The prophet Cassandra was blessed with the ability to foretell the future: but cursed that no one would believe her.
Except that this is the way that prophecy works, if people believe a dire prophecy, it generally doesn’t come true. My friend Stirling Newberry calls this a “self-unfullfilling prophecy”.
This relates also to the joke about nobodies, as in “nobody predicted the financial crash.” Because if you predicted it, you’re a nobody. So you have fools saying “it couldn’t have been predicted” when it very clearly was. I even publicly predicted the exact month the stock market would crash, about a year in advance. Every once in a while I get an email from someone who saved a lot of money by listening.
Well, ok, every once in a very long time. Most people read it, shrugged, and didn’t do anything.
There are a lot of organizations you want run by pessimists (for example, nuclear reactors.) The sort of people who have posters proclaiming “Murphy was an optimist” on their walls. The sort of people who told the Japanese how to fix their reactors in the 80s, who had they been listened to, would have avoided an meltdown.
But the problem with such people is that they run themselves out of jobs. They make prophecies, scare people, get the problems fixed, and so their prophecies don’t happen. Absent major disasters for long enough, people become complacent and decide they don’t need to spend money, time and trouble on the warnings of fools whose prophecies never come true. They look at all the money they can save, or make, by getting rid of regulations, gutting inspections and running without precautions, and they realize that that even if something bad happens, the odds of them being held accountable are infinitesimal. After all, when the Japanese financial bubble burst, senior people committed suicide.
Did anyone responsible for the nuclear meltdown in Japan commit suicide?
They should have. And I’m quite serious about that.
When accountability goes away, when the elites no longer believe they have a responsibility to anyone but themselves, and often not even that, your society is in for disaster after disaster.
And so, in the US, you have the Iraq war, Katrina, the great financial collapse, weather disaster after weather disaster without anything being done to protect against the next one. You have the near-absolute certainty of a billion or more incremental deaths from climate change, the near-certainty of drought in large parts of the world, the near-certainty of dust-bowls, and on and on.
And they yawn. They laugh at the Cassandras. Maybe they even know the Cassandras are right
The next age will take its prophets very seriously. And they will produce self-unfulfilling prophecies. And so the cycle will go on.
Unless we learn how to break this, and many other cycles, we are doomed by the sad human fact that the vast majority of people don’t really learn from anyone’s experience but their own. And one day it will catch up to us, and it will push us to extinction, because we now have the means, and more than the means to destroy ourselves utterly. If we do not grow up as a species, if we do not gain wisdom, we may not be long for this world.
Edit: changed wording on suicides to make clear that the people RESPONSIBLE did not commit suicide.
Rand Paul, if you haven’t seen the news, is filibustering Brennan’s CIA nomination in order to get clarification from the President that American citizens can’t be killed without due process in the United States.
I’m seeing a lot of “liberals” and “progressives” attacking Rand Paul. Be clear, Rand Paul is a bad man. But he is doing the right thing right now, and if you are attacking him at this moment, you are scum. Also, be clear, that in terms of actual evil committed Rand Paul is not as evil as Barack Obama. For one, he has not killed nearly as many children as Barack Obama. He has not gone to war in violation of the constitution, as Obama has. Perhaps, if given a chance, Rand Paul would be more evil than Barack Obama, but he is not more evil yet.
The right to a trial, in which you see the evidence against you and have the right to face your accusers (and don’t have evidence gained through torture) is one of the main reasons the American Revolution was fought. Barack Obama and George Bush have destroyed America. Something shambles on bearing the name, but the Bill of Rights is near dead and you have an elected dictator who arrogates to himself the right to kill anyone any time he wants. He arrogates to himself the right of Kings.
So yeah, Rand Paul’s a bad man. But he’s doing the right thing. And I notice it isn’t, say, Bernie Sanders, “socialist” who is standing up for the right of Americans not to be killed out of hand by their own President. Only one Democrat, Ron Wyden, has joined Paul.
The American Republic died when the Patriot Act and the AUMF were passed. More acccurately perhaps, it died on 9/11, when Americans decided to throw aside the Republic they had been given, trying to give up a little liberty for a little safety (and getting neither). The Republic had been shambling along, half dead for some time, mind you, but that was the end of it. You still have elections, sure, but the President is Emperor and you are his subjects. The real constituents are the very rich, and corporations, as was codified in Citizens United.
