Friday, June 24, 2005

On the Iraq War....and How to send books to soldiers/sailors...

Reasonable people can have diverse opinions about the war in Iraq. I have expressed doubts here over the way we have fumbled around over there. (As I say below, those who shamefully left Saddam in power in 1991 have no right to preen over sending our troops back 12 years later, to correct their fantastic blunder. At best, they are atoning for a horrible stain on our honor.)

Still, despite grotesque political meddling and the bad apple behavior of some horrid rogues, most our soldiers and beleaguered officers are doing their best in a very rough situation. They deserve support, whatever we think of the War Plan they are forced to execute.

I have long made a habit of mailing crates of books to military units around the world, doing my small bit as an author and reader to help ease the draggy ennui that spans the intervals between episodes of danger and courage. (Lately, the Navy Department gave me a lovely wall chatchki for donating $2,000 worth of hardcovers to ships at the San Diego Naval Base.)

BooksSoldiersNow you can do likewise at very low cost! Drop by Books for Soldiers to see how FedEx now offers free shipping when you send books to a volunteer group that then redistributes where they are wanted most. This is an effort all literate people should get behind... especially if you question the unprofessional way these brave men and women have been committed to war."


While we are on the subject, again, let me reiterate a point that nobody else seems to be making. I think liberals make a terrible mistake by expressing their objections to this war in leftist or pacifist terms. These is nonsensical, since two of our most successful wars were planned by Clinton-Clarke... The Balkans and Afghanistan interventions, which succeeded far better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

Until the World is Better, we are still in an era when some application of imperial power is a reasonable last resort... if it is done in the mature, responsible, adult, judicious and prudent fashion laid down by George Marshall, paying heed to alliances, costs, success criteria, exit strategy, securing readiness and mindful of winning the long range civilization struggle over hearts and minds..

For example, we don't accomplish anything by deprecating the military in general or suggesting that Iraqis were better off under Saddam! Instead, focus your attacks on:

1. hypocrisy, these are the same guys who fostered Saddam. Kissed him. Egged him on and supplied him against Iran.

2. hypocrisy. these are the same guys who had him in their hands, in 1991. Gen Schwarskopf begged for 12 more hours to rescue the people of Basra, who were being slaughtered, having rebelled AT OUR URGING. (Bush Sr. said " "We're on the way!")

imagesInstead (at Saudfamily orders) they consigned those people to 12 more YEARS of living hell. And now we expect love & kisses? (This is one of the worst stains on American honor in 200 years. Rent the movie THREE KINGS.)

3. The obscenely stupid and unprofessional WAY this war was and is being fought. Rumsfeld - the man who supervised our humiliation in Vietnam - has recently meddled vastly MORE than the politicians did in that failed disaster, overruling the professional officers who wanted to used proved techniques that worked in the fantastically successful campaigns in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

4. The plummet in readiness... the torching of alliances... and my personal harshest grivance, a fierce political purge of the Officer Corps.

And so on.... THESE are issues that a liberal could push and not sound like a wimp. Ditch the leftists and make clear that you are not against a sane and decent Pax Americana. Just the rabid, insane, alliance-destroying and hatred-generating version that those bright imbeciles, the Straussian neocons, have inflicted upon us and the world.


Oh, recall the Commie aphorism about the Last Capitalist? They said "we will hang him with a rope we sold him. "

It occurs to me you could just change the cast of characters and reflect the essence of our present struggle against another fiercely determined enemy-meme, just as dedicated to plotting our downfall.

Replace "Capitalist" with "Westerner" and "hang him with a rope" by another phrase...

...."drown him in the last barrel of oil we sell him."

Ponder and pass it on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Little More Hormatsian Wisdom

I just have to keep kvelling over some of the remarks made by Robert Hormats in that paper I last quoted. Here's a little more, where he goes on to say:

"In my judgment, the single most significant piece of economic legislation in the last 60 years was not a particular tax cut. It was the G.I. Bill of Rights. It provided, for a whole generation of people, the opportunity to go to college. "

I would not only ditto this remark, but go on to suggest that it was not just an economic and education bill, but also the most successful piece of social engineering, ever.

What should "social engineering" aim to achieve?

First, I have deliberately used provocative language in even mentioning that phrase. At worst, the term elicits images of Big Brother. At BEST it rouses notions of meddlesome, paternalistic liberals sticking their noses into everbody's business.

And yet, are societies not fantastic machines that deliver justice, opportunity and - through markets - things to nourish every need except those of the soul? (And a fair amount for the soul, as well.) Anyone who thinks that these vast machines have not been "engineered" is naive beyond belief. One of the chief purposes of politics is to mediate conflicting views over how to fine-tune their operation.

In fact, as we speak, some powerful groups are trying to re-engineer our society's basic format, from diamond-shaped (emphasizing meritocracy, open competition, small business and a vibrant middle class) back toward a more traditional pyramid shape, emphasizing interlocking directorates of inherited privilege. Again, find me a culture that had metals and farms, across 4,000 years, that did not see this kind of attempt happen. Generally successful.

It was exactly in order to counter that ubiquitous and ever-lurking trend that so many experiments in "leveling" have been tried over the centuries, for example, by seizing assets from elites and distributing them to those below. Often violent, these rebellions never achieved their utopian aims - though the European revolutions of 1789, 1835 and 1848 did incrementally help farmers and foster some movement toward a middle class. Far more often, such revolutions simply replaced one set of repressive ideologically-justified overlords with another, as happened when horrible Czars were replaced by horrible commissars in 1917.

