Hans Kern Interviews Robert Steele for Rag ‘n Rock: World Brain II.0 or How We Should End Secrecy and Learn to Harness the Hive Mind
Categories: Articles & Chapters
World Brain II.0
How We End Secrecy and Harness the Hive Mind
Robert Steele is unusual for an American… he is
clearly internationalist in his orientation. He has
written a book that can bring us together in facing
our greatest enemies: ignorance, poverty, and mistrust.
Rear Admiral Hamit Gulemre Aybars,
Turkish Navy (retired)
A conversation with Mr. Robert Steele, former spy, honorary hacker, #1 Amazon reviewer for non-fiction, the most published intelligence reformer in the English language, and persistent champion of Open Source Everything.
CITATION: Steele, Robert with Hans Kern, “INTERVIEW: World Brain II.0 or How We Should End Secrecy and Learn to Harness the Hive Mind,” Rag’n’Rock (London, UK), pp. 1-23), online at http://tinyurl.com/Steele-WBII.
On Panarchy. 2
On Facebook. 3
On Technology. 4
On History. 5
On Obstacles. 6
On Compatibility. 8
On the Greatest Enemy. 9
The Internet 12
Countering Government Monopolies. 14
Countering Plutocracy and Fascism.. 16
Insiders for Openness?. 18
On Personal Suffering. 19
Five Steps for Citizens. 20
Oscars for Open Source Everything. 21
Transitioning Smoothly. 22
Deus Ex Machina. 23
Advice for the Young. 23
You describe the concept of Panarchy in your book as: ‘an ideal in which every individual would be connected to all relevant information and participate in every decision of interest to them, from local to global.’ and that thus it ‘represents direct democracy within a nonhierarchical, open-source context.’ Would you like to add anything to that description or refine it?
Panarchy (free individuals in harmony) is the opposite of anarchy (free individuals in chaos)but similar to anarchism in that they both reject illegitimate forms of authority. There are several elements of Panarchy that I would like to emphasize.
First, not only does it encompass all others, but properly done it is about a living constant conversation, not about voting and then delegating.
Second, in its ultimate manifestation, panarchy is not limited to humans but includes plants and animals – the system of systems of all living creatures.
Third, the heart and soul of panarchy is the educated person, with the emphasis on educated.
Fourth, and this may only be my view, panarchy is both a form of self-governance or extreme democracy, and can co-exist with multiple governments and organizations to which some form of delegation of authority has been made.
Fifth, a major foundation for effective panarchy, apart from having educated attentive individuals willfully participating, is the availability of all possible information as well as open space – Harrison Owen popularized the concept – in which understanding and then wisdom can emerge.
Sixth, and this deepens the previous point, it is not enough to get the “facts” on the table for open discussion, but to discuss those facts openly, with clarity and dignity, such that new knowledge in created in the moment.
Seventh, and finally, panarchy must include future generations. Our Native American forebearers practiced “seventh generation thinking.” For panarchy to fulfill its promise, it must do no harm in the present, but serve as a stewardship for the future.
Is a person clicking ‘like’ on a save-the-pandas campaign on facebook a panarchist?
The short answer is no. In fact, this is an excellent place for me to comment on how limited I find Facebook as well as Twitter and Google.
Integral consciousness is the end game – this means cosmic and human consciousness in touch with animal and plant intelligence as well as extraterrestrial intelligence. On that scale, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are pre-school, at best, utterly incompetent at helping humanity connect, contemplate, converse, and conclude – the four C’s of consciousness.
Here below is a simple chart of 18 functions I would like to see Mark Zuckerberg fund, along with links to key documents.
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“Votes” are not the main event. It’s all in the conversation that leads to consensus. I would love to see Zuckerberg “get” that. Learn: http://tinyurl.com/OpenPower-Tools.
So much technological potential seems to be put to the wrong use. An entire generation – many in my generation born in the late 80s and early 90s, and almost 100% of the generation born on the cusp of or in the new Millennium, into the well-to-do but increasingly all strata of the “developed” countries around the world – are completely absorbed in social media. Then there is porn, non-stop streaming of b.s., the google monopoly on data and search preferentials? Do you think these negative trends can be somehow redeemed, or does it rather speak to the doom of those societies that have allowed such a misuse of technology to become so rampant?
