The Iron Curtain of Silence: Carmichael's Latest Newslettergreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
As one of many examples of learning from folks with a very different "ideology" than mine, I have learned much from Doug Carmichael about Y2K over the past year. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the single social commentator who is able to get multiple dimensions of this problem (the technical but other dimentions too) into his viewscreen simultaneously.
His most recent newsletter (Tom Carey or Critt: would you post link, I got lazy and deleted the mail) speaks eloquently about the surreal curtain of silence that has descended about Y2K over the past month.
I mean, even people I know who are not-sure-they-GI have been saying to me, "this is really weird, considering that as recently as two months ago, even skeptics were acknowledging that Y2K was barely entering its very dangerous home stretch."
Carmichael says it much better than I can, but my own feeling is that it is a silence that is vibrating with underlying societal anxiety: "the truth that cannot speak its name."
-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), May 16, 1999
I think what you are seeing is a realization that it is simply too late. Those that firmly believe there will be significant problems are tired of trying to convince their friends, neighbors, family, bosses, etc. etc. that this need attention.
Those that know there is no problem still know it and there is simply nothing that will change their minds now.
And the friends in government are trying to get a handle on how to delay, contain or lessen the panic that will result with even a moderate disruption in services.
I have been acting as a consultant to my community for the past 6 months. I had bounced on desks for 6 months prior to that. In March of this year they formed a Y2K committee. I see the progress, hear the arguments and become deeply depressed!! I am grateful to live in the country and be self contained cause it is past the point of really preparing.
Those that believe are steadly aquiring food, water and weapons. Those that do not are laughing and poking fun. I believe silence at this point about personal preparation is the best path. If food deliveries, power reliability and potable water become a real issue, alot of people may remember "Old Frank" who had set aside 3 months of food and water and decide it is "unfair" for him to hoard food. Could be messy.
So, I expect the silence will get louder.
-- wkeller (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 16, 1999.
Douglass Carmichael sends around a weekly Y2K e-letter. They are excellent. You can sign up for it at his site. (Info below).
Subject: Y2KWEEKX week 34 & 33 issue 35 May 15, 1999
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 21:18:28 -0400
From: "Douglass Carmichael"
To: "Y2K Week"
Y2KWEEKX week 34 & 33 issue 35 May 15, 1999
Shakespeare and Tao Consulting
Douglass Carmichael with Mark Frautschi and Seth D. Carmichael
These weekly notes are part of a dialog built around an evolving set of scenarios. Consider each issue an impression from the week, sightings of early indicators, deeper theorizing and thematic weavings. The scenarios and back issues archived at:
[To Subscribe or Unsubscribe mailto:email@example.com with message body: "subscribe y2kweek youremailaddresshere" or "unsubscribe y2kweek youremailaddresshere"]
NOTE: We have opened a scenario conference in tandem with the newsletter. Go to
register and enter the conference called y2kscenarios.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WEEK: Doug (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
I spoke at a conference last week and felt that the level of active Y2k concern has moved toward total neutral. The Old maid card of Y2k not to be held if you want to continue in normal society. The few there who seemed interested were very thoughtful people, all past forty, who have worked on their own systems within their own corporations (this was a wholesalers convention) and are coming out to see what is going on with others, and are surprised at the low level of concern they are finding among peers, suppliers and customers. Several, with intense overseas dependencies, found their contacts in other countries fully uninformed about Y2k. That included some distributors in England. But they felt paralyzed by the lack of social support for thinking.
Underneath the calm however I sense a growing, not a healing, but a growing split between reality and posture. As organizations are being pressed to report, the reports must be positive, and the internal way this is being handled, in most cases, is by narrowing the range of concern in order to be able to say its going to be ok, because saying "we can't make it" is just not managerially tolerable. On the good side, this tension is producing some soul searching about what the reality is, but shoddy workmanship and CYA seem, in my experience, to predominate. People are less and less willing to talk, interest is replaced by the look of people who have just put their parents or a pet down. No longer discussible.
No blame. Just we need understanding of something so profound. We do not have a fix for y2k. We do not have a grasp of the problem. The nature of y2k is such that very few people really feel a motive to get it fixed. Because it's the old maid problem, or like leprosy, or incest, Rwanda or alcoholism, it's shunned rather than embraced.
So, no grasp, no fix, no motive.
Overheard on a plane between New York and Boston:
"So what do we do about this y2k?"
"order them to give reports."
"maybe it's a question of procedures?"
"Put it on your list for next week."