Here is where the American Miracle has truly made a difference. Yes, it is reliable that some fraction (not all!) of any decade's aristocracy will try to find new ways to cheat, using their privileged position to grab more. (Instead of competing fairly by helping to create new and better products and services.) But each generation of Americans has found clever ways to stave off this relentlessly consistent behavior. And it has been mostly done without very much in the way of confiscature or simpleminded class warfare. Indeed, it can be argued that we have followed Jefferson's prescription of "a revolution every generation"... with only a few of them violent at all. Most weren't even seen as "revolutions" but mere waves of tweaking and reform

Above all, it is vital that "social engineering" must pass the basic test of do no harm. In other words, while trying to achieve some desirable rebalancing of forces within markets or democracy, etc. it is essential not to harm other parts of the machine that are working well. Especially the market based incentive system that spurs creative competition into a cornucopia of new goods and services, propelling a fecund economy. The goose that lays all the golden eggs. Including the taxes that arise from burgeoning wealth, a fact that liberals seem all-too often to forget

This is exactly what the GI Bill did, and it perfectly exemplifies modernism at its best. (And is it any surprise that it had George Marshall's fingerprints all over it?)

First off, it devastated the tight grip that elites formerly held upon higher education, sending millions of motivated, mentally disciplined, veterans to land grant universities, which in turn attracted many of the best professors away from the Ivy League. One result was a burst of creativity and small business so huge that the middle class, always America's pride, so burgeoned in size and confidence that the whole ideas of "class" began to vanish from public awareness.

This bill, at low cost, achieved all of the beneficial effects of "social levelling" without any of the usual nasty effects on market capitalism, because it was not repressive but stimulative.

For nearly all our lives, we grew accustomed to there being very little effective difference between middle class americans and the rich. Socially - and even economically - this was largely true. Only people in their 80s can today remember how things were back in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was not.

That is, till now.

Look around and recognize what's happening for the very simple thing that it is. All administration policies fall into place in light of a vast raid by kleptocrats. Not the brightest portion of the aristocracy, only the most rapacious part, willing to send us into war (stupidly) but unwilling (for the first time in US history, to tax themselves to help pay for it.

(At even a hint that anyone wants to discuss this, they shriek: "Class warfare!" knowing that Americans despise social levelling. All of us fantasize about joining the ranks of the rich, not cutting off their heads. But of course, this attitude won't last, if this goes on. Proving that these frat boys really are the stupid wing of the aristocracy. The Warren Buffets of the world - who look forward more than a year at a time - are not on their side.)

I could go on about the GI Bill, whose effects were too numerous to elaborate here. For example, I believe it directly caused both the incredible richness of musical creativity by the sons and daughters of GI's - back in the 60s and 70s - AND the incredible deficit in new melodies being written and performed today.

But enough for now. I'll add one more Hormat's snippet later.


For now, let me conclude with a few fun links!

Hey Verne! Hurry and have a look at: Maybe that Rutan guy is barking up the wrong tree with his rockets and composite hull material. Giant cannons, that's the ticket!

An interesting commencement address given by Steve Jobs at Stanford University: More humble and reflective than you might expect, filled with things you never knew about a modern Edison.

See the sci fi futurist "Year 2056 edition" of the Onion humor magazine at:  The Onion is normally terrific. But this special issue is just wonderful. Try looking at the choices of languages you can view the document in (supposedly). And the sci fi author-bases horoscopes. Dang. I guess I don't rate. Yet.

(#$%$#! I only 'algored' the whole Web in Earth.! And check out page 206 of The Transparent Society! How good a prognosticator do you have to be!)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wisdom from a defender of markets & civilization

I am about to wind up my long and rambling essay on "Modernism and its Enemies." Stay tuned in a few days for a major summing up.

Soon thereafter (with frequent asides about politics & the news, this award-winning blog will move on to a new topic... "Twelve Modern Questions About Humanity’s Relationship With its Creator, In the Context of an Age of Science."

Should be interesting.


But first, I want to cite some words of wisdom (and my answers/addenda/arguments) from one of the smartest guys commenting on economic trends today. Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, began a recent essay in one of the world's top online newsletters with this anecdote about Albert Einstein:

There was one great story that I thought really encapsulated - and
still does - the environment in which we live. Einstein was going to give a
test in his advanced course in quantum physics. He was talking to his
research assistant and said, "You know, this year I'm going to give
exactly the same test with exactly the same questions that I gave last

The assistant said, "Well, Professor Einstein, do you think that's a
good idea? Because the students this year will go to the people who
took the test last year. They'll find out who did well, they'll get the
answers, and they'll just give you those answers on the test this year."

Einstein said, "Yes, you missed one point. The questions will all be
the same, but this year the answers are all different."

Hormats comments: "I think this really summarizes a philosophy of trying to look for new answers to older questions."

Obviously, this relates to our ongoing theme of modernism and the core lesson of the enlightenment. The lesson that underlies the miraculous success of science, consisting of a willingness to re-evaluate with an eye toward the dangers and opportunities presented by change.

In contrast, consider the aphorism that "insanity consists of doing the same thing, over and over, while expecting different results. " This can be likened, certainly to the feudal, socialist or hierarchical orders that have always opposed modernist impulses, even before the Enlightenment. (e.g. those who fought against Pericles, Spinoza, Montaigne, lone voices in their times.)

