are not yet into post-scarcity with respect to water, however, so an Ideal America in the 21st century would pursue that through construction of desalination plants on the coasts and water pipelines to feed inland.  Since the desalination plants and pipelines would be powered by the renewable, zero-emission, heat-neutral power grid, there's no environmental sustainability problem.  And what's more, the moving of more water inland would create wetter inland weather and rain, so you could actually recoup quite a bit of even the water that isn't immediately recycled.  This would be a kind of "terraforming" of the Western deserts, halting climate change-driven desertification in its tracks and reversing it while preserving and expanding farmlands.  Some natural ecosystems would be lost, but you can't tiptoe around an inhabited world - sooner or later you have to choose.  And it's not like every square inch of land on this planet hasn't been every kind of ecosystem at one time or another.

Socially, Ideal America would civilize and socially engineer the Southeast and Empty States, arresting their current headlong degeneration into fascist nuttery and theocracy.  In other words, we need to form a more perfect Union and stop the country from flying apart at the seams as it's been.  Diverse regional cultures are a source of strength, but hate, superstition, Know-Nothingism, and violent authoritarian attitudes are not a culture worth preserving - they need to be replaced.  Pick out the good things that these cultures lyingly tell themselves they are and make them true for the first time ever.  

Make the "cowboy" states actually care about freedom and individualism rather than just being a bunch of automatons who think identically and support fascist murderers.  Make the Christer states actually behave as if they had any regard whatsoever for their choice of gods and promote peace, compassion, and cooperation rather than psychotic hate.  Engineer them, in other words, into finally and sincerely joining the United States of America so that this nation isn't constantly under attack from them and their bigoted lunatic politics.

And just as a cherry on the sundae, let's colonize space.  We'll do for the Moon and Mars what Britain did for much of the world, but without any indigenous victims making it ethically problematic.  There wouldn't be a lot of negative reasons to leave planet Earth if we were living in this Ideal America utopia, but all the positive reasons would be more profound: People would have the time to imagine new adventures, the prosperity to pursue them, and the political freedom to collectively promote them through bold public and private ventures.  We would fill the inner solar system with new cultures based on our own, some of which might fly flags based on ours in the same way many former British colonies have Union Jacks in theirs, and perhaps some of them would remain in commonwealth with the US even after becoming independent (which would be done peacefully, since this is an ideal future).

     

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

    by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:26:45 PM PDT

  •  the most difficult part is those Southern states (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    a nice view of what can be. Thanks. In a rational world it can all happen.

    •  In the real world, only some of it can happen. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jennybravo

      But some of perfection is more than enough.

      Actually, I tend to see the regional thing as relatively easy compared to reforming US economics.  We're already doing it a little bit without even trying, with the solidification of Colorado and New Mexico into the civilized world, the Blue salient into Virginia, and the growing assertiveness in Texas.  But that's the sloppy way forward, just changing things by demographics.  We're not really changing the societies so much as papering over them.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:46:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Arresting people who disagree with you politically (0+ / 0-)

      simply means that, if they're able to turn the tables, you'll be among the next batch to go.  Is that REALLY what we want to advocate for?  Given that those leaders were elected democratically, I don't even know how to express how ridiculous that idea was.

      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

      by Neuroptimalian on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 06:32:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Dreaming is fun. And, of course, dreaming... (3+ / 0-)

    ...plus organizing and fighting the p-t-b is what has changed America over time. Plenty of things in your mini-manifesto to like, to work for. A New Deal, REA-style Wi-Fi system would be a terrific first step on the communications front.

    But when your dreams collide with others' dreams, that's the rub. Especially when you're talking about making or re-engineering regions that don't agree with your dreams into regions that do agree with you, that is, people who don't agree into people who do. Re-education is dicey.

    And it's not just regional. For instance:

    And what's more, the moving of more water inland would create wetter inland weather and rain, so you could actually recoup quite a bit of even the water that isn't immediately recycled. This would be a kind of "terraforming" of the Western deserts, halting climate change-driven desertification in its tracks and reversing it while preserving and expanding farmlands. Some natural ecosystems would be lost, but you can't tiptoe around an inhabited world - sooner or later you have to choose. And it's not like every square inch of land on this planet hasn't been every kind of ecosystem at one time or another.
    You're gonna have a very big fight on your hands when you head down that road. And it's not going to be with Exxon and Christianists.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:56:44 PM PDT

    •  The problem with calling it "reeducation" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Darwinian Detrius

      is that it ignores the fact that many of these regions have already been "reeducated" by right-wing radical movements.  The South and Midwest used to be economically populist, but have been systematically brainwashed to buy into hateful every-man-for-himself attitudes.  It also ignores the fact that a lot of progressive movements originated in the Christer parts of the country as attempts to make America more compassionate - more Christian - but that religious culture has been perverted into the "Prosperity Gospel" set that worships Supply-Side Jesus.

