Thursday, 30 June 2016

Conversation with George Friedman: Breaking eggs to make a democratic omelette

I began a conversation on the morality of intervention inside a sovereign state with the well-known geopolitician Dr George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures (formerly at STRATFOR). The below is the interaction.

Firstly, this is the opening section of a recent essay by Dr George Friedman. The piece is called: The Problem with the State Department DissentersIt's free, so do check it out for the full context.
"Last week, approximately 51 State Department officials filed a protest against the American policy in Syria. They called for airstrikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime, which they claimed has been in constant violation of all ceasefire agreements. On the surface, this is a completely reasonable demand. Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad have maintained power in Syria since 1970 through oppression and periodic reigns of terror. Resting on the support of the Alawite minority in Syria, they created a military and security force that has violated all standards of human decency.

"In 1982, Hafez suppressed protests in Hama by killing between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Bashar conducted an equally brutal repression following the uprising in 2011, initiating the civil war that is now raging.

"There is no question that the world would be a better place without the Assads. Bombing Damascus until the regime is destroyed is morally desirable. And if bombing it would force Assad to change his policy toward the rebels, that would be of enormous value."

While I accept in 2016, the dominant geopolitical paradigm supports Dr Friedman's idea that removing Mr Assad is the "moral" thing to do (he says "bombing Damascus until the regime is destroyed is morally desirable" and "there are multiple moral imperatives"), it might be time to consider an alternative way of thinking.

The idea of morality in world dynamics is a recipe for more examples of Syria in the future. If an immensely powerful country as the US sees every other country without a democracy as "immoral," then the consequence will always be isolation, threats and ultimately war. I understand this goal is a fairly new paradigm. The R2P mandate didn't exist during the Cold War when the US had a counterweight power with which to contend. Now that the US is unarguably the strongest military power, and since "might makes right" is always true in affairs of government, the US in 2016 can do what it likes to whomever it wishes in pursuit of worldwide democracy.

I am fully aware a goal of world peace can be achieved if the entire globe runs its government on an American model. However to achieve this requires a lot more bloodshed either directly by the US or by its proxies to compel every people group to change its government model. If Washington is comfortable with this process, fine. But it is certainly not moral. And I say this as a New Zealander from a pedigree of democracy.

The reason Assad is considered "immoral" is simply because the US believes it has the right (because of its might) to choose how other sovereign nations conduct their affairs. I am suggesting this thought process is the problem. (Other countries aside from the US think they too have the right to intervene in another sovereign country's affairs, but only on a regional scale, so far. It is the US which believes it has a global mandate to do the same.)

So I submit another way: revert to and encourage classical international law in which the process of government within an internationally recognised border is none of anyone else's business. This would require, for instance, accepting that North Korea wants to be a monarchy. Or that Syria desires to be an autocracy. It might feel immoral to let these countries alone, but it is a step towards peace with a far greater stride than forcing those countries to bend to the goal of worldwide democracy.

In other words, has Dr Friedman considered that the mindset of morality in international affairs and the idea that democracy (in the modern sense, not the Athenian sense) as the greatest form of human government, are actually two of the most central problems leading to much of the world conflict about which he talks so eloquently?

Do I think this is possible? Of course not. The hard power might be dialed back, but the worldwide democracy project would still continue with soft power. The penetration of the internet in Iran over time is, I think, a causal factor in the eventual opening of that country to the international community. The internet is the quintessential American invention (free, equal, democratic, etc). Anywhere this machine spreads above a certain percentage can almost be guaranteed to spur democratic feelings among the people.

But this is a recipe for greater friction in the world system in the short and medium term. And again, if this is something the US is comfortable with, then this is the way it will be. So do not think only Stalin talked of breaking eggs to make omelettes - the US appears quite happy to do exactly this to achieve the utopia it wants.

Dr Friedman responds

I think you misunderstand my view. I do think that liberal democracy represents the most moral regime. I recognize that there are many non-liberal democratic regimes that would disagree with my view. Therefore I do not think it my task or the right to impose liberal democracy on other countries.  For one thing, the burden of doing so would cause my own country, the United States to undertake a burden that would break it, and it would fail in the effort. In any case I believe in the right to national self-determination, and that means that it is the right of the citizens of this nations to rise up and overthrow this nation should they choose to undertake the risk and burden of doing so. So I certainly don't think it is the American interest to try and create liberal democracies, and I also think that doing so threatens our own liberal democracy.

I do believe that the United States, like all nations has the right to pursue its national interest, by force when necessary. However wisely or unwisely, the United States saw its interest, after 9-11 to intervene in Middle East to disrupt the organizations there that conceived of these attacks. This was not out of vengeance but to prevent further attacks. It can be readily argued that this intervention was poorly thought out. But error is not the same as immorality. It is not immoral to be foolish but it would have been immoral not to act in some effective way against al Qaeda in particular and the Jihadists in general.

This brings us to Syria. In general, its public is responsible for the regime and is free to rise up to try and overthrow al-Assad. This is what they chose to do. It is perfectly acceptable to me, in a general uprising, to provide aid to those who rose. The United States would not exist had the French not taken actions, for whatever reason, to support us. So in this case, it was not an attempt to impose democracy. Two moral rights coincided. One was the right of the United States to pursue its national interest. Another was the right to support a large-scale uprising. The coincidence of the two rights – self-interest and massive resistance to the regime – undermine the claim that the al-Assad regime had a moral right to US neutrality in its struggle.

But there was another instance that caused a moral issue. In 1982 the al-Assad regime murdered between 10-40,000 people (the number may be higher) in the Syrian city of Hama for challenging the regime. There were many more afterwards. There is to me a boundary of moral action that a regime passes when certain acts are carried out. No reasonable person objects to regime change forced from both inside or outside in South Africa, for example. The Apartheid regime could not claim the legitimacy of other tyrannies because it had passed the boundaries of decency. Similarly, the destruction of Hitler had little to do morally with fascism but everything to do with moving beyond the bounds of basic humanity. So too, I would argue that Syria had with this and many other massacres. I do not claim that all regimes must be liberal democracies. I do claim that some regimes, regardless of type, pass from the realm of a moral right to exist, to a moral obligation to destroy.  South Africa was one. Syria is another.

Now the moral obligation falls on the entire world. And all countries have other, competing interests. The United States had the right to align with revolutionaries, just as France did with the United States. It had a right to declare Syria beyond moral bounds. I think it is. But it is not obligated to overthrow the al-Assad regime, when there other more pressing evils are in the region. For instance: ISIS.

So I agree that the United States has neither moral right nor obligation to impose liberal democracy on the world. I do think the world has a moral obligation to deal with crimes against humanity, of which the Syrians were surely guilty and I have always been struck by the silence concerning its crimes from those committed to human rights. Now who is to judge this? As in all moral matters, it falls to us to judge what ought to be done. It would be nice if the United Nations were able to do so, but it wasn't constructed for that. In this world we must all make the moral judgment. As for those who were silent on Syria for thirty years, but condemn other regimes with much lesser crimes – that is a study in moral selectivity.

My own view on Syria is that the al-Assad regime should have been destroyed years ago not because it wasn't liberal democratic but because it was morally despicable. The rising against al-Assad occurred, and within the bounds of national interest, it was assisted. The pivot away from Assad to ISIS was a choice of the greater of two evils at the moment. Morality is absolute. Its application is infinitely more complex.

From my point of view, the destruction of the al-Assad regime has nothing to do with imposing liberal democracy. It has to do with destroying a regime that has violated all norms of civilized governance. Now who will do that? Those that are willing to act, and in this world those who have, or had, an interest in his fall.

Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. I don't think we are far apart in most things. But al-Assad was not a question of regime type. The regime was far worse. As for who will act. In practice, those who need to.


INTEL & Analysis responds


Thanks for the prompt reply, George. To be honest, I'm actually excited to be talking to you, considering you're one of my favorite people!

Firstly, I'm glad you clarified. I didn't quite have your argument framed correctly.

It is unarguable that killing 10-40,000 people in Hama is nothing short of immoral, regardless of which (useful) moral philosophy one adheres to. I can't deny that, and I'm not going to. Rather, the piece that stands out is the causality. Arguably, the reason Hafez Assad caused so much suffering could only have beent he result of the Syrian people rising up. Few rational tyrants will begin a mass-killing of their own people for no reason. (And according to the history of Hama, it appears the uprising was a mix of Islamism, nationalism and Muslim Brotherhood ideology. So that episode is not good representation of my viewpoint.)

