So far outside the box you can't even see the box from here.
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Saturday, October 27, 2012
Recently I was reading an article on the potential for a major cyber attack. The financial system goes down, then the power grid and communications. Of course, the financial system can do that without any outside help. Same for the grid. Complex systems are prone to failure.
The tendency is to try and fix complex systems by adding more complexity. It might even work for a while. Eventually the band aids can’t be applied fast enough. These things are well known.
The fixes are possible, but unpopular. Decentralize and simplify.
Let’s take the grid. Instead of a few big grids running the country, break it up. Concentrate on using power where it’s made. In some places that might mean solar panels on every house. Other places might benefit from wind or hydro. Rather than run high tension power lines to a factory, locate the factory next to the power source it needs. Cyber attacks can’t take everything down because they aren’t connected. When one system has problems, it will stay a local problem and not spread across the network. It might seem inefficient, but there are huge efficiency gains by eliminating high tension lines.
Food should be relocalized. Once again, it’s inefficient, but much less prone to failure. It won’t happen overnight, but a general transition to the local would increase food security. Even urban farming helps. Landscaping can incorporate more edibles. It’s not necessary to provide all your food locally, but there no reason to not provide a significant part of our calories near where we live.
Our computer communications could be made more robust with an ad hoc wireless mesh network. Something like Project Byzantium. It looks more complicated than it is. The idea is that local computers can communicate with each other -independent of the regular Internet. (and free from Internet controls!)
One of the big ones is political power. Problems are often more efficiently solved at the local level. We’ve learned that in a natural disaster whatever resources the locals have on the ground is what you’ll have. Rather than plowing more and more money into FEMA, why not allocate more for the people on the ground who actually know what’s going on?
Getting the President’s ear is almost impossible. My local Selectman or State Legislature are easy to get hold of. These people are neighbors, friends and relatives. What those guys do or don’t do affects my life as much or more than what the President does. The further down the hierarchy a problem is solved, the cheaper and better the solutions.
Cheap energy, high speed communication, fast transportation and computers have made it possible to centralize. It’s efficient, but not very robust. It guarantees that when problems happen, they are huge problems. Disturb any one of the pillars that centralization stands on, and the whole house of cards comes down.
Things cannot become infinitely more complex. Sooner or later there is a reset. It can be done voluntarily, or by collapse. The choice is ours.
Okay, the choice really isn’t ours. It’s in the hands of the very people who’ve benefited from centralized control. They have no incentive to change. Don’t look there for solutions. Start at your own household. Decentralization begins with you.
I live in an area of NH known as the Great North Woods. I'm in my dome-i-cile out in the county with my lovely wife and a varying number of family and friends
-part red neck, part hippie but all country. Experimenting and enjoying the adventure of life.