      So it's not entirely an attempt to impose something externally - just to manipulate people into being what they're already capable of.  It's moot to see social engineering as sinister, because if you won't do it, people without your scruples will.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:05:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We're not just talking about a politics... (0+ / 0-)

        ...that transformed the South since Laffer invented his curve and Nixonites their Southern Strategy. The history of the Populist movement more than a century ago shows how deeply embedded the hatred was long before Karl Rove & Co. got their hooks in.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:11:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Occupy? Seriously?? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neuroptimalian

    Did their total numbers even approach the order of magnitude of the largest pre-Iraq anti-war protests?

    Before we can talk about reeducating entire regions of the country, we have to establish some means of even contacting most Americans. We don't have that right now.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:19:02 PM PDT

    •  I'm not sure what you mean. (0+ / 0-)

      My reference to Occupy was about the fact that they were experimenting with new models of democracy, and had the opportunity to try to formalize them into permanent local direct democracy institutions but refused to "settle down" and so just spun off into incoherence.

      Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 01:26:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They experimented in several different ways, (0+ / 0-)

        and failed with each.  Starting over again will just result in duplication if the same approach is used.

        "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

        by Neuroptimalian on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 06:36:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The failure was largely one of numbers. (0+ / 0-)

          They refused to set a maximum limit at which splitting would occur, so it just became unwieldy.  They also insisted on very high consensus that made reaching decisions extraordinarily difficult.  A real, practical direct democracy institution would simply have a fixed ceiling on numbers beyond which there would be a divergence, and would not need nearly as high a consensus - albeit still much higher than bare majority.

          Sign the petition to demand a law-abiding Supreme Court.

          by Troubadour on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 10:08:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ah, but those are some of the same problems ... (0+ / 0-)

            we have with our present system.  For example, there are many who believe (insist) that the Senate should be passing laws on simple majority votes of 51 to 49.

            Occupy attempted to start from scratch, not realizing that, given enough time, they'd simply wind up roughly where we are today vis-a-vis our "official" system.  Rather than spending hundreds (if not thousands) of years reinventing the wheel only to wind up back at "Start" with the same wheel we have today, they should have focused on trying to improve the system by figuring out how to achieve the equivalent of teleportation (or some such), the next major step forward.  

            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

            by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 07:27:33 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    It's interesting that you reference Star Trek, since I've always thought that what made the show (and its various spinoffs) so iconic and enduring was that it embodied a progressive vision of a better future.  In the midst of the Cold War and the civil rights movement, it offered a vision of humanity overcoming racial and national divisions and setting off to explore (not conquer) the universe.

    So by all means, let's embrace that vision, and, as Captain Picard would say, "Make it so."

  •  A very intriguing diary, Troubadour, thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    I think it's very important that we generate possible scenarios like you have here.  It is one thing to point out all that is wrong with the current system, and quite another to actively envision the type of future we might want to live in and how to go about making that happen.  Well done, Sir!

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 04:06:19 PM PDT

  •  Late to the party. (0+ / 0-)

    I am late to the party, it having slipped down my stream a ways and I missed it till today.

    It is good to imagine.  Imagining foundations - even rediculous or unattainable foundations - and then building ideas on them can lead to ideas that are attainable and are not rediculous, and can be incorporated directly into reality.

    Like algebra that uses imaginary numbers, not everything has to be real to help you find a given reality that might have gone otherwise unexplored.

    That said, I'd love to see this fortified with a driving force.  In the here and now, money is generally one's driving force on some level.  Maybe a person just really wants to grow up and have a family, but the economy and society turns on people trying to advance, and they advance in general by making better use of (or aquiring) more money.  The star trek future where cheap and (at least partially) ubiquitous energy is made available, 'making more money' of any sort really isn't a driving force.  In the TV shows earth politics is not often commented on except from the point of view of starfleet command, and the drive for the starship enterprise is either exploration or defence.

    Now, lest I get into a rabbit hole of details, my point is not that you need a driving force added to your imagination.  Heck, maybe we all lapse into couch-based philosophers and there is no overiding motivating force.  But either way there is some foundational imagery that needs to occur when considering any future, because in the end that is the basis for any society you'd live in and your post is couched in societal activities, not your personal utopia.  If we were all trying to make money, or trying to support a cause large enough to motivate the country, or simply existing in an unfettered manner, the future of the society you live in would be directly affected by the actions of the participants and would dramatically change, even if it started with the existing structures rooted in the past.

    There are places we could go if we had a reason.

    Currently reading: Path To A Better World: A Plan for Prosperity, Opportunity, and Economic Justice by James Aldus

    by Aramis Wyler on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 08:47:00 AM PDT

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