These folks didn't want to deal with y2k. I thought of Hell. Or that Old maid card game. Or the myth of Orpheus. Few want to descend to the level of details. Just give us the reports, and you remain accountable.
So we need to accept that we live in a management culture, not a technology culture. And the managers work for the market, and the market is king. We do not know if a tech culture is possible. The implications are enormous. Bob Dylan said, "we have gone too far, maybe even the light bulb is too far" (New Yorker, may 10). Stephen Jay Gould speculated that the reason we are not visited by aliens is because no culture in the history of the universe has been able to both develop the technology to get here, and survive socially. (In Full House.)
But we have been here before, and not been able to get a grasp. Linus Pauling was my freshman Chem teacher, and he was in the midst of his campaign against nuclear industry. The battleground then was strontium-90 and its concentration in milk for children. It was obvious that a large number of small radiation leaks would add up to a large increase in radiation. Rogue states were discussed in the fifties and sixties. But we went along. Now we find ourselves, with China, stolen secretes, Pakistan and middle eastern nuclear capacities, back on the edge of nuclear terror, with y2k and nuclear plants being another point of danger. This world was predicted, and denied. The argument was that it was an unstable political world. The business/political leadership reduced it to a technical problem. I recall how nervous the students were (it was McCarthy time) about hearing any of it. "Just give us the tools for the career." Students blocked a speaker because they were afraid that his appearance on campus would jeopardize their summer top clearance jobs. These are some of the people running much of business in the 90's. others are younger who grew up in an upbeat world of "Increase" and the skills of surfing the wave of increase to an early retirement in gated communities and airport clubs on the way to the few interesting safe places in the world.
Last week I said that y2k is like a number of other issues we handle badly, such as economy, climate, psychology. I'd like to be optimistic about humans and technology. Tech is not just the latest from silicon valley, but speech and print and weaving and fire, cooking and jars, and cave painting. The promise of technology is that by being smart we can create artifacts that help us adapt. But so far, for ten thousand years, tech has created differences, and under the pressure (somewhat ideological) of necessity, we have been slaves to a few among us rather than friends to each other. We silly humans are conditionable, and insight is rare across conditioned boundaries to our thinking given by teachers and priests and peers and media.
Y2k shows all the symptoms of a gross misunderstanding to our peril.
We do not stay connected. We are putting kids in front of CRT's to learn, rather than with the passion of another in the form of a teacher who cares. There is an emerging understanding in the learning world that in order to learn a child needs to feel the reality of a love of the topic by another person. It is the co-participation in shared minds that leads to learning. I love music, I love you. I believe you can learn music. Absent one of these ingredients, no real learning can occur.
We think adolescents should be consumers and job holders, and pass their lives between these two modes. All recreation should be market consumption. All relationships would be mediated by advertised objects. Sexuality and violence were repressed until they could be marketed. The aim of the media now is live sex and live killing, but not a sensual society that gives rewards outside the market.
So we tend - even those with a humanistic education - to see y2k as a technical problem to be handled by managers. We do not notice that the tech has replaced people, and those who are remaining are driven, anxious, competitive, and disdainful of those who do not "get it."
I think that the 'early adopters' of y2k issues are the ones who tend to feel that there is a holism to life, not just adaptation to the moment.
There are those who get it and those who don't. This division seems very deep. It's a division between those who want to ride the wave of this economy to their personal paradise, and those who sense something is wrong as the wave heads towards potential walls, rocks, or, for a wave, even a smooth shore is dangerous. We do not know which is correct. Maybe both are, in the sense that there is no way to get off the wave that will in fact crash. Then what?
Larger framing may help, if not with a solution, at least with understanding.
I think the emerging wisdom is that instead of the four phases, hunter gatherer evolving to agriculture to industrial to digitalization, and us being at the point of an infinitely expanding everyone included market, we really have another set:
World wide Connected elites
These frames are important because they sensitize us to emerging issues and opportunities. The shift from Rubin to Larry Sommers is considered significant because Sommers will continue the story line of free market. Thomas Friedman's exasperatingly interesting The Lexus and the Olive Tree says basically you've got to get on the train. But then we have lots of people in jail because we don't understand human nature. We have lots of unhappy kids because we have built an economy which is not tuned to human nature. We have replaced trust, meaning relationships of care, with 'trust' meaning 'I will honor my contract'.