The 2011 uprisings, however, are. The people rising up in Syria were, generally speaking, (with multiple actors) hoping for freedom under some form of liberal democracy. The stronger groups in the country now appear to be Islamist and have hijacked the chaos, but the genesis of the uprising was broadly liberal as far, as I can tell.

This I believe is the reason both the State Department and Pentagon desire to intervene this time around. The talk of removing IS is certainly admirable, as any rational person would agree, and is a factor in wishing to intervene in Syria, but is also inherently related to the liberal factions in the country. I wasn't alive during the Hama repression, and I confess not to know enough about the situation, but intervening in the uprising back then would have exactly the consequences you outline in your article. Yet I suspect the reticence then was due to the lack of a faction of liberal democrats fighting nearby. Removing Assad would have resulted in an Islamist or Muslim Brotherhood control of Syria in 1982, which certainly would have been leveraged by the Soviet Union. This would have violated a specific condition in the US' larger Cold War grand strategy...Your input here is appreciated

But in 2011-2016, the attack on a democratic faction in Syria this time around is unacceptable to Washington. And so it should be. There is a natural affinity between the two, and a resulting victory for the liberal rebels would be a spread of this affinity. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the order created by democracy as the dominant system in the international community (in fact, "international community" is a term specifically designed to denote those countries with either partial or full democracies, but that's another topic).


Let me frame Syria in a slightly different way, which may illuminate why I think the use of morals here is so unhelpful:  Is it not more appropriate to say that Bashar al-Assad is legitimately crushing a threat to his regime, a threat that is the antithesis of his own in both philosophy and structure, and that despite his agreed brutality it is perfectly within his legal rights (based on classical international law) to do so?

Consider that if tomorrow inside New Zealand, for instance, a pure-democracy faction emerged in Waikato which took up arms seeking to replace the government in Wellington (which is not, strictly speaking, a pure democracy), would Wellington not fall within the same legal rights if it used its entire weight to crush this dissent?

And if these two scenarios are broadly the same, then because laws are built to maintain order, would it not be illegitimate for the US and the international community to intervene in the sovereign affairs of New Zealand even if Wellington's reaction was considered "immoral" by this large group of people? Is law not the backbone of order?

What I'm getting at here is how the imposition of morals onto an foreign relations looks from the outside like a privilege afforded only to the mightiest of powers. And the details of those morals are entirely arbitrary to that mightiest of powers. Any reflection by others of the same morals is a result not of the objective truth of those morals, but more likely because the others do not have the might to challenge and replace the morals with their own.

I don't want to misunderstand you further, and stop me if I am, but the reasoning in your reply seems to suggest that while uprisings against governments should morally be supported, not all uprisings are equal. This infers an arbitrary moral equivalence dictating a subjective preference for democratic uprisings over any others. And from the outside - especially watching how Washington has acted over the years - this looks identical to active encouragement of democratic uprisings within other sovereign states. Which in turn looks identical to a violation of classical international law. Logic suggests an ultimate end-point for this inertia.

And, I think, that end-point is where your national interests argument nests. Can you explain why you think it is not within the US' national interest to encourage the spread of democratic government around the world? Perhaps I am naive, but surely such governments would be more likely to engage constructively with the US than any other version of government. Surely, more democracy leads to a more US-friendly world, which is directly in line with US interests.

Again, democracy is the best of a bad lot. My issue is with the introduction of subjective morals into an amoral world - where they often do more harm than good. The problem here is that every people group has different morals dictating what they should do in the international space. That al-Assad has "violated all norms of civilized governance" and that some regimes "pass from the realm of a moral right to exist, to a moral obligation to destroy" can only be said within the confines of a US-as-the-sole-world-power understanding of what an ordered and moral world should look like. Because from the perspective of al-Assad, his actions are the height of morality - he has the defence of his family and Alawite community to think about.

That you can quite rightly say "no reasonable person" would object to removing Hitler, al-Assad or the South African regime is, I submit, precisely because the US-as-the-sole-world-power worldview is so popular around the world today as a result of exactly the inexorable spread of American morals over the last 75 years. I still hypothesise a return to classical international law would be a bulwark to the kinds of problems we see in Syria, and a limiting factor on the disturbing tendency for Washington to wish to impose its morals (and democracy) on the world through force.

(to be updated upon reply)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sitrep - 29 June, 2016

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a close referendum at the end of last week. Many observers were surprised at the decision and markets across the world, particularly in Europe, fell significantly at the news. Markets have since recovered slightly as the week progresses, but the mood remains dim in many regions.

The decision has not, however, yet been ratified by Westminster. Neither has London submitted the formal departure process to Brussels, both of which indicate there lingering reticence. The EU is also questioning whether the margin (51% to 48%) is wide enough to be a legally binding decision based on EU regulations, and is considering whether it will force a second referendum.

Whether or not the UK vote does decouple it from the EU structure, the scenario last week will spur Brussels into making significant reforms to protect what remains of the bloc. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Brussels has made only incremental reforms that have failed to fix its deep political and fiscal problems, and in many ways have actually exacerbated it.

And quite aside from negatively affecting only the UK, which will now become more nimble than the EU, the British decision could send the union deeper into financial struggles. Greece and Italy both hope the scenario now supplies unexpected bargaining room to ask for more money from Berlin and unemployment rates in Spain, Italy and France will continue to rise as the larger powers concentrate elsewhere.

But what the EU structure became in 2016 is different to its original purpose. It was never meant to offer member states economic well-being. Instead, the bloc is a project binding the powers of France and Germany together. The UK is leaving a continent with a history of vicious internecine warfare, so greater fragmentation of the EU could well usher a re-introduction of this dark fact.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

What the UK is leaving behind

The so-called Brexit situation is fast moving. Many things remain unclear, including when the UK will begin formal exit procedures, or even whether the EU will allow its departure.

Yet one question not often asked is about the EU’s purpose. Most journalists call it a trading bloc or a political union, but in truth the supranational organisation is far more. It is important to unpack this to know what exactly the UK is leaving behind.

As I have written before, the central question governing the 20th century was: what can be done about Germany? This was a dynamic in the prior century as well, but with the advent of advanced industrialisation the sheer power of the German state lifted it to the top of world concerns.

Germany’s heft is a result not necessarily of its people but of geography. The country sits in the middle of the North European Plain, which stretches from central Belgium to the Belarussian border. Elevations vary between zero and 200m of mostly flat farmland. It is also the basin for the Rhine, Ems, Weser, Elbe, Oder and Vistula rivers.

Those rivers cut a patchwork across Europe offering states trade routes that are magnitudes cheaper than road or rail. This efficiency creates massive profit for traders and tends to make the surrounding geography disproportionately wealthy.

But the plain is also a ready-made tank and infantry highway. Over the last few hundred years, the geography of modern Germany has suffered attacks along the plain both from its east and west many times. This vulnerability, coupled with an immense wealth, has moulded Germany’s strategic imperatives in two crucial ways.

First, the country cannot avoid becoming rich, but building impenetrable defences would crush that growth and would be largely impossible anyway given the border distances. Second, powers to Germany’s east and west represent a threat to Germany it cannot assume will remain benign forever. The important lesson of Europe’s history is that friendly politics always change eventually.

Despite popular opinion, no country goes to war because it wants to. It goes to war because it has to. In the 20th century, a vulnerable but rich Germany did the only thing it could and struck at its surrounding states twice in 40 years. In both instances its downfall was in opening a war on two fronts, but it couldn’t afford not to. Europe burned because of Germany’s geography.

The result of the second strike in 1939 was utter defeat and partition. Germany lost its geography to both the United States and the Soviet Union, both powers continuing to position troops there because the geography had not changed. If major aggression were to reoccur, it was theorised, it would reoccur along the North European Plain.

Germany was returned to a contiguous state after the fall of the Soviet Union, under the condition it would not build an offensive military and must join the European Union. Binding European states together in an economic alliance, it was thought, would cancel the vulnerability of Germany as it increased its overwhelming industrial power once again.