So let us follow Hormats into an aside into economic policy.

First, Robert Hormats is no pinko lefty. He is one of the world experts of commerce, currencies and trade. He served as assistant secretary of state for Economic and Business Affairs from 1981 to 1982, as ambassador and U.S. trade representative from 1979 to 1981, and as senior deputy assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs at the Department of State from 1977 to 1979. He served as a senior staff member for International Economic Affairs on the National Security Council from 1969 to 1977, during which time he was senior economic advisor to Dr. Henry Kissinger, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

I am going to quote pretty liberally here from a recent newsletter in which Hormats says some very wise things... though here and there I either amend or bring up complicating factors.

"A strange thing happened in the course of the debate after 9/11. In every single war the United States has fought since the Revolution, when the United States went to war a number of things were done to make room in the budget to pay for the war. This time we did no such thing. This time, we in effect cut taxes. We've cut taxes four times over the last four years, and the Congress has been on a spending spree - not just for defense purposes, but for lots of pork-barrel nonessential programs.

"And then we have, in addition to that, the contingent liabilities of the federal government for Medicare or Medicaid and Social Security, which are going to grow dramatically toward the end of this decade and into the next decade, as Baby Boomers retire. So we have a fiscal deficit which is big now, but it's going to be a lot bigger several years from now. This is going to be one of the problems that we as a country are going to have to face: how do we fund this very, very big imbalance? "

All right, first the obvious. Americans aren't saving enough. And the other savings plan... Clinton era budget surpluses that aimed to buy down the Debt - (biblically speaking: using fat year riches to prepare for lean times ahead) - was instantly abandoned by the Bush administration in favor of a $trillion gift to the top 1% aristocracy. (Seen any of it invested in "stimulus" lately?)

So how are we paying for the budget and trade deficits? Hormats points out that :

"You have India and China and South Korea and Taiwan and Hong Kong and Malaysia - each should have enormous opportunities for using capital at home, for productive investment. In many cases, they have unemployment problems, but in most cases, you'd think they'd have awfully good investment opportunities. What do they do? They ship billions and billions of dollars - 850 billion on a gross basis last year; 850 billion dollars - to the United States, to buy Treasuries or corporate bonds or stocks or Fannie Mae securities. This is an enormous distortion of global resources."

His explanation for why the Asians are financing our spendthrift ways?

"It happens because since the financial crisis of 1997-1998, the Asians have been very conservative about the way they've used their money. They want to build up precautionary reserves in case there's another problem."

Of course there is another (bigger) reason? "Job creation in China is the essential element of growth in China, and even more important, the essential element of stability in China. They do not want to do anything that compromises their growth rate."

Hence, they HAVE to buy our debts in order to subsidize our spending spree. A spree that is lifting them bodily into the 21st Century. (I have spoken of this elsewhere as the "weirdly fantastic but unknown $5 Trillion Marshall Plan" - George Marshall's brilliant move to create ANTI-mercantalist trade flow patterns after WWII, something that no other pax imperium in history ever did. I believe this one move - by arguably the greatest man of the 20th Century - is the biggest reason why the world has a chance today. It may be remembered as America's greatest accomplishment... though we will almost certainly pay for it when our economy finally collapses.)

Hormats goes on to say: "The last of the imbalances may turn out to be, from an American point of view, the most significant, and that is the skills, or the innovation, imbalance... And if you look at the number of people in this country going into science and engineering, it's diminishing dramatically. So our pool of skilled, innovative workers is growing at a far slower rate than it was 10, 15 years ago."

Now of course, this is at one level about the deteriorating repute of science that I have been talking about here, in discussing the decline of modernism. And while I agree with everything that Hormats says, I must go farther.

While EVERYBODY blames the school system, I am forced by natural contrariness to look around for other explanations that have gone uncommented. For example, I think the schools may far be less to blame than is publicly stated.

Mind you, I DO have plenty of complaints against modern education, (complaints learned the hard way, with three kids in public school!) But given the "culture war" against the Enlightenment and all of its fruits, and the hatred of science expressed by radicals of both left and right, is it any wonder that young people are drifting away from such fields, even more quickly than servicemen and women are departing the armed forces?

This is a serious issue, very complex. There are many eclectic ways that I consider the schools as awful as everybody else does... poor priority and investment (a complaint of the left) and poor standards (a complaint of the right). Interference by both creationists and political correctness police. Lack of competition and lack of parental involvement.

Let me elaborate on the downside of the extremely popular recent "standards trend". First, I readily concur that it has helped ensure minimal basics for the bottom half. Indeed, we are doing better at ensuring "no child will be left (completely) behind", getting a diploma while unable to read or cipher at all. On the other hand standards obsession has simultaneously eviscerated laboratory science and gifted programs almost completely out of the schools. Teachers are virtual slaves to the yearly standardized exams. Indeed, most have desultorily given up their own attempts at innovation and stimulation, hewing close to the prescribed and tested curriculum without exception. Teacher morale is in dire shape.

What had been the unsung glory of the American school system - something never measured in those international tests (on which Americans score so badly) - is the way open class discussion has fostered free thinking and rambunctious argumentativeness. And yes, confident creativity, to some degree. And here's a startling irony. While we run thoughtlessly to copy the rote memorization techniques that enable kids in Japan to score so well on standardized tests, the education ministries in Japan, China and India are exhorting teachers to "teach in a more American fashion," in order to stop squelching the creativity and imagination that we encourage (or used to encourage) so well.