We are building a world with a narrow logic, a kind of stimulus- response dumbness. Maybe it's a sign of the times that books with the title "x" for dummies, sell so well, since we are mostly acting dumb. This last week I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree (see the may 20th New Yorker for a good review). Friedman wrote one of the better books about the Middle East, From Beirut to Jerusalem, and he did so because he experienced the issues and wrote about his experience. Now he is the NYT foreign affairs correspondent, and he has one message: Globalization and with it the economy is the new world system, replacing the cold war. It's a great thesis, and it's clear that he mulls around with the leaders, and sees others only when they move into his life space as service providers in hotels, airports, chancery's. The book is maddening but a very clear picture of the wowwie zowwie school of "it's the economy stupid."
Try to convince someone who is just buying a house (I just did and hence missed last weeks issue) or creating a new company, or transferring jobs that y2k is important. Just as we can't think about the deeper human psyche and the nature of this economistic culture, or have good conversations with each other (I've seen men in men's groups cry at their recognition of their isolation from each other, and women cry at the results of time spent with men who are so anxious to do it and be done with it that they either can't touch, or treat the women like its massage school, or gymnastics warm-ups), we have a hard time being interested in the human consequences of y2k, or the technology- business complex. Maybe it will be a woman's issue. And the children.
[snip -- to end]
-- Diane J. Squire (email@example.com), May 16, 1999.
You might also want to read this letter ...
LETTER: To Senate Y2K Committee (Napa Valley Citizens for Y2K Preparedness)
-- Diane J. Squire (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 16, 1999.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree is a good read. What struck me was the level of inter-connectedness that really exists. My depth-perception was way off. I thought I understood but was woefully short of seeing many of the ramifications. To understand y2k, I need to see this as clearly as possible. Beware the "Electronic Herd".(A great expression)
-- Mike Lang (email@example.com), May 16, 1999.
Douglass Carmichael has some more interesting snippetts in this weeks newsletter ....
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People are working hard in many cases. But the crunch is on. See John Koskinen at
A meeting held in march about pharmaceuticals illustrates part of the problem There was an urgent feeling of a need to "get the word out to the people," but the 'word' is just too boring, and reading between the lines suggests problems we won't hear about that could make it interesting. 'Getting the word out' means relax, don't worry, its ok. So we see that organizations get energized when public awareness could lead to action that hurts them (banks, pharmaceuticals.). So we will only get sleep inducing messages. Such messages are the only ones that can survive through the corporate culture to emerge as public statements. But the corporate tends to blame others, so now its "international." Because International is not yet within the club. Note the tendency to focus on one domain or another, until here is too much pain, and it stops, when there is a 'good report' forced on the managers of that industry. So we have an increasing club of ok members, utilities, states, food suppliers, pharmaceuticals. But soon other countries will start noticing that if they give out 'we are ok' signs they will be believed. No one will any longer be suspect.
Year 2000 (Y2K) - Pharmaceuticals Acquisition and Distribution Meeting March 8, 1999 Department of Veterans Affairs
* * *
But then real suspicions will creep back in. Because the Bottom Line:
"As more projects reach their final stages, individuals responsible for them are feeling a sense of relief and optimism. However, this may distract us from the fact that the projects are behind schedule -- which may bode poorly for the magnitude of glitches and disruptions that will occur in those organizations next year. It may also create a false sense of optimism about the readiness of other organizations in the economic system. If top management is not paying close attention to the Y2K status of suppliers, customers, trading partners, competitors, merger and acquisition partners, and infrastructure providers, the organization is still at great risk."
PERSPECTIVES: Doug (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
Can you believe:
"Outlook 98 had the date for Memorial Day (US) wrong this year. It also has Thanksgiving Day (US) wrong this year: Tuesday, November 23 instead of Thursday, November 25." (Thanks to reader C. L. McIntyre for this one!).
>From a friend "This reminds me of a city in Belgium, I forget the name. At one time it was one of the most powerful cities in the world- a great trader port. It was built just off the coast on a river. Over time, the river needed to be dredged and because all of the inhabitants just kept passing the buck for the responsibility to pay for the dredging project it never happened. Gradually the passage completely silted in and now the city is just a backwater town and not a port at all. With no one taking responsibility for doing the greater good everything slowly declines. Now we are talking about the same phenomena on a global basis."
I received the following from a book about to be published in Germany..
(1) The y2k problem is the first major challenge of modern knowledge societies within the epigenetic regime IV. [following Piaget, etc.. - Doug]
(2) The challenge poses a new type of societal coordination problem which is characteristic for the epigenetic regime IV and which has not been encountered in previous societal formations.
(3) The challenge is global and runs throughout the entire world with a damage potential roughly proportional to the degree of societal advancement.
(4) The challenge is universal and affects industrial enterprises, the service sector, utilities and infra-structure, private households or local and state administrations.