Technology is an artifact that is designed and utilized by people based on their education including their ethical education. I am a huge fan of Will Durant – he and Ariel Durant wrote the multi-volume series, The Story of Civilization – and particularly a fan of his 1916 doctoral thesis now available as Philosophy and the Social Problem. My summary of the book is online.
So my bottom line is “it’s not the technology, it’s the education.”
As an example, we have some opportunistic folks chasing after money with the claim that artificial intelligence is an existential threat. I consider that to be nonsense at two levels.
First, we have not demonstrated the intelligence with integrity to stop corporations from poisoning and mutating the Earth, from Bhopal and Fukushima to GMO and fracking. Those are much greater threats in the here and now.
Second, I am vastly more worried about artificial stupidity. The codification of the obscene trading practices of Goldman Sachs in super-fast computers makes everything worse. We now have the Department of Homeland Security deciding who to put on watchlists based on automated word finds in social media – I love the way the movie Wargames – or the movie Crimson Tide – demonstrate that human intelligence rooted in integrity is superior to “programmed” instruction.
There will always be new technologies as well as old technologies capable of doing great good as well as great harm. Human intelligence – education, understanding, and wisdom – is where we need to place our emphasis going forward.
You suggest in your writing that we are at a special point in History, where we as a civilization have the potential of complete connectivity in service of more efficient resource-sharing, cooperation and holistic problem-solving across all continents and cultures. Do you believe that this is the case?
History for me is the “story of civilization” as Will and Ariel Durant developed it – East as well as West, South as well as North, and it is also a history of the Earth in an inter-species sort of way, and a history of information and how humanity approaches the question of “what is.” Below is a graphic of information pathologies in recent history.
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Not shown is John Lewis Gaddis’ The Landscape of History, which addresses this specific question across the entire book. We are at the beginning of history, and I pray that we learn how to discover, discriminate, distil, and disseminate all information in all languages and mediums all the time, that is the only way we will fulfill our potential – the only species with the ability to actually define the future.
What a) what beliefs, values or systems of thought and b) individuals, groups or institutions c) conditions stand most prominently in the way of this vision being realized?
When you fail to educate the individual and the group, and you fail to establish transparency, truth, and trust as core values, people fall into “hoarding” mode, they fall into insular mind-sets that do not understand the non-zero or win-win perspectives that are at the heart of human possibilities.
Western scientific objectivism and reductionism has produced many wondrous accomplishments but it has also severely set-back civilization in relation to the whole.
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We lost sight of our relationship to the Earth, we have failed to calculate “true cost” economics – e.g. virtual water wasted, toxins introduced to the atmosphere, the pernicious effects of vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Because of the combination of scientific reductionism and political and financial corruption (what Matt Taibbi calls Griftopia, or legalized pervasive crime) our world is out of balance. Below are the pre-conditions of revolution in the USA today, now, as I write this:
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Our greatest obstacle is our personal lack of recognition of our own power – if we assert our power, all obstacles vanish.
It seems there is a bit of a problem, especially in Information Technology, of compatibility. That is, everyone seems to be working on the same problems in a different way. Do you agree, and if so, how do you think this can be resolved?”
This is an utterly central observation that you made. Carrying on from the scientific reductionism issue in the earlier question and answer, what we have in capitalism is a fencing of the commons and a fencing of knowledge. This is why I have been a proponent of Open Source Everything, illustrated below and discussed in my book The Open Source Everything Manifesto.
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I have to emphasize, sadly, that the open source world is just as fragmented as the proprietary world. Although the open source software and hardware worlds are gradually merging, too many focused on open data or open government or open society are only giving the idea lip service, and are not truly grasping that open demands an “all in” approach. For me Electoral Reform is how we bring “open” to self-governance.
On the Greatest Enemy
Whether wittingly or not, your wholesale critique of insular governments and the culture of competitive, industrial society within which these thrive, puts you in the company of some other radical folks. Many anarchists can be found to argue that humanity’s greatest enemy is centralized governance, i.e. the State. Any attempts to turn civilization toward a better path, is inherently flawed from the outset, by virtue of an overwhelming death-drive inherent to humans and therefore civilization as a whole. A radical anarcho-primitivist, might, therefore, argue that the only way to remedy the destructive tendencies of humankind and return to a harmonious coexistence with Nature, is to systematically disjoin & dismantle all forms of organized political power, industry and infrastructure. In other words, the best we could do is to undo what we’ve done. How does a panarchist feel about this?