Because science relies upon processes like imaginative hypotheses and laboratory experience that are hard to measure on tests, there has been a creeping de-emphasis on science across the board. My own kids see their science classes become the catch-all dumping ground, within which all the sex education, abstinence training, drug education, self-esteem, anti-bullying, and other remedial socialization topics are thrown. Even PE is spared this stuff, thus illustrating the way that sports have a vastly higher priority in American life than science.

Oh, it's complex, all right. One can go back and forth endlessly. Yin against the schools and yang defending them. Great for contrarians but frustrating for those who want a single ideological explanation for all things.

Another example. One thing that I have noticed as a parent... and I have seen it commented on NOWHERE ELSE... is that *mathematics* appears to be an exception to the recent trend of downgrading science.

I don't know how it is elsewhere, but here in San Diego, the bright kids are doing vastly MORE math than I did at the same age. Tougher topics, introduced earlier. I suppose because math CAN be measured on those $%#*! tests.

But back to Bob Hormats's worry about a decline in our rate of creating new scientists and technologists. While I find his comments wise, I really do not think we can keep using the schools as the whipping boy. Not when the real answer is all around us, in the media, in politics. In the rising tide of fanaticism.

I don't think there can be any question that the chief driver of the de-emphasis of science is cultural. It is part of the Great Big War Against Modernism that is discussed here at

Left and right are in this together. Extremists on both sides have made it clear that science is the real enemy, along with the concomitant general attitudes of even-tempered criticism and acceptance of contingent truth that underlay the entire Enlightenment.

That is why you see the world's smartest businessmen parting company with the frat boys who are running things right now. They may be conservatives, but - above all - they want a civilization that works.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Claytronics, Replicators... and Kiln People

A whole lot of items have accumulated on the side, so here goes...

Has anyone seen this: The replicator: create your own body double. (The New Scientist #2503)

"Need to be in two places at once? All you need to project yourself anywhere in the world is an internet connection and some intelligent nanodust.

"TELEPORTATION might not yet be on the cards for us humans, but Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry may have come up with the next best thing. This pair of computer scientists are trying to build an intelligent material that can replicate a physical three-dimensional facsimile of you from nothing more than a stream of video images. If it works, all you'll need to project yourself around the globe is an internet connection and a pile of their intelligent nanodust at the other end to assemble your replica.

"The project is still in its infancy, but the researchers hope the new material - made of self-organising nano-computers that can stick to each other and communicate with built-in wireless - will eventually be able to shape-shift in an instant, forming a replica of anything from a banana to a human. They call it "claytronics", and the individual particles are known as claytronic …"

I mean, they even call it claytronics! This is the fourth major fictional idea of mine that has been at least partly reified by researchers this year alone. And in not one case did anyone mention where they got the idea. sniff.

Somebody oughta tell em…take a look at Kiln People.


Back to one of my hot topics - one that gets zero attention from EITHER left or right - the catastrophic decline in US military readiness. This was in today's paper: Even after drastically reducing its recruitment goals, the US Army has fallen short this month by 25%. This after many months of similar news. Likewise in the other forces. Our readiness levels are low enough to invite charges of high treason.

How is it that no one mentions it? Are patriots on the right so blinded by "loyalty" to the jerks who are perpetrating this? Are pundits on the left too far gone to even notice that patriotism - real patriotism - is still something worth standing up for?

As George Orwell lamented in another context, "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."


Well, the left may be mired in an insane hostility toward the Officer Corps that is now our only bulwark and protection. But not all democrats are lefties. For example, see The Truman National Security Project. Many on the left would sneer at these folks as "GOP Light." That is entirely wrong.

These people want to reclaim the long democratic tradition of assertive foreign policy that is both prudent and bold, both moral and unafraid. Cooperative and yet unabashed at willingness to lead. The kind of leadership and assertive/decent Pax Americana that stepped into the Balkans and left the European Continent at peace under law for the first time in 4,000 years.

Back when we still had allies who would trust us with more than a burnt match.


Here's an example of the kind of expansive thinking that can typify the modern worldview:


Next. I forget. Did I refer to an absolutely brilliant faux scientific talk about the process of resurrecting the lost subspecies of vampires? The callous, smug amorality is exactly how science can and often DOES go wrong. (but of course, this kind of criticism illustrates my "social T Cell notion.) In any event, it's hilarious and frightening!


New from the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security - "Patriot Debates: Experts Debate the USA PATRIOT Act", Stewart A. Baker and John Kavanagh, editors  Published by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security. You policy wonks really need to look at this. I have long believed that our "civil liberties protectors" e.g. the ACLU, are fighting the WRONG parts of the Patriot Act. Little nudges/changes in wiretap procedures will not bring us Big Brother and the American people know that. It is the portions of the Act that remove supervision and accountability while spreading a cancer of secrecy that should be fought most intensely... and aren't.


Back on the genral topic of modernism: futurists Margaret King and Jamie O'Boyle, who were recently interviewed in Fast Company magazine, expressed their concern about the decline of confidence this way: "We are going through an interesting social anomaly. Our culture is no longer dominated by positive visions of the future. In the past, business and technology helped generate such visions, whether through movies, theme parks, or journeys into space .We've lost our instinct to think positively."

Ah, but the dream is an 18th Century one... still fighting for sanity and progress against 19th Century romantic demons. In 1793, William Blake, th British poet and visionary wrote,"What is now proved was once, only imagin'd." A proud statement we should all be making.