The North European Plain
The point of the European Union, strictly speaking, was to bind France with Germany to avoid Germany having to worry about its western borders. There was no chance of binding Russia with Germany, but Berlin knew it could withstand a threat from one point of the compass so it wasn’t immediately important.

Since its inception, France and Germany have aligned their interests for the EU relatively well. German interests focus on maintaining its extremely high levels of exports (48% of GDP) to other EU countries. Meanwhile France, foremost a northern European country, is also a Mediterranean country and shares interests with the south of Europe which are different to Germany’s.

In 2008, after US financial markets collapsed and spread to Europe, the disparities between Germany’s power and France’s diverging interests began to show more clearly. The political union remained strong, but the economic rational connecting the two has never been fully restored.

Diverging French and German interests since that time has been a slow motion explosion of the EU structure itself. That it has taken eight years for the first member to disentangle does not mean the bloc is only having trouble now. The rationale for the EU was never about improving the economic well-being of member states, and that reality is getting difficult to paper over with platitudes.

Spain and Italy are experiencing serious problems – 20% unemployment and 20% non-performing loans respectively. Greece avoids bankruptcy, but with every tranche from the EU central bank pulls further from economic health. Eastern Europe is developing its own defence and economic structure because it cannot trust that the EU will exist in years to come.

The UK is leaving behind not only a political and economic union, but a project built to deal once and for all with the German question. It is clear the project is not working and will need repairing. But when painting only what one sees, the obvious response id: if it could be fixed, wouldn’t it already be fixed? So the question returns to the basic: what can be done about Germany in the 21st century?

Brexit and the mystery of democratic centrism

I

Over the weekend I watched Westminster, almost to a person, discuss the UK European Union referendum result in negative terms. Everyone is just so gloomy, and it was starting to make me feel a bit depressed too.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage are backing off their campaign rhetoric, saying they “didn’t mean” certain things that were clearly delivered as central arguments. For instance, the Leave camp ran advertisements about how £350 million sent to the EU every year could be spent on the NHS if the UK voted out. Mr Farage now says he can’t guarantee any of the money will be spent on the NHS at all.

What is really depressing is the government’s attempt to find creative ways around the decision. The media is frantically posting ideas that Scotland might veto the choice, or that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty doesn’t have to be invoked yet, or how the referendum result doesn’t have legal effect in European terms, or the final decision will only be made when Mr Cameron steps down, or the vote was too close so Brussels might require a second referendum, etc.

To understand why these reactions are the most important aspect of the entire process, it is necessary to delve into what it means to be a democratic centrist: namely a person who supports, cherishes and revels in their loyalty to a permanent government which is immune to electoral politics.

A rule of the modern world is that anything which can describe itself as democratic will do so. To define something as democratic is to define it as good, in David Hume’s “ought” sense of the phrase – a philosophical dead end.

To quote Francis Fukuyama, democracy is “the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” So in 2016, according to this theory of government, anyone else playing might as well pack up and go home.

The trick is the UK’s particular form of parliamentarianism (as with the rest of the Anglo world) is in no shape an actual democracy, understood as a system of government by the whole population through elected representatives. There hasn’t been an actual democracy for centuries, and despite what Mr Fukuyama says, it is far from clear whether this is a bad thing.

II

The present UK government configuration is actually a technocratic, oligarchic state using the idea of democracy to maintain legitimacy but run entirely by the permanent civil service. Do not let an election every few years distract you. No leader in a modern parliamentary state controls anything. This configuration mostly works fine but, as the referendum shows, is in a bit of a bind today.

Strictly speaking, the public doesn’t know about the civil service’s actual power. Or, more appropriately, the public isn’t aware of exactly how much power there truly is and what it means for a modern government to make a decision.

The public is under the impression power has been deferred to them. And in the public’s esteemed beneficence, it has chosen to elect representatives to carry out its collective will. This tight balancing act is something I like to call “psychological capture.” Every government in any era needs to accomplish psychological capture to keep power.

The success of a capture in a modern state requires a truly breathtaking series of chess moves and a bag full of tricks so deep no single person could accomplish it on their own. The most crucial aspect of this capture, the one that legitimises the state, is the concept of democratic centrism. A centrist is anyone who believes in the concept of objective public policy, or the science of government. To the centrist, government is not just one thing. It has a kind of binary structure.

Its staff is divided into two classes, elected officials and career professionals. The two have completely separate responsibilities: Elected officials make political decisions, career professionals set public policy. The media portrays decisions driven by politics as bad. Whereas policies organised by experts tend to be good. If this is surprising, pay closer attention.

Most people working in business would find this completely unworkable. But in government that pesky psychological capture requires elected officials to be present while the career professionals carry out the important work. Unless one’s idea of a fun Friday night is watching city lights burn instead as bright orange flames and for pitchforks to be completely sold out, the best thing to do is leave this model alone.

Of course, the dominant activity of the state is to teach its free, independent citizens how great democratic centrism is. And the best way to achieve that is to run elections occasionally or (controlled) referenda on impossible-to-screw-up issues such as EU membership.

III

But there is no such thing as scientific public policy. Public policy and science have nothing in common. One cannot conduct a controlled experiment on the real world.

Economic antidotes cannot be tested, diplomatic plans cannot be modelled, military tactics cannot be proven, ecological reactions cannot be predicted. At least, nowhere near Popperian falsifiability. So there is no "objective" or "nonpartisan" or "apolitical" basis for any public policy – even in government departments regarded as "scientific."

People believe the illusion of objective policy because it creates an objective centre around which a system of government can be built. To a democratic centrist, a visitor from Proxima Centauri, knowing the same about Earth as themselves, would surely create the same government. Perhaps the alien would withdraw from Afghanistan, propose to change a national flag or create a supranational bloc called the European Union.

To a democratic centrist, everything the state does is bipartisan, centrist, apolitical public policy. The same thing happens in science by using the phrase "mainstream science." It does not matter "who" the physicists, geologists, or mathematicians are. There is no German physics, liberal geology, or Catholic mathematics. There is only correct physics, correct geology, and correct mathematics.

New policies that become centrist do not wander unpredictably. The trend is always and inexorably leftward, toward more integration among states, with the goal of eventually removing borders themselves. This is described neatly by the suspiciously partial retelling of history called “Whig history.” And because the engine of Whig history is progress, there is no reason to believe the process would stop in 2016. So bureaucratic inertia continues to shift everything to the left of the room.

Progressives think of themselves as anything but pro-government due to that useful trick “objective public policy.” They bravely resist oppressive political figures such as Donald Trump, and support the civil service, which is professional and scientific. When they think of "the government," they think strictly of the latter and invest their energy on frustrating the efforts of the former. Anything that isn’t centrist is considered a vicious attack on democracy itself.

The crazy thing is, progressives are absolutely right to think the idea of political government is terrible. Representative democracy is a thoroughly despicable system. It is dangerous and impractical at best, criminal at worst. In the UK, 49% of people equating to millions of humans were overruled by the remainder. Imagine if the referendum concerned a more malignant issue than EU membership. Tyranny of the masses indeed.

Democratic centrism is nothing more than democratic progressivism. And progressivism is simply a form of pro-government activism. Its faith in the state is handed entirely to the professional civil service. The mechanism by which it delegates this faith is the bizarre concept of apolitical government.

This is obvious in the EU with the dearth of politics in Brussels. This is called a democratic deficit, a term specifically invented to describe the European Economic Community. Huh, isn’t that weird?…

IV

So from the perspective of EU progressives, the Leave vote is a harbinger of a serious failing of psychological capture. I saw this on David Cameron’s face. He clearly felt forced into squeezing his entire prime ministership on the promise of an EU referendum he knew risked creating a serious obstacle for the state’s governmental direction.

He wasn’t frightened of a catastrophe, because “democracy” is tightly controlled in the modern state model. The civil service will ride over the Leave decision. Britain will remain Germany’s third largest export destination, the financial community will continue using London and Britain will integrate more of its trade with the US anyway.

Britons are like everyone else. They believe what they're told. They respond to superior authority. For the last 250 years, they were told the state is their mother and father. Or possibly both. And now, they use the official "we" when discussing the state. I have a tough time removing this pronoun from my vocabulary about New Zealand too but I do try. Brits simply cannot imagine life outside the comforting arms of their official universal uberparent.

But if they lose psychological capture, then other models of government might take over. This would be an undesirable shift. The loss of capture felt might trend elsewhere too.