When Augustus took over, he became “first citizen”. He kept the Senate around. He just took away all their meaningful power.
So it goes.
First, you have to produce enough. Goods and services. Everything from food and shelter, to music and philosophy.
Second, because prosperity means widespread affluence, you have to take what you produce and get it to everyone or as many people as possible.
Third, you have to be sure you’re producing the right stuff – food that makes people healthy, philosophy that doesn’t turn people evil, housing that keeps people healthy and in good social contact with each other, and producing in a way which doesn’t destroy the bases of prosperity, whether that’s the soil, water and climate you need to grow food, or the ethics which make prosperity possible.
The principles behind this aren’t that difficult, really. Use the free market for what it’s good at (creating and distributing certain types of goods and services.) Discourage rent-seeking. Understand that how much money people get is largely unrelated to their contribution to society. Remove bottlenecks to growth. Don’t destroy your sinks (like carbon in the atmosphere), don’t overuse renewable resources, understand the obsolesence of non-renewable resources. Keep the rich poor, so they don’t buy the political system, keep influentials independent as much as possible, keep the interests of the powerful alligned with the mass of society. Don’t financialize.
Oh, to be sure, there are technical details, but the core is ethical. The people who make up society must want to do the right thing, must believe in a particular conception of kindness and fairness. It is not accident that after the Great Depression and WWII, when the majority of people in the West understood, deep in their bones, that life is unfair and that group effort is what makes nations great that the great general prosperity occured. It occured because the GI generation and the Lost Generation insisted on it, voted for it, worked for it. It happened because they believed in general welfare, in looking after the least amongst them, and in the future, not the past.
Prosperity is ethical. The ancient Greeks had a saying which ran as follows: “a society is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never rest.”
To repeat, don’t let any group get too powerful or rich, make the right stuff, then distribute it. Sometimes the right stuff should be distributed by the free market (which is kept free by very strict government oversight), sometimes it is distributed by the government, sometimes it is provided by neither but by the social sector (parenting instead of daycare.)
Again, ethics are the most important part of prosperity, just as you can’t cheat an honest man, an ethical population will create prosperity. As Machiavelli wrote, good laws will not save bad people, and good people can make bad laws work. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United State, and its rampant contempt for its own Bill of Rights.
As soon as people become greedy, as soon as they want much more than their neighbour, prosperity will fade. Contrary to the mantra of the greed is good free market fundamentalists, greed is only good in moderation, and a society with many billionaires cannot and will not stay prosperous. Once we stop caring about the sick, the poor and the prisoners, once we become mean, self-interested and judgmental, we undermine the mass participation and the kindness which is required for prosperity.
The developed world will become prosperous again when societies pull together for the benefit of all, when greed is no longer glorified and barely tolerated, and when we decide to make the right stuff, the stuff that is good for us, instead of the stuff which we know is bad for us. And we will find true prosperity when we commit to raising everyone in the world to prosperity. Prosperity based on exclusion, whether that exclusion is based on where you were born, who your parents were, or what attributes you won in the genetic lottery, cannot and does not last. If we want lasting prosperity, we must all come together, with apologies to Dumas, as one for all, and all for one.
… because it’s about time people understood what government does. This was agreed to by both parties, there are other options Obama could use to get out of it, he has chosen not to.
This is bipartisan, and Americans need to understand that.
Hezbollah and Israel have been at war for some time. In an effort to stop Hezbollah’s guerrilla fighters from communicating, Israel has in the past jammed the cell phone towers in the Hezbollah-controlled areas in southern Lebanon. Eager to make sure that didn’t happen again, Hezbollah has covertly built out a fiber-optic network throughout the areas it controls.
He then goes on to note that the last crisis between Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah was over the government trying to shut down that fiber-optic network. Hezbollah regarded that as an act of war:
(Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah) said the government’s decision to shut down Hezbollah’s fiber-optic communications network was tantamount to a declaration of war. For the (central) government, the network represented an intolerable example of Hezbollah’s efforts to set up an Iranian- and Syrian-backed state within Lebanon. Hezbollah justifies the network, which carried its communications during a 2006 war with Israel, as a vital security asset.
