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"Ministry of the Future" By Kim Stanley Robinson

11/25/2022 7:52 am |

This book is exactly why I read science fiction. Set in the modern to near future, it delves into the climate crisis and what might be needed to recover and save the planet. It is not an easy read, dragging at points, with different characters, viewpoints, and even writing styles. But, I found it incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. But, more importantly, it pushed me and my perspective on things. It made me even more burningly aware of the climate crisis around us and how we, as a people, and me as an individual, aren't doing enough.

Highly recommend!


What follows are excerpts I highlighted while reading the book. Some are interesting tidbits, some are philosophical, and some were moments I enjoyed in the book.

Chapter 20

But it’s important also to take this whole question back out of the realm of quantification, sometimes, to the realm of the human and the social. To ask what it all means, what it’s all for. To consider the axioms we are agreeing to live by. To acknowledge the reality of other people, and of the planet itself. To see other people’s faces. To walk outdoors and look around.

Chapter 28

The Hebrew tradition speaks of those hidden good people who keep the world from falling apart, the Tzadikim Nistarim, the hidden righteous ones. In some versions they are thirty-six in number, and thus are called the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, the thirty-six righteous ones. Sometimes this belief is connected with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s promise that if he could be shown even fifty good men in these cities (and then ten, and then one) he would spare them from destruction. Other accounts refer the idea to the Talmud and its frequent references to hidden anonymous good actors. The hidden quality of the nistarim is important; they are ordinary people, who emerge and act when needed to save their people, then sink back into anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished. When the stories emphasize that they are thirty-six in number, it is always included in the story that they have been scattered across the Earth by the Jewish diaspora, and have no idea who the others are. Indeed they usually don’t know that they themselves are one of the thirty-six, as they are always exemplars of humility, anavah. So if anyone were to proclaim himself to be one of the Lamed-Vav , this would be proof that actually he was not. The Lamed-Vav are generally too modest to believe they could be one of these special actors. And yet this doesn’t keep them from being effective when the moment comes. They live their lives like everyone else, and then, when the crucial moment comes, they act. If there are other secret actors influencing human history, as maybe there are, we don’t know about them. We very seldom get glimpses of them. If they exist. They may be just stories we tell ourselves, hoping that things might make sense, have an explanation, and so on. But no. Things don’t make sense like that. The stories of secret actors are the secret action.

Chapter 37

He would say we are all like quarks, which are the smallest elementary particles, he told us—smaller even than atoms, such that atoms are all made up of quarks held together by gluons. He made us laugh with these stories. And like quarks, everyone had a certain amount of strangeness, spin, and charm. You could rate everyone by these three constants

Chapter 40

The orienting principle that could guide all such thinking is often left out, but surely it should be included and made explicit: we should be doing everything needed to avoid a mass extinction event. This suggests a general operating principle similar to the Leopoldian land ethic, often summarized as “what’s good is what’s good for the land.” In our current situation, the phrase can be usefully reworded as “what’s good is what’s good for the biosphere.” In light of that principle, many efficiencies are quickly seen to be profoundly destructive, and many inefficiencies can now be understood as unintentionally salvational.

Chapter 54

Yes. You can short civilization if you want. Not a bad bet really. But no one to pay you if you win. Whereas if you go long on civilization, and civilization (therefore) survives, you win big. So the smart move is to go long.

Chapter 55

Strategy comes from below and tactics from above, not the reverse

Chapter 64

Rent goes to people who are not creators of value, but predators on the creation and exchange of value.

Chapter 69

This was the world’s current reigning religion, it had to be admitted: growth. It was a kind of existential assumption, as if civilization were a kind of cancer and them all therefore committed to growth as their particular deadly form of life. But this time, growth might be reconfiguring itself as the growth of some kind of safety. Call it involution, or sophistication; improvement; degrowth; growth of some kind of goodness. A sane response to danger— now understood as a very high-return investment strategy! Who knew?

Chapter 72

The Midwest has been treated like a continent-sized factory floor for assembling grocery store commodities, and anything that got in the way of that was designated a pest or vermin and killed off.

Chapter 74

He wrote that they had a saying in their cold little villages, to deal with the times when fishermen went out and never came back, or when children died. Hunger, disease, drowning, freezing, death by polar bear and so on; they had a lot of traumas. Nevertheless the Eskimaux were cheerful, the man wrote. Their storm god was called Nartsuk. So their saying was, You have to face up to Nartsuk. This meant staying cheerful despite all. No matter how bad things got, the Inuit felt it was inappropriate to be sad or express grief. They laughed at misfortunes, made jokes about things that went wrong. They were facing up to Nartsuk.

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