(One shouldn’t worry about Mr Trump, though. His actual policies confirm he is just an uncouth progressive. This makes sense, because, after 71 straight years of solid top-down psychological capture, it would be a miracle if America produced a single politician who was not on the progressive spectrum).

Losing psychological capture is unacceptable to the elites but so too would be letting the game of actual democracy change anything. This is the tight balancing act. The job of the civil service is to ensure the continuation of the status quo. This explains why it is now trying to find legal ways to reverse or negate the Leave decision. It will find a way, there are plenty of legal avenues available. But that’s not the actual problem.

V

The actual problem is that as the civil service moves along this route, it will need to answer the question of how such a blatant display of undemocratic sovereignty will be sold to a public which thinks it has participated in a highly democratic process.

People voted because they thought it would have an effect. What they don’t realise is that the civil service will find a way – it always does – to make whatever chosen decision turn out how they want.

So we should expect a significant portion, if not all, extant UK/EU trade relationships to remain and important EU regulations to be maintained. Immigration might be tightened (that was happening anyway), but political relationships will continue. Every important EU structure representing the goals of progressivism will remain. They will simply change shape and, crucially, names.

To achieve this, Westminster and Brussels will work to deliver the mother lode of propaganda about “change” while they fiddle in the background ensuring nothing actually changes. Since the civil service is unelected and operates on a timescale lightyears longer than any politician, it will achieve this on its own calendar – incrementally. But it will be done, no matter how long it takes.

There is far more at stake than to let a little bit of political government muck it all up. And don’t even think about trying to change this. The only thing worse than a civil service oligarchy is actual democracy.

The civil service will have to be careful, and eminently professional, to sell this move to the UK public without giving up the long con. The fear and trembling leading up to and after the vote helps: you can’t con someone who isn’t paying attention.

The entire Anglo world watched the referendum. We were spellbound thinking we were observing democracy rip apart a multi-decade project. That is incorrect. We were watching a pretend decision that will have little impact on the future for either the EU or the UK. The civil service will not let it have an impact. It is its job to avoid this, and it is extremely adept at the turnaround.

VI

I really hope I’m wrong about this but unfortunately I know 20th-century history. What gave the game away was the government focusing too much on the names of things. It is the simplest trick in its deep bag of tricks to change a name and report everything fixed. This is bureaucratic inertia, and it is far stronger than any voting process.

After all, last week’s choice was between voting to be in the EU or to leave the EU. It didn’t offer a third option and definitely wasn’t about whether an unelected civil service should be organising structures such as the EU in the first place. That decision was made far above your pay grade – regardless of how much money you make.

But if this isn’t democracy, why is democratic centrism popular? Because all the state has to do to persuade huge numbers of people to support it is create a situation in which pro-government activists are more likely to succeed – professionally, socially, and financially. Hence why almost everyone living around us thinks democracy is grand and should definitely be spread to every corner of the globe.

Regardless of its genesis, the EU is an extant structure in very poor health. Its problems will need to be sorted out sooner or later. Brussels has spent every moment since 2008 figuring out what to do, but answers are slow in coming – if at all. So it has to be wondered: If the EU’s problems are solvable, would they not already have been solved?

Maybe the civil service created something even it cannot control. It wouldn’t the first time hubris undermined the best intentions.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The workplace gender diversity debate is a scam

I

No prizes for guessing the gender at the focal point of a recent press release charmingly titled, “More Women Need To Tell Their Investment Stories.”

I’m going to risk the blowback and suggest if women want to be taken seriously in investment, they might think about cutting back on references to “women investors” – the branding – and simply invest. So the question is: Do women pursue investment because they think it has power, or because it has the symbols of power? I'm not being an insensitive male: This is a deadly serious question.

When a man invests, he doesn’t differentiate himself as a man. He just invests. There is no permission-asking or identity construction. He just invests. Mr McDonalds didn't create the fast-food chain (developed by Ray Kroc) for men, or even as a man, he just did it.

In the release, Chania Rodwell is described as the director of Helmsman Capital in Sydney. She is also involved with “Ladies in Leverage” supporting women in private equity, venture capital and associated sectors. The association now boasts more than 200 members.
“Successful women investors and entrepreneurs need to stand up and be counted if diversity is to be encouraged in the heavily male-dominated field of private equity and leveraged transactions …
“We do have to drive recruitment to private equity. It can appear less attractive than some of the other alternatives open to female applicants. It helps if women working in the industry build recognition to break down the misconceptions and help others to see the opportunities," says Ms Rodwell.
Misconceptions, huh? Let me offer a contrary position, unpalatable but worth considering. Perhaps this isn’t sexism but the choice of outward branding, which, admittedly, isn’t just a female misstep but a trick played on all of us. Consider for instance the titles of such groups – Workshop on Women in Growth Capital, Ladies in Leverage, Women in PE. Note the operative word here isn’t the industry, but that women are “in” the industry.

I’m not denying it's a good thing women are involved in investment – compared with not allowing them to be involved – yet it’s worth asking why, when one gender has controlled the sector since the days of the abacus, we’re now told to celebrate that women are simply included.

Or, said the more scary way, women fought to enter all parts of the system and now the system responds with “Ok, sounds reasonable. But we’ll need more of you.” Does no one else find that suspicious?

II

The second question underneath this is what exactly makes it newsworthy? Why was the release written in that way? For whom was the audience?

The answer is supposed to be, “it's empowering to women.” And I understand that desire. Yet consider when more women enter a field, it means fewer men did and, if the men stopped turning up, where did they go? Why did they leave? I assume they aren't home doing the laundry, right?

The problem here isn't with women “in” investment, but rather its celebration. After decades of fighting for equality, the moment a small number succeed, they trumpet it as success for women. Why must the rest of women be dragged into these people's delusions? They consider it a societal achievement they are merely playing, even if their actions ultimately serve to maintain the system keeping the majority of women exactly where they are. This is not victory, and is not what early feminists envisioned.

The entire workplace diversity debate is actually about enforcing societal normality at the microscopic level. Women in the workforce intersects with capitalism’s need for a working and consuming biopolitics. Biopolitics is carefully described by Michel Foucault as the importance of the human in the labour market. We are not talking about "women’s rights" at all but the preservation of the internal skill of the worker as capital. The system needs, requires and looks for this tension. It feeds on it. It strengthens it.

There is sleight of hand in the compulsion to pick sides in the debate. The dichotomy is the distraction. Women are discouraged from asking  whether they want this system, or even any system. The goal is that ever-greater consumption must continue, no matter the choice. The illusion of which gender is preferable as CEO diverts from asking whether CEOs are actually in control of anything, or if we should have them at all.

III

At this point I must mention Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

She is racing at precisely the time when role of president in the Fourth Republic of the US has never had less actual power. I hope it’s clear by now that although Hillary Clinton as president would no doubt be a good thing, the question remains: what would be the significance for other women?

I've been thinking about why people hate Hillary Clinton, and my conclusion is they hate her for things they'd admire in a man. She's too manipulative, too strategic, is possessed of a will to power. Those could be said of every president, including her husband. Judging by the online conversations, it seems many people still find it difficult to break free of the notion that hard-charging, motivated women are somehow not like regular women.

And of course she's where she is because of her husband. The Bushes, Gore, Roosevelts and Kennedy got as far as they did because of their fathers. But the idea is that women riding coattails is illegitimate when men doing it is "networking." It will always be harder for any woman than any similarly situated man – there is too much cultural programming against women running things.

In a strange way, though, she's internalised this pressure, which could be her downfall. She felt the need not to exploit her name and personal history, pushing it instead to the background. She also felt the need to "soften her image." But she's vying for control of the most powerful political entity in human history. Soften her image? This isn't Sweden. This is Imperial Rome.

There are major problems in the Middle East and China probably wants to flatten the US economy. She's supposed to have the image of Julius Caesar, not some sitcom housewife. Did anyone dare tell Baroness Thatcher to soften her image? Would that have been before or after she thumbed her nose at the Soviet Union and strolled into Communist Poland for a meeting with Lech Walesa?

Former secretary of state Clinton could have argued easily and honestly that her husband was successful in his rise to power because of her, not the other way around. She is a brilliant lawyer and worked behind the scenes his entire career to build networks of supporters in the legal and business communities throughout the country. I don't like her politics but for her not to play up the fact she is quite possibly the smartest, shrewdest person in US politics since James Baker is a travesty.

