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Thread: My reason for being outspoken about the negative aspects of planning and the future of planning

  1. #1

    My reason for being outspoken about the negative aspects of planning and the future of planning

    (The comments below were originally written in response to someone referring to me as a troll in another thread. Since I don't like being misunderstood, I decided to post the following. It is rambling, not well-written, and quite possibly partially deranged from the lack of adequate caffienation, but it is honest.)

    My negativity about planning was not entirely predicated on my own circumstances. I had four very good years working for one of the most well-respected planning firms in California, of which I look back on in great fondness, and then for the Navy, which although at first was very challenging due to certain supervisory personalities, in the end turned out to be a pretty damn good job. I left that job and moved back to California, not because I didn't like working for the Navy, but because my father in law has cancer and we just had a baby and wanted him to have as much time with her as possible. It was a hard decision to move back to the west coast, but it was also a simple one; it was the right thing to do. I don't expect to do so, but if need be, I could get my old job back fairly easily, and I would be _fairly_ content; however, we are happy being closer to family.

    Now that people know I'm human, and don't lumber through the forest with a club slung over my shoulder, I'll say that my negativity toward this profession was and is absolutely warranted. I felt as if I was a casualty of MIS-education, where all these professors and old practitioners taught one thing, and the world taught another. In this sense, my education didn't begin in school, it began as soon as I graduated. California was swept up in the housing boom, inflating the number of available opportunities way above anything that could be sustained long term. New Urbanism was shoved down our throats, and I fought back. Fuck, we even had one firm from OC come up and try to sell us "New Suburbanism" (one of the best examples of a design/development firm taking what already existed and constructing their own fake-ass paradigm out of it... sound familiar?) I never hid my disillusionment. I challenged my professors, openly arguing with them, because I wanted to understand and they did not speak the truth. While every other student sat shit-faced from consecutive nights of drunkenness, I asked questions that mattered. Later, as I wrote EIRs for New Urbanist developments all over the state, I found myself repeatedly describing the impossibility of their effective implementation and their essential dumbness.

    Of all my negativity, I save the best of it for New Urbanism. You have to understand; I came from Cal Poly, a well-respected design school, and New Urbanism was cutting edge shit. It was spawned from the great egocentric minds, the Fountainhead architect-planners, the megalomaniacs, and therefore it attracted the same types of individuals who wanted to play a part in it, the visionEERS, attracted to Pretty Picture Planning like wasps to hot dogs. I am happy that NU seems to be rightfully relegated to the historical shit-bin of obscurity, and even happier that APA, in their willful ignorance and stupidity, still talk about it like it matters.

    As far as what planning was supposed to be during the heady days of 2003-2007, it was all fabricated from the start: New Urbanism, the number of jobs, our worth as sought-after professionals, the fight against sprawl, the value of much of our education, our ability to better the world through institutional change.... It was all predicated on a pretense of pragmatism. As far as what much of planning is, to a large degree it's a very inane profession. Making a difference becomes a very elusive goal, with many obstacles. I for one, am not willing to make the enormous trade-off of years spent sitting at a desk for that one good thing that actually got put into the ground. I don't see that trade-off as noble; I see it as a waste of human potential, because there is a metric fuck-ton of other good things you can do with your time.

    Now, planners and planning students are simply trying to come to terms with the new reality of what planning is. It's all still being worked out, and through no effort of planners themselves, but through the hand they are dealt by the New Economy. I don't envy the professors; my god, what do they think they can teach that will serve their students over the long term? Do they think students should still pay to hear about climate change? Do they think students need to hear about Daniel Fucking Burnham, Garden City planning, and all the other irrelevant history? One thing they should be teaching, though, is every aspect of the housing boom and bust, and the financial impacts of growth, not just its environmental impacts, because in the end, it's the former that drives most decisions. Students will serve themselves well if they learn how to frame everything in financial terms. If I could offer advice to university planning departments, I would say teach less about the environment, less about fucking consensus-building, and more about finances.