The interesting thing is that during the 2006 war, Hezbollah won the information war. Their communications remained secure, but Israeli soldiers carrying cell phones made calls which Hezbollah tracked. Even if they couldn’t listen in, being able to triangulate where some Israeli soldier is making a call from gives some very interesting, and useful, information.
Americans, Israelis and the West in general are used to assuming they’ll win the surveillance, electronic and information war. But Hezbollah defeated or drew Israel in all three. A network of tunnels, pre-prepared camouflage positions for missile launchers and the use of civilian clothes when troops were traveling made aerial surveillance and satellites virtually useless. The Israelis were never able to shut down the majority of Hezbollah’s missile launchers, any more than they’ve been able to find those of the Palestinians.
Hezbollah’s army is a secret one. It’s like an old fashioned spy agency.
It doesn’t exist.
If you’re enrolled in it, you don’t tell anyone. The war was rife with stories of soldiers being killed, and their families finding out for the first time that they were even in Hezbollah’s army. This, of course, is to make it impossible to use assassination, mostly aerial assassination, to take out key leaders.
Hezbollah is an almost perfect Darwinian organization. Israel uses informants and assassination? Great – we’ll keep even our membership secret. Israel uses air power? We’ll dig tunnels and set up aeriel blinds for our missile launchers. Israel doesn’t like taking heavy infantry casualties – fine then, we’ll set up overlapping bunkers which simply cannot be cleared without taking losses.
Hezbollah has created the new model army, and a new model state. Call it the Hidden Army. An army that blends in with the population, that moves only when it cannot be seen, that sets up in the expectation of surveillance. An army that knows all the high tech games, and spent the time to figure out how to nullify them. It sounds like a guerilla army, and it is, but it’s also much more: it’s an army capable of engaging in strategic warfare and an army capable of engaging in full on attrition defense warfare against Israeli main battle forces. It’s hard to overstate how impressive this is.
It’s an unrecognized State with a hidden army. Oh, the UN says there’s a Lebanese government with authority over Hezbollah. But everyone knows that the real government in southern Lebanon is Hezbollah. They pick up the garbage, they give out the pensions, heck, they have their own phone network. Crazy. When the Lebanese “government” picks a fight with Hezbollah, Hezbollah wins.
We are going to see many more of these unrecognized governments, with their hidden armies. Why? Because they work, and they work very well, both at providing government services to a population, and at frustrating much larger, more powerful and expensive conventional armies. As official governments fail, less recognized ones will pick up the pieces. And they will look to Lebanon to see how to do it, survive, and even win.
(Kicking this one to the front again – Feb 25, 2013 – originally reposted in 2009.)
(Another reprint. This one got some hostile reaction from people who missed the point. Hezbollah might be the most interesting and successful neo-state in the world. Anyone who isn’t studying it is a fool. )
I’ve been meaning to write about the fact that people don’t understand the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Mexico for some time.
In simple terms: the US military, the most expensive, most powerful military in the world, lost in Iraq (they had to pay bribes to leave). They are losing in Afghanistan. In Mexico the state has been unable to control drug gangs. In Lebanon, the IDF, the most powerful military in the Middle East, was defeated by Hezbollah. Hezbollah also won the e-lint war against the IDF.
Technology is not necessarily on the side of the great powers, of the big armies. IEDs are cheap, any halfway competent mechanic can make them with materials that are readily available even in Afghanistan. Weapons are widely available everywhere, and soon it will be trivial to 3D print most of them. Drones, which people are so scared of (with reason) are essentially remote controlled airplanes, they are not hard to make, and they will spread to guerillas, resistance movements, terrorists and so on.
These are, yes, terror weapons, as the US, in its use of bombing and drones, well understands. They are also area denial weapons, weapons that prey on the psyche of the opposition, leaving them no peace and quiet.
They are weapons whose widespread use can and will destroy nations by destroying the peace and stability required for prosperity and normal life.
But they are very, very effective. They will work in virtually any nation if a large enough portion of the population wants them to work.