She has been heavily tested, and I think she passed. When Bill perjured himself to cover up his affair, not only did it cast her marriage on the rocks, not only did she have to worry about their daughter, not only did she have to endure the mockery and humiliation of having it become a public affair, but he also jeopardised her entire professional career.

I can't imagine that was easy. And yet here she is, with her dignity intact, and a powerful career and position in her own right. Her public image is amorphous at best, and she's running against the most stereotypical caricature of a male anywhere in Western politics, but nonetheless she's holding her own.

As an aside, yes, it is disrespectful to call her "Hillary" even if that's how she presents herself. First, she's former Secretary of State. Second, she's a former first lady. I would never ever think to address her by her first name, nor would I address John Key as “John.”

I see this all the time when people discuss highly motivated women at work. "What do you think of Ms. Davis?" "Well, Theresa's really great..." As if she's a teenager. It is, ironically, a way of not properly objectifying them as professional but rather making them seem overly familiar and therefore less serious. I can't possibly be the only one who's noticed this.

IV

Once you begin to learn to read Lacan’s floating signifiers, the world is easier to understand. The paradox of former secretary of state Clinton is how deeply everyone knows the role of president is a puppet, a simulacrum, but everyone argues during elections as if it were not.

Because in reality, after all the shouting and press releases, the result of equality in the investment sector and a new female president will simply be more workers making someone else more money. The system has won, changing nothing except the quantity of people involved in its maintenance. Drawing deeper into the system is not what the early feminists meant when they said the system was corrupt.

Consider that while women (rightly) fought for, and achieved, equal access to university – and women now outnumber men in tertiary institutes – today a bachelor’s degree is effectively just an expensive commodity. It is branding displaying the appearance of education. Feminism was supposed to see past these tricks.

I am simply asking if these successes have helped women them as a group. A woman entering a field doesn’t scare the men away, that’s not what I’m saying. I am saying the reverse: when a field retains the symbols of power but loses actual power, women crowd into it and men flow… somewhere else.

A lot of women, especially younger women, seem to support former secretary of state Clinton. Any one of those women could relate a story of when someone close to them said they couldn't or shouldn't do something. And the root explanation was because the task was something women couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing.

I'm sure the former secretary of state has heard this plenty of times in her life too. It's a standing joke among many Americans that because she's so tough and aggressive, she must be a lesbian. In other words, public opinion is telling her if she wants to be tough, she has to sacrifice her sexuality. That's insane.

Women everywhere hear this every day, social pressure to conform to an outdated standard. A woman says she wants to become a doctor? Why not become a nurse, it's easier. Girls don't study engineering or physics or math. “University is fine, but shouldn’t you find a husband – you're not getting any younger!” Sigh...

V

Now in the US there is a woman running for president, with a real chance of succeeding.

Yet everyone tells her they want her to win because the alternative is a buffoon – a male. When discussing who they will vote for, few discuss her individual success in government, experience or sharp intelligence as a central factor. And the media has no idea what to make of a female running for president who has never bowed to the standard social pressures, so it uses her as a tool to defeat Donald Trump. This is how many American voters think too. The entire structure of narrative is denying her agency at every turn.

So I completely understand her not wanting to concede anything until the last possible moment. But the assumption that women will support the former secretary of state because she is a women is misplaced solidarity, and I’m asking, at what expense?

What if one of those women doesn’t think there should be a president? My point is not that women don't have legitimate gripes with the system, or that sexism doesn’t exist. My point is that most of what people think is modern feminism is really a work, a gimmick, a marketing scheme.  It is broad daylight consumerism and politics, repackaged as a gender issue. What exactly does victory look like here?

Do you see? Championing greater numbers of females in the workforce or a female president isn’t increasing the agency and equality for all women. It may be regressive for women to ask this, but it is illuminating: “hey.... why did they let so many of us in?”

Thursday, 23 June 2016

What part of Western civilisation is under threat from multiculturalism?

My contention is all of it. Here’s why:

Some people say they can split their attention on two or three different tasks at once. A quick logic check shows this to be impossible. If attention=100% of one’s brain, then splitting attention will result in a lower percentage spread over >1 task. It might be 99% of one's attention on an individual task and 1% on another, but the result of a split is always <100% attention. Therefore more than a single task cannot achieve one’s “full attention.” This is simple maths. I suggest the same reasoning can be applied to culture.

By definition, multiculturalism undermines the dominant culture because it divests concentration on one mode of thought and action onto other modes. In giving “equal time” for multiple cultures, the result is always an increase in "space" for the minority culture at the expense of the dominant culture which cedes "space." The greater the numbers of different cultures given “space,” the less there will be “space” for the dominant culture.

As the dominant culture recedes closer to 50% of total “space” the other cultures gain influence, fight between each other, until one (usually the more aggressive) secures a higher relative portion of influence to other minorities, before turning to and breaking down the failing dominant culture and finally taking power. For want of a better term, this can be called the Wedge Strategy.

This was one of the general goals of the Frankfurt School, and a specific goal of the Soviet Union against the West during the Cold War. In fact, the Soviets called progressives “useful idiots” because their agenda attempted the breakdown of Western culture from the inside. Multiculturalism is a major pillar of progressive thought.

I don't have a position on whether this is a good thing, simply that it is happening - and is the ultimate goal. If the result of this process is a reality our present society desires, then that’s fine with me. But let’s not kid ourselves it’s possible to share power when the central fact of humanity is groups will always desire more power.

A fear of losing key and secondary parts of Western culture (such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, women's rights, religious freedom, civil rights, gay rights, etc) is not the same thing as discrimination or refusing to help others in need.

Just using the immigration example, the narrative we are told is to let as many people in as desire to come to a particular country. Otherwise, we are somehow not assisting those people. But there are other ways to assist. For instance, consider that most of these people are leaving their home countries because they fall very low on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A basic and non-controversial response would be to assist these people by ensuring their lives are improved while they remain in their home country. A second option would be accept those people for a limited time, work on restoring the person's home country, before finally sending those people back once the restoration is complete.

In other words, there is a big lie integral to the idea that not allowing unlimited refugees/immigrants/migrants, etc to enter a particular country is discriminatory. It's not. There are other ways to deal with the issue. In my view, a rules-based system is better than the opposite, and we have rules for immigration which protect both the refugee's culture and the entry country's culture, those rules should not be abused. Changing rules based on popular emotion triggered by manipulative media imagery makes a mockery of a rules-based order. This is not an ethical path.

Also, evolution tells us for every organism a change in allele frequency over time results in speciation. Put more simply, the gradual has the same ultimate effect as the sudden if both are cast in the same direction. So how does this map to immigration?

Well, >1 million new people from a diametrically opposite culture entering over a four month period a country of 80 million (Germany), coupled with a politically-driven multiculturalism that defers to those people in every social interaction, will accelerate the equivalent of allele frequency change in that society like oil on fire.

It may help to think of this coupling as the equivalent of a predatory mammal introduced to an island which has been home strictly to birds for 600,000 years. Case in point: New Zealand with cats, dogs and rodents (and people). A cascading series of natural selection events can change irreparably that island (culture) in a disturbingly short amount of time - in New Zealand's case hundreds of bird and tree species were wiped out within two generations, or c50 years.

What saved the rest of the New Zealand's birds? Human intervention and the establishment of a rules-based order which preferred (deferred to) birds over the predatory mammals. These examples aren't too far away from the results we might experience from mass migration.

Studies show people who want to ban violent videogames are idiots

"Last week, one of the most horrific acts of non-wartime gun violence in US history unfolded in Orlando, Florida, where a single man unleashed an assault weapon inside a nightclub, killing some 50 people and injuring more than 50 more.  
Just a couple of days later, Microsoft, Sony, and a number of game developers held press events around the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, and each one of those events were filled with action detailing brutal and bloody virtual killings, sometimes on a grand scale, all in the name of 'fun.'"
Sigh...

Why is it that every time someone uses a firearm to kill people, violent videogames are blamed. A few years ago a stupid agriculture simulator called Farmville was the most popular videogame on Facebook (you're trying not to remember, I know the feeling). Lifestyle blocks haven't proliferated in cities as a result. And I don't think anyone expected them to, and no media ever ran a story sowing fear of a looming shortage of lettuce seed.