Radical is not the scary word the less-educated take it to be. Winston Churchill and the American Founding Fathers were radical. They were counter-culture figures of the first order. I prefer to think of the status quo as complacent and lacking in both intelligence and integrity – a still pond instead of a swirling alive ocean.
I’d say our greatest enemy is fragmentation followed by fundamentalism.
Clarity, diversity, and integrity are how we achieve sustainability. Let’s emphasize diversity. The views of everyone are essential. Below is one vision of where the various political viewpoints relate to one another.
Scarcity is a contrived concept. We should not all have to work in “bullshit jobs” as Anarchist David Graeber puts it so well, nor should we have rule-bound lives and bureaucracy ubber alles. If we properly manage our collective, respecting the Earth and true cost economics, we should all be wealthy and happy beyond measure, living in comfort and peace.
 Freud argued in Civilization and its Discontents that, given “the ubiquity of non-erotic aggressivity and destructiveness” he chose to adopt “the standpoint, therefore, that the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man” (Freud, Civilization, pp. 311 and 313)
In American culture we talk about how you can put lipstick on the pig, but it is still a pig. This is how a majority of Americans think about the two-party criminal tyranny we suffer now, a two-party tyranny that monopolizes power for the benefit of the 1% and has destroyed the lives of the 99%.
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Panarchy treasures all perspectives. Centrists require anarchists and all other forms of view in order to achieve their centrist utilitarian perspective. For me the biggest change is that political parties are passe. I believe that we have it in our power to abolish illegal governments now.
Gonna throw some words at you that I consider to be descriptive of the prevalent philosophy guiding politics and social relations today. If you think there is a preferable alternative / converse idea, please name it:
– secrecy. Open everything – Alvin Toffler, Thomas Stewart, Yochai Benkler, and Barry Carter, among others, have totally documented that information gains value from being shared.
– paranoia. Justified. We the People should be very afraid of how out of control governments, banks, and corporations have become – to the point of justifying organized crime and secret societies as lesser evils.
– hierarchy. Commons – knowledge and insight are NOT hierarchical, they are in common, bottom up and most fulfilled in conversation among equals, never, ever, in orders from above
– specialization. Valuable, but not more valuable than integration. We need both.
– competition. Valuable within a commons when true costs are recognized. “At any price” is toxic.
– zero-sum game. Win-Win or “non-zero” is much more advanced, intelligent, and beneficial.
– unlimited growth. No such thing – there is no free lunch.
The internet, is it the World Brain of which H.G. Wells wrote or not?
The short answer is no. The Internet right now is a broken fragmented system for multiple reasons: corrupt government, corrupt corporations and especially corrupt Internet Service Providers (ISP), and of course Google is NSA Lite and not at all interested in helping the public “make sense.” Google Search, the best in the world, sucks — by their own admission they cover less than 4% of everything in the digital world, I think it is closer to 2%. Below are two images on missing information and fragmented information.
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The first shows how little of the information available – most of it still in people’s minds and unpublished; a great deal of it in analog and local edition form – is visible via the Internet.
The second shows the fragmentation of the scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines – they literally do not address one another, do not integrate, do not evaluate “true cost” information.
So for me, the Internet is a new form of the Tower of Babel, in which people have many different languages, different mediums, different priorities, and we are nowhere near a world or global brain or mind or consciousness.
On this next page I offer up two graphics that were created when I funded Earth Intelligence Network, a non-profit.
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What we are missing right now has been partially addressed by Micah Sifry in his excellent new book, The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Fixed Politics (Yet). For the #100 billion a year invested in US secret intelligence, for the trillions invested in the Internet, we still cannot make sense. We cannot connect facts to places to costs to individuals across all topics and disciplines and challenges. Here below I list my key categories for thinking about the future — judge for yourself whether the Internet helps us connect, contemplate, converse, and conclude – the four C’s of consciousness.
