The weekend comes, so now you can really spend some time on this biosphere business. When you programmed your little biosphere with lots of food production so that nobody would go hungry, you also selected a higher rate of methane output. It just goes to show how you have to think about all of the consequences of anything you do. That nobody should go hungry is a worthy goal, but, all things being equal, it means more people, and more people means more land under cultivation, and that means more methane, and that is a bit of a problem. So the next time you set up SimEarth you do things a bit differently. Rather than concentrate on expanding food production in the short term, why not put more resources into science and technology instead? This is a bit of a gamble, you think to yourself as you drive off to the mall in your high tech hybrid car, the kind Al Gore recommends.* What if science didn’t come up with the answers in time? What if burning up fossil fuels at a rate of knots didn’t kick progress along fast enough? What if people go hungry? What the hell is progress anyway?
By the time you return home, SimEarth had reverted to what it calls, with a certain drollery, ‘geological time’. There is nothing left alive, so your planet is just ticking over, waiting quartz eons for life to mysteriously spark again. What happened? Check the charts. Lets see: pollution up, oxygen levels down, carbon dioxide up, temperatures sky high. It seems the techno-gamble didn’t quite work out. Cranking up the whole global economy to the max, pumping out and burning up every source of energy as fast as possible certainly did increase the pace of technological change, but in this scenario, it increased the rate of global climate change even faster.
The problem wasn’t the methane this time. By keeping population and food production growing a bit more slowly it seems you kept your little green earth from spinning out into that fate. The problem this time was the carbon dioxide. There it is on the graph — shooting up at a devilishly sharp tack, taking temperatures up with it. Burning fossil fuels — oil and coal — produces carbon dioxide, among other things, and when you increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, you turn the toaster on again. Like methane, it traps the heat from sunlight. The really sad part is that all the way home in the car from your trip to the mall, loaded up with organic vegetables, biodegradable toilet paper and the new slim-line model Playstation, you had been really eager to see if your little gamble had paid off.
You had not quite absorbed the idea that driving is part of the problem. Marx showed how each act of concrete, specific, particular labor is made equivalent, by the wage relation, to every other. Concrete labor is also abstract labor. In gamespace, every concrete, specific action of any kind is also an abstract action, the consuming of a given resource for a given result. And yet gamespace does not encompass and account for every action. Only those inputs that take the form of an agon between competing forces in the market can be calculated. But behind the agon lies a host of contrary terms, shading off into the imperceptible, that come back to taunt gamespace with their cumulative effect. What sets SimEarth apart is that the unintended consequences of agon, all the excluded and contrary outputs, received at least an approximate accounting.
You had always thought that if the economy in the real world cranked along at maximum efficiency, then technology would also bobble along at a rate sufficient to deal with the little problems that might occur along the way. Karl Marx: “Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.”* Well, maybe. What the SimEarth allegorithm points to is that like most people, you had always taken this on faith. What happens if the little problems aren’t just accidental byproducts — a little oil spill there, a toxic waste disaster there — what if the military entertainment complex itself was mucking up the global conditions of its own success? Gamespace is just like your Playstation. It appears to itself as a rigorous game, with every action accounted for, and yet it relies on a huge power cord poking out the back that sucks in energy from an elsewhere for which it makes no allowance. That the game is not really ruled off from the world, that it relies on an external source of power, did not really occur to you until you played your new Playstation for hours and hours on end and it overheated. Tantalum, like the rest of planet earth, is only good with so much heat. There is something outside The Cave after all. Game over.