    Finally, to put the last nail in this rambling, half-eye-opened post, I am an Absurdist, subscribing to the Church of Absurdism. Not because of my planning experience--although that has certainly given a worthy contribution--but because of other life experiences. The world is spinning irrevocably, irretrievably toward the elimination of human civilization. It may come in 100 years, or 100,000 years, but we're past the point of no return, we haven't spent our finite resources on space exploration, and so, someday, the human race will be dead and gone. My personal hope is that dinosaurs will rise again, because they were awesome. I don't believe this gives us a pass to do whatever we want; I think the environment and all living species should be respected, because a healthy planet is a happy planet, and in our good treatment of it, it may permit us to be cast off later rather than sooner. I call this Pragmatic Absurdism: Our presence doesn't really mean anything, but as long as we're here we may as well live responsibly. For example: Global warming doesn't matter in the long run, but in the short run, we may as well do what we can to help stave it off, if only to partially absolve our consciences when Greenland eventually resembles Wisconsin. Because responsibility and morality doesn't arise from what we think is possible, but from embracing what is not.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 07 Apr 2012 at 2:36 PM. Reason: wording, language, typos, clarifications

  2. #2
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    While I think you are often overly negative I don't disagree with much of what you write here. I think you offer a needed reality check to counterbalance much of the BS that floats around. I especially agree with you about academia.

    However, I'm not disillusioned about planning because I never thought it was anything more than it is. I don't think it's dead or dying, just resetting a bit. Personally, I find the stuff I work on sort of interesting, sometimes very much so, sometimes not. Find me a job that doesn't suck sometimes. I don't give a shit if I don't change the world. I do a good job and then go home to my family and my other interests. I've worked a bunch of much more difficult and demanding jobs (cooking, military, commercial fishing) for far less pay. I grew up poor so find my planner's salary quite comfortable. If I want more income I can pursue that outside the realm of planning.

    All I can say to planners dissatisfied with planning is that if you want the prestige and salary of a doctor shut the fuck up and go to medical school. You ain't ever going to get it in planning, so move on to something else if you still believe you are entitled to glory or wealth (this isn't directed at you or anyone else specifically, just a general statement on my part).
    You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Chocolate, I stopped paying attention to your long post (although I agree with many parts of it) because of your terrible, unprofessional choice of words. When ANY professional in ANY profession starts cursing he looses ALL credibility. For someone with your credentials, I would expect a far more polished post.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Chocolate, I stopped paying attention to your long post (although I agree with many parts of it) because of your terrible, unprofessional choice of words. When ANY professional in ANY profession starts cursing he looses ALL credibility. For someone with your credentials, I would expect a far more polished post.
    Keep up the good work in maintaining your credibility!

    btw, it's more fun on this side....

  5. #5
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    Oh dear.
    You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by chupacabra View post
    Oh dear.
    I can see it now:

    Doctor: Nrschmid, you have really bad hemorrhoids. You need surgery, and it's gonna hurt like a motherfucker.

    Nrschmid: Sorry, doc. But with your poor choice of words you've lost all credibility. The pain in my ass, then, is clearly not from hemorrhoids.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chupacabra View post
    Oh dear.
    Its a psychological profile. In this profile type you can easily see the tactics and what's coming next. Surely there is a 'hide' button for threads in this new site version, yes?
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    My personal hope is that dinosaurs will rise again, because they were awesome.
    Quote of the year! (So far!)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I can see it now:

    Doctor: Nrschmid, you have really bad hemorrhoids. You need surgery, and it's gonna hurt like a motherfucker.

    Nrschmid: Sorry, doc. But with your poor choice of words you've lost all credibility. The pain in my ass, then, is clearly not from hemorrhoids.
    It would raise an eyebrow, but I would listen to what he has to say (to remain objective and polite) and go and find a new doctor. This person has years of rigorous training through college and medical school and I DEMAND that he be a professional AT ALL TIMES. I am paying insurance which is paying him.
    Last edited by nrschmid; 08 Apr 2012 at 3:31 PM.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    So no one swears at your job? That's got to suck.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I feel like I am rubbernecking at a traffic accident. I shouldn't look, I should just go about my business and let people kvetch, but I can't help myself. What I don't understand is why people who have decided planning is crap continue to haunt Cyburbia and tell all of us that our everyday work sucks and that we're losers for not leaving the profession.

