The Scaled Golem
Don’t give up your local, home-field advantage by fighting for change on a huge abstract level
As I often do between writing books, I’ve been reading various reviews of my work for clues on what to write next. This time I noticed that, more than once, a reviewer has remarked that while my analysis and deconstruction of the digital economy and its many problems is sound, the solutions I offer are too “weak,” too “small,” or too “local” to make a difference “at the scale required.”
The underlying assumption here is that problems occurring on a national or global scale require solutions of equal size. In all fairness to myself, I do often suggest big systemwide changes, such as reversing the tax code to penalize capital gains rather than wages, or shifting education priorities from job skills to critical thinking. These are big changes. But in fairness to the critics, the vast majority of what I call for are highly local solutions, actionable not by national governments or global coalitions, but individual readers. I suggest people support community supported agriculture, consume less, and—my current favorite—lend and borrow stuff instead of buying everything.
I do that for a few reasons. First off, it is an individual reading my book. Individuals are digesting all the systemic problems I’m describing, and thinking to themselves, what in the world can I do about all that? I need to present them with something they can do, for real, that could make a difference — and then demonstrate how that one small action can create a ripple effect on everything else. In other words, the upside to living in a world with dozens of interconnected crises is that almost anything can serve as a high leverage point to systemwide change.
What I see as the less effective, even paralyzing alternative is to pull back and see all of our problems as what systems thinkers call a “meta crisis.” Climate change is caused by carbon emissions which are caused by energy over-expenditure which is caused by exponential growth which is required by global corporate capitalism which is enforced by corrupt government which is kept in power by business interests which are amplified by technology and institutionalized by law. It’s a nightmare of epic proportions. This abstract monster of global…