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Some of the Breakthrough Issues We Might Wrestle with, Thanks to Y2K

(See also Doug Carmichael's ideas about Y2K-breakthrough issues, below)

"I can easily imagine
things reaching a point where everything is put on the table for
discussion, including things that only a short time ago were left
completely outside public discourse, such as private property,
competition, all military spending, usury, etc., etc. Or, at least,
reaching a point where such things could be put on the table for
discussion... assuming we still have a table (medium), and
assuming that the general environment retains some good faith and
democratic orientation."
-- Alan Lewis (in an Email to The Jubilee 2000 Project)

As the Y2K crisis unfolds, people's rising mistrust of existing structures may lead them to question and transform underlying assumptions (and thence structures) so we can move on to something better. Those of us wishing to facilitate that change can create opportunities for people to explore such issues together. Here are some examples -- but by all means send us your modifications and additions!

1) Here are some assumptions we could question -- and replace/modify/enhance by
a renewed focus on the elements in parentheses)

a) speed (natural rhythms)
b) efficiency (resilience)
c) quantity of stuff (quality of life)
d) on line discussion (face to face dialogue)
e) global economy, centralization (local community, ecological integrity/health)
f) subservience to experts (democratic assertion of public values; "experts on tap")
g) problem/personality-based politics (values-based politics; politics as the facilitation of shared understanding)
h) problems (possibilities, capabilities, assets, co-creativity)
i) corporate consumerism (citizen democracy)
j) adversarial legality (mediation, community responsibility)
k) information, news, knowledge (understanding, wisdom)
l) competition; individual solutions (collaboration, or both)
m) prediction, planning (scenario work, responsiveness)
n) mechanism (holism)
o) mediated experience (direct experience)
p) success, money, power, materialism (meaning, connection)
q) addictions to technical fixes (facing the underlying problems)
r) intellectual property (collective co-creativity)*
s) other?

* In the world of free software, programs are passed around among public peers, who find and correct bugs faster and more dependably than centralized company bureaucracies, says Russell McOrmond, Internet Consultant <>.

See also: Y2K Technology Issues

2) Useful metaphors

a) Rapids of Change
b) the Titanic
c) Icebergs
d) Amish barn-raisings
e) Earthquakes, mindquakes
f) Addiction
g) Deer in the headlights
h) Flying/driving without adequate visibility or control (especially at high speed)
i) Exodus
j) Other?

3) Other issues that could be transformationally addressed:

a) The role of specialization in enabling collective denial and alienation from "the whole picture"
b) What other cultural factors generated our collective denial (e.g. a high-tech corporate culture of "schedule chicken", spectatorism, technological arrogance/faith, bottom-line obsession and short-term vision, lack of systems thinking, etc.)?
c) Are there examples of other societies creatively "devolving"? (e.g. Cuba)

4) Models for stimulating such inquiries

a) Beyond War's old living room presentations
b) Interhelp's "The Day Before" program (with the film "The Day After")
c) Humor (The Atomic Comics)
d) Multiple-viewpoint drama like Anna Deavere Smith's
e) Videos of deep dialogue, which can be used to stimulate further dialogue among views (cf "The Color of Fear" video project on racism)
f) Dialogues sponsored by various professional groups "For Social Responsibility"
g) Mississippi (or Redwood) Summer (massive student involvement)
h) Bill Moyer's Movement Action Plan and its analysis of "trigger events"
i) Movies and other media stories to model behaviors, provide information and reflect on issues

5) Wrestling with the unfolding developments

1) How should we deal with the debate over limiting liability for Y2K failures?
2) How can we push for government, corporate, and media openness about the actual state of affairs at any given time?

Send any additions you think of to
The Y2K Nightmare by Robert Sam Anson, is the best short history of Y2K that we've seen, published in the January 1999 Vanity Fair (if the link at the beginning of this sentence doesn't work, try this). Anson tells how major efforts to establish 4-digit-year standards almost 30 years ago were scuttled by the Department of Defense who, with the most computers, would have had to pay more than anyone else to upgrade their code.
This is not a matter for blame; it is a problem with the system. This history should give us pause.
How many catastrophes do we have to create before we realize that
short-term bottom-line thinking cannot sustain us?

Jon Roland <> writes:
Excellent question. In fact most of the difficulties that people have suffered
from over the course of history were anticipated and could have been avoided
if people had made the right decisions when those anticipations first
occurred, which, in most cases, were at least 30 to 40 years before the onset
of the disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, we tend to institutionalize
short-term planning, making long-term planning almost impossible to achieve,
and when it is done, it too often is done with some kind of unrealistic vision
that the planners seek to impose on the unwilling, who are unwilling not
because they lack the ability or willingness to anticipate the future, but
because they either dislike the vision or the means the planner intends to use to achieve it.
Fascism, totalitarianism, or other oppressive ideologies are
mainly about trying to exercise more control over outcomes than circumstances
permit, and that they become ascendant in societies where most of the people
exercise less control over outcomes than they actually have the power to do.