When asked why he was now holding a different opinion than he had previously expressed, Lord Keynes is quoted as saying, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"


Enough to chew on. If you find an item useful, follow it up. Be a T Cell...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Networks and Netwar

This week I'd like to point attention to an interesting article by one of the smartest guys in Santa Monica, California. David Ronfeldt works for the Rand Corporation, the original "think tank" which ponders many imponderables for the more far seeing (and currently beleaguered) parts of the federal government. It has been posted on Rand's website.

978-1-59726-755-7-frontcoverThis paper--written in 2002 and now a chapter in a new book (Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow, Island Press, 2005) -- speculates about the future of the environmental movement as a function of its increasing use of network forms of organization and related strategies and technologies attuned to the information age. The paper does so by nesting the movement's potential in a theoretical framework about social evolution.

This framework holds that people have developed four major forms for organizing their societies: first tribes, then hierarchical institutions, then markets, and now networks. The emergence of a new, network-based realm augurs a major rebalancing in relations among government, market, and civil-society actors. In the near term (years), there will be continuing episodes of social conflict as some environmental groups press their case, often by using netwar and swarming strategies.

Over the long term (decades), new policymaking mechanisms will evolve for joint communication, coordination, and collaboration among government, business, and civil-society actors. Today, it is often said that "government" or "the market" is the solution. In time, it may well be said that "the network" is the solution.

You can all see how this fits into our overarching theme of "modernity and its enemies".

Ronfeldt's essential thesis is that civilizations seem capable of passing through four phases of development. Tribalism, hierarchical Institutionalism, competitive rule-based Markets, and self-aggregating Networks of interest.

At one level, this is reminiscent of other "phases of history" models that have appeared over the years. For example, Arnold Toynbee spent much of his life criticizing earlier, Spenglerian notions of cultural "life cycles", wherein each society passes through obligatory stages. Vigorous youth is replaced by thoughtful maturity, and so on, all the way to decadent senescence. (see:

Other such models range from that of Karl Marx to Douglas Adams's simplified version of Maslowe's Hierarchy of Needs, in which each social-development is typified by a core question. (Survival: "How can we eat?" -> Exploration: "Why do we eat?" -> decadence: "Where shall we go to have lunch?")

After seeing countless examples of such models, across 200 years, we may be forgiven a bit of jaded cynicism toward their one common theme - a thread of tendentiousness. Moreover, what most of these cyclical or trend models lacked was any attention paid to:

1* human predispositions inherited from a million years of hominid evolution,

2* additional drives that may have been reinforced by 4,000 of reproductive success by feudal lords,

3* the notion of emergent properties -- e.g. what appears to be competition at one level (a lion predating upon a gazelle) can be seen as cooperation at the next level of organization (the savannah ecosystem).

4* the notion of attractor states which will reliably pull groups of humans in, given certain kinds of circumstances.

5* the retention of earlier forms as later ones develop.

6* ways to test the theory with falsifiable experiments or pragmatic tools.

The Ronfeldt model starts out with several advantages over earlier Phase Theories. While offering at least a nod toward #1, it appears to incorporate thoughts consistent with 3,4,5 &6. Especially, there is a willingness to recognize that earlier forms of interaction are retained while new forms take hold.

Moreover, there is a core adherence to the pragmatist assumption that inherently underlies all enlightenment social philosophy.

The romantic Rousseau maintained that humans are naturally good and corrupted by society. The equally romantic Hobbes held that humans are naturally bad, needing social coercion in order to behave. These oversimplifications were rejected by the pragmatist Locke, who asked; "How can society maximize the additive effects of decent human behavior while empowering both social and individual actions that minimize or cancel the negative tendencies."

Ronfeldt speaks of societies that "...elevate the bright over the dark side of each" level or type of cultural interaction. In the long Enlightenment tradition, this has been the overall goal. To encourage the angels of our nature - fostering opportunities for positive interaction (cooperation or "fair" competition) - while discouraging the devils. Smith claimed that this happens in unfettered markets. Hayek added the importance of free information flows. I emphasize the role of "reciprocal accountability."

(Let's put aside any temptation to run with sci fi interpretations of the "light and dark side"....)

Ronfeldt makes a case that each of his four phases empowers society with new capabilities. His defense-oriented studies for Rand Corp have emphasized the dangers and advantages to be found in a new era of "NetWar" when self-organizing groups may "swarm" upon any given situation with speed and flexibility that were not possible under tribal, hierarchical, or market forms of organization.

in-athenas-camp-david-f-ronfeldt-paperback-cover-artMany aspects of network organization and their application to conflict were elucidated in two of Ronfeldt's books: NETWAR and IN ATHENA'S CAMP: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. They are highly recommended.

B. Of course, any attempt to describe human civilization is inherently flawed by the fact that we are examining a vastly complex phenomenon with highly limited memic metaphors. It is like the legend of the blind men and the elephant. If you describe one aspect accurately, you are sure to create misconceptions somewhere else.

Let me give examples directly relevant to Ronfeldt's latest thesis.

B1. Feudalism appears to be an immensely strong attractor, since it erupted on all continents and in all places where humans developed both metallurgy & agriculture. Marx made a big deal out of this phase and the later ones that replaced it in his theoretical succession. Ronfeldt, in contrast, does not even mention it.