    By the way, I think the planning profession is alive and well (or at least, no less alive than it has been in the past 25 years) and there's a lot of innovative work going on out there. None of it is at the level of massive urban renewal, but I think we decided that sort of urban surgery was a bad idea in the 1960's and decided to treat cities as gardens instead of farms. On an everyday basis I get very discouraged but when I take a step back and think of the projects I have contributed my skills to over the past 20 years, I find it much more encouraging.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    I feel like I am rubbernecking at a traffic accident. I shouldn't look, I should just go about my business and let people kvetch, but I can't help myself. What I don't understand is why people who have decided planning is crap continue to haunt Cyburbia and tell all of us that our everyday work sucks and that we're losers for not leaving the profession.
    Planning can certainly be a respectable and good occupation for many. It is simply not so for me, and I have explained why. Should I remove myself from these forums because of it? Eventually, I'm sure I will. But since planning has occupied so much of my life already, I cannot be let go so easily. Have I ever called anyone a loser for sticking to the profession? Absolutely not. Outspoken and negative I can be, but please don't expand my words into such unflattering territory. I didn't start this thread in order to stir the pot or piss anyone off, but to simply explain why I say the things I do.

    Nrschmid: It would raise an eyebrow, but I would listen to what he has to say (to remain objective and polite) and go and find a new doctor. This person has years of rigorous training through college and medical school and I DEMAND that he be a professional AT ALL TIMES. I am paying insurance which is paying him.
    Okay, I honestly thought you were kidding with your initial reply about me using offensive language. I attempted to play along. The fact that you were serious, however, is funnier, because with your manufactured incense, you become more offensive than I was. Kudos.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 08 Apr 2012 at 9:53 PM.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Part of the reason some of us choose to linger around is because we WANT people to be aware of just how bad it is. When you have spent 5 of your 6 years, which is most of your short-lived planner career, your opinions are going to be very different than someone who battled out far smaller ups and downs STRETCHED OVER A 20 year period. If you don't like hearing the bad news that is still a very big reality, then I suggest you do something about it and fix the mess.

    As for swearing, no I don't swear in a professional setting EVER. Not on a forum, not in a public meeting, not in private conversations with coworkers. NEVER. As for swearing in my personal life, I may have done it a few years ago but now I just don't see the point. There are plenty of ways of expressing my anger or frustration through other words or body language that are far more subtle and require less energy.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  14. #14
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Re dinosuars rising again, this is the Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology.

    We are seeing, in what passes for public discourse, a lot of reptilian behavior and "thinking", although that limbic, reptilian brain is not of the right capacity.

    If we continue on our steady slide toward corporate rule and military control planners will be carrying water for increasingly autocratic governments.

    Before long the Chinese model of iron-fisted rule and "market" oriented policy will take over our fair continent. Global warming will not necessarily "change the climate", but it will make the onion-skin thin "biosphere" unsafe for all of us.

    If you want to see a very good dramatization of such a future, check out Terry Gilliam's film, "Brazil".

  15. #15
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post

    By the way, I think the planning profession is alive and well (
    For real? I'd say that it's alive, but it's certainly not well. It's been vastly weakened by the recession and the resulting austerity. No doubt you've noticed that aside from the kvetching regarding how much the profession sucks, the Career Development forum here is pretty moribund... because in a shrinking profession, there's little in the way of career development possibilities to discuss.

    Totally offtopic:

    Quote Originally posted by ChocolateChip

    Finally, to put the last nail in this rambling, half-eye-opened post, I am an Absurdist, subscribing to the Church of Absurdism. Not because of my planning experience--although that has certainly given a worthy contribution--but because of other life experiences. The world is spinning irrevocably, irretrievably toward the elimination of human civilization. It may come in 100 years, or 100,000 years, but we're past the point of no return, we haven't spent our finite resources on space exploration.(
    Something almost Kunstlerian about this part of your post. You may be right. I've always thought of the planet's fossil fuel reserves as a one shot deal to allow us to get a spacefaring civilization up and running, and once that shot has passed, we may be forever stuck on this planet, our species having never left its crib. Still, you have kids, right? Why'd you have them if you think they will be so irrevocably screwed?

  16. #16
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I would like to believe that everyone can be cordial in this thread... but it is a fire starter. Just remember to think before you post.

    As for the thread...

    I have no problem with people being outspoken in their negativity of the planning profession. But do everyone a favor and speak your peace and let it go. Just as I would say to someone who wants to sing the praises of the profession. You can be on the positive or the negative side of the issue, but incessant discussion on such a topic starts to become really one trick ponyish.

    I am glad you started this thread. Hopefully it will provide some context as to your opinion and people should respect that.

    As for dinosaurs... I would love to start a pterodactyl riding company...
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  17. #17
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Moderator note:

    My first instinct for this thread was to shut-er-down, but I tend to think that if everyone will knock off the personal attacks and avoid this becoming a well bruised dead horse, we having the makings of a good, frank & open discussion that is probably needed in this profession. Consider this a yellow-card to all participants that further trips down the personal attack road in this thread will have consequences.