But videogames are blamed constantly, for the strangest things. This has more to do with the nature of corruption in a modern society, not a morality tale. We don't have pervasive, overt corruption anymore, we've moved beyond that. Our corruption is institutionalised. Regulation is a nicer sounding word, but it's better understood as institutionalised corruption.

The moves by legislatures to ban videogames should be viewed simply as lawmakers signalling to the videogame industry that it is mature enough of an industry to start spending money on lobbying and political contributions - like all the other culture industries do. Officials don't want to ban games - they make too much revenue. They just want to bring them in line with the rest of the controlled culture industries now that it's showing signs of being a serious contender for people's leisure time.

Why would it ban them when the government works with companies on special versions for use in soldier training. Restricting the age of people who can play violent videogames is even more of a clue the problem is the industry's misalignment, rather than any "save the children" reasoning on the campaign posters.

You don't need to be a certain age to learn all about your country's glorious battles against the savages both foreign and domestic. You don't need to be a certain age before you learn to play cops and robbers. You don't need to be a certain age to watch television shows in which GI Joe characters with square jaws and southern drawls shoot at bad guys with foreign accents. You don't need to be a certain age to learn that it's okay for good guys to kill bad guys.

You don't need to be a certain age to play rugby, or to watch it on TV. You don't need to be a certain age to watch MMA or boxing. When boys fight on the playground, it's "boys will be boys."

Because you don't need to be a certain age to attend a church with a life-like dead body nailed to a cross at the front of a room. You don't need to be a certain age to drink "the body and blood of Christ". You don't need to be a certain age to have your genitals mutilated by a stranger without your consent in the service of your parents' religion. You don't need to be a certain age to have schools explain to you that the Holocaust was about the Nazis killing 6 million people in ovens. You don't need to be a certain age to learn about "scalping" or suicide bombings, or to see the aftermath of murders, arson and war on the 6:00pm news.

You do not need to be a certain age to view the circus of autopsies on any of the CSI shows, or see murders on any of the myriad cop dramas.

That's the tip of the iceberg of why videogames shouldn't be restricted based on violence.

Troop games and time constraints in Eastern Europe

Open source information can’t quite verify whether rumours about Russian armour amassing near its western borders are true. But what can be verified is that NATO is bolstering its military presence to create what is becoming a line of containment from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

Most indicators suggest the fighting in Ukraine may be about to escalate as summer officially begins in the northern hemisphere. Each day already in June, dozens of ceasefire breaches have been recorded – some reaching near 60 in a day. Ukraine’s defence minister also stated that 623 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in combat since the start of 2016.

Russia’s military movements on its side of the border are part of its constant, back-to-back series of wargames organised since the beginning of the hostilities in Ukraine. The idea, presumably, was to hold Russia’s military at a high level of readiness, although what it would take to mobilise those troops is unknown.

Across the Ukraine border, separatist tanks have also been spotted – up to 30, which is nearly a complete armoured battalion – amassing near the strategic town of Avdiivka. Perhaps the world’s worst-kept secret is that Moscow directly supports Ukraine’s separatists, so a positioning of units could herald imminent offensive operations. Although once again, details are hard to verify, and Kiev has an interest in overplaying reports and drawing attention to its strife.

Russia, for its part, announced recently it will form three new military divisions (consisting of about 10,000 troops each), two of which will be positioned in its western provinces. This sends a message to NATO that while Russia slips further into recession and the Ukraine problem is likely insoluble in reality (but also purposefully insoluble for Moscow’s short term strategy), it shows it still has some teeth “just in case.”

But why now? Why would Russia coyly play with troop movements and organise its proxies? The first answer is that NATO and the US are boosting their own ground forces in Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Baltics. Tens of thousands of US troops “rotate” through these countries now, which will certainly factor in to Moscow’s calculations.

The second answer is more illuminating. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisors have surely noticed the US president’s aim during his eight years to conclude controversial deals in a hurried, gerrymandered way. Cuba and Iran, for instance. Both deals seriously worry many seasoned Beltway elites, not because they were done, but because of the rushed timing.

Mr Obama now has seven months remaining in the White House and would prefer not to leave Ukraine for his successor. Not only is it a legacy and ego dynamic – which Mr Putin no doubt appreciates – but US partners in the EU (Germany, France and Poland) are diverging on the sanctions strategy. For the negotiations to succeed, the US and its European allies must be aligned.

This sense of haste on the American side colours the talks about Ukraine. Both Russia and the US are signalling with troops they are willing to defend their interests. Yet it is clear one side is comfortable sitting on their hands until the best deal is formed. Ukraine, understandably, is concerned it may be carved up to appease a time-conscious Washington.

The Ukraine issue is Russia’s central strategic element, but the US’ ambition and promise to maintain the rule of law looks uncertain at best these days. Whether this is true does not matter, it’s how it looks to Moscow. Perceptions count in geopolitics, and unless the US displays commitment for a desirable negotiation outcome in Ukraine, it will be perceived as uninterested and therefore weak.

That would definitely not be a good inheritance for the next US president.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Sitrep - 22 June, 2016

New Zealand prime minister John Key this week announced an extension to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) training programme in Iraq. Up to 143 NZDF personnel will rotate through the country over another 18 month period to assist the international Operation Inherent Resolve built to bolster Iraq Security Force’s (ISF) fight against the Islamic State militancy.

The ISF has also made significant gains against the IS-held city of Fallujah west of Baghdad, clearing many of its neighbourhoods while engaging the militant’s last holdouts in the city’s north. IS doesn’t appear to have been defeated, rather it has chosen a tactical withdrawal. More worryingly, in a breach of agreement within the ISF, Shiite militias have entered the city with reports of sectarian violations against Sunni residents already emerging.

This threatens to undermine Baghdad’s success in Fallujah and could set the groundwork for IS to recapture the city in the future. A major reason the population of Fallujah remained passive against IS was deep sectarian animosity amongst Sunnis towards the Shiite-controlled Baghdad. The Iraqi capital must address the grievances of this sectarianism or it risks collapsing the progress it has made against IS.

NATO and Russia continue to boost troop numbers on either side of the Ukraine and Former Soviet Union border. A 24-nation, 31,000 troop strong NATO wargame – named Anaconda-16 – concluded last week which brought Western forces within shooting distance of Russian territory. Significant numbers of US troops are now present in Eastern Europe, and more are expected.

Russia also announced it would create three new divisions (each 10,000 strong), two of which it will position near its western borders. Elements of Russia’s military continue to conduct snap exercises across the border region, a process Russia has maintained since the early engagements of the Ukraine/Crimea unrest. Unconfirmed reports also suggest a build-up of separatist armour in preparation of possible offensive operations as the hot summer months begin.

The military posturing underscores Russia’s vulnerability and reflects the difficult negotiations still in flux between Kiev, Berlin, Moscow and Washington. The US and Russia are still the central players tussling over Ukraine, but the benefit of time sits squarely with the latter. Mr Obama hopes to score a quick win in Ukraine before his administration ends and Mr Putin would be happy to oblige.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Thoughts on the system - 2

There’s no way to describe the system, the organism, its vocabulary is grossly underwhelming. The following rough thoughts are an attempt to outline the unoutlineable:

  • Presently this might be benign to the public, but unconsciously the masses learn that humans operate the government, the machine is not on autopilot. We can see the slip as the NSA debate oscillates between a hatred of the institution and the reminder that its employees are human civil servants. This humanises the agency and makes it weaker.
  • A machine or an idea is more powerful than a human. Google is a machine. Facebook is a machine. How does popular culture display those companies? Almost exclusively as desirable, adventurous, fun places where “smart” (re: good) people hang out. They do not connect the machine to the fallible humans with desires, teleology and power drive. The server farms are always hidden, but the big red slide in Google's foyer is centre stage and the smiling people happily tapping away at the glowing blue screen - the result - is the default assumption for all conversation about the internet.
  • Who would you rather do the job of collecting and storing your digital information? Google or the NSA? Careful now, notice the form of the question. It assumes that you will be comfortable  sending your private information via the internet. The question is only which arm of the (emerging) state you’d rather offer responsibility to store it.
  • Responsibility is synonymous with power. To be responsible for something is to control the consequences of what happens to it, which is implicit control over the object in question. At no point does the question ask whether a person should supply personal information over the internet. This is assumed, which means we are in the presence of a state apparatus. The narrative suggests that no one wants to return to sending paper letters or pigeons. This dominant assumption is now being taught to children at school.
  • Soon, as with the inability to differentiate between dreams and reality, we may not be able to differentiate between the internet and reality. A tool like Google Glass may be the beginning of “data-filled” reality. Think about what Google will/can do with data. Think about how much someone would know about you if all your movements and thoughts were translated in 1s and 0s and stored by a corporation convincing you it exists to benefit people's lives. Think about how much control such a corporation and its human owners would achieve. If everything is captured, nothing is remembered. This is the consequence of digital technology on the human mind. But it is the purpose of digital technology in the emerging market state structure. Corporations will know more about than you know about you.
  • As a tool to achieve the inevitable, Western-model goal to eat the earth under a single system, part of the game is to ensure everyone owns and uses an internet-capable device. When people suggest we “unplug,” understand that the default to them is “plugged.” To a disturbing extent, we all bought this propaganda for the emerging market state system without thinking.
  • If Google breaks down for a moment, the game is not over. But it may be exposed for those who watch. Its competitors will rush in to rip it apart. Another “Google” would appear. I am not so worried about Google or Facebook, I am more worried by who buys them. Think of Google and Facebook as preparing the battlefield, setting the conditions for victory. The goal of any inheritor of the Western system (remember, this is not a defeat of the system) is to achieve psychological capture over the previous ruler's subjects. Google, et al are creating or evolving a fresh set of default assumptions about the system. The next generation of these corporations will inherit not just the technology and data, but the perfectly moulded psychology of the masses.
  • We have made our internet-selves identical - and of more importance - to our real-selves. To have Google or Facebook fail for a day would be as if our lives were to end. The only working definition of death is of a person no longer sensed by other people. Hermits and “missing” people are essentially dead from the perspective of everyone else.
  • In a world of fully digitally simulated reality, the loss of our internet-selves would be identical to the death of our real-selves - as far as the system is concerned. It will be as if we didn’t exist and never existed. This is part of the psychological capture necessary for the digital component of the emerging market state system. The threat of disconnection will be considered as horrific a penalty as physical death, because from the perspective of everyone else still connected (plugged) the consequences will be identical.
  • We have been conditioned to believe we need to use the internet. “Being wired” is assumed to be automatically good without question.
  • Society has been moving/progressing in a (politically) leftward direction for centuries, but the trend line appears essentially infinite. If a “new” idea matches society’s direction as a more liberal or egalitarian thrust, then the media as an arm of the system will trumpet the idea or cause. This does not transmogrify the idea into truth, it only indicates that it is in line with the status quo or can be used to benefit the system. The first sign an idea will be subsumed is the arrival of a TV crew or journalist. If activists are campaigning for change by using a medium they do not own, then the campaign belongs to the media and will be used in any way the media wants. Media will always build or twist the story in the direction of the status quo, as a maintenance of the political/sociological system. Ideas/causes/activism no longer exist if it is in the media.
  • What people don’t realise about the privacy debate is that while they waste time arguing over the invasion of their lives by the NSA, Google could make all your conversations private right now if it was worth it to them. But it makes too much money encouraging conversations to be public. And if they ever do offer greater privacy, consider how more information will be shared and stored by Google. The battle over who controls public information - a key power in any societal system since the 17th century - is between intelligence agencies and the digital corporations. Which side is winning? Well, people heard about the dastardly NSA on the internet, in this place the agency is almost uniformly framed as the "bad guy."
  • The privacy debate in the media is a “talking point,” or raising “awareness.” How much actual, real, physical change resulted from this awareness? None, the system was strengthened. Privacy activists still use computers and surf the internet. We must understand that the system wants us only as a battery believing towards a conclusion - which we feel we make on your own - that staying on the internet is the best move. The status quo is retained, the message blinks, so avoid tinkering unless you’ve got a better idea for us to make money.
  • In my city, they spent millions of dollars putting barriers on bridges so suicidal people can't jump off. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone how this teaches people that the government is making the world so safe that it's impossible to kill yourself on purpose, let alone by accident. Therefore it's perfectly alright to do absolutely insane things because If It Could Hurt Then We Wouldn't Be Able To Do It. Whatever you want, go ahead, it's cool! Drive fast, drink, smoke, fuck strangers without a condom, vote Trump. You can't hurt yourself or anyone by any action you take. If you could, it would be against the law.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Thoughts on the system - 1

There’s no way to describe the system, the organism, its vocabulary so grossly underwhelming. The following rough thoughts are an attempt to outline the unoutlineable:

  • The dominant system, perhaps best thought of as an organism, cooperates with competing structures (viruses) by subsuming them rather than fighting them forever. Endogenous retroviruses are an excellent example of the system incorporating these new or “usurper” things into itself. The structure always remains, but the names and details can change.
  • Martin Luther King Jr represented a particularly virulent virus that might have killed the system had his movement won quickly. His “virus” idea of black emancipation - freedom from the system - eventually diluted when the system figured out how to use this virus for its own benefit/profit. The system thought: More black people earning money=more goods consumed=maintenance of the status quo (the system always wins). More equal black people=widening pool of influence/votes/agreement for those in power. And so the system incorporated the virus, becoming stronger.
  • The same was true for feminism. More women in the workforce=more goods consumed+more voting=victory. The success of modern feminism was achieved because the males in power accepted the alterations to the status quo. The trick was to offer females the trappings of power (money, titles, access to institutions), not real power (ability to create new parts of the system, to deny, to have agency, etc). Feminism succeeded only in supplying more human workforce for the sleep/consume cycle which previously had been accessible only by men. The system was strengthened, not weakened.
  • Jesus also came up with a virulent virus. “I come to bring a sword…” was his first attempt at figuring out how to run his ministry, but it didn’t work. And whether he knew it or not, the virus he represented was gradually pared down. The abrasive movement became “render unto Caesar…” The key is that Jesus knew (although, how much was luck over skill is debatable) that a clean break with the system, a victory for the virus not the organism, would result in Christianity’s early death (as the organism fights back, as it did to Jesus' contemporary ministries in the Near East and to the Jewish Great Revolt). To get the nascent Christianity to take, it needed to carve pieces of its puzzle to fit exactly over the top of the existing system. This is the only way new ideas can be successful against the organism.
  • Instead of destroying the system, historically significant people are included in history because they were useful to the status quo. Only rarely does the system change so drastically that a historically significant person can truly be called a usurper. Even the barbarians who sacked Rome maintained the system, they simply took the positions of power for themselves. Often their success was only to change the names of parts of the existing system/organism. New structures can emerge, such as a fresh arm or sense organ, but the overall system stays the same. A natural selection of the evolving sections of an unconscious society - the sum of individual vectors pointing in different directions.
  • When two systems clash - for example, Alexander the Great and Darius - the stronger will always dominate or subsume the weaker. Clashing occurred regularly in the ancient world. Until Alexander, no other people group showed interest in spreading their system to the entire world. Since Alexander, the Western system has not been defeated by another version. It has however radically evolved to now reflect little of its earliest iteration under the Macedonian king. The entire world is now split between the majority of people groups which adhere to the Western system, and the tiny minority which do not. The latter is isolated, bullied and beaten into eventual resignation. The final goal is to eat the earth and bring it under a single dominant system. This is an inevitable outcome under the Western model, which is a mix today of Greek rationality, Alexandrian political unity, Christian universal belief and liberal post-Christian notion of progress.
  • Christianity exists today because it merged into the Roman system of power structure, and did not defeat it. The idea fit over the top of the Roman system and survived by changing the names of the institutions: temples to churches, priests to bishops, emperor to Pope, war to holy war, superstition to religion, polytheism to monotheism, piety to absolution, taxes to tithes, ethics to godliness, citizenship to belief, etc. It may look different to us, but a Martian would see everything is still the same, only with different rulers.
  • The example of the government as a faceless Leviathan is exactly how Google and other internet giants are now viewed by the public. All the arms and utility of the structure fulfilled by the government - the modern system - are being filled by the new digital structure as the latter now creates fresh appendages and organs for it to use. Power (sovereignty) is always conserved. It cannot be destroyed or created, it only flows. And as power flows it leaves in its wake the appearance of culture wars.
  • A corporation is defined as a group of people working towards a common goal. There is a wrestling now between two corporations: the nation state (government) and the market state (shareholder business).
  • Even the media shows this. Modern movies and TV display government employees with names, emotions and faces, going about their jobs in “pretend” reality. The movie is not the fiction, it is the reality which is the fiction. A disempowered power structure can be freely portrayed in art, an empowered structure allows specific artwork and censors all others. It might be entertaining, but it is actually the public-facing portrayal of a massive shift in power. The government is no longer protected as a nameless entity, an object, an entity. It is humanising a power structure, which is the same as defanging the structure. Humans treat individuals radically different to objects.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

I hate cancer

This makes me sad. At this rate, they're likely to find an earth-like planet, similar in size, composition and gravity as the Earth - and with water - in just a few years. And in several years they'll have ideas for building bigger and better spacecraft, along with safer and more reliable ways to get those vessels into space, and better ways to communicate among them. They'll design better rovers and robots, and maybe a decade or two after that, they'll send one of these on a freighter craft to one of these new planets. And little by little these tiny little metal proxies will work their way out beyond our solar neighbourhood into the vastness.