Do not think that the more intelligent members of current elites don’t know this. They understand what many on the left don’t: that first world militaries can be defeated, have been defeated, and that it can happen in their own countries.
And I suspect they are very very scared. The surveillance state, routine assassinations by the executive, the loss of habeas corpus, and so on, are their response. Total surveillance, and the ability to take people out anywhere, any time, is their answer, which is why I keep saying that I will know people are serious about revolution when they take out surveillance systems as a matter of routine, when surveillance becomes ethically anathema.
Be scared, not because those on the left who insist that modern militaries are unbeatable and all anyone can do is supplicate the powerful are right, but because militaries are very fightable, but such fights leave countries in ruins. If the elites continue on their current course, in many first world countries, Iraq and Afghanistan and Mexico are the future. People with no future will fight, and too many people now know how this form of war works.
This is the future of war. If elites continue on their path of unaccountability, their insistence on destroying the future, and their crushing of prosperity, this is what will happen.
Who should get how much?
Who deserves how much money?
How do we decide?
It is, I believe, nonsense to say that deserve whatever we happen to earn. The value of our money is not something which is reliant on us as individuals, but is based instead on the productive capacity of our society, something which individuals have almost nothing to do with. Being born in America or Belgium is worth much more than being born in Nigeria or Bangladesh. You didn’t choose your parents, you didn’t choose your upraising, you can’t be said to “deserve” much if anything as a result.
People whose parents are poor don’t get into university as much as those whose parents are wealthier, nor do they graduate as often. Being lower on the socio-economic stratum reduces performance independent of ability, as the Spirit Level documents. As the joke about George Bush ran, he was born on 3rd base and thought he hit a triple. But the concept applies to so many of us.
Deserve is a very slippery word.
Perhaps we deserve more if we contribute more to society? If this is the case then we can only look at, say, the bankers and brokers of Wall Street, Bay Street and Fleet Street and say “they don’t deserve their money”, because they damaged the world economic system, damage which caused many people to lose their homes, caused food inflation and hunger, and certainly led to many deaths and much suffering which would not have occured otherwise. Financialization of the economy gave them great rewards at great cost to many of their fellow citizens. And it required trillions of dollars to bail them out, and even after they were bailed out, the damage they did was not undone.
Only by the most debased principles can, say, bankers, be said to deserve their money, the same principle that lead Thucydides to write that the strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must. The same principles that say anything someone can steal or take, they deserve.
Is that justice? Does that create a society we want to live in? As we have, more and more, come to believe that people deserve to keep whatever they make, however they make it (as evinced by the erosion of progressive taxation), has it made our societies better places to live?
And, to go back to the initial point about the value of money being social and not individual, does it make sense to say an individual “deserves” their money when most of what their money is worth is created by other people?
As I’ve said before, too many jobs today do harm, do evil, rather than good. The health insurance industry in the US makes its money essentially by denying care. Hydrocarbon companies actively stand in the way of stopping climate change. Many food companies produce food which they know leads to diabetes, obesity and chronic disease.
These jobs, these industries, actively decrease the well-being of individuals and of society. They decrease the real value of money, because money which cannot buy well-being is worse than worthless, it is actively harmful.
Who does more harm to society, someone on welfare, or a banker who contributed to the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression? Who deserves more? I find it hard to say that the banker deserves more than the person on welfare, for he or she has done vastly more harm. Perhaps the banker works harder, but is working harder to do harm so praiseworthy? Is it worthy of reward?
No compassionate society can base distribution of money or goods entirely on contribution to society. If we say that those who don’t contribute deserve nothing, we move quickly into dystopic territory, because someone who receives no goods, dies. If we take the harm principle too seriously, we could easily move into a scenario where we would find the arguments for killing those who do harm overwhelmingly strong. And make no mistake, those in power, private or powerful, can do more harm than almost any garden-variety criminal can. Even a serial killer doesn’t kill as many people as a bad policy can.
Justice recognizes that so much of what we are, so much of what we do, is based on circumstances. Humans are malleable, most people, under the wrong circumstances, will do the wrong thing. Most people, under the right circumstances, will do the right thing, too. That does not mean that we can tolerate too much of the wrong thing, it does not mean we say “oh, they couldn’t help themselves”, it simply means that we put the emphasis on correction, not vengeance; it simply means that we are compassionate, as we would hope others would be compassionate to us.