    SR

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    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Several responses
    1) You are right about NU. It never ended up being what it was promoted-never quite lived up to it's billing.
    2) You were also right about space. With finite resources and too much population, our future was space-mining the resouces and living there. Sadly, our window to achieve that has closed. Fringe's dystopian view, while I hope is wrong, is closer to the truth.

    Planning has value in four ways. 1) It causes a community to look at itself, where it's been and where it's going. 2) Demcracy in action. Planning gives citizens a voice in what is going in around them. It gives them the right to object. Like other ways when rubber meets the road, it's a bit messy. However, without planning the average citizen has no voice in what is happening around them. 3) Planning is the gatekeeper. We force projects to meet the regulations. Hopefully we are able to weed out the dumb and harmful ones. We mitigate the potential side effects of development. 4) And the end of the day, we help people-our citizens. We give them the information to make informed decision. We act as guide and translator through the maze of government. We hopeful protect their rights and give them a mechanism to redress wrongs. We get crap cleaned up in other words. We are Clark Kent ins blue shirts and khakis. More accurately, we are batman in the last batman movie. We do what's right, whether its appreciated or not and the cost to ourselves.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    One thing they should be teaching, though, is every aspect of the housing boom and bust, and the financial impacts of growth, not just its environmental impacts, because in the end, it's the former that drives most decisions. Students will serve themselves well if they learn how to frame everything in financial terms. If I could offer advice to university planning departments, I would say teach less about the environment, less about consensus-building, and more about finances.
    Out of all of the statements this one rings true the most. I am helping to teach 2 design courses this spring at our local nationally recognized planning program, and i have constantly had to tell students that these "ideas" do not lend to financing due in part because of liability, payments, construction costs, etc. One student began challenging me on why we should continue a certain type of development pattern and we should "change the financial system". "Ok", you go do that. Good luck.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  20. #20
    I only work in planning part time, but in the past month, Ive worked on urban agriculture, transportation, open space, and a couple of other issues. None of these will change the world. But maybe they will make the immediate surroundings better for a few people. So I am glad I have my masters in planning.

    Yes, planning is in a bad stretch. Given the state of the economy, nothing is safe. Ask 50 year old software engineers about their employment possibilities.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    Several responses
    1) You are right about NU. It never ended up being what it was promoted-never quite lived up to it's billing.
    2) You were also right about space. With finite resources and too much population, our future was space-mining the resouces and living there. Sadly, our window to achieve that has closed. Fringe's dystopian view, while I hope is wrong, is closer to the truth.

    Planning has value in four ways. 1) It causes a community to look at itself, where it's been and where it's going. 2) Demcracy in action. Planning gives citizens a voice in what is going in around them. It gives them the right to object. Like other ways when rubber meets the road, it's a bit messy. However, without planning the average citizen has no voice in what is happening around them. 3) Planning is the gatekeeper. We force projects to meet the regulations. Hopefully we are able to weed out the dumb and harmful ones. We mitigate the potential side effects of development. 4) And the end of the day, we help people-our citizens. We give them the information to make informed decision. We act as guide and translator through the maze of government. We hopeful protect their rights and give them a mechanism to redress wrongs. We get crap cleaned up in other words. We are Clark Kent ins blue shirts and khakis. More accurately, we are batman in the last batman movie. We do what's right, whether its appreciated or not and the cost to ourselves.
    I currently have the same views. We're the ones herding the cats through the development process, balancing the needs and desires of developers, the city, residents, and future economic prospects. We were in response to bad and unhealthy development, and help provide a voice for all interested parties. Regardless, bad planning happens. You can help guide things, but ultimately, one interest wins over another.

    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Out of all of the statements this one rings true the most. I am helping to teach 2 design courses this spring at our local nationally recognized planning program, and i have constantly had to tell students that these "ideas" do not lend to financing due in part because of liability, payments, construction costs, etc. One student began challenging me on why we should continue a certain type of development pattern and we should "change the financial system". "Ok", you go do that. Good luck.
    Luckily that particular school has been trying to been trying to help students understand that the all mighty dollar is somewhat important; I remember taking classes on finance before I graduated. However, I've always had a feeling that schools (Cal Poly and others) try to focus on the grand view, and skip over some of the less ideal, but more reality-based points (money). It seems universal though that schools have a "shoot for the moon and you'll land among the stars" mindset. Students should create plans that are somewhat realistic, but it seems like educational institutions want to create dreamers; let the real world knock them down.