But you know what else is going to happen during that time? We're going to get older. Our kids will get older. They'll stop being kids. They'll stop walking around with their heads lifted to the sky and instead will have their heads down, shoulders slumped, bearing all the burdens of this world that we left for them.

Our clocks wind down too fast. And for most of us, the clocks wind down to the inevitable: cancer.

The truth is that DNA is not the code of life. It's the code of death. It's a counter. And each successive cell division decrements the counter until it hits zero and the cell divides not into its twin but into its devourer. The counter hits zero and biology throws a segmentation fault. DNA, like Time, eats its children.

I'm happy that there is a very real scientific and practical possibility that we will find other planets which can sustain the human species even if it doesn't support species of its own. I am happy with the joy of a child dreaming of other planets who grows into a cynical adult before discovering those dreams are real. The rediscovery of happiness. But I am sad that my clock will run down before I ever see my dreamed-of planets.

Is that selfish? I guess it is. Discovery and exploration both are selfish endeavours. We want to go where we haven't, and we want to understand the things we don't for no other reason than greed for knowledge..

We don't know how to cure cancer. This makes me sad too. Is this such a difficult problem? It isn't quantum electrodynamics. It isn't black holes or entanglement. Those problems were solved before the invention of electronic calculators. In comparison, cancer is simply an engineering problem. Can't we make it so DNA doesn't decay? Isn't there some kind of proteomic bandpass filter we can build that will pass through the genetic signal and cut out the noise? I feel like at the heart of cancer is an undiscovered secret about how cells, genes and DNA really work. And if we learn that secret then all the big problems of medicine will fall in turn like a dusty rack of dominoes. Cancer, ageing, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's. Let's dispense with the fun runs, the 5k's, the ribbons and the other nonsense. Let's just throw a trillion dollars at the problem and be done with it.

Because it's our bodies that are keeping us down here, on Earth. These sacks of meat and water that suit us in youth and only for a short time before they turn against us. DNA is the mortal coil that enchains us.

The Earth let us go 60 years ago. It revealed its secrets, gave up the resources we need to slip its bonds and set out on our own. This tiny little moist and mossy rock that's served us so well since we first learned to rub sticks together has warmed us and sheltered us and at night shown us the universe from the safety of its atmospheric arms. It taught us everything it knows and gave everything it can. What more can you ask of a mother.

Maybe all that's happened in the environment over the last 60 years is Earth's not-so-subtle way of telling us it's time to move out. We grew up. We saw what's waiting for us out there. But it's as if we graduated college and moved back home. The Earth is remodelling our bedrooms into a playground for the deer and the dolphins and it wants us to go, to go back to finishing what we started.

And I want to go. We all want to go. There are so many unfathomable sunsets to see, so many strange waters to drink. Lavender snows and iridescent skies. Oceans of pearl and trees like mountains. Flowers in innumerable colours: beautiful and terrible. Colours so bright and vibrant as to be unseeable. Bright browns, dark pinks, blinding purples. Entire forests out of gamut. Worlds as divergent and breathtaking as the dreams of lovers.

All these heavens and oblivions.

I hate cancer

The library conspiracy

It is my firm belief that all librarians in the world belong to a secret society. From the chief librarian of the Library of Congress down to the librarian at the local school. My research traces this secret society back to the Oracle at Delphi. That librarians have traditionally been women even while men dominated teaching and academia is due to the high priestess' unique role at Delphi, which gave them power over kings and generals.

The commonly understood story is that Greek generals would consult the Oracle in advance of war or on sensitive matters of diplomacy, but the hidden history is far more involved. The Pythia, or high priestesses, pursued their own clandestine agenda. Using the noxious gases rising from under the temple, they would drug those who sought the Oracle's counsel, give them the advice on war and diplomacy they sought, but would also instruct them - under a trance - to deploy forces to secretly collect books, tablets, curios and any other vessels of knowledge and culture from the lands they conquered and return them to Delphi.

For nearly 1500 years, the Oracle amassed a complete and detailed history of the world. With this accumulated knowledge, they began to influence the course of world events from behind the scenes. Their goal was to maintain world peace as best as possible while simultaneously promoting the intellectual progress of the species. Their library became so large that the Library of Alexandria was erected to hold their more secret works. But it was no mere library, it was a research institution, where acolytes poured over texts and experimented in foreign sciences and extrapolated possible future histories. There were librarians at Alexandria who were experts in Chinese culture, Amazon tribes, and Vedic mathematics. If Delphi was the Hellenistic CIA, the Library at Alexandria was the NSA. Total knowledge, total understanding of all things at all times.

But as in all great organisations, there was a power struggle. The Oracle had foreseen the ascendancy of a new world power in the guise of a monotheistic religion, unbeholden to the laws and traditions of the Hebrews, that would openly attempt to subsume the rationalistic thought of Aristotle and others within its world view. At the Oracle, the priestess plotted generations ahead to infiltrate the group and subvert it from within. For example, Mary Magdalene was a priestess at Delphi, a fact known to the apostles and which earned her the title "whore." The librarians at Alexandria were more sceptical, and pushed instead for a more overt conflict of ideas to prevent the yoke of this new religion from falling over the burgeoning empire in Rome.

Ultimately, the librarians lost. When Theodosius banned all pagan religions and institutions, the Oracle and Delphic quietly closed its doors. Alexandria refused, and was burned to the ground. But the priestesses of Delphi infiltrated the new church.

Or so history thought. Instead, the secret itself became buried in a secret.

Nearly all of the volumes from Alexandria survived, but became dispersed across Africa and Europe. The librarians, deploying the printing technology of the Chinese centuries before Gutenberg's press, made copy after copy of these secret texts, and raised successive generations of students who pursued this apocryphal knowledge, but maintained the secret.

To this day, the librarians hidden work continues, even in the internet age. They patiently and diligently scrub catalogs, bibliographies and databases for any mention of sensitive books, and quietly disappear them. They comb through outdated card catalogs and with deft sleight-of-hand palm certain sheets from the shelves, never to be seen again. Why are we surprised that librarians staffed Google Answers in numbers beyond their proportion, or that librarians embraced that particular search engine above all others? Am I to believe that Google's vast computing resources are combing through nothing more than Twitter and Facebook pages? More likely that Google is an organ of this society of librarians. From antiquity into the encrypted database, without passing by the public.

I've spent years in pursuit of this hidden life of librarians, and I assure you that this is all true. I've seen the hidden books. Aristotle's Magnetics, Milton's Unreading the Decameron, Franklin's The Treasure of the Metropolis of the Susquehanna Indian. I've seen the original first edition of Thomas and Finney's Calculus, which contains on page 213 a triple integral that when plotted in three dimensions on a computer reveals a cave in a mountainside - somewhere. And I've seen the other "first" edition of this book, which came out a year later, with this problem removed.

I've seen much more, and I am sure there is more than we can imagine still to be discovered.

To what dark purpose are these secret texts being put? Is this secret society of librarians our friend or foe? Are our librarians deploying these hidden books, which now amount to entire hidden disciplines, to thwart some greater and dark hidden force? What centuries-long conflict is being waged in card catalogs and in Special Collections?