About time my nerves get just a little settled on the Russo/Ukraine War, something comes along and makes me realize we aren’t in Kansas any more — we’re cast out somewhere in the Metaverse. And I’m not talking about the one Facebook is attempting to invent, where you play cards with your friend that decides to dress up as the Michelin Man.
Even if “little g” geography isn’t dead — there is a war going on on the borderlands of Russia and Ukraine — that’s the physical reality — new “Big G” geography, if not quite dead, is dying rapidly. That is the geography that contains the coding of nation-states, and more importantly, their information, personal development, and cultural content. Contexts like geography only matter if they are at some level, representations of the physical realities they are symbols of.
The problem is that edifices like the conceptualization of nation-states die hard. We may think in terms of Germany, chocolate tortes and cuckoo clocks. The reality is, though, that Germany, and all but the most primitive of nation-states are connected in new topologies dictated by information affinities. This representation, one of the folks I dialog with, John Robb, calls “network swarms.” Network swarms are the massively loosely connected sets of ideas with affinities in the noosphere. And as crazy as it may seem, these aggregates are now more powerful than the nation-states they are displacing.
More importantly, though, is that the time constants and scaling are, in the case of time, far shorter for reconfiguration, while on a physical level, scale across the globe.
The war in Ukraine is a prime example. As I type this, the world is focused on what is, in a physical reality, a tragic border conflict between two nation-states that have a history over 1000 years of fighting. And even only 100 years ago, such a conflict would have been only of interest regionally — another war on the edge of empires, with little chance of it bubbling over and engulfing the world (though the possibility was certainly there.) But the odds were low, and alliances took time to build. Limited by the time for diplomats to travel between world capitals, on steamships, or railroads, there was a natural viscosity built into the system.
And this natural viscosity created, as I discussed in this piece, a range of quasi-statistically independent views. It took over two years for the United States, for example, to enter WWII, and that only happened after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. That independence extended the length of the fuse for conflict.
But these separators are now gone. Across multiple fronts — in cyberspace, translated to even things like electricity generation, and bound together by the information flow of the Internet, statistical dependence, and its power law/Pareto Cascade physics now rule. In literally no time at all — maybe a couple of weeks — we see the same kind of binning of opinion and action that has created the polarization the United States has been dealing with in its politics for the last 20 years. Stultifying global politics, which used to take forever, with their endless summits and negotiations, have not only become tribal. They have become colloquial, with the same timescales as discussing affairs over the neighbor’s fence. We care about what a given world leader might have had for breakfast, and we can find out on Twitter. The problem is that the ponderousness of all of this communication used to serve as a counterbalance to our darker natures. But now, the speed of the wavefront from the pebble tossed in the pond moves at the speed of light. I read somewhere that it took only four hours to connect Ukraine’s entire power grid off the Russian power grid and hook it up to the EU’s. Wow.
The problem with this is that in the minds of the simple, such immediate shifts seem like they offer ways out of crises more quickly. And they can. But they can also collapse adversaries far more quickly as well. And in this transition between the old geography and the new topology, the vestiges of the past, as well as those empires built on those vestiges, holding devices like nuclear weapons, are especially imperiled. Nuclear weapons have not been used precisely because the lags between threatening their use, the viability of their effectiveness, and the collapse of a given adversary, have been so long. The times when they were not — like the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the various false alarms that nearly caused a nuclear exchange, were not.
Yet here we are, on the edge of all this. And we are threatened, and saved only by the inability of our leaders to comprehend the information physics that our new systems are operating under.
I hope and pray that the narcissistic displays we’ve witnessed from Western leadership toward Ukraine abate. There is nothing we can do about the Old Gods in Putin’s head. But our own leadership needs to keep it real, and apply pressure to Ukraine to settle with Russia. History can be long, and resolve this down the line. But only on a living planet.