The reason seems clear. Marx dealt with accumulations of power by successive social classes. Ronfeldt's emphasis is on the DIRECTIONALITY of power relationships. (See below.) And since feudalism is a top-down authoritarian system, he lumps it together with other such systems like monarchy, oligarchic capitalism and even liberal democracy.

B2. Let me attempt to paraphrase his system, parsed by directionality of power relationships.

TRIBAL relations are largely lateral and interpersonal, though channeled by fiercely constraining traditions.

INSTITUTIONAL relations are largely hierarchical, with information and wealth flowing upward to narrow, empowered groups who exercise authority based on power or ideology/religion. At best, this takes place under implicit or explicit social contracts and a web of reciprocal obligations between the governing and the governed. At worst, the relationship is parasitical, run entirely for the self-interest of a ruling caste. (An immense range, except to the eyes of an anarchist!)

DisputationArenasArrowCoverMARKET relations return to some degree of lateral exchange of value tokens through rule-based competition. I have generalized this process to include all four of what I call the great "accountability arenas"... including not only markets of commerce/production/services, but also courts, democracy and science. (See Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit) These arenas use open information flows plus the general methodology of "reciprocal accountability" to maximize the beneficial outcomes of human competitiveness while minimizing cheating and other bad outcomes.

NETWORK relations are largely lateral. Only unlike tribal interactions they are supposedly unconstrained and empowered to self-organize in a highly fluid and adaptable fashion.

Networks utilize many of the same methodologies as markets, only far more rapidly and without the need, seen in every accountability arena, for formal demarcations of authority.

Networked relations are also (I have tried to show) still extremely primitive. They currently lack sophisticated "arena" methodologies for maximizing good outcomes and minimizing bad.

Theoreticians speculate that unleashing vast numbers of well-informed and network-skilled participants will result in smart-mob benefits derived from reciprocal accountability (good network actors will catch and cancel bad actors) but this hope may only be achieved if it is fostered by institutional developments.

(To see a short story set in a future when this has happened, take a look at: The Smartest Mob, a chapter from Existence. The second half of this story is even better at illustrating smart mobs in action.)

B3. What I believe is an important aspect distinguishing Networks from Markets is the relative importance of professionalization. The 20th Century saw a monotonic increase in our reliance upon skilled - and often licensed - professionals to perform important functions that people used to do for themselves. This was classic specialization and division of labor, something that markets are very good at. But anyone can see that the trend simply cannot continue at former rates into the 21st Century. Demographically, it is impossible. We will run out of POTENTIAL professionals in very short order.

There are only a few possible outcomes to the end of the professionalization trend.

(a) Increase in scarcity market value of professionals until they become elites. 

(b) Collapse of the system based upon professional services, when the need for expertise outstrips supply.

(c) Supplement or replace many professionalized functions with the enhanced capabilities of technologically empowered amateurs. (See: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?: specifically, a chapter on "the Age of Amateurs".)

Possibility #c is highly compatible with the Ronfeldt model, of course. It also makes clear that the move toward networked relations will face an inherent resistance from what Ronfeldt calls hierarchical Institutions... that I more generally call the Professional Castes.

(By this way of looking at things, however, one can evade any reference at all to the hoary 'left-right political axis'. Because the Professional Castes occupy niches all across that spectrum, ranging from liberal to conservative to neocon.)

Summing up. A very thought provoking article. One more useful insight as we grope a vastly complex elephant.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sen. Frist: Many Antimodernists Are Brainy...

We've been wandering around a bit, quagmired in contemporary politics. I regret that, but the news just keeps on throwing in our faces examples of the Culture War. I do hope soon to finish my linear thoughts about "Modernity and its Enemies", before launching into a new topic... "Science and Religion in the 21st Century."

(That one ought to be provocative enough for anybody!)

First, as I try to clear the decks, let me call attention to Senator Bill Frist’s paper on "BioShield" issues at the Harvard Medical School on June 1.

Why would I call attention to a recent speech presented by a man who, if he were president, would probably make George W. Bush look like Nelson Rockefeller?

Because we will never get modernism moving again so long as we give in to a bad habit encouraged by indignation junkies of both left and right - screaming at strawman caricatures of our enemies, instead of engaging those opponents, as they are. Take the fellow you despise most. He (probably) does not envision himself as evil, or even unreasonable. Rather, he feels he is a very likeable and intelligent and generous soul, with a clear bead on what is needed in order for civilization to thrive.

Read Sen. Frist's speech. You'll find that you agree with more than 90% of what he says in this piece. Despite the "culture war", there is a lot of shared moral consensus. So how can we be far apart?

Well, for one thing, he never mentions other parts of his agenda, so let me spend just one paragraph addressing those ghosts at the banquet, before going back to what's actually in his speech.

Take, for starters, a value system that begins by defining his opponents as baby killers, thus ensuring that, no matter how much good they have done in the world - civil rights and all that - Jesus will never like them. Then there is the ritual debasement of words like "freedom," "patriotism" and "free enterprise" so that - purified of any context, they can serve as amulet-totems of just one political faction. (Implying that opponents must hate them.) Add to this a clear insistence that market capitalism is best operated not by small business, but by an elite aristocracy, freed of all accountability. Also, a belief that Planet Earth is just a temporary, expendable stage set for a scripted apocalyptic play that will soon draw to a close. (And that's a goooood thing).

(In fairness, Frist would surely dislike the way that I described these views, though it's all pretty much on target.)

But hold. None of those things are in his speech.