(5) The challenge belongs to the class of most complex and most densely coupled socio-technological problems.
(6) It affects the machine code bases and their embedded hardware components, i.e., chips. In this sense, y2k must be considered as a rare challenge across the two main epigenetic levels of actor networks and knowledge bases.
(7) It is a self-inflicted and self-propagated "error" in the machine code. This "error" can be qualified as a typical "frame problem error", resulting from improper solutions with respect to time coordination and time horizons.
(8) Due to its embeddedness in steering and electronic control processes as well as in the relevant machine program bases across agriculture, industry and services, the y2k problem affects the fundamental metabolic exchanges and transformations within economic market networks.
(9) The "error" is central both to actor networks and to the knowledge pools.
(10) The central error has been propagated for decades both within the knowledge pools and within actor networks.
(11) The central error has produced a broken machine code and, thus, disruptions in the (re)production of actor networks after January 1, 2000.
(12) Due to the shortage of time left, the central error has become "intractable" by now.
SITES: Doug (mailto:email@example.com)
Y2K curriculum for grades 6 - 12 developed by the New York Times Learning Network and the President's Y2K Council:
For an interesting review of some of the tech issues, with lots of references to Mark Frautschi, see:
* * *
CLASSICS: Doug (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
>From Raoul Vaneigem's earlier book The Book of Pleasures. (1976).
"Education introduces intellectual separation into the body. The domestic state we call the family turns the child into a little angel whose head is directed towards the sky, the peaks, the elite, towards thought and power. The rest of the body with its cyclopean anal eye, is limited and firmly fixed to the earth, the lower regions and repressed world where everything drags its feet, grovels, or hides.
"Every time a woman turns into a mother and rebels at herself the better to resist the embraces of her child, and her own incestuous desire, she teaches her body to grow numb, stifle what it feels and harden into a shell. Thought being thus invested with power of decision over the body, imposes itself as a distinct entity, which reproduces the social separation between manual and intellectual work. In this way the child is initiated simultaneously into the curse on sex and into its economic reasoning. For him his body becomes what he has to direct, restrain, dominate and civilize according to the laws of the power which governs fecality. His head then patiently teaches in authenticity, to be ashamed of desire and to fear intense pleasure, which then sends the self into exile and profits appearance.
"You manufacture an infant prodigy in your image and model him upon that part of trade you have fenced off for yourself. How can you not see that under the intellectual progress he makes, lies a lost Atlantis, ruins of a sensual intelligence repressed in times gone by? Most of the time, the child's understanding that you praise is but his servile adaptation to the free trade in reward and punishment, promotion and downfall, power and submission."
* * *
Last week I was at a conference run by some Jesuits on the implications for health of Eric Erikson's eight stages of man. "A child was never meant to be raised by a nuclear family".
* * *
Y2K AND YOUTH: Seth (mailto:email@example.com)
So I have become a full time Y2k Activist. Connections, phone calls, meetings and more meetings. There are a number of issues that are of great concern to me at the moment:
1) We must work together. The Y2k community has splintered into various factions with agendas and action plans that don't seem to be connecting. Communication is poor and we are hurting each other by not working together. If you are part of a Y2k effort, at any level, I encourage you to work with not against you fellow Y2k activists. Get in touch with the alliance type initiatives
to name just a few.
2) The President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion is preparing to announce the nation wide "Community Conversations" campaign but we don't yet know much about how this effort will be implemented. I encourage everyone to begin a dialog with their local leaders about this program. I have the feeling that all of us will need to work hard to get the best results from this opportunity.
3) Funding. The Center for Y2k and Society
has set up a grant program for local Y2k initiatives. Contact them and see if you can get some assistance. I know we all need it and I hate to see it sit in a back account somewhere because not enough of us know about it.
4) Event Awareness. I'm amazed by the number of Y2k related events that I am not aware of until the last minute or until it is too late to attend. In an effort to stop this gross injustice to the community I have started a new mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org where anyone can post information on Y2k events. Local, national and international activists are welcome to post event information to this list. If you wish to subscribe visit
please feel free to share this URL with anyone who might be interested.
My own take on the Y2k situation leads me to believe that this summer will be full of activity. At the moment the world seems preoccupied with other concerns, but we will be seeing and hearing a lot more on the Y2k front. A number of great initiatives are under way.