HIGH-LEVEL THREATS TO HUMANITY
I have defined where I think we need to go –the Internet is a foundation — at the following links online:
2015 Open Letter
2014 Applied Collective Intelligence
2014 Next Data Revolution
2014 Steele for UN Beyond Data Monitoring
Countering Government Monopolies
Governments such as that of the U.S. & European countries, may not be very “wise,” insofar as they do not have any idea of how to draw on the localized knowledge of the people. They are, however, able to reinforce their own power by merging their monopoly on legitimate force with the ability to collect complete information on people. The threat of complete surveillance, or Bentham’s Panopticon as understood by Michael Foucault, is therefore a very real one. How do you think this can be remedied?
I am a huge fan of the idea that individuals have the power to say no and to vote with their time, their energy, and their voice. Governments may have a monopoly on force but they cannot compel people to work. Banks may have a monopoly on money but they cannot compel people to take their loans nor can corporations force people to buy their products.
Where I think we have failed is in allowing governments and corporations to manipulate education, intelligence (decision-support), the media, and research. Most of what we are taught and told is at last half false. Our schools create obedient factory workers that cannot think for themselves, and our media is an entertainment industry in constant betrayal of the public trust.
I have to emphasize that I do not think that banks, churches, corporations, governments, labor unions, the media, or schools set out to be stupid and evil, we simply allowed that to happen. I constantly try to refer to good people trapped in bad systems.
The whole idea of panarchy is inclusive – we are all in this together and we must all have our voice. Governments cannot survive is there is a mass strike or a mass tax revolt. Corporations cannot survive if everyone refuses to buy their products or their stock and adds to that massive public demonstrations and “teach-ins.”
What has been lacking in the modern era is the combination of the 1960’s student activism with an intelligence application of Internet possibilities. The Arab Spring was inspiring – Facebook was important there. Now imagine if Facebook took my ideas about an open source activist took-kit, and we all agreed to demand the Electoral Reform Act of 2015, not only in the USA but in the UK, in France, in Germany, in the Ukraine?
“Countersurveillance” —> a good idea?
For me, from a citizen’s point of view, democracy – extreme democracy – should be about constant intrusive surveillance by every citizen of every move, every fact, every policy, every spent penny by the state as it acts ostensibly on behalf of the public.
So yes, countersurveillance is a good idea but it is also a sign that citizens have failed to do their duty and have allowed the state to get out of control.
So my emphasis – and recently I have gone public with an Open Power proposal to achieve electoral reform and create an open source activist tool-kit – is on restoring democracy from the bottom up. All voices, all voting counting all the time.
There are eight specific electoral reforms required to achieve “Extreme Democracy,” they are itemized in the graphic below.
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OPEN POWER Electoral Reform Home Page
Countering Plutocracy and Fascism
If corporations and security agencies like the NSA are found to be increasingly in cahoots, as the revelations of Mr. Snowden have shown, it seems that citizens are no longer just facing the complete power of State that in enforcing its laws, but also the possibility of these laws being either manipulated or altogether overriden in service of runaway corporate interests. Do you agree, and if so, do you see any practical solutions to this problem?
First it is important to understand that merchants have always controlled governments. This is one of the central points in Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in Our Time. What is new in the USA is the depth of the corruption and the breadth of the assault against the public across all fronts – socio-economic, ideo-cultural in particular.
Matt Taibbi sums it up nicely in his book Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History. On page 32 he says:
What has taken place over the last generation is a highly complicated merger of crime and policy, of stealing and government. Far from taking care of the rest of us, the financial leaders of America and their political servants have seemingly reached the cynical conclusion that our society is not work saving and have taken on a new mission that involved not creating wealth for us all, but simply absconding with whatever wealth remains in our hollowed out economy. They don’t feed us, we feed them.
The other big difference is the Internet – the banks, corporations, and the government have been much more adept at leveraging the Internet to divide and conquer, than the public has been to unify itself and inform itself. For the government and the banks the Internet has been a control bonanza – for the public the Internet has become a Tower of Babel on steroids.
I see only one practical solution to the problem, only one non-violent solution to the problem: a massive public awakening and demand for electoral reform across all eight elements of electoral reform, not one at a time which I consider theatrical distraction. Below is a graphic I just created on the eight elements of what must become a standard Electoral Reform Act in the US, then the UK and Australia, then everywhere else.