Rather, there is a very clear and intelligent portrayal of the increasing fear, shared among many public health experts, that we are about to see a breakout of
Asian Bird Flu
into the general human population.

Even if such an outbreak does not take place naturally, a deadly and virulent pandemic is clearly just the sort of thing that our civilization's enemies will seek to achieve, sooner or later, as we enter the Biological Century. Conjuring images from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, Frist talks about a far worse version, spread through a much more crowded world by rapid air travel - or disseminated deliberately - starting with a fatality rate more than triple what it was in 1918.

Yes, modern civilization has weapons for fighting back. We have better medicine. We have the tools of biological science, which are becoming more adept at rapidly detecting and characterizing new viruses and creating vaccines to combat them. Frist admires this trend. (This despite the fact that many of Frist's neoconservative colleagues, such as Francis Fukayama, are waging a general assault upon science.) In any event, medicine and science do not, at present, seem ready to cope with such a pandemic. Not if it hit tomorrow.

Frist wants a "Manhattan Project for the 21st Century" to help get us ready for the day after tomorrow.

Frist does a very good job of ringing alarm bells, so I want to comment carefully. First on what he leaves out and then on what he is really after.

We have an image that citizens in teeming cities will react to such an event with panic, breaking emergency isolation protocols (if public health officials had the guts to use them), scurrying about spreading illness, the way it happened during the Black Death. At best, a major urban outbreak will shut down cities and trigger economic breakdown or starvation. In a moment, I will speak to how this patronizing image serves the interests of the 'Protector Caste'. But first, is it really true?

I'm no pollyanna. The scenario painted by Frist and many other worriers is daunting and horrible. But we are also better off now, in ways that go beyond the benefits of modern medicine.

For example, the average person is more fit and healthy than even young soldiers were in 1918, with fewer "dings" on their health cards. Moreover, would people scurry about and flee, as in the Middle Ages? Or seek shelter in the safest place of all, their own modern, spacious homes, offering plenty of room for voluntary self-isolation during a pandemic.

Many necessary tasks, farming, trucking and even stocking supermarket shelves can be done without elbow-to-elbow contact, and packaged foods, while ecologically wasteful, offer real barriers to disease transmission. Moreover, while we are not yet in the era of true telecommuting, people may accomplish a lot with today's crude methods, especially if offices are visited in shifts that keep the population densities in any room relatively low.

Moreover, reported death rates from Asian Flu are misleading. Viruses tend to mutate to forms that ensure best spreading. In the case of AIDS, this tendency made a plague worse, by increasing its symptom-free latency period. But in the case of any flu bug, the same trend will likely push it toward lower - or more normal - levels of lethality.

None of which makes me complacent. Having said all that (and there is much more that could be said), let me turn and add that I agree with Sen. Frist's main point. We should, indeed, be spending more on research! Much more. A prudent civilization - one that is rushing pell mell into an uncertain tomorrow - should be poking sticks into the road ahead, to find the quicksand pits and punjee stakes.

Science is our best "stick". It not only assists the protector caste at its job of *anticipation* but also helps the great mass of citizens to do *their* job... becoming robust and resilient, so that they can calmly step in when the paid protector caste inevitably fails.

Which it will, inevitably, sooner or later, as it did on 9/11. As it has been doing more and more, lately. (Elsewhere see how I point out that citizens, rather than acting like sheep on 9/11, were the only ones who reacted swiftly, effectively, and got it right, that day.)

Certainly much good skill would arise from the application of money and moral impetus toward pre-fighting 21st Century diseases, but what is missing from Sen. Frist's speech are the details about his proposed "Manhattan Project for the 21st Century". We do not hear what kind of agency he would establish, how it would operate or who would control it.

Alas, given the track record of Frist & co., we can already tell what traits the effort will have.

It will be a closed shop of the Security-Industrial Complex, controlled by a consolidated hierarchy of interlocking directors from biotech and government, many of them switching chairs in choreographed (and profitable) rhythm.

It will be obsessed with secrecy.

While supposedly emphasizing science, it will keep "boffins" in their place, isolated from the top tiers of authority. Diverse or conflicting viewpoints will not be welcome.

It will have a wing that explores weaponized disease "just in case," in order to better understand possible enemy methods. A combination of obsessive secrecy plus inevitable leaks will result exaggerated, sensationalized or scandalous revelations and rumors, with the result that nobody on Earth will believe any peaceful assurances. Thus, other nations will quickly follow suit.

Discoveries that lead to intellectual property and patent rights will somehow slide into the hands of the corporate partners of this vast enterprise, while costs are accrued by the taxpayer-financed side. (The famed effect: "privatization of benefits while costs are taken public". Some tricks just never seem to get tired.)

Above all, the interests of the protector caste will be favored. Those possible palliatives and solutions that involve stimulating an increasingly competent and self-reliant and knowledgeable citizenry will - unconsciously or consciously - be squelched.

This last aspect will continue, even after the inevitable scandals result in Sen. Frist's enemies taking over the "Manhattan Project for the 21st Century". Even if (at the extreme) lefty radicals like Ralph Nader sweep into power. (Shudder.) Because patronizing philosopher kings of the left are little better, in their hearts, than those of the right. The same drives and temptations are there, given different terminology. And indeed, many on the far left are just as anti-science as neocons are. Even when pushing a supposedly scientific endeavor, they would commit many of the same mistakes, especially if they were as flushed with total power as Sen. Frist's side has become.