Today I sat in on the Washington DC Y2k workshop for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. The attendance was fair, but most of the commissioners were there because they had to get their identification pictures taken. After lunch and the photos the group thinned out rapidly. The overall message of the panelists was your typical "We are all prepared" statement, but the questions from the audience were well thought out and there was some obvious concern that the Inner City was at risk for potential problems. DC's Mayor Williams published a document "Community Tips For Y2k" that contains some of the strongest language I have seen from a government office. It does not correspond to the overall message of "Happy Talk" that we have been hearing thus far from the government.
Online this week there has been a lot of talk about the KIA commercial that uses Y2k as an advertising gimmick. see
They make fun of the potential for public panic and say you should spend your money on a car instead of worrying about whether your bank will be Y2k ok or not. If only we had the budget that KIA has and could buy prime time advertising. I've talked about this before but no one seems to be listening. Maybe if enough of us complain to KIA they will pay for a PSA that really deals with the realities of Y2k. Maybe not but it's worth a try. The only email address I could find was mailto:email@example.com let them know what you think. If the government wants to control the public reactions to the Y2k problem they need to be reaching out with solid informative efforts. My local post office has just put up a "Y2k Small Business Action Week" poster. Unfortunately this "Action Week" was over a month ago. Typical.
* * *
As always I am looking for partners for the Y2k Youth Action Network. If you or anyone you know is working with young people on Y2k related issues please contact me: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org We have upcoming meetings on May 26th at the United Way National Headquarters in Alexandria where we are inviting Non Profits and Organizations that work with youth to learn more about what they can do to involve their constituents in Y2k Community Action and on June 9th at the 4H Headquarters to discuss Youth Action Network agenda items.
On June 12th there will be a DC Citywide "Community Conversation" on Y2k at the Mayor's Meeting Room at One Judiciary Square. This is open to the public.
-- Diane J. Squire (email@example.com), May 16, 1999.
Carmichel has tremendous insight and his post make you think in new ways. It suddenly struck me that what he is on the verge of grasping is that Y2K is not the Titanic, but a Tidal wave. Moving across the Ocean unimpeded and barely visible it is aproaching the shore at incredible velocity. It passes under the ships of forward looking dates with minimal disruption at first for those farthrest from shore, but as it aproaches the slope of the sea bed its effects become increasingly more severe and uncontainable. Nearing the shore even huge ships are swamped and capsized as the wave mounts, and the water begins to recede from the beach. The geologist have told us of a massive offshore earthquake and those who know this causes tidal waves are fleeing to high ground, while those lacking the ability to associate cause and effect remain scoffing in the surf, or secure in their stilted beach houses. For those who are not actively retreating now, it will be too late when the wave becomes visible. If the flood doesn't get them, the backwash will.
-- Nikoli Krushev (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 16, 1999.
The reality is that it is way to late for community based activated ANYTHING -- but there is still time to prepare personally. In that sense, this iron curtain of (deafening) silence is a godsend. Use this lull in Y2K awareness on the part of Joe Sixpack to prepare, don't waste a minute!!!
-- King of Spain (email@example.com), May 16, 1999.
The irony of the Y2K situation is, its still too EARLY for most to prepare. (And its NOT too late either ... Oct/Nov/Dec ... may be late, later on).
Until people feel a compelling need to get ready for an unknown something -- that even the neighbors share -- then its not time yet.
Sad, but there it is.
Awareness of the need to take personal action comes first. Id guess that 95% of the U.S. population doesnt believe its a critical issue, and hence will do nothing. (That includes numerous small business owners). And this is thanks to the bulk of the newsmedia, corporate managers, government bureaucrats and Koskinens crew. (Not to mention those leaders at the top, who don't lead).
Unless, and until a high-profile, national preparation effort is PUSHED, then we will simply reap the repercussions of being a mostly fix-on-failure nation ... even if 80% or so "gets fixed."
-- Diane J. Squire (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 16, 1999.
-- Tim (email@example.com), May 17, 1999.
From Douglas Carmichael's Week 38 (April 12) newsletter:
I am filled with disappointment at all the lost publicity undeniable levels of failure would have generated (if the y2k failures in calendar 2000 are largely of a deniable nature, call that an astounding success at remediation; call it possibly a loss of an opportunity to create a world that works for more of us) and happiness that there are some real signs that real progress is happening.
Ah-ha! Koskinen's erstwhile speechwriter is actually a Doomer(tm)! The man states clearly that he is "filled with disappointment" about the non-failures to date. For shame! How dare he not believe that all will be well in this best of all possible worlds! 8-}]
Have enjoyed Mr. Carmichaels' writings for almost a year now. Hope he continues to provide us all with his very "human" view of Y2K.
-- Mac (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 18, 1999.