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Today in the USA there are three small attempts to achieve electoral reform against each of three issues in isolation from one another. Peter Ackerman, founder of Americans Elect, is funding a law suit to increase the number of parties represented in the televised debates. Lawrence Lessig is campaigning for getting corporate money out of politics. Finally California has a lawsuit before the Supreme Court that seeks to overturn popular demand that electoral districts be tightly drawn, ending gerrymandering – the manipulation of district lines to assure the election of a specific incumbent.
Until we can unify the 60-80% of the public that is disenfranchised, and get them to demand an Electoral Reform Act with all eight of the above changes – this will require that we Occupy the front lawns and home offices of each of the Members of Congress when they return home for their extended summer holidays – I see nothing positive in our future.
Insiders for Openness?
Do you think there are still a lot of people in the Intelligence community who might see the need and value in opening up to the world? If so, what’s stopping them and how or with what can we coax them out?
YES! I have constantly pointed out that we have millions of good people trapped in a bad system.
What is stopping them is a mix of indoctrination and fear.
They have been indoctrinated to believe that they are supposed to follow orders and that their only choice if they disagree with those orders is to resign.
Let’s address that before we go on to the other reason. The Constitution to which we all swear an oath calls for us to defend the Constitution against all enemies domestic and foreign. In the military we are taught that we have an obligation to refuse to obey illegal orders, but this is not actually followed in practice. What we should be doing as loyal public services is not only refusing to obey illegal orders, but also denouncing those politicians, flag officers, and senior executive officers who give such illegal orders, reporting them to Congress, and in those cases where it is appropriate to do so, see them indicted, convicted, and expelled from office.
Taking the US Intelligence Community as a specific example, I find much of what is being done today – particularly the drone assassination, the rendition and torture, the persistent acceptance of US Government co-dependency with over 40 dictators, the persistent 50% fraud, waste, and abuse, all reprehensible.
When I started the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) revolution in 1992, after four years of trying to get it going inside the government, there was great interest but it quickly went off the rails with corruption. Instead of focusing on open information exchanges with the public and multiple foreign parties at the same time, it became another controlled channel for spending money without accountability.
Now with respect to fear. The “leadership” of the US secret world as well as the military world, is toxic. For decades it has thrived on the basis of fear – lying in endemic at all levels, among employees, from the led to the so-called leaders, from the so-called leaders to Congress and the President. Disloyalty is punished with “fitness for duty” physicals, a form of Nazi intimidation – “you must be crazy” – and ultimately loss of security clearances and therefore loss of livelihood.
Individuals within the US secret world are smarter than average. They know the government is lying when it reports unemployment to be in the 5-7 percent range when it is easily known (see http://www.shadowstats.com, for example) to be 22-24%.
They also know they are earning, generally speaking, twice what they are worth on the outside where corporations have stripped employees of all rights and most benefits, and even pension plans are at risk of contrived bankruptcy (transfer the pension fund to a shell company, declare the company bankrupt, the corrupt courts allow this, and presto, end of all pension obligations).
In brief, apart from the toxic leadership and terrible things they are asked to do ostensibly in the public interest, insiders have it good and they know it. They are deathly afraid of losing their good deal and will do anything to avoid rocking the boat, being eased out, or worse, cast out without clearances and unable to get a job with a contractor.
On Personal Suffering
Has the Intelligence Community ever taken measures against you for holding and propagating your ideas?
The short answer is no. If I were receiving a pension which I am not, perhaps there might have been some intimidation associated with that, but I think not.
For one thing, I am not a whistle-blower and I have never violated my lifetime security oath. My criticisms have always been public, above-board, and truthful.
What truly disappoints me is that the lack of integrity at the highest levels has prevented them from seeing that we have a sacred duty to assure the public that ethical evidence-based decision-support is the coin of the realm, and that my vision, prescient and specific from 1988 onwards, was the way to go.
My suffering has been intellectual, rather than financial. It breaks my heart to see the US Government co-opted by traitors; and decisions made without intelligence or integrity.
Five Steps for Citizens
5 things you think every citizen should do to weaken the secret intelligence culture, bolster their own political power and bring us all closer towards an open-everything society?