In summary: I do not expect to stop something like Sen Frist's "Manhattan Project for the 21st Century" from coming about. I do not even want to. We probably need it.

But when the day finally comes that we are hit hard by something terrible, I will bet you whatever spare change that you and I have left, that it will be the man and woman on the street who not only do the suffering, but who will carry the weight of getting us through all the crises and to the other side.


PS... I just can't take my mind off that novel I recommended earlier. JITTERBUG by Mike McQuay (1984), a somewhat paranoid novel about a future world devastated by a horrible disease controlled by terrorists. It is so creepily on target that I doubt you'll find a copy. Certain interests have probably bought up all the used copies floating around. If only someone would reprint.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Left-Right Axis Redux: More on the War of Ideas

==Left vs Right: A Failed Axis? ==

Back to the issue of whether the "left" has run out of "ideas".... I am one of the leading proponents for abandoning the left-right axis, it is hard for me to say what are the leading ideas of the left. But let me try with a four-state metaphor.

Capital "L" Left = loony mystical platonists who want power over us so that they can (for our own good) ensure rule by philosopher kings who ERADICATE class differences.

Capital "R" RIGHT = loony mystical platonists who want power over us so that they can (for our own good) ensure rule by philosopher kings who EMPHASIZE class differences.

lower case "l" = left . To me, this stands for an emphasis on problem solving techniques that utilize the 'left hand' of negotiated COOPERATIVE CONSENSUS, including (but not entirely) the utilization of tax-gathered resources to be applied according to politically determined policies, always heeding the human tendency toward institutional calcification.

lower case "r" = right . To me, this stands for an emphasis on problem solving techniques that utilize the 'right hand' of COMPETITIVE CREATIVITY, within a market that generally responds to consumer desire... but that has also been tuned by consensus policies that strike a balance, avoiding excessive meddling while encouraging markets to heed overall civilization needs.

At long last, we are gradually finding out what the left and right hands are good for. What functions they perform with skill and which are best left to the other. With this increasing knowledge and sophistication arising, why should we RIGHT NOW start heeding the maniacs who want us to abandon pragmatic problem solving and pick just one hand?

(In fact, the lefty yearning for communitarian cooperation is just as simplemindedly moralistic as rightwing fundamentalism. It ignores what we have learned about EMERGENT PROPERTIES IN NATURE. How what looks like competition at one level is actually highly cooperative at the next or higher level. Markets are one example. Ecosystems are another. A gazelle being killed by a lion does not want to be told about competitive synnergies or the Circle of Life. But if a liberal can recognize that transcendance, why can't he see how it works in markets?)

Ayn Rand wants me to lop off my left hand and Marx wants the right amputated. They can both go to hell.

What I will not concede is that the right has been doing better at solving problems. When I see the Insurance Industry completely revamped so that it CAPITALISTICALLY provides the vast array of services that people depend on from government, from the FDA and OSHA to medical research (Barry Goldwater wanted to begin this adventure) then I will admit that the right hand has truly started showing off new ideas.

Alas, I am falling ever farther behind.

==Losing the War of Ideas?==

A number of people have pointed out this article in Nature this week on the role of Oxytocin (the "Hug Drug") and trust...

-- Fred Turner suggested "mass oxytocin sprayings of the Middle East?"

StandOnZanzibarIt is absolutely eerie how this follows the story line contained in one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time - STAND ON ZANZIBAR, by John Brunner.

Phil said: "An honest person would have to acknowledge that we (liberals) are getting whupped in the world of ideas."

Well, kinda... in that liberal-enlightenment pragmatism always gets whupped when they allow the battle to be OVER so-called "ideas."

While I have made clear that I admire Locke, Smith Hayek and Franklin, I admire them precisely *because* their ideas served the overall goal of liberating practical men and women to solve problems. The general processes they recommended always revolved around reciprocal accountability... ensuring that no person or group could ever again do what both aristocracies and socialist rabble rousers always try to do - monopolize power and transfix the population with incantations.

Incantations... oops, I mean "ideas"... tend to whither when practical people are free to raise their hands and say "yes... but..."

I do not need 'liberal thought" to make me favor equality of opportunity (while opposing artificial equalizing of circumstance).

All I need is the blatantly obvious fact that we were wasting staggering amounts of human creative potential when people were repressed because of presumptions having to do with race and gender and class. The fantastic success of pragmatic "liberalism" at spurring us to take on these devils is so overwhelmingly more important than any other event of the last century that the burden of proof is on anyone who disses "liberals."

Likewise, I do not need to be a Gaian mystic (like the ones I portray in EARTH) in order to know that my great-great-grandchildren will be in deep, deep trouble if we do not make ecological matters an intrinsic part of the economic cost of goods.

"Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth.

"Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth."

--Oystein Dahle, former Vice President, Exxon, Norway

==But one more set of referrals==

SevenDaysInMayGo onto Amazon and see if you can find a copy of JITTERBUG by Mike McQuay (1984), a somewhat paranoid novel about a future world devastated by a horrible disease controlled by terrorists. It is so creepily on target that I doubt you'll find a copy. Certain interests have probably bought up all the used copies floating around. If only someone would reprint.

As a contrast, also get your hands on that old chiller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. (Or at least the Frederic March Kirk Douglas Burt Lancaster movie.)

 What a reversal. Nowadays it is the officer corps, under siege, undergoing purges but staunchly defending our constitution tooth and nail against a presidency gone out of control.