So we give a good living to those who contribute little, we correct those who do harm, if necessary through criminal sanctions, but better by finding work for them where their talents can do good, not harm. We do not allow major industries which do more harm than good. We recognize that people do change, and someone who is not contributing as much as we might want right now may contribute more in the future.
Knowing that most of the value of money is not individual, that even the most rewarded are rewarded because of the society and times he lives in, we put a cap on rewards.
(Note: There is much more to say about economic justice.)
Out of most crises comes opportunity. Unemployment in the developed world, especially amongst the highly skilled, is opportunity for those countries willing to seize it.
Does your country not have the medicine it needs? There are plenty of people capable of making and even inventing those medicines who are out of work.
Need roads and ports? Plenty of those who can build them are out of work.
Need telecom infrastrucure? The same.
A lot of highly skilled workers are out of work. More want work that matters, they want to make medicines which will get to people at prices which will save lives, or build buildings which create energy and are good for those who live in them, or invent knew ways of farming. They want to create energy sources which don’t dump carbon into the atmosphere and they want to build spaceships and get off the rock.
These people exist, and they are hungry for meaningful work, for good work. Those who are out of work simply want a decent living, those who are working but hate their jobs will work for less if they are taken care of.
They are a way past the foreign currency bottleneck, they are a way past unfair patents and copyright. Combined with pacts between countries to share key resources, they are a way to bootstrap up developing countries, or for wise developed countries to throw off the shackles of austerity and go back on a high growth path. They can be used to bypass the old industries, to create the future in countries who didn’t win the last few technological and economic cycles.
They are lying on the ground, waiting only for those wise enough to offer them work that matters.
Surveillance is part of the system of control. “The more surveillance, the more control” is the majority belief amongst the ruling elites. Automated surveillance requires fewer “watchers”, and since the watchers cannot watch all the surveillance, long term storage increases the ability to find some “crime” anyone is guilty of. When you add in recognition systems based on face, gait or other criteria, you have the theoretical ability to track people from the moment they leave their homes till they return. Other measures make it possible to see what people are doing inside their own homes (IR heat maps, for example). A world in which everyone is tracked all the time is very possible.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes
This is one of the biggest problems the current elites face: they want the smallest enforcer class possible, so as to spend surplus on other things. The enforcer class is also insular, primarily concerned with itself (see Dorner) and is paid in large part by practical immunity to many laws and a license to abuse ordinary people. Not being driven primarily by justice or a desire to serve the public and with a code of honor which appears to largely center around self-protection and fraternity within the enforcer class, the enforcers’ reliability is in question: they are blunt tools and their fear for themselves makes them remarkably inefficient.
Surveillance expands the reach of the enforcer class and thus of the elites. Every camera, drone and so on reduces the number of eyes needed on the ground. The Stasi had millions of informers; surveillance reduces that requirement and the cost of the enforcer class.
The reliance on surveillance is however a weakness, one of many. One of the simplest ways to reduce the power and reach of the oligarchy is to destroy surveillance equipment, much of which is very easy to reach. I have frequently said that we will know that people are becoming more serious when they start destroying surveillance equipment, when it becomes an ethical imperative to do so; ideally when people believe that blanket surveillance is an ethical wrong.
I, am, thus interested to see that the Barefoot Bandit Brigade destroying surveillance cameras. In the US, those who oppose current elites directly seem strongest around Oakland and in the Pacific Northwest.
It is best that the surveillance system be challenged and dismantled before it becomes comprehensive; once every person is tracked all the time it will be far harder to do so, especially as audio surveillance also expands. Once everyone is both tracked and listened to, it will be virtually impossible to organize resistance.
The comprehensive surveillance state, combined with measures to deal with the loyalty of the enforcer class, is the end game: it is where current trends lead. It will be justified to the public as a measure to decrease crime and protect innocents (especially children), but it will lead to a more advanced Stasi state.
Note: minor edits made.
“If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Only when we understand, deep in our bones, that life and the world are profoundly, vastly unfair, do we approach compassion.