The trick is to exercise such influence as one has, neither too much or too
little, and not to seek some rigid vision of the future, but to allow some
flexibility and adjustment to unanticipated elements.

Doug Carmichael's ideas about Y2K-breakthrough issues

from The Year 2000: Who will do what and when will they do it?

If y2k is a symptom, what is it a symptom of?

We need to deepen our analysis if we can hope to get hold of the underlying causes of y2k. To anticipate my next writing, there are several social aspects I will be developing further. They are

1. complexity and collapse
2. Inflation
3. denial and psychology; humans matter

Complexity and collapse: We are spending an increasingly large part of the GNP on digitalization. Some of this is productive, and some is like a tax on the system: mere maintenance. Archeology and history indicate that societies collapse when their infrastructure costs increase more rapidly then their productivity. In economistic language, the marginal utility of complexity decreases with increased effort. [Today] it's possible for an organization to buy complexity, but very hard to buy simplification.

This is happening at the same time that a rising population puts increasingly heavy demands on our infrastructures. Too many decorations on a Christmas tree and finally it breaks. These two taken together indicate a deep threat to the infrastructure.

Inflation; research shows centuries long rises in prices. As prices go up, wages tend to stay constant. The result, along with rising interest rates and rents, means a slow shift of wealth upwards: till the society breaks. This happened in the west (with Asian correlates) in 1400, 1600, and 1800 (roughly), with major reshuffling of power and loss of population. We have been on a steep rise since about 1870. Evidence suggests that this movement is deeply causative of social breakdown. We need to pay deep attention.

Denial and psychology: at the core, our belief in progress is religious, and we live in one of the most ritualized societies in history. "Its just technical and can be fixed" extends to the body, with plastic surgery; to the psyche, with drugs (Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra). We are letting ourselves be transformed into machinery. The result is, we have not noticed that digitalization, the map, is replacing nature, the territory. This set of gods is felt as our last hope: all the other gods died. I believe people know that population, biotech, pollution, food content, and daily complexity are out of control. With no alternative, knowing that the ferry is sinkable is unbearable. Another part of denial is the culture of contempt towards workers, and with them, technologists and programmers. "Our people are working on it" is not said with affection. Programmers are very distrustful of management (less so in recent years) and often made code obscure. The managers know they are disliked, but haven't cared. Manufacturing environments are often hostile, and the resulting implications for y2k compliance are not good, but to discuss these issues is to open a can of worms.

I and many others look at y2k as part of the flawed integration of technology with society and with the real human beings whose lives are biologically grounded, and lived in real time in society. People are dependent on technical systems that have grown like the water systems of ancient Mesopotamia where the extended infrastructure to support agriculture used all the surplus to feed the workers to keep the system from silting up, till the cost overwhelmed the system and it collapsed. Owner greed pushed the extensions of the water systems further than made sense.

Working on these in numerous collaborations, more fully developing the new and especially post y2k scenarios, getting better data, and writing a paper on "Social theory, technology, ethos: complexity and collapse; what we can expect from y2k: investment, governance and community", are my current focus. These efforts can be found at

We have lots to debate, quickly. Because people are starting to get strategic. It's not what we will do on January first two years from now but what we will do somewhere between now and the early months of 1999. And markets, many new forms [of them], will emerge within hours of any full or partial collapse. There will be a move, starting long before the final hour, to reevaluate all assets: buildings, land, whatever. New organizations will spring up to try to manage and leverage those reevaluated assets. Fortunes will be made and lost in days, in repeated waves of such days. Normal SEC style regulations will be routinely bypassed

We have learned a good deal about how to make large scale community conversations useful. Talking about scenarios is one of those ways. The serious possibility of failures impels us to discuss contingencies -- but contingencies for what? We really don't yet know. We see a tendency to gridlock in our organizations as people see that budget needs may require crossing boundaries to get the needed cash. Planning stirs up issues around turf and budget. Talking about Scenarios, that is, some plausible images of the future beyond what we know for sure, get people engaged with much less anxiety. Having looked at scenarios in cross organizational groups, we can then talk more fully about what we should do.

We are in the middle of a very complex social process. My advice is, read history; the French revolution, the thirty years war, the collapse of complex societies, the emergence of feudalism, the rise of industrialization, the making of the oil industry, the Meiji restoration, the Luddites, myths of creation and destruction. It hardly matters; every historical episode provides a map of some aspect of the current situation. Its a feast for those who are willing to think, and lots of antique knowledge turns out to be very useful.

(for more great Carmichael insights, see the archives of his newsletter on his website.)

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See also: On the social/environmental implications of Y2K

and Here's a website which shows where all the environmental indicators are
going, in particular resource depletion. It's also about philosophy, politics, discussion of what felled past civilizations.