This is so very difficult. For me the education of our children is central, but the way society is organized today it is very difficult for parents to give up work and pursue home schooling options. In thinking about your question, I come up with five things citizens need to do, and all of them are consistent with the excellent examples being offered by Eco-Villages and Transition Towns.
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It seems to me that individuals who wish to be free and creative to their fullest potential must either create a community of free people around them wherever they are, or move. New Hampshire right now is trying to attract such people. There are communities from Mexico to Spain and beyond that will guarantee every member of the community a home, food from local shared agricultural plots, and in that context, the freedom from want that allows home schooling or community schooling able to escape from the corporate version of schools as penal colonies for the young. Perhaps my strongest new insight in these past few years is that the Libertarian emphasis on individuality and individual freedom, while admirable, is not actually achievable without a like-minded community that empowers each individual member within a community setting. We are only as free as our community.
Oscars for Open Source Everything
Please name some people and organizations that you think are doing a good job furthering the cause of Open Source Everything.
I’m sorry to say that I have no one to recommend. I am particularly upset with those who claim to be hubs of openness – for example Tim O’Reilly and his Open Source Conference (OSCON) or the various Open this and Open that societies and non-profits – but are actually very selfish narrowly-focused profit centers. As with most non-profits, they have become a livelihood for their principals, and a mix of ego and hubris has prevented them from merging constructively with one another.
Open source software is the most advanced, and yet the least accomplished in relation to its potential. By now we should have not just Open Office, but all eighteen of the functionalities I illustrate in my answer On Facebook.
Open source hardware is finally starting to take off, I am particularly impressed by the Global Village Construction Set – an Open Source Ecology – but it has not been adopted very widely.
OpenBTS and Open Spectrum are being held back by corporate interests, we need a break-through in which new devices available to the public can ignore frequency spectrum allocation and there is nothing the government can do about it.
Open Standards are important, but as Micah Sifry observes, we are not talking to each other very well, we are not making the best possible use of the Internet, so Open Standards have been slow to develop.
My current tri-fecta is the combination of holistic analytics, true cost economics, and open source everything engineering.
The most important open is the Open Mind, and I am concerned – we have far too many people whose minds have been closed by religion, by ideology, by financial suasion.
Do you imagine the possibility of a smooth transition from Epoch A – Industrial – to Epoch B – Open Source Everything?
I am very discouraged. Even when I find small groups of individuals that “get” the need to change – to transform – how we do everything, they tend to be trapped in very slow-moving processes and overly concerned – as Occupy was overly concerned – with being so gentle that nothing gets decided and nothing gets done.
Below is a graphic I created in the 1990’s after reaching about both our indigenous forebearers and about secession movements in the USA, particularly that of Vermont.
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This is still my shared vision with Jonas Salk and Kirkpatrick Sale of Vermont, among others, but the industrial-era system of reductionism, propaganda, and legalized crimes against humanity is so very strong, that sometimes I do despair and then I shake myself and remember that cosmic changes take but an instant – the wonderous possibilities are infinite.
Deus Ex Machina
If there was a “deus ex machina,” some epic event to change everything and put humankind on a better path, what form do you think that could take and what vision of the possibilities for life on spaceship Earth would it unlock?
The power of the sun has been bypassed by the greedy bankers and related criminals who have sought to keep the public captive as slaves through the artificial concept of scarcity, and design of a society that is full of artificial stupidity. A very low cost Tesla-like development that enables people to harness solar energy virtually will change everything.
For me the next big leap is spiritual, biological, and social – if we can come together to create the world brain as a superorganism worthy of the cosmos, I can barely imagine the constant joy that will be our gift, not just to ourselves, but to other intelligent life forms across the cosmos.
Advice for the Young
If there is one piece of advice you would like to give people of the younger generation – who are not apathetic, but merely overwhelmed by circumstance, fully aware of the pressing need for change & daunted by that task – what would it be?
Live local. Invest in your neighborhood and your village, and focus on making your neighborhood and your village resilient. Focus on local energy, local agriculture, local education, and local politics. Create community bonds so strong that they can easily block predatory government and corporate incursions. Borrow nothing from strangers, especially money – create your own money at the local level.