    Btw, goodluck on the design classes
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Out of all of the statements this one rings true the most. I am helping to teach 2 design courses this spring at our local nationally recognized planning program, and i have constantly had to tell students that these "ideas" do not lend to financing due in part because of liability, payments, construction costs, etc. One student began challenging me on why we should continue a certain type of development pattern and we should "change the financial system". "Ok", you go do that. Good luck.
    Awesome, feel free to pm me who you're going to be working with. A part-time lecturer who used to also be a partner at the firm that I worked at taught/teaches a finance class ("Project Feasibility"), but it's an elective, and not a required course, which is unfortunate. I made sure to take it, and it had very practical, nuts and bolts information, but in only one class, when those principles should have been integrated into every single class in the curriculum, especially design courses. You should get with him.

  23. #23
    With all the negativity, I am compelled to provide a different point-of-view. Most recent college grads have a romanticized view of urban planning. They want to change the world for the better and view city planning as an avenue to fulfill their dreams. As others have so eloquently posted, things don’t always go as planned. The trick is doing something you love that pays the bills - which may require challenging some of the planning paradigms that exist.

    Traditionally, a planning student would intern at a planning department, gain experience, and secure full-time employment as an entry-level planner after graduation. Nowadays municipal budgets have been cut drastically due to the Great Recession, resulting in significant layoffs and few job openings. Additionally, colleges are pumping out more planning degrees than ever before. Because of the vast amount of talented professionals looking for employment, hiring managers can attract a master's degree holder with several years of experience, paying close to minimum wage, with a job functions an intern can easily handle. The mistake many make is to cast too small of a net when looking for employment. I'm not talking just geographically.

    There are jobs out there. For example, I know a field in demand where the responsibilities include holding public meetings with affected landowners and tenants, using GIS to map and identify land parcels, and acquire real property or maintain easements. Sounds very much like city planning doesn't it? What I posted above is a typical job description of a right-of-way agent. I see a niche market for planning plus right-of-way since the job functions are very similar.

    Another example is the real estate development industry. A planner that is interested in urban design and new urbanism may find rewarding career working in the entitlements division for a development firm that specializes in infill and redevelopment. These developers are very different than the tract home builders and have survived the recession better than their counterparts. Yet, we in planning have this stupid tendency to lump all developers together and label them as evil, greedy, and best to be avoided. A planner trying to influence the design of a new development may be a better agent for change working for that private development firm than working as a staff reviewer for the city. Unfortunately that planner gets labeled as being a part of the "Dark Side."

    If someone has a passion for planning, they should go for it providing they understand the realities of the job market. There are opportunities out there for holders of a planning degree, but it may require thinking outside the box. The purpose of this post is to introduce additional ideas in to the debate.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post

    There are jobs out there. ... I see a niche market for planning plus right-of-way since the job functions are very similar.

    Another example is the real estate development industry. ...

    If someone has a passion for planning, they should go for it providing they understand the realities of the job market. There are opportunities out there for holders of a planning degree, but it may require thinking outside the box. The purpose of this post is to introduce additional ideas in to the debate.
    I see niche jobs as well, just not widespread, secure employment. IMHO for the next decade or so with continued ill-advised local austerity. And the soon-impending resource scarcities and contested space will require planners to be even more plannery and mobile as even more things become even more hotly contested. The opportunities for an occasional cool project will still be there, of course, but many more important issues will take precedence...

    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post

    Quote Originally posted by ChocolateChip
    Finally, to put the last nail in this rambling, half-eye-opened post, I am an Absurdist, subscribing to the Church of Absurdism. Not because of my planning experience--although that has certainly given a worthy contribution--but because of other life experiences. The world is spinning irrevocably, irretrievably toward the elimination of human civilization. It may come in 100 years, or 100,000 years, but we're past the point of no return, we haven't spent our finite resources on space exploration.

    Something almost Kunstlerian about this part of your post. You may be right. I've always thought of the planet's fossil fuel reserves as a one shot deal to allow us to get a spacefaring civilization up and running, and once that shot has passed, we may be forever stuck on this planet, our species having never left its crib. Still, you have kids, right? Why'd you have them if you think they will be so irrevocably screwed?
    We never had a realistic chance of living in space or even mining resources there. Unfortunately Earth is it for us. I hope we learn how to live here soon.

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